Brandon Rhyder's return marked by deep dive into the personal
Ten years ago, Texas artist Brandon Rhyder played 200 shows a year grinding out Texas music and Red Dirt rock with an edge.
He had a fire in his belly.
Rhyder returns with his ninth studio record, a 10-track self-titled album that shows the dash of silver at his temples.
He plays Rockin' Rodeo in Denton tonight, and his latest album drops on Friday.
"It's been about four years since I had a CD out," Rhyder said. "We rarely take breaks in this business. We toured a lot. This is the longest stretch I've taken in the 16 years I've been doing this."
Rhyder said four years was a lengthy hiatus for a Texas artist who earned most of his fans by hustling on the hyperactive Red Dirt circuit.
"Life just got busy," Rhyder said. "It's not just one particular thing. I've got kids -- that was a big part of it. It is a risk to step away too long. The great part of this is, since we put this record together and this team together ... we found our fans just as active. Stepping away can also be good. Maybe it makes the consumer hungry, you know?"
Now at 44 years old, Rhyder is jumping back into the game with a record that makes judicious use of acoustic instruments and no-holds-barred lyrics. Rhyder said he's making room in his life for things that matter: family, relationships and legacy, learning by doing and taking a lesson from mistakes.
He still has a fire in his belly. He's just going for a steadier burn.
"Having kids changes things," he said. "I have an 11-year-old boy and a 9-year-old girl. I came home after being two weeks on the road and they looked different. They talked different. They sounded different. I knew I needed to be around."
Brandon Rhyder is the result of his first foray into a more mature record and a move to establish himself as a solidly mid-career artist. The album is mostly a mid-tempo record, buoyed by smart pedal steel, and lively keyboards that occasionally turn into contemplative riffs. "No Time for That" is tailor-made for slow dances, with relaxed brush-drums swaying and faint pedal steel warbling. Throughout, the album asserts that Rhyder isn't worrying about things that don't matter.
Rhyder said he put together a team to make the record. He tapped Texas songwriter powerhouse Walt Wilkins to produce, as he did on Rhyder's Head Above Water (2010) and Conviction (2006). Rhyder also drafted some respected artists on four co-written songs: Keith Gattis, Michael Hearne, Bri Bagwell. He co-wrote two tracks with Grammy winner Lori McKenna.
Wilkins' guidance helped Rhyder make an album where the music moves his narratives along, but also gets out of the way of Rhyder's voice. With less distortion, Rhyder's vocals are reminiscent of the Irish tenor, and we hear the influences of gospel, bluegrass and folk.
Rhyder said the new record demanded more of his voice -- stretching the top and the bottom of his range.
"Well, talking vocally and aging, I feel like my voice is continuing to evolve," Rhyder said. "I was talking to Walt, and realized that we both could tell that my voice -- the timbre of my voice -- is different. Radney Foster -- he's been a great friend, too, for many years -- he's told me that as you get older, your voice gets to where you have to warm up more. You have to work more before the show. I find that to be true. I find a lot of artists in their 40s, their voices change."
The album is already picking up praise in noteworthy corners. Rolling Stone praised Rhyder's duet with McKenna, "They Need Each Other." Country music -- and music that is country-adjacent, like Red Dirt -- can sometimes cast men and women as two-dimensional creatures living in a cardboard-cutout world. Instead, Rhyder and McKenna's duet reaches deep and looks at relationships with realism. Even if sisters are doing it for themselves, even if Junior can sew buttons onto his own shirts, relationships are messy, especially when one party needs a boost.
"I'm very proud of this record," Rhyder said. "I'm very proud of what we were able to accomplish. I always like to make a record that is completely from the record before. What you hear on this record is the direction I want to be going in my career."
Brandon Rhyder: 8 p.m. Thursday at Rockin' Rodeo, 1009 Ave. C. Shotgun Rider opens. Tickets cost $12-$15. For tickets, visit www.rockinrodeodenton.com.
LUCINDA BREEDING can be reached at 940-566-6877 and via Twitter at @LBreedingDRC.
FEATURE IMAGE: Austin singer-songwriter Brandon Rhyder releases his ninth studio album on Friday, July 14, 2017. He plays Rockin' Rodeo in Denton on Thursday, July 13, 2017. Photo by Cameron Gott.