Album Review – Whiskey Myers’ ‘MUD’

whiskey-myers-mud

The rise of Americana and alt-country in prominence the last few years has left an impact I don’t think many fans realize. Ten years ago you wouldn’t hear as much about these independent, non-mainstream acts because they weren’t on the radio or on a major label. Nowadays with the prevalence of the Internet, any act can standout if they play great music. Whiskey Myers is an undoubtedly a group that has benefitted, as this Red Dirt/southern rock outfit from Palestine, Texas is one of the most beloved country rock bands today. Made up of Cody Cannon (lead vocals, guitar), Cody Tate (lead guitar, vocals, rhythm guitar), John Jeffers (rhythm & lead guitar/vocals), Gary Brown (bass) and Jeff Hogg (drums), this band came onto a lot of people’s radars with their last album Early Morning Shakes in 2014. It was a great album that perfectly timed with the rise of alt-country and made them a lot of fans (this is also another album I wish I reviewed in 2014). Not to mention Dave Cobb produced it, who has absolutely exploded and is the most beloved producer amongst traditional/alt-country/Americana fans. Cobb returns with this new album too. So their new album MUD was certainly an anticipated one for a variety of reasons amongst Red Dirt fans and after listening to it thoroughly I think many fans are going to be quite happy with it.

The sounds of fiddles play in “On The River.” It’s the perfect upbeat, country rock tune to kick off the album. This is pretty much what you’ve come to expect from Whiskey Myers: just a fun song with Cannon just absolutely belting it on lead vocals. It definitely fires you up for the rest of the album. The album’s title track features some rollicking guitar licks. It’s about living the country life on the family land and carrying traditions on from previous generations. It’s life born and lived throughout in the mud. There’s a tinge of gospel influence on this song too, as the organ fades in and out. “Lightning Bugs and Rain” was one of the songs released before the album came out and I imagine many fans of Whiskey Myers were surprised when they heard horns on it. This isn’t common in their music, but it works really well surprisingly. The song itself doesn’t have much to say, as it’s about a couple spending time together in the mountains. But the great instrumentation helps cover up for the somewhat shallow lyrics.

The only song I didn’t like on MUD at first was “Deep Down in The South.” As you can figure out from the title, the song is about southern pride and living. If you’re from the south, I’m sure you’ll immediately enjoy. For me it took a few listens to appreciate it more than the average southern pride songs we hear churned out from mainstream country. But this is still the weakest track on the album. The next song is “Stone.” It’s a piano-driven ballad and one of my favorites on the album. The song is about a heartbroken man drinking his sorrows away and knowing his heart will probably break again and again. It’s just the life he lives. Everything in this song just sort of works perfectly together and shows Whiskey Myers at their best.

“Trailer We Call Home” leans more country than rock and it’s a nice look at the lighter side of the band. In fact there’s mostly just acoustic guitar. The song is about the everyday family and a man who has to work his tail off everyday to make ends meet for them. He wishes he could do more for them, but at the end of the day they’re proud of what they have and the humble trailer park where they live. For a group that’s known for their hard-hitting southern rock, they’re excellent with this sad country song. This is followed by “Some of Your Love.” It’s a solid love song with a catchy hook and some stellar electric guitar play. The instrumentation might be at it’s strongest on “Frogman,” as the electric guitar licks are just so infectious and inviting. The song is about a former military man who’s much happier spending his time fishing than dodging gunfire. But he reminds us he’s still not someone you should mess with. This is just southern rock at it’s finest, as I find myself enjoying it more each time I hear it.

“Hank” is basically an ode to the importance of music on your life. As Cannon sings in the opening lyrics, his first record was Hank Jr.’s The Pressure Is On and it’s an album he turns to when he’s singing the blues. Once again Whiskey Myers just knows how to do southern rock, as the fiddles and electric guitars are equally impressive on this song. MUD comes to a close with “Good Ole Days,” where Brent Cobb joins Whiskey Myers. It’s a good old, down home country tune about ignoring the bad news being spewed by those around us everyday and telling us the good old days are gone. Cobb and Whiskey Myers tell us we’re still living the good old days because we still have many of the great simple things in life to enjoy. It’s positive without being preachy and sappy. It’s the kind of feel good song we could all use when having a bad day, as you can’t help but smile after hearing it.

