As career trajectories are measured, Red Shahan has covered a hell of a lot of ground in the three years since the release of his debut, Men and Coyotes – not to mention since his salad days a decade ago, when he began haunting the Lubbock club circuit and made the fateful decision that music would be his life's path rather than baseball, rodeo, or firefighting. Men and Coyotes was originally released in the summer of 2015 with little fanfare, but the red-headed troubadour with the lonesome howl and penchant for somber portraits of busted boom towns and gritty, white-knuckled anthems wasn't long in hitting his stride and building a loyal audience the old-fashioned way: organically, from the ground up.
Shahan's now poised to reach an even bigger audience with the release of his sophomore album, Culberson County. But as the new album's title track makes pointedly clear, far from being swept away by any of his forward momentum to date, Shahan is still proudly rooted heart, mind, and soul in the West Texas earth from which he sprang. And yes, he's still got a thing for coyotes, hearing in their wild cries not just the music of wide open spaces, but a defiant note of stubborn resiliency that speaks to his own instincts as a hardscrabble independent artist compelled to write about the all-too-often unsung – and unseen.
The harrowing "Enemy" is a documentary-style report from the frontlines of backwoods meth country while other tales from the dark side include "6 Feet," about an incarcerated drug dealer dreading the cartel justice awaiting him, and heartbreak ode "How They Lie." Songs like "Hurricane" and "Idle Hands," address the emotional tug-of-war of a traveling musician weighing the temptations of the road against the comforts of home. Although much of Culberson County may be as unapologetically grim, there's a handful of songs here like "Waterbill" and "Someone Someday" that reveal a lighter touch and even a flash of tongue-in-cheek humor. And then there's the politically charged fist-in-the-air anthem "Revolution," which flat out rocks.