For every album, Texas music singer-songwriter William Clark Green shows another place down in Texas that's near and dear to his heart. In the past, he's taken us to Lubbock, Tyler and Eastland--places he's lived. Now, with his new album Hebert Island, he ventures out into old family stomping grounds.
Green's family moved to Texas from Louisiana in 1869. It was Green's grandmother's great-grandfather, an Hebert (pronounced A-Bear), who originally bought the LaBelle Ranch located outside of Beaumont, Texas. Surrounded by rice fields and in the middle of the marsh, Green's Hebert Island--and namesake for his fifth studio album--is indeed a real place.
"I was looking for a place to put a camp house," Green tells Wide Open Country. "I found this old oil pad put in my an oil company. Just a flat elevated surface out in the marsh. When it rains, it turns into an island. Everything around it floods so I just started calling it Hebert Island.
Green was looking for a place to put a rudimentary camp house out on the old family property. With a shipping container, a generator, an AC unit, a small outdoor shower, water catch and a cistern, it's as primitive as can be but serves as a mighty fine home base for Green when he's out duck hunting.
With that in mind, Green knew his latest album called for those distinct swampy sounds found on the Texas-Louisiana borderline. He enlisted Benjy Davis, a Baton Rouge native living in Nashville, as the project's producer knowing Davis would tap into those rootsy sounds.
Written with Davis and David Borné--another Louisianan living in Nashville--the distinct title track sets a specific tone for the album.
"When I had the song idea for 'Hebert Island,' I knew I wanted to write it with Benjy," adds Green. "He'd recently done this record that really played up those cajun, swampy and Louisiana sounds. I wanted there to be that influence so it just made sense. The guys in the band, they know what they're doing when they get in the studio. But sometimes, you need those little things that really set the mood. Benjy had those and knew how to apply them."
Recorded primarily in Nashville at The Sound Emporium, Hebert Island finds Green delivering as tight a collection of songs as he's ever written. In many respects, the 14-track album plays out like two specific sets. The A-Side front end is Green and company offering guitar-driven singalongs built around anthemic ear candy hooks. On the B-Side back half, Green settles things down a notch and finds the Texas storyteller delivering intimate ballads marked by their vulnerability and space-filled arrangements.
Barnburners like the spiteful lead single "Hit You Where It Hurts," the charging rush of "What About Now" and harmony and hook-laden "Goner" are prime Green cuts. Often built around the dueling guitar riffs of Steven Marcus and Josh Serrato, there's a familiar edge and tone. It's a surefire recipe that calls for blazing guitar, Green's gritty rasp and clever wordplay. "Goner," written with Ross Cooper and Dean Fields, is as strong a radio-worthy single as Green's ever delivered.
Other songs such as "Poor," written with Lubbock buddies Brandon Adams and Dalton Domino, and "She Loves Horses," written with Trent Willmon and Jay Clementi, find Green venturing into a somewhat newer territory. For what feels like the first time, Green offers up straightforward and plainspoken love ballads without his often cynical viewpoint.
It wouldn't be a Green album without his brutal honesty and heart-on-his-sleeve late-night confessionals. On the standout "Farewell," Green's lines cut deep to the bone. Throughout, he throws out a bevy of one-liners meant to hurt his former flame. Where "Hit You Where It Hurts" had a tongue-in-cheek wink, "Farewell" is the flipside of the coin and all business.
Still, it's on "Drunk Again," another song penned with Adams, where Green is both as candidly forward and drunkenly vulnerable as he's ever been. Written on the big stage at Larry Joe Taylor's Melody Mountain Ranch at one of Green's Lubbock songwriter retreats, "Drunk Again" is a mounting wave of relentless sincerity and drunken introspective. It's sobering self-analysis with a monstrous chorus.
"My Mother," the closing country ballad written with Channing Wilson, is another bare-bones number in which Green lays it all out on the table.
"I thought it was a cool song, but I wasn't necessarily 'wowed' by it when we finished it up," says Green. "I don't know why, but one day I played it at a soundcheck in Lawrence, Kansas. Our merch guy, Tyler Miska, started crying when I played it. I'd never brought tears to someone's eyes with a song before. I ended up playing it that night and there were more people crying. It was really powerful to see a song I'd written affect someone like that. It felt good."
Green admits that he felt a little burnt out after 2015's breakout album Ringling Road. Often worrying about radio, second-guessing his songwriting and wondering what people were going to like, Green wiped the slate clean before starting Hebert Island.
"I just wanted to write songs that I really liked. So the songs that I really liked, they ended up on the record. I didn't care that it ended up being 14 songs long," says Green. "This was kind of a do or die record for us--Hell, every record is that way. Every record, you try and make it something special. I hope others think it's special. But all I know is that it's special to me. That's what really counts."