Album Review – Midland’s ‘Let It Roll’

Midland delivered a great debut album with On The Rocks and for their sophomore release Let It Roll, they improve in almost all aspects. Yet somehow, it’s a slight step down in album quality, which I attribute to the great strength of their debut album and putting just a few too many tracks on Let It Roll. Case in point is the opening song and title track, which is just a bad choice to open the album. It’s decidedly one of the weakest tracks on the album, lacking in both the vibrancy and lyrical catchiness in comparison to most of the other songs on the album. I usually skip this track when listening to the album and jump right into “Fourteen Gears,” which is a great track. It’s the ideal driving song, with both it’s lyrical theme of driving a long way to see your baby and it’s bouncy, 80s flavored melody.

The album’s lead single “Mr. Lonely” would have also been my choice for the leading track of this album. It’s just a flat out fun and catchy song about the lonely fool at the bar always there to be the rebound guy for lonely women. I love the music video with Dennis Quaid too. “Cheatin’ Songs” immediately hooks me with its smooth melody and has that same easiness about it in its lyrical approach like previous Midland singles “Burn Out” and “Drinkin’ Problem.” The same can be said about “Put the Hurt on Me.” Its your classic heartbreak country ballad that country fans can take to like a duck takes to water. I really enjoy the intertwining of the pedal steel guitar and Telecaster on “I Love You, Goodbye.” It’s what country rock is supposed to sound like.

“Every Song’s a Drinkin’ Song” is a fun singalong, but it can get a bit old after extended listens due to it’s predictable approach and a couple of forced wordplays. “21st Century Honky Tonk American Band” is a mouthful of a song title, but it showcases what this band is best at and that’s taking simple themes and making them feel fresh to the listener. The sights and sounds of a band always on the road is a common theme, but the lyrics and melody of this song make it engaging and interesting by not dwelling on a moment too long and keeping the energy moving. I also enjoy the switch in melody at the end, as it’s a different wrinkle within the album.

“Fast Hearts and Slow Towns” feels like something the Eagles would have cut and this is a great thing because that’s Midland’s lane. It’s a simple, reflective song on a lost small town love and once again this is such a common theme in country music, but I’m not screaming cliché because of Midland’s approach and the wise choices by producers Shane McAnally, Dann Huff and Josh Osborne. The trio clearly know how to position this band to sound their best. “Cheatin’ by the Rules” is fine, as it does nothing especially right nor wrong. So, it would have been fine being left on the cutting room floor too.

Midland’s tendency to inject catchy wordplay can do them in at times, but when they get it right, they can hit grand slams and “Playboys” is a perfect example. It’s all centered around the chorus and the words play and boys, which on paper sounds like a mess. Yet you listen to it and it just works. The best I can explain of why I like this song is that’s it’s playful, fun and doesn’t take itself too seriously, which is the appeal of Midland in a nutshell. “Lost in the Night” sounds like it’s straight out of early 80s country with it’s sultry, R&B influenced sound. The cherry on top is the smooth sounds of saxophones that play the song out. You’ll either love or hate this track. Put me firmly on the love side, as this is a side of country music that needs to be shown more.

“Gettin’ the Feel” is another solid heartbreak song from the group, but it feels out of place on the track list. To me it just feels like it’s in weird spot on the album, especially since the album closes as weakly as it started with “Roll Away.” I understand how the band wanted to open and close with tracks with roll in the title. But it fails to have an impact when both songs are head and shoulders the weakest on the album, as both suffer from the same issues of just not measuring up in terms of lyrical and melody quality with the rest of the songs. You can’t put such weak tracks next to strong tracks because they stick out like sore thumbs. “Lost in the Night” would have been the perfect closer.

Despite my criticisms, Let It Roll shows this is a band that can pull off various sounds quite well and are far from the one-trick pony session players that some tried to paint them as when they arrived on the scene (they even contribute to all the writing on the album). Midland avoids the sophomore slump and delivers one of the better country albums you’ll hear this year.

