While some may know them best as the band who opens for country acts like Phil Vasser and Joe Nichols, Stomping Ground’s new album, Midnight on the Highway, reminds us that the quartet isn’t just a sideshow—they’re the jugular of Missoula’s country western scene.
Midnight on the Highway kicks off with the dark, swaggering title track, simmering in the dusty rawness of an old-time spaghetti Western. Frontman Shane Clouse shifts seamlessly from gravelly drawl in “Fancy Town” to crooning richness in “The Barn Song.” While the band emulates vintage Western rawhide-like flair, they add their particular Montana experience to the mix through stories about the Dixon bar and Livingston rodeos. And on an instrumental level, the album radiates both in its extended episodes of outlaw jamming all the way to the more raucous boot-stomping choruses.
Midnight on the Highway isn’t lacking in craft or gumption, though the catchy, pop-like beats sometimes distract from the sorrowful tone for which the lyrics seem to strive—especially in heavier lines like, “I won’t leave no name or number, I ain’t got a place called home.” But even the smoothed-out slickness is conquered by the album’s spirited pulse. (Megan McLean)