Entertainment One Music

One of the signature artists and biggest draws on the Texas/Oklahoma musical axis — de- spite having what once could have been described as a pretty slim catalog of original mate- rial — Stoney LaRue has picked up his pace considerably by only taking three years to follow up 2011’s excellent Velvet with this year’s model, Aviator. Three years apparently wasn’t long enough to lose the thoughtful, restrained vibe that buoyed his last record; he also didn’t lose the number of songwriting collaborator Mando Saenz, the under-the-radar Houston-bred talent that helped LaRue make the best of his subtle new directions on Velvet.

Considering that LaRue’s biggest calling card has long been his gritty, expansive voice — an instrument that can rattle the crowds at the scene’s biggest venues and festivals — this meditative turn in his material is kind of a bold statement in itself. Rueful self-examiners like “A Little Too Long” and “First One to Know” and spacey ballads like “Blending Colors” owe more to the psychedelic-tinged Cosmic Cowboy early days of Michael Martin Murphey and B.W. Stevenson than just about any of LaRue’s modern Red Dirt friends and rivals. Even when the tempo picks up, such as on the jittery rocker “Studio A Trouble Time Jam” or the twisty, fiddle- driven “Spitfire,” it still feels more like an exploration than settling into familiar crowd-pleasing grooves. Of course, it certainly hasn’t hurt to bring in co-producers Frank Lidell and Mike McCarthy, known for work with envelope-pushers ranging from Miranda Lambert to Spoon, in on the adventure: They know that creative freedom can sell (and soar) if the talent’s in place, and the singer up front here is more than game. Years on the road have left LaRue’s voice a bit heavier and deeper, with a little more gravity in his drawl, and his songwriting and choice of material have followed suit.— MIKE ETHAN MESSICK

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