More than a little ol’ band
No, no, you can’t really do that, I thought. Just because they’re from the same state, just because they’re both three piece bands… It’s far-fetched. But then I read this concert report, November 2019, Khruangbin and Leon Bridges playing in Houston. And what did they play towards the end of the concert? Z Z Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man”. I would have loved to see how they turned this into a Khruangbin version. Not so far-fetched after all. Especially considering that both bands aren’t just both from Texas, they’re even both from Houston.
There’s that Z Z Top documentary I saw just a few weeks ago. One of the most interesting sections was about how the band singlehandedly put Texas on the map of popular music. And about how people who don’t live in Texas have no idea what it meant for Texans that they were finally known for something very cool.
Over the decades, the coolness factor was bound to collect a bit of rust, and unfortunately we’ve lost Dusty Hill last year. The band survived, but still – it seems like a good time to at least expand the vision of what popular music from Texas sounds like.
What’s peculiar about this angle though is that it might not have surfaced if Khruangbin hadn’t teamed up with Leon Bridges for “Texas Sun” and “Texas Moon”. As a three piece band they are clearly cosmopolitan and urban – with Bridges added to the band the compass needle jumps to the Southwest. It’s a cool trick as the band doesn’t really change much on these EPs. Yes, the added pedal steel guitar played by Will van Horn helps to find the right spot on the map, but it can mostly be attributed to how Bridges and Khruangbin blend to something new. He really isn’t a guest singer, and this really isn’t Khruangbin, it’s like the band ran across the one guy on this planet that sounds as if he should have been a member in the first place. Khruangbridges.
There is plenty of stuff to read on the web about how this whole project started. About how they were slightly bewildered by well known artists approaching them about doing something together and how they had thought why, I don’t even know you, why should I go over to the studio and record some music with you, and how it had been a completely different story with Leon Bridges, first becoming something like family before they even entertained the thought of making music together. I’ve only spent two or three days in Houston a long time ago, but I sure know that way of thinking from when I lived in rural Georgia. Anyone that would approach anyone else about anything would definitely first have to establish some sort of relationship before they could make any kind of suggestion about doing a project together.
Or maybe it’s just what good musicians with a sense of ethos do. I remember an interview with Conny Plank, the famous German producer, talking about how he had been approached by U2 to produce them, and how even before he had considered whether that was a good idea the band had already announced that Plank would take care of their next album. Man, was he pissed off. Said that these guys hadn’t even bothered to have a decent conversation with him.
For this one, there’s the obvious question why it hadn’t been published as a full album. Reportedly, the label simply didn’t want to do that at the time and in the end the decision was made to do two EPs. It’s hard to imagine that the reason for this peculiar format was that mundane when the succession of the “Sun” and the “Moon” EPs seems like a super smart tactical decision. “Texas Sun” was a really nice EP, as sunny as it sounded, maybe too easily put aside as a pretty one-off, an excellent one too, and now that “Texas Moon” is here the whole depth of the project is revealed in a way that releasing all material together on a full length album might never have.
Not surprisingly, the “Moon” part illuminates a moodier and more spiritual shade of this project. It’s a tiny bit of a surprise that this suits the artists’ partnership even more than the sunnier tones. Bridges seems a little more at home in the moon shade, and this makes him an even more suitable partner for the band. His singing is so much closer to the topics, almost every song on this EP being a perfect example on how to write lyrics that fit the mood, the voice, the intention, the notes, the accompaniment, everything. This is heartfelt stuff and it is audible in every line delivered.
Most of the topics are deeply personal, Bridges sings about his grandmother “Doris”, sounding like a modern day Marvin Gaye with the slightest Southern feel shining through, and he absolutely can’t get enough of “Mariella”, singing her name more than twenty times in just over five minutes. Yes, there is a lot of love on this album, lots of kissing and caressing, missing and yearning, and it’s just marvelous how the band keeps it as tight and sparse as they always do and still prove to be the best possible company a singer like Bridges can have when he puts all of his emotions into his voice.
All the deepness and the moonlight might suggest a somewhat broody atmosphere, but no, this is still Khruangbin with their magical trick of uniting simplicity and sophistication, and this is Leon Bridges, a guy that would always please your ear and make you feel good, no matter what he’d be singing about. So you might just as well let this EP play and enjoy an easy and delightful Sunday afternoon. After all, there wouldn’t be any light coming from the moon if it weren’t for the sun.
Release for review:
KHRUANGBIN & LEON BRIDGES – TEXAS MOON – DEAD OCEANS – DOC254LP