Album Review — Ward Davis’ ‘Black Cats and Crows’

I’ve enjoyed a lot of Ward Davis’ songwriting the last few years, from his songs for Willie Nelson to Cody Jinks. But admittedly his debut album 15 Years in a 10 Year Town bored me. The straight-ahead traditional country sound paired with his voice just didn’t work for me, as it sounded like your run-of-the-mill “outlaw” country album. But on his new album Black Cats and Crows he thankfully ditches this and embraces a southern rock sound, which fits him like a glove. Bringing on Jim “Moose” Brown, a member of Bob Seger’s Silver Bullet Band, as the producer was a wise choice, as he brings the sound Davis needed to make his voice standout.

This album mainly centers around heartbreak, dealing with demons and drinking to cope with it all. It’s pretty dark and heavy in a lot of parts, as Davis intimately details the path of sorrow and regret that’s paved throughout the album. Right away I will say this album suffers from bloat, as it doesn’t need to be 50 minutes long to drive the theme of it across. It would have greatly benefited from trimming about 10 minutes, as the themes explored in this album get to be tiresome after a certain runtime for me. But for the most part this album offers a lot of good.

“Ain’t Gonna be Today” is a great opener, as it’s a nice thesis of the album: heartbreak is in the air and it isn’t going anywhere today or for the foreseeable future. Davis laments it will pass one day, but he knows he’s still got some healing to do before it happens. I appreciate that there’s just enough hope of light shown and it’s done in a way that doesn’t feel bullshitted. It feels realistic and acknowledges that your stuck down deep in sadness. The title track continues on this theme and shows just how far Davis feels gone in the light of losing the love of his life, as he feels like darkness lurks around every corner.

“Threads” begins an excellent four-track run. What I love about this song is how it slowly builds up through the song to reveal what’s ultimately got the narrator down to threads, which is an empty spot next to him in the bed. The piano-driven sound suits Davis perfectly and compliments his rough, baritone voice well. The piano gives that bit of softness needed to give gravitas to Davis’ weary voice and lyrics. The same can be said for piano love ballads “Heaven Had a Hand” and “Lady Down on Love.” While these two songs could come off as schmaltzy to some listeners, I think it shows a refreshing vulnerability to Davis and a balance to this rowdier side in other songs. I would like to see Davis lean more into this on his next album.

I love a well-written murder ballad and “Sounds of Chains” checks off everything I want in this type of song: a sense of drama, mystery, an intimate detailing of what happened and the running emotions of the murderer. Even better you get a compelling psyche of the murderer: someone who thinks he was justified in killing his wife and the man she was cheating with and thinks finding God in his jail cell would save him. But the song ends with him waking up burning in hell after being sentenced to death and seeing both of them staring back at him. The visuals created by the songwriting here are excellent and the music video David could create for this could be amazing.

Unfortunately Davis’ other murder ballad “Papa and Mama” is exactly the kind of murder ballads I don’t enjoy. This one doesn’t work because it’s so predictable and you know what’s going to happen from the very beginning. The theme of the abusive father being killed by their child has been done so many times and this offers no compelling alternate take. Not to mention the straight-ahead bluesy country sound is not interesting either, so the production is also boring. I would have left this one on the cutting room floor. I can say the same of “Where I Learned to Live” and “Good to Say Goodbye,” as these songs are telegraphed from a mile away of where they’re going and you know what the lyrics are going to be about before you even hear them.

“Get to Work Whiskey” is a song upon glance at the title makes one think it’s another generic drinking song. And it is a drinking song, but it’s actually quite compelling because Davis takes the different approach of treating the whiskey like someone he just hired for a job. It’s an amusing premise and the lyrics are enjoyably catchy. Davis’ take on “Colorado” is dare I say better than Cody Jinks’ version. It’s not that I don’t like Jinks’ version, as I very much enjoyed it too. But I what I like about this version better is it’s more stripped down sound and Davis’ voice having more of an aching loneliness behind it.

Davis’ attention to detail works really well again in “Book of Matches,” as he’s now left to deal with the remains of a relationship gone. His coping mechanisms of a book of matches and a bottle of wine help paint a nice picture of a heartbroken man trying to find some way to get over it all. This same amount of detail would have been nice to have in “Nobody.” While the glimpse into the mind of a man who sees himself as a nobody is an interesting part of the album, I would have liked to hear this song go somewhere with the theme. It feels a bit listless and the hook feels a little repetitive by the time you reach the end of the song.

