Consisting of Cleto Cordero (vocals, acoustic guitar), Jason Albers (drums, BGV), Jonathan Saenz (bass, BGV), Reid Dillon (electric guitar), Wesley Hall (fiddle), and Adam Gallegos (piano, keys, mandolin, banjo), Flatland Cavalry is undisputedly one of the brightest stars on the horizon in country music right now. From their 2015 EP Come May to 2019’s Homeland Insecurity, the Texas/Nashville-based group has continued to make their mark on the genre with a sound that’s “easy on the ears, heavy on the heart.” Their third full-length album, Welcome to Countryland, dropped on July 2 and contains all the hallmarks of Flatland’s previous projects: the inherently sentimental tones of Cordero’s voice, evocative songwriting from fresh perspectives, and a sound that expands to push the walls out of any traditional Texas box you try to put it in.
Steel guitar from Spencer Cullum, harmonica and jaw harp from Jim Hoke, B3 organ from Billy Justineau, guest vocals from Kaitlin Butts and Hailey Whitters, and Jake Gear’s production give a newly-minted shine to the diverse set of 14 tracks, stitching together everything from the modern-day Wild West rock of “No Ace In The Hole” to the subtly accompanied dreamscapes of “Fallen Star” and “Daydreamer.” Taken together, these songs form a patchwork – not just of musical styles, but also of the people and places that brought Welcome to Countryland to life. In a recent Facebook post, the band wrote: “This album is a snapshot of all the sounds and stories from all the landscapes traversed, the friendly souls encountered and the emotions experienced throughout our seven year journey through this ‘Countryland’ we all call home. It is a celebration of life, love and loss and as always: Easy on the Ears, Heavy on the Heart.”
Kicking things off, “Country Is…” immediately sets a tone for the album: leave your assumptions at the door, but come on in, sit down, and stay a while. It’s a rock-solid opener, pairing classic country overtones with steel that “paints this ol’ heart a shade of cowboy blue.” Authenticity remains at the forefront in songs like “Gettin’ By,” “Well-Spent Time,” and “Tilt Your Chair Back,” which all take a moment to pause and appreciate the little things we can be grateful for in life: Friday night charcoal cookouts with family, a shared bottle of wine and a sunset, and finally getting to relax after a long week.
While the album’s 14 tracks vary widely in terms of sound, keeping listeners on their toes, one thing remains consistent across the board: vivid songwriting that immerses listeners in each story. “Off Broadway” has an anthemic folk/Americana feel as it glides through images of a night out on the town:
“All the red brick chimneys are puffing with smoke
As we head to the pub and we spark up a toke
And the night it’s as black as a coal miner’s coat
And we sing out of tune like an alley cat choir
And cough through the laughter and tobacco fire
If tonight were a steeple it couldn’t sit higher
This place that I hold in my heart
For all of my friends”
“Dancin’ Around A Fire” is one of the album’s standout tracks, pitting the fiddle’s firelight flicker against shadowy bass and guitar which capture the sense of intrigue that the lyrics reflect.
“Sawdust, smoke and lights
Mirrored moon burning bright
Would ya hold me close and tight now, babe
Dancing with danger in the arms of a stranger
Circling down a dancehall drain
Early morning light shines through a stained glass window
Outshining neon signs and dives that only we know
The preachers leading service and you’re singing in the choir
‘Lead us not into temptation
No more dancin round a fire’”
In many ways, Welcome to Countryland is a natural continuation of Flatland’s catalog. “It’s Good To Be Back” feels like the flip side of a coin, where the front half is Homeland Insecurity’s “Come Back Down.” The same could be said for “Life Without You.” Cordero met his now-wife, Kaitlin Butts (who was just on our podcast) when they sang together on Humble Folks’ “A Life Where We Work Out,” which plays through a daydream of what life would be like if the couple had been able to stay together. “Life Without You,” on the other hand, features Butts and Cordero imagining how colorless life would become without their other half: “it’d be an uphill fight/long days and lonely nights/just a game I’m bound to lose/it’d just be something I’d get through, life without you.”
In that same vein, Flatland songs have always done “bittersweet” exceptionally well when it comes to matters of the heart; Welcome to Countryland is no different in that respect. Where “Gettin’ By” and “Tilt Your Chair Back” focus on soaking up the here and now, the past and present bleed together on the album when it comes to lost love. “A Cowboy Knows How”(the band’s first outside cut, written by Luke Combs, Jonathan Singleton, and Dan Isbell) takes a rock-tinged look at trying to drown both a memory and hindsight during those post-breakup blues. In “Some Things Never Change,” Jason Albers’ drums recreate that heart-pounding feeling of a chance encounter with an old flame, while Wesley Hall’s fiddle keeps it light and playful.
With a little something for everyone, Welcome to Countryland is an easy listen that still makes a strong impact. The album has a sense of awareness to it; it’s observant and relevant, but without the painfully sharp edges that sometimes come with looking at the universal thread of life experience that we all share. The arrangements feel thoughtfully crafted and designed to maintain interest throughout. Each song has something different to offer, and these tracks almost beg to be performed live. If you can, make sure to catch Flatland Cavalry out on the road this summer (tour dates here) and follow them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for news and updates.
- Country Is… (written by Cleto Cordero, P. Palomino)
- Some Things Never Change (written by Cleto Cordero, Ava Suppelsa)
- A Cowboy Knows How (written by Luke Combs, Dan Isbell, Jonathan Singleton)
- Gettin’ By (written by Cleto Cordero, Jason Nix)
- Well Spent Time (Cleto Cordero)
- Life Without You (feat. Kaitlin Butts) (written by Cleto Cordero, Brian Keane)
- No Ace In The Hole (written by Jason Albers, Cleto Cordero, Reid Dillon)
- It’s Good To Be Back (Round Here Again) (written by Cleto Cordero)
- Tilt Your Chair Back (written by Cleto Cordero, Ryan Necci)
- Fallen Star (written by Cleto Cordero)
- Daydreamer (written by Cleto Cordero, Adam Landry)
- Dancin’ Around A Fire (written by Cleto Cordero, P. Palomino)
- Off Broadway (written by Cleto Cordero)
- …Meantime (feat. Hailey Whitters) (written by Cleto Cordero, Lainey Wilson)
Stacie Hestand – Raised Rowdy Contributor