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Red dirt, white knuckles: Domino's 'Corners' breathes through the pain

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Lucinda Breeding

Dalton Domino is having a rough day. 

On Monday, he learned his friends in the Josh Abbott Band were in the thick of the mass shooting in Las Vegas. Then Tom Petty, the man who married twang and rock into a signature American sound, died the same day. 

"It's just a bad day," Domino said. "Tom Petty's like my idol."

The Frisco resident has been making music since he was a very wet-behind-the-ears 17. He applied himself — honestly and with nerve — to the demanding Red Dirt scene and it's punishing schedule that keeps serious players booked nearly every weekend of the year. 

For roughly the last year, Domino has been doing his job clean and sober. He doesn't want any medals or even a pat on the back for quitting alcohol and drugs. He prefers for people to know that sobriety is a process. Some days he gets through without too much pain. Other days, he lurches from hour to hour. 

In the midst of getting clean, though, Domino made the record he figures will define him: Corners. He'll perform music from the album, which dropped in April, at his upcoming show at 9 p.m. Friday, Oct. 13, at the Mule Barn, 218 FM156 in Justin. 

"If I'm still doing this in 50 years, Corners will still be the best thing I've ever done. A lot of people don't like it," he said. "They wanted a Texas country record."

Corners was crafted with the help of Nashville country artist Travis Meadows.

"Honestly, his record Killin' Uncle Buzzy was one of those records that made me realize  you could write whatever you want to write, say whatever you want to say," said Domino, a Tennessee native who lived in Denton for a stint and calls Frisco home at the moment. "Wade Bowen put me in his direction. After giving up drugs and drinking, I knew I wanted to go in a different direction. When you make a dramatic life change such as that — I mean you live in bars for 10 years, and you live like every night is Saturday night — it’s a hard transition to do without any help."

Domino said he was pulled toward Meadows' Uncle Buzzy because of two songs in particular. "It Gets Better" is a sadder-but-wiser reflection on the rainy days that stretch into weeks of gray and a life that endures, but gets worn after a while.  Domino also found familiar sentiments in "Grown Up Clothes," a meditation on his father's inheritance — that dogged sinfulness that leaves us feeling ill-equipped to handle the hungry ghosts of adulthood. 

Meadows urged Domino to write about things he might have avoided before. 

Corners emerged from that as "a purely analog" album that nestled into the corners of Domino's life. 

"Yeah, corners," he said. "One of my band members said you either turn them or get stuck in 'em."

The title track, which features artist Jack Ingram, confesses Domino's time stuck in a particularly dark corner, but celebrates finally creeping out of it. 

"It's weird how it starts," Domino said. "It's not that you feel like you have to be the life of the party. You live in bars and someone you like — or someone who likes you — is like, 'Hey, let's do a shot.'  And you're like, 'Yeah, let's do a shot.' Then the next thing you know, it’s Tuesday morning and I’m drunk as [expletive] looking for some cocaine."

The shots and drugs became a habit, and Domino said his performance suffered and relationships fractured. In 2015, he started the process of getting clean. He didn't always manage to stay on the wagon. 

"You don't do it to feel good. You do it to feel nothing," he recalled. "One night, I was in Fort Worth, and I was drinking because I couldn't stand the people I had around me."

Corners explores failure, regret and redemption. "July" is a look back at a lost opportunity and the second-guessing that goes along with it. "More Than You" is a bluesy number about betting against the nastier devils of our nature and appeasing them, damn the consequences. But it's also about the evil impulse doubling as the spark of something righteous, because after all, the craving gets you out of your chair on on your boots. An unexpected but appropriate brass solo sets fire to the end of the song. 

"Rain" is perhaps the song that sounds most influenced by Meadows. The album stretches itself from Appalachian-tinged folk to Red Dirt rock to bluesy country. Unburdened by the pop-country stylings of New Nashville, Corners feels mostly quiet and full of space.

"Space, oh for sure," Domino said. "A song's got to have space. You have to give songs room to breathe. That was important for this record." 

What songs don't have to have, he said, is torment and bloodletting to be a legitimate work of art. Domino is all too familiar with the idea that the best music comes from personal devastation. He's heard people wish their idols were still addicted or broken. 

"That’s a [expletive] disgusting thing to say. You wish evil on somebody to get you off?  Someone said something like that about Ryan Adams, that he was awful since he was in love and they missed him being on heroin. Think about that," Domino said. "That’s horrible. That's disgusting. When people say they’re better on drugs they’re full of [expletive]. 

"I’m better sober. I’m a better person sober. I’m a better musician."

"Mine Again" doesn't reference any of the famous 12 steps, but the song clearly depicts a narrator who is making amends. Over coffee, he's sorry for taking a match to the relationship he torched. 

But this time, Domino is feeling the feelings. His drowning days are over. 

Tickets to the concert at the Mule Barn cost $10