There are many Red Dirt and southern rock acts out there today, but Whiskey Myers reminds us they’re one of the best with their new album MUD. While I don’t think this is quite as good as Early Morning Shakes, it was going to be difficult to top that album. MUD is a really solid album full of fun southern rock jams and some well-composed heartfelt tracks that capture the thoughts and feelings of the everyday man. I think it’s definitely worth your time, especially if you enjoy some rock and roll with your country. If there’s one thing this album does near flawlessly, it captures both the spirit of country and rock music. That’s a credit to both Whiskey Myers and Dave Cobb, who once again delivers as a producer. MUD is certainly no dud and is another really good album from Whiskey Myers.

Grade: 8/10

Review – Turnpike Troubadours’ “Come As You Are”

Featured on Bruce Robison’s new web series The Next Waltz, the Turnpike Troubadours revealed a new single titled “Come As You Are.” Robison’s series is dedicated to giving music fans a more intimate look at songwriting and life on the road through interviews. With the Turnpike Troubadours, we see Robison speak with the band about finding their footing in the early years with clips of them rehearsing “Come As You Are” spliced into the interview, even seeing Bruce coach the band through the opening bars of the song as they finalize the musical arrangement. The Turnpike Troubadours recorded the song in Robison’s studio in Lockhart, Texas.

“Come As You Are” opens with a solemn guitar riff, quickly joined by steel guitar ring and a quiet drum beat. The waltz tune carries traditional country sounds throughout the track, with the steel guitar and fiddle chiming in during the chorus and solos. The verses are underscored with a drum beat and acoustic guitar strum. Frontman Evan Felker sings of being reckless and careless, drinking too much and how those actions affect his relationship, hooking the story with the chorus’ final lines “I wake in the morning to start out my day to the sound of you walking away.” The band chimes in during the chorus with all their voices singing in harmony, something that’s rarely heard on the band’s albums so far. As Felker tells Robison in the interview, “The last verse is about going duck hunting and realizing you’re a jerk. Getting somewhere, sobering up, and getting your mind right, and realizing what you’re missing out on.” After a rough beginning to the year in which Evan Felker was criticized by fans after a few drunken performances, the lyrics to this song almost feel like a confession from Felker, addressing those actions and how a heavy reliance on alcohol can negatively affect your life.

The Turnpike Troubadours absolutely deliver a great, timeless country song with “Come As You Are.” A common description for country music is “3 chords and the truth” and that’s essentially what the Oklahoma band has delivered here. The lyrics are painfully honest and beautifully delivered with a musical arrangement that showcases the best sounds of country music. There’s no word about a follow-up album to their excellent self-titled from last year, but even just one new song from the Turnpike Troubadours is exciting because they’re one of the best bands making country music today. “Come As You Are” is no exception to that.

Grade: 10/10

Written by Evan Felker and Rhett Miller

Album Review – Rob Baird’s ‘Wrong Side of the River’

Rob Baird Wrong Side of the River

One of the things I pride myself on is keeping up with all of the best artists in country and Americana. I do my absolute best to review and cover all of the best and yet there’s always some artists that fall through the cracks. There was one artist in particular I kept hearing about from readers and around the independent country community. I’ve been wanting to cover him for a while and with the slow down in releases this month I finally get to. That artist is Rob Baird. Hailing from Memphis, Tennessee, he started out in 2010 with Carnival Recording Company founded by Frank Liddell in Nashville. After releasing two albums under this label, he’s now on his own. Baird released his third studio album earlier this year titled Wrong Side of the River. For this album he got outside of the Nashville bubble and headed west to Austin, Texas for inspiration. And I have to say the Red Dirt influence shines bright on this album.

You can really hear the Texas influence from the start on “Ain’t Nobody Got a Hold on Me.” A prominent guitar gives the song a real catchy melody throughout and really allows Baird’s voice to shine. It’s a subtly smooth song that draws the listener right in. The steel guitar-laden “Mercy Me” sees Baird tackling heartbreak. He questions why he runs and the things he’s done in his life, holding him back from finding love. And I did mention there’s a lot of steel guitar? If you love steel guitar, this song has plenty. “Pocket Change” has a more hard rock influence about it. It’s another heartbreak song and features some of the best instrumentation on the album. The roaring electric guitars and the lingering organ in the background really make for some fun music. In other words, it fits perfectly in the Red Dirt scene.

