Album Review — Tyminski’s ‘Southern Gothic’

[This post originally appeared on Fusion Country in October 2018. It’s being re-posted for reader visibility and appears as it was originally posted, with the only changes being for grammar/spelling. While a divisive release amongst country listeners, I feel it’s a great album that will possibly serve as an important release in the future for the genre.]

Sometimes it can take years for people to recognize an impactful piece of music. This can happen because the music is by an artist that isn’t well-known or the music is so different that it takes the genre and audience years to catch up. I fully believe this when it comes to Tyminski’s Southern Gothic album he released last year. When it becomes more common place for electronic elements and country to be fused together, people will look back and point to this album as a pioneering effort in electronic country. Dan Tyminski was the perfect artist for an album like this one with his extensive bluegrass experience and being the voice behind the hit “Hey Brother.” Southern Gothic may not be a perfect album, but it shows us just how excellent electronic country can sound.

The album’s title track opens and right away Tyminski delivers one of the best tracks on the album. It’s a scathing, cynical and dark look at the average small town in America. What were once regarded as little Mayberry-like towns with hard-working people is now full of sin and hypocrites. I particularly enjoy how the song shows the dissonance of how the town full of God-fearing people and churches on every corner demonstrate themselves to be anything but Christian-like. The production on this song is so spot on, perfectly creating the haunting, creepy vibe that lulls over the town being described in the song (credit to producer Jesse Frasure). This song is such a refreshingly real look at really the state of small town America right now, exposing the flaws and problems that plague modern society that many seemingly don’t want to acknowledge.

“Breathing Fire” is your “I don’t give a shit anymore” anthem. It’s about being fed up of turning the other cheek and just raising hell instead. It’s fun and catchy, making it impossible to not bob your head along with the beat. The next song “Gone” is about the loss of small town love. While his love leaves the small town, the man is left to be haunted by her memories and wondering what if. I enjoy the urgency Tyminski shows in his voice throughout, showing the passion and heartbreak of a broken man well. The bouncy and infectious “Temporary Love” just grabs ahold of you and doesn’t let go. It’s one of the catchiest songs I’ve heard in recent memory in country music. Throughout the song the man decries one-night stands and his short-lived relationships, blaming both himself and the intoxication of quick sex. He’s ready for something more permanent and meaningful, but can’t pull himself away to find it. The rhythmic clapping with the interludes of drum machines makes this song so damn danceable, an element that gets under looked in the genre.

Tyminski follows this with another catchy song in “Perfect Poison.” It could easily serve as the song about the short-term and hook-up relationships mentioned in “Temporary Love.” The opening of the chorus, “You’re no good for me/Like a methamphetamine”, is delivered perfectly by Tyminski and the song just sounds like the chaos of the relationship. “Devil is Downtown” deals with the access of opioids in small town America. It goes into detail of how easy it can be to get a quick hit from the drug dealer downtown and how easy it is to fall into the trap of drugs. It’s a dark, but necessary glimpse into something that is a real problem.

“Hollow Hallelujah” is one of the more underrated moments on the album. I interpret the song to be about being afraid to get help and look for answers, instead just crawling on your own and wandering in your own darkness. The song’s ultimate message is it’s okay to ask for that help and that God and friends are there to help you through. This song demonstrates the importance of showing the light in a dark song, as it provides the contrast necessary to drive home the message. The Celtic folk-influenced “Good For Your Soul” gets back to the fun side of the album. It’s an enjoyable ditty about a man expressing how great of a fit he is for his woman and his desire to always be with her. “Wailing Wall” follows a similar line. The heavy bass of the drums gives the song a swaggering, pounding tone that sticks with you.

“Haunted Heart” puts me in the mind of one of my favorite books, The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. It reminds me of the part of the story where it reaches the sweaty and dark jungle. It conveys a sense of urgency, fear and loneliness, just like the heartbroken man described in this song. Tyminski reflects upon his love of music being handed down to him by his family on “Bloodline.” It’s a nice homage to where and who he’s come from, showing how it went from a hobby to a passion for him. For those who dismiss this album for its sound, they miss out on the many meaningful songs like this one.

Tyminski addresses the end of a relationship on “Wanted.” He’s ready to walk out the door and be gone for good, knowing both him and his woman got what they wanted in the relationship. She got his love for a while and he leaves, as he knew what the relationship was destined for from the beginning. It’s a solid track, albeit maybe unnecessary with the album run time going a bit too long for my liking. The album closes out with the ominous sounding “Numb.” It’s one of the rawest moments on the album, as a man realizes he can’t recapture the old feelings of a past love. He feels nothing about her, as the pain of the fallout has made him empty inside from his inability to let it go. In an album full of dark moments, this is perhaps the darkest as it shows a window to the inside of the loneliest type of heartbreak imaginable.

