They’re not supposed to make records like this anymore. I thought musicians really didn’t care about Americana-styled roots music anymore. I thought that smart looks and reality television experience meant more on an artist’s resume. Who knew that a down to earth, no frills musical craftsman could still have the courage to record the songs in his head anymore. Ranzel X Kendrick is a musical rebel who would make the old time troubadours proud. His songs reek of honesty and authenticity. They are rallying cries for the common man and odes to acoustic guitars, life and girls, beautiful country landscapes and the sound of the inner spirit and the soul.
Ranzel X Kendrick’s passion for music started in grade school when multi-Grammy winner and Country Western legend “uncle” Roger Miller started giving tips on his songwriting. As a teen, Kendrick and his high school drummer buddy often jammed with Miller when he was in town.
Kendrick has since amassed a catalog of his own original songs. His latest release is “Texas Sagebrush”, the second of a 3-album “Texas Series” set, which started with “Texas Paintbrush” (2017) and will finish with the last in the series, “Texas Cactus”.
Ranzel X Kendrick brings the character, charisma and class of the legendary Americana musicians, during an era when most music is just some form of gussied-up, over-painted pop for angst filled teens. Here’s a guy who knows what he’s doing, and he’s not content to get locked into today’s formulas. His music is tight, but not slick. Traditional, but contemporary, and with the artist’s own stamp on it. It’s a genuine work of uncluttered, understated art.
While Kendrick’s outsider perspective makes him instantly distinctive among a series of glossy Nashville-styled clones, it’s not just the authenticity of his stripped down performances that makes his work superior to so many of his contemporaries.
Instead, it’s his exemplary songcraft. Kendrick can turn one hell of a phrase and spin a remarkable narrative, with just a voice and a guitar. On the album’s opening track, “Any Ole’ Song”, he outright explodes the genre’s clichéd tropes with an expertly crafted story.
But it has plenty of good company on the album. “What A Pretty Day” is a refreshing toe-tapping jam from Kendrick, as he is accompanied by a swift female voice. For an album, “Texas Sagebrush” is not trying too hard to make one grand statement, not screaming out its own importance. The concept isn’t overstated at all, rather moving forward subtly. The focus is on the songs themselves.
“Peace of Mind” has the artist questioning, searching and analyzing: “What you gonna do now, now that you’re free. What you gonna do now that you’re on your own. I don’t know what to find, maybe a little piece of mind.”
On the bittersweet but playful mid-tempo motif “Cry In My Tequila”, our protagonist sings about how he has already found the silver lining after suffering. That art of expressing sentiments that people can grasp, not reaching either too high or too low, is what makes Kendrick special.
Kendrick’s lyrics paint vivid scenes, which are probably representative of his worldview. The way he wraps up emotions inside images, be they happy or sad, brings each song into focus more vividly. Which is exactly what Kendrick achieves on “Gruene River” and “Private Miracle”.
By the time you hit play on “Trouble and Pain” and the elegant album closer, “The Fair Grass”, you realize that Ranzel X Kendrick may appear as a throwback but what he really aims for is timelessness, and he usually hits his mark.