Album Review – Western Centuries’ ‘Weight of the World’

Western Centuries Weight of the World

I want to say something right up front with this review and that’s I wish I had reviewed this sooner. Western Centuries is an up and coming roots rock country group that a lot more people need to be familiar with. The group is composed of Cahalen Morrison, Jim Miller, Ethan Lawton, Rusty Blake and Dan Lowinger. Each of them come from uniquely different backgrounds and they mix them together to create quite the compelling sound. The three lead vocalists of the group in particular really bring something different to the table, as Miller was the co-founder of Donna the Buffalo, Morrison has a country background and Lawton is a punk rock songwriter. On paper this doesn’t sound like it’s that harmonious, but trusts me once you hear this group on their new album Weight of the World, it sounds absolutely brilliant.

The album’s title track welcomes us in with a heavy dose of pedal steel guitar. It’s a great precursor to the stellar instrumentation that is featured throughout this album. The naturally upbeat “Double or Nothing” is easy to find yourself tapping your feet along with as you listen. The song is about two former lovers calling each other up to get back together, only for them to spend the night together. One of them leaves the next morning and they’re right back to being lonely again. While Western Centuries say they’re a mixture of roots rock and country, there’s a lot of moments just stone cold country like on “Knocking ‘em Down.” It’s just an all-around solid tune that wouldn’t sound out of place in the heydays of country music. “What Will They Say About Us Now?” tackles relationships and having to deal with everyone around you. A couple “paints the town” and live their relationship while they know their friends and family around them whisper about them. They both wonder what everyone will say about them after what they’ve done now. It’s a great take on dealing with nosey people and dealing with outside voices.

One of my favorites on Weight of the World is “Philosophers and Fools.” It’s a classic heartbreak song that brilliantly describes the fall and aftermath of a failed relationship. As the group points out in the song, “a seamless love is the construct of philosophers and fools.” It’s one of the most refreshing and honest takes I’ve heard on love in a song in quite some time. The quieter and downtrodden “Sadder Day” follows. This song focuses on the word play between the phrase “sadder day” and Saturday. The song is about how every Saturday is another sad day for a man who’s down and blue and drinks his sorrow away. He tries the best he can to get over his broken heart, but he just can’t. From the lyrics to the instrumentation, this song has everything that you want in a drinking song.

One of the things Western Centuries captures so well on this album is that warm, classic feel of country songs of yesteryear and is perhaps showcased at it’s best on “In My Cups.” This is a more upbeat drinking song and upon the first listen the song feels like a long-lost friend you’ve just rediscovered. These are the best type of songs because you can instantly connect before you even get through the first listen of it. “Hallucinations” sees a relationship seesawing between over with and back on again. Every time this man thinks his woman has left him she’s back in his sight again, making him question if he’s hallucinating. He could be, but it’s up to you the listener to decide. Either way a hallucination is a perfect way to describe someone trying to get over heartbreak.

Western Centuries makes an ode to loving drinking with “Off the Shelf.” Don’t hear too many songs about being in love with drinking, do you? That’s what makes the opening to this song intriguing because you think it’s about a woman until it’s revealed to be the bottle. It’s pretty clever songwriting by the group and features some fantastic instrumentation to boot. The instrumentation continues to shine on “The Long Game.” If there’s one thing you won’t hear me complain about on this album it’s the instrumentation, as I find it be damn near perfect on each song. Western Centuries addresses urbanization and the love of rural life on “The Old You.” It’s about a man driving out to the countryside to see what’s left of it and bask in its greatness. It reminded him of whom he used to be, thanks to his rediscovery of the little bit of countryside still left. It’s a song that makes you ponder about your own little community you may have grown up in or still live in today. The romantic approach to the rural lifestyle in this song is something I know I can appreciate. Weight of the World ends with the rocking “Rock Salt.” Featuring plenty of fiddle throughout, it’s yet another foot stomper on an album full of them. The harmonies really shine on this song and it really puts a nice stamp on a fun album.

