Album Review — The Wild Feathers’ ‘Greetings from the Neon Frontier’

[This post originally appeared on Fusion Country in July 2018. It’s being re-posted for reader visibility and appears as it was originally posted, with the only changes being for grammar/spelling.]

This sounds a lot like the Eagles. That’s what I imagine The Wild Feathers hear a lot when someone first comes upon their music. While this is a tiring and obvious observation, it’s hard not to compare this country rock band to bands like the Eagles, Poco, Gram Parsons and Pure Prairie League who rose to prominence during the early 1970s. But don’t get hung up on the past, as these guys bring a modern take to a classic sound. The Wild Feathers are Taylor Burns, Ricky Young, Joel King and Ben Dumas and together they make the kind of melodic, guitar-driven music that quite frankly is missing a lot in today’s music. On their new album Greetings from the Neon Frontier, they deliver a warm and breezy sound that takes you away and makes you wish would come back.

The album greets you with the anthemic “Quittin’ Time.” It’s a thumping and head-banging rocker that perfectly sets the tone for the album and has you singing along by the end of the first listen. “Wildfire” is a song that immediately stands out on the album. It’s an easy-going, mellow song that you want to play when driving down a seaside highway. Its carefree tone immediately endears you. The harmonies from The Wild Feathers are fantastically infectious and appropriately are the centerpiece of the song. “Stand By You” is a song about togetherness and standing alongside the one you love through thick and thin. It’s a simple love song that avoids the pitfalls of being too saccharine or paint-by-the-numbers, but at the same time it’s missing something to make it emotionally stand out better.

One of the clear strengths of The Wild Feathers is their sound, as they clearly know who they are and what their strength is as a band. I think “No Man’s Land” is a great demonstration of it. It’s about wanting to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and getting away to the peace and quiet of the countryside. Now this theme is nothing new, but it’s the instrumentation that gives this song a liveliness that sticks with you. Particularly the jam-y outro of the song with the extended guitar solos really gives it a punch. The fiddle-driven “Two Broken Hearts” is the quietest moment on the album. The song is about the heartbreak of a failed relationship and the regret of letting a special love slip, as the line “And I’ll always regret never buying you that ring” alludes. The production of this song does a great job conveying the heartache, as the slow and tender fiddles paints the picture of a man drinking in the dark over lost love. It’s a pretty good song, although sonically it doesn’t fit the rest of the album.

The B-side of this album might be one of the strongest I’ve heard all year. While this album is great throughout, it’s the second half of this album that really show The Wild Feathers at their best. Nostalgia and reflection are the topic of “Golden Days.” It’s about not truly enjoying and appreciating what you have in front of you until it’s gone. The song puts you in mind of the end of a long summer full of memories, but realizing you’ll never get them back. It’s a happy and sad feeling all at once.

“Big Sky” has the same quality of breeziness about it as “Wildfire.” It’s the perfect summer driving music with its hazy, atmospheric guitars playing throughout. “Wide open spaces/Cool mountain breezes/Reaching down to save my soul/Take these city blues away” really do take you away to that very scene in your mind. It’s really important on atmosphere-based songs (and albums) to establish that scene in the listener’s head; otherwise the words don’t connect with you. And as The Wild Feathers demonstrate throughout this album, they are quite good at this. The harmonies really shine again on “Hold Onto Love.” It’s about a long and loving relationship that has plenty of rocky moments, but it’s the resolve and strength of love that carries them through the hardships. Sometimes you’re just holding onto each other for dear life and it’s these moments where you realize how important it is to have each other. This is a song that relies on heart to reach you and I think everything in this song works together well to accomplish it.