Grade: 8/10

Review – Midland’s “Drinkin’ Problem”

midland-ep

A traditional country band on a major label? Being pushed at radio? Yeah right. You’re pulling my leg. There’s no way this new group Midland is a traditional group, so let’s take a look at them. They’re a trio made up of Mark Wystrach (lead singer), Jess Carson (lead guitarist) and Cameron Duddy (bass player). Based out of Dripping Springs, Texas they came up with their name based off a Dwight Yoakam song. Some of their biggest influences they cite are Merle Haggard and Gary Stewart. Hold on a second. Stewart? Anyone who cites him as an influence must be the real deal (and good people to boot). After listening to lead single “Drinkin’ Problem” these guys prove they’re absolutely the real deal. This is straight up, stone cold, country music. It immediately takes me back to what country radio sounded like a couple of decades ago with all of the steel guitar. The song is your classic country theme of a guy at the bar drinking. Everyone is calling the situation a problem and something he needs to stop. But he assures it’s very much a solution and the real problem is heartbreak and a lot of thinking. Props to producer Shane McAnally for keeping the production restrained and letting the lyrics really drive this song. Wystrach’s delivers an all-around solid vocal performance. This is a group I can’t wait to hear more from. They’ve only released a self-titled EP so far and are currently working on a full album with McAnally and Josh Osborne. If that album is along the lines of “Drinkin’ Problem” and the rest of the EP, we’re in for a real treat. This is country music done right.

Grade: 8/10

 

Recommend? – Yes

Written by Mark Wystrach, Jess Carson, Cameron Duddy, Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne

Review – Sam Hunt’s “Body Like A Back Road”

sam-hunt-body-like-a-back-road

Sam Hunt has new music. Joy. I’ve been looking forward so much to hearing new music from Country Perspective’s Worst Song of 2015 winner. Hunt broke out three years ago with his smash hit “Take Your Time” and has become one of the biggest stars in the genre. Montevallo shocking got high praise from critics; of course not from us. Radio loves him and it’s pretty clear Hunt is sticking around for the long haul. And I’m still sticking to my thoughts on Hunt. He’s just not country, even though I will say he can be a decent songwriter sometimes. Basically I refer to him  as the Drake of country music. So with his new single “Body Like A Back Road” does he sound anymore country? Of course not. He appears to be doubling down on his sound. The first thing that sticks out is the ridiculous song name. It’s as dumb as it sounds, as Hunt compares a woman’s body to a back road with the most obviously cliché comparisons: curves, speeding, etc. To put it simply: it’s a sex song. A creepy one at that too because of lines like this: “Body like a back road/ Could drive it with my eyes closed/ I know every curve like the back of my hand.” Or where Hunt objectifies women even more: “The way she fit in them blue jeans/ She don’t need no belt / But I can turn ’em inside out / I don’t need no help/ Got hips like honey/ So thick and so sweet.” Add to the fact that I’ve said before Hunt can’t pull off romantic/sexy songs because he doesn’t have the charisma and charm, instead coming off like a sleazy bro at the bar. This is supposed to be fun apparently. Yes, it’s so much fun I’m sure for a lady hearing a bro go into creepy details about her body. The cheap “House Party” like sound with some really token drops of steel guitar and organ don’t help. This whole song makes me want to puke (also take a shower) as Hunt solidifies himself once again as one of the worst of country music with “Body Like A Back Road.”

Grade: 0/10

 

Recommend? – Nooooooooo waaaaaay

 

Written by Sam Hunt, Zach Crowell, Josh Osborne and Shane McAnally

Review – Miranda Lambert’s “Vice”

Miranda Lambert Vice

Undoubtedly one of the biggest stories over the past year in country music has been the fallout of the divorce between superstars Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert. I usually don’t like to discuss stuff that happens in the personal lives of artists and like to keep it about the music. However when it comes to these two it has clearly affected their music direction, so it must be discussed. While the usual gossip rag of “he said, she said” has swirled around, what’s been more telling about the fallout is the public actions of the two. It really began at the 2015 CMA Awards when Blake Shelton showed up with his new girlfriend, pop artist Gwen Stefani. It painted Blake as insensitive, petty and trying to win the breakup by bringing his new woman to an event he knew his ex was attending. It clearly had an effect on Lambert, as you could visibly see she wasn’t enjoying herself and was quite distraught about the whole situation. When she accepted her award for Best Female Vocalist, she didn’t spend hardly anytime discussing her music or herself, rather congratulating the star of the night, Chris Stapleton.

Ever since then we really haven’t seen Miranda Lambert much in the public eye. She’s stayed pretty quiet and hasn’t done any interviews. Unlike Shelton’s very public relationship with Stefani, Lambert has maintained a pretty low-key relationship with Americana artist Anderson East. Outside of her excellent contribution to the universally acclaimed Dave Cobb super project Southern Family, we haven’t heard any new music from her until now. She’s released the lead single for her new upcoming album and it’s titled “Vice.” Needless to say there was ample hype leading up to this release, as there’s been a lot of speculation as to where Lambert would go with her music. After listening to “Vice,” I’m pretty intrigued on the direction she appears to be heading.

