The Brad Cunningham Band
Every Inch of Texas
It’s too easy to forget that Kansas City’s traditional country music is still out there.
Part of the blind spot is the residual glow from the flash of contemporary country acts that, to their credit, regularly land in town. Some of the neglect comes from music so stratified that acts without a hyphen (i.e., not alt-country, bro-country, etc.) have trouble persuading audiences to bridge beyond their favorite sub-genres.
Then a group like The Brad Cunningham Band reminds us.
Cunningham, who grew up in Ashland, Missouri, just south of Columbia, now calls Kansas City home, and there are Kansas City (and “northwest Missouri”) nods on the CD. Yet the band clearly identifies with “Red Dirt Country,” Texas and Oklahoma artists like Jason Eady, Courtney Patton, Wade Bowen and the Turnpike Troubadours (whose pedal steel player, Ryan Engleman, appears on several cuts).
That musical bond makes sense, even geographically. The band moves deftly between honky-tonk and acoustic sounds; guitarist T.J. Klein, violin/mandolin player Kyle Pudenz, vocalist Rachael Turner and the rhythm section of Drake Detwiler (drums) and Kyle Day (bass) land as comfortably on gritty, rock edges as they do on bluegrass licks.
The album was even recorded in Norman, Oklahoma, where the dirt really is red. In the two most hard-driving songs, “Every Inch of Texas” and “Goin’ To Texas,” the Lone Star State represents a refuge — the place where misunderstood and deeply in love folks go when they just can’t take it anymore.
But Cunningham’s lyrics about non-glamorous problems and heartaches to be fixed — preferably before morning — are the real connection to that gritty sound. There are no cowboys or trucks here, but there are struggles. (Okay, there is a train song, although the comparison of a dangerous woman to the Wabash Cannonball in “Another Train Song” makes it closer to “Brick House” than “Rock Island Line.”)
Cunningham’s songs about stepping away from the scuffles of everyday life let him chart out his own territory. “Slow Down,” with its Tex-Mex guitar echoes, starts off with the exhausted “Can someone show me where the stars went?/Cause they sure ain’t shining here,” and by the time he decides that “It’s time for a slow down,” the music is every bit as sultry, in its own way, as “Slow Hand.”
That beat-up mood — “Life’s too crazy and we need some rest” — kicks off the CD in “Long Way Home.” Far from a song about a loneliness, it’s about driving a section road instead of the highway to spend a few extra minutes with someone you love. Even “Let’s Dance,” a gentle, mandolin-driven melody, is a song about making things right. Cunningham begins with the vulnerable-but-direct admission “I remember how/we always said/we wouldn’t let it slip away/like our parents did.” It’s a sweet song about waking up a troubled loved one in the middle of the night … just to dance.
This debut, more than anything, is about healing. That’s an important reward for any music, no matter where it’s from.
KCUR contributor Mike Warren has written for a variety of local and national music publications, including No Depression. Follow him @MikeWarrenKC.