The release of BoDeans’ Thirteen is coincidental with a resurgence of interest in the group, and its seminal American style, based on an association with the Netflix’ The Ranch. Yet this record succeeds on its own terms because of the resonance of songs such as “My Hometown,” while amplified by connection to the television series, is hardly reliant on it for meaning.
Like the rest of this current work from a group once Slash Records’ labelmates to the Blasters and Los Lobos, the aforementioned opening track is essentially the work of co-founder Kurt Neumann on all instruments and vocals, the last holdover from what was once a quartet. But this cut is notable on other fronts too; the quiet ring of piano by Steffano Intelisano, one of the two outside musicians here, distinguishes the performance and simultaneously sets an instrumental and thematic tone for Thirteen.
Counterpoint vocals and straight-ahead drumming as on “EvryBody Wants” betray not a whit of the mechanical feel such solo recordings often display (no surprise: Neumann was originally a drummer). On the contrary, the mix of acoustic guitars and slow arching electric guitar lines of “Nowhere Fast” create a smooth fluidity that denotes a sensitivity to the song as much as the other playing in the mix, The album’s glossy packaging reflects the production polish–not just on this track but those surrounding it as well–while complete lyrics inside an enclosed booklet, are indicative of the overall craft within.
The shot of an amplifier head on the gatefold is also an implicit symbol of the strength permeating the music of Thirteen. BoDeans played Americana before the category was conceived and Kurt Neumann does the group’s tradition proud here in his writing and recording. In fact, his work throughout, all the way to the mixing, is a testament to the fundamental subject matter of this material: an individual’s search for purpose (“Nowhere Fast”) and a memorable means to express it (“Feels Like Home”). The resonant depth of the audio here, mastered by Adam Aryan, corresponds to the emotions in play from one number to the next.
As befits a history of BoDeans’ tunes used to great effect on television and in the movies, “Maggie’s Bar” radiates a cinematic quality, not just in the imagery of its words, but the singing of Neumann; simultaneously resolute and world-weary, it’s a perfectly understandable tone for a man who’s persevered through the multitude of personnel and project changes he’s endured. The accompanying sound of Bukka Allen’s accordion, melancholy and tuneful, adds to this pervasive atmosphere too.
Along the same lines, the instrumental, “Sway,” boasts an understated grace, an attribute that no doubt fuels the steadfast approach Kurt Neumann has employed over his thirty-plus years as a ‘BoDean.” He has every right to be proud of the way he’s maintained that virtue, particularly as it permeates Thirteen.