The release of "Onward," his eighth studio album, finds veteran Texas Music/Red Dirt artist Stoney Larue at a crossroads. After almost two decades on the road, playing 200 shows a year across America and abroad, he has had success on the U.S. country album chart (landing in the Top 25 on three separate occasions), has developed a loyal following at his concerts and has gained respect of mainstream country artists like Miranda Lambert. Yet, mainstream country stardom has been hard fought.
"Onward" seems a conscious effort to show fans a broader slice of who he is and what he is about than some of earlier efforts. As he puts it, "I will never turn my back on the Texas scene, and I was there for the beginnings of Red Dirt, but the fact is, I don't want to be completely defined by that. I realize that it has been my bread and butter for a long time, and I am extremely appreciative, I wrote 'Hill Country Boogaloo' for this album to express that, but that's not all I am. I'm a country music artist. It's what I do."
Working with Gary Nicholson and recording in Nashville has been cathartic for Larue and allows for him to explore a range of music that tips a hat to early singer/songwriter influences such as Merle Haggard and Ed Bruce, and tackles his own songs and those written for him by his peers such as Nicholson, Lee Roy Parnell and Shawn Camp, exploring material that transcends some of the tropes of country today.
At home with genre-wide-ranging from Don Williams grooves to southern rock, country crooner love songs and subtle interpretive, stripped down tunes that evoke Bob Seger, bordering on Americana, or heartbreak honky tonk songs in the Gary Stewart mode, Larue can sing it all.
Stoney Larue -You Oughta Know Me By Now
"I was raised on hard country music and have met many of my heroes over the years, and I've recorded with them too. In fact, we have a duet on 'Onward' called 'Meet In The Middle' that came out really well." He recorded it with Tanya Tucker.
When asked if it was designed to be a part of the recent Tucker renaissance, he says, "not consciously, we were kicking around possibilities for a duet partner, and Gary had her number. I had opened for her several times over the years, and I knew her a little bit. He gave her a call on speaker phone and agreed to give it a try. She answered with, 'Well how are ya'll doing honey?' It turned out great. She's sassy and gritty, and I think that came through on the recording. She's a legend, and I'm excited for all her recent success."
No stranger to life's ups and downs personally, Larue has used the last few years to take a closer look at himself, good and bad, in hopes of finding a wiser, more accessible "self" in the bargain.
"I had some issues a while back that were difficult to go through, and I felt like the whole story was not told, and it would be easy to get caught up in that, but I just need to keep moving forward and growing from my experiences and become stronger and better as I go." Larue was charged in a domestic incident in 2015, although that charge was dropped. He pleaded guilty to disturbing the peace.
"I like testing myself and finding out just where I am most vulnerable, but allowing myself show strength and resilience too. I've been through a lot, but I'm still here and hopeful that my experiences bring a patience and honesty to my music that my fans can hear. Sometimes I might be too honest, but it helps me make a strong connection to my audience, I think they understand."
Conversation with Larue is peppered with statements of redemption, perseverance and moving forward. For example, "Like I often say, my grandfather taught me to 'not sweat the petty stuff and not pet the sweaty stuff'."
"That's what I am trying to do in my life with my kids and my relationships and in my music for my fans and myself. My fans have stuck by me, and I want to stick by them, but I also want to keep growing as an artist and sing songs that resonate and tell a story that they can relate to, and I want to relate to it too.
"Onward" has a few covers on it including "Evil Angel" originally by Ed Bruce, Haggard's "Let's Chase Each Other Around The Room" and "Falling and Flying" from the movie Crazy Heart. Addressing these tunes, Larue says, "After 20 years out there doing this, I've come to realize, it's all in the songs. It doesn't matter if it is one I've written or one that has been written by others with me in mind, or a timeless classic that I listened to growing up, good songs pull you in and speak to you, and that's what I am all about. "
"We can rock or be straight ahead country, but it is the story that matters. As for the covers, sometimes it is just an homage to a musical hero, like Haggard. He did that song just about perfectly, and we didn't want to try to change it too much so we picked up the tempo a little bit and laid it down."
As for the others, "I had listened to Ed Bruce when I was a kid at home, and it fit the album well. It is a fun song. As for 'Falling and Flying,' Gary had written it for the movie and it fit me where I am in my life and career right now. It could've been autobiographical, but it didn't start out that way. It seems like good music finds its way. That is what we want it to do."
At 42, Larue is not a kid anymore. He is a seasoned pro with two decades of life on the road behind him and a myriad of experiences to draw from. He was proudly there in the infancy of Red Dirt and Texas music, along with college era roommates Cody Canada and Jason Boland, and he has delighted fans with his recordings since 2002, still he finds himself looking "Onward" and forward.
"No doubt, I've waded though some things, but hopefully I'm wiser, and I can't wait for what's next. The future feels bright."