NPR: All Songs Considered

A Band to Call Your Own

Austin Chronicle

This Lubbock sextet matches perfectly with producer Craig Shumacher, known for his work with Calexico and Neko Case. A mix of indie rock and spaghetti Western sure to be dubbed alt.country in simpler times, Light Fighter comes alive with tunes of the Spanish Civil War and West Texas ghosts, demonstrating a boldness that's electrifying. Anyone who remembers Whiskeytown is sure to find Light Fighter a delight.

***.5

L.A. Weekly

Where have the Thrift Store Cowboys been all my life? In Lubbock, Texas, and environs, playing their beautiful rootsy, even surf-y sound. They have a killer instrumental called “Man We Ran Them Camels,” and are also the first of three groups (and only one is classical) that feature violin in this week’s column.

Magnet Magazine

Light Fighter sparks a new direction for this traditionally Southern-sounding, alt-county sextet from Lubbock, Texas, which last year faced tragedy when the band’s equipment trailer—containing more than 3,000 of its records—burned to the ground in the carport of singer/guitarist Daniel Fluitt’s home. Over the course of 12 haunting tracks, Light Fighter pulses with haunting harmonies, builds and breaks with driving crescendos and intricate instrumentation, then is capped off with Fluitt’s honest, rough voice, which is as much an instrument itself as the steel guitars, violin and drums. Thrift Store Cowboys have meshed genres, blurred black and white and created an LP that plays dark, indie and folk.

Rock and Review

A staple album on my ipod is The Great American Desert by the Thrift Store Cowboys. After seeing a live show at this year’s SXSW, I knew I had to tell more people about this evocative band. Their sound comes from a diverse mixture of instruments; sometimes it sounds western rockish, sometimes mariachi, sometimes indie folk with a desert twist. It is cohesive and beautiful, with the violin or pedal steel suddenly blowing through like the west Texas wind.

“So Young” has been a favorite song along with “Sleepy Engine,” which when played live, provided a light break from other darker, heavier tunes. Percussionist Kris Killingsworth then jokingly confessed, “We don’t write happy songs.”

That may be so, but the songwriting manages to steer clear of the overly sentimental country tendencies or too simple songs of other aspiring indie bands. Their lyrics don’t give it all away at first, but are thoughtful and filled with subtle images and little nuggets, such as “the game you never played you never won.” From their show I added “Dirtied Your Knees” and “Lubbock Lights” to my list of favorite songs, both of which are from their latest album Lay Low While Crawling or Creeping.

Denver Westword

In Lubbock, Texas, there's an expression: "Anywhere is walking distance if you have time." Given the never-ending flatness and unblocked sky that dominates the western stretch of the Lone Star State, it seems better to forgo walking altogether and just drive -- double-clutching like a bat out of hell. Then again, all of that eerie, dust-bowl desolation must have done something for Lubbock's golden boy, Buddy Holly -- not to mention a neo-traditionalist six-piece called Thrift Store Cowboys. Bucking Nashville's stodgy music establishment to embrace the wide-open spaces, the Cowboys blend quiet electric guitars, pedal steel, fiddles and occasional mariachi beats into a brand of mirage-inducing Americana that recalls Chris Isaak and Calexico. Touring in support of their second full-length, The Great American Desert (which Rex Hobart hailed as "spooky punky-tonk"), the Cowboys ruminate on the lonely side of the barbed wire: where the old cafe burned to the ground, where time stands still, where the city looks pretty from the prison tonight.

New York Music Daily

Too much good music, too little time. Lubbock, Texas band the Thrift Store Cowboys’ album Light Fighter came out last fall: if you’ve been paying attention to the recently resuscitated alt-country scene, you probably already know that. This is for those who might have slept on it a year ago: it’s worth your time. A lot of this is like peak-era Wilco circa Summerteeth but with more balls and less drawl – frontman Daniel Fluitt sometimes lets his syllables run overtime like that band did, but he doesn’t overdo it. And he’s a better songwriter. That which is not Wilcoish is the best stuff here, rich with ghostly imagery, aching violin, steel guitar and desert ambience like the best southwestern gothic: which makes sense, since the album was recorded at Craig Schumacher’s legendary Wavelab studio, home to Steve Wynn and Friends of Dean Martinez, Giant Sand and the rest of those great spaghetti western-tinged bands that sprang up in the tumbleweeds back in the late 80s and 90s.

In fact, those seem to be two distinct and separate sides to this band: you could make two solid, separate playlists out of the album, one of them scary and one of them more straight-up alt-country. The latter would include the title track which leans closer to Son Volt, actually, but with a hypnotic, circular 6/8 vamp. The album’s second track sounds like Wilco if they’d gone into the desert and never come back, while Regardless and Ghost Guys take the Summerteeth formula and add snappy bass and shimmery steel guitar. Rosemary mixes in out-of-focus, guitar-fueled noise and a little Morricone-style guitar. And You Can’t See the Light puts a historical spin on a familiar-sounding country-rock ballad theme, in this case the bitter tale of a seminarian imprisoned and later executed during the Spanish Civil War.