“Every Morning I Quit Drinkin’” is about not being able to give up the sins of drinking and partying. While the party is fun at night, the regret in the morning is even worse (I imagine the hangover is too). It’s a broken solution to a never-ending heartache. The ominous outro of the song adds to the emotions of the song, with the hazy instrumentation putting you in mind of someone lying on the floor after a night of drinking. The album closes with the upbeat and fun “Daybreaker (Into The Great Unknown).” It’s a mantra to life on the road, living life to the fullest and always chasing your passion. The bouncing energy of this song makes it a great closer that not only ends the album with a bang, but also makes you want to revisit it all over again.

The Wild Feathers impress me with their brand of country rock on Greetings From The Neon Frontier. This band has a tight, cohesive sound that borrows from the late 70s era of country rock while also sounding fresh and modern-day. What this band absolutely excels at is their ability to paint a picture in your head with their music. Their lyrics are descriptive, engaging and cleverly composed, while the instrumentation compliments the words well and add to the scene of the song. Their others strength is their soaring harmonies, which they shouldn’t be afraid to let shine more. Greetings from the Neon Frontier is a memorably fun album of country-flavored rock and roll that can be enjoyed both quietly and at full volume.

Grade: 8/10

Album Review – Caleb Caudle’s ‘Carolina Ghost’

Caleb Caudle Carolina Ghost

Some of the best music you’ll hear sounds so easy. Yet the reality of great music is that it’s very difficult to make. Quality music takes time, sometimes years of hard work, sweat and determination. Making a great album is much more difficult than making a great song. But when you hear a great album, you’ll know it upon the first few songs. It has spark about it that captivates your mind and your heart. That’s what I felt when I heard Caleb Caudle’s brand new album Carolina Ghost. Hailing from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Caudle had released six albums before Carolina Ghost. But none of them captured people’s attentions. So Caudle got sober, put his head down and went to work. This all led to the making of Carolina Ghost, an album produced by Caudle and Jon Ashley. And I assure you after listening to this album multiple times that Caleb Caudle is a name people won’t forget.

You get a taste of Caudle’s smooth vocals on “Gotta Be.” The love song really shows off the ability of Caudle to draw you in and want to hear more. This is pretty fitting for the first song on the album. Not to mention the soft pedal steel guitar throughout will lure in any country fan. “Piedmont Sky” is another easy-going love ballad. It’s about a man waiting summer after summer for a girl to “call his number.” The piano and steel guitar driven tune is the kind of song you can put on and enjoy upon the first listen. The album’s title track puts me in mind of an Eagles song. This is a good thing by the way. The reason I say it puts me in the mind of an Eagles song is because it has a relaxed, almost flawless like vibe about it from the instrumentation to the writing. It has a dreamy feel about it, putting the listener at ease as they listen to it.

The twangy “White Doves Wing” is one of my favorite tracks on Carolina Ghost. The song is about a man looking back on his life and realizing he hasn’t made the best decisions and has went over the line a few too many times. There’s times when he doesn’t even want to be around himself. But he’s come to accept that’s just who he is and he has to live with it. It’s a really well written, introspective song. “Uphill Battle” is a soft love ballad about a man reassuring his woman he’ll always be there for her. Whether she’s scared or unsure, he’ll be there. While on the surface this can sound cheesy, it actually comes off quite mature. It’s the kind of slow song I can see being played in a Texas dance hall. Heavy steel guitars permeate throughout “Borrowed Smiles.” The song is about a guy who always feels like a ghost at the bar, yet he always leaves before the party ends. While the world around him is celebrating and having a good time, he’s trapped in his own mind. It really paints a vivid picture in the listeners’ heads.

Caudle tackles winter blues with “Broken Hallelujah.” While the winter weather and sky brings him down, the presence of his love perks him right up and brightens his day. Once again there’s lots of steel guitar. If you love a lot of steel guitar in your country music, you’re going to love this album. The acoustic driven “Tuscaloosa” tells the story of a heartbroken man looking not to fix himself, but rather learn how to deal with his woman being gone. Every night he opens the window to hear rain just because he knows she would want him to do it. She set out on open road and he’s stuck wondering what happened. Caudle really nails the classic country heartbreak song.

