Album review: Jason Boland & the Stragglers – The Light Saw Me
A story that deserves more than skill
An 1890s cowboy is abducted by aliens and transported to the 1990s. This is the plot of Jason Boland & the Stragglers’ debut concept album (and 10th album overall), and it’s certainly intriguing. on paper – a classic American archetype removed from its time and transported to a stranger with it. Unfortunate that The light saw me is really not interesting. The band try to mix their formula of electric guitars and weary voices of the world, but it doesn’t work. Instead, people are left with insufficient drama in the delivery and little atmosphere in the compositions to support the narrative.
Boland & the Stragglers are one of the forerunners of the Dirt Red sound, which sounds like alt-country in its grasp of rough muscle rock but doesn’t have the hooks or pop sensibility of Old ‘music. 97, for example. The heavier guitars help Boland and the Stragglers stand out from their peers, and the coiled electric tracks on “Terrifying Nature” and “The Light Saw Me” have a lot of sizzle. The first half is familiar territory between these raspy cuts and the ballad “Here for You”, with its harmonies and violin solo. It’s nothing new for the Stragglers, but it’s executed well and it’s definitely the stronger half.
A concept like this seems perfect for the recent influx of dreamland, with its scintillating atmospheres aimed at creating a cosmic feel. This sound is successfully broadcast on “Straight Home”. With its slower tempo and constant pedal steel flutter and truncated, anguished guitar chords, there is an oppressive, sullen quality to the song that works even in the face of its overwhelming acoustics.
But the rest of the second half, which concerns the arrival of the cowboy these days, never taps into that same spark. “Restless Spirits” has superb, moving harmonies, but it’s too bright and powerful – it would have benefited from sounding more fragile and shy. As the title suggests, “Future” is meant to sound eerie and out of place with its watery sparkles and funky bass, but it’s too windy to capture the terror of the cowboy landing these days, and that’s no. isn’t quite wild enough to appear like a wacky slap to the protagonist of the fish out of the water.
The biggest source of inconsistency on the album is Jason Boland himself. He has a great voice with a lot of warmth and tenderness, but that doesn’t fit into this topic. Halfway through the album, Ken Layne, host of a podcast titled Radio Oracles of the Desert, features two spoken word passages discussing the parallels between aliens and cryptids, and how the eureka moments in science, art, and religion are more similar than followers of anyone who would like to believe. He’s passed through a filter to sound surreal, but Boland can’t match him with his straight, unassuming voice. He’s at his best singing about touching subject matter and interesting real-life stories, like “Hard Times Are Relative,” which uses cowboy time travel to comment on a changing world.
The album ends with “Faux Reel”, a three minute jam session with more flair and fun than any of the previous tracks. It’s enjoyable listening, but for a concept album, it doesn’t make much sense as an epilogue. There is nothing objectionable in appearance The light saw me—Boland is a veteran who knows how to serve comforting meat and potatoes. But the band’s performances just don’t do the record justice. Maybe it’s best to approach it as another Stragglers album, as it’s falling apart as the concept album it was promised to be.