But the next several years saw highs and lows that eventually led to Abbott and company taking a huge creative leap. They left much of the Texas-heavy, carefree songwriting behind. Instead, the band released an ambitious concept album called Front Row Seat that redefined the parameters of their sound and scope.
So where does 2017's new album Until My Voice Goes Out pull the Josh Abbott Band? In many cases, a healthy middle. This new Dwight Baker produced, 11-song album (sandwiched between a two preludes and an outro) finds Abbott again embracing the Texas imagery and locale-loving lyrics. But the whole work is also underscored by a weighty melancholy.
On Feb. 9, Abbott's father Charles suffered a stroke. The band was only two weeks in to recording the album, but Abbott knew where he needed to be. He went to be by his father's side in the hospital while the band finished recording.
Then, at the end of February, he returned to Austin to record the vocals on the songs -- all of them, in fact. In the professional recording world, that's extremely rare. Most artists take at least a week to capture vocals, sometimes months.
But you wouldn't necessarily have to know that story to hear a certain weariness in his vocals. The kind that makes it seem that "until my voice goes out" isn't that far away. The kind that takes a song like "I'm Your Only Flaw" and moves it from cute, upbeat love song to almost downtrodden.
But there's still a sense of hope. Abbott told Rolling Stone that he played the title track for his father in the hospital. "He was really sad about the Front Row Seat album, to see his son singing such sad, dark songs and knowing that it came from a place of hurt," Abbott says.
This song, on the other hand, feels like an optimistic ode to taking chances and living life to the fullest. Abbott's father passed away not long after.
Dancing With The One Who Brung Ya
Abbott again found a good balance, bringing back songs with strong ties to the Lone Star State, like "Girl Down In Texas," but in a way that feels more like lyrical device instead of straight up cheerleading. And he still finds room to explore production elements not often seen in Texas country.
A great example of all of these points wrapped into one? The first single, "Texas Women, Tennessee Whiskey." The hooky tune pays homage and plays up the home team. But it also employs a raucous horn section, a first for the band and a rarity in the space altogether. (But also a trendy move right now; ask anybody from Whiskey Myers to Lady Antebellum).
In the end, it's a bit of Abbott having his cake and eating it too. He gets to use lush symphonic string arrangement and rocking horn sections while still making the hometown crowds happy with some Lone Star love. Arranger Rob Mathes, famous for his work with acts like Bruce Springsteen and Tony Bennett, does a fantastic job of creating a cohesive vibe with new elements.
Speaking of horns and strings, the band is bringing a horns and strings section on the road when they tour this fall, and that is badass.
Though it certainly didn't start as one, Until My Voice Goes Out certainly feels like a tribute to the life of Charles Abbott. "Ain't My Daddy's Town" is a beautiful song that Abbott literally held the album up for. Rodney Clawson and Jaren Johnston sent the song to Abbott before his father suffered the stroke. At the time, Abbott didn't know if it would come across as genuine. Obviously, life presented a different plan.
In the end, Abbott went into the studio with a guitarist and fiddler and cut the track in one take. They added it to the already mastered album and named the final string arrangement in honor of Charles Abbott. It's a wonderfully touching moment, featuring Abbott's strongest vocals on the entire record. All in all, the track and final string arrangement may be the finest four minutes in Abbott's career.
You can catch the Josh Abbott Band supporting the record across the country this fall.