Country Jukebox Jury LPs: Teague Brothers Band and Gabe Lee

Teague Brothers Band – Love and War

In the course of the last two years, I have greatly enjoyed presenting an hour-long Sunday afternoon show on Arc Radio with a focus on music from Texas and Oklahoma. I have come to love acts like Mike and the Moonpies, Mike Ryan, Jesse Daniel and Casey Donahew, as well as mainstays of the Texas Regional Radio chart and the associated scene. Josh Abbott Band, Bri Bagwell, Kylie Frey, Randy Rogers Band and Wade Bowen are never off the radio.

Nor are Teague Brothers Band. This second album follows their 2019 debut Harvest Day, which had eight tracks including singles Coyote and Fingers and Thumbs, and a 2021 EP American Folk Songs. That collection included the monster hit Don’t Want To Go Home. The group leader and main songwriter is John Teague, who used to be a soldier and now runs a construction company. He and his wife operate a ranch with bees, chickens, pigs and cows.

The lead track I Found Trouble (‘I found you…I’m chasing you till my feet get sore!’) sets the tone for the album. A stomping backbeat and a jubilant fiddle part introduce John’s throaty, rough-edged vocal, with the band’s harmonies joining him a few bars later. Turnpike, Avett, Flatland and Josh Abbott all do this sort of rootsy Southern rock too, which ensure feet tap and hands clap and your face unconsciously breaks out in a smile.

The title track is a powerful rock’n’roller about a lady who wants something more than John, who was ‘king of the Dairy Queen’ when the pair fell in love but to whom she keeps giving second chances. These Days is a midtempo tune of advice full of ‘suffering’ and how you can’t ‘trust someone else’ to shoot a lame cow. The fiddle part follows the tenor of the song. Pipeliner’s chorus includes more close harmony that makes the metaphor come to life (‘she don’t mind me being married to work’). Pretty Ugly, meanwhile, is a proper Texan country tune with the hook ‘she’s not pretty, she’s not ugly’.

John’s lonely vocals echo around the studio on Blow, which has a swampy feel to match the swampy waters of the lyric. Moscato Wine is a waltz where John’s narrator bemoans his lady walking out on him. ‘Don’t feel sorry for me,’ he adds bitterly, ‘it’s amazing how resilient a man can be’. Last Thing You Heard (Jericho) is another triple-time chest-beater where the narrator enlists his brother Jericho to avenge a murder. ‘I’m the courier of truth’ is a good line, as is ‘I’m the cornerstone of truth’.

January (‘nice to meet you’) is another slowie that settles the pulse before the turbocharged Buckskin Gelding, which is my country star name. ‘Between you and I let’s settle this!’ sets up a fight that will convert anyone who says ‘ach I don’t listen to country!’ Ah, but do you know of Red Dirt music? It’s like country but proper.

Gabe Lee – The Hometown Kid

Gabe Lee is a barman in Nashville who knows that musicians are fifty-a-penny in Music City. Happily, Gabe got the support of Grady Smith and Kyle Coroneos (aka Trigger from Saving Country Music) and also A Country Way of Life for his entertaining second album Honky Tonk Hell, which came out in the middle of March 2020. Rats.

Album three comes out on his producer Alex Torrez’s label. It begins with Wide Open, a troubadour’s song with widescreen guitars and, in the lyric, a John Prine bumper sticker. Rusty is about growing old with ‘not enough gasoline’ and has Gabe’s narrator asking for ‘an angel on patrol’. On Kinda Man, he is full of defiance in spite of his regrets, such as injuring his ankle just before he could have gone on to play college football.

Gabe’s voice has the same high tenor range as Lukas Nelson’s, and he uses it well on songs like Over You and Lucky Stars, which hints at trips to therapy or AA groups. One of These Days is a pick-me-up song, with added fiddle, where the narrator despairs of his decisions; the line ‘I have to be honest to my own stubborn ways’ is set to a diminished chord.

Gabe must have an enormous record collection, judging by the influences on this album. Long Gone has the side-to-side sway of a Randy Newman song (‘I used to pray every morning’), while Buffalo Road, another heartache song, sounds like a Jackson Browne ballad from 1971, right down to the wailing guitar solo that anchors it. The album’s second side begins with the delicious acoustic ballad Lonely, which ‘ain’t what it used to be’ with ‘Willie Nelson and a box of wine’. Angel Band closes the album with a punchy drum part and some honky-tonk piano to match the kind of band Gabe wants to play in when he dies.

The album’s centrepiece is the eight-minute suite Longer I Run/ Hammer Down. The former (‘this living is far from just begun’) foregrounds Gabe’s voice with a bass accompaniment before a retro arrangement for verse two. There are even some horns and some sweet call-and-response backing vocals in the chorus, giving it a smooth quality that reminds me of Paul Simon.

Hammer Down is a waltz where Gabe tells his steel player to get playing. That sound, with added fiddle, continues on Never Rained Again, a magnificent love song about how every cloud has its silver lining. For that track alone, you should pay attention to Gabe Lee.

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