“Vice” begins with the fuzzy sound of a needle dropping onto vinyl and playing. Then Lambert begins to sing from a clear place of hurting, a feeling that carries throughout the sound. This feeling not just exuded from Lambert’s vocals, but the production and lyrics. The song is about a woman who acknowledges she’s far from perfect and that she makes mistake after mistake. She relies on several vices such as excessive drinking and sleeping in places, in which she didn’t know how she got there. The whole song is just so vulnerable and Lambert lays her cards right out on the table for the whole world to see. So much country music today lacks this visceral vulnerability that connects with the listeners because it’s real and based in reality. While the songwriting is quite great, the production is even more exciting and goes where Lambert hasn’t really went before. Refreshingly ditching the loud, overproduced sounds of Platinum, it’s based around a heartland rock/country sound, similar to what you heard on Eric Church’s Mr. Misunderstood, and combines it with psychedelic leanings. Dare I say it reminds me of the instrumentation you hear on Sturgill Simpson’s Metamodern Sounds in Country Music. It’s so weird, yet cool at the same time to hear because I never expected this from Lambert (let alone on a lead single).

“Vice” is melancholy song that draws from so many places instrumentation and lyric-wise. It’s bare, yet expansive. It’s outright dangerous in its approach compared to most lead singles in mainstream country music. That’s what makes this so damn great. I have no clue if radio will get behind this, but I don’t think Lambert had any cares whether or not this would appeal to radio. This is the type of raw, dark emotion a true artist draws from and puts out in the form of a song after a breakup. It makes me more excited to hear what Lambert has in-store for her new album. “Vice” is great music that comes straight from the heart.

Grade: 8/10

Written by Miranda Lambert, Josh Osborne and Shane McAnally

Review – Keith Urban’s “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16”

Keith Urban Panders Hard

What the hell is this crap? That was my reaction after hearing Keith Urban’s newest single “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16.” Now Urban has never been classified as traditional country. In fact many traditionalists have jeered him for years. I’ve personally never been a huge fan of Urban, but I’ve never hated him either. His brand of pop-country has always been just okay most of the time for me. He’s certainly not amongst the worst of the genre and he didn’t get too engrossed in the bro country trend. Not to mention he’s skilled on the guitar and the lyrics in his music have never made me want to bang my head against the wall due to its stupidity. Well that is until this song.

Let’s get this out-of-the-way up front: This song is not country in any way, shape or form. This song has a blatant electronic, hip-hop beat with DJ scratches permeating throughout the song. Guitar play is pretty much missing from this song. Didn’t I just mention that one of Urban’s pros is that his guitar play is good? Yet it’s completely missing on this song. The beat is bad enough, but the lyrics are an absolute train wreck. The best way I could describe the lyrics for “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16” is that it’s what it would sound like if Kenny Chesney’s “American Kids” and Jake Owen’s “Real Life” were mixed together. This is absolutely terrible. The name-checking in this song is taken to its most ridiculous level. The song title itself is freaking overkill, but on top of that Kris Kristofferson, John Wayne, Don McClean, Marilyn Monroe, Mark Twain, Hemingway and every other American cult star are mentioned. Can songwriting get any lazier and more formulaic than this? By the way the writers behind this song are Shane McAnally, Ross Copperman and Josh Osborne. Those two songs I mentioned above along with this new song from Urban all have one common denominator: McAnally had a hand in writing all of them.

Equally as bad as the songwriting is Urban’s spoken word, pseudo rap delivery in the song. Just like Jake Owen, Urban should never do this ever. Urban at least sings a little bit, but I just don’t care. I can’t take this song seriously at all. This song does nothing but pander to the lowest common denominator of American pride and intellectual thinking. I like to refer to this as the Toby Keith Method. It’s cheap, but guaranteed to sucker in tons of people to listen to this same derivative crap every time an artist puts something out like this. I just can’t fathom how people get excited hearing an icon’s name mentioned in a song. A great song doesn’t rely on such easy themes to connect with an audience. This song was completely fabricated to get radio play and chart success. No quality control nor care was put behind this song. It’s simply another song off the Nashville songwriting conveyor belt.

Keith Urban is capable of producing much better music than “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16.” Urban’s laziness and chasing of the almighty dollar is quite evident here. Urban knows exactly what he’s doing. This is a song from an artist that praises Sturgill Simpson and wore his shirt on national television. Simpson wouldn’t be caught dead cutting a song like this one. I thought Urban would be inspired by a truly talented artist like Simpson, but it’s apparent that Urban is only interested in listening to others make quality music and not try to do this himself. “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16” is absolute garbage and I highly recommend avoiding it. This is one of the worst songs I’ve heard in country music in 2015.

Grade: 0/10