“Good and Drunk” is an appropriate closer on the album, as a man somberly reflects on signing his divorce papers and finding hope in numbing himself with the bottle. The latter is an understandable paradox to the former, yet is also a continuation of what likely made the former happen. It’s a seemingly endless cycle that he continues to live, which sums up the whole album: trying to fix a situation with something that likely was also what caused him to be in the situation of a sad, broken man with little hope beyond what lies at the bottom of a bottle.

The ability to demonstrate the complex layers of emotion behind a man hopelessly clinging to a bottle and tormented by heartbreak is what makes this album shine and shows the strength of Ward Davis’ songwriting. Like I said his songwriting has always been good, but on Black Cats and Crows he most importantly touches on the type of storytelling needed to deliver a really good album. And of course the southern rock sound that he dives into provides the sonic palette he needed to elevate his lyrics too. Overall this is a great step in the right direction for Ward Davis, as he delivers a dark southern rock album brimming with great storytelling.

Stream It

The Endless Music Odyssey, Vol. 8 — Cody Jinks, Brent Faiyaz, Miley Cyrus & more!

Welcome to the first edition of The Endless Music Odyssey of 2021 and the eight volume overall! In this volume I take a look at several albums (plus a single) that were released in late 2020 as I continue to knock out the backlog of releases from 2020 I didn’t cover yet. So if you don’t see something covered here, it’s likely in the next volume or it’s going to be a separate review. Let’s dive in…

Buy It

Cody Jinks — Red Rocks Live

Basically if you’ve ever wanted a Cody Jinks greatest hits album, here you go. A live album is always hard to review, as they’re mostly songs that have been heard and reviewed before. So you have to judge it just like you’re at a show. And if this was a show, I would give it an easy two thumbs up. As someone who greatly misses live music, this makes you feel like you’re back in person. The only complaint I have with this album is I would have liked to have heard more crowd noise incorporated, as at times it feels like they go missing. You gotta remember to keep the live element to distinctly differentiate it from the studio recordings, otherwise it sounds sterile and uninteresting (Midland’s live album is unfortunately an example of this). If you want a great example of a modern band who does this well on their live records, see all of Blackberry Smoke’s live albums.

Other than that this is a fun album front to back that covers all of the great Jinks songs from his first handful of albums. The sped up live version of “David” and the encore, extended performance of “Loud and Heavy” are the immediate standouts. And of course I really enjoy Jinks’ cover of Alan Jackson’s “Chasin’ that Neon Rainbow,” as it’s one of my favorites from Jackson and the song fits Jinks like a glove. I’ve never seen Cody Jinks live before, but this album reminded me I need to change that once concerts return one day. This is a great live album and well worth your time and money if you’re a fan of Jinks.

Stream It

Brent Faiyaz — F**k the World

This was an album that slipped through the cracks for me last year and when I discovered this at year’s end I immediately rectified this. I wish I had heard and reviewed this sooner because it would have without question gotten attention on at least one year-end list. Brent Faiyaz is an artist I’ve been following with interest, as his independent approach has been written about countless times and he’s an example of an artist who’s figured out how to thrive outside of the traditional music system.

His debut album didn’t do a lot for me, but it showed enough potential that I hoped I would like the next one. Well I definitely enjoy F**k the World. It’s a fantastic fusion of R&B, pop, soul and hip-hop that see Faiyaz explore relationships, wealth, indulging in pleasures and consciousness of one’s own self. The song that best exemplifies this is “Clouded,” a song that clocks in just under two minutes. Despite it’s short length, this song pulls no punches and showcases everything great about this album: the catchy lyrics, Faiyaz’s confident and cool delivery, the musing lyrics and the drowning, atmospheric production that engulfs the listener.

“Been Away” is a really nice take on 90s R&B and I enjoy the wandering anxiety of doubt and trust that’s explored in a relationship. The album’s title track shows off Faiyaz’s crude humor, as best shown by the line “Fuck the world I’m a walking erection.” That’s the funny thing about this album: how Faiyaz is able to pull off this weird juxtaposition between thoughtful reflection and outward bravado. They’re polar opposite reactions, but I feel like that’s the point Faiyaz is making with this album. It shows how complicated people can be and how the inside and the outside don’t always match up. “Bluffin” only reinforces this idea. And oh yeah Faiyaz really makes some fun songs that quickly grab your attention.

