Jason Boland and the Stragglers have been making real country music from the heart of Texas for quite some time now. Rather than waste time with pop fluff, these guys have doubled down on honky-tonkers and songs with weight and substance. The result is a sound that is instantly identifiable. With Jason’s latest album, Squelch, he and the Stragglers take a stand and make protest music that matters. Squelch is certainly a left turn from most of country music, but it is a welcome experience.
Squelch is a modern day political album that isn’t really political, and a protest album that isn’t overly preachy. The reality is, it can mean a lot of different things to different people. “Break 19” makes the honest claim “The more I see, the less I claim to know.” Truer words haven’t been spoken. “I Guess It’s Alright” is the loudest song on the album, but is a great sounding country-rock number that criticizes the double-standards of society. “Fat And Merry” may be the best song on the album. The song takes down the tedious lifestyle of the suburban cul-de-sac clones. It has the upbeat nature of a party song, but if you follow the lyrics it is bitterly disgusted. That’s great symbolism for the lifestyle it is critical of. “F***, Fight, and Rodeo” is going to be abrasive to the ears of fans who aren’t a fan of the language, but the song itself attacks the people in charge it an upbeat way. “The First To Know” has even more comments on social issues. The fiddle on “The First To Know” will make you smile whether you agree with it or not. “Lose Early” also is critical of the wealthy class. The theme of this album is dissent with the current state of our country, people, and music. The name of the album, Squelch, references the name of the dial on CB radios that you use to cut through the static. Many of the songs on Squelch do just that in a great way.
Not every song on the album is political. “Holy Relic Sale” is about a lucky pair of blue socks (seriously). Don’t let the odd subject matter fool you; this is a great song. “Do You Love Me Any Less” is a fantastically done tender love song. “Bienville” is a story song about two lost souls that intertwine on the road. “Heartland Bypass” has the melody and story to be the big hit of the album. If you aren’t a fan of the political nature of Squelch, but love Jason Boland, “Heartland Bypass” is your jam. My personal favorite of the album is “Christmas In Huntsville”. The song tells the tale of a man on death row for a crime he didn’t commit. As he spends his final hours thinking on how others are spending Christmas while he faces his demise, you get a feel for the human aspect of capital punishment. The song juxtaposes an upbeat melody and arrangement with terribly sad words in a style very similar to the great Johnny Cash. This is one song that can’t be missed.
Squelch sets out to cut through the BS and make you stop and think. I think this album does that. While many of these songs are political, they don’t really take a side to the left or right. I could easily see a right winger getting charged up by the takedown of those in charge, and a left winger loving the bias against the upper class. That is how you make a great political album. No matter which side you fall on, everyone has problems that are universal. Jason Boland finds these struggles and set them to music. But not just any music. Sweet, old fashioned country music with punk rock attitude. Jason Boland and the Stragglers have had quite the career, and Squelch is a pointed and brilliant chapter to their legacy.
Standout Tracks: "Christmas In Huntsville", "Fat And Merry", "Heartland Bypass", "Break 19", "Holy Relic sale", "The First To Know", "Do You Love Me Any Less"
"The First To Know"