Viva El Campo

rememberArriving in Austin a few years ago, I anticipated diving headfirst into the Austin music experience, determined to mine the healthy reserves of musical minerals. One of those first offerings came on a cool evening in the back of Buzz Mill, the local Riverside Drive meeting place for lumberjacks and coffee connoisseurs alike where log benches, infused whiskies, and barbecue mingle. The band was El Campo. They impressed me on this initial encounter, and I soon began seeing the group other places with varying levels of performance. I even played a show with them one evening. My band was fractured and incomplete, and El Campo rollicked through their familiar set I had begun to recognize to a point of predictability. The initial hook had dulled and I began to drift in my penchant for the band. Yet, this is a beautiful thing — let me explain.

Living in Austin, one is granted the privilege of being surrounded by an incredible wealth of creative musicians and artists. Cohabiting temporally — observing an artist’s process — is an opportunity we aren’t so lucky to possess all the time. That’s why when El Campo released their first full-length record, I had to hear it. I had to cash in on all the time I had invested watching the band and thinking about each performance: “This is a good night for Jerid,” or, “Come on, Rudy!”

Last June, El Campo released a 7″ called Open Casket, with help by Punctum Records. It was a glimpse into the band’s potential, but not nearly as defining as Remember, their new LP, a collection of years of hard work culminating in 10-tracks. The album is strong. Well-recorded and well-produced, I see Remember as a concept of Texas proportions. Our singer probably never “Rode out to the mountains while the rain was on the porch,” or, “Hitched a ride in the cargo bay of a Greyhound bus,” but he knows who did. These are stories, poetically lyricized and delivered in a curious way that strangely reminds me of punk rock. Maybe it’s the whiskey they serve here in Texas, maybe its got something in it that cuts a little harder than the stuff up north. It’s like when Kristofferson says, “’cause there’s something in a Sunday/that makes a body feel alone/and there’s nothin’ short of dyin’/half as lonesome as the sound/on the sleepin’ city sidewalks/Sunday mornin’ comin’ down.” This refrain seems to encapsulate the El Campo lifestyle. Maybe it’s more like a Bright Eyes song from I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning, where poetically explicit emotions mingle with folk and country styles, delivered with the punk rock snarl of youth. Wide(Bright)-eyed romanticism, picking up those last shards of humanity that make the whole mess worth it:

“I remember, still, you alighting there/on the farthest hill in the baby’s breath/What if I told you I hid a sinister lie/that I will carry your love for life/that it ain’t going to die?/Well, I doubt that you’re listening anyway, Love/But I wrote you this record to prove that it ever was,”  Jerid sings on “Baby’s Breath.” And then comes the pedal steel solo, and after, Austin’s own Mariachi Relampago release us into the big sky, the open field, and closes out the album.

This is a beautiful record with immaculate cover design by lead singer and songwriter JR Morris. It deserves to be listened to and looked at, even if you haven’t been following the band. They’ve carved their niche in the Texas music tradition with an album of triumph, despair, and heartbreak, serving to reaffirm our own places in the nation of Texas.  Hats off to El Campo. Viva El Campo.

Buy the record here, in beautiful 12″ vinyl form.

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