This spring could serve as a roller-coaster song metaphor for the Josh Abbott Band. Or, sticking with the genre, a fast pickup on a hilly country road.
The year started with a national television appearance with Conan O’Brien on the late-night talk show “Conan” in January. Then Abbott’s father suffered a stroke in February and later died, leading the Texas country singer to pull his band off the road for a time in March to take care of family and grieve.
Emotions then rebounded in early May when Abbott’s daughter, Emery, was born May 5.
Now, Abbott and his band are back on the road and continuing the climb up with a back pocket filled with new songs for an upcoming album.
“The year definitely has had some ups and downs,” agreed Caleb Keeter, the band’s lead guitarist. “With that much time off, you get antsy and want to get back and play.”
Keeter and his bandmates return to Waco Friday night for a show at The Backyard and the gig finds them still in a groove from recording a new album set for fall release. It is the band’s second collaboration with Austin producer Dwight Baker, who worked with Abbott and the band on 2015’s “Front Row Seat.”
Though a producer’s work often is confined to what is recorded, the guitarist noted that one can shape a band’s sound simply by providing an outside set of ears attuned to what others might hear. “There are times you get too close to a song,” Keeter said.
Baker, who has worked with the likes of Austin’s Bob Schneider, the Dixie Chicks, Bleu Edmondson and Kelly Clarkson, brought more of an indie sensibility. Couple that with some of the thematic material under the songs of “Front Row Seat” — Abbott’s dealing with the breakup of his marriage — and you have why “Front Row Seat” represented a change of pace for the band.
“It was a lot different than anything we’ve ever done,” Keeter said.
“Front Row Seat” made the Top 10 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums charts after its release in November 2015, but the new album is less of a concept album and more one that finds the band firing on all cylinders.
“We’re really excited about it, but I don’t want to give it away,” he said. “Josh might play one or two acoustics from the new album (in Friday’s show), but we usually don’t play too many new songs before they’re released.”
Why? Fans aren’t as excited or energetic with songs they haven’t heard before, he said.
Keeter, a Temple native, joined the band in 2010, four years after Abbott had formed the core with several Texas Tech University friends. His time with the band has improved his playing, not only through the experience of frequent touring, but learning to fit in with a larger band — a seven-piece one, in Abbott’s case, with fiddles, steel guitar and banjo in addition to the usual country lineup of guitar, bass and drums.
“You really have to think about what you’re going to add. When you have seven people in the band, sometimes the best thing you can do is stay out of the way,” said Keeter.
What makes playing with the Josh Abbott Band a joy is the shared experience of a tight group of musicians who know what’s needed and when. “It doesn’t even feel like we have to work at it,” Keeter said. “The song is God and whatever is going to make it work is what you do.”