Album Review – The Dimestore Cowboys (Self-Titled)

Chances are if you walk into a local honky tonk and there’s a country band set up on that rickety stage wedged in the corner, they’re probably much better, and more country than whatever is playing on corporate country radio at the moment. You’ll also be more inclined to root for them and find favor with their music, because they’re not ensconced on some pedestal, they’re folks just like you, singing about their second guesses and personal struggles, doing what they can to scrape by and have a little fun on the way. That’s country music at its kernel root.

The Dimestore Cowboys out of Johnson City, Tennessee have that blue-collar, local honky tonk feel to them, imbuing the band with the authenticity that results in international appeal for those who know what country music is supposed to sound like, and be about. These are real songs from real folks, a little rough around the edges, but bolstered by brutal honesty, and a mastery of twang and the Outlaw country half beat.

The band is led by singer and songwriter James Brashears, who first tried his hand as a bull rider, wound up as a bull fighter, and thought he’d found his way in life, winning a championship buckle until he got charged and ended up in the hospital for weeks with a cracked skull. Now he’s out here singing for his dinner, playing a right-handed guitar left-handed, and putting his real life stories to twangy fills and steel licks.

The band’s self-titled album very much dwells on those moments where the brain latches onto an honest stock taking of your life and where it’s at, wondering if and how things could have been different, focusing on missteps and missed opportunities. Much of the best country music is about loneliness, and there’s rarely a more lonelier moment than these that creep up on you as you lay in bed at night, trying to sleep, or stare at your own reflection in the mirror, wondering what you’ve done with this life.

But these moments must also be balanced out by being grateful for what you have, the loved ones around you, and the memories you’ve made, and the effort you expended, even if at times it didn’t bear fruit. This is the meaning behind many of the new songs of The Dimestore Cowboys, from “Settling Down,” to “Ain’t Got The Time,” to the harrowing “My Reality” written by the band’s bass player Jason Shaffer.

The songs of The Dimestore Cowboys are more well-written than not, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be chock full of visceral entertainment like the best country songs always are. This is born out from the band laying hard into the twang of country, slathering on the Telecaster bends and steel guitar, sticking it right at the very top of the mix, sometimes even louder than the lyrics. They could be reciting the phone book, but you’d still be digging your boot heel into the ground from the way this music hits you.

Maybe if frontman James Brashears didn’t get the better end of a bull, maybe if he’d dedicated himself more to country music early on, maybe if he had taken the plunge and moved to Nashville, things would be different. But isn’t that what most all of our minds gravitate towards in the quiet and restless moments? A precious few of us get to live out our dreams. The rest of us resort to calling audibles and hoping for the best. But that’s what country music is for, to get us through the worst of times and moments of self-doubt, and The Dimestore Cowboys are most certainly country music.

1 1/2 Guns Up

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