Sometimes. music throws me a curveball. It’s pretty rare these days, but occasionally an artist or band from outside our Commonwealth comes along unexpectedly, and their music rockets them into heavy rotation for me. When that happens, I feel incredibly compelled to share those artists. I make every effort to try and shine a light on them, and I’ve basically made it my job to do so. It’s a responsibility that you folks have come to expect, and I don’t take it lightly. Another but here though, sometimes though, an artist comes along and I know the best way to convey how I feel is to just let my emotions flow. That’s what you’re gonna get in this article, and the Red Clay Strays are the reason why.
I’ve been watching these Alabamians (Is that a word?) Alabamans? since they released their new album, ‘Moment Of Truth.’ When I saw them playing in Huntington with one of my favorite Kentuckians in Eric Bolander, well the decision was made. I had to be at The Loud.
Mr. Eric Bolander opened the night with a stripped-down performance consisting of himself on the electric guitar and vocals, alongside bassist Kyle Mullikin.
Some of Eric’s finest traits are his wit and charm, and when you’re playing a minimalistic set, you best be able to entertain, and Eric delivered in spades. Taking a few moments here and there to chat with the crowd made this smaller show even more intimate. Keep being you Bo, we love ya!
His love of music and humor were also on display on his guitar. The one and only Laid Back Country Picker happens to have a David Bowie sticker on his Telecaster. LBCP also has a logo designed to resemble the Bowie logo, where did it show up on Friday night? Bolander’s Telecaster.
Eric and Kyle kept things fun and delivered a memorable time for all in attendance. Intertwining everything from humor, song back stories, and even Nintendo bass interludes, the dynamic duo performed several of my favorites, including “The Wind,” “I’ve Only Started,” “Cold Men,” a FANTASTIC rendition of “Oh Lord,” and my favorite performance of the set in, “Closer To That Flame.”
I know that on a personal level, scoring a show with the Red Clay Strays was high on Eric’s “bucket list” if ya will, so I’m happy to have been blessed to experience that with him. Let’s make another happen at The Burl next! Enjoy some audio from Friday night as Eric performed “I’ve Only Started” below.
It was time for the headliners to take the stage and as I stood there filled with anticipation, I made a decision to be in that moment and enjoy this smaller show, because I know these guys will be playing much larger venues very soon. So instead of taking notes and writing all night, I focused on the musicianship on The Loud stage. My biggest takeaway? These fellas know their way around their instruments and their futures seem even brighter after Huntington.
Vocalist Brandon Coleman mentioned that they’ve been playing and touring with these songs for roughly five years now, he added that it felt really good to have an album in hand for this tour. Their precision and comfort level onstage exuded that experience, and really helps me paint the picture of just how good these guys really were.
Many bands struggle to recreate their studio sound onstage, but with The Red Clay Strays, I’d argue the opposite. I felt like the band outperformed their studio performance. So an album that really, really impressed me and took me two hours from home to see a younger band, was dwarfed by the performance on the stage at The Loud. Did I expect that? Hell no. Who in their right mind would do so? That’s nearly an impossible task, but it happened and it seemed incredibly easy for these fellas. They’re playing Renfro Valley in the Old Barn Theater on December 10th, come hang out and listen in awe with me. You may wanna tie your jaw up first, so you’re not stepping all over it that night.
The Red Clay Strays played most of, if not all of, ‘Moment Of Truth,’ they sprinkled in a few new songs they’re working on, and even an impromptu cover tune, but we’ll get to that in a moment.
The first song I want to mention is “Forgive.” The second song on the night absolutely lit me up with the ole chicken skin. Goosebumps galore when Brandon hit that first chorus. Those backing vocals were present all night long, but there were moments when those harmonies were absolute music gold and “Forgive” was near the top of that list. Those ending choruses where Brandon really got forceful vocally were one of my favorite moments of the entire night. That young man has “it” in spades!
I will say though, had you told me that I’d be seeing a young man 6’6″ wearing a sweater, slacks, and black and white wingtip shoes while singing these songs, I probably would’ve thought you were pulling my leg. Partner those up with the pompadour, high-strapped guitar and the occasional Elvis twitches though, and by golly it works. Quite well actually! Call me a fan.
One of the newer songs they played was about spending time with people that just waste your time. I didn’t catch the title, so we’ll just go with “Wasting Time” for now. A definite rocker, the song structure reminded of AC/DC, but in a good way. Like if they wrote a Southern Rock anthem for Lynyrd Skynyrd. It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly is the magic in this band, but I’m going to say that it’s wearing their influences on their sleeves. Not using them as a crutch as so many do, but there are moments when you get a little bit of Deja Vu, and that’s most likely a testament to the writing abilities of these young men. Here, just watch a performance and you’ll completely understand what I’m saying. Promise. You’ve been warned though, you’re gonna be tapping a toe at the very least!
Was I right? Thought so!
“Heavy Heart” may be one of their slower songs, but in a live setting, it may be their heaviest. One thing is for sure, it’s definitely one of their most powerful songs. The raw emotion in Brandon’s voice seemed like it was from a fresh wound that his heart just can’t let go. I realize that Brandon doesn’t write most of the lyrics, but his heart was all over that performance and it was staggeringly beautiful.
