Every week, we tell you about an album we think you need to spend time with. This week’s album is Floor It!!!, the sophomore album from the Texas Gentlemen.
I’ve been spending the last month making a podcast to accompany the box set we’re doing with the Grateful Dead, which is largely centered on me trying to understand what people “get” out of the Grateful Dead. I love the American Beauty, and respect them as an institution, but I haven’t given them the time to have the religious experience their fans seem to have when they commune with their music. In the gear up to recording the podcast, I was chatting with someone who is a huge fan, and they said something that stopped me in my tracks. It was basically: “When I listen to the Dead, I can hear all of American music, filtered into this new thing. There’s folk, and jazz, and blues, and soul, and rock, and it’s all there, between the songs.” And while I’ve eventually come around on the Dead and see what this person was saying, the album that first came to my mind when he said this was Floor It!!!, the new album from Texas Gentlemen, a 13-track tour de force that scrambles the American songbook through the Gents’ Texas burnout charm, for my money the best album of 2020.
The Gentlemen started as a mostly live concern, backing up the likes of Kris Kristofferson, Nikki Lane, Leon Bridges, and George Strait, and hosting a rotating cast of musicians during a series of residencies in Texas. The group’s lineup was massive and unwieldy, as anyone who played a set with the band was considered a member, and that loose, party vibe informed their superlative 2017 debut, TX Jelly. In the years since, the lineup has solidified around co-frontmen Nik Lee and Daniel Creamer, who are like a modern day scuzz rock John and Paul, with Lee handling the gruffer, scruffier tunes, and Creamer’s floating yacht-ready vocals giving the softer tunes a soaring airiness. It takes almost four minutes and three songs into Floor It!!! before either opens their mouth, however. In the album’s first two songs they go from Dixieland jazz to Broadway musicals, and to Booker T & The M.G.’s soul muscle on “Veal Cutlass” and “Bare Maximum,” showcasing the fact that this is a band with chops and styles to spare.
It’s on lead single “Ain’t Nothin’ New” that Floor It!!! kicks into high gear; Creamer and Lee sing together over a stomping, swampy groove that climaxes with horn blasts and a spiraling guitar riff. The track pulls in so many scraps of the best ace bands ever — the Swampers’ growl, the Memphis Horns’ counter-melodies, ZZ Top’s crunch, the precision of the Wrecking Crew — but it never feels derivative or beholden to any of those influences. It’s a new band taking from the best, and making their own sonic chilli. It being recorded at FAME in Muscle Shoals, and at Texas studios, can be heard here. And you can say that about the album as a whole. The Texas Gentlemen might sound familiar, but they’re their own, new thing.
Floor It!!! has two main modes: triumphant, wistful stompers tinged with regret, and regretful ballads tinged with defeat. The Creamer-led “Hard Rd.” is one of the latter, a study in Harry Nilsson balladry, a song concerned with its recently improved mood, but which remembers to pack in all the words you feel when new love is happening. “Skyway Streetcar” is one of the former, and it has Lee and Creamer passing the mic over a bar-house barreler. “Train to Avesta” is a melding of both modes, and is one of Lee’s best vocal performances; he’s always been a great guitarist, but here he croons like Waylon Jennings on an acid trip.
The album’s final track is the title track, a pot being slowly boiled until it boils over in its final two minutes. A song with vignettes about everyday folks on the down and out, it encompasses vets, and broke people, and ne’er do wells. “Everything is everything until there ain’t enough to go around,” Creamer croons over the most buoyant groove on an album full of them. When the song, and the album, end, you’re left chiefly with the feeling of endless fun and possibility, not a normal thing to be feeling in 2020. But the Texas Gentlemen have a vibe that anything might happen on their records, whether that’s a surprise trombone solo, delicate keyboard soundscapes, or instrumentals that sound like American muscle cars. This is a band that can be serious craftsmen and also make their vinyl gatefold into a boardgame about weed. I’m thankful they exist, and thankful for Floor It!!!