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Music Review: Ryan Culwell captures an American moment's essence

This cover image released by Missing Piece Records shows "The Last American," by Ryan Culwell. (Missing Piece Records via AP)

(AP) -- Ryan Culwell, "The Last American" (Missing Piece Records)

The list of legendary musicians who migrated from Texas to Nashville to make it big is so long you'd think the journey was easy.

It is not.

Just ask Ryan Culwell, whose 2015 album, "Flatlands," was so good it seemed to rise with the heat right out of the Texas dust. But it might have had more glowing reviews than turns on the radio, this being the state of commercial country music these days.

But now, after supporting himself with a series of odd jobs, including a turn as a Nashville pedal-tavern driver, the Texas native is back with another fine record. His latest, "The Last American," may not be quite as Texan as "Flatlands," but it fits the present moment better.

Culwell ranges around on this one, maybe a little too much. As he migrates from the rocking "Can You Hear Me" to the angry "Dig a Hole" to the gentle lullaby of "Moon Hangs Down," it sometimes feels like he's trying on styles.

But Culwell's talent is obvious throughout, and the timing feels right for a canon of intelligent, rough-edged songs about the frustration, the yearning, the turmoil and the stress of living at this complicated moment in America -- armed only, as he sings in the title cut, with "my old man's heart and a broke-down Chevrolet."

With lyrics that good and a voice as honest as a Panhandle sunset, Ryan Culwell keeps making important music. If he stays the course, his work will find its way.

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