Jason Boland wears a cowboy hat. A lot of the acts who are considered “Red Dirt” don’t.
That’s part of the beauty of today’s Red Dirt genre. From Woody Guthrie to Bob Wills, Cross Canadian Ragweed to Willie Nelson, J.J. Cale to Jack Ingram, hats are optional. So while some lean more towards the rockin’ side of the genre, ala the music of Cody Canada, or the folkier side, ala Guthrie and his emulators, there’s still plenty of room for a hat act with fiddle and steel in the genre as well.
“We definitely do fit in with ‘Red Dirt,’ depending on what you call that,” said Boland, front man for more than a decade of Jason Boland and The Stragglers. “To me, though, Red Dirt is really Bob Childers and Jimmy LaFave, with that spirit of Woody Guthrie. It’s also rock and soul and folk music, but then you throw in what was Texas music in the beginning, and some Western swing and Bob Wills…it’s almost a funky, middle-of-America sound. It’ll take you from Western swing to folk balladeer to rock ‘n’ roll, really. But it’s almost like we need another regional term because it’s hard to figure out what to call something.”
Boland, who lives these days in Austin, is a native of Harrah, Oklahoma, not far from Oklahoma City. The members of the Stragglers – steel and lead guitar man Roger Ray, drummer Brad Rice, bassist Grant Tracy and fiddle/mandolin player Nick Worley – live from Tulsa to Forth Worth to New Braunfels, between Austin and San Antonio. “Where we live isn’t that big a deal because we’re on the road a lot anyway, so we make it work,” Boland said.
Unlike a lot of Red Dirt acts who seldom leave Oklahoma and Texas, Boland and crew have done quite a bit of touring outside of those states, playing in Maine, Florida, even in France. One of Boland’s favorite out-of-area venues is the Grizzly Rose in Denver, a favorite of many acts playing the Rocky Mountain states. “We’ve played San Diego, Seattle, Mexico – we’ve been around a lot,” he said “But we’ve been at it a long time so we should have by now.” Indeed, the band has even played in Alaska, and is booked in New York City and Washington D.C. later this year.
Boland’s own voice, while decidedly Red Dirt, is not without its own outside influences, conscious or not, probably from the radio, and recalls some acts he probably didn’t even grow up with. Another Okie, Garth Brooks, comes to mind in Boland’s timbre and phrasing, but so does Gordon Lightfoot, the Canadian superstar of another generation entirely. Boland is the band’s primary songwriter, with some Steve Earle influence, ala Guitar Town , as evidenced by his song “Bottle By My Bed” from the band’s Comal County Blue album.
Boland and his bandmates have experienced more sales success than a lot of their Red Dirt counterparts, with their 2011 album Rancho Alto reaching the number 26 position on the Billboard Country Albums charts against some high-powered Nashville acts, and number 130 overall on the Billboard 200 against the biggest pop, rock and country acts in the world. Rancho Alto was produced by Lloyd Maines, father of Dixie Chick Natalie Maines; Lloyd Maines himself is a bit of a Texas music legend as a steel guitarist, and he won a Grammy as the producer of the Dixie Chicks’ Home album. Rancho Alto is the eighth album by Boland and band, including two live recordings, Live at Billy Bob’s and High in the Rockies .
Boland said that, while the band started as perhaps more of a lark, it evolved into something that the eventual final lineup couldn’t deny. “We had our first rehearsal in September of 1998, and by about 2002 everybody was full-time on the road, really taking it seriously. We’re taking it step by step, day by day. This is who we are and what we do.”
For more information go to www.thestragglers.com .