We were treated then treated to yet another new tune that quickly transitioned to their current single, “Stone’s Throw.” I’m not going to say much about that, you can jam along below. Be sure and listen for Brandon to hit the rasp throughout the choruses though!
Soon after, Brandon took a seat to play some keys, and if I’m honest, that’s where he came alive. My personal favorite track on ‘Moment Of Truth’ is “Do Me Wrong,” and it was absolute perfection. It’s a song that just has a timeless feel to it. It feels like it could have been written in the 50’s or 60’s, or last week. It’s just brilliant and a definite favorite on the night.
That led to “She’s No Good,” a song that I’d say is a great head nod to Lynyrd Skynyrd and their classic, “Gimme Three Steps.” It’s a honky tonk romp about a gal with bad intentions and one that the entire band has a blast playing. And we all know, that when the band has fun, we all have fun!
Guitarist Drew Nix then took over the vocal duties for a couple of songs. One being “Oxmoor Valley,” the other being the John Prine classic, “Pretty Good.” “Oxmoor Valley” is a song about Drew’s hometown of Birmingham, and it was perfectly complimented by Mr. Prine. It’s hard to do justice to any John Prine song. Drew certainly did, especially with Brandon on backing vocals and piano, but I feel many folks are too intimidated to tackle such iconic songs. Songs that sound like no one else. When you hear a John Prine song, you KNOW it’s a John Prine song, and that’s the true beauty of an artist like John Prine.
Without missing a beat, “Pretty Good” quickly became “Sunshine.” As Brandon described it, “This song is about feeling hopeless in life, but trusting in God anyway.” I think you need to hear this one to understand it’s power. So I’m going to link to an amazing performance from Western AF. You’ll also see just how “at home” Brandon is at the piano.
Probably my favorite lyrics on the album are within “Ghosts” and that groove laid down by bassist Andrew Bishop was just nasty, in all the right ways.
Had you asked me what song I anticipated as being my favorite performance of the night, “Loving Me,” wouldn’t have made the top five. So for that, I’m sorry guys. “Loving Me” was ridiculously good and if it’s not a single at some point, I’ll be shocked. A love song for the ages and an anthem for many men, myself included, that have definitely overachieved in the love department. Everything clicked and fell into place for this one and it was my favorite performance of the night. Probably them daggum harmonies again. **shakes fist violently**
I think the song that the band enjoyed performing the most was “Killers.” Brandon spoke about the recordings intertwined with the music on the album. Those are actual recordings from the Vietnam War. It just seemed that the band were all lost in this performance. So I’m going to give you a chance to experience that audio. I think it’s, as my British friend says, bloody brilliant!
I’ll wrap this up pretty soon, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention “Don’t Care.” I saw in an interview that this song is the only song on the album that Brandon wrote. I often use the term hauntingly beautiful here on this site, if you’ve ever wondered what on Earth that means, well, seek out a live performance of this one. Between the raspiness and the drums being absolutely beaten to death during this one, all you can do is step back and become a witness. They certainly got an Amen from me!!
I mentioned the drums being beat to death, right? Well, something broke. Lol Brandon then took the opportunity to sing a song that his brother wrote. It’s so new they haven’t even written music to yet. I believe the title was “I’m Still Fine.” Brandon made the comment that it was one of his favorite songs to sing at the moment, and it showed. It has a very poppy chorus, but one that allows for some great raspiness as an exclamation point. I’ll go out on a limb here and say that there’s a GREAT chance that “I’m Still Fine” will be a single on the next record. The potential is massive for that one, and I can’t wait to see how it evolves over time.
And that leads me to a moment that I won’t soon forget. For me personally, there is no artist more important to me than Don Williams. I’ve enjoyed Don’s music across four generations and there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t hear his voice. In fact, I had listened to Don for most of the way to Huntington. So when the drums were still being prepared, Brandon broke into “Amanda” by Don Williams. His version is closest vocally to the version that Chris Stapleton does, and if I may say so myself, it rivals his version. The day that Don passed away, I was at a Chris Stapleton concert in Cincinnati. It was also the day that Troy Lee Gentry died in a helicopter crash. It was a show that I nearly didn’t attend because the rescheduled date was on my wife’s birthday, and it’s the only time I’ve ever shed a tear at a concert. If you’d like to read more about that day of a thousand coincidences, you can do so here. I won’t bore ya with the details here, just know that Brandon and Drew blew me away before ending the night with “Doing Time,” and “Good Godly Woman.”
I do want to mention that drummer John W. Hall in closing. He kept my attention most of the night, as he’s an absolute madman behind the kit. I’d compare him to Black Stone Cherry’s John Fred Young, but in a less heavy musical setting. John had no problem pulling back his intensity to suit the songs, but when it was time for the tempo to pick up, you best not get in his way. He becomes a human jackhammer and his drum mics become unnecessary. Ashland probably heard some of those hits across the river from Huntington. Hell, I say John’s worth the cover charge all by himself. The rest of the band is the proverbial icing on the cake, as they definitely hold their own and deliver like few can. I do want to add that after hanging out for a few minutes after the show, these fellas deserve our support. You can tell that these young men live and breath music. If these guys were athletes, you’d call ’em gym rats.
It was a night that I won’t soon forget and hopefully, we can all hang out and enjoy this juggernaut of a band at Renfro Valley on December 10th.