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Josh Abbott Band

Front Row Seat – 2015 (Pretty Damn Tough)

Reviewed by Dustin Blumhagen

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CDs by Josh Abbott Band

Customarily Texas and Red Dirt artists have proudly existed outside of the mainstream, relying more on quality song writing and a defiantly traditional edge to their music, with fiddles and steel guitar prominent. Josh Abbott Band came from this scene and built a faithful fan base.

Abbott boldly decided to create a concept album this time around. The disc is divided into five acts, which represent the stages of a relationship from courtship to the aftermath of a breakup, an idea very similar to Willie Nelson's "Phases & Stages." The forced track listing results in an uneven album, with the bulk of the strongest songs falling in the last third. For the most part, this is straightforward country with a strong nod to the '90s, but there is a noticeable pop sheen that often overpowers the music. Abbott's sweet vocals make him stand out among his Texas country peers, who often have more twang and grit in their voice. Josh Abbott Band are reminiscent of Mark Wills or Mark McGuinn, much smoother and radio friendly than groups like Turnpike Troubadours. That doesn't mean that they don't make good music, rather they exist in a place where they sound as influenced by Nashville as Austin.

The album was conceived after Abbott's much publicized divorce, which may explain why the melancholy second half is so much stronger. On "Born to Break Your Heart," Abbott acknowledges his faults, which led to the breakup with pretty harmonies backing him and simple musical accompaniment. It's a gentle introduction to the shift between the two main parts of the relationship. These songs are generally restrained, with the notable exception of "Amnesia," where Abbott's emotions drive the song to a deeper place as he sounds on the verge of breaking down as the music builds to a loud climax. With "Ghosts," the band takes the sombre tone to the next level, which is carried through to the quiet closer, "Anonymity."

Concept albums rarely work well, but Josh Abbott Band have managed to create a decent effort. While the early songs are occasionally a little heavy handed in their optimism, the final acts successfully capture the emotions that come with the dissolution of a relationship.