Album Review — Texas Exit’s ‘Black Water’

So there are several methods I deploy to discover new music. One of my more odd methods is I sometimes just go through upcoming releases by genre on iTunes and listen to previews of albums based on if I find the cover art to be interesting. It’s weird I know and 9 times out of 10 the album ends up being something where I listen to a few songs, discard it and never mention it on this blog. But then every once in a while I find something worth posting about and this is how I found Texas Exit and their debut album Black Water.

There isn’t a lot about this band mentioned outside of their Facebook page. From what I can find, Texas Exit is a trio based out of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada made up of Ryan Irving (lead guitar, vocals), William McLeod (bass) and Jon Pord (drums). They’re self-described as a country/rock powerhouse band with influences rooted in 90s country and 80s rock, citing Van Halen, Brooks & Dunn and Pantera as influences. After listening to Black Water, this couldn’t be a more accurate description and I’m so glad they live up to this billing because I’m a sucker for both of these styles of music (especially fused together).

Right away you get blasted with some crunchy, ZZ Top-like guitars with “My Own Bartender.” It’s a rollicking, in your face drinking song that you want to play to kick off a wild Friday night. “Hurricane” is about finding love against all odds. It’s a simple love song with a relatable story and reminiscent of Creedence Clearwater Revival with it’s easy going melody. “When She Drinks” is straight 80s with it’s questionable opening line, but then it takes a funny left turn to describe a straight-laced working woman who enjoys staying in most nights and reading books. But when she does party and drink, she out drinks everybody. It’s not that original of a theme and the hair metal-like approach will rub a lot the wrong way, but I can also see the anthemic appeal of it too.

“Roll in the Sand” is what it sounds like: it’s about a drunken one-night stand. While it may be a bit more detailed for some listeners than they would like, the framing of the song from the point of wistful nostalgia and fondness I feel casts it in a better light than the majority of songs like this. Not to mention both sides know what they were in for and nobody appears to be used. It’s a just a story about a memory on a fun summer night. This is the type of simple storytelling that a lot of classic rock songs really excelled at (think songs like “Summer of ’69”).

Nostalgia is the center of “Home Again” too. This time it’s about revisiting home recalling the days of youth, specifically through the lens of the 90s. The guitar riff on this are so damn catchy and the singalong nature is just so much fun. And yeah as someone who grew up in the 90s, the lyrics are relatable (also this makes me feel old). Texas Exit doesn’t just excel at fun, guitar music though as they prove on “Empty Room.” It’s a dark, haunting and somber song about a father who lives in guilt over his missing daughter and is forced to live in heartbreak as he continues to search for her every day. The lingering steel guitar really adds to the sad nature of the song and gives it real levity behind some pretty dark lyrics.

Texas Exit stays in a dark place on the album’s title track, as it’s about an old dirt road that people go down to have fun and usually never return alive (but I thought it was all good times on a dirt road according to bro country). The thumping guitar is an instant toe tapper and head banger, matching the gritty lyrics well. Irving’s passionate delivery is great too. “My Something” is about a man who wants a woman, but she rejects him. Later she changes her mind and wants him back, only for him to turn the tables on her and reject her. It’s a great revenge song that conveys a well-deserved dishing of what goes around comes around while also avoiding being vindictive and petty like these types of songs often devolve into.

The reflective “Docks of P.E.I.” recalls a teenage romance that lingers in the mind of the man to this day, as he looks back with fondness upon the woman and the memories they made together. While the band goes to the nostalgia well a bit too much on this album, this song is arguably their best take on it, as the lyrics are well thought-out, heartfelt and the energetic piano play is really captivating. The band then goes out with a real bang on “Turns to Love.” Another song with fun guitar licks, but yet another song with great lyricism too. It’s about wanting to find love, even a bit desperate to find it and stuck in a bit of loneliness, yet in the end it focuses on the determination of the goal and finding someone who appreciates you for you. Yes, it’s a bit cheesy. But that’s 80s rock and part of what makes it so enjoyable.

Texas Exit delivers an absolute blast of a debut album in Black Water. While they definitely let their cited influences above shine through, personally the two bands I thought of when listening to this album are Molly Hatchet and Blackfoot, as the sound feels like it fits right in with those bands. While it’s understandable how a band wearing it’s influences on it’s sleeves can be a bit annoying, I find that Texas Exit does this in a way that feels like a good combination of homage and putting their own flair on it. While it’s easy to get lost in the fun guitar play, it’s the lyrics of this album that are it’s secret weapon and what makes this band stand out amongst other groups who attempt these popular sounds.