As funny as this is to say out loud, a great R&B album should have a sexy, classy tone. And F**k the World quickly establishes this mood and keeps it from front to back. Also I must say this album impresses me with how long it feels in terms of runtime while listening to it despite it coming in under 30 minutes. It speaks to how great this record is and I can’t wait to hear more from Brent Faiyaz.

 

Kishi Bashi — “Never Ending Dream”

I usually stick to albums for The Endless Music Odyssey, but I had to make an exception here. Kishi Bashi continues to be one of the most underrated artists in indie music and his pop sensibilities are incredible. His new song “Never Ending Dream” only drives this point harder. Made as the theme song for Apple TV+ kids show Stillwater, this song is so damn bright and colorful, as it bursts with the kind of happiness you expect from a song for a kid’s show. Yet it’s not cartoony or corny and works equally great as a regular song. The soaring, whimsical melody and the catchy lyrics can’t help but make me grin as I listen. Can more people finally start paying attention to Bashi on his next project, please?

Worth a Listen

Miley Cyrus — Plastic Hearts

I really wanted to like this album more than I ultimately did. It’s the type of album I’ve been hoping to hear from Miley Cyrus: an 80s pop rock album with a modern touch. This style of music is right in my wheelhouse. It starts out promising, as the first three songs are pretty good and feature strong hooks. Then you get to “Prisoner” and I’m expecting something great with Dua Lipa being featured. After all Lipa released one of the best pop albums of 2020 and she did an excellent job of utilizing retro sounds. But this song is so underwhelming. Lipa’s vocals sound incredibly weak and I can’t believe there’s no harmonies on the song, as it strongly calls for it.

The rest of the album follows suit for the most part with songs that have potential, but fall short. I will say an exception is “Night Crawling,” as Billy Idol’s feature is good and the over-the-top, synth driven sound has a real infectious appeal. Some songs the hooks are weak (“Midnight Sky”, “Hate Me”), others the production is half-baked (“High,” “Golden G String”) and lacks any sort of melody or groove. I’m shocked by the lack of guitars featured on this album, as you would think this style of music would feature plenty of guitars. But they’re largely absent until “Edge of Midnight,” which is a clear highlight of the album (even this song could use more guitars). Stevie Nicks sounds great on the feature and there’s harmonies that give the song real power (see why this was needed for “Prisoner”).

While Miley Cyrus clearly appreciates 80s pop rock, her execution of it on Plastic Hearts is unfortunately lacking overall. If you enjoy this style of music, it’s definitely worth one listen and who knows you might find more to like than I did. But as someone who’s listened to a lot of this type of music, there’s certain elements that just aren’t strong enough for this album to rival any of it’s inspiration.

Izaak Opetz — Hot & Heavy-Handed

While the chill and lo-fi approach Izaak Opetz takes to this is intriguing and drew me in, the only song I found myself wanting to re-listen to was “Drunk on a Plane.” And I feel like that was only because of my familiarity with it and the jarring contrast to the original. This is a fun novelty album that I’m glad I gave a chance, but not something I see myself returning to in the future. The aesthetic and presentation of this album is make or break for you.

Ariana Grande — Positions 

Ariana Grande has a fantastic voice, probably one of the best in pop music today. But her music has always proved to be elusively appealing to me because it feels like her songs just lack the type of melody that get me interested in a pop song. Her songs also have a more modern sleekness, which I personally don’t enjoy as much as pop music that reutilizes retro sounds and combines with modern stylings. There’s a few songs I enjoy on this and while I respect Grande’s work, it’s just not something that appeals to me.

Goodie Mob — Survival Kit

Man, the production on this is fantastic! It’s rich, varied and immediately commands your attention. There’s a melting pot of influences from hip hop to soul to gospel. Andre 3000 and Big Boi deliver great features as you expect from Outkast. And CeeLo Green is singing his ass off throughout it. But the songwriting is just flat-out weak and fails to hold my attention in any way. The hooks are somehow even weaker and are instantly forgettable. It’s worth a listen just for the production, but if the songwriting was just a little better this album might have bumped up a category. Damn shame.

