The short version: ‘Homeland Insecurity’ struck me more as “solid” than “great” on the first few listens, but with every listen after, there’s more layers to this project than what initially meets the eye.
- Favorite tracks: “Come Back Down,” “Living By Moonlight,” “Years From Now,” “Pretty Women,” “Ashes,” “Sleeping Alone”
- Least favorite track: “Old School”
- Rating: 8/10
The long version: It’s about time we got a new album from Flatland Cavalry.
Actually, it’s about time we got anything from the band since their debut album, Humble Folks from 2016. Aside from the news of fiddler Laura Jane Grace leaving the band last July, the band has remained relatively quiet. They dropped the lead single to their new album, Homeland Insecurity called “Honeywine” last fall, but their relative silence is almost indicative of the thematic arc of the album in an ironic way.
Front man Cleto Cordero described this album as one that deals with the struggles, anxieties and expectations of growing up, so trying to find out their next move was after their debut was understandable. Homeland Insecurity feels like a more unique offering from the band, although their tagline of making music that’s “easy on the ears and heavy on the heart” is still intact.
This album simply sounds like it came out of Texas, like the kind of album you would play on a Sunday morning on the back of your porch. Truthfully, Homeland Insecurity struck me more as “solid” than outright “great” on the first few listens, but with every listen after, there’s more layers to this project than what initially meets the eye.
Flatland Cavalry’s main weapon is the fiddle, pure and simple. There’s very few other bands out there that are crafting such warm, inviting melodies or using this particular instrument to drive it all forward. It sounds like a hug from an old friend you’re happy to see again.
What really makes Homeland Insecurity more than just a good sounding album though is its lyricism. No, not every track is crafted to be song of the year contender. A track such as the lead single, “Honeywine” succeeds off its rollicking easiness. But if you take a closer listen, there’s some excellent writing here.
True to its theme though, the characters on Homeland Insecurity usually find themselves in the aftermath of a situation reflecting on hard lessons learned. Right away, the opening track, “Come Back Down” is the story of the prodigal son who got too big for his britches, and by the time he comes back home, he realizes this. The narrator on “Back To Me” finds love again after losing it the first time while the narrator on “Lonely Then” finds the companionship he’s been looking for only without the love.
Whatever the lesson learned on whichever track, it comes with the realization that, in the end, it’s OK to make those mistakes and use them as learning experiences. It’s foolish to think we have it all figured out at any point in our lives, and the closer, “Years From Now,” reflects on that with a wistful joyfulness. Even on “Living By Moonlight.” which features great imagery of “honky tonky goblins” and “neon vampires,” there’s solace found in simply embracing the darkness and learning it isn’t so bad.
But that doesn’t mean it’s all sunshine and rainbows either. He’s aware that at the end of the day, it’s his dream he’s chasing on “Sleeping Alone,” but it doesn’t make it easier living in the present. Like on “Years From Now,” there’s comfort and optimism found in looking toward the future.
It’s not just Cordero’s story either, although when he mentions Pat Green in the same breath as Alan Jackson and George Strait on “Old School,” you can tell it’s coming from his personal perspective. The waltz, “Pretty Women” finds him observing from afar the damage certain actions have on others.
Cordero’s vocals aren’t the strongest on a technical level, but you can tell he’s making the most of a limited range. He’s at his best when he’s playing the role of the lovestruck, naive man like on “Honeywine” and “Back To Me.”
While I like that this band is going darker with some of their melodic and atmospheric constructions, they almost need to dial it back a little. “Other Side Of Lonesome” features some great songwriting, but the canned vocal layering on Cordero’s voice sounds distracting and unflattering. I get that they were trying to go for something murkier, but it’s an experiment that doesn’t work as well as it should.
While “Living By Moonlight” is otherwise a strong highlight too, Cordero’s vocals sound too quiet in the mix during the chorus. Other times, you can tell he’s struggling to hit certain notes like on “Lonely Then” and “Ashes,” but the melodic compositions are too strong to call them weaker tracks.
Actually, Homeland Insecurity for the most part is a very consistent album, with the only pure “misfire” being the checklist driven, “Old School” which plods along after the energetic “Honeywine.”
When the group harmonies kick in on the first and last tracks, it makes the melodic composition stand out much more too. If anything, I wish there had been more moments where the full band comes together, because it sounds great. To give Cordero himself credit too, what he may lack in charisma or technical ability, he more than makes up for in sincerity. “Years From Now” feels like he’s cheerfully throwing his hands in the air and letting life do its thing, and considering that’s the entire point of the album, it’s a really strong way to end off the album.
And on that note, while “Come Back Down” is the album’s best track due to its layered writing and different perspectives, the album ends off with another three of its strongest tracks. Overall though, Homeland Insecurity is the kind of album you have to let sink in a bit, as it reveals more with every listen. You might come for the fantastic melodies, but the thematic arc is strong, and certain tracks are already highlights for some of the best tracks of the year. If Homeland Insecurity is the band simply allowing the winds to take them wherever they may lead, I’m certainly excited to see what they have in store down the road.