Another standout on Carolina Ghost is undoubtedly “Wasted Thursday.” This two-stepping song is about a man who leaves his woman for the open road, leaving both lonely. He knows that the day he left was just “one long kiss goodbye” and wonders if she still thinks of me after he left. It’s a story of a man struggling with his love of being a rambling man and his woman back home, both pulling him in each direction. But ultimately the road wins his heart over. You could view it as a love song, but I see it more as a beautiful tragedy that is never-ending. “Steel & Stone” features Caudle’s best vocal performance on the album. That’s not to say his vocal performances on other songs aren’t good. They are quite good throughout. But this song on particular Caudle really sells the emotion of this love song, which goes perfectly with the production of it.

Carolina Ghost wraps up with “The Reddest Rose,” where Caudle ponders love he lost and how he’s coping with feeling normal again in the aftermath. He can’t believe she’s gone, but realizes she’s now just a song and no longer in his life. One saying she used to say he holds onto though is “the reddest rose just comes and goes.” It’s not just a reflection on their relationship, but on his life. “The Reddest Rose” is a soul-searching song that showcases the absolute talent of Caleb Caudle.

There’s no beating around the bush with this album: Caleb Caudle’s Carolina Ghost is a fantastic. It’s full of quality songwriting and you couldn’t make it more country if you tried. Caudle’s style and approach to music is very unassuming and allows the music to really reach out and grab the listener. The songwriting is beautifully uncomplicated and the instrumentation elevates it in every way. I think Carolina Ghost is an album every country fan needs to hear and Caleb Caudle is a star in the making. This is no frills, straight-forward, pure country goodness. Carolina Ghost is the real deal.

Grade: 9/10

Album Review – Don Henley’s ‘Cass County’

Don Henley Cass County

Country music has seen a lot of outsiders come into gene and try their hand at making country music. The majority of course are doing it for a quick cash grab because their own careers are flailing and they see a financial opportunity with the current popularity of country music. In other words, no artistic thought is put into the music. But the big exception amongst these outsiders is Don Henley. The former frontman of the Eagles, who has had a successful solo career too, demonstrated up front that he was serious about his new album Cass County. He brought in top-notch country talent like Vince Gill, Jamey Johnson, Alison Krauss, Ashley Monroe, Lucinda Williams, Trisha Yearwood and a host of others. He also had this to say in an interview with Rolling Stone:

“I can truthfully say that I enjoyed making this record more than any record I’ve made in my career. And a lot of the reason is because of the people who participated. There’s some amazing musicians here and the best thing about it is, most of them are funny. So it was a real pleasure.”

These are encouraging words to hear about an album from any artist. So with this in mind I dug into Cass County expecting a good album. But it’s not a good album. It’s a fantastic album that surprised me with the amount of depth and artistry that is present throughout it.

Cass County opens up with “Bramble Rose,” where Miranda Lambert and Mick Jagger join Henley. It may sound like an odd trio on paper, but once you hear the song they work together quite well actually (Jagger sounds surprisingly great). The arrangement and instrumentation are spot on and really lets all of the artists shine. It should be also be mentioned this song was originally performed and written by alternative country artist Tift Merritt, so credit to Henley for picking this great song out to feature on his album. On “Cost of Living” Henley collaborates with the legendary Merle Haggard. The song is about how we all have to pay the cost of living eventually in life and dealing with getting older in age. It’s perfectly appropriate to have two old souls like Henley and Haggard perform this song, as these two know this lesson as good as anyone. (By the way notice how Henley teams up with Haggard and Jaggar to make great music, instead of just carelessly namedropping them)

