Music is math. This isn’t exactly a secret; everyone should know that at some level every note of music is based on some form of mathematics. Even just speaking has a sort of mathematic style to it. Iambic pentameter is a lyrical style mainly for poetry, but can also be used in song. This is most evident in jazz where the beats are counted as 1, 2, 3, and 4 as a sort of timing device. There are deviations from this in respect to the avant-garde or Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” which was really the precursor to the avant-garde in that it took the traditional four count and made it five. So what does this have to do with anything you ask?
Well at the base of mathematics is a formula or formulas. Everything can be solved or whittled down using a formula. X + Y = Z. That’s a formula. Music is formulaic also. Sometimes people try to break that formula to see if they can expound upon something so as to be innovators, but rarely does that work. Dave Brubeck made it work for one song and then returned to traditional free-form jazz which still has the four beat formula. The avant-garde tried valiantly to go without the use of math and really created a chaotic mess.
Country has had two distinct formulas for the past 30 years. One is the pop country personified by people like Kenny Rogers, Garth Brooks and Tim McGraw. It’s a hybrid of country that is geared towards a formula that appeals to all people. It keeps a minimal twang, but really has its designs more on appealing to people in the mainstream. It’s designed to move records off the shelf by sticking to the pick-up truck, I love USA and good looking men/women formula. And it works. Those people that pay for that know what their getting, it’s predictable and that’s the way they like it.
The other formula has been around a bit longer, but was lost for a while, that’s the Indie/Bluegrass faction that is the actual forbearer to much of what turned into pop-country today. That’s Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Marty Robbins from the old school and Whiskeytown, Uncle Tupelo and The Avett Brothers from the new. That formula says to leave the twang in, let the banjo have a role and mix up fast and slow so as not to lull anyone to sleep. It’s far different from the pop formula, but still adheres to a formulaic structure.
That’s where Goodnight, Texas comes in. Their new album, A Long Life of Living, comes out October 2 and the main issue I have with it, is that it doesn’t stick to the formula. There are some really good moments on this album, but I sat there listening to it waiting for them to turn it loose and it just never happened. The slow, sullen Civil War-like ballads that fill this album are excellent, but it’s clearly missing something. That something could be that it isn’t daring enough, it doesn’t take chances and we want that in our music. There is a sort of inert feel to this album as it slothfully ambles from one song to the next.
The talent is clearly there, but is the ingenuity? It is very reminiscent of Whiskeytown, but like later Love is Hell era Ryan Adams, it isn’t very exciting. This band differs from other new bands like Trampled by Turtles in that they try to break away from the formula and that’s a mistake. Adhering to the formula does not make one inherently formulaic, it just simply follows the recipe that has taken many other bands and put them on the successful track. Goodnight, Texas has the ability to make a great record with fantastic voices and wonderful melodies, but this is not that album. The message is painfully lost in the minutia that forgets the one transferable formula throughout all music: Let musicians be musicians.
Best Song: I’m Going to Work on Maggie’s Farm Forever – A takeoff of Bob Dylan’s classic “Maggie’s Farm” this song describes hardship in a beautifully sentimental way. It is one of the songs that I felt really showed the band’s ability to craft a beautiful, thoughtful, well-orchestrated song.
Goodnight, Texas’ debut album A Long Life of Living can be preordered now.
You can stream the full album here.