“All the dust upon our shoes carries dirt from roads we choose”
“The Devil Rides a Horse,” the new album by Houston musician Tyler Newberry, is what music sounds like when it comes from the heart.
Listen to your heart
It’s not a heart of darkness, a heart filled with pain, or even a heart pumping with oversimplified, unrealistic optimism. Like the heart that guides you, it’s a little bit of each and then some. It’s a heart that doesn’t just feel the world in black and white but in many coalescing colors, patterns, and textures. “The Devil Rides a Horse” comes from the heart of an artist who has grown up with music and has lived his life loving it, understanding it, and appreciating what it can do for the soul when it’s done right and it’s delivered with honesty. It’s from a heart uncorrupted by the common ulterior motives and distractions like fame, chart position, and financial reward – trappings which seem to compromise so many other musicians who are singing for the fence and just whiffing at air. Tyler Newberry is content with just making solid contact each time he comes up to bat.
There’s a right way and a wrong way to make music.
Knowing right from wrong
The right ways is to make music that means something to the musician and the music fan in the end. The wrong way is to make music that is a means to an end – The fabled riches and fame.
As you become acquainted with Newberry and you welcome “The Devil Rides a Horse” into your daily routine, you quickly realize he’s doing it right. He truly understands, above everything else, it’s about the music, not that mythical treasure at the end of the pop music rainbow which many chase, few reach, and many squander if they do.
Even if you’re not a fan of the pop star squanderer of the month, you’ve been subjected to this music done the wrong way scenario many times before. You’ve seen the carnival horrifically played out in the perpetual twenty-four hour media cycle – that unavoidable, overvalued frame of reference where everything is overemphasized, over analyzed and lives and dies quickly – yet another example of a means to a selfish end.
It’s hard to look away from each “pop star behaving badly because I can” public implosion – that metaphorical tossing in the air of the procured rainbow’s treasure in a cocky “I’ve got more than you” display and an arrogant demand to make it rain in the face of the public that carried the pop star to the end of the mythical rainbow in the first place.
It’s all fun and games for the pop star, his personal and professional enablers, his benefactors, and his hangers on. However, the truth eventually wins out. The gravy train becomes a train wreck as the Nick Nolte-like mug shots start piling up and the rebellious “I’m an adult now, take me seriously” starter tattoos become more prominent. In a flash of poetic justice and vindication for authentic musicians everywhere, the pop star finds himself exposed to the masses, drenched in a downpour of ego and realization of the gullibility of his own hype. It soon becomes apparent, it was never about the music. It was about the image, and the image has drowned out the music which isn’t strong enough to save itself. It never was. The entire spectacle is an assault on the spirit of music and an insult to true music fans.
When the tent is taken down, and the carnival rolls out of town to its next inevitable stop, true musicians like Tyler Newberry and albums like “The Devil Rides a Horse” will be here for you to come back home to for a glimpse and a listen to real life and real music that speaks to you and for you.
And the horse he rode in on
“The Devil Rides a Horse,” the album and the title song begin with a country twang. It’s not a “Let’s get drunk, make poor life choices, and blubber incessantly about the aftermath” twang, which became prominent when Hollywood and money got involved, and Country and Western became a dysfunctional couple. What a waste that would be. It’s more of a “Life isn’t a cushy endeavor, it takes some work and effort” kind of twang, in the tradition of legitimate country balladeers like Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, and Johnny Cash.
The country twang doesn’t dominate the song or the album, but it lingers beneath the surface as a reminder that the music and the artist are authentic, not preprocessed and prepackaged products for the pop charts. Like most great albums that resonate, “The Devil Rides a Horse” is a polygamous marriage between country, rock, soul, and folk music. It reverberates with voices of music ancestry any true musician and true music fan ultimately share. If you’re tuned in and cognizant of the heart of music, you may hear traces of musicians past (The Eagles, Al Green, Crowded House, and America) whispering throughout the album. Click on the links above to hear the whispers.
In its entirety, “The Devil Rides a Horse” is about so many things gathered together in a tightly woven twelve-track package. When you open that package and reach in to discover its contents, you’ll find it’s about coming home – “The Air Back Then,” where the past is always remembered through rose-colored senses and unlike the present and the future, there are no surprises. The past doesn’t lie.
It’s about leaving it all behind – Fleeing a current situation so overwhelming your only recourse is to drive your car as far as you can, until you hit water, then head north toward “Canada.” Maybe you’ve come to a point where you need to leave all of your accumulated baggage and trappings behind, brush off the dust from your past, and start anew – “Soon We’ll Leave America.”
It’s about controlling what you can in the world, and if not defeating it, at least slowing it down and repelling it by disabling its means of transport and the methods it employs to bring you down – “The Devil Rides a Horse.” It’s about reconciling your actions with your spirituality and your principles, even when they’re at odds with what makes you happy – “God Wants Me Dead.”
It’s about the intricately intertwined complexities of love and relationships – The better and the worse. It’s about comprehending the unfathomable reality of another person accepting you and loving you despite your flaws and frailties – “Alien.”
It’s about being together and being apart as in the heart-felt too close to home (pun intended) duet “One Way Ticket” by Newberry and his wife Leslianne about being away from the one you love and sparing no expense to keep two hearts close and in rhythm with each other. It’s about being isolated and alone, belonging and fitting in, and being at home in your own skin. It’s about feeling like you’re different than everyone else – “No One’s Daughter,” and feeling the true weight of this possibility, even though it was born out of a stranger’s conversation overheard.
It’s about struggling to articulate the strongest of emotions and coming up short when words can’t adequately rise to the occasion – “Shallow.” It’s about trying to express yourself, even as you bask in the beauty and benefits of that emotion as it washes across you like a southern summer time breeze, echoing vintage Eagles’ romanticism and the soothing soul sounds of Al Green – “Like is Not the Right Word.”
It’s about desperately holding on to that love as it slips away, or was never there in the first place. It’s about cheating the inevitable – buying time with the window dressings of love (diamonds, wine, and rhyme) as it tragically dissipates. The full gravity of the situation is realized as Newberry’s vocal range and delivery work above and beyond, punching you in the gut. It’s a desperation that is palpable and speaks from a heart which has been down this road before. – “Not for Long.”
It’s about the unavoidable end everyone faces at some point – the somber reflection of love lost and the accompanying emotional fallout and isolation. It’s about refusing to let go of what once was and delaying the reality of acceptance, moving on, and leaving a piece of yourself behind – “I Can’t Find a Reason.”
“The Devil Rides a Horse” is about all of this and more. It’s the total package. It’s full of real emotion and real life experience. It covers a lot of road, but it’s a road you can believe Tyler Newberry has personally traveled. It’s a road you’ve traveled yourself. The road is real. It cuts through your town. It burns a path through your heart, and it intersects with your life every day.
You can see Tyler play live at Royers Pie Haven in Round Top, Texas on March 15 and at the Caroline Sessions in Houston on March 23.
Tyler Newberry is also involved locally with Songwriters Kitchen a gathering of songwriters who meet to talk about, listen to, and share music.
You can find out more about Tyler Newberry and his music by visiting his website and by following him on Twitter.
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