Tyminski’s creativity and innovation is on full display on Southern Gothic. As I said this isn’t a perfect album, but its brilliant moments outshine the few flaws. A big credit should be given to Jesse Frasure, who produced the album and helped write many of the songs. He’s helped introduce many new wrinkles in country music (some good, some bad) and this is perhaps his best work so far, perfectly capturing the dark and chaotic nature of the songs throughout this album. I hope this pairing will continue to work together and create more projects in the future. Tyminski is the one who should lead this electronic country sound and demonstrate its potential to the rest of the genre, as Southern Gothic is without a doubt a pioneering effort.

Grade: 8/10

Review – Easton Corbin’s “A Girl Like You”

easton-corbin-a-girl-like-you

When Easton Corbin broke onto the scene nearly a decade ago, many including myself thought he would be the next great traditional country artist. Instead he devolved into pandering, checklist, formulaic fodder. Worse he dove headfirst into bro country with absolute glee, as it was heavily featured on his last album About To Get Real. So after numerous disappointments my expectations were set quite low for Corbin’s newly released single “A Girl Like You.” The title inspired less confidence in it being good. So does he finally fulfill his potential or is it another disappointment? Well it’s a lot more interesting and thought-provoking than I expected. The song opens with heavy drums that persist throughout the song. I don’t think they’re actually drum loops and could be an actual backing band, although I’m not entirely sure. This is meshed with twangy telecaster play throughout the song. It’s essentially a traditional meets modern sound, very much along the lines of Jon Pardi’s current hit song “Dirt on My Boots.” I have to admit it’s quite catchy and an infectious ear worm, although I imagine some will be turned off by the heavy drums. Then we get to the lyrics, which start off pretty rocky with lines about cold beer, bars and neon lights. It gets worse when we get to these lines: They play lots of songs on the radio / About them good ol’ country girls that we all know / Long tan legs and cut off jeans / Yeah just shaking that sugar every country boy’s dream. Aargh another bro song you think. But wait its immediately followed by these lines: I’ve heard ’em all at least a time or two / Ain’t none about a girl like you, you know that’s true. So he dismisses his girl being a cliché and just another girl in a country song. This is good, even if a tad hypocritical after cutting songs like this before. The rest of the song is about how special this girl is in any setting without devolving into sexist clichés and how thankful he is for her. Overall this is a solid concept for a song and something I should like, but at the same time it’s hard to shake the fact that he was cutting these very same songs he’s dismissing. At the end of the day I’m going to take “A Girl Like You” for what it is, a decent love song. I think it has a great chance of being a hit and if it is could be the start of a traditional-meets-modern trend in country music.

Grade: 6/10

 

Recommend? – You’ll have to decide for yourself on this one, as I can imagine some of you will be hesitant to embrace this.

 

Written by Ashley Gorley, Jesse Frasure and Rhett Akins

Album Review – Kenny Chesney’s ‘Cosmic Hallelujah’

kenny-chesney-cosmic-bullshit

If you asked me what mainstream country artist I get questioned the most on when it comes to my position on them, it would be hands down Kenny Chesney. I usually have a pretty negative or lukewarm take on his music and this seems to take a good bit of people off guard, much to my surprise. I’m not sure why I’m supposed to be impressed by an artist whose career has consisted mostly of music about the beach, simplistic themes that have been done to death and drinking. I thought his last album The Big Revival really drove this across, but apparently it didn’t. So now Chesney returns with the followup to it, Cosmic Hallelujah. This title just screams bullshit to me, but I still gave it chance since there’s not many other releases coming up in November. It was pretty much what I expected all along and further reinforced my stance on his music because Chesney does absolute nothing new on this album.

This is same old tired schtick from Chesney I’ve heard for years from him. There’s a boring, generic song about how we should live it up because we’re alive, so let’s crack a can of (insert current Chesney beer sponsor) and party that I feel like I’ve heard a 1,001 times and counting. Can you guess which song I’m referring to? Trick question! This actually refers to multiple songs, including “Trip Around the Sun,” “Some Town, Somewhere” and “Winnebago.” Of course pretty much every song alludes to this theme in some way or another. Chesney sings about only listening to pretty girls on “All the Pretty Girls.” I don’t what the hell the appeal of this song is and I don’t really want to waste precious air and time on trying to figure it out. It’s three and a half minutes I’ll never get back.

