Album Review – Stoney LaRue’s “Aviator”

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Stoney LaRue: One of the few artists the national media will label as “Red Dirt” and actually be right about …. though it will still be by mistake from the common misconception that “Red Dirt” and “Texas Country” are interchangeable.

The Texas born, Southeastern Oklahoma-bred singer and songwriter who once swept the floors at the Tumbleweed Dancehall was just as famous for his own songs as he was for being the brother of Bo Phillips and the “guy in the bandanna” in the Red Dirt scene until his 2011 album Velvet really put him on the map as his own man. His earlier career had been filled with a lot of heartfelt music and mostly live recordings—he was the life of the Red Dirt party so to speak—but by his own admission it was mostly driven by just really wanting to be involved in the music he was surrounded by as opposed to putting his own signature stamp on it.

Velvet changed all of that, and it wasn’t symbolized just by the few cents extra that he splurged on to have the jewel cases covered with short, wine-colored fur. This was Stoney asking and answering the question “Who am I, and what is my sound?” Still as great as that album was, there was sort of a safeness, a pensiveness to the approach you could sense if you put your ear to the ground, almost like Stoney knew he hit on something right, but still didn’t have the confidence in it completely to deliver it with 100% commitment. He needed to get it out there in the public to see how it was received before fully buying in that what he was feeling was right, and good.

stoney-larue-aviatorWith his new album Aviator, you not only get that great, signature Stoney LaRue sound, you get it with Stoney and all the involved parties buying in by not just showing confidence, but even showing a little boldness and willingness to do some things a little offbeat, run some songs together and carry others out a little longer than they should be, and this all results in that enriching Stoney LaRue mood becoming even more enhanced.

Aviator isn’t one of those albums you cherry pick through to the best songs. That would be like choosing a favorite child, because all of these songs are great and work so well together and in succession. This is one of those albums you put on for a long road trip or a restful backyard barbecue and then press repeat when you get to the end. It is the embodiment of that laid back Texoma flavor that doesn’t just remind you to take a deep breath and appreciate life for the moment, it demands it.

From an “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mindset, Stoney LaRue assembles the same team to work on Aviator as he did for Velvet, including producer Frank Liddell, most famous for his efforts with Miranda Lambert (including getting Stoney to sing backup on Miranda’s 2013 hit “All Kinds of Kinds”), and producer Mike McCarthy. Cut mostly live and to 2-inch tape in Nashville’s historic Studio ‘A’, the album has an organic, loose feel, with a lot of the live energy embedded in the tracks. Along those lines, this is an album that makes you want to hear these songs on stage. Though one of the underlying factors in Aviator‘s inspiration was LaRue’s recent divorce, even the dark moments are turned gray or rosy from the easy-hearted attitude that permeates this project.

Written with his common co-conspirator Mando Saenz, and released by eOne Music who should help Stoney enjoy a little more exposure though this release, Aviator is one of those albums that defines a career when many of the Red Dirt originators are growing long in the tooth, and a lot of Texas country headliners are letting the Nashville influence seep in a little too much. This is good country music, and bonus tracks “Natural High (for Merle Haggard)” and “Studio A Trouble Time Jam” are also worth hunting down.

Not just an album of great songs, Aviator is a great album cover to cover.

1 3/4 of 2 Gun Up.

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Preview & Purchase Tracks to Aviator