Ronnie Fauss is true Americana. A Texas singer-songwriter who has cut out his own path as an alt-country troubadour and a present husband and father, Fauss just released his second album, Built to Break on New West-imprint Normaltown Records. I am unashamedly biased and completely geeked out to introduce a special sampler of his music as a Christ and Pop Culture Member Offering. I’ve been a fan of Ronnie Fauss ever since I heard his first Normaltown release I Am the Man You Know I’m Not a few years back.
On both albums, his voice blends seamlessly with his influences. When you listen to “I’m Sorry Baby (That’s Just the Way It Goes)” you hear the ghost of circa ’65 Dylan, Steve Earle on “Old Life,” and Uncle Tupelo on “The Night Before The War.” His songs are personal and relatable, exploring both the mundane and the existential. And it’s believable in the same way that the early American folk singers were believable—they’ve been there and lived the life they are singing about.
Ronnie’s new album, Built to Break, is a collection of straightforward alt-country songs that are about growing up, living life, getting married, making mistakes, and realizing that you’ve learned something in the meantime. It lives up to its influences: a lineage of great Texas songwriting like Slaid Cleaves, Steve Earle, Robert Earl Keen, and Townes Van Zandt. I don’t have time for a full review here, but check out this review in American Songwriter. All things considered, it was one of the most enjoyable country albums of 2014, and it proved what I already knew: that Ronnie Fauss has some serious songwriting chops and the potential to be a real breakout artist.
The songs featured on the sampler that Normaltown Records and Ronnie Fauss have graciously provided Christ and Pop Culture span his two albums, including some of my favorite tracks.
On “The Night Before the War” when Ronnie sings “we are all culprits / we’re never in the clear,” you know it’s fundamentally true. You feel the weight of the human condition—nothing has changed since the night before whatever war he is singing about. “I Don’t See You” is a pure, distilled, 200-proof alt-country song. Rip-roaring country guitar, gruff vocals with clear Texas twang, and rocking pace that make it hard to not listen to over and over. “This Year” is a slow, intelligent, and kind of heartbreaking ballad that wouldn’t be out of place on a John Prine album. “Eighteen Wheels” from Fauss’s new album features Rhett Miller from the Old 97’s (!!!!!!!!!). The track, one of my favorites on Built To Break, is a blast. Loud, fast, fun country music at its best. And the sampler is rounded out by the tender and beautiful “A Pretty Nice Night for Houston,” a well-crafted ballad with great slide guitar.
Every time I listen to Ronnie Fauss I hear something different. In my last few listens, I’ve been struck by how well he articulates the heartaches of everyday life without being crushed by them. It’s that spirit of honesty with a dose of joyful tenderness that makes Ronnie Fauss’s music so personally impacting—redemptive but not whitewashed, honest but not cynical.
If you’re a member, download these songs and let them do their work. They will please even the snobbiest country fans, and they’re a great place to enter the alt-country world for the uninitiated. And if you like what you hear, check out Built to Break.