Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time knows it is one of my personal favorite things to highlight the Red Dirt music coming out of Texas and Oklahoma. Growing up, I heard it all the time on my local Oklahoma stations, and when it began to virtually disappear from the airwaves a few years ago, I marked it as just another instance of quality country music being forsaken for the sake of commercial success. It wasn’t really until I started this blog that I realized many country fans all across the nation and the world had never heard the Red Dirt music which was a part of my heritage. One of my proudest moments running this site was last year when I reviewed the self-titled album by the Turnpike Troubadours, helping to introduce people for the first time to a band I’ve known since the beginning of their existence. It’s true that Texas country/Red Dirt can claim its fair share of bad music and radio-friendly singles, but highlighting the tremendous amount of quality music it produces has become of special importance to me. With that in mind, I come to my thoughts on the third studio album from Saints Eleven, a Texas-based band who have been making a name for themselves within this scene for several years. Lead singer Jeff Grossman promised a return to their roots with this record, and I came in eager to hear it.
The album opens with “My Heart,” and right away, I have to point out the fiddle. Turnpike Troubadours fans, this might satisfy your need for fiddle until they release their next album. The actual song is a nice love song about a man proposing to a woman and telling her that nothing will ever keep them apart. The title track, “Coming Back Around,” brings the signature blend of fiddles and rock guitars so familiar in Texas music. The narrator here is seeking redemption and apologizing to God and everyone for everything he’s done in the past. He knows he’s done a lot of things wrong, but now he is changing and “coming back around.” “Heartbreak Songs” is an ode to the classic country songs about cheating and drinking that seem to have disappeared. There are lots of songs lamenting this, but this one stands out because the man needs the songs to help him through his loneliness; Bring back those old lonesome heartbreak songs, they make me feel better, and not so alone.”
“Shelter Me” is a contradiction; it’s an upbeat, fun song about hard times and pain, and needing a shelter through life’s struggles. It reminds me of “Seven Oaks” by Turnpike Troubadours in the fact that both songs make you smile about otherwise depressing things. An album highlight is “For Those Who Came,” a song in which a dead man is addressing his family and friends, all those that came to his funeral. He seems more upset for them than for himself because he knows he is going to a better place. The piano and acoustic guitar blend really well in this song, and I almost wish drums hadn’t come in in the middle. “Sunday drive” is the antithesis of “Shelter Me,” the former lamented all of life’s hardships while this one embraces the little things in life like Sunday drives, spending time with family, and making a difference in the lives of others. It’s interesting that they are separated by a song about death because they represent vastly different ways of going through life. Track placement is important, and I think these three tell a bigger story together than individually.
The only song not written by Grossman is a cover of “Crying Time” by Buck Owens. This is vastly different to the original, and I much prefer this lighthearted version of a heartbreak song. “Strange Round Here” tells the story of a married man who leaves town to find work and has an affair with a waitress, who mysteriously goes missing after telling him she’s pregnant. I am a fan of story songs in general, although this one ends a bit abruptly and could have been slightly more developed. “Almost Home” seems to be autobiographical; it’s a song about a man on the road trying to console his wife and children. “Let Them Go” features Courtney Patton, a name that immediately gave it promise. The man turns to alcohol for comfort while his wife prays to God and wonders why her husband can’t reach out to her instead. He never quits drinking and eventually dies. It’s definitely another high point of the album, and Courtney Patton’s voice certainly adds to it. The album closes with “The Same,” a nice love song that ends the record on much the same note as it began. This one features some excellent steel guitar and tells of a couple who enjoy spending time together regardless of what they are doing.
This is a really solid album and a nice introduction to Saints Eleven. It’s definitely country throughout, and the instrumentation is certainly the record’s greatest strength. The songwriting is solid, and the music seems to come from an honest place. The strongest tracks are “My Heart,” the title track, “For Those Who Came,” and “Let Them Go.” There’s nothing really groundbreaking about this release, but it’s a good album from start to finish and a nice place to begin with Saints Eleven.