The quieter, subdued “Run of Good Luck” shows a softer side to Baird’s voice. The song is about a man and woman knowing it’s time for them to leave their town of Abilene and “roll the dice” in their lives. They know what they’re doing is a risk, but at the same time they don’t have much to lose either. This is definitely one of the standouts of Wrong Side of the River, as Baird’s vocals and the instrumentation blend together perfectly. The album’s title track begins with some eerie guitar play, giving the song an almost psychedelic feel. It’s one of the most intriguing openers to a song I’ve heard this year. The whole song really features some stellar instrumentation. If there’s one thing this album just nails, it’s this aspect.

The outro for “Wrong Side of the River” bleeds right into “Oklahoma.” Baird sings of the traveling musician being on the road and feeling lonely without the woman he loves in his life all the time. He wishes she was with him and that they weren’t apart all the time. It’s a pretty solid track. Baird draws upon his experiences as a rancher out west on “Horses.” The song is about how he watches the horses live and makes him ponder his own life. It’s one of those reflective songs that pulls you in and reminds you that you need slow down in this fast-paced life. The song is a very relaxing listen. “Mississippi Moon” is a song title that upon first listen might make you think of bro country, but I assure there’s no bro country here. At the same time this heartbreak song doesn’t stand out that well lyrically compared to the other heartbreak songs on this album.

Baird sings of his own mortality on “When I Go.” The somber, yet definitive reflection in his voice as he thinks of his mistakes and what lies ahead for him really resonates with you. It’s one of the lyrical high points on this album for sure, as the emotion of it really makes it stand out. While Baird does a great job with the faster paced, more fun songs, it’s these softer songs where you can really feel his talent shine the brightest. Wrong Side of the River ends with “Cowboy Cliché.” Baird is preparing himself for the impending breakup coming his way and wants it come so he can start living the clichéd cowboy lifestyle. He knows he will drift around and live with the skeletons that haunt him in his closet. It’s yet another solid heartbreak tune on an album full of them.

Overall Wrong Side of the River is a pretty good album with some impressive instrumentation. This is the absolute best part of the album, as I really don’t have any complaints in this regards. It’s catchy, it’s fun, it sets the tone perfectly on the sadder songs and it’s very country. Rob Baird’s voice really impresses me on this album too. It’s very smooth and emotive. The comparison I instantly thought of was Wade Bowen, which I know is high praise, but Baird is most certainly worthy. If I were Baird I would stick around Austin because I think he would fit in well next to the likes of Bowen and other Red Dirt artists. The only thing this album needed that it lacked was a few more “wow” moments. Other than that I think it’s a great album and I’m excited to hear what Baird has in-store next. He certainly shows a ton of potential with Wrong Side of the River.

Grade: 9/10

Album Review – Jason Boland & The Stragglers’ ‘Squelch’

Jason Boland has been a Red Dirt country mainstay since his emergence on the scene in 2001 with his backing band The Stragglers. Over the course of eight albums, Jason Boland and The Stragglers never strayed from a traditional country sound within the Red Dirt realm. Through a series of ups and downs in life, Boland has seen his songwriting process change with each season, but the veteran hasn’t stopped trying to perfect his craft.

“I think some of it, there for a while, made my songwriting worse or lacking. And then you get through it all, you either continue to work on your craft or find you a nice comfy place to be — and I think I really just tried to stay on the throttle of having something to say.”

And does Boland have something to say on The Stragglers’ newest studio effort Squelch. For those unfamiliar with the vernacular, squelch is the name of the knob on old CB radios that was used to mute the static coming through the speakers. Squelch is an album charged with social commentary and political nature of life in America today. The album’s first track, “Break 19,” follows down the same metaphor of radio lingo. Saying “break 19” or “breaker 1-9” was meant to signal to the message receiver that you wish to change the radio channel to 19. Boland’s song complains about the over saturated “news” in our culture. Lines like “the more I see, the less I claim to know” and “once you read between the lines you miss the days when you were blind” challenge the necessity and effectiveness of all information surplus.

