Album Review – Chasen Wayne’s “Strange Places”

#510.1, #563, #590 (Classic Country, Cosmic Country, Underground Country) on the Country DDS

Taking a novel, intriguing, and diverse approach to country music—but one that still nestles squarely in the genre and affirms its roots—Chasen Wayne has released an album that will pull you right in and demand repeat listens from the infectiousness of the tunes, and the unintuitive turns for you to explore and unravel.

The first two songs on the album “Ancient Outlaw Dance” and “Hondo” come with a strong Western musk, with rockabilly/surf inflections in the guitar work that give off a dark and foreboding atmospheric feel. But this is just where the album begins. You’d be a fool to assign a specific sound to Chasen Wayne. Instead he seeks the right sonic palette for the intended mood of each song to compliment the storytelling and cinematic approach.

It’s the Tom Waits-esque piano instrumental “Sober Seymour” that sets up the story of the song “Cocaine Katie.” This is one of multiple moments where an interconnectivity makes this album so interesting. But don’t worry that it will be too involved or obtuse. Songs like “Valley of the Stone” or the final track “No Stranger” work great as just good ol’ country songs that are a hoot to listen to.

By avoiding all the well-worn grooves and ruts that most country albums invariably fall into, Chasen Wayne makes something that’s much more than just an audio distraction for your daily commute. All of this is complimented by a confident delivery by Chasen and his more than capable band called Honky Tonk Machine. They make an album brimming with robust textures.

You could conclude that for certain songs, Chasen Wayne’s vision outpaces the production a little bit. That’s going to happen with an independent, self-released album that’s so ambitious. At the same time, it’s the underground nature of this album that makes it so cool. Chasen calls Austin, Texas home, and Strange Places feels like an Austin album in a good way. That only makes sense since Chasen is on the front lines of the fight to keep the Austin honky tonk scene alive.

Chasen Wayne is known in some circles for being the talent buyer for one of Austin’s newest (and perhaps best) honky tonks—Sagebrush on South Congress. Earlier this year, he arranged for Zach Bryan to record his video for “9 Ball” in the joint with Matthew McConaughey. Later, Bryan shouted out Chasen Wayne as the “last real cowboy in Texas,” or something to that effect. Of course that’s hyperbole, but listening to Chasen’s new album Strange Places, you kind of understand what Zach was getting at.

You can sit back and grumble about all the difficulties and deterioration in the music scene of the “Live Music Capital of the World.” Or you can get busy trying to do something about it. With Strange Places, Chasen Wayne rekindles Austin’s creative spark as a place known for making country music that’s out of the ordinary.

That’s pretty damn “cowboy” if you ask me.


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