jasonOklahoma-by-way-of-Texas singer, songwriter, guitarist, and bandleader Jason Boland, with his backup group the Stragglers, has been considered a neo-traditionalist country artist and outlaw revivalist on a series of albums that have gradually begun to make an impression on the national charts. His 2010 concert collection High in the Rockies: A Live Album may have marked the culmination of the first phase of his career, however, since its studio follow-up, Rancho Alto, finds him leaning in an even more traditional and folk direction, while revealing a populist strain in his musical persona. Boland places an emphasis on old-timey string instruments here, including fiddle and mandolin (courtesy of Noah Jeffries) and banjo and hammer dulcimer (played by session man Lloyd Maines), with Stragglers member Roger Ray handling pedal steel guitar. The country waltzes and honky tonk ballads show a taste for rural values and tradition that Boland sees as under attack in the modern world. In his sonorous low tenor, he sings about the ground being lost by farmers and country people to tourists and casinos. Whether in “False Accuser’s Lament,” a sort of sequel to “Long Black Veil” (which is referenced in the lyric), or Greg Jacobs’ “Farmer’s Luck,” simple people are at the mercy of powerful forces that sweep them away. Given this viewpoint, it’s not surprising that Boland pauses to pay tribute to a fellow Oklahoman who made some of the same observations in a warm performance of Bob Childers’ “Woody’s Road.” Of course, given his politics, Woody Guthrie was and would still be an anathema to the Nashville music machine, but that’s OK with Jason Boland, who embraces the folkie godfather’s country progressivism and sets it to some danceable rhythms on Rancho Alto.

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