All Bad, the latest album from Nick Shoulders, ultimately encapsulates everything that makes Shoulders’ inimitable form of country music so vital: a heady balance of dazzling musicianship and punk defiance, coupled with gritty eccentricity and a generational connection to the roots of the genre. With a singing style inherited from his family’s vocal lineage, Nick’s songs achieve the rare feat of imparting difficult truths while inciting a certain joyful abandon, balancing a sound forged by years of hard travel with a heartfelt reverence for the origins of country music. In the spirit of Hazel Dickens and Jimmy Driftwood, the incisive yet wildly jubilant All Bad vocally objects to the reckless destruction of the natural landscape and development run rampant, while still offering plenty of joy and dance ready rhythms. Spanning a variety of early country styles, the album’s infectious harmonies shine alongside everything from jangling cajun waltzes to surf rock infused bluesy ballads all tied together by a voice seemingly out of place in this century, yet ever ready to speak up about its problems.
Released via Gar Hole Records (a label founded and co-owned by Shoulders), All Bad marks the first LP made with his longtime band, the Okay Crawdad, since 2019’s premier full-length Okay, Crawdad and their subsequent pandemic-imposed hiatus. After writing most of the album from the front seat of a tour van, the Fayetteville, AR based musician and bandmates Grant D’Aubin (harmonies/bass), Cheech Moosekian (drums) and Jack Studer (lead guitar) recorded the album in a home studio on the banks of the Mississippi River with New Orleans collaborators Ross Farbe and Sam Doores.
Surrounded by a singing style passed down from a time before microphones, Nick’s childhood of bird call whistles and an over-exposure to southern gospel music eventually steered him toward an adolescence drumming for metal and punk bands, and subsequent years as an active illustrator and member of Arkansas’s heavy music scene. After numerous personal calamities and a growing obsession with the rural musical traditions of his lifelong home, Shoulders left the Ozarks and lived out of his van, singing on the street corners of the west while slowly being drawn to the vibrance of the New Orleans dance and busking world. After forming in early 2018, the ‘Okay Crawdad’ band flourished briefly in the wildly talented south Louisiana alt-country scene, culminating in the release of ‘Rather Low’ by the popular YouTube channel Western AF, catapulting Nick’s songs to a vastly wider audience right as Covid-19 and lockdowns ensued. Since then, a rapid ascension into the world of touring music has seen Nick playing alongside the likes of Sierra Ferrell and at major festivals such as Stagecoach. With the hard rhythms and heavenly melodies of their newest release, All Bad, the band manages to concoct a body of work that is at turns sublimely freewheeling and profoundly illuminating, yet primed to permanently warp the listener’s perspective to glorious effect.