Grade: 8/10

The Brilliance of the Hot Country Knights & Why Fun Music is Important Too

Starting in 2014, Dierks Bentley and his band started a side project dubbed the Hot Country Knights. It was a clear tongue in cheek, winking the whole way, gag of his band putting on purposely tacky 90s country gear and acting like the biggest deal of that decade. So basically, Wheeler Walker Jr. without becoming too self-aware of the joke and ruining it. The side gag then eventually morphed into an opening act for Dierks himself on his tours. Now in 2020 this band is officially dropping music. The music leans hard on all the 90s country elements, has over-the-top lyrics and doesn’t take itself that seriously.

And I absolutely love it. In fact, I would go as far to say it’s brilliant and I’ll tell you why: country music has forgotten how to have fun and this band can help bring it back. This has been a quiet fear of mine ever since the rise and fall of bro country. But you can go back even further than this to see where country lost its way in being fun.

A lot of proponents of 90s country like to say this era of music was a great because of all the pedal steel guitar, fiddles and the general presence of more traditional country elements. And I would agree that it’s a big part of what made that era of country music so enjoyable. But also Garth Brooks and Shania Twain were the biggest artists of this decade. I don’t see anyone flying the traditional country flag for them, but their music was still great and beloved by many. What these two did have in common with the traditional artists of this era though is the fun factor. Pretty much all the popular country music of this decade was fun.

Then we get to the 2000s and the party stopped. 9/11 happened and gave rise to patriotic country, which took on a more serious tone (and also started the slide into more politics in the genre). The Dixie Chicks were ran off and grocery store country made its presence known once patriotic country was beaten like a dead horse. Then the transitional period of checklist country gave rise to the biggest boom the genre had seen since the 90s: bro country. The fun element this genre had missed for so long had returned (the surge in popularity of country in this time is undeniable), but the baggage of creepy lyrics and the stripping of country elements came with it.

Critics like myself rightly ripped the shit out of this, but in the process this led to the overcorrection that we’re still in the midst of now. The rightful, yet intense criticism of this sub-genre compounded with the industry overplaying it’s hand (and throw in the rise of Stapleton), it scared artists of mainstream country into the soupy, soulless, vanilla “boyfriend country” that has slowly permeated over the last couple of years into the current “it” trend of the genre.

See now what I meant about the quiet fear I’ve had since the fall of bro country? While the unsavory elements of bro country were rightfully knocked down, it also led to the fun element being brushed aside too and it explains why enthusiasm for the genre has waned so much over the last couple years. Who wants to go to a party where everyone is being so straight-laced and serious? It’s important of course to have serious songs that speak to the heart and soul of the human condition, conveying important life lessons and stories that help you grow. But this is a drum that critics always have and always will beat.

We need to have balance. We need to have fun, not-so-serious music too. Because as much I love Willie Nelson’s Spirit, it’s not the album I want to listen to after working a 40-hour week. I want something more along the lines of the Hot Country Knights. I want something that’s fun to sing along with and it’s catchy. I want some drive in my country. Country music has given the world of music so many meaningful and heartfelt songs and I hope that these types of songs will continue to be delivered. But country music has demonstrated it knows how to throw a damn good party too. It’s time the genre rediscovers this side of itself. And don’t forget to bring the fiddle.

Album Review — Michaela Anne’s ‘Desert Dove’

Michaela Anne is an artist I’ve always seen a lot of promise in, but she had to yet fully show it for an entire album. Well that changes on her newest album Desert Dove, as she’s seemed to find the sound that suits her best. Opening track “By Our Design” features some gorgeous and sweeping strings that gives the song a relaxing, yet cinematic feel. It sets the tone for the album, as the sound on this album wavers between cinematic and 90s country, back when the genre never forgot to include a good melody. This album has good melody in spades, a credit to the great work of producers Sam Outlaw and Kelly Winrich. Most importantly it fits Anne’s voice and style to a T.

“One Heart” is about falling too fast and too hard for someone. But yet the one falling so hard doesn’t care as the one being fallen for says they’re moving too fast. I particularly enjoy how the song starts out slow and soft, but then picks up in intensity as the two protagonists of the song question the other’s passion in the relationship. The lyrics and melody match each other and each help tell the story equally. “I’m Not the Fire” feels like it was plucked right from the impressive catalog of breezy 90s country love songs that you heard on the radio. The lyrics are clever with it’s flame metaphors and they’re easy to pick up too. It’s such a playful and fun love song, there’s no good reason why this shouldn’t be a hit. But the radio has given up on quality music.

