Five years is a long time. When Brent Best set out to record a new album — his first one as a solo artist — five years ago, the former Slobberbone lead singer had no idea just how long it would take, or how many struggles he would endure. Along the way he was faced with the loss of two pets, the death of his father-in-law and a run-in with Chase Bank that cost his wife her house.
But Best never stopped working. He worked, he reworked and he reworked again an album that took on a whole new life as a labor of love created in the midst of heartbreaking crises. Finally, Best has come out the other side and Your Dog, Champ is seeing the light of day.
“This is the longest time I’ve gone without putting something out,” Best says, while sipping a cocktail inside the dark, air conditioned confines of Dan’s Silverleaf. It’s 104 degrees outside, and Best is dressed in his usual all-black ensemble of shorts and a music-related T-shirt. (Today it’s a 40 Watt Club shirt.) Even in all black, on one of the hottest days of the summer, and at 44 years of age, Best is the coolest guy in Denton. He’s been that guy for about 20 years now.
You get to be the coolest guy in Denton when you start one of the town’s most important bands. Slobberbone, the alt-country outfit that formed in 1994, toured endlessly for years while putting out five full-length albums and an EP that earned the band a rapturous fanbase. Among them was Stephen King, who name-checked a song in a novel and wrote about the group in Entertainment Weekly.
Despite calling it quits in 2005, when most of the band formed the Drams, Slobberbone's popularity has continued to grow. “The funny thing about Slobberbone is the tracks live on, even when we didn’t," Best says.The group reunited in 2009 for a spat of shows, and still plays often in and around North Texas, but while many wait for a new Slobberbone record it’s a solo record that Best set out to do first.
“It took so long to make this record, but that’s not a bad thing," Best says. "It became this loose narrative. I finally got settled after moving three times, and sonically everything came together.”
That's something of an understatement, but Best isn't inclined to delve too deep into those details. He already did that when he penned an open letter to the fans who helped fund the recording of Your Dog, Champ, and he's resolute that's all he has to say on the matter. “I’ve done a few interviews since I wrote the letter, and everyone keeps asking me questions that I answered in there already," Best insists. "It’s like, 'Did you even read it?'"
It's not hard to see why Best is ready to move on. As the letter explains, Best had set off to record Your Dog, Champ with high hopes, as he was preparing to marry his now-wife Kate. But those plans went off the rails when Kate’s father was given a bleak cancer diagnosis, one that set Best into action. He proposed to Kate after seeking out the blessing of her father, and a wedding was quickly put together. Kate’s father held on through the wedding, but was lost shortly after.
From there a chain reaction of events seemed to follow: There was the loss of a dog to old age and the loss of a cat that Kate had inherited from her father. Then Kate, having received confusing instructions from Chase Bank, was told that she didn't need to pay her mortgage as part of a "trial period." The results proved devastating, as the bank abruptly changed policies and foreclosed on her home — leaving her and Best to find temporary housing as Best had already moved in with her.
If Best is determined to move on from that period in his life, it may be because he channeled it into his new record. There’s a sense of loss in the lo-fi approach to the songs and the album often feels bare in places. In others there's a palpable level of excitement between Best and his bandmates, a who's who of Denton musicians: Grady Don Sandlin, Petra Kelly and Claude Bernard all played on the record, along with one of Best’s heroes, Austinite Ralph White. Life kept Best from getting the album out when he wanted, but it also allowed the album time to come together perfectly.
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And so on Friday night Best will return to Dan's, this time taking the stage to sing the songs he spent those five long years working on. His fans will buy the albums they anxiously waited for, and they’ll be ready to see what Best does next. That happens when you’re a legend who has never failed to deliver something that excites.
Through it all, though, Best remains optimistic. One thing he's in no rush to do is tour aggressively. He did that for 20 years, and now he's ready to spend his time at home. “It’s been nice to be home. It makes me want to start writing another record," Best says. "But that probably won’t happen for a bit.”