Review: The Vandoliers Pushed Through Hardship to Create Their Best Album to Date

by Clayton Edwards

It’s hard to pinpoint the kind of music that the Vandoliers make. The Texan six-piece blends punk rock, country music, and Tejano tunes to create a sound that is uniquely their own. They’re the kind of band that can tour with Celtic punk legends Flogging Molly and open for Turnpike Troubadours. With their self-titled album, the band finds itself walking a tightrope between “Yeehaw” and “Oi! Oi! Oi!” in the best way possible.

On The Vandoliers, you get punk-tinged honky tonkers like “Bless Your Drunken Heart” complete with gang vocals that blend seamlessly into fiddle-heavy contemplative tunes like “Down and Out”. That takes some serious skill. Joshua Flemming (vocals), Mark Moncrieff (bass), Trey Alfaro (drums), Travis Curry (fiddle), Dustin Fleming (electric guitar), and Cory Graves (a little bit of everything) have been honing their sound since 2015. Their self-titled album sees them at the top of their game.

We Have the Pandemic to Thank for The Vandoliers

Originally, the Vandoliers were set to record their fourth album in March of 2020. They had just finished touring with The Toadies and Lucero and hoped to cut an album quickly before heading to Europe for the first time. Then, the world shut down. It was November before they could get back into the studio. By then, they had decided to change their approach and their label, Bloodshot Records went under.

“We wanted to make an album that had the same power as our live performance — a tight, big sound,” Fleming says. So that’s what they did. About the rocky road to The Vandoliers, he said, “Through trial and error, label closure, fatherhood, sobriety, relapse, the album grew on its own stylistically. After the hardest two years of my life, we created a collection of songs that push us as musicians, songs that reaffirmed my place as a songwriter and a faith in ourselves as a band I don’t think we had before.”

Standout Tracks

The thing I like best about The Vandoliers is that even in its most punk-rock moments the band’s Texas roots shine through. Sometimes, that comes in the form of honky tonk with fiddles and Telecasters. Other times, the Lone Star State comes through in the form of a Tejano horn section. That, paired with the top-notch songwriting made this record a joy to listen to on repeat.

After several listens, I can tell you that this album doesn’t have a single “skip” on it. However, there are some songs that make me crank up the volume and sing along.

Bless Your Drunken Heart

The blend of punk and country that makes the Vandoliers so great is incredibly evident here. Flemming’s vocal delivery in the opening lines sounds like something off of an old punk record. It put me in the mind of bands like Dropkick Murphys or The Bruisers. This gives way to some great fiddle and Telecaster twang that would make just about any dyed-in-the-wool country fan tap their toes and raise their beers.

Every Saturday Night

We’ve all lived this song. No, really. It’s about missing going out, seeing friends, and having fun during the pandemic. The chorus really sums up how most folks felt when things shut down in 2020. “I took for granted every Saturday night / With my rowdy friends and the love of my life. / We Should’ve danced ‘til they turned out the lights.

These days, this song serves as a reminder to not take those nights for granted. At the same time, it’d fit right in on any playlist you’re putting together for the weekend.

Too Drunk to Drink

This is just such a cool song. It sounds like vintage rock with some big Mariachi horns. That lays the backdrop for a song about being too drunk to drive but not quite ready to call it a night. “I’m too drunk to drive. / I’m not too drunk to drink. / We can still have our good time. / The wicked never sleep.

Final Verdict on The Vandoliers

Musically, The Vandoliers is a lot of fun. The band’s wide array of influences allows them to create sonic textures that you’re not going to find anywhere else. As a result, they can lean into tried-and-true country traditions and make them feel brand new. There is plenty of variety here and the differences in styles never become jarring. There’s a level of cohesion here that makes this a smooth listening experience.

Additionally, The Vandoliers contains some clever, relatable, and heartfelt lyrics that are, at the same time, poetic and straightforward.

All in all, you don’t want to miss this one. Put it on, turn it up, and have a good time. You’ll be glad you did.