Texas quintet The Barrens recall country music’s glory days on their debut EP ‘Young,’ a brisk set of dirt road memories for anyone turning a teary eye to the past.
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Listen: ‘Young’ EP – The Barrens
It only takes a single verse into “Unfinished,” the second track off the debut EP by Austin alt-country band The Barrens, to feel a shift. For so long, mainstream country music has relied on huge pop choruses and the name-dropping of Southern lifestyle tropes (beer, trucks, and blue jeans to name a few), while forsaking a lot of its more intimate, confessional, and affecting roots. Once upon a time, the genre birthed from American folk life was a vessel for people to share their innermost secrets, their desires, their tragic losses. Nothing but three chords and the truth plucked out on acoustic guitars and weeping fiddles.
In 2020, the Luke Bryans, Blake Sheltons, and Florida Georgia Lines packing stadiums (before the pandemic) outnumber the Chris Stapletons and Kacey Musgraves ten to one. Every once in a while though, we are blessed with a little taste of the emotions we’ve been missing.
I can’t concentrate, I can’t get things done
I fall off halfway, got used to giving up
I’ve got words to say, I’ve got stuff to do
Things to work out between me and you.
Everything falls away as vocalists Jordan Gibbons belts out the chorus. It’s a month afterward and you still can’t seem to pick up the pieces. Everything reminds you of them, pulling you back to the brink after brief moments of hope and clarity. Life moves on for everyone else, but not for you. A to-do list stares up at you full of unchecked boxes. Try as you might, you simply can’t pull yourself back together and say all the things left unsaid….
Independently released October 16, Young is peppered with these moments – songs so evocative, they can’t help but pull you into a time capsule and propel you back into your most formative and visceral memories. Chasing the fading summer days with your high school friends, listening to your favorite song at full volume while careening down the highway, swearing that these moments would last forever. However tragically fleeting they may be, they leave their marks on us all the same. Many musical acts never approach that kind of rich and tragic ennui, let alone with their first sampling of music, but Young taps into it in spades.
Dim lights, midnight
Dancing to the song that’s playing
Sunrise, blue eyes
Hang on every word you’re saying
Singing at the top of our lungs
Falling in love
Never grow up
With the title track, The Barrens invite listeners to fill in the blank. Brief phrases drop us back into scuffed sneakers, parked on the side of the road, sharing a beer with our crush that a friend scored with a fake ID. There was so much ahead and yet these moments draw us back before the “pink shades turned to blue,” and the realities of adulthood dimmed our sense of wonder. Guitarist Dana Smith lays out a melancholic hook that seems to line the song like frayed edges of an old polaroid. It’s a song that you remember playing on the radio while in the throes of your first heartbreak, but the truth is you’ve never heard it before. It’s a new memory waiting for you to embrace it with the same vigor that you had racing through your veins when you were young.
The Barrens began life as a performing duo between Jordan and Dana. After years of playing country covers for weddings and local events in San Antonio, the pair decided they wanted to pour their talents into original music. They spent several years scouring the city for a team of talented musicians to fill out their vision of an alternative-country band. Soon back up vocalist Trey Connor, drummer Nick Chambers, and bassist Cory Chenoweth joined the lineup and immediately jumped into recording Young.
Though Jordan and Dana owe the roots of their sound to classic Nashville, they also lace their songs with a driving pop rock sensibility that comes from their mutual love of 2000’s rock. That edge sharpens their focus even if their songs remain largely conversational and unpretentious.
“There’s not a whole lot of glitz and glam to us,” says Jordan. “We’re just real people trying to write real stories.” But in telling those stories, as much as they pertain to the characters they sing about, they reach a core in all of us. We’ve all looked back in longing, in reminiscence, in grieving what we once had. But we also have it in us to create new memories that mean as much as the ones from our youth.
With their first set of songs, The Barrens have set a new bar for modern country music. Their work is drenched in the real emotion and boundless color of human life. Even those who typically stray from twang will be able to see themselves here in the bleeding honesty of Young.
“It was a long road to get to this point,” continues Jordan. But the road isn’t over. Not for her, not for The Barrens, and not for us.
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? © Hailey Merlo
an EP by The Barrens