Here comes another badass sellin’ Nashville rock and roll, long hair, denim and tattoos, lookin’ on’ry and mean. Singin’ songs about that lonesome road, some of ‘em might even be true. But there ain’t no outlaws anymore…
-- Jubal Lee Young, “There Ain’t No Outlaws Anymore”
Almost as soon as it came in to the world in the early 1970s, Outlaw Country was loved to death. Literally. As an army of imitators embraced the gospel handed down by patriarchs and matriarchs like Waylon and Willie, Townes and Guy, Jessi and Emmylou, Billy Joe and Steves Young and Earle, the rough and tumble reaction against slick Nashville pop got co-opted.
It was always easier to snake the style than it was to distill the substance. Instead of working on living the sort of life that will gift you with songs like “Lonesome On’ry and Mean,” “Pancho and Lefty,” “Desperados Waitin’ for a Train,” and “My Old Friend the Blues,” the imitators took the same old Nashville dreck and decked it out in ever-more-ridiculous feathered hatbands, ludicrously ornate turquoise bracelets, and belt-buckles the size of hubcaps. Where once Outlaw Country was performed by true honky-tonk heroes, it wound up the preserve of 1,001 dimestore Comancheros. Music City soon enough got back to not doing things the way Hank had done ‘em, and smarmy order was restored.
And all these years later it still is so much easier to put on the hat than it is to steer the cattle on to fresh pastures. Even today, faux-outlaw country is as easy to come by as political hot air on Sunday morning TV.
With Take It Home Jubal Lee Young wants to show the posers how it’s done. “This is the record I really wanted to make,” he says, speaking from the road somewhere between Dallas and his home base of Muskogee, Oklahoma. “I just wanted to balance real outlaw country without all this ‘I’m a badass’ crap.”
Nowhere is that manifesto made clearer than on album closer “There Ain’t No Outlaws Anymore,” a direct slam at Nashville badasses and their carefully-crafted images. “You can just get so tired of the hyperbolic horseshit that Music Row cranks out about these assholes sometimes,” Young says. “I think this is the idea behind this one. That if a major label today is marketing someone as outlaw, you can pretty much guarantee they ain’t.”
“There Ain’t No Outlaws” also shows another aspect of Young’s life: as the son of trailblazing songwriters / performers Steve Young (“Seven Bridges Road,” “Lonesome On’ry and Mean”) and Terrye Newkirk (“My Oklahoma,” “Come Home, Daddy”) he grew up not only in the very creative nexus of the Outlaw movement, but also in a larger environment -- the mid-South in the 1970s and ‘80s -- where Southern rock held sway. Young refuses to back away from a Skynyrd comparison, and the deliciously long and lazy outro to “Stark Raving Mad” strays off into the sort of woozy-yet-celestial Dixie rock both Ronnie Van Zant and Duane Allman would smile down on.
“I suggested we cut it like some deep south dive bar band, which producer Thomm Jutz distilled down to a Lynyrd Skynyrd sort of effect,” Young says. “I certainly grew up steeped in outlaw country, but you cannot deny the Southern Rock influence, as well.”
Young’s humor also shines through on “Have You Met Me?”, a Yoakumesque honky-tonk romp through a series of inside jokes, catchphrases and aphorisms dredged up out of several memorable weekends of partying on Lake Conroe just north of Houston.
The Bayou City is also the star of “Neon River,” one of Take It Home’s standout tracks and a clear indication of just how steeped Jubal Lee Young is in the genuine Outlaw Country article.
Young’s backing is provided by Outlaw sidemen like Mac Gayden, Mickey Raphael and Robby Turner, and they serve up frequent little nods to the past, like the hat-tip to “Lonesome On’ry and Mean” on “There Ain’t No Outlaws Anymore” and another to Waylon’s “Amanda” on “Angel With a Broken Heart.”
And then there’s Young’s own twisted Townes lyric that opens “Neon River.” (“Good news from Houston, all of my friends are fine.”) “It’s funny when people get that,” Young says. “You can kinda gauge the coolness of your audience by how many of ‘em do.” Young believes “Neon River” is the ultimate Texas song, with its vintage Waylon feel, mariachi horns, and lyrics, a rousingly loving ode to Houston, the Lone Star State’s often-derided largest city and for the past three years something like a second home for Young.
“While I could see the hassles of a 9 to 5 existence there, there is an electricity to the city that is undeniable,” Young says. “I’ve had great guides, met some great friends, and had some outstanding times there. I had this idea about I-45 looking like a river of light, and the song grew from there.”
