On his debut LP Angeleno, Sam Outlaw took the building blocks of classic country and somehow made them perfectly reflect both the misery and mystique of modern Los Angeles life: pedal steel that drifted in like haze on the Pacific, bright pops of border-brushing mariachi brass and soft arrangements that captured the restless sunsets of an endless summer. It was a reminder that the genre needn't be confined to the streets of Nashville or bars of Texas to feel authentic – and that the collective isolation of a city with the desert looming beyond is Southern just the same.
Now, after two years of relentless touring, Outlaw has poured his experiences on the road, with his family and, of course, in L.A. into a follow-up, Tenderheart, due April 14th on Six Shooter Records. Outlaw previews the album in the above video, which sets scenes from his life – the birth of his son, the ongoing highway of tour, the cyclical nature of it all – to the gentle harmonies and bittersweet horns of the album's first track, "Everyone's Looking for Home."
"You can't underestimate the importance of the aesthetic in which I live," Outlaw tells Rolling Stone Country. "There is something special about Los Angeles, a special sadness. There is a faded beauty that is here, that kind of strange following of dreams while dreams are being crushed in a regular basic. You can sense that. That's why there's a unique type of country music that comes out of L.A."
Though Ry Cooder and his son Joachim Cooder produced Angeleno, Outlaw decided to tackle Tenderheart himself, with the help of engineer Martin Pradler. Maintaining many of the same players from his debut – including fellow Angeleno Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes – and mariachi group Erwin Vasquez and Mariachi Teocuitatlan, Outlaw stayed true to his roots and recorded in the San Fernando Valley, working to "bottle the liveness of music," he says. "I really love quiet acoustic music and I really love rock and roll. I wanted to capture what it sounds like for a bunch of people to get into a room and just play songs."
The moniker "Outlaw" – his mother's maiden name, Scottish in origins – might conjure up a certain sense of saw-toothed swagger, but Tenderheart is anything but. True to its title, there's a gentle shuffle to the collection of songs, evoking James Taylor, Paul Simon and Ryan Adam's Easy Tiger, along with classic country touchstones and fellow city-dweller Dwight Yoakam. "My dad is one of nine kids from a farming family in South Dakota. I've been around the machismo attitude. I've seen it," Outlaw says. "It's really endemic to who we are as men, but, quite frankly, it's not me. I didn't really even have a punk phase. I always found more honesty in the tenderness than the toughness. I very much intentionally wanted to combat any expectation that I'm trying to be a tough guy country singer."
From the subtle groove of "Bottomless Mimosas," the antithesis of a whiskey-slugging barnburner, to the Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner twang of "All My Life" and the sweet tongue-in-cheek of "She's Playing Hard to Get (Rid Of)" Outlaw's vision of California country on Tenderheart is one of love, loss and constant learning. After leaving a career in advertising to spend his life as a touring musician (he's heading out on the road again this spring), Outlaw has been working to chisel a space for his sound in a city often preoccupied with glamour rather than grit. Though he has noticed that L.A's appetite for Southern culture has only been growing. "It's nice that now I can wear my Stetson to a restaurant," he says, "and not have people think I'm insane."
Here's the tracklist for Tenderheart:
1. "Everyone’s Looking for Home"
2. "Bottomless Mimosas"
3. "Bougainvillea, I Think"
6. "She’s Playing Hard to Get (Rid Of)"
7. "Two Broken Hearts"
8. "Diamond Ring"
9. "Say It to Me"
10. "All My Life"
11. "Dry in the Sun
12. "Now She Tells Me"
13. "Look at You Now"
Sam Outlaw tour dates:
April 13 – Decatur, GA @ Eddie’s Attic #
April 14 – Nashville, TN @ Mercy Lounge #
April 15 – Knoxville, TN @ Barley’s Tap Room #
April 17 – Washington DC @ Songbyrd #
April 18 – Philadelphia, PA @ Boot & Saddle #
April 20 – New York, NY @ Mercury Lounge #
April 21 – Allston, MA @ Great Scott #
April 22 – Portland, ME @ Portland House of Music #
April 25 – Toronto, ON @ Horseshoe Tavern *
April 26 – Ann Arbor, MI @ The Ark *
April 27 – Columbus, OH @ The Basement *
April 28 – Goshen, IN @ Ignition Garage *
April 29 – Evanston, IL @ SPACE *
May 1 – Milwaukee, WI @ Shank Hall *
May 2 – Minneapolis, MN @ 7 th Street Entry *
May 4 – Fargo, ND @ The Aquarium *
May 5 – Sioux Falls, SD @ Icon Lounge *
May 6 – Omaha, NE @ Slowdown Jr. *
May 9 – Kansas City, MO @ The Riot Room *
May 10 – Oklahoma City, OK @ The Blue Door *
May 11 – Fort Worth, TX @ Billy Bob’s
May 12 – Austin, TX @ Cactus Café *
May 13 – Eden, TX @ The Green Apple Arts Center
May 16 – Denver, CO @ Larimer Lounge *
May 18 – Salt Lake City, UT @ The State Room *
May 19 – Boise, ID @ Neurolux *
May 20 – Vancouver, BC @ Biltmore Cabaret *
May 21 – Seattle, WA @ Tractor Tavern *
May 23 – Portland, OR @ Doug Fir *
May 25 – San Francisco, CA The Chapel *
May 30 – Phoenix, AZ @ Valley Bar *
May 31 – San Diego, CA @ The Casbah *
June 1 – West Hollywood, CA @ The Troubadour *
June 2 – Fresno, CA @ Strummer’s *
June 3 – Bakersfield, CA @ B-Ryder’s *
# dates with Dori Freeman
* dates with Michaela Anne