Goodnight, Texas delivers familiar goods
If the music gig doesn’t work out for the gentlemen of Goodnight, Texas, they could conceivably ponder successful careers in film, as “cinematic” is a word that often materializes while listening to their latest album, Conductor. Not that their sound is particularly grandiose, in the manner often meant by that word’s application to music – things are mostly earthen and spare, even if this is certainly the folk/blues/rock outfit’s most electrified outing. Rather, “cinematic” seems to describe Goodnight, Texas’s romantic evocations of bygone times and places as well as the sources that informed them.
Conductor, in the means and nature of its storytelling, suggests a strong interest in the Western genre, with noble outlaws and bastard lawmen and the like figuring prominently. “Tucumcari” describes a hoped-for refuge in the titular town while tracks like “Keep Movin’,” with its lone acoustic guitar churning like a thundercloud, and fuzzed-out blues stomper “Outrage for the Execution of Willie McGee” layout scenes and ideas in their titles alone. It is refreshing to hear a band reach beyond their own experience in their music. Songwriting that is confessional, raw, personal or any number of variations and derivatives of those qualities has been the artist-pleading-to-be-taken-seriously’s bread and butter for much of the modern age, and not without good reason, but space must always remain for the imaginative, literary, even fanciful, and it is made on this album.
Still, there is another edge to that sword, and with those positives rides a concomitant artifice that the band doesn’t seem to know how to handle. There is an inherent absurdity to coastal millennials singing about hard times on the plain and while it doesn’t bar an average listener from enjoying the music, some discernment leaves you wanting something more – maybe that’s more self-awareness, maybe more scrutiny of the recycled American myths trafficked here, maybe more present urgency – it is for the band to decide.
And I hope they do since Conductor is quite a strong album from quite a talented young band. The songs here are mutable, often turning unexpected corners and willing to explore and develop what they find. The singing and instrumentation are always strong and the electronic flourishes suit the band, and there are moments when the songwriting rises above reiterative generality, as in “Taking Your Word For It” (“If it’s a sure thing that you need / Cut your finger and watch it bleed / Listen to me child if you please / There ain’t no guarantees”) or “Homesick,” which captures the hollowness at the center of the rambler’s life, merging slickly the personas of writer and character. If they double down on expressing and distinguishing their unique selves in this manner, Goodnight, Texas will keep out of the movies. For better or worse.