Midland delivered a great debut album with On The Rocks and for their sophomore release Let It Roll, they improve in almost all aspects. Yet somehow, it’s a slight step down in album quality, which I attribute to the great strength of their debut album and putting just a few too many tracks on Let It Roll. Case in point is the opening song and title track, which is just a bad choice to open the album. It’s decidedly one of the weakest tracks on the album, lacking in both the vibrancy and lyrical catchiness in comparison to most of the other songs on the album. I usually skip this track when listening to the album and jump right into “Fourteen Gears,” which is a great track. It’s the ideal driving song, with both it’s lyrical theme of driving a long way to see your baby and it’s bouncy, 80s flavored melody.
The album’s lead single “Mr. Lonely” would have also been my choice for the leading track of this album. It’s just a flat out fun and catchy song about the lonely fool at the bar always there to be the rebound guy for lonely women. I love the music video with Dennis Quaid too. “Cheatin’ Songs” immediately hooks me with its smooth melody and has that same easiness about it in its lyrical approach like previous Midland singles “Burn Out” and “Drinkin’ Problem.” The same can be said about “Put the Hurt on Me.” Its your classic heartbreak country ballad that country fans can take to like a duck takes to water. I really enjoy the intertwining of the pedal steel guitar and Telecaster on “I Love You, Goodbye.” It’s what country rock is supposed to sound like.
“Every Song’s a Drinkin’ Song” is a fun singalong, but it can get a bit old after extended listens due to it’s predictable approach and a couple of forced wordplays. “21st Century Honky Tonk American Band” is a mouthful of a song title, but it showcases what this band is best at and that’s taking simple themes and making them feel fresh to the listener. The sights and sounds of a band always on the road is a common theme, but the lyrics and melody of this song make it engaging and interesting by not dwelling on a moment too long and keeping the energy moving. I also enjoy the switch in melody at the end, as it’s a different wrinkle within the album.
“Fast Hearts and Slow Towns” feels like something the Eagles would have cut and this is a great thing because that’s Midland’s lane. It’s a simple, reflective song on a lost small town love and once again this is such a common theme in country music, but I’m not screaming cliché because of Midland’s approach and the wise choices by producers Shane McAnally, Dann Huff and Josh Osborne. The trio clearly know how to position this band to sound their best. “Cheatin’ by the Rules” is fine, as it does nothing especially right nor wrong. So, it would have been fine being left on the cutting room floor too.
Midland’s tendency to inject catchy wordplay can do them in at times, but when they get it right, they can hit grand slams and “Playboys” is a perfect example. It’s all centered around the chorus and the words play and boys, which on paper sounds like a mess. Yet you listen to it and it just works. The best I can explain of why I like this song is that’s it’s playful, fun and doesn’t take itself too seriously, which is the appeal of Midland in a nutshell. “Lost in the Night” sounds like it’s straight out of early 80s country with it’s sultry, R&B influenced sound. The cherry on top is the smooth sounds of saxophones that play the song out. You’ll either love or hate this track. Put me firmly on the love side, as this is a side of country music that needs to be shown more.
“Gettin’ the Feel” is another solid heartbreak song from the group, but it feels out of place on the track list. To me it just feels like it’s in weird spot on the album, especially since the album closes as weakly as it started with “Roll Away.” I understand how the band wanted to open and close with tracks with roll in the title. But it fails to have an impact when both songs are head and shoulders the weakest on the album, as both suffer from the same issues of just not measuring up in terms of lyrical and melody quality with the rest of the songs. You can’t put such weak tracks next to strong tracks because they stick out like sore thumbs. “Lost in the Night” would have been the perfect closer.
Despite my criticisms, Let It Roll shows this is a band that can pull off various sounds quite well and are far from the one-trick pony session players that some tried to paint them as when they arrived on the scene (they even contribute to all the writing on the album). Midland avoids the sophomore slump and delivers one of the better country albums you’ll hear this year.