Rob Baird is done looking in the rearview. The Memphis-born musician had enough of being conceptualized, packed a bag and said no thanks. “I had no interest in competing with the country-pop stars and trying to dance around,” says Baird, who left Nashville in the dust, booked a one-way-ticket to Austin and rediscovered his passion for intimate, no-frills songwriting. Working alongside producer Brian Phillips (David Ramirez, Penny + Sparrow), he’s crafted his most accomplished work yet: Wrong Side of The River, a 10-track gut punch of blues-drenched, storyteller-crisp autobiography derived from chasing miles of dreams.
On ‘Wrong Side,’ Baird pries open an emotional well that’s long been kept tightly lidded. Finally freed of creative constraints, the singer-songwriter channels his longtime musical influences: the Stax-era soul seeping from the Memphis streets of his youth; those blues melodies he remembers hearing when he skipped study hall to see world-weathered bluesmen perform. “I let my guard down and let what was naturally there shine,” he says, referencing a spellbinding string of songs that ultimately tell Baird’s personal story through 10 tracks.
“The album is about being in the wrong place and knowing that you need to figure out a way to get to the other side,” Baird says. “I moved to Tennessee after living in Texas for 8 years, and after about a year I knew it was time to go back to Texas. These feelings became the base — Sometimes you got to fight tooth and nail through the darkness to find the light.”
Baird hit the road, and miles of his reflection is found slashing from the bluesy, Jack White-influenced title track to the sweeping, organ-aided Jackson Browne rocker “Mercy Me”; the “sentimental back-porch ballad, “Run of Good Luck,” and the cannon-shot stomp of a blues-rocker, “Ain’t Nobody Got A Hold On Me.” “I wanted to set the tone that this album is a little different,” he explains of the opening cut. “It’s got that driving force, and nobody can stop me from finding home.”
Working with Phillips was crucial to his process of self-discovery. He played a key role in helping Baird wrap his mind around the album’s sonic shape and played everything from pedal steel to piano, organ and both acoustic and electric guitar on the album. The setting became equally essential to the sound: recording took place in an Austin garage giving the biting tracks a decidedly gritty flavor. “I was in a garage in North Austin after leaving one of the best studios in Nashville,” Baird says, “but I was making a record that makes more sense than whatever the hell we were doing there.” Most importantly, Phillips helped Baird discover his own unique musical perspective is hardly a one-size-fits-all proposition. To that end, he began penning songs that reflect both his hard-earned maturity (“I feel like I’ve grown up a lot in the past couple years”) and an ever-expanding musical palate.
An admitted lover of classic country, the man behind 2012’s I Swear It’s The Truth slashed through preconceptions of style and sounds this go-round. Baird believes that candid, no-frills music is once again being appreciated by the masses, referencing artists like Chris Stapleton, Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell as inspiration for his LP’s take-no-prisoner approach. “You’re seeing a lot more honest music being portrayed. And that music is thankfully starting to connect with people again. It’s really encouraging to see people responding to real singer-songwriters. That’s all I am, and all I ever want to be is honest.”
“You have to go through all the pain and suffering and figure out who you wanna be and what you wanna do,” Baird says. “A lot people just want to make money first. I can’t live that way.”
One of Rolling Stone’s “10 New Country Artists You Need to Know.” Debut album May 6, 2016
Jared Deck takes life one fight at a time. “The battle has always been internal, overcoming my own failures and working to improve.” Raised on the dusty plains of an Oklahoma family farm, Jared worked in the fields as well as the town grocery, owned by his parents. “In a community of 1,200 people, big dreams seem impossible. We’re taught to manage expectations, put our nose down, and get to work.” He did exactly that.
When the family business saw hard times, Deck turned to the oilfield to pay for school. “I was a roughneck – a worm hand, really – throwing back tongs on the drilling rig floor. Sure, it was tough, but so were we. I saw the sun set and rise each day; that kept me going.” The oilfield provided for a time, but every boom has its bust.
After the oilfield, Jared worked at a local factory until the jobs were outsourced to other countries. He started a business, but was hit hard by the recession. He even ran for political office but lost by a couple percentage points. Through every challenge and change, music remained the one constant in Jared’s life.
Desperate to supplement his business through the recession, Jared answered the classified ad of a small church in need of a pianist. “I called the number, and the pastor asked if I’d ever played at a black church before. I told him, no, but I can play the blues. He said that would probably work.” Over the next six years, Jared received an unparalleled musical education. “It felt like relearning the piano, so I applied that concept to my songwriting.”
Deck’s writing has evolved and now presents the maturity of a man who has learned the hard way. “The pen is disruptive and inspiring,” says Deck. “It rattles me, reflecting moments and things about myself I might rather forget. But it also inspires me to face myself and become the man I’d rather be writing about.” That attitude is apparent in the writing of Jared’s self-titled, solo debut.
The album tells 11 heartfelt stories of life on the road. Starting with “17 Miles,” a tale of broken dreams, Jared shares his story. “As a teenager, all I wanted was to leave Oklahoma and never look back. The day I worked up the nerve to go, I had a flat tire just 17 miles down the road. Never got any further than that.” All of the songs reflect a sense of wry understanding of life and an indomitable spirit, from the fractured family in “Wrong Side Of The Night,” to the working-man’s fight in “The American Dream;” from the crisis of faith in “Grace,” to the torn heart of an oilfield father in “Unusually Blessed,” Deck’s songs illustrate life in the rural heartland. And because this is the life he knows only too well, these songs ring true – the honest voice of midland America.
For the new album, Deck called upon Grammy-nominated producer Wes Sharon at 115 Recording. Sharon has produced some of the most lauded Americana artists of late, including John Fullbright, Parker Millsap, The Grahams, and Turnpike Troubadours. In Sharon, Deck found a musical soulmate, “Wes understands songs and the people who write them. He helped me find a voice I didn’t know I had.”
That voice isn’t going unnoticed. During an impromptu afternoon show on a back alley patio in Amarillo, TX, Deck was surprised to realize his hero, Alejandro Escovedo, was in the crowd. “He’d been listening for some time, but I didn’t see him,” Deck recalled. “When he walked around the corner, it felt like a movie.” Escovedo complimented him, “You have a powerful, beautiful voice.” It was an unforgettable moment for the young songwriter.
Every boom may have its bust, but every dusk has its dawn. This hope, that there is always a way out, a way through, is an integral part of Jared’s songs of pain and promise. “When folks hear my music, I hope they see the sunrise, just as I did each morning from that oilfield tower.”