“Child of the Wind” sees Anne recalling her childhood of having to move from town to town, never settling long enough to never be more than a temporary friend. But rather than look at this negatively, Anne embraces this lifestyle that goes and comes with the wind. Again the lyrics and sound make you feel what the song is about. This song makes you feel like you’re in the backseat of that car with Anne traveling on the highway looking up at the sky. That’s when you know you’re listening to a damn good song. “Tattered, Torn and Blue (And Crazy)” is a southwestern flavored song about always ending up alone with a broken heart, never feeling like you can love and trust someone. It’s an achingly great heartbreak song.

The album’s title track is about examining the relationship of a “lady of the night” and the cowboy she’s with, wondering how they truly feel about each other. The song attempts to view the complexity of each other’s emotions towards each other in this relationship, wondering how lonely each feel. I feel Anne does a pretty good job looking beyond the obvious in the situation and exploring the nuance of what each person truly wants in the situation.

“Run Away with Me” feels like a long lost Shania Twain or LeAnn Rimes song. Again it’s the soft breeziness and accessibility of the lyrics that make this song so easy to fall in love with like many others on this album. Perhaps it’s this song’s West Coast feel (and really the album as a whole) that lends to what makes it so infectious, as West Coast country feels like it gets drowned out by Nashville and Texas. “Two Fools” is that classic country love ballad about two people falling in love who don’t want to admit it. Anne really hits the high notes in this well, showcasing the wanting and resisting emotions of the two lovers in the song. I hate making yet another 90s country comparison, but Anne really sounds like Alison Krauss on this song and that’s a great thing of course.

“If I Wanted Your Opinion” is about a woman standing up for herself against a man who doesn’t want to see her for her, but rather a “porcelain doll.” I really enjoy the message and the way Anne delivers it, but it doesn’t feel like it fits the rest of the album’s theme. It feels like it was forced into the album and it would have been better off as a standalone single.

“Somebody New” is about a woman feeling guilty for falling in love with someone else and breaking her current-now-former man’s heart. Now this song I have to applaud for all of the little details Anne writes, like how the song opens with “I’m drinking day old coffee and watching the clouds roll in.” That’s an excellent detail and perfectly puts you in the mindset of a guilty and sad person. This song is also appealingly smooth, making it another song I would call yacht country.

“Be Easy” closes out the album and is a stripped-down song about trying to quiet your mind and find peace. It was a great call by Anne to make this track acoustic and let the raw emotion of the lyrics do the heavy lifting. This is a song for those who beat themselves up too much and it’s also an appropriate closer to an album that compares various characters and ends up back at Anne looking into herself.

Michaela Anne delivers an amazing album in Desert Dove. It’s full of smooth and breezy songs that only take a couple of listens to truly enjoy. This feels like Anne’s breakout moment, as she finds the sound and themes she needed to truly show her full potential and prove herself as an artist that should be on your radar if you love country music.

Grade: 9/10

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eEAJPIrxhCI

Album Review – Mark Chesnutt’s ‘Tradition Lives’

Mark Chesnutt Tradition Lives

When it comes to music I’ve realized there are two groups of artists: those who make the music they want to and those who make what everyone else wants. In other words, who does and doesn’t compromise their artistic integrity. If you turn on country radio today, you’ll hear a lot of compromising. So obviously you won’t be hearing the music of Mark Chesnutt. Throughout the 90s you would hear Chenutt all the time until he was faced with the same dreaded compromise forced by a major label. This came in the form of his cover of Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing,” which he just revealed recently that he didn’t feel comfortable doing (his mentor and friend George Jones was angry about the cover too):

“As luck would have it, it ended up going to No. 1 hit for four damn weeks!” he says, bursting out laughing. But he maintains, “It didn’t sell anything. So I asked to leave the label, ’cause when it was time to go back in the studio, there was another pop hit they wanted me to cover. I said no, absolutely not. That made everyone at the label mad at me, and I got the reputation in town of being hard to work with. And once you get that label, then you’re pretty much done.”

