A good country outlaw sings about more than whiskey and Waylon (Still, they must sing about whiskey and Waylon). Newcomer A.J. Hobbs has already picked up on this. He calls what he does "Outlaw Soul". While Hobbs was weaned in California (think Joshua trees, not LA), Texas has become a second home. His tunes celebrate the freedom that comes from scraping by, doing what one loves. Maybe it's playing late at some roadhouse, or maybe a one-night love affair. And for somebody's first full-length album, there's nary a rookie jitter on display. Hobbs is so relaxed, he's even marketing the release with some wry humor - check out the "80s infomercial" at his website that includes just-for-laughs (but plausible country) song titles like "That Baby Don't Look Like Me."
The sound here is mostly vintage - which is a good thing. Do you ever miss that '70s-outlaw thing where a slow Telecaster over a walkalong bass transforms a sad song into an all-out jam? Hobbs is happy to oblige ("Life Without You"). There's pleasing fiddle on "Are You Going to Tennessee," and horns which add some Motown seasoning to the Haggard cover "The Bottle Let Me Down." "Eastside" is a full soul diversion, chockfull of organ and call/response with the backup singers. It's Van Morrison in a cowboy hat. The best track of the bunch might be the radio-friendly "Whole Lot of You and Me." Hobbs may worship at the altar of the outlaws, but he's not above a little romance.
If there's a flaw here, it's not a tragic one. One tune earns an "explicit" label right in the title - it's played more for a chuckle than shock value. But it potentially distracts from the rest of the more traditional-sounding goodies. Hobbs voice handles everything he asks of it, and the side players aren't about dazzling anybody. The impressive thing on display is how much ground he covers in a dozen tracks - we get a sense of not only the kind of music he likes, but the kind of man he is. Surely that's all a listener can ask of one lone singing cowboy, or debut album.