Getting noticed in the music world is without a doubt one of the biggest obstacles a new band faces. How can you stand out amongst the crowd? What do you have to offer that another band cannot? In this reviewer’s opinion, one of the better ways to get people to listen is to offer an original voice. Write songs from a different perspective, touch on something that not many others have. And it doesn’t hurt when the music is delivered with skill that proves dedication to the craft beyond the bare minimum.
New Texas country band, Flatland Cavalry, will get people to notice them through their understated, yet fine tuned style that brings immediate comparisons to the Turnpike Troubadours. Friends and founding members Cleto Cordero (vocals and guitar) and Jason Albers (drums) are joined by Jonathan Saenz (bass), Reid Dillon (electric guitar), and Laura Jane (fiddle). While their sound may not be the most original, the band is devoted to bring a voice and sound to country music that is different when compared to the masses of Nashville or most of Texas’ other bands.
Humble Folks kicks off with the tender love song “One I Want.” Cordero sings about his willingness to show how much he loves his wife without leaving any room for doubt. One thing you’ll pick up on through the album is the band’s skills in storytelling. They cover quite a bit of ground without compromising detail or natural progression. Their devotion to a simile is best showcased in “A Good Memory” as entire stanzas are used to explain how this particular woman is like a flower drawn in sidewalk chalk or a drunk dial late at night. A song that harkens back to a 90s country sound, “A Good Memory” is the exact opposite of the first track, as Cordero sings about regret for not doing enough to make his love stay. The first true showcase of who Flatland Cavalry is can be found in “February Snow.” This breakup ballad touches on the regret of saying goodbye and trying to come to terms with the heartbreak. The lyrics paint a detailed picture that draws you in, and the song is aided by a catchy chorus and a great production prominently featuring Laura Jane’s fiddle.
“Tall City Blues” details a white-collar worker who’s unhappy with his life. He doesn’t like his job or apartment living, and spends his nights drinking his blues away at the bar. Nothing about the city life feels permanent. Given country music’s blue-collar pride and history, this kind of song isn’t surprising to hear, yet it’s delivered with a story and details that feel fresh. William Clark Green joins the band on “Coyote (The Ballad of Roy Johnson).” Roy Johnson is a transporter who aids illegal immigrants in safely and quietly getting across the Rio into Texas for a new life. The story is predictable and repetitive in its hook, which seems like a partially wasted opportunity for having William Clark Green on the album.
Laura Jane’s fiddle play may be the best part of Humble Folks, and she’s given a chance to show off in “Devil Off My Back.” After singing about a rowdy lifestyle and a desire to change, the darker, mid-tempo song takes an upbeat turn as Jane tears up a fiddle breakdown in the song’s outro. The album may not have many noteworthy instrumental moments, but Jane’s fiddle on this track is certainly one of them. Flatland Cavalry resort to common lyrical tropes on “Stompin’ Grounds.” A character who’s tired of the office life and ready to get back home for a good night with his buddies. They’ll drink Shiner around the bon fire, and dance with good-looking women while the DJ plays Waylon Jennings. It’s the same kind of small town pride and party song, wrapped up with a true country sound.
The band is at their best with breakup songs, and “Goodbye Kiss” may be the album’s best song. In this ballad, the couple have decided to end things and say goodbye, but before they part, they allow themselves one final kiss. Cordero sings the man’s point of view as the regret and pain of that last kiss make this goodbye much harder than it needed to be. In a much happier sounding breakup song, Kaitlin Butts joins Flatland Cavalry in “A Life Where We Work Out.” Cordero and Butts trade verses and harmonize beautifully as they imagine what their life would be like had they not ended the relationship.
Flatland Cavalry touch on a growing band’s life in the final two songs. “Traveler’s Song” details the band’s journeys across Texas and how they can’t stay in one place too long. It’s not a song that offers a lot of insight to life on the road and acts more like a highlight reel. Humble Folks comes to a close with the title track. Cordero’s vocals are put through a distortion effect, as he sings about trying to remain humble as fame and recognition grow. The distorted vocals make it hard to understand the lyrics, and I don’t understand the point of it.
Overall, Humble Folks is a solid debut album for Flatland Cavalry. Some moments on the album fall short as they rely on overused tropes for storytelling. However, there are several moments where the band shines showcase their promise. Flatland Cavalry describe their music and “Easy on the ears, heavy on the heart” and that description is right on the money. The easy listening of mid-tempo and slower songs are met with darker songwriting that does a great job capturing heartbreak and pain. You can’t do much better with a debut album than Flatland Cavalry does with Humble Folks. This is a good band to watch and keep on your radar as more albums are released.