Whether or not you’re a fan of politically charged lyrics, fans of tried and true country music will rejoice with the production on Squelch. Cody Angel, the newest Straggler and steel guitar player, provides some beautiful steel guitar rings in many of the songs. And fiddle driven songs like “The First to Know” will certainly make the country fan smile. Lyrically, the song works as more social commentary, this time for social media. The lyrics are ambiguous enough for listeners to draw their own conclusions, however. One is more likely to find political lyrics and social commentary like the songs on Squelch in punk rock and not necessarily traditional country music. Well, Jason Boland and The Stragglers bring out their inner punk rock for “I Guess It’s Alright to Be an Asshole.” The song is a loud, rowdy 2 minutes about crowning and praising people who act like assholes, especially if that person is a prominent figure in his or her field, like an athlete, for instance. “I Guess It’s Alright…” proves that Boland isn’t afraid to pull any punches with Squelch.

“Holy Relic Sale” steps away from the politics and leads Squelch down a more sentimental path. The song was inspired by Jason Boland’s wife and her lucky blue socks. According to Boland, he and his wife were in need of some good luck and found themselves enjoying a great day, only to learn that his wife mistakenly left socks at home. This mid-tempo song asserts that everybody, no matter who you are, will have their good days and bad. The sentiment continues with “Heartland Bypass.” This country journey song finds Boland urging his love to get out-of-town with him for an adventurous journey. The driving acoustic guitar and steel guitar work great to aid the journey feel of the song. The country rocker “Lose Early” is a song that seems to criticize the wealthy. The verses seem to paint pictures of greedy and selfish leaders while the chorus claims “getting by is not the best we can do.” It took me a few listens to truly get into the song, but the heavy hitting drums and fiddles stand out within the pounding production.

The band explores heartache with “Do You Love Me Any Less.” The man in the song asks his wife if her love for him changes when he leaves. “Do you think of someone else when you hear your favorite song? Do you love me any less when I’m gone?” This ballad features some great production from the piano, acoustic guitar, steel guitar and organ. Jason Boland’s vocal delivery is great on this song. “Fat and Merry” is another politically charged track about living a wealthy suburbia lifestyle. Boland sarcastically calls for a nice polished house in a safe neighborhood while the city gentrified the poor areas. The second verse of this song features my favorite line of the whole album: “we never meant to make worse ignorance is something hard to fake.” The song is the most obvious on the bunch in its social commentary delivery, but “Fat and Merry” is one of the top tracks on the album.

The ironically upbeat sounding “Christmas in Huntsville” features some of the darkest lyrics. Written by former Straggler fiddler Dana Hazzard and sung from a first person point of view, Boland sings as a man who’s on death row for a murder he’s been wrongly accused of. The song follows the inmate through his final day at Huntsville including his last meal and being injected. “Bienville” tells a tender love story about a traveling man who meets a traveling woman and falls in love. “All of my life I prayed I would find another lost soul with the travel in mind. The years spent wishing left me ill-prepared for the Bienville Hotel and the time that we shared.” It’s a touching song with a great waltzing production behind it. Squelch ends in a blaze of fire with “Fuck, Fight, And Rodeo.” This traditional country jam features quick fiddles and drum beats behind some punching political lyrics specifically complaining about the leaders. “Nothing’s ever gonna change with their kind running the show.” That’s as specific as Boland gets with who “their kind” is, but the points gets made that life is basically a rowdy mess of love and hate regardless of who is in charge.

Jason Boland is an honest writer and the lyrics on Squelch are as honest as they come. The Stragglers deliver great melodies on all the tracks and offer a variety of sounds, most of which are clearly confined in good old-fashioned country music. The only complaint I have about the album is in the mixing. Squelch was recorded onto tape, and the instruments drown out Boland’s voice from time to time. The mixing out of the soundboard could have been better to correct this. But that’s only a minor complaint and the only noticeable misstep on the album. From start to finish, Squelch, is a rowdy, politically charged album with great lyrics and even better instrumentation.

Grade: 8.5/10

 

 

Country Music, Red Dirt & Americana: What Does It Mean?

The Division of Country Music

Where do you stand? Are you country? Are you Americana? Are you Red Dirt (or how some refer to it, Texas country)? These are questions fans, artists and critics continue to ask. We all continue to discuss and dissect all this music that comes out under these labels. One of the beauties of labeling things is we know exactly what it means when we see it. For example, you go to the grocery store and you’re looking for some cereal. But you’ve never been to this grocery store before so you have no idea where the cereal is put. Luckily for you like every grocery store, there are aisles clearly marked where everything is and it’s quite simple. You seek out the sign with cereal on it and you find it. You walk down the aisle and right there is your box of Cheerios.

