Widely-celebrated leaders in the modern Okie folk/singer-songwriter movement, The Damn Quails return in 2022 with Clouding Up Your City, the outfit’s first official release since a quasi-breakup in 2016 left their future in question. Born from the mind of singer-songwriter Bryon White, this is the work of a seasoned veteran feeling refreshed in his craft; the culmination of two decades of honing songwriting chops and storytelling skills in the regional scene alongside like-minded Okie-folkies John Moreland, Turnpike Troubadours, John Fullbright, Parker Millsap, Samantha Crain and others. There must be something in the waters of the Arkansas and Canadian Rivers running through the Sooner State, and Clouding Up Your City pours you a tall glass.
Produced by fellow Okie and sometime Quail John Calvin Abney (known for his own solo output as well as being Moreland’s consigliere), Clouding Up Your City features simple yet rich production with a warm glow throughout. It’s the sort of warmth that you’ll only find on a record tracked live-in-a-room. From the slamming grooves and raucous debauchery of “Clouding Up Your City” and “The Punxsutawney Rambler” to the threadbare piano and vocal harmonies of “Good Times‽” and “Peace in the Valley (King of the Hill)”, the album seamlessly blends highway-and-honky-tonk-ready numbers with achingly beautiful ballads to create a cohesive work befitting of the region’s celebrated musical canon.
“Working with John Calvin Abney on this record was an incredibly enriching musical experience,” White notes. “I have known John for many years and the Damn Quails were fortunate to count him among our own for several tours and random shows. I’ve always had a lot of respect for his songwriting and his guitar playing, but he shined the brightest on his keyboard and piano tracks on this record. The process for recording a song was pretty simple, but extremely effective: Gather the band around the piano in the tracking room, spend five or ten minutes running through the basics and working out any kinks, and then [engineer Michael] Trepagnier would hit record and we’d start playing.”
The tracks included on this collection were brought to life in just four days, marking an exceptionally productive time for the band. Even after the band’s hiatus several years ago, they remained somewhat active on the live circuit, and it’s clear that White hasn’t lost his edge when it comes to his brand of witty folk tales that are equally at home around the campfire as they are on a festival stage. There’s an undeniable authenticity here, and an urgency to White’s almost-Irish-folk vocal that gives the songs an energy similar to a twangier-leaning Bright Eyes. It’s more akin to the SoCal songwriter movement of the 1970s than it is to the modern Texas sounds.
“We might be the least-country band to ever break out in Texas,” White chuckles.
Born and raised in Oklahoma, White has been a mainstay of the region’s music scene since first picking up a guitar as a teenager. He grew up with a deep appreciation of country legends like Waylon Jennings, George Jones, and Merle Haggard as well as the hard-edged punk rock of his teenage years. It was during those formative years that White began writing songs of his own.
After releasing two studio albums with the Damn Quails (2022 marks the 10-year anniversary of the band’s debut LP), touring relentlessly and building a rabid fanbase across the globe as well as surviving a lawsuit with the fledgling label that released said debut, the realities of a full-time music career began to weigh on White and his bandmates. Recognizing the toll it was taking on them as individuals, they made the decision to call a hiatus in 2016, and White eventually checked himself into rehab. With this break came clarity, and he emerged with a renewed sense of energy and a deeply-felt urgency to continue writing and performing new material.
White tapped into a creative well and soon found himself with a stockpile of original material that he felt compelled to record and release to the public beyond the live stage — it felt like the time was right for The Damn Quails to leave their next mark on the world. He tapped his old friend Michael Trepagnier at Cardinal Song Studio in Oklahoma City to help him see this through alongside Abney and co. It was an easy choice; Trepagnier was responsible for recording White’s first collection of solo material in a college apartment back in 2002.
The resulting collection of songs include moments both poignant and playful, with White drawing lyrical inspiration from experiences in love, heartbreak, time spent on the road, personal struggles with addiction, and even his own axe-throwing hobby.
It’s a remarkable album that hits nostalgic highs, nodding to White’s past and present with the Damn Quails. With Bryon White back at the helm of this celebrated outfit, fans shouldn’t expect him or the band to lay dormant any time soon. Clouding Up Your City is a triumph — it’s an expertly-crafted, rootsy-Okie-folk album that rolls in Red Dirt and rocks reverently with many of the genre’s and region’s greatest successes.