In 1994, singer-guitarist Casey James Prestwood was poised to embrace the country music traditionalism that looked to be his birthright. Growing up all over the South, Prestwood absorbed the sounds of classic country via various ways and means — most especially through his maternal grandparents, a country-loving couple whose own first date had been at a Hank Williams Senior show. Waylaid by teenage forays into indie rock, he’d finally booked studio time for a solo project, even entering said Alabama studio armed with his grandmother’s own lap steel guitar.
Then Andy Jackson, leader of ‘bama-based emo outfit Hot Rod Circuit, got wind of Prestwood’s considerable talents, and locked him down as lead guitarist, putting a long hold on Prestwood’s solo dream. “Andy was such a strong frontman, that band didn’t need another singer,” he says. “So I was a sideman for the next 13 years.”
Better late to the party than never show up at all. Some years later, during down time from HRC, Prestwood took up playing sideman for Colorado-based country-rock outfit Drag the River. During encores, the band sometimes let Prestwood take the mic for a Buck Owens song or two.
It was more than enough to rekindle a country music flame in Prestwood’s honky tonk heart. Not long after, Hot Rod Circuit broke up, and Prestwood recorded his long-delayed debut “The Hurtin’ Kind,” an alternately sweet, sad and shit-kicking trad-country album, full of tears, beers and years of pent-up songwriting energy.
Besides affording Prestwood an opportunity to exercise his country-style guitar chops — he tells that he was given lap steel lessons, via grandma, by an Ernest Tubbs sideman when he was a kid — the record finally showcased his voice, a nubile tenor that was seemingly sound-engineered for the sonic requirements white-trash music — country yodeling, mountain music high ‘n’ lonsesome, honky tonk twang.
“It really took me being away from country music for a while for me to realize how much I loved it, and how much a part of my life it is,” he says of the years leading up to his debut.
“The Hurtin’ Kind” was released in 2007, and since then, Prestwood has issued a string of strong albums, most of them with his backing band the Burning Angels. His most recent platter is the spring 2017 release “Born Too Late,” which he enthusiastically calls “the most cohesive record I’ve ever made.”
“A lot of guys my age, they put out a country music record, then they put out a sequel where they seem to shy away from the purity of it,” he says. “With me, I feel like it’s the opposite. I have focused on refining more of a honky tonk kind of sound, rather than getting experimental, or going the singer-songwriter route.
“If anything, it’s like I’m regressing, back to this simpler, purer kind of thing. Sometimes I feel sorry for my wife. She married this T-Rex-type guitar player guy, then one day she wakes up next to a country bumpkin.”
Casey James Prestwood and the Burning Angels will play Preservation Pub Monday, Jan. 8 at 10 p.m.