Can it really be a coincidence that Howdy has six songs on it? Beer is sold in packs of six and multiples thereof, and The Cropdusters‘ new album is a good night of drinking waiting to happen. Following in the footsteps of its Red Dirt and alt-country mentors, The Cropdusters made an album that embraces all the conventions at the heart of country’s rootsy soul.
One convention that’s especially welcome is the return of the ballad–the real ballad, not the power-chords-and-weepy-lyrics version we got in the ’80s. No, the real ballad is a person’s life story, real or fictional, and bassist Brian Azevedo penned a nice one in “Quantrill,” the story of a soldier and his bloody march to revenge. The throwbacks don’t end there, either. The classic “road song” is present in “Big Great Lakes,” guitarist Jeb Venable’s ode to the virtues and vices of a life spent wheeling down America’s US highways and their many roadside stops. Venable speaks from experience here, having toured America with the Ryan Bingham Band for more than a year before coming back to Springfield. It’s a personal tale he’s been honing to just the right feel ever since, and he’s got it down here. “Medicate Me” is this band’s rowdy honky-tonk stomper, an exoneration from past mistakes by passing it off as being a product of one’s generation: “Don’t blame me/I was raised on MTV/medicate me/from responsibility.”
Every song on Howdy has done time on music’s great incubator–the stage–so anyone who has been to a Cropdusters show will recognize everything they hear. It’s nice to have the producer’s guided hand to bring out the sound of individual instruments with joyous clarity, a credit to Jonahthan James and Ryan Spilken of Close/Far Studio for corraling the musicians and getting their best effort on record. While the band’s devil-may-care energy is subdued a bit, it’s not the producers’ fault. The Cropdusters, just like many of the bands they draw inspiration from, are a live band called upon to make records, not vice versa. This six-pack of tall ones–er, songs–is just an introduction.