Jim Clack — Submariner 

For a debut album, this is a decent effort from Jim Clack and shows enough potential that I would check out his next project. But this one just doesn’t quite have enough to go from decent to good. The songwriting is not bad and explores interesting themes, but it falls just short of being interesting enough to merit revisiting. The touches of harmonica throughout give the songs a nice bluesy feel. Clack has passionate vocals, but at times stretches himself a bit too thin like on “Long Lost Innocence.” He feels much more comfortable vocally on the rowdy and catchy “Sick” and the reflective “Someday I’ll Go into Space.” It’s a short project, so if you enjoy country music with a bluesier, rougher edge I think you’ll find things to enjoy.

Avoid It

38 Spesh — Interstate 38

The production on this is intriguing at first and keeps you listening. It’s the clear strong point. But the hooks on this are weak, the lyrics are not memorable and it feels like 38 Spesh’s flow never changes throughout the album. Even Benny the Butcher’s feature is kind of unremarkable. This album feels like the perfect example of an unfortunate side-effect in music, but especially in hip-hop: artists are churning out music so quickly that it pressures those around them to keep pace and not being forgotten by listeners. Not to mention it also pressures a lot of artists to stay close to the sound “that works.” The result is album’s like this that feel like your standard hip hop album in today’s music world; there’s nothing that really stands out or is remarkable.

Country Perspective’s Top 10 Albums of 2019

Back in the day, Country Perspective would spend around a month doing end of the year posts, recognizing the best and worst across several categories. While it was fun in a way, it was also quite tiring. And I imagine it had to be quite tiring for the reader too. After all I imagine you read several other music blogs and year-end posts. Speaking also as a reader of many blogs, it gets old after reading so many of these posts when really these things have two major points: 1) Giving proper recognition to the absolute best in music and 2) Giving you the listener a potential new album/artist to listen to. Plus, it’s fun to compare lists.

So with my lack of interest in doing so many year end posts and this blog having it’s major focus on albums, this is going to be the only best of 2019 post, the best albums of the year. It was a pretty good year for albums, as there were so many good ones across multiple genres. While there were some disappointments that stood out for me, pleasant new surprises more than made up for them (you’ll see some of them made the top 10 even). While it certainly didn’t touch the best years of this decade (hello 2014), 2019 is one of the better years of music in the 2010s (I’ll be doing my best of the decade posts in 2020).

But before I get to my top ten albums of 2019, I want to list some honorable mentions that weren’t quite good enough for the top ten, but still good albums that I recommend you check out…

Honorable Mentions

Country Perspective’s Top 10 Albums of 2019

10. Benny The Butcher – The Plugs I Met

Dirty, grimy and nasty is how I would describe the sounds and lyrics of this album. And I love it! The entire Griselda hip-hop collective is fantastic and rightly getting their due now that they’re signed to Eminem’s Shady Records (check out the album they dropped in November). But the star is undoubtedly Benny The Butcher and this album is the proof. All of his work is great, but this is an excellent entry point. When the king of coke rap in Pusha T endorses your coke rap (dropping a great feature on this album too), well you know you’re doing something right.

9. Cody Jinks – The Wanting

While I wouldn’t put the The Wanting as Cody Jinks’ best work, it’s certainly close and features maybe the most badass album cover of 2019. This album offers deep introspection on life, passion and love. The instrumentation is varied, going from slow ballads to rockers. And he did this all while dropping another album the week before that just missed this list. Jinks is undoubtedly one of the hardest working artists in music today and I was impressed by what he accomplished in dropping two great albums within a week of each other. If you’re someone looking to get into country music, Jinks is one of the first you should check out.

8. Dee White – Southern Gentleman

This album was released all the way back in January, but you should not forget about it. Dee White proves himself to be one of the most promising new country artists to watch with his debut album Southern Gentleman. White’s voice evokes memories of Roy Orbison and George Jones and he’s only 19-years-old. And while he feels like a classic artist in every sense, his lyrics are still modern. There are several great storytelling moments on this album and White even holds his own with fantastic vocalists like Ashley McBryde and Alison Krauss. I can’t wait to hear more from Dee White.

7. Tyler Childers – Country Squire

Country Squire is an incredible album and with its perfectly short run time, you’ll find yourself replaying it again and again. While some were disappointed by this follow-up to Purgatory, I was instantly impressed with this album. What’s great is these are old songs that have been played by Childers live for years and with live music being what pays the bills for artists, it only makes sense to record these songs. While we’re still due for Tyler Childers’ absolute best work, this is a pretty damn good album to play while we wait for it.

