American Stranger

by The Only Sons

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released February 1, 2011

Words and Music: Kent Eugene Goolsby
Stocked Pond Publishing (BMI)

Engineered by Mikey Allred
Produced by Joey Kneiser
Mastered by John Baldwin

Recorded at Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Rockvale, TN
The Only Sons: Forging a Musical Identity

American Stranger arrives at a pivotal moment in the lives of the band members, one that we all face at some point or another: that twenty-something crossroads when one is told, “it is time to decide what you will be; it is time to define yourself. Choose and move ahead accordingly.” Thankfully for those that hear American Stranger, The Only Sons’ choice of direction resoundingly clear. “We view this as a turn-the-corner record,” lead singer Kent Goolsby says of the new album. “[We want it to say] we’re going full time with this thing…we’re focused on this one.” Given the quality of the band’s first two albums (2008’s Young Lungs and 2009’s Steel Hearts), this should come as encouraging, albeit a bit surprising, news to their fans. Quite frankly if those earlier albums, specifically Steel Hearts, lacked focus you’d be hard-pressed to find the proof of it. Whatever the case was, it is clear from talking to Kent Goolsby that this band has decided music is no mere hobby but the business they have chosen, and come Hell or high water, they are committed to making it work. “There’s no race worth the win / If you’re gonna cut corners, my friend,” Goolsby sings on American Stranger’s opening track “Cutting Corners”—a fitting mantra to begin a career-defining album.

It should be noted before getting too far along that focusing on this band’s relative youth is by no means some sort of apology or acknowledgement of inadequacy; to the contrary, it makes American Stranger better in every way. Goolsby says that in large part, American Stranger is a record about entering the “real world” and “feeling…reality and the pressures of growing up. It’s about that struggle.” Thematically, that struggle for self-definition permeates every track of the record. Each grapples with the powerfully influential forces that so define our pasts and presents—family, religion, love—and considers how we apply them to our uncertain futures. It is a fight we all fight; probably it never stops. It is appropriate, then, that many of the songs on American Stranger pack such a figurative punch with track titles such as “Hurt Someone,” “Gone Down Swinging,” and “Put Up a Fight,” the latter of which exemplifies the band’s fighting spirit: “Been broken, been fixed / Been swung at, been hit / Been stranded, been found / Been banged up, been face down…But now I’m gonna put up a fight.”

Aside from a boundless sea of musical support and guidance from some of Murfreesboro’s musical elite, it is perhaps the church from which The Only Sons have gained the most, but not in the ways one might think. Ready to totally invest themselves in the band and eager to establish their own identity as such, the band felt it necessary to move away from Murfreesboro proper and into a bit of self-imposed isolation. But a focused environment free from unwanted influence was not easy to come by. Goolsby says, “we wanted to move away from what we knew, so we moved to the country, and that changed the record.” Call it a blessing, good luck, or what you will, but an opportunity to go rural came when the parsonage of the Rockvale Cumberland Presbyterian Church became too small to house the family of its pastor, bassist Jonathan Merritt’s mother. The church agreed to allow the band to move into the house, a windfall they repay in part by playing in the church’s band during Sunday morning contemporary services—“We enjoy it. Any time we can play music is [time well spent].” The church’s sanctuary also provided the space for the band to record American Stranger, which accounts for the album’s cavernous depth and tone. It may seem uncommon for a church to be so open and supportive of a group of secular young rockers, and if indeed such practice is not “the norm” amongst other congregations, it certainly speaks to the substance of this one.

Appropriate for the place of its recording and its influence on the band, American Stranger is heavy with religious allusion, and some of its best songs exude that influence. “[Religion] is impossible to ignore; we grew up in it. As a kid, it was what you did. It was about being with your friends. We all met at church camp,” Goolsby says of the church’s role in the band’s music, a role that is clear from a cursory glance at the track titles. For most Americans and especially those in the South, religion is something that surrounds us from birth and influences the identities we develop, and such is definitely the case for this album’s sense of self. In “Temptation,” Goolsby seems to channel Tom Petty’s “Refugee” to skillfully contemporize the Genesis story of temptation in the Garden of Eden: “You took a walk in the garden, and you ate the fruit / Yeah talkin’ snakes don’t much bother you.” To borrow another track title from American Stranger, the “Written Word” has impacted us all for better or worse, but in the case of this album, it only enhances its righteousness.

