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“My rearview don’t hold grudges or regrets,” Josh Abbott Band croons on “The Highway Kind,” the reflective title track off their sixth studio album. The follow-up to 2017’s string and horn-infused Until My Voice Goes Out, the uplifting 10-track project finds lead singer Josh Abbott embracing life as a loving husband and doting father of two after 12 years as a road warrior and frontman of his country band.
Recorded at Sonic Ranch in El Paso, The Highway Kind saw the Texas act team up with producer Marshall Altman (Marc Broussard, Frankie Ballard, Aaron Watson) for what Abbott dubs “the first real, true band album experience” that the seven-piece has recorded. The band hunkered down at the famed Texas studio for two weeks in mid-2019 where their musicianship evolved as they worked closely with Altman.
“I can't say enough about Marshall,” Abbott says. “He didn't just help us make the songs great, he helped me A&R the record. That's the first time I've ever let a producer do that, so he actually found songs for the record and we wrote songs together … He has a strong ear that allows him to hear what a song needs to make it as special and as best as he can.”
While writing the record, Abbott and his wife relocated from Austin to Nashville for three months where he embraced the collaborative songwriting scene. Happily married with one child at the time, Abbott knew he wanted The Highway Kind to reflect his newfound purpose as a father and a husband. Following his divorce album, 2015’s Front Row Seat, Abbott says he now knows his main goal in life is to be an “amazing husband and father,” and many of the songs on the project mirror this affection for his family.
“They’re true-life songs. I hope people listen to this record and go, ‘Man, Josh is in a really good place around now,’” he says. Songs like tender ballad “Settle Me Down,” about a partner who always has your back, and the hopeful “The Luckiest,” the namesake of his son Luck, exemplify this undeniable happiness.
“I wrote that song because I was like, ‘I am the luckiest to have this wife and this child and this life, really.’ For the fans to show up and sing our songs and allow us to be in a tour bus … we've had a really good career,” he reflects. “I'm lucky for that, but I feel the luckiest to have my wife and kids. I do think if you listen to the record, there is a sense of affection, love, but not just love in some cheesy way -- a really deeper meaning of love.”
Infectious lead single “Little More You,” previously featured on 2019’s Catching Fire EP and penned by Troy Cartwright, Benjy Davis and Neil Medley, exemplifies a tried-and-true relationship while highlighting JAB’s ace musicianship. Abbott says upon first hearing “Little More You” he instantly thought it was a hit. “I thought Marshall did a really good job of producing that song in a way that lends itself to national radio while also embracing some of the elements of our band with that banjo and fiddle beat being such important elements of the song,” he says.
Memorable album closer “Old Men & Rain” and the vivid “Women & Wishes,” which Abbott penned about his wife for an upcoming event they plan to host together annually to raise money for female entrepreneurs, further exemplify JAB’s “true-life songs.” Meanwhile, “Old Men & Rain” was inspired while spending time with his wife’s grandfather at a sale barn and observing the conversation between older farmers and ranchers over lunch following the auction.
“I literally sat there and I wrote the chorus to that song straight out, ‘They don't talk about politics, banking, or religion/ And it's better not to dwell on who's dying and not livin’,” Abbott says, reciting the chorus. “I think it's one of the most beautiful songs I've ever written.”
In addition to the heartfelt ballads of love, Josh Abbott Band’s energetic live show is highlighted throughout The Highway Kind. The feel-good honky tonk song “One More Two Step” is about keeping the party going in your living room long after last call while the Jon Pardi-penned barn burner “24-7-365” ups the ante and the rowdiness for a memorable throwdown.
A staple in the Texas music scene since forming in 2006 at Lubbock’s Texas Tech University, Josh Abbott Band have weathered many storms together including divorces, burying their fathers, the Route 91 Harvest shooting and a pandemic. Josh Abbott Band consists of drummer and founding member Eddie Villanueva, who joined in 2008 after Abbott and banjo player Austin Davis had been performing at open mic nights together and realized they needed to add more musicians to the group. Guitarist Caleb Keeter came on board in 2010 while keys player David Fralin joined the band in 2015 before bassist Jimmy Hartman entered the fold in 2018.
Having spent countless nights on the road together for over a decade, “The Highway Kind” best describes JAB and where the group is headed. Penned by Erik Dylan, Jon Randall and Troy Cartwright, the song came into play at the 11th hour in the studio when several other songs weren’t working. Scrolling through some outside cuts on his phone, Abbott came upon the song that Dylan had sent him weeks prior and Altman immediately agreed that was the song they needed to record.
“We all scarfed down dinner and went back in the studio. We recorded it in two takes. It just felt right,” Abbott recalls. “I have a history of every album is named after one of the songs on the album and I always try to choose a song that rhetorically represents the overall meaning of the album. At the end of the day, ‘The Highway Kind,’ that's just a cool title. There’s something so real about that song.
“‘The Highway Kind,’ that’s what we’ve done now for a decade. Hopefully we'll do it for another decade or two. You never know when the road is going to end, but that's what we do: We live on the highway. We’re in the tour bus all the time. We take pride in it.”
The Highway Kind will be self-released on the band’s own Pretty Damn Tough Records. As Abbott explains, JAB continue to strive to be the best band they can be and embrace being an independent act while relying on the industry, fan relationships and word of mouth to gain traction for the group’s November release.
“The whole point of this thing in life is to continue to get better at what you love doing. You always want to strive to be better and never be complacent,” he concludes. “To think that we made the best record we made to date 12 years into our career, I think that's super cool and it makes me want to continue going forward.”