When someone tells me that they like all kinds of music “except country,” or that country is for uneducated people who know nothing about music, or that “old country is good, new country is just stupid,” I show them The Abigails. More than mere revivalists, Warren Thomas & Co. manage to make outlaw country – the kind of music made by ex-cons on an acoustic guitar about heartbreak and existential exhaustion – seem fresh and relevant to even the most urbanized of youth. Their first album, Songs Of Love And Despair, was a gritty, pained, and grossly underappreciated album that stands as among the very best in their label’s, Burger Records, canon.
Tundra, the album that’s been semi-available on cassette for roughly a year but is only just now getting an official release on vinyl and digitally, is a logical step forward for the band. Less gritty, tragic, and dangerous, more streamlined and goofy, songs like “Ooh La Lay” and “Medication” are sure to be favorites among the inevitably newly-acquired fans for their easygoing charm and meandering melodies. Opening track “Twenty Nine” is another highlight, featuring some of the more complex song structuring and instrumentation, as well as a few well-placed gunshots. It also has some of the more compelling lyrics on the album, detailing exploits like fucking a hundred daughters and crossing 50 states by the time Thomas reached age 29. It’s a classic rambler which naturally belies some philosophical ruminations about growing old being “just a pretense.” “No Jesus” is a tender ballad about a decayed relationship between two people who bond over their mutual disregard for Jesus.
On the other hand, there’s no “Black Hell,” with its deceptively clever wordplay and shockingly serious imagery; there’s no “Nobody But You,” with its slightly menacing swagger underpinning what is supposed to be endearing affection; there’s no “The Waiting Game,” which sounds like the theme music for a drunken brawler cowboy who just caused a bar to fall silent upon his entry. Essentially, Songs Of Love And Despair was the sound of a messy night at the bar, followed by the effects of the morning after. Tundra is more about the rest of the next day, just moving along through the desert singing songs and passing the time. Not to say that the record itself is merely passing the time or filling space – it’s a great, worthwhile album. It’s just a lot breezier and less gritty; less like Clint Eastwood in The Unforgiven, more like Jeff Bridges in True Grit.
I’d be tempted to say that this is probably the best country album to come out all year, and if there’s one album that I’d point to for rock fans to get into country, it’d probably be this one – more so than The Abigails’ first album. It’s accessible, approachable, and free from the complex moral quandaries of Songs Of Love And Despair (not that those are a negative, they just take a few listens-through to truly appreciate). If this album doesn’t get the band the acclaim they so rightly deserve, they may just have to spend their days wandering through the desert from one milestone to the next, outlaws of the Southern California music scene. This, however, might not be the worst thing in the world, if it means more music like that featured on Tundra.
Recommended Tracks: Twenty Nine, No Jesus, Medication, Ooh La Lay