“We bill ourselves as a high-energy, top-40 country band,” said Mark Medalen of Olympia, one of the band’s two lead singer-songwriters. “The stuff we’re doing off the radio is recognizable stuff.
“When we pick cover songs, we ask ourselves: ‘Are you going to be able to dance to it? Are you going to enjoy it while you’re drinking beer in a casino?’”
And people do enjoy it: The band was voted in the top 10 out of nearly 300 bands in King 5 “Evening Magazine’s” 2008 Best of Western Washington contest. It was the only country band to make the top 10. One fan on the King 5 Web site wrote: “A little bit country, a little bit rock and roll – these guys do both very well.”
But wait a minute. What’s a cover band doing with songwriters?
Broken Trail isn’t just a cover band. The band is celebrating the release of its first CD, “What This Country Needs.”
What does this country need?
“Good question,” Medalen said.
The title is from a song on the album, written by Andy Vance of Spanaway, the band’s other songwriter. It refers to Vance’s yearning for the traditional country sounds of yesteryear, with fiddles and steel guitars. But the band liked the way the title evoked politics, even though the album isn’t political.
“It’s open to interpretation,” Medalen said, adding with a chuckle. “We thought maybe this is what country music needs: something from us.”
The album does include songs inspired by traditional country, but it also has plenty of the rocking country sound that Medalen favors.
“It’s a good mix of the old country, like the stuff from the ’60s and ’70s, and then it has a really modern, driving sound to it, too,” he said.
Although it took the band awhile to record its music, Broken Trail hasn’t been just lazing around. The band plays at bars, casinos, festivals (including Lakefair and the Puyallup Fair) and even rodeos.
“We’ve done some stuff east of the mountains, too,” Medalen said. “And with the CD, we’re starting to expand where we’re playing and how far we’re traveling.”
But Medalen, Vance, bassist Mike Anderson of Lakewood and drummer Barry Bernier of Napavine all have day jobs, too. Medalen works for the state Traffic Safety Commission.
He learned to love country music growing up – not in Nashville or Austin, but right in Lacey, where he was born and raised.
“My parents loved all kinds of music, but I grew up in a house full of country music,” he said. “The first stuff I really got into was Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard.
“As I got older, if I had to cite one major influence, it would be Dwight Yoakam.”
Echoes of all of them can be heard on “What This Country Needs,” Medalen said.
“Our musical influences definitely come out in our songwriting,” he said. “You can hear Waylon Jennings in our songs; you can hear Merle Haggard in some of the guitar licks; you can hear Dwight Yoakam in our harmonies. But we’re not copying anybody.
“No matter what we do, it’s going to sound like Broken Trail, and we’re proud of it.”
What: The Western Washington country band, which has one member from Olympia, is celebrating the release of its first album, “What This Country Needs.”
When: 8:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Where: Red Wind Casino, 12819 Yelm Highway, Olympia
Tickets: Free. The shows are open to ages 21 and older only.