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Left Arm Tan is all about getting country music fans out of their comfort zones. Photo by Jacob Sizemore

Fort Worth sextet Left Arm Tan has never felt comfortable with the confining labels assigned within country music — the genre, for good or ill, that they’ve been most associated with. Red Dirt, Americana, alt-country, roots music — they all seem to apply and yet, somehow, also seem unfitting to the group’s sound.

The musicians have always tried to push beyond the labels they’ve been tagged with by radio stations and promoters, but it was really 2020’s self-titled album (known colloquially among the band members as “The Phoenix Album” due to the record’s Trans-Am-ian artwork) that the guys really made a conscious effort to ditch preconceived notions of what they were “supposed” to sound like and just make the music whey wanted to make. As much as they successfully accomplished this goal on their last record, with Undefeated, the sixth studio effort in the band’s catalog which debuts Friday, pushes the limiting boundaries of “country” music even further.

“I think one thing we embrace as a band is constant change and constant evolution of our sound,” said singer/guitarist Brian Lee. “Evolution doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to be something different on every album. It just means that we have to be willing and open to let the song be what the song needs to be, regardless of artistic direction or how it fits into a particular radio format or even in what way the original writer had it in mind that it was going to be.”

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To help the band expand their ever-evolving sound, they enlisted Ken Coomer (Wilco, Uncle Tupelo) to serve as producer. Though they’ve co-produced with their engineers on previous records, Undefeated was the first time they turned over absolute control to someone outside of the six of them. Lee said the band sent Coomer more than 20 tracks, of which eight were chosen. A rule of Coomer’s is that albums consist of no more than eight songs.

“On every other album you’ve got six guys in a band and all have opinions on which songs should be on the album or whatever,” Lee said. “This is the first time we just let a producer make the creative tough calls. We feel the songs [that Coomer chose] which did make [the album] are really strong and really represent where we’re at as a band.”

For LAT, the decision to work with Coomer was inspired by the work he did with a band they admired and are friends with, Charlottesville, Virginia’s Sons of Bill. Coomer produced SOB’s 2013 album Love and Logic.

“That was really the album for Sons of Bill that really took them in a completely different direction sonically and moved them into a whole different genre in a way,” Lee said. Coomer “was a really big part of that. He was a big driving force and really a catalyst for dramatically changing a band we had already loved and admired and were on a similar trajectory [to us] in the way the band was evolving.”

In addition to his work with Sons of Bill, Coomer’s association to Wilco, one of the Fort Worth group’s heroes, was an added plus. In fact, the name Left Arm Tan was lifted from a line in the Wilco song “Monday” from 1996’s Being There.

Lee said working with Coomer really “sped the process up and allowed us to be able to just focus on making the songs as good as they could possibly be.”

Whether the boundary-pushing sound of Undefeated is owed to the natural progression of LAT as a band, or to Coomer, or to the combination of the two, the genre-expansion is evident. Incorporating unconventionally “country” sounds like keyboards and full horn sections, the sonic palette is at times Pat Green and Randy Rogers, others Tom Petty and Ryan Adams, but also always none of them.

Photo by Jacob Sizemore

As well as releasing the title track as a single, LAT is promoting the new record with an entertaining animated music video for the song “Cocaine Skinny,” an amusing track about a burnout musician unwittingly getting caught up in drug trafficking.

“We’ve done a couple of videos” in the past, Lee said of the new single’s visual accompaniment. “Not as many as we probably should have. As you know, they’re time- [and money-] consuming. Essentially, the point we do a video is when our publicist or promoter is saying, ‘We’ve gotta have a video!’ And we go, ‘OK, I guess we’ll be professionals and do one.’ But this one didn’t take too much arm pulling. The material was so ripe for a video, it was an easy decision.”

To celebrate the release of Undefeated, Left Arm Tan is performing at The Post at River East on Friday. It’ll be the first of a handful of shows before departing for their first tour in the United Kingdom this summer. Though they’ve played here and there over the last two years, supporting the new album will be the first time they’ve played consistently since the beginning of the pandemic, which happened to strike just after the release of “The Phoenix Album,” derailing much of their ability to play that material as well.

“We’re just excited to get our new music out there which honestly feels like two albums’ worth of music that we love and which say different things that we get to introduce people to,” Lee said. “We’ve definitely got our hands full for now, for sure.”

 

Left Arm Tan album release
8pm Fri w/Salim Nourallah at The Post at River East, 2925 Race St, FW. $15-120. 817-945-8890.

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