It’s all been done in country music. You’ve heard that before, right? Well Jason Boland has never been one to acquiesce to that idea, even while still putting together a legendary career as one of Red Dirt’s stanchest traditionalists. So a concept record about an alien abduction? Sure, sounds like a hoot, if you can pull it off. And lucky for us, Jason Boland can, and does.
Based on a cowboy living in Texas in the 1890s who is abducted by aliens and ends up back in Texas in the 1990s, The Light Saw Me is partially inspired by the story of a rumored UFO crash in Aurora, Texas on April 17, 1897 before most folks even knew what a UFO was. So yes, Jason Boland’s new album really is about an alien abduction. But it’s also about so much more.
The drag of some concept records can be finding tracks to separate from the concept for simple listening enjoyment. That’s not really an issue at all with The Light Saw Me. Only a couple of the tracks solely work within the concept itself. Another issue can be interludes and other noisiness that can clutter a track list when you don’t have the time to listen cover to cover. The Light Saw Me doesn’t have any of this either. And sometimes with country concept records, the concept gets ahead of the country. That’s also not a concern here.
The Light Saw Me is a concept record, but it’s also just a Jason Boland and the Stragglers record, meaning you get a good handful of good country songs and a couple of rockers, only with a cohesive theme tying the material together, making it something more interesting than just another album release in a long career that goes back all the way to “The Farm” in Stillwater where Red Dirt began. Boland is trying to keep things interesting and fresh both for the audience and himself here some 20 years into his journey.
Don’t worry, there’s not a lot of weird synth noises accompanying this album. If you weren’t told beforehand, you probably wouldn’t know this is a sci-fi country record until giving it multiple spins. The song “Here For You,” and later “Restless Spirits” originally by Bob Childers, work autonomously as country music love devotionals. On top of the whole alien abduction concept, there is a close tie to Hank Williams on this record, both with the title and lead song that draw from Hank’s spiritual “I Saw The Light,” to another song called called “Straight Home” that borrows heavily from “Wayfaring Stranger” and a host of Hank compositions.
The album ends with a simple country picking instrumental with fiddle, dobro, and acoustic guitar. Again, The Light Saw Me is a country record first, then a concept record. But you knew, especially with Shooter Jennings producing, that there were going to be some operatic full-tilt rockers in the track list too, and you’re not let down by “A Tornado & The Fool,” which will have you hyper-extending elbows as you bang away on the air drums.
About the only stuff some may find as weird are the spoken word “Transition Out” and “Transition In” tracks. “Transition In” may be a little too much for some people as it dives deep into the philosophy behind alien study that may require you to dispel belief, to be really into alien lore, or potentially, be really high to appreciate. But “Transition Out” is sort of like the map key to really understanding what this album really is about.
The Light Saw Me is about something more that getting beamed abroad a spaceship and being shipped off to 100 years into the future. The album is about the existential questions man is presented with, sometimes in a brilliant and startling fashion. Whether it’s encountering an alien spaceship, feeling God enter your soul, seeing a vision, or taking a trip on a psychedelic mushroom, there are a host portals where humans can be awakened to a reality bigger than themselves. It’s Hank Williams seeing the light.
Not being afraid to embrace the unknown, and being willing to accept the wisdom this confers is what The Light Saw Me makes you wrestle with. Such big questions lacking answers are usually not reserved for country music. But again, this is Jason Boland.
Us music snobs tend to overvalue the concept record, similar how we give our favorite living legends leniency when it comes to late career output. But you just can’t help but appreciate Jason Boland for being bold and ambitious here when he could just be setting the cruise control and perform “Pearl Snaps” for the next 30 years.
There is a “very good, but never very great” aspect to The Light Saw Me, and when you hear the opening line of the first song say, “Come hear the tale…” it reminds you how the song cycle in country music is not as rare as it once was. But like all successful concept records, you appreciated the ambitiousness, and the outcome equals something greater than the individual parts.
1 3/4 Guns Up (8.5/10)
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