George Strait and Alan Jackson sang about “murder on Music Row” more than a decade ago, a woeful lament on the state of country music. (“The almighty dollar and the lust for worldwide fame/Slowly killed tradition/And for that someone should hang.”)
The sentiment still applies today, sadly, and Jason Eady has fashioned a new rallying cry. His fourth album, “AM Country Heaven,’ is a throwback to the classic country sound of the ’70s and early ’80s — steeped in steel guitar, drinking and cheating. The sound is so authentic it’s almost a shock.
“We went in with the approach that we were going to do exactly what we wanted to do,” says Eady, who was born in Mississippi but now calls Fort Worth home. “We weren’t going to worry whether or not it was radio-friendly. We weren’t going to worry about what’s popular or whether it’s going to sell. We just went in simply to make this record sound this way and just prove to ourselves that we could do it and keep that sort of music alive.
The album, initially born as a side project, was produced by Kevin Welch and features members of Austin outfit Heybale, who lay a sturdy framework for the effortless vocals and smart lyrics. “AM Country Heaven” was released last month without the benefit of a radio single and managed a small miracle of sorts. It debuted at No. 40 on Billboard Country Albums, No. 9 on Heatseekers and No. 9 on the iTunes country chart. Those are strong numbers for someone outside the Nashville circle and proof that audiences are eager for more traditional music.
“It was a huge, huge surprise for me. All of it was word-of-mouth and completely organic,” Eady says. “I could tell something was going on the morning it came out. People were talking about it on social media. First, it was the people and fans I expected. But later in the day, it was getting out to people all over the country. I hoped that would happen, but I figured it would be a slow burn. I didn’t know it would happen in one day.”
The wave of interest is likely thanks to the title track, a pointed attack on mainstream country superstars and watered-down hits. No names, but it’s easy to decipher who he’s calling out.
“Well, they sing about Jesus, they sing about Jones/And they sing of American pride/But they’re all too damn clean, polished like stones/And they won’t sing about cheatin’ and lies
Well it’s all about idols and pretty blond hair/And how many trucks you can sell”
Kenny Chesney, Rascal Flatts, Carrie Underwood, we’re looking at you.
“I was embarrassed because I didn’t want anything to do with what country music has become. I’d been complaining about country music all this time, and now it was time to just do it, to just kind of trust myself,” Eady says.
“It has become this caricature of country music. Everything’s about being country and how country they are and who’s country-er than who. It’s just gotten ridiculous. I wanted to say it one time, have it lead off the record, and then be done with it. I think about Merle Haggard or George Jones. They never had to tell you how country they were.”
And to be sure, “AM Country Heaven” is much more than one fiery rant. It’s an elegant, nuanced collection that eases from song to song. (Think Jamey Johnson, with less of a dark side.) Country great Patty Loveless lends her masterful tone to “Man on a Mountain,” as gorgeous a duet as the genre has produced.
Eady’s first several albums ingratiated him into the Texas market and helped him establish a core fan base. They touched on traditional elements but ultimately sounded nothing like this. “AM Country Heaven,” then, also is the sound of rebirth.
“I look on those other albums as a lot of experimenting for me. Me trying to figure things out and trying my hands at a lot of different things. I still love those records,” he says.
“I feel like I’ve found where I’m supposed to be. This is me from now on. This is what I’ll do. I think it just took making those other kinds of records to really let myself know that. It’s definitely turning a corner. It kind of in a way feels like I’m just getting started.”
When: 9 p.m. Saturday
Where: Hardy Street Tavern, 21119 W. Hardy
Tickets: Free; 281-821-3924 or hardystreettavern.com