The Endless Music Odyssey, Vol. 8 — Cody Jinks, Brent Faiyaz, Miley Cyrus & more!

Welcome to the first edition of The Endless Music Odyssey of 2021 and the eight volume overall! In this volume I take a look at several albums (plus a single) that were released in late 2020 as I continue to knock out the backlog of releases from 2020 I didn’t cover yet. So if you don’t see something covered here, it’s likely in the next volume or it’s going to be a separate review. Let’s dive in…

Buy It

Cody Jinks — Red Rocks Live

Basically if you’ve ever wanted a Cody Jinks greatest hits album, here you go. A live album is always hard to review, as they’re mostly songs that have been heard and reviewed before. So you have to judge it just like you’re at a show. And if this was a show, I would give it an easy two thumbs up. As someone who greatly misses live music, this makes you feel like you’re back in person. The only complaint I have with this album is I would have liked to have heard more crowd noise incorporated, as at times it feels like they go missing. You gotta remember to keep the live element to distinctly differentiate it from the studio recordings, otherwise it sounds sterile and uninteresting (Midland’s live album is unfortunately an example of this). If you want a great example of a modern band who does this well on their live records, see all of Blackberry Smoke’s live albums.

Other than that this is a fun album front to back that covers all of the great Jinks songs from his first handful of albums. The sped up live version of “David” and the encore, extended performance of “Loud and Heavy” are the immediate standouts. And of course I really enjoy Jinks’ cover of Alan Jackson’s “Chasin’ that Neon Rainbow,” as it’s one of my favorites from Jackson and the song fits Jinks like a glove. I’ve never seen Cody Jinks live before, but this album reminded me I need to change that once concerts return one day. This is a great live album and well worth your time and money if you’re a fan of Jinks.

Stream It

Brent Faiyaz — F**k the World

This was an album that slipped through the cracks for me last year and when I discovered this at year’s end I immediately rectified this. I wish I had heard and reviewed this sooner because it would have without question gotten attention on at least one year-end list. Brent Faiyaz is an artist I’ve been following with interest, as his independent approach has been written about countless times and he’s an example of an artist who’s figured out how to thrive outside of the traditional music system.

His debut album didn’t do a lot for me, but it showed enough potential that I hoped I would like the next one. Well I definitely enjoy F**k the World. It’s a fantastic fusion of R&B, pop, soul and hip-hop that see Faiyaz explore relationships, wealth, indulging in pleasures and consciousness of one’s own self. The song that best exemplifies this is “Clouded,” a song that clocks in just under two minutes. Despite it’s short length, this song pulls no punches and showcases everything great about this album: the catchy lyrics, Faiyaz’s confident and cool delivery, the musing lyrics and the drowning, atmospheric production that engulfs the listener.

“Been Away” is a really nice take on 90s R&B and I enjoy the wandering anxiety of doubt and trust that’s explored in a relationship. The album’s title track shows off Faiyaz’s crude humor, as best shown by the line “Fuck the world I’m a walking erection.” That’s the funny thing about this album: how Faiyaz is able to pull off this weird juxtaposition between thoughtful reflection and outward bravado. They’re polar opposite reactions, but I feel like that’s the point Faiyaz is making with this album. It shows how complicated people can be and how the inside and the outside don’t always match up. “Bluffin” only reinforces this idea. And oh yeah Faiyaz really makes some fun songs that quickly grab your attention.

As funny as this is to say out loud, a great R&B album should have a sexy, classy tone. And F**k the World quickly establishes this mood and keeps it from front to back. Also I must say this album impresses me with how long it feels in terms of runtime while listening to it despite it coming in under 30 minutes. It speaks to how great this record is and I can’t wait to hear more from Brent Faiyaz.

 

Kishi Bashi — “Never Ending Dream”

I usually stick to albums for The Endless Music Odyssey, but I had to make an exception here. Kishi Bashi continues to be one of the most underrated artists in indie music and his pop sensibilities are incredible. His new song “Never Ending Dream” only drives this point harder. Made as the theme song for Apple TV+ kids show Stillwater, this song is so damn bright and colorful, as it bursts with the kind of happiness you expect from a song for a kid’s show. Yet it’s not cartoony or corny and works equally great as a regular song. The soaring, whimsical melody and the catchy lyrics can’t help but make me grin as I listen. Can more people finally start paying attention to Bashi on his next project, please?

Worth a Listen

Miley Cyrus — Plastic Hearts

I really wanted to like this album more than I ultimately did. It’s the type of album I’ve been hoping to hear from Miley Cyrus: an 80s pop rock album with a modern touch. This style of music is right in my wheelhouse. It starts out promising, as the first three songs are pretty good and feature strong hooks. Then you get to “Prisoner” and I’m expecting something great with Dua Lipa being featured. After all Lipa released one of the best pop albums of 2020 and she did an excellent job of utilizing retro sounds. But this song is so underwhelming. Lipa’s vocals sound incredibly weak and I can’t believe there’s no harmonies on the song, as it strongly calls for it.

The rest of the album follows suit for the most part with songs that have potential, but fall short. I will say an exception is “Night Crawling,” as Billy Idol’s feature is good and the over-the-top, synth driven sound has a real infectious appeal. Some songs the hooks are weak (“Midnight Sky”, “Hate Me”), others the production is half-baked (“High,” “Golden G String”) and lacks any sort of melody or groove. I’m shocked by the lack of guitars featured on this album, as you would think this style of music would feature plenty of guitars. But they’re largely absent until “Edge of Midnight,” which is a clear highlight of the album (even this song could use more guitars). Stevie Nicks sounds great on the feature and there’s harmonies that give the song real power (see why this was needed for “Prisoner”).

