Red Shahan: Culberson County (Thirty Tigers)

Reviewed by Bill Tokash
Red Shahan was born in Bluff Dale, Texas, a small town southwest of Ft Worth, but he spent a fair amount of his formative years as an emerging artist in the Lubbock area after attending Texas Tech. His sophomore release, Culberson Country is a slice of pure, sun-drenched, West Texas singer-songwriting perfection. His outstanding first release, Men and Coyotes, has a slightly less gritty Ryan Bingham, Texas Roadhouse feel. But on Culberson County, Shahan couples his smooth, lonesome vocal style with simple, evocative, small-town narrative songwriting that sounds to me like what Whiskeytown would have sounded like if Ryan Adams had been born on a ranch somewhere between Big Spring and Sweetwater.

The record starts out with Waterbill, a Creedence cum Hayes Carll-inspired song that highlights the challenges of getting the water bill paid and the challenges of making ends meet (you ain’t livin’/less your livin’ life broke). On Enemy, Red articulates the stark realities of rural, West Texas meth culture, and on 6 Feet, Shahan lays down the full-on incarceration blues.
For me, the Whiskeytown authenticity comes through on cuts such as Culberson Country, Memphis (with Shahan’s mom on backing vocals!) and Try. On Someone Someday, a song co-written with Brent Cobb and Aaron Raitiere, Shahan ties the best hooks on the record together with a nice, singalong chorus.
On How They Lie, Red comes through like a modern day, West Texas Woody Guthrie, as he sings about a family that seems to get robbed by a fountain pen instead of a six-gun. For me, the record works best when Shahan sticks to the hardscrabble, haunting pedal steel, West Texas personal landscape narratives that foreshadow songwriting skills that likely will mature nicely as his career progresses.
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