Ever since then Chesnutt has been out on his own making music with smaller labels and playing lots of shows every year. Of course after an artist leaves a major label, it leaves the impression on casual fans that the artist has retired and faded into the sunset. That’s far from the case for Chesnutt as he returns with his first new album in eight years, Tradition Lives. It’s the culmination of years of writing and work that Chesnutt is quite proud of releasing to the public. And I have to say he should be beaming with pride, as this album is a true example of why artists should stick to their guns and make the music they want to make.

Chesnutt takes us back to early 90s country radio from the get go with “I’ve Got a Quarter In My Pocket.” It’s one of many heartbreak songs on the album, as Chesnutt schools us on the lost of art of country heartbreak tunes. The lamenting “Is It Still Cheating” tackles the complications of cheating partners. Written by Jamey Johnson, Randy Houser and Jerrod Niemann, the song begins with a husband listening to his wife leave yet another message on the answering machine saying she’ll be home late. He knows of course that she’s out cheating, but this is fine to him because he’s at home cheating on her. Both sides are lying and cheating, but the husband ponders if it’s really cheating. It’s a complex conundrum that leaves it up to the listener to decide. Either way I find it to be an intriguingly great song and one of the best on Tradition Lives.

The upbeat “Lonely Ain’t the Only Game In Town” puts me in mind of the dance halls down in Texas. The steel guitar and fiddle driven tune is about a woman feeling lonely, so she heads to where the neon shines bright and goes for a night on the town. In a perfect world, this song would be playing on country radio because I think it could have been a hit in the 90s (although there are several songs I could say that about on this album). “Oughta Miss Me by Now” sees a man wishing and hoping for his ex to realize she made a mistake ending their relationship. Keep in mind this isn’t from a vindictive point of view like many mainstream country artists would frame this type of song, but rather from a person who is heartbroken and having trouble moving on. It’s desperate hoping that he probably knows deep down isn’t going to happen. Chesnutt comes from the point of view of experience in relationships on “Neither Did I.” It sees an older gentleman bestowing advice to younger men on what happens in relationships and what to expect when it can hit the rocks. It’s not a bad song, but one of the more forgettable tracks on the album. I will say though I enjoy the instrumentation, as there’s plenty of fiddle and steel guitar throughout the song.

There are a lot of great songs on this album, but the best to my ears is “So You Can’t Hurt Me Anymore.” An always-present steel guitar throughout gives the song a reflective feel, as a man realizes he needs to break up with his woman so she can’t hurt him anymore. It’s not an easy decision after all they’ve been through, but he realizes he has to move on for his own sake. I should point out that the writers of this song are producer Jimmy Ritchey, Roger Springer and William Michael Morgan. It’s cool to see the latter’s name associated with this song, proving once again Morgan wants to carry on what artists like Chesnutt did before him. This is also the type of song that shows why Mark Chesnutt is far from being done in his career.

“You Moved up in Your World” is about a man reuniting with a woman who had left his hometown and made a life outside while he’s been living there the whole time. To the rest of the world she’s kind of a celebrity, while he still sees her as the woman he grew up and fell in love with. It’s a very bittersweet song, as you can tell the man never really expressed how he felt to her. Contrasting lives are put on display on “Look at Me Now.” A man sits in a hotel room in the dark and flipping through channels on TV while he listens to a new couple making love next door. He realizes what a mess he has become and is haunted by his past decisions that led to this situation. It’s a solid tune, where once again the traditional instrumentation really shines and hooks the listener in.

Another standout on Tradition Lives is “Losing You All Over Again.” Chesnutt once again delivers a classically great heartbreak song, with plenty of steel guitar. After listening to this album multiple times, it still doesn’t sink in how great Chesnutt is when it comes to these types of songs. It’s like secondhand nature to him and makes it look so easy. Today’s country artists would be wise to take note. Chesnutt lets his thoughts on the country music industry be known on “Never Been to Texas.” It’s not necessarily a protest song, but he pointedly calls out Music Row for saying people aren’t interested in drinking and cheating songs anymore. He refutes their claims by pointing to Texas as an example of real country songs being made. He also sings about how the steel guitar won’t ever die in country songs despite Music Row’s attempts to minimize it. It’s a fun song, both lyrically and instrumentation-wise. It also avoids the pitfalls of how cliché protest songs have become.

