Sam Outlaw's inspired new album is a refreshing journey into California country that appeals to traditionalists and alt-country fans alike.
If you flip through the mainstream country radio stations, you'll have a difficult time finding anything or anyone that sounds like Sam Outlaw.
The South Dakota-born singer has called Los Angeles his home for years, and that becomes perfectly clear within seconds of listening to his first full-length effort.
His debut album, Angeleno, will be released June 9, and was produced by the famed multi-instrumentalist Ry Cooder. Country fans who also have a soft spot for indie or alternative music may be pleasantly surprised to hear that members of the Punch Brothers, My Morning Jacket and Dawes all make appearances on the record.
This stellar combination of musical minds have been able to create a perfected mix of honky tonk and modern mariachi. His first single off the album, "Who Do You Think You Are," showcases the infectious sadness of traditional California country, backed by the charming mariachi sound that is weaved throughout Angeleno.
Music hasn't always been Sam Outlaw's focus. He began playing country music in 2009 while working full-time in the digital marketing and advertising industry.
It wasn't until about three years ago, around Outlaw's 30th birthday, when he decided to take on the music industry full force. Since then, between working on his album, he's expanded out of southern California's tiny bar scene and onto tours as the opener for artists including Dwight Yoakam and Justin Townes Earle.
He's even been tagged as the leading force behind the rebirth of Los Angeles' modern country scene, but those big claims and expectations don't seems to weigh too heavily on Outlaw's shoulders. His focus is steadily focused on creating good country music, and sharing with others what that really sounds like.
"If I can remind people that country music is awesome and country music used to have a flourishing life in Southern California and then maybe help them to discover some of that music, then that would be really special to me." Outlaw told Pollstar in a recent interview.
Although he takes his music seriously, his live shows are all about having a good time. During his recent show in Nashville at the dark and tiny venue The Basement, each break between each song was filled with sarcastic quips (many of which were directed at his friend and show opener, Cale Tyson) and dry humor that kept the crowd engaged and in good spirits.
"The great thing about the country music genre is if you have any sense of humor it counts for something," he told Radio.com, "and you can incorporate that into songwriting."
When it comes to the music itself, Outlaw shines under the spotlight of a live venue. Even though he's had a relatively short career time-wise, his stage presence commands attention to both Outlaw himself and the effortless musicality of his songs. With a strong backing band and an extensive set of tour dates filling out the rest of 2015, his set will likely only get tighter.
Outlaw has found himself in a unique position, following in the footsteps of Bakersfield legends Buck Owens and Merle Haggard as the representative of new California country. It's not clear if this is really the jump-start to a new influx of Bakersfield-inspired artists into the country music scene, but it is a step in a positive direction for those who long for the charm of that old school sound.
Ironically, Outlaw has the ability to do with Angeleno what Sam Hunt has done with Montevallo, but in a different way. Outlaw's sound is one that is accessible to country traditionalists, alt-country lovers and even indie rock fans. Even though his songs are rooted in country music with an overall traditional sound and lyrical context, his modern take on the So-Cal sound, combined with influential indie collaborators gives the record a credible shot at crossover success. Outlaw is in the right place at the right time, and the biggest winners from that happy accident are the listeners.
Sam Outlaw's Angeleno will be available in select record stores and online June 9, and he will be on tour supporting the album throughout the summer. A full list of tour dates are posted at his website.