Nick Shoulders and The Okay Crawdad
Add to Calendar
$18 Advance | $20 Day of Show
GA tickets on sale 8/4/23 @ 10am EST
All Bad, the latest album from Nick Shoulders, ultimately encapsulates everything that makes Shoulders’ inimitable form of country music so vital: a heady balance of dazzling musicianship and punk defiance, coupled with gritty eccentricity and a generational connection to the roots of the genre. The album emerged from the chaos of the post-pandemic world, and manages to be a plea for patience as much as a call to action. With a singing style deeply rooted in his family’s musical lineage and a heartfelt reverence for his lifelong home of mountainous Arkansas, the incisive yet wildly jubilant All Bad vocally objects to the reckless destruction of the natural landscape and ever eroding line between church and state, while still offering plenty of joy and dance-ready rhythms. Having recently experienced their first years of rapid growth and relentless touring, Nick and his longtime band, the Okay Crawdad, wrote and recorded All Bad while confronting a nation profoundly changed by development and industrialization run rampant. Spanning a variety of early country styles, the album’s infectious rallying cry “Won’t Fence Us In” shines alongside everything from jangling cajun waltzes to surf-rock infused bluesy ballads–all tied together by a voice seemingly out of place in this century, yet ever ready to speak up about its problems.
“The idea of country music as our sacred inheritance as opposed to a marketing scheme has been central to my work for a while now,” says Shoulders. “It’s about finding collective liberation in our connection to the landscape, to ancient singing traditions, to a way of producing music that predates the industry built around it. This album came from tapping into what my band and I did as street performers and moldy little honky-tonkers: it’s continuing that dedication to making music that’s honest about the lives we’re actually living, rather than trying to create a more marketable reality.”
Released via Gar Hole Records (a label founded and co-owned by Shoulders), All Bad marks the first LP made with his longtime band since 2019’s premier full-length Okay, Crawdad and their subsequent pandemic-imposed hiatus. After writing most of the album from the front seat of a tour van, the Fayetteville, AR-based musician took a batch of demos he recorded while snowbound and recovering from Covid to his longtime band (bassist/harmony singer Grant D’Aubin, lead guitarist Jack Studer, drummer Cheech Moosekian) and collectively headed to New Orleans. Hoping to emulate the methods of their first two efforts, Nick and the band recorded in a home studio on the banks of the Mississippi river.
“We wanted to make the record the only way we know how: straight to tape in a shotgun house with just a couple of microphones,” he says. “There were times when we had to pause because a barge went by and blew its air horn, or there were kids out on the levee playing music.” Also featuring pianist and co-engineer Sam Doores of the Deslondes, pedal-steel guitarist Nikolai Shveitser, and fiddle player Mickey Nelligan, All Bad embodies an infectiously rhythmic sound partially informed by Shoulders’ pre-pandemic years living in New Orleans. “As someone who resided in their van and played banjo on the sidewalk for a while, I eventually found my way toward the magically vibrant South Louisiana dance culture that gave birth to what you’re hearing on this record,” he says. The band’s sound, a fusion of rural singing with the sweat soaked rhythms of New Orleans dance floors, is influenced by the kinetic nature of the region’s rich musical history, as much as it is Shoulders’ own vocal pedigree.
Taking a cue from some of his most formative influences (the likes of Hazel Dickens and Jimmy Driftwood), Shoulders created All Bad in an effort to “honestly interpret the grim political and social reality we exist in,” as he puts it. “Every one of these songs is carved from some of the hardest experiences we’ve ever had,” he says. “The hope is that people will recognize something of their own lives in those stories and feel understood and seen.” But even at its most sorrowful moments, All Bad sustains an unbridled exuberance, thanks largely to Shoulders’ riveting vocal work—an element indelibly shaped by the landscape that raised him. “My musical upbringing at home was mostly learning owl calls, whistling along with cardinals, whooping and hollering with all my little friends out in the woods,” he says. “All that primitive yodeling I did as a kid ended up turning into a physical skill set that became so important to my singing without me even realizing.”
A prime example of All Bad’s multilayered emotionality, the album’s title track unfolds as both a painfully real piece of autobiography and an emphatic statement against despair (“We bury friends and try to share our pain/November hurricanes and acid rain/They built to burn but we will live to maintain/Because it ain’t all bad”). One of All Bad’s most lighthearted offerings, “Appreciate’cha” arrives as a piano-laced and sweetly buoyant ode to the “subtle activism that exists in the very nature of Southernness,” in Shoulders’ words. “We in the South live in a stiff-upper-lip culture where so much is repressed, but the term ‘Appreciate you’ allows for a shockingly vulnerable moment of gratitude in the day-to-day,” he says. “I wanted to write a folk song showing gratitude for all the smaller moments of humanity that deserve recognition, whether it’s the miners who keep the lights on or the people sweeping the floors after our shows.”
Over the course of All Bad’s 14 tracks, Shoulders imbues his songs with an elegantly off-beat musicality that echoes his complex relationship with country music. “My dad is a great whistler, and his folks apparently were too; essentially every person in my family belonged to some regional musical lineage: my grandparents on both sides had ways of singing to pass down to me, with incredible vibrato and richness to their voices,” he says. “Despite all that, I spent years reacting against the American traditional canon—partly due to overexposure, but also because of recognizing what people associated with that cultural construct. Instead I just wanted to make the loudest, scariest music possible.” At age 13, Shoulders got a Walmart drum set and spray-painted it pink, then spent much of his adolescence playing drums in metal and punk bands. But after discovering the original blues, folk and country recordings of the 1920’s and 30’s, he found his perception radically altered. “In those records I was hearing about a world with endless wars, bank failures, crops drying out in the fields—and that was the same world I lived in,” he recalls. “I felt something click, and it led me toward reclaiming these rural singing traditions from a space of commercial propaganda that’s intent on selling a lifestyle we don’t actually live.
”With his live experience including touring with the likes of Sierra Ferrell and performing at major festivals like Stagecoach, Shoulders makes a point of bringing an educational component to his exultant and deeply communal show. “As much as we’re throwing a party, it’s also a priority to be the teacher I never had, and share this vital information that’s done wonders to improve my understanding of history, and the present we’re left with,” he says. Both live and on record, Shoulders’ music achieves the rare feat of imparting difficult truths while inciting a certain joyful abandon. To that end, the dance-ready rhythms and heavenly melodies of All Bad stir up a potent contrast to the album’s thorny lyrical themes. The result: a body of work at turns sublimely freewheeling and profoundly illuminating, primed to permanently warp the listener’s perspective to glorious effect.