The Upshot: Slobberbone frontman dials it down a bit and gets decidedly folkier for his latest solo outing.
BY MICHAEL TOLAND
Texas loves its singer/songwriters – from the holy fount of Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt and the river of Lubbock mafia to the tributaries spewing forth Alejandro Escovedo, Shakey Graves and the scions of Jimmie Dale Gilmore and James McMurtry. Yet unless that songwriter stands in front of a mic with an acoustic guitar and an otherwise empty stage, at least at some point in his career, s/he ain’t taken seriously. The Reivers’ John Croslin is every bit the equal of his celebrated brethren and sistern, yet has never gotten his due as an author outside of indie rock circles.
So it’s also gone with Denton’s Brent Best. Heavily influenced by Southern literary authors like Larry Brown and Harry Crews, the erstwhile Slobberbone leader has long crafted lyrics that are short stories unto themselves, singing them in a plainspoken ramble and marrying them to engaging roots rock melodies that elevate his tunes beyond the usual Americana drone. Despite plenty of solo acoustic work over the years, he’s still best-known as the frontguy for a loud rock band, which in some folks’ minds seems to foolishly negate any chance he has at inclusion in the pantheon of Great Texas Songwriters.
Not that he likely cares. Undaunted, Best continues his good work with Your Dog, Champ, his first solo album and first new music since 2006’s Jubilee Drive, the sole album by his short-lived Drams project. Joined by, among others, fellow Texans Ralph White (Bad Livers) on fiddle, Grady Don Sandlin (RTB2) on drums, Scott Danbom (centro-matic) on keys and Claude Bernard (the Gourds) on accordion, Best dials down the power chords a bit for a folkier set of tunes that uphold his prior standards. He ranges from the sparse, mostly acoustic “Career Day” and the straight C&W of “You Shouldn’t Worry” to the mournful ballad “Clotine” and the pounding anthem “Tangled.” As with his hero Brown, family snapshots remain his specialty, with the sardonic “Daddy Was a Liar” and bittersweet “Aunt Ramona” capturing his vision clearly. In that regard, the album’s centerpiece is “Robert Cole,” a tale of forced maturity and lost innocence likely to be the most-requested song in Best’s repertoire for as long as his career endures.
Though the record is powered by less voltage than Best requires in Slobberbone, it’s just as effective in its presentation of the songs. And it’s a set that puts Your Dog, Champ right up there with the best of his band, and that’s very, very good indeed.
DOWNLOAD: “Robert Cole,” “Aunt Ramona,” “Daddy Was a Liar”