Josh Abbott Band

Josh Abbott Band

When Josh Abbott Band recorded Ghosts for its fourth album, Front Row Seat, Abbottexpected to redo the vocals. The final chorus had some technical imperfections, and he figured he couldimprove on the performance once his heart settled down. Producer Dwight Baker, one-half of the Austinbasedduo The Wind and The Wave, wouldnt let Abbott retouch it.I was actually crying my eyes out during that last chorus, and thats why theres a couple ofnotes in the beginning of that section that dont really explode like normal, Abbott says. Dwight waslike, Were keeping that. Thats real.Real is the operative word for Front Row Seat, a 16-track song cycle that represents the mostambitious and emotionally challenging project yet for JAB, a highly melodic six-piece ensemble thatsmanaged to keep a foot in both the Texas music scene and the national country world. The band won fourtimes during the inaugural Texas Regional Radio Awards behind an upbeat brand of country that stillleans on classic instrumentation particularly banjo and fiddle to effect a raucous, roof-raising attitude.The band has lobbed three singles onto the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart including Oh,Tonight, the first charted track to feature Grammy-winning Kacey Musgraves and nabbed a Top 10album with the 2012 release Small Town Family Dreams and reached No. 12 with the 2014 EP TuesdayNight.But Front Row Seat steps beyond the bands honky-tonk inclinations for a more personal journeyas the album traverses the emotional course of Abbotts first marriage and subsequent divorce. It was nothis original intention to depict his private life in a public way, but as he wrote the songs for Front RowSeat, beginning before the split actually occurred, he naturally mined his emotional life for a set of songsthat were profoundly honest and revealing. It was only as they began recording the material at BakersMatchbox Studios outside of Austin, that they realized they had the germ of a tangible plot.We started looking at the music wed done and had a whole bunch of other songs that we reallyloved and we were like, Man, we could put this together and make a really neat story out of it, fiddlerPreston Wait recalls. Especially with the song Front Row Seat, we basically just made it kind of likeyoure watching a movie and its your front row seat to this life.Owing to that silver-screen character, JAB employed screenwriting technique by assembling theproject with the five elements of plot structure: the exposition, or beginning; an inciting incident; theclimax; a falling action (in this case, a breakup); and the resolution.The story begins with While Im Young, in which a college-aged Abbott lives a typicallycarefree existence, spending much of his discretionary income in bars and living for the moment, an idealthats captured authoritatively in the anthemic Live It While You Got It. As the album progresses, he meets a woman who commands his attention for more than one evening, finding himself by track 7,Crazy Things, mulling what it is that would make a woman whos dang-near perfect fall for someone soflawed.By the time the album concludes, his once-ideal relationship has turned sour, and the two are nolonger one. The fracture becomes apparent through the resignation of Born To Break Your Heart, andhe discovers in Ghosts that all the memories that once lived with such passion and revelry continue tohaunt his memory, taunting him with whispers of a past he can never reclaim. As Front Row Seat closeswith Anonymity, Abbott sings a spare dirge with acoustic guitar and fiddle, fantasizing that he couldreturn to the start of the relationship and live it out right.When youre moving on from somebody, even once youve accepted it, you just feel alone,Abbott observes. Thats the reason the acoustic track ends the album.Even though Front Row Seat represents an ode to a failed relationship, it also marks what Abbottexpects to be the beginning of a new phase for JAB. One of Texas best party bands, the group evolvedheavily in the process of making the album. The players fully committed to a darker sound and gave evenmore prominence to Waits fiddle and Austin Davis banjo, highlighting the trad-country elements in thelineup while still infusing the influence of multiple genres in its sonic drama.When you get to the end of this album, you see a band that grew up before your eyes likeliterally front to back, a band that sonically changed, Abbott says. You never want to make the samealbum multiple times, and you never want to sound the same your entire career. You know, you look atThe Beatles and you look at all these other great bands, they tweaked their sound over time, and I thinkyoure gonna start to see us do that a little bit more.While JAB is truly a group, the name is centered on Abbott the lead singer, primary songwriterand band namesake with good reason. He is a determined force of nature, and his ability to lead to, inessence, turn something small into something much bigger has been a hallmark of the band since itsinception.That start came in the mid-2000s when Abbott and frat brother Davis showed up for a fewinformal gigs at the Blue Light Live in Lubbock, Texas.We played two open-mic nights, and we had two songs, no band. Just him and me, Davisrecalls. I walk in the back, and Josh is talking to the owner and the manager about doing a live recordthere. And Im thinking, We dont even have a band. His thing was, Well get to that later. Hesalways thought that way. Ive played in other bands but never saw anybody else with that kind ofconfidence.Wait and drummer Edward Villanueva showed up a year and a half later, and in short time, JABsfirst single Taste, self-released on Pretty Damn Tough Records found a home on Texas radio stations. Bass player James Hertless and lead guitarist Caleb Keeter came on board circa 2010, and thelineup has stabilized for the past five years.Any movie you see about a band, its like five or six kids that are best friends, Wait says.Growing up, thats kind of what you think its gonna be like. I found that in this group.The friendship is built on constant touring. Texas alone keeps the band steadily employed, butAbbott and crew have built a wider concert base that includes such iconic venues as Nashvilles Exit/In,Chicagos Joes Bar, Washington D.C.s 9:30 Club, Denvers Grizzly Rose and Los AngelesTroubadour. The audience has grown in part because of the singability and relatability of the AbbottBands material, which has always held something of an everyman appeal.As personal as Front Row Seat is, the album has a ring of familiarity. Nearly everyone hasmessed up a relationship or had their heart broken. Its practically a rite of passage, and Abbottswillingness to tear down the walls and bare his heart lifts the project to a new level of connection with thebands growing audience.I know theres going to be a natural reflection on me and how the album mirrors my life,Abbott concedes. But Id like to think that this is really a story that is so common that everyone relates toit and that its not just about me. Hopefully people can listen to it and feel like its about them.Its about the band, too. Villanueva used a bigger drum kit in recording Front Row Seat, laying alittle more power underneath. And Wait and Davis take a more prominent role in the sound, heighteningthe country and bluegrass sides of the group without harming its modern texture.When we come up with parts, its difficult because its not standard bluegrass, like Flatt &Scruggs, says Davis. Youve got to do something different. It pushes you to try and make somethingnew.Theres certainly plenty new in Front Row Seat for Josh Abbott Band. The ethereal lyrics inAutumn and Anonymity are a starting place as Abbotts songwriting challenges countrys tendencytoward literal interpretations and storylines. The band also works for the first time with Carly Pearce, whoprovides a powerhouse female presence on Wasnt That Drunk. Assembling the project as a conceptalbum with a distinct storyline is another new approach for JAB. The tormented lead single, Amnesia with its snarling guitar solo and artsy, unsettling intro is yet another new technique.Those wrinkles in JABs development demonstrate the bands willingness to explore new turf,tapping musical character that might have gone unexpressed in its earlier projects. But people dont buildcharacter during the easy times. It comes when theyre tested by the hurts and pitfalls that accompany anysuccessfully lived life. Abbott, as the leader of the band, is emerging from one of his toughest tests todate. He and the band used an ultra-honest approach to the hard times to take the next step as it movesinto its future.The whole band embraced this project and really committed to not only make it sound incrediblebut sound different and better, Abbott says. Its more mature than anything weve done in the past.More mature because its so honest. And so real.

at Marathon Music Works
1402 Clinton St
Nashville, United States

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