Ranzel X. Kendrick is an interesting cat. Nephew of country music legend Roger “King of the Road” Miller, Texas native now transplanted to the balmy climes of Costa Rica, Kendrick’s creative spirit is wont to wander. He’s written and recorded a cachet of releases under the nom de plume of Alias Wayne and his latest EP Fubar continues his work under that moniker. The four song collection successfully explores Kendrick’s Americana influences, albeit on his terms and seldom in purist fashion. He reinvigorates tradition rather than slavishly aping the past and the results are thoroughly modern while still paying homage to a time-honored style.

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The EP’s first song “Love One Another” has prayer-like qualities. The rampant idealism present in Kendrick’s lyrics won’t strike listeners as hackneyed sentiment but, instead, as hope that recognizes by implication what our everyday world lacks. He’s joined in a duet with a second female voice and the contrast of their soulful vocals accentuates the song’s aforementioned hopeful spirit. The drumming has a light touch right for the track and keeps a fluid mid-tempo pace. There are percussion touches scattered throughout the arrangement that deepen its rhythmic charm.

He mines the Bible for the lyrical imagery. The song isn’t proselytizing, however, for anything but a better day for all of us. Kendrick’s writing skills allow him to use the imagery in a personal fashion rather than merely regurgitating scriptural references. Kendrick builds the arrangement around his acoustic guitar. It isn’t hard to assume that the six-string work reflects the song’s origins, but dressing it with a band arrangement, including glistening piano fills, fleshes it out into finer form.

His acoustic guitar opens “Father Song”. It is an enigmatic and melancholy performance. Kendrick, however, layers his lyrics with an abundance of specific details that cuts away at obscurity and gives “Father Song” potent immediacy. He tackles the bulk of the song solo, but moody understated strings add darker shades to the cut. “Eight Ball in the Corner Pocket” moves in a different direction while staying true to his core sound. It’s a jazzy shuffle anchored by minimalist percussion and peppered with saucy brass contributions. Kendrick leaves listeners wallowing in concrete details that bring his lyrics to life and even tosses in the sound of pool balls cracking for effect.

His diversity serves “Window of My Soul” well. The musical dance of his acoustic guitar and piano is the heart of the song, but he introduces woodwinds into the mix. It gives the finale a quasi-pastoral flavor. Fubar is an intimate and intensely thoughtful release benefiting not just from its musical and vocal excellence, but from the poetic veneer shaping each of the four songs. Call him what you like, Alias Wayne or Ranzel X. Kendrick, but this is the sound of a mature artist working at or near the peak of his considerable powers. It is intensely human and capable of moving all but the hardest of hearts. Give it the chance it deserves to move yours.  

Garth Thomas