Album Review – “The Panhandlers” (Self-Titled)
The Panhandle of West Texas is not exactly somewhere one would choose to end up. Balls hot in the summer, frigid and windy as hell in the winter, with no shade or shield from trees or really any topography to speak of, “flatland” doesn’t even seem to do justice to just how incredibly still the swale of the earth is throughout the region. It’s only due to ample oil reserves, some decent grazing land, the ability to grow cotton in the crumbling ground—along with an Okie or two that broke down in Dumas during the dust bowl and never left (pronounced “doo-mus” not “dumbass”)—that you have enough population in the area to justify an outlet mall or two.
The landscape is bleak for sure, but since the beginning of recorded music, boys and girls from the Panhandle area have been making their mark, from Buddy Holly and Waylon Jennings, to the second generation guys such as Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, and Terry Allen, to Lloyd and Natalie Maines, all the way back to Vernon Dalhart who was the first ever country artist to sell a million copies of a single in the mid 20’s before The Bristol Sessions even took place. Chalk it up to the lack of natural beauty in the area inspiring the inhabitants to make some of their own through song and rhyme, but the greater Panhandle region has produced more than its fair share on musical contributions to America.
The Panhandlers continue that rich tradition into the present day, though the respective pickers and singers were already doing so well before the formation of this supergroup. Josh Abbott is a bonafide headliner from the region, right up there with Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen for top billing in Texas music. William Clark Green who went to college in Lubbock is right on their heels. Cleto Cordero is the frontman and primary songwriter for Flatland Cavalry, one of the fast-rising groups from the region, and John Baumann is a revered songwriter who includes a cut for Kenny Chesney on his resume.
It all came together as a proposed tribute to the Flatlanders group from back in the early 70’s (Jimmy Dale Gilmore, Joe Ely, Butch Hancock), inspired after watching a Dixie Chicks tribute perform at The Music Fest in Steamboat Springs, CO in early 2019. This escalated into a songwriting session with the respective members in Marfa, TX, and next thing you knew they were recording an album for Bruce Robison’s The Next Waltz outfit.
The Panhandlers aren’t just bound by their ties to the region. The geography and people of the upper portions of West Texas is what this music is all about. The set starts off with arguably the best song called “West Texas in My Eye,” not written by any of the Panhandlers members, but by noted West Texas songwriter Charlie Stout. This sets the table for ten tracks that run through the trials and tribulations of the region with such insight and clarity that you taste the grit between your teeth, hear the wind in your ears, and feel the sun on your back until you find yourself alone on the flat plain yourself, beholding the self-reflective mood of the surrounding nothingness.
From falling water tables to failing farms, this is an account of an unforgiving land nobody would ever choose to call home. Yet people still do, and find the beauty in the few places it lingers—the flower on the top of a cactus, a pretty girl in a truck with a good taste in music and a friendly smile. And no matter how unappreciative the rest of the world may regard this seemingly nondescript place, a deep appreciation rests in the heart of its residents, because it’s responsible for who they are.
Though The Flatlanders who inspired this project were known mostly for mixing country and rock with folk-style songwriting similar to other performers from the Panhandle region, this record is mostly a country affair, but with loose arrangements cut live to tape in The Next Waltz style. There are plenty of quality performances on the record, but don’t expect a slick product. That’s not what they’re aiming for here.
The stories and setting is what makes The Pandhandlers interesting, engaging, and significant. Though this should be regarded as a really cool supergroup and side project, it does feel like a side project nonetheless, if that makes sense. This is a record appreciated more being stumbled upon as opposed to highly-anticipated, just like that original Flatlanders material after the respective members went on to launch successful solo careers, and you found their albums lingering in the back of record stores until they became legendary. Sometimes the writing feels a little hokey, and the production flat on a few of the songs near the end. They do their best to harmonize, but these four as singer were probably not the ones you would hand pick to form a choir together, even if their respective singing talents are fine.
The loss of regionalism in recorded music has directly paralleled its decline. It’s also one of the reasons the Texas and Red Dirt scene remains so rich and vibrant compared to its mainstream counterpart. Performers bringing their personal stories and regional dialects to the music, even from this limited region is what has kept it so lush.
The Panhandle may not have much to look at. But it sounds amazing.
