Album Review – The Barlow’s “Horseshoe Lounge”

photo: Dennis Lane

When you think of Colorado, you think of rugged landscapes and rugged folks chiseled out of stone, and steeled in the gauntlet of steep grades and narrow passes. Such is the case with The Barlow. When frontman and songwriter Shea Boynton isn’t packing gear in and out of clubs in the Rocky Mountain region, he’s working in the Colorado oil fields. It’s that kind of blue collar attitude that tattoos the songs of The Barlow with the busted knuckles and brow sweat of authenticity.

Drawing influences from both their native environs, as well as bordering states like Texas for a more open sound, and Wyoming for some Western flavor—and then hopscotching a few states to draw on Southern rock as well—The Barlow is one of those bands you immediately warm up to from their musical energy and infectious sound. They call it Colorado country, and if it wasn’t a thing before, it is now.

It’s really the amalgam of many of the best music influences out there in independent country at the moment that makes The Barlow’s second record Horseshoe Lounge such an enjoyable listen. “Ain’t Ever Comin’ Round” reminds you of the Tyler Childers sound with the fiddle. “Before You Know” calls to mind the harder cuts of the Turnpike Troubadours. “Call It a Win” could be from William Clark Green. “Longest Days” has a bit of a bluegrass feel.

Throwing a song in there from Chris Knight in the form of “Homesick Gypsy,” and including the excellent steel guitar of Zachary Moulton of Mike and the Moonpies on many of the tracks makes Horseshoe Lounge a familiar cocktail of some of your most favorite musical elements, while also holding onto enough originality to result in a sound all its own.

Many of the songs of the record are about making music on the road, and the sacrifices, challenges, and dreams that come with it, including the Chris Knight cover, and the final song on the album, “Part of the Band” where Shea Boynton sings along with Mike Harmeier of the Moonpies. Though the songwriting approach definitely falls within the wisdom of writing about what you know about and lends an overall theme to this record, some of the writing might not connect with all audiences. Nonetheless, the words are solid throughout Horseshoe Lounge, and perhaps reach their peak in the classic country crier, “The Gallows.”

Doubling up on Shea Boynton’s singing parts with harmonies brings out his vocal strengths, and this well-produced album really doesn’t turn in a bad note. In fact what might be the best asset of Horseshoe Lounge is how you can tell they poured their very soul into this album to present the best representation of their music as possible, nailing every solo, reaching out to big time pickers to put their signature stamps on the record, and not settling for anything but what was right for the song.

Complain about the inequities in country music all you want. But making music is a privilege not a right. And to earn that right you have to be willing to put it all on the line, and pour your guts into songs and performances. With Horseshoe Lounge, The Barlow do that very thing, and make their best case to be considered much more than just a regional Rocky Mountain country band.

1 3/4 Guns Up (8/10)

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The Barlow is Shea Boynton, Ben Richter, Brad Johnson, and Troy Scoope.

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