“Take A Picture Of This” is about a couple reflecting back on the memories they’ve had together. But by the end of the song the man feels like he doesn’t know his wife anymore and decides to leave her, as he realizes he has been living in the past. It tells a good story and the swerve at the end of the song is a nice touch. The hook of the song is catchy and easy to remember too. Henley shows off his storytelling chops once more with “Waiting Tables.” The story of the song is about a young girl who grew up in a small town, got married to a “reckless fool” at too young of an age and ended up a single mother at 23 years old. Now she’s stuck waiting tables and biding her time, waiting to move on to bigger things. She thinks she might have found it when a “handsome man” comes along, but it just turns out to be a one-night stand and she’s left to waiting tables once more. The story told here is raw, real and brilliantly put together. More than anything the song is a lesson about how tough life is and having that everlasting hope that things will get better. This is undoubtedly a highlight of Cass County.

The rocking and catchy “No, Thank You” follows. It’s about not falling for the everyday bullshit thrown your way and how the world is constantly trying to get you to fall for the next big thing. As Henley succinctly puts at the beginning of the song, we have “space age machinery, stone age emotions.” It reminds me a lot of something Dwight Yoakam would cut on one of his albums. The pedal steel guitar heavy “Praying For Rain” is about farmers dealing with drought and hoping for rain soon. It’s a real throwback song in every way and Henley just hits it out of the park. The smooth, easy-going tone of the song combined with the simple storytelling of the lyrics makes for one great song.

“Words Can Break Your Heart” is one of the slower and more emotion songs of the album. It’s about how words can be so cutting and mean and can tear a person apart. Henley really captures how verbal abuse can hurt you and your relationship with someone. This is probably one of the less memorable songs on the album, but it’s still quite good. The lead single from Cass County, “That Old Flame,” is next. I reviewed this song when it first came out and my thoughts have remained largely unchanged, although I think I like it even more now. From my review:

The song is about a man who receives a message from an old friend who wanted to get back in touch. The man wonders what this woman wants after losing touch for so many years. He seems to think she wants to rekindle a lost flame, but he knows there is danger of getting burned in doing this. She knows this too and only wanted to reach out to let him know that she’s doing fine and to just reconnect with an old friend. Both wonder whether they miss each other or just their lost days of youth. It’s a well-written song that does a good job telling the story of long-lost friends and their days of romance long behind them. He’s joined on the song by Martina McBride, who always has and always will have a great voice. 

There are a lot of fantastic songs on this album, but none are greater than “When I Stop Dreaming.” Henley teams up with the iconic Dolly Parton to deliver an amazing song. Both bring out the absolute best in each other. Dolly’s vocals are goose-bump inducing and this isn’t hyperbole. This is one you just need to sit down and hear for yourself because I can’t do it justice. “A Younger Man” is about a young woman falling for an older man and believing she’s in love with him. But the older man assures her that he is not what she is looking for and that she’s looking for a younger man. The line that sums it up best is when Henley sings “You’re an angel from the future/I’m an old devil from the past.” This is just an example of the top-notch songwriting on this song and really the whole album.

One of the running themes of the album is looking back to the past and looking forward to the future, which is what “Train In The Distance” is all about. Henley reflects back on the simpler days of his childhood and now as an adult faces responsibilities, obligations and taking care of his family. But Henley reminds himself that there’s always that train coming in the distance. This is one of those songs makes you reflect on yourself and creates this mixture of nostalgia and hope. Cass County comes to a close with “Where I Am Now.” It’s definitely the most rock-influenced song of the album, but still maintains a country sound giving us a sort of Bakersfield vibe. The song itself is about Henley reflecting on his life and liking where he is in life right now compared to where he was. All of his experiences and places he has been have shaped him into the person he’s wanted to be. It’s a nice way to end the album.

Cass County excels in pretty much every area a country album needs to excel in. Henley’s voice is excellent, the songwriting is strong, the instrumentation even stronger and each of the guests on the album contribute something meaningful. It’s 2015 and Don Henley has delivered one of the best country albums of the year. Can you believe it? There have been a lot of pleasant surprises in country music in 2015, but this may be the biggest. Each time I listen to this album it gets better, which I think will allow this album to age well. It’s something you can play a couple of years from now and still sound just as good. This is undoubtedly an album of the year contender and a must-listen. If Henley wants to stick around and make another country album, that would be just great. I think country music suits Don Henley just fine.

