Men & Coyotes
At first glance, “Men & Coyotes” seems like a silly name for a song, much less an album. And then the track begins playing, and I’ll never doubt Red Shahan again. The opening number works its way through my headphone wires, washes over my eardrums, and within 10 seconds I’m enthralled. “Howling at the moon while the innocent sleep,” Shahan sings in a mournful voice to the accompaniment of a slowly finger-picked guitar and the quiet tapping of a tambourine. This is the best Red Dirt song I’ve heard in a long while. The song’s protagonist is a roustabout rebel wearily eying a world where coyotes and cowboys are run out of town for doing what comes naturally to both.
“At the end of the day, nobody cares for coyotes / They’re going to burn us out, burn us out of town.”
Shahan makes it clear he’s a little of both –– rogue and critter –– over the course of a dozen songs and on the album cover, which depicts a big bushy-bearded lug wearing a cowboy hat and staring deadpan into the camera. The lyrical terrain is hardscrabble, with stilted lovers, wistful insomniacs, and tormented loners winding their way through murder, mayhem, and various earthly miseries. The forlorn country sound of that opening track continues with “Boom Town,” in which a single working mom isn’t above dancing on a pole to put gifts under the Christmas tree for her kids. This track brought tears to my eyes. A tear literally dropped off my cheek and onto my shirt. Now I’m staring at the dark spot on my shirt and thinking, “Who the fuck is Red Shahan, and why doesn’t he have a truckload of Grammys?”