In the world of country music, especially when an artist is just coming up, a solo singer with an acoustic guitar is the most common performance model. In addition to recalling the tradition of the genre all the way back to its Appalachian origins, playing solo is cheap. Hiring other players can often be cost prohibitive, not to mention incredibly difficult to coordinate as most musicians-for-hire routinely play in countless other acts. When an artist does manage to put a full band together for a show, it can make for an uncommonly special event.
There’s something to be said, however, about the chemistry that develops when a band is able to play together consistently. When a lineup is set, and they perform several three-hour sets a week, say, a backing band really solidifies. They can elevate an erstwhile singer-songwriter’s craft into something new and exciting, imbuing energy and dynamism into the songs. This is certainly how Cory Cross sees it. He feels the influence of his new backing band, The Burden, has completely changed the trajectory of the music he makes.
“I kind of always saw myself as a songwriter’s songwriter,” he explained. “I was doing mostly solo shows or duos, doing a lot of listening rooms and coffee shops. That was fine, but the music I listened to was always the honky-tonk stuff — the stuff that I always thought was so badass. I never thought that that could be something I could do.”
Last Friday, Cory Cross & The Burden released a four-song EP intent on capturing the new life the group has infused into Cross’ music. Live at Tomahawk Studios is a spry and peppy document of a honky-tonk band applying its best dance hall- focused craft.
“We play places mostly where people go and they want to dance,” Cross said. “They want the high-energy country sound. [For this EP], we picked the songs that go over the best for the crowds that we’re playing to these days. They’re also the songs that I’m most proud of that we’re creating together.”
Cross said he can’t overstate the influence that drummer Austin Choate and bassist Kyle Farley have had on the group’s sound, a sound that the trio along with a rotating cast of leads like guitarist Logan Hall (Nick Brumley, Presley Haile) and pedal steel player Burton Lee (Eleven Hundred Springs, Vincent Neil Emerson) have developed over the last year playing several nights a week.
“A lot of these songs I’ve been playing and performing for over a decade,” he said. “My writing process is usually me sitting in my living room with an acoustic guitar, and for the most part I never really imagined the songs much beyond that. [Choate and Farley] started bringing things into these songs that I never could have imagined, creating this space where so much more could happen beyond just playing the chords.”
In making the record, Cross was initially approached about contributing a song to Austin Artist Spotlight, a YouTube channel featuring live performances of country artists filmed in Austin’s Tomahawk Studios by engineer James Epp. Cross managed to push the session to include the four songs, and the tracks were mixed and mastered to release as an album, purposefully recorded live in the moment.
“The thought process behind it was that we wanted to capture our live sound,” Cross said. “Up until two years ago, I never really had a steady band, but as we’ve been playing more full-band shows, the sound has really changed. It’s taken my songs and really evolved them into something unique. We wanted to capture that in the studio. I wanted to get some live recordings of what exactly me and The Burden could do.”
Cross said he enjoyed the experience of tracking the way they did and feels it faithfully captures what the experience of seeing the band is like.
“I definitely enjoy recording live way more,” Cross said, rather than each musician recording their parts separately, one at a time. “I get that there’s an art to that approach and you have more control, but personally I just like going in there and the energy of a live performance.”
That’s not to say they’re opposed to more conventional recording techniques. In fact, the group is currently gauging studio options for what will be The Burden’s first album to be produced by Choate this fall.
Last weekend, two singles, “The Highway” and “Done Being Good (for Good),” preceded the EP’s release, which was celebrated with a barnburner at The Post at River East on Race Street with Dallas’ Ottoman Turks and the wit and humor of local troubadour Tommy Luke.