With a name like Mama Tried, you'd expect nothing less than the most quintessential sounds of Merle Haggard in his prime, but this South Houston five-piece is a scruffier, much faster version of the Hag.
One look at Blake Plsek (banjo/harmonica) and Jason "J-Bone" White (dobro/guitar) and you'd think they stepped right out of the hillbilly mountains of West Virginia, scruffy beards, homemade tie-dyes, bare feet and all.
Throw in Ryan Beard (singer/guitar), Hunter Baughman (bass fiddle), and Steven Redman (old-school Johnny Cash-style drummer, raised on punk), and it's easy to see why they count their influences from folk singers and hippies to punks and poets.
But don't let the look fool you, these boys are bonafide Bakersfield: tight, catchy, pure electrified backwoods country, with a revved-up backbeat that just doesn't quit, not unlike the Buckaroos in their prime, sans the matching suits.
It's a Western-swing workout any time Mama Tried takes a stage, and that's how they play from the beginning of their set until the end. There's barely enough time for Beard to count to four before they're off and running again.
It's like a game of who can play the fastest; fans have caught on quickly, and it just makes the band play even faster. In three years as a band, Mama Tried has shared bills with the likes of Houston's Sean Reefer & the Resin Valley Boys, Dallas' Reverend Horton Heat, and Austin's own brand of Reefer, The Weary Boys.
Singalongs and fist-pumping rebel yells from the crowd happen nightly on songs like "Runnin and Hiddin," "No Way Out," and "Toothpicks & Glue." You just have to jump right in and go with it.
Thus far, Mama Tried has only released one CD, 2011's Long Road to Gods Country, but 29 Rusty Strings is slated for release later this year.
"We called it that because if you add up the instruments, that's how many strings there would be," Beard says.
"We counted the drummer as one," Plsek chimes in.
Mama Tried prides themselves on singing about subjects traditional country was first founded on: trains and headlights, dangerous men, ramblin' on., etc.
It's not sophisticated music, just damn catchy -- and fast -- but they do slow it down (a bit) for their one ballad, "Consider Me Yours," which was written by Beard and showcases the stark and vulnerable side of country while still avoiding the Trashville sound.
"You don't need a flashy car to get from point A to point B, and that's how we like to play our music too," Redman says.
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Mama Tried tears up Ronnie's Ice House in Dickinson, 4355 FM 517, tonight.