1 1/2 Guns Up (7.5/10)
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Purchase The Panhandlers
March 6, 2020 @ 10:51 am
I like the approach to this album. Its honest, its authentic. It doesn’t feel overly aggressive to produce the next barn burner red dirt song since Trunpike’s hiatus. Songwriting is well crafted despite it falling a bit flat musically at some parts. Personally, I see John Baumann shine the most on these tracks.
March 6, 2020 @ 11:03 am
Baumann is probably the guy that has the most to benefit from name recognition through this project, and he represents himself very well.
March 6, 2020 @ 11:02 am
Really enjoying this album. I like the lack of production. The last song caprockin’ is my personal favorite.
March 6, 2020 @ 11:08 am
Impression after only a few spins is 8.5. To me the harmonies, though not the perfect fit, still work well. The melodies are good and the feel is loose and natural. Considering the album’s theme, I wouldn’t expect the lyrics to hold too much deep meaning. The production also works well to my ears. I have little issues with the whole thing, or maybe better said…I’m enjoying listening to it.
March 6, 2020 @ 11:20 am
I’m playing cards with JD Shellnutt chief of police tonight and I think this stuff is a little soft to put on the youtube with the boys.
Sir Adam the Great
March 6, 2020 @ 12:49 pm
The dots are where I say they are. Melody and tune, that’s your trade. You’re a tunesmith.
March 8, 2020 @ 11:06 am
March 6, 2020 @ 11:30 am
March 6, 2020 @ 11:37 am
Completely agree that it feels hokey at times. And its slow could of used one or two more songs like No Handle to carry this song a bit more. Josh brought nothing really to this endeavor should have picked Dalton Randall or Red honestly because they bring more to the songwriting table then This Is My Life. But like you said there definitely is some good on here West Texas InMy Eye, The Panhandler are songs that stick out to me. It’s good not great. Caprockin is a great song though love the piano in it and baumann is a genius.
March 6, 2020 @ 11:43 am
Depending on how you define the Panhandle, It is actually one of the prettier and wilder parts of Texas, due entirely to the Caprock. I have spent many days and some lonely nights in the canyons that cut into the escarpment. Hoodoos, caves, arches and even waterfalls abound. I am surprised how few songs have been inspired by these iconic landscapes. James McMurtry’s ’60 Acres’ is the only one I know of that mentions the caprock and it is not flattering. Shotgun Rider called their album ‘Palo Duro’ but that wasn’t necessarily a focus of the music. I’d love to know if there are any others.
March 6, 2020 @ 2:24 pm
I personally love the Panhandle, and the way the vastness really helps put life in perspective and context, like being on the open sea, or underneath the stars. The Caprock escarpment and Palo Duro Canyon are rendered that much more spectacular by the flatness of the surroundings. It makes you appreciate the topography that much more.
March 6, 2020 @ 2:54 pm
March 6, 2020 @ 11:57 am
The Panhandlers: a regional “supergroup”.
The qualitiy of all ten tracks is high. My highlight is the album opener “West Texas In My Eye”. For a second or two i hear “The Highwayman” in the background.
New Texas & Traditional Music:
Will Banister – “Easy To Love” – Single/Track – Released
George Strait styled throwback song.
Freeman Arthur – “Superman” – Single/Track – Released
2nd single. Great voice. Midtempo. Kent Blazy is involved.
The Teague Brothers Band – Harvest Day – 8 Tracks – Released (10/03/2019)
First single “Coyote” was a small hit on the Texas Top 100. New single “Rainbow Bridge” is #70 (up 18 places) this week. Great EP.
The sound is country with an edge & a prominent fiddle. My highlight: “Fingers & Thumbs”
Pecos & The Rooftops – Red Eye E.P. – EP (6 Tracks) – Released (01/23)
Country rock with blues undertones on “Conociste” & a melodic ballad “Wouldn’t Have To Miss You”. My highlight: “Leave Me Lonely”.
Wynn Williams – Wynn Williams – Album (14 Tracks) – Released (01/23)
One of the new names on the Texas charts. “Yeah Buddy” was a Top 10 hit a couple of weeks ago. The album starts with one of the strongest tracks: the atmospheric “Tornado” & ends with the emotional ballad “Hide The Whiskey”.
Not all 14 tracks can hold the level. My highlights: “Tornado” & “True Colors”.