“Setting The World On Fire” is this album’s big hit so far, despite the fact the guest of the song Pink sings more than purported main artist of the song, Chesney. The only thing I have to further add about this song is I would rather be listening to Pink over Chesney any day because her music is actually interesting. There’s a song on this album called “Bar at the End of the World,” which makes no sense because I thought Chesney and Pink already set the world on fire. Yeah I know this is a bad joke, but I assure you that this is more interesting than the song, which is also a bad joke.

I was expecting to like at least one song on the album and the most likely candidate seemed to be “Jesus and Elvis.” That’s because two of the three songwriters on the song are Hayes Carll and Allison Moorer, who I greatly respect and enjoy their work. Well I don’t even like this one because this song seems to have an idea, but never does anything with it. The theme seems to be reuniting with old friends, but this is never expanded upon or has anything meaningful to say. We just keep hearing Chesney drone on about velvet paintings of Jesus and Elvis. The album’s lead single “Noise” is so damn boring that country radio didn’t even like it and they’ll usually play any bullshit Chesney sends to them. That should tell you all you need to know about this lame attempt by Chesney to say something about the prevalence of media today. What’s sad is this is probably the best song on Cosmic Hallelujah. And I haven’t gotten to the very worst of this album.

I’m on record as not being a fan of Chesney’s hit song “Boys of Fall” due to the fact it’s a song that over-glorifies high school football to the point I want to puke and features some of the most saccharine bullshit I’ve ever seen spewed about sports. And this comes from a sport fans. So you can put me down for the same thing when it comes to this album’s concluding song “Coach.” Also I’m officially predicting this will be Chesney’s current single in the fall of 2017. If I had to pick the dumbest song of the album, it would have to go to “Bucket.” Written by Brett James and Craig Wiseman, this song is getting drunk and saying fuck it to your responsibilities. This isn’t just me showing anger; this is what the song is actually about as Chesney sings a line about how you should replace the b in bucket list with an f. Some will argue this is just a dumb fun song, but I argue this is just plain dumb.

There’s a lot of boring crap on this album and it makes me want to rip my hair out. But there’s only song on this album that really pisses me off and that’s “Rich and Miserable.” This might be the worst song of Chesney’s entire career, even worse than “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy.” It’s a stilted, clunky, heavily pop influenced song that is essentially “Noise 2: Electric Boogaloo.” Chesney does not sing on this song, but is rather somewhere between shouting and mumbling. I think the title of the song perfectly personifies where Chesney’s career and mindset is at this time.

I can confidently say after listening to Kenny Chesney’s Cosmic Hallelujah that I never want to hear it again for the rest of my life. I absolutely hate this album and I was actively angry as I forced myself to listen to it. If you made me choose between listening to this album or Florida Georgia Line’s newest album Dig Your Roots, I would choose the latter every single time because the latter actually has some good songs. Chesney clearly isn’t trying anymore and just wants this paycheck. At this point he’s just rehashing the same old songs we’ve heard from him year after year.

Grade: 3/10

 

Recommend? – Hell No!

Album Highlights: Zero. Zilch. Nada. Nothing to see here.

Bad Songs: Rich and Miserable, Coach, Bucket, All the Pretty Girls

Wallpaper: The rest of the album


Stream The Entire Album Below I Guess:

Album Review – David Nail’s ‘Fighter’ is Surprisingly Solid

David Nail Fighter

David Nail is one of those artists I’ve always seen potential in when looking the popular country landscape. But I feel like he’s never really shown it in an album and definitely not in his singles (the exception being “Let It Rain”). I hear a lot of love for Nail from mainstream country fans and I’ve been waiting to see this validated. When Nail announced his new album Fighter, I have to admit I wasn’t expecting much. In fact I really didn’t plan to review it. I figured I would just give a cursory listen when I was bored and hear the mediocre album I was expecting it to be (like I’ve did with a lot of mainstream albums this year). It’s not like the lead single inspired much confidence and his label MCA Nashville hasn’t handled him the best. So I listened to Fighter and it didn’t meet my expectations at all. It surprisingly exceeded them by a lot.

