Come and hear the tale of a cowboy, raised up into the sky… Those words come from the opening track of Jason Boland & The Stragglers’ newest project, The Light Saw Me.
This isn’t your typical country music album, Hell, even for Boland and The Stragglers, this isn’t “typical”… at first glance that is. Country music is at its best when it is a vehicle for storytelling. This is a story that you want to hear.
Concept albums can be tricky. People want to hear the tunes about beer and parties. Throw in a tear-jerking love song or two, and then keep it going full throttle with more party lyrics. That hasn’t been the M.O. for Boland and his group ever. Coming out of the worst of the pandemic, the group had time to record and wanted to do it. After discovering Ken Layne and his Desert Oracle Radio show, Jason read a book the podcast and radio host recommended.
“I read John Keel’s ‘The Eighth Tower’… and at that moment, just messing with some riffs, one always felt like fishing to me which became The Light Saw Me and then, what if, this riff to The Terrifying Nature it just became, ‘Come hear the tale,’ you know?” Jason Boland explained to Outsider in an exclusive interview. “What if this is the carny barker talking about this? What is the tale?”
That’s where we begin the journey, with a carny barker and a little story about fishing at night. A journey that takes us through space, time, human nature, and spirituality. With cover art from Keith Neltner, the album looks cosmic and interesting. The storytelling within is even better.
Working with Shooter Jennings Again
When you shop an album around as The Light Saw Me, it can scare most folks away. Who would want to produce or mix an album about a cowboy from the 1890s being abducted by aliens dropped off in the 1990s, traveling across space, time, tackling existential questions…? Who? Well, how about a guy who believed in his own concept album in 2010 only for it to go unnoticed and unappreciated?
“You know Shooter [Jennings] didn’t even care. That… that was exciting. That’s what made it almost a foregone conclusion that he was going to be the producer, really.”
The Stragglers had worked with Shooter Jennings in the past. The group also worked with the producer on Dark & Dirty Mile. So, that was one of the first projects that Jennings produced as part of his new focus away from his solo career. Now, years later, they are back again with a tale that seems taken out of a sci-fi novel but speaks to the human condition.
“He [the main character] sees something in the sky, he tells people. [So], everybody bears witness to the extreme thing that they see. Most of the people don’t believe him and turn on him. You know, it’s the classic journey. He’s got this thing greater than him that takes him out of his reality, drops him into a different reality, and how would we resolve all the existential questions that poses, you know? Who are we?”
Making Alien Abduction Relatable
As our cowboy is taken up into space, thrown around time, and into a different reality, he starts to think about his normal life. What he would be doing otherwise, and perhaps what he would rather be doing. Here for You grounds our story a little bit.
“Bouncing across the rings of Saturn/Standing in line for my turn to pay/Talking about some things that don’t matter/With folks I don’t care what they say/No matter where I go/No matter what I do/I’m always right here for you.”
The song has been popular in regards to streaming, as far as The Light Saw Me goes, it has been one of the bigger tracks. Perhaps it has to do with the simple message. We all go through our daily lives doing the things we have always done. We don’t think of it as a special occasion to go to the store, talk to the random person in line at the grocery. However, what happens when you are thrust into another reality? How important would those mundane things feel to you in that moment?
This pretty much concludes the first half of the album. What Jason Boland and The Stragglers planned as the “country side” of the album transitions into one of the coolest and most unique parts of this album that really set the vibe and the story up moving forward. Ken Layne. Desert Oracle Radio. And a whole lot of spooky narration that sets us up for our climax.
Ken Layne Gives Jason Boland & The Stragglers One Take Gold
Those that remember that Shooter Jennings album Black Ribbons might remember the narration that it had. Jennings had Stephen King cut some vocals on that record and it didn’t go over too well. It seemed too weird for listeners at the time. However, Ken Layne was able to make it work with a cadence and flow like no one else out there.
“We had to move a couple of things around, but he [Ken] got in there and we hit play on those musical parts and he just started riffing and that was it. … And he did the intro and then, a couple of those parts we bumped a couple so they would fit what he was talking about. … Just the flow and the vibe of what you hear was all on point. He never repeated anything, it was all one take.”
And, if Transmission Out and Transition In start to send chills down your spine…makes you feel uneasy…unsure of what you know to be true and what you know is a myth… well, that’s all part of Ken’s deal and is exactly what Jason Boland & The Stragglers wanted to have on The Light Saw Me.
Of course, it sets us up for the transition in our story. The cowboy from 1890 is now trying to get back home. Except he doesn’t know when he will be home. So, Future brings us out of the spooky narration from Layne and into, well, the future. After this funky tune that makes you feel like you are bouncing along on the ride home, we get ready for our moment of bliss.
Having Restless Spirits in Space
One of the things that bother Jason Boland about the early perception of this record, released at the end of 2021, is the take that it isn’t a “relatable” record. As a storyteller in music, Boland has put out more than a few “relatable” songs. If you’re into country music but can’t get into a sci-fi cowboy tale, I don’t know what to tell you. Where I come from, superstition and supernatural beliefs run pretty deep.
Those that can’t be convinced by the first half of the album, or by Ken Layne’s narration, need to do nothing else but listen to the ninth track on the album. Restless Spirits. It’s an old Bob Childers track, and something the Stragglers have made part of their shows over the years.
“In that moment in Restless Spirits when he sees that light in her eyes. That’s the ‘Okay, there’s something, something that ties it all together. Even though I’ve experienced something that I can’t really put words on.’ So, in that instance, it’s not that crazy of an album. And that’s what we’ve always tried to go back to that and make it relatable and listenable.”
What’s more relatable in country music than a tale of a homesick and lovesick cowboy? Just because he’s been taken across space and reality instead of sent to Detroit or New York or Chicago to work in the factories, doesn’t make it any less real. The addition of Restless Spirits was a long time coming, too. Thinking back, Boland isn’t sure why the track didn’t make it onto an earlier album, but he knew it belonged on this one.
“When I thought about it on this one, one of the albums I just put on to think, okay here’s getting it done in one album example. … But I listened to ‘Red Headed Stranger’. And ‘Red Headed Stranger’ has Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.” So, Restless Spirits became this album’s Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain. Boland didn’t want to write everything for the album, thinking that it might make it “kooky”.
“So, it made sense that that was the song and that’s where it fell in the narrative and how it’s really the climax of the album. He [Bob Childers] always had a saying, he would say, ‘Borderline cosmic.’ So, it was borderline cosmic how that one came about.”
And what a fitting album for that cosmic moment to happen.
Finding a Place to Stay, Faux Real This Time
“I lost my way/Can you help me find a place to stay?”
Those words ring out deep into the listener as A Place to Stay plays. Here we get the finale of our story. The man has been dropped off. So, where is he? While in the desert without a gun and without his boots, he seems more lost than before. His cosmic kidnappers have released him from their custody, but now what? 100 years in the future, what kind of life can this man expect to find now?
While he walks around, looking for any kind of answer or kindness from these new folks. A place to stay is all he needs and isn’t that something we’ve all been through at some point? A second chance or a helping hand. While most of the setting isn’t of this world, this album is nothing but country music at its best. A lonesome tale of a cowboy, storytelling at the highest level, and great production as well.
Of course, the final track Faux Reel brings us back to the carnival idea. After a heavy story like that, there should be some mood-lightening music to go around and let the patrons know all is fine and what you just heard was indeed a story.
Jason Boland & The Stragglers. Check them out, Outsiders.