“What I Heard” welcomes the listeners with a warm melody that harkens back to better days in country music. The song is about a woman telling goodbye to her man with tears rolling from her eyes. To the man, what he heard was more than just goodbye. Rather he thinks that this is just temporary and that she’ll come back someday. He’s clearly in denial over the breakup. It’s refreshing to hear this type of song because so many male artists today come off as trying to look cool coming off a breakup (in other words trying to win it), whereas Chesnutt shows the more true feelings someone goes through (denial and false hope). The laid back “Hot” is one of the less serious songs on the album. Chesnutt sings about how hot it is outside, which at this time of the year in the United States is quite accurate (especially for folks down in the southern portion of the country). Just like “Neither Did I,” this song isn’t bad, but there’s not much to it. Tradition Lives closes with the subdued “There Won’t Be Another Now.” Chesnutt superbly covers the 1985 Merle Haggard song, as there’s a lot of heart behind his vocals. Chesnutt did it to honor not only the late legend Haggard, but also the writer of the song Red Lane who passed away. It’s another example of the deep respect he has for all the artists that paved the way for him. I would suggest listening to both Haggard and Chesnutt’s versions. It’s a fantastic and classy way to conclude the album.

Mark Chesnutt really impresses me with Tradition Lives and reminded me of why I was such a fan of his music growing up as a kid. I have to admit I was unsure of how good this album would be, as I’ve been disappointed by some recent releases by veteran artists. But Chesnutt clearly still has his “fastball” and sounds just as great as he did when radio played him. For some fans, this will be their favorite album of the year and I don’t blame them. This album is full of wonderful heartbreak songs, as well as some fun tunes too. If you loved 90s country or are just someone who appreciates traditional country, you need to check this out. Tradition Lives without a doubt lives up to its name, reminding us all that traditional country will never fade away.

Grade: 8/10

Album Review – Jon Pardi’s ‘California Sunrise’

Jon Pardi California Sunrise

When it comes to quality of music from major label country artists this year, it’s been disappointing to say the least. To be more blunt, it’s been pretty mediocre and surprisingly boring. That sums up about 90% of the album releases I’ve heard from major label country artists this year. I can tell many share this sentiment, so when fans saw Jon Pardi was releasing his sophomore album California Sunrise, it became one of the most anticipated albums this year. After all Pardi is one of the few major label artists willing to keep it country with music. His current single and the lead single of the album, “Head Over Boots” is one of the most traditional songs at radio right now. Outside of Chris Stapleton, Pardi perhaps best represents the hopes and aspirations of traditional country fans hoping radio goes back to the sound. So with the hype in mind, does California Sunrise live up to the expectations? Well it depends on what exactly you expected out of the album and you’ll know what I mean by this by the end of the review.

Pardi begins the album with “Out of Style.” From the title I was expecting a song about how traditional country is considered out of style, but instead it’s about Pardi trekking to Nashville and learning how to write songs. The song elaborates further about how singing about how cold beers and complaining about the nine to five Monday through Friday lifestyle will never go out of style. It’s a longer song than what you’re accustomed to hearing from mainstream artists, as it allows Pardi and the band to show off their instrumentation. It’s a solid song, despite being a tad cliché. This is followed by the more traditionally arranged “Cowboy Hat.” And when I say traditionally arranged, there’s pedal steel guitar and fiddles throughout. The song itself is a love song, as Pardi sings of the love he has for his woman and how he loves seeing her in nothing but his cowboy hat. The whole song reminds me of something you would hear on country radio in the 90s (good or bad depending on your outlook on that era). I find it to be one of the best on the album and I wouldn’t be surprised if this is a single for Pardi, as I think it could be a hit.

I could see it as the follow-up to “Head Over Boots” even, which follows on the album. I gave my thoughts on Pardi’s first career top ten hit last year and I still thoroughly enjoy the song. From my original review: It opens with the sounds of an acoustic guitar and steel guitar. These are the main instruments used throughout the song, with some fiddles sprinkled in too. It’s country through and through. The song itself is a love ballad, which is proving to be a strong suit for Pardi. In a way this song kind of reminds me of Brad Paisley’s “We Danced,” a solid love song that isn’t some all-time classic, but a feel good song that anyone can enjoy.

“Night Shift” sees Pardi singing of the working class man. The song is about a man who works several hours a week, but he looks forward to the “night shift” with his wife in bed. On the surface this seems like an overtly sexual jam that has plagued country radio recently. But really it comes off as sentimental and plays to the blue-collar sensibility of work hard, play harder. Not to mention there’s plenty of fiddle. This theme continues with “Can’t Turn You Down,” as we see the man in the song calling up his woman to meet up with her and later go back to his place for a romantic night. While the lyrics get a little stereotypical millennial-y with lines like “a phone call turns into a what’s up what’s up,” it’s a good song with a nice melody.

