Vandoliers

Vandoliers are a uniquely Texas band, distilling the Lone Star State’s vast and diverse musical identity into a raucous, breakneck vibe that’s all their own. After spending much of the last three years furiously writing and recording music, this Dallas-Fort Worth six-piece is back with The Vandoliers, a new album that proves these rowdy, rollicking country punks are tighter, more cohesive and more sonically compelling than ever.

Forged in the fires of the COVID-19 pandemic, The Vandoliers is the product of a time of immense growth and change for the band. Though most of the record was written in 2019, following the release of their much-acclaimed album Forever, plans changed quickly in March 2020. “It was supposed to be a quick turnaround,” frontman Joshua Fleming says. “After touring with Lucero and the Toadies, we were supposed to go into the studio to knock out an album, and head to Europe for the first time.” That didn’t happen —their tours were canceled, the band’s label folded, and what was to come next was totally up in the air.

Recorded with Grammy-winning producer Eric Delegard at Reeltime Audio in Denton, TX, The Vandoliers is an album interrupted. The band’s original two-week recording session ended abruptly in March 2020 as shutdowns began across the globe. The band didn’t get back into the studio until November, at which point they realized that, like many of the best-laid plans, their original strategy for the record had to change. “We wanted to make an album that had the same power as our live performance — a tight, big sound,” Fleming says. “Through trial and error, label closure, fatherhood, sobriety, relapse, the album grew on its own stylistically. After the hardest two years of my life, we created a collection of songs that push us as musicians, songs that reaffirmed my place as a songwriter and a faith in ourselves as a band I don’t think we had before.”

Amid all that uncertainty, Vandoliers did what they knew best: they made music. First came “Every Saturday Night,” a pandemic-era appreciation of all the rowdy, late-night shows that we all missed while stuck at home. “I thought for sure that this would be the last song I would ever write. I missed all the little things about the life I lived up until that point,” Fleming says. “I missed the smells and tastes of a smoky dive bar, the long overnight drives listening to our favorite bands.” Those thoughts clearly struck a chord with listeners, earning the song heavy rotation on the radio, especially Sirius XM’s Outlaw Country, and jumpstarting the band’s plans to head back into the studio to encapsulate their electric live shows into the album that would eventually grow into The Vandoliers.

The Vandoliers is a manifesto, both sonically and lyrically. It’s an assertion of the band’s distinct character, their sonic rebelliousness, and big, bold stage presence. They’ve got range, too, but that should be expected from a band that deftly blends mariachi horns with country-punk rhythms. On “The Lighthouse,” tender vocals pair with Travis Curry’s delicate fiddle to create a sweet cowpunk lullaby written for Fleming’s one-year-old daughter Ruby Mae, born at the height of the pandemic. And then there’s “Bless Your Drunken Heart,” a hard-driving ode to the town drunk that makes apt use of the South’s favorite passive-aggressive slight and has quickly become a favorite at the band’s live shows, and “I Hope Your Heartache’s a Hit,” a swinging, swaggering tribute to a one-night-stand written by multi-instrumentalist Cory Graves.

On the deeply personal “Down and Out,” Fleming digs deep into his own experiences with loss, anxiety, and substance abuse. “I have had an odd relationship with alcohol, and I challenged myself to go one year without partaking as a personal goal,” he says. “I failed after my wife and I experienced our first miscarriage in 2019, just a week before we were supposed to head out on tour. I was a wreck emotionally, and turned to alcohol to numb the pain as I was reeling from that loss. I was up all-night writing this set of lyrics, contemplating my self-worth and describing the dark motel room that seemed like a metaphor for where I was in my life at that time.”

Taken all together, this impressive fourth album builds to what is the Vandoliers’ most cohesive effort to date without sacrificing any of the distinct identity that makes the band work as well touring alongside punkers Flogging Molly as they do opening for independent country legends the Turnpike Troubadours or Dallas rockers the Old 97s. Few bands can bring together the square toes and the steel toes quite like the Vandoliers. As its members have grown and matured, so has the sound of Vandoliers. But what remains the same, though, is the band’s core philosophy of solidarity and hope, evidenced by the motto they’ve all had tattooed on their arms: Vandoliers Forever, Forever Vandoliers.