And so well supported, well loved, and well oiled, The Only Sons set out to back up who and what American Stranger says they are. With an inspiring drive to succeed in the ever-changing world of music, this band gives no indication that they will be anything other than a self-fulfilling prophecy—no “Cutting Corners” and all “Put Up a Fight.” Goolsby says that as a songwriter he has to always be open to songs wherever he goes and gives the example of driving through Smithville, TN and seeing a church marquis that said, “Do you worry about where your soul’s going? The Devil Does!” That sign, the likes of which we’ve all seen along so many Southern roads, gave the name to one of the songs on American Stranger, but moreover it touches on a human indifference to spiritual fate and future. If The Only Sons have a musical fate and future, you can bet it is in no one’s hands but theirs. If not, you can be sure they’ll wrench it out of the tightest grip and reclaim it as their own.

This Is American Music

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Track Name: Cutting Corners
Cutting Corners:
Daddy was an only son
That’s probably why he just had one
Because one is enough
Yeah one is enough

With an iron will and time to kill
Took to doing as most young men will
As most young men will
Just trying to get their fill

Cutting corners
Never taking his time
Just cutting corners
Never waiting on that finish line
But there’s no race worth the win
If you gotta cut corners my friend

Momma always did what was right
Never so much as ran a red light
A red light
Kept both her hands in sight

With one on the way
Spent two weeks pay
One a couple of tickets
Hoping that the lottery will break
But it won’t break - it owes her one she thinks

She's Cutting Corners
Never taking her time
Just cutting corners
Never waiting on that finish line
But there’s no race worth the win
If you gotta cut corners my friend

And I tried my best to not be like them
But I’m my daddy’s only son
And my momma’s youngest one

I'm Cutting Corners
Never taking my time
Just cutting corners
Never waiting on that finish line
But there's no race worth the win
If you gotta cut corners my friend
Track Name: Put Up A Fight
Put Up A Fight:
Been broken
Been fixed
Been swung at
Been hit

Been stranded
Been found
Been banged up
Been face down
I’ve been face down

But now I’m gonna put up a fight

Been a sinner
Been a saint
Been in trouble
Been saved

Been a stranger
Been a brother
Been on fire
Been smothered
I’ve been smothered

But now I'm gonna put up a fight
Track Name: Warning You
Warning You:
You’re as sure as steel
Both hands on the wheel
Though you've no one left to turn to

I’m Warning You

Gather up your things
Let that telephone ring
You’ve already heard the news

I’m Warning You

Now I am telling you son
If you are gonna love someone
You’re gonna take a bullet or two
And I’m just warning you
Because you ain’t bulletproof
And she’s gonna have a lot to unload on you

And just like a friend
She welcomed you in
But there was no table set for two

I’m warning you

And you felt assured
By the sound of your words
Though you always did speak too soon

I’m warning you
Track Name: Just My Luck
Just My Luck:
If the third try’s the charm
That’s two tries too long
It’s just my luck

And if you need a pair to win
They sure aren’t in my hand
It’s just my luck

It's just a roll of the dice
The horses make the last turn
But yours ain’t in sight

If we're drawing straws
Mine is never that tall
It’s just my luck

If there's nothing left to be said
And you got the last word in
It’s just my luck

Well enough is enough
I’ve been betting for too long on a bluff
And it’s tough
Man, it’s tough
But that’s just my luck
Track Name: The Devil Does
The Devil Does:
Do you swear you saw salvation
Sneaking out the back door?
Oh, the devil does

Do you miss the way mercy
Used to lie across your bed?
Oh, The devil does

And you were born to lose
Yes, it’s sad but true
That you were born to lose
Yes, you're living proof
But you keep right on winning just because
Oh, the devil does