Traditional & traditional leaning (mainstream) music. 14 tracks are 3-4 tracks too many.
Hayden Haddock – Red Dirt Texas – Album (10 Tracks) – Released (01/30)
14 month after the release of his first EP (First Rodeo) it was time for the first full length album: Red Dirt Texas. The title track is the album opener & first single (#56 on the Texas Top 100 this week).
The album is loaded with follow up singles: “Friends Like These”, “Where You Come In”, “Still Dancin'”, “Honky Tonk On”…Hayden Haddock keeps it radio-friendly & traditional (leaning).
Cody Hibbard – Memory & A Dirt Road – EP (7 Tracks) – Released (01/16)
My winner! More on the mainstream side of the Texas “sound” with an edge.
My highlights: “Dying Breed”, the title track & the first single “Half Whiskey, Half Lonely”.
Boxcar Junkies – Est. 1973 – EP (6 Tracks) – Released (01/30)
Next new act. First single “Hey Mama” made my playlist. Mainstream country rock.
My highlights: “What About Love”, “Hey Mama” & “Dream Of Angels” feat. Gary Hoey. Not bad guys!
March 7, 2020 @ 12:42 pm
Thanks for all the tips on the new music.
March 10, 2020 @ 2:42 pm
I always look for your recommendations and check them out. Have found some gems this way.
March 6, 2020 @ 12:14 pm
This record is so satisfying, such a pleasant sound.
Trigger, is there a rant coming from Keith Urban’s new single?
March 6, 2020 @ 1:36 pm
Great record. Joseph, please do not mention that name on a country music website!
March 6, 2020 @ 2:10 pm
Oddly enough, Keith’s older records are actually what got me into country music.
March 6, 2020 @ 2:20 pm
The new Keith Urban song is not good, but relatively benign. Not sure it’s rant worthy. Perhaps I’ll address it at some point.
March 6, 2020 @ 12:21 pm
I like everything I have heard from this so far. Of the two songs attached to this article, I slightly prefer West Texas In My Eye. I can’t pinpoint exactly what it is, but there is something about both songs that is very real and honest. It could be the lack of gimmicks and technological influence, but I’m not sure. I haven’t heard the whole album yet, but I will definitely have to get it! I am happy to see that it is available on my preferred format of CD.
March 6, 2020 @ 2:08 pm
West Texas In My Eye, is great.
Lyrics poignant. Very.
Water/lack thereof, is of huge concern to everyone out in the Panhandles.
A lot of ranchers have gone under, because not enough water. Cattle sold for next to nothing, because without the water grasses aren’t growing, for feed.
And hauling/trucking feed in, comes at an exorbitant price.
Nuclear med isotope courier, Richard, who came up from Amarillo, sat the ammo box on the counter one day, & seemed very troubled. Asked Richard, what’s wrong?
He said, that the day before, he had seen a cow on fire, at the hooves, and a little up the legs, standing in a field, and no one could get to it.
Oh God, we just stood there, tears in our eyes.
Grass fires are huge out there.
Sometimes, driving back from Amarillo, the sky would be glowing an orange-ish red, because of them.
And a few years ago, 3 people in their 20’s were burned alive, when they scrambled, to move livestock, out of the path of one of the fires.
The panhandles of both Texas & Oklahoma mourned their deaths.
It was awful
March 6, 2020 @ 4:02 pm
Skip Hollandsworth penned an article for Texas Monthly about the three people who passed way in the fire. It’s titled “The Day the Fire Came”.
March 6, 2020 @ 4:19 pm
Thank you. I will look that up later this evening & read it.
God, it was just so sad.
Tore all of us up
March 6, 2020 @ 6:04 pm
What are the odds Trigger would post this today.
No wonder my heart and head have been with friends in Amarillo, & Guymon, the last few days.
There are no words …
Really hoping that all of the families & friends, with their Faith in God, are managing to do ok
March 6, 2020 @ 2:24 pm
Listened to it this morning, once all the way through, and I have to say, it sounds like West Texas feels. It’s a really solid album and I’ll be happy to purchase.
March 6, 2020 @ 3:22 pm
Yessir! It sounds like west Texas feels- except it’s in the pan handle of Texas- west Texas is east of El Paso- 🙂 Both tracks from the article feel authentic and sound even better.