But the scary playlist is the really amazing one here: the band could release this as an ep and they’d have a genuine classic. The menacing, chromatically-charged banjo shuffle 7’s and 9’s sounds like Botanica if they’d gone into the desert and never come back. The best song here, Scary Weeds, is written by and sung with gentle apprehension by violinist Amanda Shires. A paranoid 6/8 ballad about a couple on the run, it reminds of the Walkabouts, with Shires’ vividly ominous violin and low, urgent, unaffectedly chilling vocals. The surreal, dizzyingly evocative Morning Weekend begins with menacing sunrise desert ambience and morphs into a big backbeat anthem; Nothing, a sad 6/8 ballad about Buffalo soldiers dying of thirst in the desert after being led astray by clever Comanches defending their land, is a dialogue between one of the dead soldiers and his widow at home, who also ends up emptyhanded. You have to listen closely but it’s worth it. And Shires contributes another creepy, 6/8 tune, Lean into the Sway, an allusive, brooding ballad that could be a prequel to her other one here. The Thrift Store Cowboys made a swing through New York last year behind this album; let’s hope there’s another one down the line.

Houston Press

Thrift Store Cowboys take music fans back to the days before country was a white-trash pop star dressed up in sparkly cowboy shirts and boots (no, not Britney Spears, we’re talking about Gretchen Wilson). The sextet hails from Lubbock, the land that produced such legendary stars as Buddy Holly, The Flatlanders and Terry Allen. The track “Beneath the Shoes” features somber acoustic guitars with Celtic violins for a sound plucked right off 16th Avenue, circa 1950, and tweaked by a young Alan Jackson. Singer/violinist Amanda Shires blends her deep vocals into tracks like “Dirtied Your Knees” and “Understudy,” reminding listeners of Emmylou Harris or more recent notables like Neko Case. Thrift Store Cowboy’s sound features banjo, lap and pedal steel and a saw.

Dallas Observer

Well, of course country music is bound to spring up in Lubbock. The town enjoys three factors that make it so: a legacy of music, a desolate Western environment and the desparation of sheer boredom, all three of which imbue the population with a latent impulse to create music by which to scoot boots and kick shit. No surprise there.

What comes as a surprise, however, is when the land that breeds tumbleweeds, cotton and redneck Red Raiders also sprouts a band of rare cerebral depth combined with salt-of-the-earth genuineness. Lubbock's Thrift Store Cowboys are that band, as comfortable in an indie club as a honky-tonk, edgy yet traditional. Call it experimental country. Take the band's "Dirtied Your Knees," off their latest album, Lay Low While Crawling or Creeping, which kicks off with a drone-y banjo hum underlying the minimal plucking of another banjo. The effect is something like an orchestra warming up, until the tune eases its way into a rootsy midtempo rocker. "Sidewalk Song," meantime, evokes Mazzy Star as much as Merle Haggard, with its slow 3/4 time, luscious fiddle and high-gain, delayed guitar—proof there's more to Lubbock than dust devils and Bobby Knight.

Glide Magazine

It only takes a near death experience with an arsonist to make great music. Before making their new album, Lubbock roots rock band Thrift Store Cowboys had a stranger set fire to their trailer filled with merchandise and gear. But it appears that brush with the end fuelled this new effort, one with confidence, consistency and brilliant verve.

A perfect example of this is the slow-building but beautiful “One Gentle Inch To Nine Violent Mines” that ebbs and flows perfectly in the vein of Calexico. The only drawback is it leaves one wanting so much more. Nonetheless, the galloping title track soars thanks to singer Daniel Fluitt and his seasoned crew, especially with supporting vocals from Amanda Shires.

After slowing the tone down with the placating, banjo-tinged toe-tapper “7’s And 9’s”, the group hit their stride again with the dour, moody “Scary Weeds” which has Shires on lead vocals. She also has her moment in the spotlight during waltz-like and aptly titled “Lean Into The Sway.” Yet the real highlight is the tension-building “Morning Weekend” as Fluitt deftly steers his way through it effortlessly for a roots rock conclusion.
 
Of the dozen, the biggest letdown might be “Regardless” that brings to mind a Kings Of Leon throwaway number. The second half also seems to be a bit lighter and genteel with “Nothing” having Fluitt and Shires harmonizing just above a hush at times while “Ghost Trails” has its moments of dramatic flare.
 
Drenched in alt.country or Americana, Thrift Store Cowboys meld the harder with the softer on the excellent “You Can’t See The Light,” despite the content referring to the Spanish Civil War. And like any good band worth their salt, the group ends it up with a big sonic bow entitled “Silence Depends On The Dose.” Overall, this one might not be on many people’s radar, but if so will most like end up on year end lists.

