BY ROGER SHARMAN
Here we are less than a week into 2024 (Happy New Year everybody) and we have been given an early treat to firmly wash away the 2023 blues.
Back in October I reviewed Casper’s first single “Songs I Can’t Write” and gave a hearty endorsement of what was to come. Well, that day has arrived!
To give a bit of background to that, whilst on my trip to Fort Worth, Texas, back in September, I wandered into my favourite record shop, Chief Records, to browse and to kill a little time as I’ve done on previous trips. I spent around an hour chatting to the curator and all-round great guy, Mike Underwood. Now it just so happens that Mike not only runs the store but also manages Casper. We conversed about the current landscape of Texas Country and Red Dirt and particularly around the background to this record.
The soundtrack to this conversation was “Something for the Pain”. I was instantly struck by the power and the beauty of this release. We chatted through duration of the record, with the volume gently being nudged up track by track as the conversation progressed. I instantly fell in love with this record, it was like food from the gods, instantly gratifying, and totally enchanted the geek in me.
One of the first things that Mike shared with me was that this record was seen as kind of a watershed album, all or nothing time, but was likely to be a game changer, and so Casper assembled a band of the finest musicians, something of a Supergroup if you like, to record, engineer, and produce the record.
Off they headed to the famous Sonic Ranch in Tornillo, Texas, to work their magic. Jay Tooke (ex- Steel Woods Drummer) on Guitar and Josh Thompson (Cody Jinks Bass player) performed on the album as well as engineered and produced it. ‘Cowboy’ Eddie Long, one of the finest Pedal Steel players ever to have graced the earth and long-time member of Jamey Johnson’s band and Drew Harakal (Jinks Keyboard player), as well as Grant McCray and Matt Parks made up the band.
The list of co-writers also resembles a who’s who of independent Texas Country he enlisted the assistance of friends such as Texas legends Walt Wilkins and Jamie Richards, Bryan Martin and Sean Williams as well as Josh Morningstar.
Straight off the bat, without even hearing the opening bars, you know that this is going to be one hell of an album, and masked no mistake that is exactly what you are getting with ‘Something for the Pain’.
The album is made up of ten tracks, nine originals and a cover. Released on the 5th January 2024 on Hand Drawn Records, it’s about as Country as it gets, with all the heartache, pain and loneliness that true Country songs typically bring, with elements of Outlaw and Red dirt thrown in for good measure.
It opens up with the brilliant ‘Songs I Can’t Write’ which was also the first Single from the album, released at the end of October of last year. I remember first hearing it in the store and thinking it sounded like classic Jinks. It has a really catchy hook, and to my ear I could tell it was Thompson thumping out that baseline immediately.
“The Cliff” similarly has a very distinctive baseline and absolutely slaying it on Pedal Steel is the master craftsman ‘Cowboy’ Eddie Long. The fiddle at the start and indeed throughout is spectacular. This is a James Alan Wade and Josh Morningstar co-write and Morningstar is one of the most outstanding wordsmiths around today, outstanding stuff.
‘Rather Be Lonely’ keeps the temp high and continues in a similar vein to what’s gone before. It’s written by James Alan Wade and it has a dance floor filling vibe and an incredible fiddle solo. Take a bow, Matt Parks.
Now I’ve mentioned this in my review of “Songs I Can’t Write’ that Casper has a real roots Celtic tone to his voice, and sounds like Blighty’s old folk singer Ralph McTell. Well, if Ralph McTell did Country it would sound like last piece of you without a shadow of doubt, which makes me wonder if one day Casper would cover McTell’s biggest hit ‘Streets of London’, he’d certainly kill it if he did.
Speaking of covers, there’s an incredible rocking, up tempo version of Haggard’s Motorcycle Cowboy, which is one of the absolute highlights of the Album. This would certainly be a standout live track that will no doubt have the crowds singing along at the top of their voices.
The second single ‘Tonight” is an angst laden song about lost love. McWade’s voice reveal captures pain and Matt Park’s fiddle perfectly accompanies Casper’s dulcet tones.
‘Silver Cross’ is a beautifully written real Country song co-written by Jamie Richards and Walt Wilkins and if anyone knows about writing Country music it’s these two. Now they’ll be less familiar to most of the folks in the UK, please folks do your ears a favour and listen to these two maestro’s catalogues, they’ve been wowing audiences for years.
Hopefully we’ll get Casper across to these shores in the not-too-distant future to perform some of these tracks live and he’ll blow your mind, just like this album blows mine. I’ll be there for sure.
If you’re ever in the Fort Worth area, pop down to the Stockyards and into Chief Records, it’s an incredible record store, with memorabilia and cool vibe, and Mike is a true gentleman who, I’m sure would love to see you and chat.