6. Michaela Anne – Desert Dove

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. Like my good friend and fellow music writer Zackary Kephart says, this album is quite similar to Kacey Musgraves’ Golden Hour and that was my top album of 2018. So if you enjoyed that album, this is a must-listen. This also 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 or just great music in general.

5. Kishi Bash – Omoiyari

Omoiyari is a wonderful album full of beautiful lyrics and sounds that cover an important topic in American history that more people show know about. Why Kishi Bashi is not more covered by music journalists I’ll never know, but this music reviewer is telling you that you need to check him out. He’s a multi-instrumentalist who writes his own lyrics and can cover a wide variety of sounds so damn well. On this album he masters the chamber pop/orchestral pop sound while giving you an informative history lesson too. As a music nerd and history nerd, it’s a double win!

4. Mike and The Moonpies – Cheap Silver and Solid Country Gold

So I would be remiss if I didn’t point that my top four is clearly ahead of the rest, being that they all received 10/10 ratings, with each at one point or another getting consideration for Country Perspective’s 2019 Album of the Year. And out of all them, this was my biggest surprise of 2019. Mike and the Moonpies deliver something special with Cheap Silver and Solid Country Gold. It’s fantastic in both sound and songwriting. The group clearly left their comfort zone. It honors the tried and true, while delivering something that feels new too. This is a band for me that went from releasing two albums I couldn’t get into at all to releasing an album that I can’t find a single fault in.

3. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Bandana 

I found hip-hop in 2019 to be pretty disappointing. But I never find the work of Freddie Gibbs and producer Madlib to be disappointing, as this duo once again delivers big with Bandana. After delivering a classic in Piñata, they manage to nearly match it, which absolutely blows my mind. Gibbs raps his ass off on this album, delivering some of his best bars ever, while finding a great balance of bangers and humor while also offering introspection on more serious topics like when he was falsely accused of rape and systematic racism. Madlib brings some of the best beats in the game, picking some excellent samples as he always does. If there’s one hip-hop album you listen to this year, it’s this one.

2. Sturgill Simpson – SOUND & FURY

SOUND & FURY from start to finish feels like one long song, as it’s both cohesive in sound and lyrics, telling several stories that tie into overarching theme of Simpson being angry at a lot of things in the world, but when it comes down to it he’s most angry at himself and what he let himself become. Each track explores the flawed thoughts and actions of a flawed man. This album sounds like early to mid 70s music and sounds like the eccentric, frenetic sounds of Jeff Lyne and Electric Light Orchestra meets the in-your-face, sneering lyrics of Creedence Clearwater Revival. The amount of care and detail given to every aspect makes this one of the best albums you’ll hear in 2019 and yet another excellent album from Sturgill Simpson.

Country Perspective’s 2019 Album of the Year…

1. Carly Rae Jepsen – Dedicated

If you still think of Carly Rae Jepsen as just the “Call Me Maybe” girl, well you’re just plain wrong. Because when she released Emotion and Emotion Side B, she showed me that there’s not a better pop artist making music today. Jepsen further proves with Dedicated that she just gets pop music: the over-the-top production, the overwhelming emotions, the catchy hooks, exciting themes and everything in-between. It’s appropriate she has an album named Dedicated considering she writes hundreds of songs for each album and spends months culling down to the final track list. This true dedication to her music shines through on every lyric and sound on this album. It’s a complete album from front to back, touching on the several emotions of love through the many trials and tribulations of a relationship. And it wouldn’t surprise me a bit that the “B cuts” for this album are equally as great in quality. Not only is this the best album of 2019 in my mind, but one of the best of the 2010s.


Thanks for reading! Be sure to weigh in with your thoughts on Country Perspective’s Top 10 Albums of 2019 below and feel free to offer your own list. Also feel free to ask me about any music releases/news from 2019 too (think of it as a 2019 music AMA), as my late start didn’t allow me to discuss everything I would have liked to discuss.

Album Review — Cody Jinks’ ‘The Wanting’

When Cody Jinks made the surprising announcement he’s releasing not just one new album, but two instead I was a bit concerned. Usually when an artist releases a double album or albums close to each other, it’s likely that the same amount of high quality isn’t maintained throughout. In other words, the artist stretches themselves too thin. But after listening to both albums, I can say that isn’t the case for Jinks. The Wanting is just as good as After The Fire.

