Only The Warden could change my mind about “Kokomo.” To refresh your memory, The Warden is Ward Richmond, an East Dallas hellraiser who sings about drinking and regretting, honky-tonking and shenanigans, and he does it with style and aplomb. On his welcome return, L-I-V-I-N, The Warden dips into a variety of genres that are all filtered through his particularly Texas vibe.
On “Costa Rica,” The Warden riffs on that Beach Boys monstrosity, but improves it with clever wordplay. The track, surfy and tropical, not only covers the Beach Boys, but also namechecks Katy Perry, Beyoncé, and Tipitina’s, wittily and ridiculously. His delivery is gruff and boozy, and the song hearkens back to the golden age of excess in rock and roll with bonus pedal steel.
The Warden is just so likable. The title track is a blistering kick off, a time and place song that certain artists can inhabit perfectly. And The Warden is one of those people. It’s impossible to hear him and not think about Texas. “Welcome back to Texas / Welcome back to livin’ once again,” he sings, and the song is populated with colorful, only-in-East-Dallas details that give it richness and make it indelible. “You’re Gone,” with swinging throwback horns, also features a delightful rhyming scheme (it’s some Lin-Manuel Miranda-level rhyming) and a real depth to the sound. It’s a joyous, ramshackle breakup song that sounds like it will implode at any minute.
Of course, nights out, drinking, and the subsequent issues all appear on L-I-V-I-N. “Downtown” captures a possibility-filled night, the kind where you’re not exactly looking for trouble, but not at all surprised if you find it (“Do I drink because you’re crazy baby? / Or are you crazy baby because I drink?”). There’s a bright kick of mariachi horns and some tidy guitar soloing. If it were going to be a single, it should be backed with “Early In The Morning,” a song that finds The Warden proclaiming, “It’s early in the morning and I’ve got no place to hide.” It’s a universal feeling, being still drunk when the sun comes up, when other people are going to work and the sun won’t let you get away with it.
One of the delightful things about The Warden is his free appropriation of all sorts of pop culture. “So Fine” is The Warden at the top of this game. It’s an off-kilter wooing song with The Warden’s very particular worldview (“If I was a namer / I’d name you good looking”) and lots of bits of other songs dropped in. “Steel Train” is a driving, organ-propelled album closer, punky and hysterical. Its perfectly brilliant lyrics take love song metaphors to a hilarious end.
But L-I-V-I-N is also about growing up and moving on. “Barnes” is full on honky tonk with little autobiographical details (A baby pool full of beer, anyone?). He’s growing up, embracing responsibilities, but he’s still kicking. The stripped-back dancehall of “Little Bit Crazy” is a love song, and an inventory of life song, and it’s lovely. It’s one of the most genuinely sweet moments on the album, all woozy piano and plaintiveness, a tip tap of drumsticks on a rim, and a shoutout to Billy Joe Shaver. Win win.
If you asked me what Texas sounds like, I’d say it sounds like The Warden. He’s honky tonks and spritely fiddles, he’s boozy nights and rough hangovers, he’s bluebonnets and beer. L-I-V-I-N is Texas, East Dallas specifically, and it’s one hell of a place to be.
L-I-V-I-N will be released on April 7 from Idol Records.