Flatland Cavalry has grown popular enough that a casual fan of non-mainstream country music has probably come across their music a time or two.
There’s a chance they may have even heard of the new Texas supergroup The Panhandlers, or at least heard of members Josh Abbott or William Clark Green. Unfortunately, though, not enough of these fans are probably familiar with the name Cleto Cordero. The Flatland Cavalry frontman and Panhandlers member may very well be the best songwriter on the Texas/Red Dirt scene right now.
Cordero grew up in Midland, Texas with six other siblings, ultimately getting into music through his older brother and taking up an early fascination with lyrics. In eighth grade, he met Flatland Cavalry drummer Jason Albers, and got his first guitar around the same time, and they began playing music together. It wasn’t until a few years later, though, Cordero would give up sports in high school and really begin to focus on music.
With a wide range of influences, ranging from John Mayer to Creedence Clearwater Revival, to George Strait to the Turnpike Troubadours, he began writing his own song at 17 and hasn’t looked back. While attending community college in Midland, Cordero learned about Lubbock artists Wade Bown and Josh Abbott, and decided he’d finish school at Texas Tech where he could follow in their footsteps and play at the iconic Blue Light.
Cordero credits his time spent in Lubbock and at The Blue Light as where he really began to grow as an artist and started his career as a country musician. After two albums and EP with Flatland Cavalry, and The Panhandlers album this year, it’s safe to say Cordero’s career is headed in the right direction.
Despite all of the hardships 2020 has brought on, Cordero has had quite the year. The Panhandlers released their self-titled debut album back in March, and in October Cordero married fellow Texas musicians Kaitlin Butts, who is featured in Flatland’s song “A Life Where We Work Out.”
Before all hell broke loose in March, Cordero and Flatland Cavalry had been on tour with fellow Panhandler William Clark Green, playing shows all across the country and improving on their already incredible live performances. During quarantine, the couple have been a saving grace to many fans, with frequent livestreams on social media playing music, drinking tequila, or working in their garden.
Cordero’s understated, humble, and fun-loving personality have made him one of the most likeable guys in music, and it’s about time more people get to know who he is. While Cordero’s growing success can also be credited to his smooth vocals, or the talented musicians he’s surrounded himself with, his songwriting abilities are really what sets him apart.
Here are some of the best songs he has written and released over the last couple of years.
“Sober Heart of Mine” (2019) – Flatland Cavalry
Released as a single in 2019 and included on Bruce Robison’s Next Waltz Recording Company’s The Next Waltz – Vol. 2 the same year, “Sober Heart of Mine” showcases Cordero’s lyrical abilities and his knack for writing songs about the sad and heavy stuff. This one is a poetic examination of alcohol becoming a crutch.
“If drunken words were sober thoughts Well I’d tell you what’s on my mind Purge the pride and the pain That I drown in when I’m dry.”
“Otherside of Lonesome” – Homeland Insecurity (2019) – Flatland Cavalry
Released amidst a number of school shootings and other mass shootings, Flatland Cavalry released this song on their second album Homeland Insecurity. The song urges everyone that there is light at the end of the tunnel, and encourages anyone who is struggling to power through.
The music video is powerful as well.
“Even a lovely rainbow is with a streak of blue And a beat-up old guitar can still sing a happy song when it’s out of tune Across the valley of the shadows, over the mountain of the blues Just past that ocean full of noise There’s still a silent voice Calling out for you”
“Cactus Flower” – The Panhandlers (2020) – The Panhandlers
Another song from The Panhandlers, Cordero co-wrote this love song with Josh Abbott.
“Tell me how the likes of you could bloom in such a place? I’m in awe of your wonder, my living proof of grace You don’t demand half the care that all the others do Cactus flower, I never seen another thing like you.”
“War With My Mind” (2020) – Flatland Cavalry
An introspective song about personal troubles “War With My Mind” is another Flatland song that was produced by Bruce Robison with The Next Waltz. Released as a single, it is also included on The Next Waltz – Vol. 3. This one is another tune encouraging anyone in a tough place there will be an end to their struggle.
“I’m lost in a maze that ain’t got an exit Stuck in a phase of bad habits I can’t quit I’ve run out of faith and I can’t see the light Down in the trenches, at war with my mind.”
“Panhandle Slim” – The Panhandlers (2020) – The Panhandlers
Co-written with John Baumann, a fellow Panhandler and another grossly underappreciated songwriter. The two wrote this song shortly after the tragic death of Kylie Rae Harris, and dedicated the “sunflower at golden hour” line to her, as sunflowers were Harris’ favorite.
“Just like horses need water and cotton needs rain Cowboys need love or they’ll drive you insane It sure gets lonesome out here on the plains And it hurts to cry with dry eyes But if you ever see him, he’ll tell you that he’s doing fine.”