Flatland Cavalry – ‘Wandering Star’ album review

Formed in Lubbock, Texas back in 2012, Flatland Cavalry have become one of the most well regarded bands in the modern day country scene, winning over audiences with their blend of country, folk, Americana and rock, as well as their musical talents and lyrical stylings. They released their debut album, ‘Humble Folks’ in 2016 and have followed that up with a further two LPs – most recently ‘Welcome To Countryland’ in 2021 – as well as appearing at C2C last year. Now they’re back with their latest project, ‘Wandering Star’, their first release on Interscope Records and the follow-up to 2022 EP ‘Songs To Keep You Warm’.

The 13-track album opens with ‘The Provider’, which instantly shows off the band’s rockier influences and feels like it could have been lifted straight from a 1970s Rolling Stones album. Cleto Cordero’s distinctive drawl is backed up by fuzzy guitars and sharp chords – as well as some great harmonica playing – and there’s a sense of swagger and bombast that you might not necessarily expect from the sextet. I also loved the honky tonk-style piano melody and Wesley Hall’s excellent fiddle playing (a thread which runs throughout the project), which all adds up to a fun, playful opener that really sets the tone for the feel of this record.

One thing which stands out to me throughout this album is the sheer range of influences and sounds the band draw on here. From the bright, Eagles-esque ‘The Best Days’ with its soaring chorus and optimistic message, to ‘Oughta See You (The Way I Do)’ which features a lively, sunny melody alongside an anthemic chorus and a sincerely heartfelt lyric about loving the person you’re with despite their flaws, it feels like a really melting pot of sounds and shows that Flatland are more than just the traditional-sounding, slightly subdued numbers they’ve been known for. They don’t neglect their folk side either – ‘Burned Out Flame’ has a lovely shimmering quality to it and a fantastic traditional sound backed by great piano runs that fit brilliantly with the lyrical theme of staying hopeful (or trying to) in the face of adversity, and the acoustic twang of the rollicking ‘Only Thing At All’ takes you on a post-breakup rollercoaster backed by a shuffling Western melody and effortless delivery from Cordero.

Another thing which shines through on ‘Wandering Star’ is the skilful writing. It’s a craft that Cordero in particular has honed over the years and there are fantastic turns of phrase dotted everywhere throughout this project. One particularly good example comes on ‘New American Dream’, a bittersweet track with a jaunty melody that contrasts the wry lyrics, with references to everything from the metaverse and avatars to swiping right and cryptocurrencies. Meanwhile, ‘A Thousand Miles An Hour’ perfectly balances its upbeat melody and lyrics about spending time with friends putting the world to rights but also a sense of drifting apart and these moments not lasting forever. It shows why the band have come to be so well respected as songwriters and that they’ve mastered the craft, with plenty of lyrical gems to dig into on

For me, many of the strongest moments come on the slower numbers. ‘Mornings With You’, featuring Cordero’s wife and longtime Flatland collaborator Kaitlin Butts, is a soft, warm tune which starts with a simple acoustic guitar line before building up layers of instruments that add great depth and lushness. It’s a sweet song that’s full of love and affection and seems guaranteed to soundtrack first dances for years to come. Elsewhere, the downbeat ‘Spinnin” brilliantly captures the sense of resignation and weariness as Cordero sings about consistently striking out in love over a whining guitar riff (as well as featuring some of the album’s lyrical highlights like ‘feeling six foot small’), whilst ‘Don’t Have To Do This Like That’ features a piano-led melody and a sparse, cinematic feel that emphasises Cordero’s vocals, giving them a quiet power as he sings mournfully about regretting the way a relationship is falling apart and embracing his own role in its demise.

That said, it isn’t all doom and gloom either. ‘Last American Summer’ has a jangly 60s feel about it, with nostalgic references to ‘popsicles melting in mid July’ and ‘long talks and Marlboro Reds’ as Cordero looks back at a long-lost relationship before kicking into a delicate stripped-back bridge. I also loved ‘Let It Roll’, which shows a flirtatious, tongue-in-cheek side to the band we perhaps haven’t seen much of before, as well as spoken word snippets and a fondness for embracing the simple things in life and how sometimes taking a chance works out.

The album closes with ‘Forgotten’, which for me is one of the highlights of the whole collection. It’s an acoustic, heartfelt song which paints an intimate portrait of an old friend or lover who’s lost their innocence and is trying to escape their problems, whilst highlighting the plaintive quality in Cordero’s voice and giving the song a quiet strength and depth. There’s real emotion captured here and it all adds up to an incredibly moving note to finish the piece on.

Overall Flatland Cavalry have delivered a great album that shows off their incredible musical talent, with songs that feel like they’re going to sound brilliantly live and have a lovely timeless quality whilst featuring nods to modernity, as well as their growth as songwriters and the range of Cleto Cordero’s distinctive vocals. It’s a project that’s sure to appeal to existing fans and win over plenty of new ones and highlights just why they’ve become so popular in recent years whilst highlighting where they might decide to take their sound next. Personally I can’t wait to hear more from them soon – hopefully there might be a UK tour in the offing before too long…

Track listing: 1. The Provider 2. The Best Days 3. Only Thing At All 4. Last American Summer 5. Mornings With You (featuring Kaitlin Butts) 6. Let It Roll 7. Spinnin’ 8. Don’t Have To Do This Like That 9. New American Dream 10. Oughta See You (The Way I Do) 11. A Thousand Miles An Hour 12. Burned Out Flame 13. Forgotten Record label: Interscope Records Release date: 27th October 2023

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