Listen to Sam Outlaw and Ry Cooder Redefine California Country

"Who Do You Think You Are?" kicks off SoCal crooner's debut album 'Angeleno'

Sam Outlaw, performing here in Long Beach, updates the California country sound with this year's 'Angeleno.' Credit: Harmony Gerber/Getty Images

"You can't spend much time in Southern California without being influenced by Mexican-American culture," says Sam Outlaw, whose debut album takes its cues from both sides of the border. 

Due out this summer on Six Shooter Records, Angeleno pairs Outlaw — a former ad salesman who's spent the past five years leading the rebirth of L.A.'s modern country scene — with more than a few border-crossers. Members of My Morning Jacket, Dawes and the Punch Brothers all make appearances, with genre-bender Ry Cooder pulling double duty as lead guitarist and co-producer. Cooder's son, co-producer Joachim, plays drums. Even Jesús "Chuy" Guzmán, an alum of Linda Ronstadt's Spanish-speaking albums from the Eighties, gets a piece of the action, leading a pack of mariachis on the album's leadoff track, "Who Do You Think You Are?". (Listen to "Who Do You Think You Are?" below.)

The result is a culture-clashing country record that looks far beyond the Bible Belt for inspiration, swirling influences from across the map — including mid-century pop-rock, Johnny Cash's Ring of Fire, George Jones and Poco — into 12 original tracks about love, liquor and life on the West Coast. 

"When you play country music in Los Angeles, you can get lost a little bit in the fantasy," says Outlaw, who wrote the bulk of "Who Do You Think You Are?" while walking home from his former day job. "We don't have that world of honky-tonks and dance halls out here, so it's up to the artist to turn the venue they're playing into a honky-tonk for the night. With 'Who Do You Think You Are?', I'm taking myself to this fantasized world in Mexico or Baja. It's a simple pop song about getting burned — about going out for a good time, falling in love with the proverbial woman in a red dress and getting turned down — and it allows me to get a little bit lost in the romantic fantasy of the whole thing."

With Angeleno scheduled for a June 9th release, Outlaw (and, yes, that's his real name) has been ramping up his tour schedule. In years past, he played most of his hometown shows with bands that didn't exactly share his influences. Outlaw had no choice; there simply wasn't much of a local country scene to tap into. Lately, the tides have started to shift.

"It's been cool to see this revival of roots music," he notes. "You know how Dwight Yoakam used to play with punk bands a lot? Even as recently as two years ago, there wasn't hardly any country bands out here, so we played with indie bands. I can remember playing a bar in East L.A. two years ago, and I got offstage after the set, and the guy who'd played in the rock band before me was like, 'Hey man! So…Is this for real?' He didn't understand that someone could be playing country music in L.A. But now, we've got people showing up to the shows in their boots, and they're two-stepping to the music. It's been really special. I've seen a real shift in the bands that are playing here, too. They're showing up with their pedal steel guitars and upright basses and mandolins."

Here's the track list for Angeleno:
1. Who Do You Think You Are?
2. Keep It Interesting
3. I'm Not Jealous
4. Love Her for a While
5. Angeleno
6. Country Love Song
7. Ghost Town
8. Jesus Take the Wheel (And Drive Me to a Bar)
9. It Might Kill Me
10. Keep a Close Eye on Me
11. Old Fashioned
12. Hole Down in My Heart