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Texas-born, Maine-made - Joel Thetford’s ‘The Outer Bank’

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The next time you hear someone say “They don’t write country songs like that anymore,” tell them about Texas native Joel Thetford. 

Hailing from Fort Worth, the 43-year-old Thetford has called Maine home for more than a decade.

The singer, songwriter and guitarist has just released his second EP, titled “The Outer Bank” - five tracks of pure, straight from the heart country - recorded at Halo Studio in Windham with producer Jon Wyman.

Thetford’s style reflects that of some of his favorite artists without sounding derivative. And he doesn’t expect to hear his music on contemporary country radio stations anytime soon.

“I have a hard time listening to country radio these days,” Thetford said during an interview, referring to country music’s shift to auto-tuned pop, which began gaining traction in the 1980s.

“I can’t write stuff like that,” he continued. “I grew up on old-school country. Guys like Conway Twitty, Merle Haggard and George Strait. But that’s only a piece of what inspires me. I also love Jason Isbell, Ryan Adams, Chris Ross and The North and The Mallet Brothers.”

Having befriended those last two names - and rooming with the latter - Thetford plucked up the courage to leave a corporate job he’d held for ten years when one of Maine’s most prominent songwriters suggested it.

“Dave Mallett is the person who convinced me to pursue a music career. He said ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if you quit your job and made an album?’ That’s exactly what happened.”

Thetford was sharing a house with Dave Mallett’s sons Will and Luke (of The Mallett Brothers Band) when he made the decision to turn his musical hobby into a career.

“I’ve always played music but had never recorded before,” said Thetford. “The Mallett Brothers were key to my decision to get serious about my music career.”

With Will Mallett in the producer’s chair and the entire Mallett Brothers Band backing him, Thetford recorded the aptly-titled “Here I Go” in 2015.

There’s depth in Thetford’s songs. His lyrics are observational, personal, literal and metaphorical – sometimes all in the same song.

He sings of taking chances, repairing romances and memories of the Texas he left behind.

“Dance Again” – the opening track on “The Outer Bank” - sounds like a lost Don Williams classic. Chiming guitars and sweet pedal steel surround Thetford’s rich baritone and harmonica on this dreamily-produced song.

Thetford recorded “The Outer Bank” with backing from Matt Robbins (formerly of Portland rockabilly band King Memphis) on lead guitar, Ian Riley on bass, Dan Capaldi on drums, The Martelle Sisters on mandolin and fiddle, Ben Cosgrove on keyboards and McCabe Belk playing pedal steel.

The swaying “Don’t Get Too Close” is cut from a similar cloth as that woven into some of Neil Young’s Nashville forays heard on “Harvest” and “Comes a Time.”

The meditative title song becomes a barn-burner thanks to a searing guitar solo from Matt Robbins.

Thetford’s solo acoustic guitar opens “Another Fall” – a powerful ballad that is kicked up several notches when the band joins in at the halfway mark.

The rocking “The One He Left Behind” closes the EP with a Texas two-step backing, belying the darkness of the lyrics.

“The Outer Banks” is a significant statement from an artist who took his midlife crisis and turned it inside out.

Bucking convention by leaving his old life behind for an uncertain future might not be the advice your mom would recommend, but it worked for the aforementioned artists who continue to influence Thetford. Isbell, Adams, Ross and the Malletts all followed their hearts and took the big leap.

Thetford is scheduled to jump back into the studio in October for what he says will be “a band album” due next spring. With songs contributed by guitarists Matt Robbins and Nate Soul and bassist Ian Riley, Thetford says he is looking forward to the team effort.

“The next one is going to be different. There will be a couple of my own songs and they’ve all written songs too. The folks in my band are some of the best songwriters around.” 

Joel Thetford’s music is available on iTunes, Amazon, and locally at Bull Moose stores.

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