Opener: 3 and Twenty
Backwoods bravado, patriot’s pride, country soul, keg-thumping beats — these are the qualities that Moonshine Bandits have championed since they began burning up the California club circuit back in 2003.
Their message spread as they rolled from there through the heartland, the dirty South and beyond on their tour bus. No matter whether color their collar is or even if they wore a collar at all, people heard something of their story in their music — and popped back a cold one to celebrate that connection.
Plenty of their trademark sound and message resonates through Baptized In Bourbon, their new album — reverence for God and country on “Red, White & Blue Collar” (“We answered to the call when Uncle Sam cried/You know we always stand for what is right”), a celebration of backwater saloons and Saturday nights on “Stomp Like Hell” (“Before the bar doors close, I’m a-get to stepping/I’m gonna stomp like Hell just to get to Heaven”), a promise to stand firm for freedom on “Raised Up” (“If you ain’t proud of where you’re from, get the hell out of town”).
But there’s more — a new depth that encourages reflection, even hints of doubt. None of this compromises the defiant pride that’s always threaded through the songs of Bird and Tex, aka Moonshine Bandits. Still, something has changed since they released Blacked Out in 2015.
Tex knows why. “This year has been a whirlwind of touring,” he explains. “We’ll play at a bike rally in Oregon one day and then fly to Alaska. That’s had a lot of input on this album, especially on our songwriting. We’ve always been entertainers first, songwriters second. Now I feel like our songwriting has caught up to the entertainment part of who we are.”
In these past couple of years, he and his fellow bandit Bird have been in transition personally as well as artistically. They’ve gone from bus tours to jetting out for extended weekend jaunts. While playing for their die-hard, “blu-core” fans, vestiges of wilder days do appear, sometimes bringing old ways into conflict with new responsibilities.
Tex lays out the question candidly. “When we’re away from our family, is the way we’re living acceptable to God, with all the partying and crazy shit we do on the road?”
This dilemma was somewhere in whatever dream Tex was having late one night when he woke up suddenly. “Three words came to me: baptized in bourbon,” he remembers. “I texted Bird and my manager and said, ‘Hey, I don’t know what this means but it could be some pretty heavy stuff.’ The whole album started with that title.”
The Bandits and producers, Burn County, withdrew to a cabin/studio deep in a forest in the state of Washington. They talked about things they’d experienced, lessons they’d learn and questions that remained. Conversations evolved into lyrics; feelings took on musical shape; tape rolled. And after two weeks they emerged with Baptized In Bourbon, a project unlike anything they’d ever cut before.
“We didn’t sit down and say, ‘Hey, let’s do a themed album,’” Bird insists. “But the themes we were thinking of seemed to carry over song after song. It was like a circle. It wasn’t all heavy. There’s a lot of fun songs on the album too. But basically, Baptized In Bourbon isn’t just about bonfires and keg parties. There’s a lot more to it than that.”
“The Sermon” starts mournfully, with strings and a quiet acoustic guitar. Then a preacher breaks in, a beat kicks off and from the pulpit we hear the query that underlies all of Baptized In Bourbon: “In light of knowing that God is with us, and in light of knowing that He sees us always, how are we going to respond with our lives?”
The answer appears to be that you celebrate, you rock hard, you love without hesitation and fight without fear when you have to. And, if you’re Moonshine Bandits, you drive this story home with help from a gang of gifted guest artists: Crucifix on the slamming “I’m A Hellrazor,” Bubba Sparxxx on “51Fifty,” The Lacs on “Cards I Was Dealt,” Uncle Kracker on “Baptized In Bourbon,” Colt Ford and Outlaw on “Dad’s Pontoon,” Matt Borden on “Shook Me Up,” Jelly Roll on “Wild Ones” …
… and maybe most memorably, the legendary David Allan Coe. David Allan Coe has done some shows with the Bandits to rowdy audiences. Apparently he liked what he saw when Tex and Bird sent him their arrangement of his classic anthem “Take This Job And Shove It.” He volunteered to join with them in the studio and later on stage. Coe also personally called both Tex and Bird to thank them as well as tell them he enjoyed their energy-filled live show.
“I’ve always said there are three guys I wanted to work with before I quit music,” Tex says. “Two of them are dead; the third is David Allan Coe. We decided to shoot a video together at Shawshank. The night before we met in his hotel room. It was like we were old friends, listening to him talk about songwriting. The next day we went to the prison, where he had done three or four years of his life. We were kind of skeptical about what might happen because there’s a lot of emotion involved. Hell, I threw up after going into some of the cells. But he had a great time. Then that night, when we played a show in Bucyrus, Ohio, he did the song with us so we could have the footage.”
Bird smiles at the memory. “Then when we stopped the show to do it again, he gets on the microphone and starts rocking Kid Rock’s ‘Sitting Here Wasting Time.’ It was incredible to see a 77-year-old guy rap to a slow drum beat. The crowd went bonkers. I’ll never forget that. We were so proud to earn his respect.”
Baptized In Bourbon doesn’t stop there. The guys spin parallel stories on successive tracks, featuring male and female archetypes that their blu-core followers can recognize. “‘Renegade Rides Again’ says that you don’t know when the life we’re living is going to catch up with us. Then you go to ‘Hell On Heels,’ which is about some of the girls we’ve met,” Tex says, with a knowing laugh. “It’s pretty much all a true story. We don’t even embellish it. But that’s what happens when you run in this type of circle.”
This is the music that Moonshine Bandits will take on the road later this year, most likely on a bus tour this time. Maybe it’s a bit of a risk to mix the sacred and profane, the rowdy and the introspective, on record and then onstage. But the payoff here is twofold: Their music demands attention from first note to last. And because they enjoy a strong mutual trust with their fans, honesty is essential to that bond.
“I’m away from my wife and kids,” Tex sums up. “My partner has lost numerous fiancees because of this ride. Yeah, we’re out partying — not too crazy to where we’re out of control. And Bird’s dad is a preacher. So sometimes we do wonder if this lifestyle is acceptable. But this isn’t just about our lives. It’s a universal thing.”
At heart, we’re all blu-core. We all hear some of our truth in what Moonshine Bandits are throwing down. Maybe it’s time for us all to be Baptized In Bourbon.