The album up to this point has been mostly good, but it starts to take a turn in the other direction with “Dirt on My Boots.” With one of the co-writers being Jesse Frasure (the other two writers being Rhett Akins and Ashley Gorley), I’m not surprised because he’s helped write his share of bad music. Right away there’s a noticeable drum loop that gives the song a dance club beat, clearly trying to create some adult contemporary appeal. Yet there’s a steady presence of a fiddle too. The song itself is about a farmer after a long day cleaning up to go to town with his girl for a night of dancing and fun. This song is one of three clear moments on this album of what I would call label meddling. Despite the pop leanings of this song, I don’t dislike it too much due to the fiddle play, Pardi’s charisma in his delivery and the hard to deny catchiness of the lyrics.

The best song hands down on California Sunrise is “She Ain’t In It.” Sounding like something straight off a classic Alan Jackson album, Pardi sings of his broken heart and how it’s prevented from going out and living his life. He’s now ready to do his normal things and go out into crowds, as long as his ex isn’t involved or mentioned. Otherwise the heartache will come rushing back. It’s not only the best song on this album, but one of the best I’ve heard this year. Two of the songs I thought of when listening to this song were Sammy Kershaw’s “Politics, Religion & Her,” as well as Garth Brooks’ “Learning To Live Again.” All three capture the feelings of getting over heartbreak perfectly. This could be a career song for Pardi and I truly hope him and his label release this as a single.

Unfortunately, the worst song follows the best song of the album. That would be “All Time High.” It’s a love song with a nauseating amount of clichés and comparisons of love to drugs and getting high that we’ve heard too much in recent years. One line that elicited a groan from me was Pardi singing about how he enjoys his girl turning “his knob” up to 11. I get where songwriters Pardi, Bart Butler and Brice Long are going for here, but the lyrics are just a clunky mess. At least there’s a lot of fiddle in the song I guess. The third and final song clearly involving label meddling is “Heartache on the Dance Floor.” Just like “Dirt on My Boots,” this song has a clear pop dance beat accompanied by fiddles. For a song with heartache in the title, I didn’t expect it to be so upbeat. Out of all the songs on the album, this one confuses me the most. You have this dance beat, but also fiddles and steel guitar. Why couldn’t we just have the latter? Well the obvious answer is the label wanting something pop-y and Pardi having to comply. For a “compromise song,” it’s not terrible.

“Paycheck” is about a man hoping his paycheck will help take his work blues away, as he spends it at the bar. The country rock production combined with the catchy lyrics makes it easy to sing along with. It’s your standard drinking, blue-collar song that is solid, yet unspectacular. “Lucky Tonight” has a more traditional arrangement that dominates the album for the most part. It’s about a man whose woman left him weeks ago and now is trying to rebound in the bar scene and move past her. While the lyrics are a little simplistic and a tad too mainstream, the song is pretty solid to my ears. Not every heartbreak song has to be a complex ballad. The album’s title track brings it to a close, another highlight of this album, only trailing quality-wise to “She Ain’t In It.” The song is about Pardi singing of the love he has for his woman and comparing it the California sunrise he sees back home. It’s nice to see Pardi honor where he’s from, comparing someone he cares for so much to his home that he cares for so much too. Regional pride is something country artists need to embrace more. Despite some rocky songs in the middle, Pardi ends the album on a strong note.

Based on my expectations heading into this album, Jon Pardi delivers a solid album with California Sunrise. I knew going into this album that it wouldn’t be at a level of Chris Stapleton’s Traveller nor would it be stone cold country all the way through because this is an album from a major label and Jon Pardi is still early in his career. I expected some label meddling and there was actually less of it on here than I thought there would be. What did surprise is how almost every song on this album has a combination of fiddle and steel guitar. Instead of focusing on what this album did wrong, I’d rather focus on this because this caught my eye more than the mistakes on it. Pardi clearly wants to make that traditional, early 90s country music and for the most part these songs accomplish this. He also does a good job balancing between serious songs and fun songs. Despite this album’s faults at times, I find California Sunrise to be a very enjoyable, fun album and will go down as one of the best from a major label country artist this year.

Grade: 8/10