Vandoliers are Joshua Fleming, bassist Mark Moncrieff, drummer Trey Alfaro, fiddler Travis Curry, electric guitarist Dustin Fleming, and multi-instrumentalist Cory Graves. Formed in 2015, the band released 2016’s Ameri-Kinda and 2017’s The Native on State Fair Records, and Forever (2019) on Bloodshot Records.

An alt-country band with punk roots, Vandoliers formed in 2015, bringing together a group of Dallas-Fort Worth musicians led by frontman Joshua Fleming.

Fiercely proud of their homeland, Vandoliers put their own spin on the Texas country tradition with 2016’s Ameri-Kinda, a debut album that mixed honky-tonk twang with hard-edged, rock & roll stomp. The band’s follow-up release, The Native, arrives less than one year, doubling down on Vandoliers’ modern approach to traditional influences. Rounded out by bassist Mark Moncrieff, drummer Guyton Sanders, fiddler Travis Curry, electric guitarist Dustin Fleming, and multi-instrumentalist Cory Graves, the group fills The Native‘s 10 songs with barreling guitar solos, train beats, anthemic melodies, mariachi horns, and the autobiographical details of Fleming’s own travels.

“I grew up in Texas,” the singer says, “and I wanted to write about why I loved it. I wanted to use myself as a character for my own songs. The Native goes through all our favorite styles of Texas music, and tells my story along the way.”

A tribute to the band’s Texas homeland, The Native takes its listener through a swirl of East Dallas dive bars, Pantego pool halls, small towns, big cities, and the rolling ribbon of bluebonnet-covered highway that stretches throughout the state. Along the way, Fleming sings about getting drunk, getting arrested, and getting it on. Behind him, the band kicks up a storm of Western swing, electric blues, roadhouse rock & roll, Tejano, cowboy country, and twangy punk, saluting everyone from fellow Texans Bob Wills to ZZ Top in the process. There are songs about leaving town. Songs about coming home. Songs about the short-lived romances that spark, burn, and fade in roadside bars, and songs about the lasting relationships that await back at home. It’s a full cycle — a detailed exploration of what it means to truly belong somewhere.

“I was born September 1st in a little town outside Fort Worth,” goes the first line of the album’s kickoff track, “Bluebonnet Highway.” If The Native unfolds like a coming-of-age movie, then “Bluebonnet Highway” is the opening scene: a fast-moving montage of clips from Fleming’s home, filled with neighborhood girls, traffic lights and the state flowers that bloom every spring. From there, Fleming and company hit the highway with “Rolling Out,” a fiddle-fueled, horn-filled salute to the road, and wax nostalgic with the epic, driving “Endless Summer.” By the album’s end, they’re back in Dallas-Ft. Worth, spilling all the details of their journey to a friend in “Welcome Home.”

For Fleming, the real journey started years ago, when his sister took him to a Bad Religion concert. That night left a permanent impression on the young teen, who left the show inspired to make his own music. Years later, he earned his first audience as the frontman of the Phuss, a rowdy punk band that toured nationally. Business was good, but Fleming’s personal life was heading south, with songs like “I Don’t Feel Good” hinting at a troubled mind. After bottoming out, he resurfaced by meeting his future wife, falling in love, swapping his electric guitar for an acoustic, and writing a batch of songs that his country-loving partner might enjoy. Vandoliers were born, with many of those new songs filling the tracklist on the band’s Ameri-Kinda debut.

Recorded in the same studio where Willie Nelson made Red Headed Stranger, The Native was tracked to tape by producer John Pedigo. The album was finished in four days, capturing the spark and spunk of a live band whose tour dates have included shows with the Jayhawks, Old 97’s and Reverend Horton Heat. Released on the heels of Ameri-Kinda, The Native isn’t just a story about where Vandoliers have been. It’s a sign of where they’re going. It’s twang and tattoos, grit and guitars, honky-tonk and horns, Tejano and Telecasters. It’s Vandoliers.

Pedigo’s Magic Pilsner is the solo project from 1/2 of The O’s John Pedigo.

Jake Paleschic opens the evening.