Young’s packed a lot of living in the last three or four years. There have been thousands of miles of hard highway traveling, burning up Interstates 40 and 45 and 20 as he tears up the TexLaHomaSee circuit.
There was also a painful divorce and a fraught reentry into the dating scene. “Stark Raving Mad” draws from that witch’s brew for its lyrics. “I had the first few lines of the chorus on this one for months, maybe even a year, before it finally materialized,” he says. ”I was having some early post-divorce dating experiences, and probably starting to like this one girl a little too much and it hit me… the early stages of infatuation-ridden love are pretty much like going crazy.”
Young’s gruff, Marlboro-tinged baritone is well-suited to the stately mid-tempo of “Why Does It Always Rain?” Something about this song encapsulates the feeling of being on an Interstate on a Sunday afternoon better than any other song that has come before it. “While there was a little bit of artistic license here, I have to say, it really does rain on me a lot when I leave Texas at the end of a tour,” Young says.
Young shares some hard-won wisdom with a female buddy on the genuinely sweet “Good To You,” a cousin in both form and content to Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me.” “I just knew some of the details behind a break-up and it kind of moved me,” Young says. “It’s not so much of a love song as a song of support, friendship and encouragement. I think in some ways I’m even talking to myself in this one, having just gone through a divorce, too.”
“Don’t You Dare Love Her” is a stone-cold weeper, a six-minute classic gutbucket heartwrencher in waltz time. All of which disqualifies it from commercial country radio, Young says. “Their loss,” he says. “We actually have a couple of different edits on this one so that shorter versions are available, but I wanted to whole damn thing on the CD.
A vastly different take on the dating game is at play on “You Only Call Me,” in which Young faux-laments being the frequent recipient of the female equivalent of late-night booty calls. (If “Good to You” is cast from the same forge as “Stand By Me,” you might say this one is in the same mold as “Use Me Up.”)
Young learned the song from Buck Jones, a former Western Beat labelmate who was tragically killed by a drunk driver four years ago. “I just always thought this was such a fun country song,” Young says. “It amazes me that Nashville has overlooked this gem, but so far, they have managed to do just that. Oh wait… nevermind. That’s not amazing at all. Music Row is overrun with deaf, visionless idiots.”
That surplus of hearing-impaired morons informed Young’s choice of covers for this record, which include Waylon’s “Just to Satisfy You” and two from his own dad’s rich catalog.
Jubal Lee calls his daddy’s “Riding Down The Highway,” long a staple of Jubal Lee’s live shows, “the last great genuine outlaw country song ever written,” while “Renegade Picker” still spells out the Outlaw ethos today as well as it did when Steve wrote it 35 years ago. “It was a monumental task to even attempt to do a song like this one simply from a musical perspective,” says Jubal Lee. “My dad’s RCA track featured some of the absolute monsters of Nashville badass at the time. I finally decided I didn’t have a lot of choice but to pour it on for this one. Mac Gayden, Mickey Raphael and Robby Turner burn it up. I personally still like my dad’s track better, but I think this is a damn fine tribute to it.”
“Angel with a Broken Heart” is a damn fine tribute to the man who wrote the song. “I jokingly say this is my revenge for ‘Vision of a Child’, a song my dad wrote for me when I was just a toddler.” Joking aside, Jubal Lee says he’s always known that his father’s row had been a hard and rocky one to hoe. “I couldn’t really ever completely understand until I truly started touring more seriously myself,” he says. “This song is a bit of a tribute to the immensely talented people who languish in obscurity in a music industry obsessed with timeless youth and plastic beauty.”
And Young passes on the family tradition of gifting the next generation with a song with the Don Williams-AM Gold country sunshine of “You Make Me.” “Well, I have to admit, I sort of started this one about a girl, but as I kept writing it, I realized it was more and more about my daughter,” he says. “But that’s just my own personal perspective. It’s vague enough that I think the listener can assign the meaning to any love they choose.”
So it’s plain Take It Home is more than a manifesto, a blueprint to seize back hallowed outlaw ground from the pretenders. It’s also a mature album, a document of a particular phase in a man’s life when he begins to know his daddy’s form of crazy as his own and hopes for better for his own child. Lucky for us Steve and Jubal Lee Young’s form of crazy sounds mighty, mighty good. Sure as shit beats going insane.