Shahan's voice rings an elegiac tone, simmering with the fading inevitability that lingers like the long West Texas horizon, but the Fort Worth-based troubadour isn't just clinging nostalgically to the past.
Fort Worth's Red Shahan escapes many of the negative, narrow preconceptions that come with the "Texas country" term. His new record Culberson County is a varied offering that's tough to categorize and is anything but simply country. On "Revolution," Shahan deftly traverses the intersection of rock, soul and country, not unlike award show titan Chris Stapleton.
The term “artist” is used frequently to describe musicians and singers, but for how many does that term truly epitomize? How many honestly approach it from an artistic perspective? How many take risks with little regard, or care, for how it will be received by the public? How many are really 100% about the music? On top of that, how many have the ability to get the music, story, vocals and delivery to come together as a cohesive piece of art? Not many.
Found nestled in the back half of Red Shahan’s Culberson County is the romantic confessional “Idle Hands.” While the majority of Culberson County has Shahan venturing into the back 40 of West Texas with harsh character sketches, badland ballads and resilient narratives, “Idle Hands” carries a different kind of weight. Built around the heartfelt chorus of “If the devil’s workshop are these idle hands, lord let this woman make me a busy man,” Shahan uses the timeless idiom to perfection. While Shahan can rock & roll with the best of them, on “Idle Hands,” he sings with a soulful conviction that hinges on professing detail. Perhaps his most intimate song to date, Shahan captures the turning of a page and beginning of a new chapter. He puts to bed his reckless and rambling ways in favor of the gentle warmth of home.
Shahan’s new album has earned praise from The Boot, Wide Open Country, Saving Country Music, New Slangand Cowboys and Indians. Garden and Gun called Red one of “Americana’s next great voices,” and Austin Chronicle named him one of SXSW’s “must see country acts” and “the next rising Texas troubadour.”
Rolling Stone Country called Shahan one of their “10 New Country Artists You Need To Know” and said, “‘Culberson County,’ a slow-burning ballad about heading west, may be the only song in existence to pair spacey, Pink Floyd-esque slide guitar with a truly Texas pronunciation of the word ‘coyote.'”
One of the brightest alt-country debuts in recent years, Red Shahan’s 2015 release Men & Coyotes was a greasy, tuneful, literate blast of Americana. It didn’t turn him into an instant headliner but it proved to be a grower, a worthy showcase for an adventurous songwriter who was drawing more attention with each radio spin and increasingly-crowded live show. If you were concerned that independent Texas country-rock might be overtaken by bands going too heavy on the polish and too shallow on the depth, Red Shahan and Men & Coyotes were a welcomely gritty refresh, with barbed guitar riffs and hard-luck tales offsetting his deceptively sweet tenor vocals.
There’s a reason why so many novels and movies in the last 20 years have chosen the vast desolation of West Texas as the venue to backdrop their stories and imperil their characters. West Texas is perfect for getting lost in, or for finding yourself. The expansiveness inspires a feeling of smallness and self-reflection. There’s no need for nostalgia in West Texas. It looks the way it always has.