If you want something done right, you go to the experts. So if you want some vintage honky-tonk, you go to The Shootouts. Lead singer Ryan Humbert lives Americana music, even going so far as creating a 24-hour streaming radio station, The Americana Roundup. The band’s sophomore album, Bullseye, hits the mark: Recorded in Nashville several days after the tornado hit in March 2020, and just before the world shut down due to the pandemic, the album has a sense of urgency — urgency to have fun.
While the band’s previous release stuck to more meat-and-potatoes traditional country, they delight in mixing genres on Bullseye, which was produced by Chuck Mead. “Rattlesnake Whiskey” is one of those songs: a fantastical tale of being born bad to the bone, the song is propelled forward with a spaghetti western guitar line that will stop you in your tracks with a punk rock breakdown. With Humbert and Emily Bates’ cool delivery, the song lands somewhere between punk, Western, and outlaw while skirting the borders of rockabilly.
The Shootouts can jerk a few tears from us as well. “Another Mother” is a ballad that reminds us to call our mothers and treat them nicely while we still have them. Amid an elegant string section and heartfelt pedal steel, the lyrics shimmer with sincerity. We are still battling with COVID-19, of course, and the song surely lands even more powerfully than when it was first recorded.
On “Missed the Mark,” the band really kicks it into gear. The song is a midtempo manifesto on making good as an indie musician, and each member takes a few bars to strut their stuff. The Shootouts prove you don’t need to shred through a scorcher to prove you know what you’re doing: Each solo carries the song forward, commenting on the zigzags of life with grace and skillful ease.
The band hopes that Bullseye will help people take a break from the crushing realities around us, but it does more than that. Not only does the album urge us to have fun — important, of course — but it also reminds us that joy is the flip side of struggle.