Album Review — Old Dominion’s ‘Old Dominion’

Four years ago Old Dominion released their debut album and to say they didn’t make a good first impression on Country Perspective is an understatement. But still even in hindsight I can say they deserved every bit of criticism they got. They seemed to take notice of the criticisms they received from reviewers too because their sophomore album Happy Endings was a noticeable enough of a step up in quality that I’ve quietly been anticipating this band’s third album. I’ve been hoping that the great glimpses of potential they demonstrated on that album would lead to a good third album. So do they accomplish this with their new self-titled album?

The album’s lead song and single “Make It Sweet” lives up to it’s name: it’s a pretty sweet sounding love song that’s both catchy and heartfelt. It may be a bit saccharine to some listeners, but for me it’s just right and it’s breezy, simple feel makes it an instantly likable song. “Smooth Sailing” is about seeking the more peaceful side of life and remaining upbeat in the face of negativity. Again the simple, singalong nature makes for another solid song. It’s nothing spectacular, but it’s not a sentiment that needs overthinking.

“One Man Band” is a song about a lonely man seeking love. The lyrics are downtrodden, yet slightly hopeful and this feeling is conveyed perfectly in this song with the crisp and clean electric guitar lingering through the song and a surprisingly effective snap track that keeps the flow going. It’s one of the band’s best songs to date. Speaking of their best songs, you can add “Never Be Sorry” to that list too. This song instantly hooked me with it’s smooth and infectious sound (another one to add to the yacht country list). And it’s catchy due to it’s minimalist approach, showing you don’t need to go big to make a danceable song. Big props to producer Shane McAnally and the band for coming up with not just a great sounding song, but crafting lyrics that are just as hooky too.

The hot streak for this band continues with “My Heart is a Bar.” It’s another song with great lyrics, as it poignantly lays out the frustration and heartbreak of a man who’s always used as a rebound and the shoulder to cry on, but never the heart that is taken by someone else. What I love most about the lyrics are the way it balances the cynicism and sadness, which really allows anyone who has went through these emotions to be able to connect with it. Matthew Ramsey delivers a fantastic vocal performance here too, showing his growth as a frontman. Also the glimmery piano gives the song an appropriate “tear in my beer” feel.

“Midnight Mess Around” is a smooth and enjoyable sex jam that avoids the creepy pitfalls so many of these types of country songs fall into and has the right amount of playfulness and charisma to make it endearing to the listener. It’s even a bit soulful, which is something new from Old Dominion. “Do It With Me” is about a man pleading to a woman to love and be with him. So here’s a sentence I’ve never typed before: this song really utilizes it’s use of synths and a harp well. It’s weird, but it works! That’s the best way I could describe this track.

“Hear You Now” is your classic heartbreak regret song, where the man is eating crow for letting love slip through his hands. Once again the band displays quality songwriting chops with lyrics like “You used to wake me with a whisper but now the only voice is the pouring rain/And the echo of goodbye just rattles through my mind like a midnight train.” It’s understandable to debate the sound of this album being country at times, but you can’t dispute the country quality in lyrics like the ones above. “I’ll Roll” puts you in the mind of rolling down a desert road. At least the sound does, as it’s got that trippy desert feel thanks to a twangy telecaster. But I feel like the lyrics are lacking a bit and could do a better job of putting you in the mindset the song is going for, as they play it a bit safe.

“American Style” is easily the worst song on the album, with it’s cliché and lazy lyrics that are a dime-a-dozen in the pile of dime-a-dozen country songs about America and small towns. This is basically a smooth version of Kenny Chesney’s “American Kids.” It’s not egregiously bad, but these type of songs just bore me so quickly. “Paint the Grass Green” is about a man vowing to do whatever he has to do to keep the love strong in his relationship. On paper this song definitely seems too sweet and cliché, but then I listen and it surprisingly works. Just like “Make it Sweet,” this song has heart that shines through with it’s tone and presentation that wins you over.

The somber piano ballad “Some People Do” shows yet another side of Old Dominion to cap off the album, this time their most serious side. It’s about hoping and seeking forgiveness from someone you did wrong. Ramsey once again delivers a praise-worthy vocal performance, showing great vulnerability with his falsetto and conveying the appropriate amount of emotional depth needed to connect a serious piano ballad with the listener. If there’s one song I had to point to on this album to demonstrate how far this band has come, this would be the song.

