It’s funny to think about how much The Texas Gentlemen have changed since first appearing with the release of Texas Jelly in 2018. Just two years ago, The Texas Gents arrived sporting the tightest sound but it was coupled with a design which let the album’s shape develop as it played. The end results turned out to be a mercurial work of art which was a great exposition of the fact that inspired jams don’t necessarily come from anywhere specific; they DEVELOP. With their sophomore effort, the Texas Gentlemen throw that idea out the window, add some vocals to the mix and end up producing a songwriting document in so doing. Simply said, Floor It! isn’t bad, it’s just completely different from its predecessor.
…And that “complete difference” manifests as soon as a turntable’s stylus picks up the groove at the beginning of “Veal Cutlass,” the cut which opens the A-side of Floor It which Nola horns blazing (which didn’t appear anywhere in the runtime of Texas Jelly – so it’s an even greater surprise). Here, the sweet slide of trombone asserts itself as the centrepiece of the song as it helps to make the song’s arrangement bend with every stretch of the horn, but never so hard that it threatens to break the rhythm of the song. Even better, the piano in the song backs that trombone up like an eighty-eight-army – seeming to flank the horn at every turn. The result is a cut which pulls listeners in with a beautiful siren call, and then HOLDS them with an airtight arrangement; it swings, it lilts, it bends and resolves, and it doesn’t let listeners out until the whole thing ends at the three-minute mark. THAT is when listeners will discover they have the option of getting out or following along – but not before.
The side follows that great opener with the formulaic barroom rhythm n’ blues of “Bare Maximum” (which might be the weakest cut on the album, ironically) before resolving with “Ain’t Nothing New” which lives up to its name by crossing a little of what sounds like Flaming Lips-inspired weirdness with some solid prog-gy turns before causing every listener who was already familiar with the band’s work to fall over backwards when a singer appears in the mix and reformats the band’s sound completely. Lines like “Where’s the fun in waitin’ for something to happen to you” expose a here-to-fore unheard Phillie soul influence in the band, and listeners won’t even try to decode the logistics of it or try to figure out where the Pennsylvania and Texas state lines meet – it sounds so good that those listening will be be hooked and just let it ride – even on first play.
The piano and vocal interplay set by “Ain’t Nothing New” continues through “Train To Avesta,” and then picks right up again like it’s not incredible they’re there on the B-side of the album – particularly in “East St.”and “Hard Road,” which are easily the best songs on the album. There, the Texas Gentlemen make great use of compositional strengths that The Beatles featured in their late career and just knock out a couple of great barroom pop jams so effortlessly that it’s actually upsetting – but will also guarantee that listeners will happily switch to the set’s second platter when the side ends, action-packed with anticipation.
It’s hard to not say that Floor It!‘s C-side doesn’t open on a softer tip, from a compositional standpoint (“Dark at the End of the Tunnel”makes the most of the Flaming Lips’ penchant for updating old forms, but the result feels about like affixing wings to a Dodge Viper – which is also a problem when the Lips try it) before trying romance with great results in “Sing Me To Sleep” (seriously – there won’t be a dry seat in the house when this song plays through) and then proving that Beatles-level accessibility is possible for bands other than The Beatles before getting experimental in some trult exciting ways on the final side of Floor It!. On “She Don’t,” for example, the Texas Gentlemen play Beatles pop with an ironic craftsmanship that hasn’t sounded as it does here since the Mothers Of Invention moved away from it years ago. That turn proves to be so nice that the band does it again in “Skyway Streetcar,” and then an All-Seventies All-Star Revue of all the best composers of that decade named “Floor It!” seamlessly knit together to illustrate all the strengths both of the music and the performers of it while expressing none of the gooey self-indulgence of the era after which the song was modelled. It could also be argued that the last cut also doesn’t have any of the authoritative presence of any of the bands from the Seventies, but critics who actually try to uphold that argument will also probably concede how flimsy it is, if they’re really pressed on it.
Standing back from the album as a whole, it’s actually difficult to quantify the achievement that Floor It! represents, accurately. Sure, it’s easy enough for a band to improve – but THIS band achieved something genuinely incredible with great instrumental songwriting on their debut album, and then completely CHANGED their format for the next one and came off sounding even BETTER. Here’s hoping that the Texas Gentlemen can do this again – those who have been following the band will DEMAND more.