Photo credit: Andrew Thorpe
I might as well just come clean with it. This piece was originally going to start with a piss-take on Big & Rich, the good-timing country duo that dropped Horse Of A Different Color on unsuspecting American music fans in 2004 and laughed all the way to the bank. You haven't thought about them in a million years, right? Nor had I, until I heard the "legendary country music stars" were going to play a free concert outside PNC Park immediately after Pirates game on the 4th.
But my soapbox ascension stops there.
Actually, to be completely honest, it stopped when I did a little research and discovered that a true country music legend, Kris Kristofferson, appeared on their 2005 record, Comin' To Your City. The song he provides the spoken word intro to, "8th of November," tells the story of Niles Harris, a soldier in the 173rd Airborne Brigade during the Vietnam War. Makes perfect sense, and it almost pains me to point out that AllMusic's Stephen Thomas Erlewine pegged the tune as "awkwardly jingoistic" and further offered it as "proof that every mainstream country album in 2005 needs a patriotic anthem."
Fair to say I'm not a fan, but I'll let you do you, Big do Big and Rich do Rich. Don't want it ever to be said that I stopped people from either saving horses or riding cowboys.
But let's get to the young man we're here today to talk about, William Beckman.
That, my friends, is about as close to vintage-sounding country music as one is likely to get in this age of bruh-country. My first reaction, perhaps not surprisingly, was "Where's that voice coming from?!" It was not unlike hearing Rick Astley for the first time back in the 80s. And the phrasing slalom he manages to steer that rich baritone through calls to mind another pretty fine country crooner, Jimmie Dale Gilmore.
My second reaction, sadly, was much more grandmotherly, and along the lines of, "Well, he's much too young to be drinking bourbon whiskey."
Potential underaged drinking aside, it a wonderful tune, and "Pack your belongings, and go back to Cleveland" has to be one of the great kiss off lines of recent history, particularly because this young man has the cojones to rhyme the name of the city with "freedom." And the video is a delight, largely because Beckman, who appears to be hitting the town in Dad's suit, manages to maintain that sly grin of wasted isolation, even as that red vinyl Hades goes to hell behind.
Here's a another one from Beckmann, a demo from 2016 called "Please Dear."
Clearly, Beckmann understands and respects the genre, and it's exciting to hear how he's evolved in a mere five years. For me personally, it's encouraging to hear young country artists putting their spin on the traditional sounds, simply because I don't hear a lot who do. A few weeks ago I rambled on about Rod Gator, but he's clearly an outlier. And sadly, we lost one of the true young guns of country coming up on a year ago, the late, great Justin Townes Earle, whose 2019 release The Saint Of Lost Causes found him drifting more toward the stylistic leanings of his father, but whom we always knew had firm control of the subtitles of traditional country music.
So, what else can I tell you about Beckmann? Sadly, not too much. A native of Del Rio, Texas, this young man immersed himself in traditional country music while attending University of Texas in Austin. Like so many before him, he eventually made his way to Nashville, where he recorded his 2018 debut, the Outskirts of Town EP, with the help of another Del Rio native, Radney Foster. Unfortunately, in the music business, three years is a lifetime, but I hear more new music is coming.
We'll be waiting, William. We'll be waiting...