Four years ago Old Dominion released their debut album and to say they didn’t make a good first impression on Country Perspective is an understatement. But still even in hindsight I can say they deserved every bit of criticism they got. They seemed to take notice of the criticisms they received from reviewers too because their sophomore album Happy Endings was a noticeable enough of a step up in quality that I’ve quietly been anticipating this band’s third album. I’ve been hoping that the great glimpses of potential they demonstrated on that album would lead to a good third album. So do they accomplish this with their new self-titled album?
The album’s lead song and single “Make It Sweet” lives up to it’s name: it’s a pretty sweet sounding love song that’s both catchy and heartfelt. It may be a bit saccharine to some listeners, but for me it’s just right and it’s breezy, simple feel makes it an instantly likable song. “Smooth Sailing” is about seeking the more peaceful side of life and remaining upbeat in the face of negativity. Again the simple, singalong nature makes for another solid song. It’s nothing spectacular, but it’s not a sentiment that needs overthinking.
“One Man Band” is a song about a lonely man seeking love. The lyrics are downtrodden, yet slightly hopeful and this feeling is conveyed perfectly in this song with the crisp and clean electric guitar lingering through the song and a surprisingly effective snap track that keeps the flow going. It’s one of the band’s best songs to date. Speaking of their best songs, you can add “Never Be Sorry” to that list too. This song instantly hooked me with it’s smooth and infectious sound (another one to add to the yacht country list). And it’s catchy due to it’s minimalist approach, showing you don’t need to go big to make a danceable song. Big props to producer Shane McAnally and the band for coming up with not just a great sounding song, but crafting lyrics that are just as hooky too.
The hot streak for this band continues with “My Heart is a Bar.” It’s another song with great lyrics, as it poignantly lays out the frustration and heartbreak of a man who’s always used as a rebound and the shoulder to cry on, but never the heart that is taken by someone else. What I love most about the lyrics are the way it balances the cynicism and sadness, which really allows anyone who has went through these emotions to be able to connect with it. Matthew Ramsey delivers a fantastic vocal performance here too, showing his growth as a frontman. Also the glimmery piano gives the song an appropriate “tear in my beer” feel.
“Midnight Mess Around” is a smooth and enjoyable sex jam that avoids the creepy pitfalls so many of these types of country songs fall into and has the right amount of playfulness and charisma to make it endearing to the listener. It’s even a bit soulful, which is something new from Old Dominion. “Do It With Me” is about a man pleading to a woman to love and be with him. So here’s a sentence I’ve never typed before: this song really utilizes it’s use of synths and a harp well. It’s weird, but it works! That’s the best way I could describe this track.
“Hear You Now” is your classic heartbreak regret song, where the man is eating crow for letting love slip through his hands. Once again the band displays quality songwriting chops with lyrics like “You used to wake me with a whisper but now the only voice is the pouring rain/And the echo of goodbye just rattles through my mind like a midnight train.” It’s understandable to debate the sound of this album being country at times, but you can’t dispute the country quality in lyrics like the ones above. “I’ll Roll” puts you in the mind of rolling down a desert road. At least the sound does, as it’s got that trippy desert feel thanks to a twangy telecaster. But I feel like the lyrics are lacking a bit and could do a better job of putting you in the mindset the song is going for, as they play it a bit safe.
“American Style” is easily the worst song on the album, with it’s cliché and lazy lyrics that are a dime-a-dozen in the pile of dime-a-dozen country songs about America and small towns. This is basically a smooth version of Kenny Chesney’s “American Kids.” It’s not egregiously bad, but these type of songs just bore me so quickly. “Paint the Grass Green” is about a man vowing to do whatever he has to do to keep the love strong in his relationship. On paper this song definitely seems too sweet and cliché, but then I listen and it surprisingly works. Just like “Make it Sweet,” this song has heart that shines through with it’s tone and presentation that wins you over.
The somber piano ballad “Some People Do” shows yet another side of Old Dominion to cap off the album, this time their most serious side. It’s about hoping and seeking forgiveness from someone you did wrong. Ramsey once again delivers a praise-worthy vocal performance, showing great vulnerability with his falsetto and conveying the appropriate amount of emotional depth needed to connect a serious piano ballad with the listener. If there’s one song I had to point to on this album to demonstrate how far this band has come, this would be the song.
With their self-titled album, Old Dominion officially sheds the bro country moniker that once plagued them. Old Dominion prove they now deserve to be taken seriously. This album shows incredible growth, depth and a nice balance of both serious and fun songs. The production is varied and shows this band is capable of delivering multiple styles. Most importantly this band has undeniably improved in all facets and dare I say positioning themselves as one of the best groups in mainstream country music. This album isn’t good, it’s great.