Grade: 10/10

 

 

Review – Don Henley & Martina McBride Duet on “That Old Flame”

Don Henley
Photo Credit: donhenley.com

Throughout the history of American music, there are several big names and bands you can point to as the greatest influences on not just music from certain periods, but really all of music. One of the bands you can point to is the Eagles and its founding member Don Henley. They were one of the biggest bands in the world in the 1970s and one of the most recognizable rock acts ever. They’ve racked up numerous hits, awards, accolades and I’m pretty sure everyone who has ever listened to music has heard at least one Eagles’ song in their lifetime. Henley was a founding member as I said above and he not only attained great success with the Eagles, but with his own solo career. Some of his biggest hits were “The Boys of Summer” and “All She Wants To Do Is Dance.” To give you an idea of the success of Henley, back in 2012 he was the fourth wealthiest drummer in the world, only trailing Ringo Starr, Phil Collins and Dave Grohl. Quite a list, huh?

Now after years of making rock hits, Henley is trying his hand at country music. Of course one of the ongoing themes in country music in 2015 is rockers and pop artists trying their hand at the genre. Amongst them are Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler, Poison singer Bret Michaels and some old, washed up has-beens from 90s pop music that call themselves Uncle Ezra Ray. The big difference between Henley and these cast of characters is that I believe Henley can make great country music and truly has his heart in it. The other artists appear to be in it only for the money and their last chance of 15 minutes in the spotlight. Henley didn’t need to make a country album, as he has plenty of money and is still touring with the Eagles. He wanted to make a country album because he actually wants to do it. This is what he told Rolling Stone about his new album Cass County, set to come out this fall:

“I’m associated with California a lot because of that other band that I play in, but I really and truly was born and raised in Cass County, Texas. I’m a Southerner and a Texan. I have ancestors in Tennessee, Mississippi and Georgia. So this is a natural progression for me. It’s not me trying to do the ‘Don Henley country album.’ It’s who I am and where I come from.”

So essentially Henley feels like this is a natural progression in his career and not something outside of his comfort zone. It sounds like something he’s been thinking about doing for years. This is why I’m giving him a legitimate chance with his country music and not those other artists. His album is coming out on September 25 and features a big cast of notable names. So we have to wait a while for that, but luckily we get an early taste of it as Henley just released the first single from it, titled “That Old Flame.”

The song is about a man who receives a message from an old friend who wanted to get back in touch. The man wonders what this woman wants after losing touch for so many years. He seems to think she wants to rekindle a lost flame, but he knows there is danger of getting burned in doing this. She knows this too and only wanted to reach out to let him know that she’s doing fine and to just reconnect with an old friend. Both wonder whether they miss each other or just their lost days of youth. It’s a well-written song that does a good job telling the story of long-lost friends and their days of romance long behind them. Henley’s voice sounds fantastic, even in his older age and doesn’t sound worn down at all. He’s joined on the song by Martina McBride, who always has and always will have a great voice. McBride and Henley’s voices are cohesive and sound good together throughout the song.

The only quibbles I have with this song are some of the production and instrumentation choices. Towards the beginning of the song I would have had more acoustic guitar and no synth guitar. It also feels like the drums are dominating the sound too much. I just felt like this set the wrong tone upfront with a country song and felt more like an opener for a rock song. Luckily, the instrumentation gets better throughout the rest of the song. “That Old Flame” could have been a little better, but overall is a solid song. As I said both Henley and McBride both sound great and the lyrics are well-written. It’s a song worth checking out and makes me look forward to hearing more from Henley. If this is reflective of what Cass County has to offer, then we could be in for a very good album.

Grade: 8/10