Do you fear that forgiveness
Will never return your calls?
Oh, the devil does

Do you remember when redemption
Loved to wear your ring?
Oh, the devil does
Track Name: Standing Water
Standing Water:
With a mind like a ditch
You may need someone to drag you out of it
May need more than a chain or a winch

In these lowlands when it rains
You can bet it won’t be dry for days
You can bet those clouds from the plateau are here to stay

Standing water
Is enough to drown

Splintered wood under dried paint
Sometimes you can’t help but relate
Sometimes the best way to get by is to scrape

There are ghosts on the wind
They blow this way every now and again
Blow this way to remind what could have been

It’s gonna keep rising

Standing water
Is enough to drown
Track Name: Hurt Someone
Hurt Someone:
Oh Mary, would you let me know?
Who did it too you and which way did he go?
Who left you black eyed and blue?

Oh Mary, all you’ve ever done
Is been an object of affection
But now you’re black eyed and blue

If he shows his face around the old town tonight
I'm gonna hurt someone

Follow his truck down to the county line
Just to hurt someone

Oh Mary, don’t you shed a tear
I cornered him down by the edge of the field
He’s more than black eyed and blue

Oh Mary, don’t tell them what you saw
I’ll lay low 'til they declare it unsolved
No more black eyes for you

If that old sheriff gets you to talk
I'm gonna hurt someone

If those blue lights light up my door
I’m gonna hurt someone

Well Mary, now they’ve hauled me away
Because I hurt someone

But 20-to-life is worth the wait
Just to hurt someone
Track Name: Death Bed
Death Bed:
He said the devil made him do it
Put him up to it
Now he’s trying to right all his wrongs
He said “You can’t make a living just living”
“No, a man’s gotta take what he’s not given”

Daddy’s on his death bed
Telling me to lean in close
When daddy’s on his death bed
You know he’s gonna tell the truth
He said, “Son, I got one last request:”
“Don’t bury me where your mother rests”
It was the last thing he said,
On his death bed

He said, “Your momma was in on it”
“But she was no convict”
“Just an accomplice for love”
She said, "You can’t love a man without loving
Each and everyone of his burdens"

And I kept my word
Buried him far from where momma was
You see momma never died
Just ran off with the old man’s pride
Track Name: Gone Down Swinging
Gone Down Swinging:
Are you down for count?
Can’t go another round
You can’t make it 'til that bell sounds
Without falling back down

Are you up against the ropes?
You always knew it'd come to blows
But when your fighting for your life
Anything goes

And you've gone down swinging before
Yes gone down swinging before
This ain’t the first time you’ve been knocked to the floor
Yes you’ve gone down swinging before

Are you pulling every punch?
You used to come through in the clutch
But now you’re taking a knee
When you should be walking it off

Are you throwing in the towel?
Just gonna let your blood run out
If your ambition doesn’t kill you
What will?
Track Name: Temptation
You took a walk in the garden and you bit the fruit
Yeah, talking snakes don’t much bother you
And the devil on your shoulder swears he’s telling you the truth
You got a rusty conscience
It squeaks the whole night through

Got the best of you
Who could refuse?

Did you satisfy your curiosity?
When you bit the apple and drifted into a sleep
That no prince could relieve
And why would he want too?
When you make such good company
Track Name: Written Word
Written Word:
Written word
The written word
I have been read aloud the written word
I have sang the gospel hymns
I have been baptized in the blood on the lamb
I have kept my hands where God can see them

The word says:
Don’t you dare
You’d be a fool to think
That atonement will get you anywhere

I’ve testified
Proclaimed he has risen
Rolled the stone to the side

Still my cup, it is dry
And my table unoccupied
Where is the blessing
The written word implied?

I’ve been judged
Didn’t know he’d hold a grudge
Didn’t know I’d be face to face
With the only son of grace
Oh, how he put me in my place
Track Name: More Like You
More Like You:
Though I am tired
I will not rest
And though I am starving
I got no kind of stomach for this

Well Papa
Can you tell me
How to see this through
Because I’ve been trying my damnedest
To be more like you

Though I am sighing
To you I could never complain
And though I may be dying
To you I will show no pain