The fall schedule has seen a lot of country and Americana releases, some very much on the radar and some not so much. Erik Dylan’s new album Heart of a Flatland Boy tends to fall in the latter. He’s a fourth generator farmer from Kansas who packed up all of his stuff and headed to Nashville where he’s been spending his time writing hundreds of songs. Most prominently he’s written multiple songs for Kip Moore, who discovered him and helped him get his big break. In addition he also had a song cut on Justin Moore’s new album released in August. But now Dylan is getting his chance to release his own music under his own name and make a name as not just a songwriter, but artist too. After a promising lead single that brought him to my attention, I was eager to dig into his new album Heart of a Flatland Boy.
The album’s lead single “Pink Flamingos” still sounds as great as when I first heard it and reviewed it. It’s a rock-tinged country song about a woman named Becky dating a man who her neighbors recognize as trouble right away. Everyone else who lives in the trailer park except Becky has noticed the man has been checking out Becky’s daughter in her Sunday school dress, immediately establishing this guy as a major creep. One day when Becky is at work, the man does something to her daughter that’s over the line and I’m glad the song goes no further than this. So the neighbors take this matter into their own hands by shooting the pervert dead and burying him in the yard under the pink flamingos. As far anyone asks, the guy left town and they plead the fifth. So it’s a justified murder-revenge ballad with some dark humor in the hook, “pushing up pink flamingos.” It’s a really cleverly written song with a surprisingly detailed story. I also love the delivery of the line from him when he sings, “Nobody ever liked that son of a bitch.”
While it’s easy to crown “Pink Flamingos” the best song of the album, there’s another song that makes an argument for being better and that’s “Fishing Alone.” The song is about a man’s father passing away and realizing all of the times they never had together. He realizes how later in life he sort of drifted away and that he let a lot of time they could have had just slip away because life got in the way. Now he’s left feeling guilty and sad that he let things happen the way they did. It’s a sorrowful song that makes you want to reflect on your own relationships with family and really pulls at the heartstrings. Dylan reflects on love lost on “Girl That Got Away.” It’s a solid heartbreak song. The album’s final song “Map Dot Town” is another solid song I really enjoy. The song is about how people learn to accept their fate of living and dying in a map dot town, while also being about a man having to watch his wife eventually leave and never getting to see his son. It’s very much along the lines of Zac Brown Band’s “Highway 20 Ride.” It’s this at first bitter and then later accepting realization that life didn’t go the way you planned. But in the end you realize this is where you belong. It’s a sobering song.
“Willie Nelson T-Shirt” is probably the most fun song of the album. The song is about a man going through a breakup and pleading to his ex to give him his 1985 Willie Nelson t-shirt back. If she refuses, he’ll tell everyone around town about how she cheated on him, which led to their breakup. While this blackmailing, threat of slut shaming is not something I approve of, she did cheat on him and all he’s asking for his t-shirt back. It makes for a realistic look at how unreasonable break ups can go down, even over something trivial like a t-shirt, which is what makes this song amusing. One of the more upbeat songs on the album and another fun one is “Astronaut.” A man who works a backbreaking job in the heat everyday with his Copenhagen habit and GED begins to dream of the good life if he ever hit the Powerball jackpot and won the heart of the woman he’s had his eye on for a while. “Astronaut” is able to take this simple theme and succeed because it has instrumentation with fiery energy and it actually has some story behind it.
While this album definitely has some highlights and has a lot of good going for it, I did run into things I didn’t like. On the title track and “It Ain’t Broke” the instrumentation sounds fine, but the songs themselves are a little too generic for my tastes. “The Good Life” exudes how great of a life it is to wake up every day and busts your ass to earn what you have unlike others. It goes on about guys like this go 110% and always makes the grade. The song is a big humble brag that makes it hard to empathize with the people described in this song, which shouldn’t be an issue because being a hard-worker should be an admirable trait.
There’s only one song on this album that I outright don’t like and that’s “Your Way Down.” It doesn’t get off to the best of starts when it’s introduction sounds very similar to the introduction of Hoobastank’s “The Reason,” a song I have a deep burning hate for and I don’t like to have any reminders of being a song that exists. Once you move past this you have a song that is very cynical in nature, as a guy can’t stop thinking about an ex that dumped him and left their small town for another guy. The guy can’t seem to get over it and tells her to “look me up on your way down.” It doesn’t paint him in a flattering light, making him look like a whiny douche. It’s hard to sympathize with a whiny douche. If you’re doing so well, why are you even caring about her? It’s just a bad song and something I hope Dylan tries to stay away from in the future.
Overall I think Erik Dylan delivers a solid album in Heart of a Flatland Boy. It does a lot of things right and shows he has a lot of potential. His style and approach reminds me a lot of his discoverer Kip Moore and another artist who’s sound is based around a heartland rock type vibe, Eric Church. And it’s funny because not only does the good on this album remind me of Church at his best, but also the worst reminds me of Church at his worst. This album is along the lines of Church’s early albums where you can hear the talent plain as day, but there’s a few songs that try way too hard to get it’s theme across or come off immature. Despite some of the problems I have with this album though, I think Heart of a Flatland Boy does a lot of things right and if Dylan continues to build off the good, he has all the makings of having a long career in country music.
Recommend? – For fans of Kip Moore/Eric Church/rock-influenced country, Yes
Album Highlights: Fishing Alone, Pink Flamingos, Map Dot Town, Astronaut, Willie Nelson T-Shirt
Bad Songs: Your Way Down
Wallpaper: Flatland Boy & It Ain’t Broke