Album Review – Flatland Cavalry’s “Homeland Insecurity”

It’s one incredible testament to the vitality of the Texas music scene that a young troupe of musicians from Lubbock playing short-run tours in between college semesters can do so well for themselves that they’re headlining festivals and receiving millions of plays on their songs, and all without a legitimate record label. While many Nashville Americana acts and up-and-comers get showered with praise from the press with little proof of concept, Flatland Cavalry is upgrading to a tour bus before they receive their diplomas due to the reception they’re finding among appreciative fans, and the respect they’ve earned from their and peers and elders in a region where songwriting, honesty, and authenticity come first.

Just as bands like the Turnpike Troubadours certify their dominant status by getting national opportunities, a band like Flatland Cavalry comes along to take their place as the next great thing, feeding the music scene with fresh blood. Similar to Turnpike, Flatland Cavalry carries a more country rock sound compared to the straight-laced honky tonkers, yet the strong presence of fiddle keeps the music firmly grounded in its Texas roots, as does the songwriting that adheres to the elevated standards insisted upon by fans and peers.

Their second album Homeland Insecurity is presented as one that should be regarded very favorably, but with a few initial concerns. Unfortunately there are some production matters that trouble the ear upon first listen. Frontman and primary songwriter Cleto Cordero is a fine singer, but that’s not the reason you listen to Flatland Cavalry. You do so for the songs and the melodies. But multiple times on this record, Cordero’s vocal signal is just a little too boomy, or wet, especially on the song “The Other Side of Lonesome,” which is a sweet little country tune, but one that sounds too watery to really get into.

The next song on the album called “Back to Me” suffers a similar fate, while the guitar tone just doesn’t seem right, even if the parts themselves do. The entire record feels like it could have benefited from a slightly better production suite, including the sequencing of the songs themselves. The best material on Homeland Insecurity is back loaded, which is something the listener should take note of. If you’re worried the album sounds a little weird for you in some places, or light in substance early on, stick with it.

Ultimately these concerns melt away as the melodies and emotional moods make Homeland Insecurity a great listen, and it delivers a generous handful of songs to feed your everloving country music soul. Make room in your listening rotation for the lonesome and moody “Living By Moonlight,” the incredibly-infectious chorus of “Lonely Then,” the hypnotizing, waltzing lullaby of the well-written “Pretty Women,” and the delightfully depressing and intimately acoustic moments of “Sleeping Alone.”

Flatland Cavalry isn’t a group of feisty kids trying to live out their rock n’ roll fantasies in a Texas country band. If so, they would have dropped out of school and moved to Nashville years ago, or followed in the footsteps of Koe Wetzel. Cleto Cordero is a thoughtful and gifted songwriter who feels challenged by his contemporaries in the flatlands of west Texas to pen songs that say something, but that also implement a study and development of melody that renders compositions widely appealing and enjoyable live. Flatland Cavalry is also an assemblage of old souls who have studied the legends and are looking to put their own spin on the music, spelled out perfectly in the song “Old School.”

Some will wonder what the loss of Flatland’s original fiddle player Laura Jane Houle has done to the outfit. It is a shame that she’s no longer around, if for no other reason than she helped legitimize the whole thing by her sheer, shimmering presence on stage. Whatever Laura Jane is on to now, she should feel confident that wherever life goes henceforth, her contributions to Flatland Cavalry were crucial to the initial formation and appeal of the band, and are greatly appreciated by fans. But new fiddle player Wesley Hall is filling in admirably, and singer, songwriter, and Cleto Cordero love interest Kaitlin Butts adds a female presence to this record in the form of harmonies, and semi-regularly joins the band on stage.

By creating networks of fans, touring opportunities, local radio station support, and nationally-impacting festivals and events, artist who choose the Texas country scene don’t have to compromise who they are to see their musical dreams realized. If Flatland Cavalry and Homeland Insecurity are any indication, than the future of Texas country is secure indeed.

1 3/4 Guns Up (8/10)

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