Born in Texas, bred in Oklahoma, Stoney LaRue grew up in the heart of Red Dirt country music. It’s no surprise that the organic honesty embodied by this music scene is one that LaRue has worked on building and perfecting for years. All that work and effort put into live shows and two previous studio projects has paid off in Stoney LaRue’s newest studio album, Aviator. Always doing it his way, Stoney LaRue sticks with his core producers Frank Liddell and Mike McCarthy to bring Aviator to life. Team LaRue recorded these songs in one take live in the studio, recorded on two-inch tape. No fancy production tricks, just simple, raw, pure instrumentation captured live. Also, Stoney LaRue has Aubrie Sellers and Mando Saenz providing great backing vocals and harmonies on the album. (Thanks to Stoney himself for letting me know this tidbit via twitter!) Content wise, Stoney LaRue taps into a lot of personal issues and drastic life changes for his songwriting. But the results aren’t moody, heartbreak songs, but rather messages of self-rediscovery and overcoming the obstacles of life’s trials.
“One and Only” starts off with a gentle acoustic strum, but the instrumentation builds throughout the song, offering up instrumental breaks of fiddles and steel guitars. The song serves as a nice introduction for Aviator, and discusses a looming, hidden danger. This enticing temptation is essentially like chasing an empty dream. It’s meant to bring you down with no happily ever after. Following this is the more upbeat “Golden Shackles.” Here LaRue describes himself a monster of man, standing tall, strong and proud. Yet, as the famous saying goes, pride comes before the fall. But LaRue recognizes his fall and realizes that there’s a lesson to be learned with this setback. For my money, “Golden Shackles” is on the top-tier of this album in terms of songwriting.
“Til I’m Moving On” is one of the many songs where LaRue sets a scene of wandering lost, directionless in life. But in this more subdued track, music is the short-term remedy to the broken-hearted, offering an escape from reality. Next up is the title track, which you may remember made my top ten list from October. This is another song written about wandering lost and reminiscing about the innocence of youth while in the midst of a broken heart. “Aviator” is about putting on a mask to hide these lost feelings. The instrumentation build along with the lyrics and LaRue’s delivery present a fantastic display for this song.
Stoney LaRue starts to explore failing relationships in the next few tracks. “First One To Know” is another album standout. This song is about the self-awareness of the man. He knows he’s in a rut and not the same guy she fell in love with, and once he figures out how to change back, she’ll be the first to know. Next up is “Blending Colors.” This song has the feel of a more traditional country heartbreak song, with LaRue singing about wanting to show her his sorrow. He’s desperate for her attention and wants her to notice him again. “Spitfire” has more rock influence in the song’s instrumentation than the rest of the album, and rightfully so. This details a final argument; the last biting words that she said to open his eyes to his wrong ways. She didn’t waste any words spitting that fire to him.
Next up is another standout track, “Still Runnin’.” This song is a bit more redemptive with the realization that everything else in life is still the same and still running even though his heart is broken. This song has great piano and steel guitar instrumentation with some excellent harmonies here. In “A Little Too Long” Stoney LaRue sings about a woman who grows tired. She’s tired of waiting for him, tired of giving him second chances. She’s ready to move on because she’s been waiting just a little too long.
“Too Soon” is an upbeat country jam about not giving up on what you’ve started just yet. The instrumentation here is nice, but the lyrics are rather repetitive. “Million Dollar Blues” is another song about broken hearts while battling pride. This heartbreak came from losing his love and feeling empty while chasing dreams. “I paid the price I’ll never know walking them lonely streets of gold with million dollar blues.” The album caps off with a second song I featured on my top ten, “Dark Side of the Line.” This is a song of acceptance that life isn’t forever, and every day we move closer to the inevitable end. The long journey of wandering lost and searching for anything worthy in life is becoming weary.
Overall, this album is loaded with great instrumentation and vocals within every track. Aviator is a musical definition for “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.” There may be songs or instances within songs that can nit-picked for doing or not doing something. But this album is meant to be enjoyed by pushing play at “One and Only” and letting it spin from there. This is an album in the true sense of the word. Each song adds to the story and theme as Aviator progresses. And if you find the deluxe edition, you’ll be treated to two wonderful bonus tracks: “Natural High (For Merle Haggard)” and “Studio A Trouble Time Jam” which features Stoney and the band rocking out at Nashville’s historic recording studio. Stoney LaRue earns himself a well deserved place along side Red Dirt’s best artists. Aviator is a statement album that speaks loud and clear.