New country band, A Thousand Horses, formed back in 2010 and actually had a debut album released with DGC/Intersope Records. After that, the band signed with Republic Nashville in 2014 after the label’s president, Jimmy Harnen, listened to the band. Signing with the a major label certainly helped the band as their debut single, “Smoke,” topped the Country Airplay chart this year. Lead man Michael Hobby, and his band of Bill Satcher, Zach Brown, and Graham Deloach don’t necessarily build on the country sounds of “Smoke,” but bring forth a light, fun-loving southern rock approach to their major label debut, Southernality.
Immediately from the opening guitar riff of “First Time” you can hear the southern rock influence. A few seconds later, when the whole band kicks in, you might confuse this with a Black Crowes song. The keyboard guitar melody coming awfully close to the Black Crowes hit, “Jealous Again.” Here, A Thousand Horses rock out and sing of the single, one-night stand life until there’s a woman who steals his heart. “Heaven is Close” shows a bit more depth in the writing. It’s a song about finding freedom in the open road with the one you love. A Thousand Horses find a bit more originality in their sound, too, with the production on this track. “Heaven is Close” builds nicely from an acoustic first verse all the way to a polished electric guitar solo and a gospel like choir backing up Hobby’s vocals.
As Josh wrote about in his review for the band’s lead single, “Smoke,” the song was extremely safe and radio friendly with no edge or risks taken. And with the song squeezed between two fast paced southern rockers on the album, it doesn’t help the case for “Smoke” to stand out. “Travelin’ Man” carries an interesting production. The verses are well paced with the guitars and inclusion of a harmonica creating a western cowboy feel, but that’s abandoned with the sped up, chaotic chorus of heavy guitars and drums. The “Travelin’ Man” Hobby sings about is himself, tearing from town to town and how it’s hard to love this kind of guy.
“Tennessee Whiskey” is a more country, heartbreak song. His woman left him in South Texas, and he pines for Tennessee whiskey to calm his broken heart help get her off his mind. The song somewhat chronicles a journey from El Paso to Tennessee while he sings to the whiskey. The combination of steel guitars and electric guitars works well to create nice production for this countrified power ballad. I mentioned earlier that the first song of album had some sonic similarities to the Black Crowes. Well, A Thousand Horses wrote “Sunday Morning” with Rich Robinson, guitarist from the Black Crowes. It’s no surprise that this song also carries similarities to that band. The gospel like combination of rock and country in the chorus is fitting with the context of a woman who struggles to find joy, even with a Bible right in front of her. It’s a passionate song, and one of the album’s top tracks.
The title track is a clichéd country rock song about being from the south. At the first line, I knew exactly what was in store for us with this song, and I was ready to just skip ahead: “Yes sir, yes ma’am, talk with a drawl.” It’s just another list of how southern people are. “We say what we mean, gonna carve it stone. Yeah, these roots run deep down this old dirt road.” For being the shortest track on Southernality, it sure seemed like the longest. “(This Ain’t No) Drunk Dial” is a rather safe pop country song. It’s a song about calling up an ex girlfriend and pining for one last chance to make things right between them. The production and melody sound familiar, very similar to “Smoke.” This song is also slated to be the band’s next radio single, with an official release at the end of the month. Even with all the southern rock available to choose from, it looks like A Thousand Horses will be sticking with safe pop country for the radio charts.
“Landslide” is a southern rock anthem about being your own man. The first verse includes a slight at controlling label executives who “couldn’t hum a tune if it hit him in the eye.” But it’s not so much of a protest song as it is a prideful anthem of being yourself in the face of others who want you to do things their way. However, ironically, it relies on clichéd country buzzwords like “southern soul” and “dirt roads” to describe where their identity and attitude comes from. “Back To Me” is a more acoustic ballad where Hobby sings of longing for his girl back. She’s run off to chase her dreams and he feels that he can set her heart free.
“Trailer Trashed” is about…you probably guessed it. It’s a prideful, rocking anthem about hillbillies partying. The song is shallow, and there’s not much more to say. It’s a song I wouldn’t be surprised to hear The Cadillac Three sing. “Hell On My Heart” is another power ballad where Hobby sings of the pain of loneliness and guilt. She left him without any answers, but it’s suggested that his reckless way of life that caused her to leave. He wants to try to change to get her back, because her leaving is hell on his heart. Southernality concludes with a pop country ode to a small town, hometown called “Where I’m Going.” It’s the place where everyone knows everyone, where there’s only one red light and one radio station. It’s a typical coming back home song and loving the simple things about it.
Just like their first major label single, A Thousand Horses’ major label debut album is rather middle of the road. It rises and falls from one track to the next. Southernality has moments where the band has some great, original material, and other times where they rely too much on cliché lyrics and stories. The production is slick, polished, and balances the rock and roll with country nicely. Michael Hobby’s vocals are a nice fit with the southern rocking melodies. Overall, Southernality just bounces too much between clichéd country rock and more original artistry. You usually get a little of everything in debut albums like this, in an attempt to see what fans gravitate towards. So we may have to wait for another album or EP before we can really see if A Thousand Horses is a great new addition to southern rock, or if they’re just a loud, noisey country rocking band spitting out clichés and fluff. It’s hard to tell from Southernality.