Zach Boddicker, lyricist and songwriter of country-rock band 4H Royalty, won my heart in 2012 when “Virtues, Spices & Liquors” had a narrator announce that people were “aardvarking cocaine off the back of one of my CDs.” The clever and poignant chorus has even more memorable turns of phrase. Naturally, I looked immediately to lyrics when its follow-up Liars and Outliers arrived. I was not disappointed.
2012’s Where UFOs Go to Die balanced cleverness and humor by setting them in individual songs; Liars and Outliers is more integrated in its lyrical approach. Tunes like “Frank,” “Cherry Street,” and “Moving to the Country” insert clever turns of phrase into tunes that are ultimately about heavier topics like an old friend gone crazy, the complicated emotions surrounding your hometown, and the downsides of rural living. There are still some 100% humorous songs, like “Your Team” and “Road Beer,” but on the whole the approach is more nuanced than in their previous effort. In short, Boddicker takes great and makes it better here.
The music is strong as well. The band has refined its crisp country-rock approach, resulting in distinctly recognizable tunes. “Your Team” and “Road Beer” are both anchored by great melodies in the chorus, while the instrumental “Gas Cap Rag” translates that vocal melodicism into excellent guitarwork. The band has a strong, unified sound, with each member contributing equally to the arrangement. This results in songs that feel like full songs, as opposed to vehicles for a particular element.
The best example of this is “The Shape of Karaoke to Come,” which compares the slacking life to war (and, yes, karaoke) and backs up those ruminations with a bass/drums/guitar arrangement where each part complements the others. It’s not as deeply moving as “Virtues, Spices & Liquors” (and it’s not trying to be), but it’s certainly as polished lyrically and musically. The bassist and drummer also shine in the sinuous, winding “Moving to the Country.”
If you’re a sucker for a lyric, then you should be all over 4H Royalty. But you should also apply within if you like tight, melodic country-rock. It’s rare that you get stellar lyrics and excellent musical achievement in one album, but that’s exactly what you get in the nine songs of Liars and Outliers.