Ka-Ching…with Twang – Red Dirt Music from Flatland Cavalry and Mike Ryan

Flatland Cavalry – Songs To Keep You Warm

A mark of how far up in the world Flatland Cavalry are is the presence behind the boards of Bruce Robison, who wrote Travelin’ Soldier which the Dixie Chicks turned into a world-conquering hit (one of the last before The Event made them pariahs).

Bruce brings a traditional, warm touch to the six tunes which were recorded direct to tape. They form a stopgap EP between the album Welcome To Countryland, which took them to the UK for C2C 2022, and joining Luke Combs on his 2023 megatour. Riley Green, Lainey Wilson and Brent Cobb are also on the ball for what sounds like a top night out.

How Long and Parallel stay autumnal thanks to the warm harmonies from Kaitlin Butts and Ashley Monroe respectively. The latter sounds like a first dance at a wedding and it matches my thoughts of love exactly, ‘running in parallel’.

Mountain Song addresses the natural feature because Cleto Cordero wants to ‘take your place’. He also wants the river to cleanse his sins. Damaged Goods also has a narrator in dire straits, spotting his former belle at the farmer’s market. On If We Said Goodbye, where Cleto sings over a string section, he wonders what song accompanied a break-up which ‘left me standing in that driveway dust’.

The EP closes with Show Me Now Which Way To Go, which sounds effortless. The trick is to make all the effort invisible and Flatland, as they did on their full-length release, do it again here.

Mike Ryan – Longcut

Mike Ryan is another automatic star of Texan radio. His fourth album, his first in five years, begins with the title track. It’s instead of a shortcut, you see, and there’s a funky guitar hook that anchors a song that takes its inspiration from Take A Back Road. The moonlight shines down and the girl even has a ‘pretty little hand’ in Mike’s, making the song feel like what Nashville was putting on the radio in about 2015. Cute love songs never go out of style; I replayed this immediately.

Won’t Slow Down has massive guitars and a wretched narrator who is pursued by the memory of his former flame. On All My Songs, heartbreak is the reason every song he writes sounds like the others. Phil Vasser was in the room for the hugely melodic weepie Way It Goes, where Born To Run is on the radio and Mike’s old flame cleared off without making a fuss (no ‘foot down, finger up’ goodbye).

The great Ben Hayslip, whose biggest copyrights came right in that mid-2010s era where Luke Bryan was king, wrote Off My Thinker, a suitably philosophical stomper where our narrator drinks his pain away. Will Weatherly, a current hitmaker on Music Row, helped Mike with Can Down, a mellower version of the same song that was the album’s big single, or ‘impact track’ as it’s known today.

Brandy Clark co-wrote the number one hit Jacket On, which explains its clattering percussion, smoky arrangement and lyrical punchline: ‘I guess the Devil’s got his jacket on’. Brandy’s fellow A-Lister Hillary Lindsey put Loser on the shelf, which has a magnificent chorus to rival those Hillary has written with and for Carrie Underwood: ‘You don’t know heartbreak until it breaks for me…you’re not a loser until you lose ‘er’ is a hook perfect for a Texan country star. If Music Row is about fidelity and romance, Texan country is about tears on the red dirt (ooh that’s a good title).

Elsewhere, Die Runnin’ is an Aldeanish ballad of fidelity, and there’s a nice chug on both Get Away With Anything (which complements the compliments Mike gives the female addressee) and Gonna Take A Woman, which goes heavy on the guitars. Chris DuBois, best known for working with Brad Paisley was there for the album’s final pair of tracks: the sexy ballad Like I Don’t and Forgiveness and Rain, which is driven by a chaingang stomp. Mike’s narrator grew up on a tobacco farm with an uncle who smoked ‘two packs a day’; the chorus comprises words from father to son about rural life. Verse three includes the words ‘diversify or die’, as well as cotton and corn.

They used to sing this type of song on country radio but it’s too country for people in New York, London or LA.

As I often say about Texan acts, they can quite happily exist in the Red Dirt ecosystem – New Braunfels one weekend, Fort Worth the next – but it’d be lovely for Mike to head up to Nashville and show Music Row what they’re missing.

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