A few months ago, I was strolling through my Facebook feed. Unlike the past couple of weeks when my feed has been overrun with mentions of coffee cups, Trump jokes and Adele think pieces — you know, the usual — I came across a posted link to a profile covering a country singer I hadn't heard of before. But the link wasn't there as a promotion; it was clearly a joke.
Sam Outlaw. Sam Outlaw? What. The. Fuck.
With a name like that, I assumed one of the humorous guys behind the websites Farce the Music or Country California had offered up their latest comedic gem. Hell, I don't even remember the actual headline of the story, just the unforgettable name of the artist. After a couple of determined mouse clicks, I discovered there was no joke in play. It was all serious business. The name in question was an actual name an actual singer was actually going by and expecting actual music fans to actually buy into.
I was onto him, and the jig was up. This skinny-jean-wearing pretty boy wasn't fooling me, nor getting me to jump onto his preciously hip country bandwagon.
Even if the name was real and Burt and Melanie Outlaw (just an example) had really birthed a son who became a country singer, why in the name of Tompall Glaser would this rail-thin poser keep that name? I couldn't even read the short piece I had clicked on. Besides, at the time, I was in the middle of preparing a few articles on other subjects. I wasn't going to be writing about this fella anytime soon if I had anything to say about it, so I wasn't in a hurry to hear what I was allegedly missing out on.
Too pissed. Too worried about real country music. Freaking Sam Outlaw.
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He's about as much of an outlaw as my lime green Adidas soccer shoes, I thought to myself. I had quickly and violently removed a video accompanying the article from my idiot-free screen; I didn't have time for that. Just the thought of other upstanding, discerning fans of true, high-quality country music letting this impotent cowboy-hat model seep his way into their consciousness was enough to cement my disinterest in whether this Urban Outfitters Ass Clown could manage to warble a few half-decent lines.
A couple of months passed. I happened to see a few more mentions of Outlaw on Twitter and Facebook. Among them were positive reviews from some notable outlets. Folks from NPR and Paste had nothing but good things to type about this guy. Usually I would dig deeper into an artist such sites raved about, but I knew better. I knew the dude's name, for crying out loud, and somehow, these critics putting on their kneepads for him failed to see it my way. My wife and I welcomed our baby girl, life crawled on by, and I stayed busy listening to the kind of country people with functioning brains listen to. One day at home, sipping a beer and fixing some dinner as my wife held the baby, I turned on Apple Music's "Americana Troubadours" playlist. Killer stuff. Legit stuff. Real stuff by real artists.
In the midst of deep Jason Isbell, Whitey Morgan and John Moreland cuts, I heard tracks by artists unfamiliar to me. After 10 or so songs, a smooth, mid-tempo number with a silky but slightly dusty finish drifted from my speakers. With no clue as to who was singing, I set the knife down (a smart move, it turned out) and looked at my phone. Then the IPA I was drinking stung my nose as it tried to shoot out.
The song was "Ghost Town." By friggin' Sam Outlaw.
I couldn't help myself, and I clicked onto his main iTunes page, away from the playlist. Song after song rolled and I dug the hell out of each one. I had been exposed — at least to myself, which was bad enough. I had been worse than an elitist — I had been an ignorant elitist, with no base or alleged logic for my self-defeating, wannabe elitism.
Now, I didn't feel like I was listening to the second coming of Sturgill Simpson, let alone Kris Kristofferson or Waylon Jennings, which is fine, because that type of artist is few and far between. And Outlaw's musical style isn't one that warrants a side-by-side comparison to the grizzled legends that made the term "outlaw" mean something 40 years ago, when it was merely a marketing ploy intended to sell a few records.
Regardless, a newcomer to the country scene busting out an album that's a pure winner straight out of the gate is certainly a feat. As has been reported by the folks I had previously ignored, there is a gorgeous, warm California vibe to the album, and that's just as the Cali-born artist wanted it. An artist seeing a specific vision through to a successful final product is both a tall task and an admirable one.
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After many months of blindly dismissing an artist out of pure dumb-assery, I'll be damned if I don't really enjoy Outlaw's Angeleno record, and what's more, I couldn't care less what his name is. I never should've, obviously. After all, he is a bit of a bear-poking rebel by ditching his real last name, Morgan, and choosing to roll with his mother's maiden name of Outlaw. It's actually a baller move to use that name without a care as to what anyone thinks about it, especially sometimes narrow-minded critics.
Judging from the strength of Angeleno, which doesn't contain a skip-worthy track, Outlaw can make music under the name Sam Aldean-Bryan-Shelton (well, maybe not that one), and it will still be better than so many offerings in the world of country, where image, finely crafted backstories and hype reign supreme, and not the actual songs on the actual albums.