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At the midway point (as the van drives, not as the crow flies) between San Francisco and Chapel Hill, North Carolina — the longtime homes of songwriters Avi Vinocur and Patrick Dyer Wolf, respectively — sits an unincorporated town called Goodnight, Texas (population at last count: 28). That’s what the duo discovered when they went looking for the center of their long-distance collaboration, a musical project that sounds, appropriately enough, like a cross-country drive on Interstate 40: Expansive, full of possibility, American in every sense of the word — the perfect place for missing someone but regretting nothing, for losing yourself in the crackle of guitar through speakers and having a good long think.

After meeting in San Francisco in 2007, Vinocur and Wolf built a friendship based on trading words and tunes. “I had never been able to sing with anyone before Pat. I was terrible at it,” says Vinocur. “But I didn't even have to try to harmonize with him. I still sort of have a hard time believing how easy it still is.” When Wolf moved to North Carolina in 2009, the songwriters kept in touch, finding their stylistic midpoint amidst banjo, guitar and mandolin, a love of working-class anthems. Though the two singers have notably different styles — Wolf showcasing a lifelong love of acoustic folk; Vinocur clearly comes from the world of garage rock, and leans toward darker blues — the duo shared a mutual admiration and easy harmony, as well as a fascination with late 19th century small-town America: A vision of a grittier, simpler world, full of raw pain and mysterious beauty. In 2012, after picking up a rhythm section (Alex Nash and Scott G. Padden), Goodnight, Texas released their debut LP, A Long Life of Living, to much critical acclaim.

The band’s contagiously entertaining dynamic at live shows, as well as the album’s energy, soul and range — from red-blooded, foot-stomping rock ’n’ roll to wistful front porch ballads to haunting tales of doomed romance — has made devotees out of both music critics and a growing legion of fans spread out across the country. The band released their sophomore record, Uncle John Farquhar, in the summer of 2014, and has spent much of the past several years out on the road, supporting acts like Shakey Graves and Rusted Root, co-headlining with Whiskey Shivers and Bombadil, and playing two sold-out hometown shows at the Fillmore alongside Bombay Bicycle Club and Nicki Bluhm & the Gramblers.

Americana is arguably an overused term at the moment — but what sets Goodnight, Texas apart from the pack is its richly imagined, full-color stories. In the longstanding folk tradition of Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie and Johnny Cash, Goodnight, Texas sings songs that are each a world in and of themselves — transporting listeners from the battlefields of the Civil War to a saloon full of hard-drinking but good-natured regulars to the nervous feeling in the stomach of a poor boy about to ask for his girl’s hand in marriage.

The two songwriters’ styles play off each other to great effect, balancing a wry sense of humor with an obvious respect for the ghosts of this country’s past. Whether in Vinocur’s realm of epic sagas of loss and animated hit-the-road tunes or Wolf’s natural gift for deceptively sparse, emotion-driven songwriting, we can feel the sun-baked earth, taste the sweat of a day’s labor, hear the hound dog howling in the yard. Our protagonists are lonely travelers and scorned lovers and sympathetically conjured bank robbers, and for the duration of a song, we are rooting for them with all we’ve got.

-Emma Silvers

© 2017 Goodnight, Texas