The album’s title track essentially picks up right where After The Fire leaves off, as Jinks sings of his wanting to be with his family more and wishing that this wanting was enough. But it never is. What I love about the placement of this track as the opener is not only does it continue on from the last album, but it also perfectly leads into the major theme of this album, which is about the various internalized emotions experienced by Jinks when around family, friends, fans and on the stage. Tennessee Jet is a nice addition on backing vocals too.

“Same Kind of Crazy as Me” has quickly become one of the best songs I think Jinks has delivered so far in his career. Much like fan favorite “Hippies and Cowboys,” it’s a motto song from Jinks: it’s about who he is and what he stands for, while striving for a better world. I particularly enjoy this verse: “There’s more colors than red and blue, To paint the elephant in the room/We piss and moan about that and this, There’s always another ass to kiss.” It’s clever and catchy wordplay, along with delivering a message. I also enjoy the instrumentation on this song, with it’s thumping drums and twangy, melodic guitar play. In a fairer music world, this song would be a hit.

“Never Alone Always Lonely” looks inside the anxious minds of introverts like Jinks. This song shows just how much Jinks continues to grow as a songwriter, as he keenly shows a knack for breaking down his inner psyche and presenting it in a way that’s relatable and understanding. It’s an easier said than done skill that many artists wish they possessed. “Never alone always lonely/easy to find seldom seen” is a brilliant hook too, a credit to Jinks’ wife Rebecca for coming up with the second part of the line.

Jinks mentioned in his press release that The Wanting has moments and influences from rock and roll and “Whiskey” is one of those moments. And it’s great! The faded, echoing electric guitar is groovy and sticks with you, complimented well with some eerie steel guitar. This song makes me want a full-blown southern rock album from Jinks because he could release a great one if he’s inclined to do so. “Where Even Angels Fear to Fly” sees Jinks looking back on who he was and the hell he’s been through to get to where he’s at now. But it was these mistakes and experiences that helped get him to the better place he is now. It’s your classic reformed sinner wisdom song. It’s a solid track.

“Which One I Feed” refers to the two-headed wolf on the cover of the album: the sinister, black wolf side and the peaceful, white wolf side. Both live within him and dictate who he is, showing the duality that really lives within us all. I love the album art and this song just enhances it. The song would feel appropriate in an action thriller, as it has a larger than life, cinematic feel with it’s ominous backing chorus and the distant feeling of Jinks’ vocals. “A Bite of Something Sweet” is about striving for the lighter, happy side of life and getting away from the cloud. The heavy pedal steel guitar in this sounds great and fits the lyrics well.

“The Plea” is the one song between Jinks’ two new albums that doesn’t really do much for me and that’s because it’s a theme that’s already been covered so much between both albums and I’m really growing tired of it by the time I reach this song. This should have been left on the cutting room floor. “It Don’t Rain in California” is a solid, albeit unspectacular song. I feel like I’ve heard so many songs utilize California in songs about relationships and the sunny/rainy dichotomy. It’s still an enjoyable song and I do like how Jinks plays with reverb in various moments in it, as it’s a bit of a different side from him.

“Wounded Mind” is another cinematic feeling song, with its heavy emphasis on the steel guitar and pounding drums in the background. The song is about the brave face Jinks puts on when he goes on stage and is around fans, hiding the anxiety bubbling below the surface. It’s an understandable notion, although I have to say it feels like a bit of a humblebrag when he says he isn’t that special. Every artist, no matter how shy and introverted, has a bit of an ego that tells them otherwise. Other than this minor quibble, it’s a fascinating look into Jinks’ mind when he’s performing.

“Ramble” is a piano-driven ballad about keeping on keeping on. Once again, I like a new wrinkle from Jinks, this time a piano. Now he’s had songs with piano before, but not arranged so soft and slowly. It fits his voice well and I would like to hear more songs with this type of arrangement from him. “The Raven and The Dove” closes the album and it’s a great one. It’s another song that plays on the duality within us all, but what makes this song great is its singalong quality, toe-tapping melody, the scratchy guitar and the hints of western-flavored piano. It makes for quite the infectious track and ends the album on a real high note.

Cody Jinks delivers two high-quality albums within a week of each other, as The Wanting is an album full of deep introspection and some fun moments too. I would put it just ahead of After The Fire as the better of the dual releases. I applaud Jinks for (the most part) consistently keeping the same level of quality across both releases (along with not falling into the trap of a double album). It’s not easy and it shows why he’s considered by many to be amongst the best in country music today.

