ALBUMS: Jason Boland & the Stragglers’ Cosmic Saga
The country troubadours rocket through space and time to find the truth
“Many times our pivotal moments in life seem to happen out of nowhere 一 and not according to plans,” reflects Jason Boland.
The singer-songwriter’s talking specifically about the title track to the new record, The Light Saw Me, yet this simple statement speaks to the depth and universe-stretching aspects of all 11 songs. Lonesomeness and desperation vine together with regret, misery, and shame in a life sorely unlived with the pressures of societal expectation and tradition crushing from every side.
Artist:Jason Boland & the Stragglers
Album: The Light Saw Me
Label: Thirty Tigers
★★★★1/2 (4.5/5 stars)
With The Stragglers in tow, Boland examines real life sorrows through an intergalactic lens. He invites the listener to behold the grand transmission of a 1890s cowboy through time and space, arriving in 1990s Texas and witnessing a world so far removed from his own. Existence is not at all what he expected, and truth be told, it may be something he doesn’t even want anymore. The Light Saw Me drives rivets into the center of an existential crisis, ballooning out to cover much wider social and political themes. “Having visions of things that bear explaining / No answers in religion or the law / Sending thugs out to call it all ‘illusion’ / Doesn’t change belief in what I saw / A translation of the writing on the wall,” he observes with “A Tornado & the Fool.”
“Terrifying Nature” beams Boland up through a cylinder of light into the stratosphere. “Travelers and wanderers on the open range and open road have been haunted by shapes of light and dazzling color, dropping down in a sea of stars,” he positions the album as a fable passed down from one generation to the next. Later, he chronicles the moment of transcendence with the title track, a little wonderstruck as he sings, “Look out above 一 that ain’t the moon shining through the trees / Whoa my love, I saw the light, but more importantly, the light saw me.”
Within the extraterrestrial odyssey, there’s the literal meaning 一 but the album’s grander design indicates a metaphorical one, depicting the threshold over which we all must lumber, where we discover life is not what we believed it to be. “Underneath the blazing sky, why does hope feel lost, while love is alive / Only need somewhere to thrive and a little sympathy,” he wails in the dusty cowpoke tune “A Place to Stay.” Love, the crucial tendon connecting us all, arises through Boland’s sojourn. Despite dust storms, blights, and unimaginable droughts, the act of love always brings the rain and a replenishment of the mind, body, and spirit.
The Light Saw Me pleads with the listener, trekking through valleys of death before erupting into the sun-capped mountains again. It’s a bargain for answers as much as it is a sweeping fantasy. “I try so hard, I swear the gods are guilty / Show me a sign, I’ll plot a course that’s true through space and time,” he moans with “Straight Home,” pin-pricked and spooky. “Traveling way past light speed, winding my way straight home to you.”
VIDEO: Jason Boland & The Stragglers “The Light Saw Me”
He touches upon humanity’s dark shadows and eventually learns to submit to the light when it comes. And it always comes. With a cover of Bob Childers’ “Restless Spirits,” a decision he’s called “borderline cosmic,” he finds the present moment to be the key to unlocking the meaning of life. “Her eyes were closed, but still they held the light / And from a battered guitar came a sound like angels weeping / For all those restless spirits in the night,” Boland sings, awash in the glowing warmth of renewed hope.
There’s no escaping the weariness of life, and Boland empties every stain and scar onto the record. The Light Saw Me, produced by Shooter Jennings, previously a collaborator on 2013’s Dark & Dirty Mile, serves up clarity through a refreshing character invention. Perhaps we can then better understand the inherent truths about living, love, and coping with immense loss.
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