Fighter kicks off with the upbeat and fun “Good at Tonight.” The Brothers Osborne join Nail and the thing that immediately sticks out about this song is the strong harmonies in the chorus. It immediately hooks the listener in. While the feel good summer night song has been done to death, the infectious vocal performance and warm instrumentation make this not only a solid opening song to the album, but a great future single choice. The album’s lead single “Night’s On Fire” is next. Derek previously reviewed this song and I agree with everything he said in it. This isn’t a completely terrible song, but it’s just generically mediocre in terms of both production and songwriting. Unfortunately, Nail falls into one of my least favorite songwriting pitfalls to hit country in recent years on “Ease Your Pain.” That pitfall is the “your love is my drug” type comparisons that litter this song. So the songwriting wears thin pretty quickly for me here, which might come as a shock because one of the writers of this song is Chris Stapleton (the others are Jesse Frasure and Lee Thomas Miller). The instrumentation isn’t bad, but I just can’t tolerate another song comparing love to drugs because it’s a trope that’s been beaten to death.

Nail rebounds though with “Home,” where he’s joined by the talented Lori McKenna. The song is a piano-driven ballad (with acoustic tinges) about the meaning of home and the relationship bonds tied to them. The songwriting has a lot of heart and it’s very easy to connect with. McKenna sounds fantastic and I’m glad to see her given a chance to shine (definitely looking forward to her upcoming album). This is definitely one of the standouts of Fighter. “Lie With Me” is a love ballad with a great sense of urgency. Upon the first few listens, it feels like this song isn’t much. But upon further listens I find it to be surprisingly catchy. The songwriting isn’t bad and the instrumentation is mostly solid. It could have been better if the production was toned down though.

Nail continues to hit home runs on collaborations with “I Won’t Let You Go.” Here the iconic Vince Gill joins him. Written solely by Nail, it’s a heartbreak song about a man not being able to let go of the relationship he had with his wife. Gill’s contribution to the song comes in the form of his harmonizing with Nail on the chorus, which sounds quite good. It’s kind of perfect for Nail to collaborate with Gill, as I feel they have some striking similarities (strong voices, not traditionally country but clearly talented). The album’s title track is another strong one on the album. The song is about a man praising all of the great qualities of his woman (without reverting to sexist descriptors) and how he admires the fighter in her. While the chorus of this can get a tad checklist-y, it’s a solid effort from Nail. I also enjoy the faint fiddle that intertwines throughout. It’s another song I would like to see as a single.

“Babies” sees Nail reflect on his upbringing, which was crazy at times. But now he has a new kind of crazy in having his own children. He also thinks about how he met his wife and where they’re at now. It’s nice to see Nail show a more vulnerable, personal side to himself, as it’s songs like this that show his true potential and why I hear from so many mainstream fans that support him. There are a few sub par tracks on this album and one is definitely “Got Me Gone.” It’s your standard, shallow love song that relies too much on vanity descriptors in its chorus. It also features some pretty mediocre production, as the pop influences and drum loops are overbearing. Not to mention the effects applied to Nail in the bridge are annoying. This one should have been left on the cutting room floor.

“Champagne Promise” is about a man realizing the woman he’s met is worth nothing more than a champagne promise. Basically she’s just a one-night stand, as she’s not the kind for long-term relationships. For a top 40 adult contemporary song it isn’t bad, but for a country song it relies too heavily on the drum machine. The production is also too smooth and vanilla for my taste. Nail closes the album with his second solo written song on it, “Old Man’s Symphony.” Bear & Bo Rinehart of Christian rock band Needtobreathe join Nail on the song. Nail wrote the song about his own father and once again he shines when he digs deep into his own personal life. Nail sings about how his father played the piano and how he expressed doubt of ever breaking his shadow. He also expresses the great respect he has for his father and how he knows he’ll never be the lead in the band, but only entertain with his words. It’s a refreshingly honest song and perhaps the best on the album.

David Nail delivers his best album yet with Fighter. For most of this album, Nail realizes the potential I’ve seen in him for years. It’s good to finally see it shine through in the music and hopefully this will continue when picking the rest of the singles for this album. While I wouldn’t call this album a traditional country record by any stretch of the imagination, its not pop one either despite it’s adult contemporary leanings at times. It sits somewhere between country and pop, depending on how you draw your lines. The songwriting at it’s worst is banal and unexciting, while it’s best brilliantly draws upon personal experiences to bring raw emotion and passion to the music. While this album won’t set the world on fire, it’s the type of solid music that’s missing too much from the mainstream scene. I will gladly admit David Nail proved me wrong with Fighter.

Grade: 7/10

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