I don’t know how it was around your neck of the woods, but around here, when Ben Jarrell released his album Troubled Times in 2019, we were all slapping our thighs, high-fiving each other, calling up our redneck cousins and telling them they’ve got to hear this stuff, driving 175 miles to see him perform in some podunk bar with seven other people, and a losing our collective country music minds over it. It was full tilt funky country goodness served with a side of skillet gravy and preserves, and there are still people around here who won’t shut up about how Ben’s conspiratorial song “Black Helicopter” is one of the funnest country songs released in years.
Well steel yourself for a very similar experience with his new(ish) album Up and Headed West. Once again chock full of half-time Waylon beats, Jerry Reed hot licks, with a touch of Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd influence as well, it’s the kind of 70’s cool a lot of the hipster kids in country music try to emulate these days, but colossally fail at when compared side by side to what The Ben Jarrell Band is throwing down here.
So the one question you might be asking right now is, how the hell did a Ben Jarrell album released in 2021 slip under our radar until now? I knew he had a new album on the way, and even seen he’d released a couple of singles. But at some point, lines of communication broke down. It didn’t help that the new album was released as “The Ben Jarrell Band” as opposed to just Ben’s name, but there is also something strange with the metadata where are the tracks pull up under the band name on streaming services, but the album itself pulls up under his personal name.
I’d gone actively searching for this album before and didn’t find it. That’s is the deal when it comes to independent and underground country artists that don’t have labels, and don’t have big-time managers or publicists to push them. Sometimes you have to dig. But I’ll be honest, I spit the bit on this one. As your country music sherpa, I should’ve figured out where this album lived and alerted you earlier. But here we are right now, and luckily, I don’t have to lie about how good it is to make up for the lost time, because Up and Headed West really is that lights out.
Few if any performers know how to set the exact right tempo, match it up with guitar tone, and stick the groove like Ben Jarrell does, and in a way that does right by the mood a song needs to set, dictated by the lyrics. Jarrell is the master of this, while the songwriting itself is superior and incisive as well, yet still remains endearingly folksy. And there’s a reason Jarrell decided to put this album under the heading “The Ben Jarrell Band,” because the drums, bass, guitar, and steel, it’s all seamless, shepherded by producer Brett Robinson, who is also known as the steel guitar player for Whitey Morgan and the 78’s.
The songs “Wheels” and “Bald Tires” are textbook examples of what I’m talking about here. Then he drops a song on you like “Jack of Clubs” that gives you all kinds of Allman Bros. blues vibes behind a deftly-written lyrical hook. Even more impressively written is the devastating “Chevrolet’s and Angels” co-written/inspired by Weston Williams, which will get you sniffling and blaming seasonal allergies. And if you’re looking for that song that will give Ben Jarrell’s previous “hit” “Black Helicopter” a run for its money with those smooth half-time tempo changes and hilarious lyricism, “Trucker and the UFO” recorded previously by Joe Kuckla will be right up your alley.
Even more impressive, in this era of give up album covers, Ben Jarrell even goes the extra mile there, creating a diorama just like he did for 2019’s Troubled Times, this time of a sand swept Western town baked in the red of dawn or sunset. You can tell Ben Jarrell expended every effort to make this record right. It’s just a shame so few folks know it’s out there.
Originally from Dothan, Alabama with an absentee mother and a father in prison, Ben Jarrell has lived the life that lends to hardscrabble country songs and brokenhearted recollections. But it’s the way he gets those songs sounding so good that separates him from the herd, and makes it scandalous that he’s gone so overlooked so far in his career.
1 3/4 Guns Up (8.5/10)
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