The Music Enthusiast

No sooner had Joey gotten his stuff of stage, then the Thrift Store Cowboys rushed on stage to sound check, seeing as their gear was already set up. And not too long after 10, they began their 41 minute long set, opening with an instrumental song. It had a great ebb and flow to it, and numerous times throughout it, it would build up to something, then subside. And periodically vocalist, Daniel Fluitt, would whistle into to the mic. Sometimes directly into it, and others he stood at such a distance it was barely, if even, audible. It went on for a few minutes, and as it came to an end, Daniel spoke into the mic. “We’re the Thrift Store Cowboys.” he said, before reaching behind him to grab his acoustic axe. Then they did a couple of real songs, and by that, I mean they had vocals. And in between those two songs, they stated that this was the first night of their tour. “I can’t think of a better place to start it at.” said Daniel. Know, I knew most of the songs they played this night, but I haven’t listened to their stuff enough to really know song titles. But I did know the next one, as it’s one of my favorites of theirs, “Sleepy Engine” from their “The Great American Desert” album. It’s a fairly short, but very fast paced, song. They did another tune, and afterwards, guitarist, Colt Miller, (who also plays the banjo and accordion on some songs) finally put his pedal steel guitar to use. “I wrote this one on my front porch in Lubbock.” Daniel said of the upcoming song. “And if you’re from Lubbock, you know what I mean.” “How about Post, Texas?” someone in the crowd shouted out. “Well,..” Daniel said, and paused, “…That’s even worse.” The song he was referring to writing was “Regardless”, from the “Light Fighter” record, and they followed it with three other songs, with at least two of those being from the same album. And for the record, Colt did play his banjo on one of those tunes. They were running short on time at this point, though, and put a close to their set with “Bright Fire”. I’d really forgotten how great these guys were, both music and performance wise. And it wasn’t till near the end of the show that I was reminded how great bassist, Clint Miller, is. He’ll jump about, and, in a sense, even dance in the little spot he’s confined to. It’s quite entertaining to watch. And Kris Killingsworth is not only a great drummer, but he adds some really nice backing vocals to the songs. They’ll be playing throughout the Midwest until at least middle to end of July, so hit up their Facebook page for the dates.

Austin Sound

Though the Thrift Store Cowboys’ third studio album was released a while ago, I’m just now getting it reviewed - because I refused to take the thing out of my CD player. When the copy of Lay Low While Crawling or Creeping first fell into my hands I slotted it into the first spot in my car’s CD changer. Over the past months, the other nine discs in that cartridge have been rotated dozens of times, and only now have I been able to pull the Lubbock sextet’s release out long enough to review it. The album is that good.

Pop Matters

Thrift Store Cowboys have nearly a decade of work behind them now, and the Lubbock, Texas sextet has refined its sound to a sort of country-tinged indie rock that’s more concerned with setting and geography than it is with genre. On its latest self-released album Light Fighter, the band tells its stories with a sound that’s appropriate for a group that’s toured with the Old 97’s and Devotchka—not that they sound like either of those groups, just that we’re getting in the ballpark there. Thrift Store Cowboys are a western act, concerned with both expanse and the use of space in little pop songs, and, at their finest, they capture place very well.

The album came about after a fire took the band’s gear and merchandise, and nearly got to vocalist/guitarist Daniel Fluitt. He survived (obviously) and started writing this album, which aside from the cover art and album title, doesn’t resonate with a pyro-immediacy, but which does exist inside a haunted terrain, where ghost stories and war stories are told just after nightfall.

The group has the ability to stake out its own sonic terrain. While there are comparisons available (Okkervil River comes to mind at times), the band sounds more western than anything—or at least imaginitively “Western”, not exactly like rubbing sidewinders over cacti. When it works, the music opens up an almost visual identity. However, when it misses, it just turns into campfire staring, without the active reflection.

Opener “One Gentle Inch to Nine Violent Miles” uses a slow build to get the album moving. Within just a few bars, we know where we are, but everyone involved shows considerable restraint. It’s a track as much about tone and atmosphere as it is about anything else. The song never fully releases, but the guitar solo near the end clears some space, and brings enough energy that the faster tempo of its successor “Bright Fire” makes sense and continues the work started by “One Gentle Inch”.

The band doesn’t reach for epic crescendos, but it does know how to structure its songs on those slow rises. “Ghost Trails” adds layers and intensity not to a peak, but to develop its emotional content. It’s catchy without feeling pop, and works very well in this context.

On moments like those, Thrift Store Cowboys are a highly compelling act, but unfortunately there just aren’t enough of them. Sometimes that Western space is a little too much, swallowing up the energy it should be providing. The tracks “7’s and 9’s” and “Morning Weekend” both suggest the music of 16 Horsepower in their rolling gravity, but both lack anything like the bracketed frenzy of David Eugene Edwards to turn the sound into true heft.

Fluitt shares vocal duties with Amanda Shires (who released a solo album in 2009), and her tracks are frequently memorable. “Lean into the Sway” provides one of the highlights with its spare sound and memorable melody. Shires shows a nice sense of phrasing and her delivery is engaging without giving too much away. The band might benefit from working her vocals into more numbers and figuring out how to play Fluitt’s voice against hers.

Light Fighter delivers a number of strong moments, but it’s unfortunate that it doesn’t hold up across the entire disc. Thrift Store Cowboys have a compelling aesthetic, but on this album they haven’t applied it in as consistent a manner as they’re surely capable. Despite some missteps here, the band seems like one capable of putting out a truly memorable record.