When listening to the music of Jason Boland & The Stragglers, you might be prone to call them a Texas band, an Americana act, or edgy rock and roll. But, take a listen to their newest project, "Dark And Dirty Mile," and you might be reminded of some of the great traditional work that Merle Haggard did for MCA in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Tell that to Boland, and he likes the description.
"That’s always been what we’ve tried to capture and what we’ve tried to live up to," he said in an exclusive interview with Billboard. "I think that’s what everybody really sets out to do at one time or another. Then, you dabble in some rock and roll and other sounds. We definitely don’t have any problem calling ourselves a country band. We’ve always been heavy with the pedal steel and the fiddle, and the shuffles."
However, Boland does say that limiting an artist to one genre is not a recipe for success. "It sounds too cliched to label something, because you turn it into a packaged good, and you make it not what it is. That’s the good thing about being first and foremost, a live touring act. You get to live a lot of different kinds of music, which is very nice. Recording albums is always a strange thing, but we were really happy with the way this one came out."
Having their longtime touring base is something that makes Boland feel good – no matter what happens with the record business. "That’s the hallmark of all the bands that you will find around the scene. It’s made possible by the fans, and the people who come out night after night. If they didn’t show up, there wouldn’t be the places open to play, nor would there be all the bands that you see out there right now. It’s a good thing no matter what, as long as people are still getting out there in a dance hall or any environment where folks gather together and have a good time."
One of the highlights of the new disc is "Electric Bill," of which Boland says has a family tie. "My wife, Mandy, gave me the idea for that song. It’s about the imagery of everything being gone, being broke, and not having anything - but also finding a spark of life that you could also have an ironic good time – depending on how you look at things."
Then, going to the other side of the emotional spectrum, is the brilliant "See You When I See You." Boland says it is an intensely personal song. "You know, it seems like you are cruising along, and a couple of quick things happen that remind us of how mortal we are. This song was inspired by a couple of times where people who are close to us, and they were gone before we knew it."
"Dark And Dirty Mile" is the seventh album from the band – a significance that is not lost on Boland. "As we have come along as musicians, there’s a gel that goes on. That’s what we tried to capture on there, but it’s harder than it sounds. There’s no ProTools or anything. We went straight to tape. There’s a few clunker chords that I’ll take credit for, but it’s real. That’s one thing I can say that it is."