There’s a reason so many great songwriters come from Texas — it’s a desolate expanse of land with more than enough room for the imagination to wonder and wander through the hard-scrabble lives of its people. Like Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Rodney Crowell, Nanci Griffith, and so many others before him, Ryan Culwell wears his heritage on his sleeve, right next to his heart.
On his upcoming Flatlands album, Culwell explores that heritage, those lives, that expanse with his feet on the ground and his eyes on the horizon. Absence is a recurring theme throughout the set … absence of place, people, and purpose. When it comes to the Texas plains, whether you stay or go, absence is always there. And, even though he left, Culwell decided to write about staying, saying of his native land, “We know the sound of exodus, but what does it sound like to stay?”
Though his own exodus to Nashville may not be heard in a literal sense, one of the cuts that captures the staying is “Red River.” It’s a song of searching, questioning, and doubting the things of every day life for something more … anything more. It’s a song as haunting and hopeless as the Texas Panhandle itself. “The reason ‘Red River’ works as a song is because everyone relates to it,” Culwell notes. “Who isn’t looking for rest, peace? I hope there comes a time when songs like this have no value.”
Flatlands is slated for release on March 3 via Lightning Rod Records.
This article originally appeared on the Bluegrass Situation.