With their self-titled album, Old Dominion officially sheds the bro country moniker that once plagued them. Old Dominion prove they now deserve to be taken seriously. This album shows incredible growth, depth and a nice balance of both serious and fun songs. The production is varied and shows this band is capable of delivering multiple styles. Most importantly this band has undeniably improved in all facets and dare I say positioning themselves as one of the best groups in mainstream country music. This album isn’t good, it’s great.

Grade: 8/10

Review – Old Dominion’s “Break Up With Him”

Old Dominion

Country music in 2015 has been a tale of two ends of the spectrum. On one end, there’s been a seemingly endless list of great country albums released. There has been non-stop quality music pouring out every week. Then on the other end of the spectrum, there’s been a steady release of absolute hot garbage and it’s all coming from mainstream country music for the most part. Just when you think you’ve heard the dumbest song of the year, another one comes along to prove you wrong. Old Dominion’s newest single “Break Up With Him” fits in with the latter. Old Dominion is a relatively new group made up of Matthew Ramsey (lead singer), Trevor Rosen (guitar and keyboard), Whit Sellers (drums), Geoff Sprung (bass) and Brad Tursi (guitar). They chose the name “Old Dominion” because it’s the nickname for the state of Virginia and all of them have ties to it. Believe it or not, they have some good songwriting to their credit: Ramsey and Rosen helped write Dierks Bentley’s “Say You Do,” Rosen helped write Chris Young’s “Neon” and Tursi helped write Tyler Farr’s “A Guy Walks Into A Bar” and some Randy Rogers Band songs.

With all of this in mind, it baffles me that Tursi is also the writer behind the group’s new single “Break Up With Him” (by the way Shane McAnally produced their new EP). But before I get to the song, let’s talk about this album cover above. I know I’ve bashed it on Twitter and right here on the site, but this needs a proper breakdown to describe its horribleness. What the hell are they going for here? From what I can gather, I think they’re trying to recreate the picture of George Washington and his men crossing the Delaware River during the American Revolution, but they just look like tools trying to emulate it. There’s an American flag jammed into the middle of it to show their patriotism (insert gagging here). Then they’re using their guitars to paddle the boat, which is like taking a playbook right out of 80s glam rock. Seriously go listen to cheesy 80s rock and this is the kind of goofy stuff that was in those songs. Finally there’s the awkward poses each member is in. I just…why?

The song itself is even worse than the album cover. It starts out with the spoken word, pseudo rap bullshit that Sam Hunt started to use in all of his songs and is now spreading like wildfire through country music (hello Jake Owen and Keith Urban). It’s annoying and adds nothing to the music. Why people get amusement out of this is beyond my comprehension. The song itself is about a man who’s drunk and calls up a girl he likes. Then he proceeds to tell her that she needs to break up with her current boyfriend and hook up with him. Say what? Basically this guy is whining and advocating for a girl to break up with her boyfriend, who is never mentioned to have done anything wrong throughout the song. This guy is such a whiny douche that he thinks it’s perfectly acceptable to break up a relationship, which by all indications is going fine, for his own gain. Could you find a clearer definition of an asshole than this guy? The vocals, when Old Dominion is actually singing, isn’t half bad. You could do better, but you could also do worse. In other words, their singing isn’t anything special. The instrumentation isn’t really country at all, as it has a pop beat for the most part throughout with the exception of light acoustic guitar play in the chorus. So once again nothing special from Old Dominion.

Country music has gotten enough terrible music from all of the bro country artists invading the genre and now Sam Hunt is leading in a wave of spoken word pop music that is even worse. This is my first impression of Old Dominion and it isn’t a good one. Releasing a single like this early in your career shows me a lot of what you’re trying to accomplish as artists. It shows that you only care about popularity and quality is the last thing on your mind. “Break Up With Him” takes the worst elements of Hunt’s “Take Your Time” and the worst elements of Tyler Farr’s “Redneck Crazy” to make one of the most irritable country songs of 2015. I listened to this a few times and started to develop a light headache. That tells you what you need to know about “Break Up With Him.” Avoid this song at all costs.

Grade: 0/10