I love the Amarillo area. Take US287 to Colorado sometime- awesome drive. The entire area around Amarillo is unique- and beautiful with no trees to get in the way of the view.
You can see thunderstorms coming from a long ways away and watch sandstorms wreak havoc on paint getting dust into air tight places- gotta love it!
I had a buddy in the Navy who drove from Michigan to Long Beach- (this was way before the Interstate system)- he said Amarillo amazed hem because all he could see for miles and miles was more miles-
March 6, 2020 @ 3:52 pm
OMG, you know that area, on 287, just before you pull into Stratford, coming from Amarillo, on the right?
Everytime passed it, there is this one particular place, that looked like it would make a great hideout!
And, 12 MILES out of Dumas, you can SEE Dumas.
When came back home, there were all these trees on the side of the interstate, & one of my friends said, What The Hell Is Wrong With You?
I looked over with a What???
She said, your normal speed is bat out of hell.
We’re going the speed limit.
Laughed, a little sheepishly, and said i was being careful of deer bolting across the road.
After 10 years of being out in the Panhandles, had to learn how to drive again.
Out there, we put her to the floor, & run with the trains!
March 6, 2020 @ 6:21 pm
Yep, drove it many times in an 18 wheeler- also, take 87 into NM- there is a little creek with dead trees that is absolutely awesome- I always wished I could stop and spend the night at the little rest area but my schedule was always too tight-
Being a west Texas boy I have to give props to Lights of Loving County- the geography (before I even reached Balmorhea) ain’t exactly on course to El Paso, but damn that song speaks to me
March 6, 2020 @ 5:21 pm
Wow, this is really good. It’s like you stumbled into the room and these guys were just sitting around jamming for the hell of it.
March 6, 2020 @ 7:29 pm
I love this record for many reasons, having gone to Texas Tech in the Early eighties, as well as most of these guys, getting a degree in Horticulture, and working at the School radio station K-TXT, around the time of The Maines Brothers, Joe Ely, Stevie Ray, Stubb’s and the Flatlanders, who were solo by then, it gives me the feeling that you can go home.
I’ve been a big fan of Texas music and West Texas especially, and it’s nice to see these young guys carrying on the tradition of good music that celebrates the roots of where they are from and doing it well. I saw Cleto and WCG two weeks ago in NYC and they were awesome, big crowd and they were very entertaining, genuine, and you could see they love what they do.
I returned to Lubbock 3 years ago when my daughter decided to attend TTU and was happy to see the old place was still similar to what it was when I was there 40 years ago, but even better, and hadn’t lost its identity and the talent pouring out of there these days should make Butch, Joe, and Jimmie Dale very proud that they thought enough to give a nod to them and do something nostalgic, but also fresh to celebrate a often overlooked but beautiful part of this country
March 7, 2020 @ 4:35 am
They look like sodomites. I thought Isbell cornered that market. Make record covers great again!
March 7, 2020 @ 4:13 pm
After a few spins I’m really starting to appreciate the simpleness and beauty of it. Songs like The Panhandler, Lonesome Heart, and This Is My Life are great. Cactus Flower Cleto’s ode to Kaitlin with her singing background is my favorite. I’m a sucker for an honest real love song.
March 9, 2020 @ 4:44 pm
This album has been a grower for me. I’m not familiar with all of the members enough to know which is which, but the Cleto-dominate songs seem to be favorites. While this album is obviously meant to represent a very specific region, this corn-fed Ohioan can definitely relate to the flat, windy loneliness of the songs’ themes.
March 9, 2020 @ 10:20 pm
Having listened to the album about 7 or 8 times now, I really love it. The first few times I was suspect of the second half of the album with the exception of “Caprockin’.” But I have come to appreciate the album as a whole and I can’t stop listening to it.
I feel John Baumann is one of the most under appreciated people in the Texas/Red Dirt country scene (Listen to the EP, West Texas Veracular and the LP, High Plains Alchemy). He is and extremely talented song writer, with a flair for clever and witty lyrics, who also happens to have a very good and distinct voice. Along with Cleto, Baumann really stands out on this record. This album almost feels like like a Cleto/Baumann project.
March 14, 2020 @ 12:42 pm
Great album. As someone who loves the West and the gritty feel it has, this album really hits home. Need to go on a roadtrip back to the Panhandle again sooner than later.