GREEN Given the focus of his latest musical project, it is somewhat hard to believe singer-songwriter Ryan Humbert when he says The Shootouts were formed as a mere lark three years ago.
“We really did form this as a side project,” Humbert said during a recent interview. “(Guitarist) Brian Poston and I said, ‘let’s just go out and have fun doing what we like.’ And with all my music, I’ve always liked country music. It’s always been in me.”
The Shootouts released their debut full-length album, Quick Draw, May 10 at The Music Box Supper Club in Cleveland. The band is scheduled to appear next at LaureLive, a music, arts and culinary festival held June 8 and 9 at Laurel School’s 150-acre Butler Campus, in Russell and Chester Townships. This year’s LaureLive line-up also includes Sheryl Crow and Lake Street Dive.
Originally dubbed Shooter Sharp and the Shootouts – a moniker Green native and North Canton resident Humbert still uses on the Sunday morning Americana music show he hosts on 91.3 FM in Akron – the band has certainly pulled out all the stops, both sonically and visually, in its homage to classic country and honkytonk stylings.
Musically, the combo is the sum of Humbert’s solid acoustic guitar work and harmony vocals with longtime backing vocalist, Emily Bates; Poston’s often mind-blowingly speedy riffs; the tight-as-two-coats-of-paint rhythm section of drummer Dylan Gomez and bassist Ryan McDermott; and local steel guitar legend Al Moss providing enough beer-soaked authenticity for any three country bands.
Recorded in six days at Bunker Studios in Brooklyn, N.Y., with the production team of Luca Benedetti and Jim Campilongo (The Little Willies, Zephaniah Ohora) at the helm, Quick Draw is patchwork of deep-cut cover songs (“Must Be Love”; “Alimony”), lilting jukebox ballads (Northeast Ohio singer-songwriter and Michael Stanley guitarist, Marc Lee Shannon’s “If We Quit Now”; Humbert’s “Lonely Never Lets Me Down”) and barn-burning rave-ups like the Poston-penned instrumental title track, leadoff single “Cleaning House” (one of five tunes written or co-written by Moss), and a hyper-speed version of Tim Carroll’s “If I Could” that makes the more widely known John Prine rendition sound like a funeral dirge.
The song order, in fact, is an almost jarring juxtaposition of energy levels that gives the entire affair the feel of a golden-era country music variety show. However intentional that may or may not have been, it works for the kind of band The Shootouts are.
Throughout, Quick Draw boasts an appropriately warm and punchy production that blessedly does away with much of the over-sugared, ear numbing bombast of today’s pop country for a more classic countrypolitan sheen, particularly on the Moss/Humbert penned “I’d Rather Be Lonely” and album closer, “Losing Faith In Being Faithful.”
Apart from the music, one cannot really begin to discuss The Shootouts without mentioning the hats, boots and shirts. To put it mildly, it would be pretty hard to mistake what kind of music you’re about to hear when this band takes a stage.
“Oh, if this goes well, trust me, the shirts are going to get even gaudier,” Humbert laughed.
Aged by experience
The band’s decision to don the traditional 1950s-style Nashville garb for the project, however, goes much deeper for Humbert and company in some ways. For starters, Humbert stresses that while the stage wear was at first somewhat tongue-in-cheek, it has always been at least as much about paying tribute to the musical style and those who invented it.
From the music to the presentation, The Shootouts also seem to be the culmination of Humbert’s artistic vision, one that spans more than 15 years and five albums as a solo artist.
Even before that, he said, his influences included heavy doses of classic country via family jams with his grandfather, Ron Humbert – who appeared on Humbert’s 2004 debut, Nothing To Lose - as well as his mother, Judy Humbert’s, love of 1980s and 1990s pop country.
It is not for nothing that Quick Draw is dedicated to Ron and Judy Humbert, both of whom died unexpectedly in 2016 and 2018.
“I think at a certain age, people just start being honest with themselves,” Humbert said. “Of all I’ve learned in the past few years, it’s that we all have one chance and life is too short to be miserable. So when (The Shootouts) started taking off – with people who liked country music and a lot who didn’t – we said ‘if we’re going to do this, let’s do it right.’”
The decision to record with Benedetti and Campilongo was step one of a process that Humbert said involved “a lot of no’s for every yes.” His contacts both within and outside the radio business, where he has split his time for the better part of the past decade, led to a meeting with Megaforce Records (The Black Crowes, Gaslight Anthem, Anthrax, Metallica) and a deal with MRI Entertainment, the distribution arm of the label.
Though he has had the support of a national label in the past, namely for the release of his 2012 album Sometimes The Game Plays You, Humbert calls The Shootouts deal with MRI “a good partnership.”
“The record is ours; we own it,” he explained. “The label said they could put the ‘team’ together, but we decided to (hire) our own publicist and radio promotion (representatives). We have a very strong team.”
Never having been much of a road dog with his previous releases, Humbert said he and the band are planning to support the record with ”smart touring,” with shows and radio station visits in Nashville, Knoxville, Louisville, Indianapolis and New York City already lined up.
The single and video for “Cleaning House” has also been featured on notable national outlets like Bluegrass Situation and DittyTV, and Humbert said the band is currently working on a video for follow-up radio single, “California To Ohio.”
A heart-wrenching song Humbert co-wrote with singer-songwriter Kim Richey, “California” chronicles young U.S. Marine Ron Humbert’s 1953 three-day-leave trip from Camp Pendleton to Stark County to meet his just-born daughter. An earlier version of the song appeared on Humbert’s 2014 release, Halfway Home. The Shootouts’ take on the song delivers even more heft, with Moss’s haunting steel and an additional verse recognizing the next 60-plus years of the Humbert family history.
With a vast musical and lyrical sweep and nod to his heritage, “California” seems, in fact, to form the artistic fulcrum upon which Humbert’s career now sits.
“Yeah, the ‘what’s next’ question is a very important one,” he said. “The Shootouts will continue to evolve and figure out who we are. And we’ll see where it all goes.”
For more information on The Shootouts, visit www.shootoutsmusic.com