Now let’s think of country music, Americana and Red Dirt just like the grocery store example I just gave you. You walk in and you’re looking for cereal, which will represent country music, in the traditional sense of the label. You see the aisle marked cereal and when you walk down it everything seems off. There isn’t any cereal to be found, at least what you’re looking for. There are bags of Oreos (R&B/pop infused country) there marked cereal (country music). Now you’re confused. These are clearly Oreos, but they say cereal on them. This is weird. You seek out the manager. Let’s call him Scott B. Scott tells you everything is fine and that this is indeed cereal. You’re still befuddled and don’t know what to do.

At this same moment another man walks in. We’ll call him Sam H. He too says he is looking for cereal. He goes right over to the cereal aisle and picks up the bag of Oreos marked as cereal and is satisfied with his find. You walk up to Sam and ask him what he’s thinking and tell him that’s not cereal at all. It’s clearly Oreos. But Sam shakes his head and says no this is exactly what he wants. It’s clearly labeled cereal and this is what he wants. All of the radio ads and television ads say this is cereal and a lot of people like it, so it’s cereal and he’s buying it without hesitation. Scott concurs with Sam and assures you that this indeed is what cereal is now.

You’re now thinking the world has gone mad because Oreos, which should be in the cookie (pop music) aisle, are now in the cereal aisle. Despite this labeling snafu, you’re still bound and determined to get your cereal. So now you’re pacing up and down the store in search of that cereal. Finally you find the cereal in an aisle marked oatmeal (Americana). You’re glad you finally found the cereal you’ve been seeking, even though it’s marked something completely different from what you’re accustomed to.

Then you bump into a maker of one of your favorite cereals, Kacey. You ask her what’s up with all of this labeling and why is her cereal in the oatmeal aisle now? She sighs and explains how the cereal aisle didn’t have any interest in showcasing her since the labeling has changed, so she decided to just start marketing her cereal as oatmeal instead since they want her. But you ask her why she would label herself oatmeal when you’re clearly making cereal? Kacey would rather not talk about it any further. Just right then another maker of one of your favorite cereals walks up, Jason. He overheard your conversation and says he doesn’t mind at all. In fact he says he’s been labeled as oatmeal (Americana) for years, and it’s just fine with him. His latest cereal was actually featured in the oatmeal aisle, cereal aisle, soda aisle (rock music) and chips aisle (folk music). As long as the people could get his cereal, Jason was happy with the situation.

You’re amazed at this, yet it all still isn’t clear. The conversation grows by one, as now one of your favorite grits (Red Dirt) makers, Wade, joins in. For years he was simply just grits and even tried his hand at the cereal aisle, but now he’s in the oatmeal aisle along with Kacey and Jason. This doesn’t seem to bug him at all and in fact seems happy to be in the aisle. A large man wearing a outlaw country shirt (Red Dirt/traditional country fan) comes up and says this is bullshit. Grits aisles should be in the grits aisle, that’s the only place it should be and that’s all it should be. Things aren’t the way they should be he explains and we all need to back to the way it was, as this what the labels have always meant. If he has to, the old man says, he’ll go to Texas where the real stores are at and where there are grits aisles. Scott B. walks by and quickly chimes in that grits don’t have commercial appeal in national stores.

You just walked into get some cereal and instead you’ve witnessed and heard so much stuff that your head is spinning. Everything has changed and change is hard. You were so used to things being a certain way, but now all of these neat and easy to understand labels have changed. But you found your cereal, after some trouble finding it for a while. You now know where you can get it the next time you go to the store. It’s still cereal, as it tastes the same, smells the same and it doesn’t look any different either. Only the label has changed. The people who make the cereal have no plans to stop making cereal. Cereal has always been made and will continue to be made.

You ended up getting your cereal. Is that all matters? Is it worth trying to get the cereal back where it belongs? Or do you accept the new label? Perhaps both? If you’re looking for me to answer these questions, I’m afraid I can’t do it. The only person who can answer these questions are you.