By Jonah Covell
With Tough Country, the group are steadily moving West Texas further from periphery on the country music map, bringing a larger audience to the tales and mythologies of this tumbleweed kingdom.
Label: The Panhandlers / Deep Roots Management / Make Wake Artists
Release Date: 3/3/23
Producer: Bruce Robison
1. Flat Land
2. Where Cotton Is King
3. West Texas is The Best Texas
4. Midland Jamboree
5. Tough Country
6. Moonlight in Marfa
8. Valentine, For Valentines
9. Santa Fe
10. The Chilton Song
11. The Last Gentleman In Southwest Texas
12. Last Hangover
13. The Corner Comedian
14. I Got Your Back Dog
“I will see your bones bleach into the sun and slowly turn to dust.” While such a line may read bleakly, on the opening track of Tough Country, it sounds almost comforting. The land it describes is ancient and eternal, surviving through cycles of boom, bust and miles of dance line echoes long after all of us. This quartet knows that - it’s part of what keeps them coming back.
Three years after their first album, The Panhandlers return for a straightforward, heartfelt and affirming sequel. The group of Texas mainstays - Josh Abbot, William Clark Green, Flatland Cavalry’s Cleto Cordero and the alchemist John Baumann - have only grown in stature in the three years since putting out their first record together.
While it's proof of their commitment to the place they belove that they decided to hunker down and make another one of these, it still sounds like the process was a whole lot of fun in the process.
In spite of its name, Tough Country is easy and comforting on both the ears and heart. With the exception of the brokenhearted ‘Santa Fe’ and the hardscrabble of ‘The Corner Comedian’, the crew leave most of the weepers at home.
While we wouldn’t recommend listening to ‘Santa Fe’ if you want to keep your eyes cloudless, the group largely come together to record songs that pay tribute to the occasionally rough life on the Flatlands while jovially asserting their strong regional pride.
You can queue ‘Lajita’s’ for its swaggering romp, ‘The Chilton Song’ for a groovy drinking song or ‘West Texas is the Best Texas’ to hear some digs at Huston that refreshingly have nothing to do with the Astros.
But if you’re only going to listen to one track from this project, it should be the title track, where each member gives an appreciative ode to their surroundings before some Texas country instrumentation delivers one of the most beautiful instrumental outros you’ll hear this year.
An old writer once theorized that the world's great places are never seen for the first time, because a new visitor has already visited many times before in stories, movies, and songs. Despite churning out a consistent stream of great music and songwriters, West Texas hasn't really gotten that rep.
With Tough Country, The Panhandlers are steadily moving West Texas further from periphery on the country music map, bringing a larger audience to the tales and mythologies of this tumbleweed kingdom.
8.5 / 10
The Panhandlers' 2023 album, Tough Country, is released 3/3 via The Panhandlers, Deep Roots Management & Make Wake Artists.
For more on The Panhandlers, see below: