If there’s one word to describe Rodney Hayden’s new album, it’s ‘rooted.’ Rooted in the old home place, as suggested by the family history of the title track and the fondly-recalled detail of “Goodbye to My Hometown” (reprised from 2003’s Living the Good Life). Rooted in rodeo imagery, which doubles as a kind of stand-in for the rambling musical life – the cowboy singer’s restless pursuit of song being one of the few things capable of tempting him away from home. When Hayden sings “It might seem like I’m chasing elusive dreams/But I bet, you’ll see me in Vegas,” the literal referent is the National Finals Rodeo – but the sentiment is the same as if he were aspiring to replace Garth at The Wynn. Rooted in fiddle, steel, and acoustic guitar, daring to sound unabashedly country in an age when it’s easy to mistake forsaking roots for a fast track to success. Encouragingly, Hayden’s principled stand on behalf of who he is and what he loves is making friends and admirers of heroes. It’s not every independent Texas album that includes a co-write with George Strait (“Good Horses Are Hard to Come By”) and a classic country duet with Kelly Willis (“I Drink to Remember”). With everything else going for it, the occasional foray into rodeo rock like “Buckaroo Man” is easily forgiven. A decade into his career, Hayden remains one of young country’s most imposing talents.
Recommended if you like: George Strait, Chris LeDoux
Grade (Pass/Fail only): PASS