Grade: 8/10

Album Review — Cody Jinks’ ‘After The Fire’

Cody Jinks has quickly established himself as one of the most prominent and interesting country artists in the indie scene the last few years. His last album Lifers though was his first on a label and perhaps his last, as the marketing push for his surprise two album release has heavily pushed the fact that he’s independent again and in no need of a label’s help. It’s an important thing to remember with the two albums, as it seems to be the driving force and passion behind several songs. The first album After The Fire in particular seems to really be driven by this theme, one of two major points of inspiration behind this album. Quick note: I decided to cover each separately, as I feel they’re both distinct enough that they need to be covered separately.

The album’s title track states the above-mentioned theme right up front: Jinks is tired and seeking relief after what was apparently a harrowing experience with a label. He’s also angry about the situation, as the cover art on this album suggests with the particular gesture the burnt campfire suggests. Most importantly he’s embracing his wife Rebecca Jinks’ love and support, who is the other major inspiration behind several songs on After The Fire. She’s the cold drink of water for him in a fiery world, which is a great metaphor and visual. He’s telling you right up front what this album is about.

“Ain’t a Train” deals with the neuroticism of anxiety and worry, always wondering when the next shoe drops. But the song offers a hint of optimism too, wondering if the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t a train. Not only are the lyrics incredibly descriptive and show insight into this type of thinking, but the song itself is infectious and catchy, with the groovy drums and a tasty injection of fiddle in the bridge to give it that extra kick. “Yesterday Again” is about wanting to make up for lost time and Jinks wanting to make amends for not always being there for his wife. The lingering pedal steel guitar gives the song a perfect sense of wondering, dread and guilt Jinks feels towards his wife.

“Tell’em What It’s Like” sees Jinks pleading to his wife to tell everybody what it’s really like to live with him and the turmoil caused by him being on the road and the mental baggage he brings when he is home. It’s an incredibly real look into the lives of musicians and the pain they deal with, dismissing the glamorous life many fans envision. Jinks’ earnest honesty about his flaws on this song and the rest of this album really shines through and resonates with you as you listen. It’s both respectable and makes for great country music. “Think Like You Think” is about his wife questioning his reckless lifestyle and thinking. I think the previous song did a better job at covering this topic, but this song is still another solid look into the complicated relationship at times between Jinks and his wife. If there’s one criticism that stood out to me on this album, it’s that this topic can wear thin depending on your mood and number of listens.

“William and Wanda” is a fantastic song about Jinks’ grandpa reuniting with his grandma. It’s excellent storytelling with all the details and emotion needed to make this song light up in your head. But I must also point out that I had zero clue what this song was about until I looked it up because I was completely stumped. The lyrics are fantastic once you realize the context, but without the context I was completely lost and couldn’t figure out this was his grandparents, nor this conversation was taking place in heaven. It’s a minor gripe with an otherwise great song that I highly recommend you listen to if you haven’t done so.

“One Good Decision” is the most fun track on the album, a rowdy honky tonk jam about avoiding infidelity. The twangy telecaster is honey to the ears and makes the songs an instant toe-tapper. The drum play on this song is great too, reminding me a lot of the excellent drum play throughout Lifers. While many complain about the compression on this song, I think it sounds good and fits, giving it almost a live feel. This song also breaks up the seriousness throughout this album, while also still relevant to those songs too. “Dreamed with One” shows the softer side of Jinks, as it’s a sweet love ballad showing how deep his affection runs for this wife. It’s one of my favorites on this album because of the heartfelt, genuine nature of Jinks shining through his vocal performance.

“Someone to You” further enforces his love towards his wife, as Jinks avows he would rather be a somebody to her than a somebody to the rest of the world. In other words, their love is more important than any amount of fame and fortune. It’s a bit of a cliché, but with the context of the rest of the album, you know it’s not just words. And that is what separates artists from performers. “Tonedeaf Boogie” is a catchy, jazzy instrumental track to close the album. It’s a bold choice that I really like, as it was a common tactic used by many country artists back in the day that I wouldn’t mind being revived. It allows the band to stretch out and show off their skills, as they deserve a lot of credit for the quality on this album.

After The Fire is a great album about the trials and tribulations of life on the road and navigating the hurdles of marriage. Jinks takes a refreshingly truthful approach to topics that on most albums from country artists feel worn and lacking sincerity. The production compliments the lyrics quite well too. I think Cody Jinks and After The Fire prove his claim that no label is needed for him.

Grade: 8/10