2019 has been a good year for the music we love, the music we like to call gumbo rock and outlaw boogie. Be it country music with a rock and roll heart, or rock music with a country twist, there’s a lot of great new sounds around. The stuff we like isn’t breaking any records or spending nineteen weeks at number one, but the quality new releases that we have been listening to this year have kept our ears more than happy. Is there a problem with country music today? Not from where we’re standing. We can’t see the old town road from here. We only see the real thing, music that knows where it has come from and will get you where you’re going.
If you’ve been listening to the Whiskey Preachin radio show, you may already be familiar with the name Ben Jarrell, whose album Troubled Times (released by the Muddy Roots offshoot Country Roots Records, who have also released a couple of excellent Pat Reedy albums) draws together many of the classic tropes of country music. From the updated murder-balled Troubled Times in a Tribal Town, to the good-time trucking anthem, Gearjammer Blues and the sentimental story of Daddy’s Prison Radio, Jarrell’s voice is part classic, part modern. Outlaw enough without having to lay it on too thick, the balance of song styles on this album makes for a very satisfying listen indeed. The production is modern and complements the material well, beefing up the rockers while allowing the slower songs their space. To find out more about the making of Troubled Times and the stories behind some of these songs, and how he managed to hit the ground running with such a strong debut album, let’s speak to the man himself, Ben Jarrell.
Troubled Times is an impressive debut album, full of strong songs, great playing and bold production. I assume you haven’t just ridden into town. What’s your story? Are there previous releases we can seek out?
Thank you! I’ve been in Nashville for over two years and I’m originally from South Alabama. This is my first professional record and I’m really proud of it. I released an ep fall of 2018 you can find online!
The album starts opens with Troubled Times in a Tribal Town, a dark update on the murder ballad. It feels like the musical equivalent of a true crime drama. How did this song come about?
My grandmother called me one day and told me someone I knew in our town had murdered his girlfriend. It was upsetting, so I wrote a song about it. We don’t have adequate access to affordable mental healthcare in Alabama nor is education a priority. So I tried to tell the story, hit on some of that stuff, and kind of had to embellish the end of the story for the sake of resolution in the song.
The next track, Gearjammer Blues, tick the box of another country music trope. If you had to pick one, what would be your favourite trucking song?
My favorite would probably be Gary Allen’s Highway Junkie
The production on this album is refreshingly modern, while managing to be completely appropriate to the material. Who produced the album and who plays on it? Is this your everyday band?
Preston Tate White produced it and did a fantastic job. Although I do have an excellent permanent band now, at the time I did not. So Preston helped put together this great band for the record.
Pedal Steel - Mike Daly
Guitar - Steve Daly
Bass - Kevin Black
Drums - Taylor Powell
Keys - Preston Tate White
I would put money on the fact that you are a Waylon Jennings fan. Who else do you count as your musical heroes?
Big fan of Waylon. Other would include Johnny Paycheck, Warren Zevon, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Jerry Reed.
Which of today’s country artists do you admire?
Jason Isbell, Sarah Shook, Sturgill Simpson, Nikki Lane, Paul Cauthen, BlackBerry Smoke, and Colter Wall to name a few.
What is it like in Nashville for you as an artist? How has this record been received?
I have access to some of the greatest studios, musicians, peers, and businesspeople in the industry. That being said, the record is being well received in the underground. No one else really cares, but hell they don’t buy the records anyways.
Black Helicopters tells a funky tale of backwoods prepper paranoia with a wry sense of humour. How did you come to write this song?
I met and befriended an actual prepper and we’re still friends to this day. I embellished a bit for the sake of keeping it interesting, but it is based on a real person.
Troubled times is a well-balanced album, delivering classic country themes from the get-go. A fist-full of up-tempo barn stormers rub shoulders with a murder ballad, a love song, a trucking song, a prison song, a train song, a highway song, an ode to rock and roll and a tribute to the altitude you can achieve in Colorado. Was this a deliberate conceit, attempting to distil and blend the Great American Album, a form of alchemy, or was it just the way it fell out?
Thank you! That’s all on Preston the producer. I showed him about 20-30 songs of mine and those are the ones he chose!
Colorado Bound closes out the album with some mind-bending string sonics, over which you deliver a rollcall of thanks to those involved in bringing this record to fruition. Is this reproduced in your live performances in some form? Can we hope to catch this live in the UK any time soon?
Nah not so much with the liner notes, but all the jams are!!! Yes, we’re hoping to get over that way in 2020 if possible.
Dead or alive, who would you have performing alongside you at your fantasy festival?
Duet with Linda Ronstadt, Duane Allman on slide guitar, John Paul Jones on Bass, Ginger Baker on drums, and Mike Daly on pedal steel.
Well, we’d sure love to see that performance, for sure. In a world where it is easy to become overwhelmed with the choices and variety on offer, where music is treated as disposable and where so many people are prepared to settle for the lowest common denominator, it is always refreshing to find an artist making a record that represents to opposite, that isn’t disposable speaker fodder. Maybe we should all listen to fewer albums; but listen more to those albums we do choose to spend time with. Maybe you should make Troubled Times one of those albums.