Let the good times roll.
When fans of Texas-bred Josh Abbott Band hear the four-track EP Catching Fire, they’re likely to reconnect with a sound from the not-so-distant past. They’re songs of positivity, built on solid country textures and unified by Abbott’s congenial-but-experienced voice.
The seven-piece group cut its teeth as a hard-touring act with hooky melodies that deliver real- world stories. Led by the true-to-life cycles in Abbott’s life, JAB explored new territory with its last two albums – documenting the dissolution of a marriage in Front Row and adding strings and a horn section to Until My Voice Goes Out – but Catching Fire captures a sense of personal renewal.
“My embers are startin’ to glow again,” Abbott sings in the opening line of the title track. Indeed, the entire Catching Fire project is bright, spry and optimistic. From the limber lines of Preston Wait’s fiddle to the decisive crack of Edward Villanueva’s snare and the animated scratch of Abbott’s acoustic guitar, there’s a relaxed energy to the project, a sense of hard-won spirit that can only be developed by confronting – and conquering – emotional hurdles.
“We have a whole new refocused attitude on what we're gonna do now moving forward,” Abbott says. “Catching Fire is a reflection of what's happened over the last year and a half of my life.”
“Surprise Surprise” – a jaunty, driving bit of autobiography – details the rise and fall and rise again, namechecking banjo player Austin Davis in the opening line as it follows JAB’s 2006 inception and ascent to one of country’s most dynamic live acts. Likewise, verse two loosely documents Abbott’s own relationship travails, from love to broken heart to a marriage that resulted in his first child.
While Catching Fire captures the band’s current heartbeat, the songs fit so neatly into the JAB live set that fans experienced them as if they were already part of the band’s canon.
“Half the time, I don't even introduce them as new songs,” Abbott notes. “We just roll in and play them and watch the fans just bounce around and jam and have fun. Sometimes you'll see fans look around like, ‘Do you know this song?’ But by the end of the song they're singing it.”
Country fans have been singing JAB songs for more than a decade already. The band got its start when Abbott and Davis, frat brothers at Lubbock’s Texas Tech University, braved the stage on open-mic nights at Blue Light Live. Davis managed to make the bluegrass-based banjo fit in a contemporary country setting, establishing a blueprint as additional members joined JAB. Villanueva brought a rock- band spirit on drums and Wait hardened the group’s country stance with his flagship fiddle when they signed on 18 months later. Lead guitarist Caleb Keeter joined in 2010, amping up the group’s power quotient, while keyboard player David Fralin took his place in 2015, bringing an additional layer of texture. The newest member – bass player Jimmy Hartman – added his name to the lineup in 2018, solidifying JAB’s signature tough undercurrent.
The band’s relentless on-stage attitude quickly made it a successful touring act, building out from a Texas band to a regional act to a national crew with a devoted following from coast to coast.