From the album cover to each and every song throughout, Weight of the World is a true throwback album. It’s an album that harkens you back to the golden days of country and roots music from decades before. The rich vocals and instrumentation blend together seamlessly. This album hooked me in from the first listen and made me wish I had reviewed it sooner. It’s something that I think any fan of country and roots music can come to appreciate. Western Centuries is one of the most talented groups I’ve come across in country music this year and if you don’t know them yet, you need to change that by listening to Weight of the World.

Grade: 8/10

Album Review – Kail Baxley’s ‘A Light That Never Dies’

KB_A Light That Never Dies album art

“Sometimes you have to tear your f@#$*ng guts out… sometimes it’s just there. Music is a fluid thing that never flows the same way twice.” That’s how Kail Baxley describes his new album A Light That Never Dies. It just came out over a week ago, released under Forty Below Records. Baxley describes his music as “soul swagger,” as it has an older sound that also makes you want to move your feet. He really doesn’t have a sound that would fit under one genre, as he draws from folk, blues, country and roots rock in his music. Baxley writes all of his music, showing the deep connection he has with his songs. It was certainly evident when I listened to his new album A Light That Never Dies.

The album opens with the album’s title track, “A Light That Never Dies.” It has lots of rich instrumentation from a horns section to harmonica interludes. The lyrics are just okay and I thought they could have been clearer. The next track, “Mr. Downtown,” I feel the exact same way. The instrumentation is certainly good, but the lyrics are nothing special. Baxley harkens back to a more old school feel on “Tell The Falling Sun.” It has a 50s vibe to it, with it’s slowed down tempo and sultry instrumentation. This fits well for a love song like this one and sets the mood of it just right.

One of my favorite tracks on the album is “The Ballad of Johnny Steel,” which is about a man named Johnny Steel of course. The instrumentation on this song has a very cool sound that is unique and ear grabbing. The heavy guitar lyrics, the drums and the horns section really drive the song. “Morning Light” is one of the slower songs on the album, with light acoustic guitar play peppered throughout it. “Better Feel Better” is one of my lesser favorites on the album, as the production is a little too noisy and can be hard to understand what Baxley is saying. The right idea is there in terms of the beat and rhythm, but it’s just too busy for my liking.

Baxley is best when his voice is allowed to shine. That’s exemplified in “Owe.” He sings about owing debts with a constantly strumming guitar driving the song in the background. The violin interludes really give it a punch too. This is a bluesy country song I can enjoy. “Still Wonder” is an interlude of a piano and background vocalists that leads into “Troubled Souls.” It’s a nice touch, as it sets the tone for a haunting song like “Troubled Souls.” The spacey guitar riffs in the background of it only add to the suspenseful mood that’s being created. The lyrics are very open to interpretation and I think each listener will come to a different conclusion on what they’re saying.

The penultimate song on A Light That Never Dies is “Chasing James Dean.” It has a very outlaw-ish, rebel theme, with a poster boy of this attitude James Dean being part of the song. Again I would love to hear more depth in the lyrics, as it would paint a better picture in the listeners’ heads. The album closes out with “Mirrors of Paradise,” the only song Baxley has ever written with someone else in the room. It draws on a visit from an old friend when he was doing a show in San Francisco. It’s a soaring song with a relaxing, soothing tone that can hook the listener with its fantastic instrumentation. It’s a beautiful song to end the album.

As I said in the beginning of the review, this is an album that is unfair to pigeonhole under one genre. There’s a melting pot of influences throughout it and certainly made for some interesting music. The instrumentation is the definitive high point of A Light That Never Dies. It’s very rich, high in quality and draws the listener in. While the lyrics are certainly from the heart, I was wanting a little more in this department. Then again I’m a stickler for lyrics, as it’s the whole basis for storytelling in a song. There are some high points in this album and a few low points, but overall it’s worth a listen in my mind. It’s not exactly country music, but good music nonetheless. If you like Hozier type music or something in the vein of like a Mumford & Sons, this album is worth checking out.

Grade: 7.5/10