While Miley Cyrus clearly appreciates 80s pop rock, her execution of it on Plastic Hearts is unfortunately lacking overall. If you enjoy this style of music, it’s definitely worth one listen and who knows you might find more to like than I did. But as someone who’s listened to a lot of this type of music, there’s certain elements that just aren’t strong enough for this album to rival any of it’s inspiration.

Izaak Opetz — Hot & Heavy-Handed

While the chill and lo-fi approach Izaak Opetz takes to this is intriguing and drew me in, the only song I found myself wanting to re-listen to was “Drunk on a Plane.” And I feel like that was only because of my familiarity with it and the jarring contrast to the original. This is a fun novelty album that I’m glad I gave a chance, but not something I see myself returning to in the future. The aesthetic and presentation of this album is make or break for you.

Ariana Grande — Positions 

Ariana Grande has a fantastic voice, probably one of the best in pop music today. But her music has always proved to be elusively appealing to me because it feels like her songs just lack the type of melody that get me interested in a pop song. Her songs also have a more modern sleekness, which I personally don’t enjoy as much as pop music that reutilizes retro sounds and combines with modern stylings. There’s a few songs I enjoy on this and while I respect Grande’s work, it’s just not something that appeals to me.

Goodie Mob — Survival Kit

Man, the production on this is fantastic! It’s rich, varied and immediately commands your attention. There’s a melting pot of influences from hip hop to soul to gospel. Andre 3000 and Big Boi deliver great features as you expect from Outkast. And CeeLo Green is singing his ass off throughout it. But the songwriting is just flat-out weak and fails to hold my attention in any way. The hooks are somehow even weaker and are instantly forgettable. It’s worth a listen just for the production, but if the songwriting was just a little better this album might have bumped up a category. Damn shame.

Jim Clack — Submariner 

For a debut album, this is a decent effort from Jim Clack and shows enough potential that I would check out his next project. But this one just doesn’t quite have enough to go from decent to good. The songwriting is not bad and explores interesting themes, but it falls just short of being interesting enough to merit revisiting. The touches of harmonica throughout give the songs a nice bluesy feel. Clack has passionate vocals, but at times stretches himself a bit too thin like on “Long Lost Innocence.” He feels much more comfortable vocally on the rowdy and catchy “Sick” and the reflective “Someday I’ll Go into Space.” It’s a short project, so if you enjoy country music with a bluesier, rougher edge I think you’ll find things to enjoy.

Avoid It

38 Spesh — Interstate 38

The production on this is intriguing at first and keeps you listening. It’s the clear strong point. But the hooks on this are weak, the lyrics are not memorable and it feels like 38 Spesh’s flow never changes throughout the album. Even Benny the Butcher’s feature is kind of unremarkable. This album feels like the perfect example of an unfortunate side-effect in music, but especially in hip-hop: artists are churning out music so quickly that it pressures those around them to keep pace and not being forgotten by listeners. Not to mention it also pressures a lot of artists to stay close to the sound “that works.” The result is album’s like this that feel like your standard hip hop album in today’s music world; there’s nothing that really stands out or is remarkable.

Album Review – Charles Kelley’s ‘The Driver’

Charles Kelley The Driver Album

Lady Antebellum was one of the toasts of country music throughout the 2000s. They racked up numerous #1 hits, including one mega hit in “Need You Now” that crossed over to pop radio, and collected their fair share of awards at the CMA Awards, ACM Awards and even a couple of Grammys. They were a pretty hot group at one point near the top of the country music food chain. Then bro country came along and derailed this soccer mom friendly act. They simply couldn’t keep up with the likes of Florida Georgia Line. Of course they tried with a terrible song like “Bartender,” one of the first songs I outright hated from the group. Now they’re on a hiatus, probably the best thing for a group that has gotten lost in the shuffle.

This leads us to one of three members of Lady A, Charles Kelley. It felt he had gotten lost in the shuffle within the group in recent years, as more songs from the group were centered around Hillary Scott. In the earlier days of the group, it seemed like Scott and Kelley would shift back and forth between being the lead in songs. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why Kelley has now set out to make music as a solo artist. With Lady Antebellum on hiatus, this is a perfect opportunity to do something different. It’s already off to a great start, as the lead single from it, “The Driver,” has been nominated for Best Country Duo/Group Performance at the 58th Annual Grammy Awards. Not bad, huh? It also gave him the much-needed momentum to release his debut album of the same name, which was rumored to be delayed indefinitely after the single stalled at radio at first. So does The Driver deliver as well as the lead single? Well it’s a mixed bag.

The upbeat “Your Love” kicks The Driver off. It’s your standard pop country love song, complete with the electric guitar riffs. Kelley sings about how he compares his love for his woman to the sun and other typical tropes. It’s not a bad song, but there’s nothing that stands out about it either. Next is the album’s title track and lead single. I’ve already covered the Grammy-nominated song when it first came out. From my original review of “The Driver”: I have to say this song is a real pleasant surprise. In fact after my first listen I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “The Driver” is pretty good and has real sincerity about it. This starts with the acoustic guitar that opens the song and maintains a presence throughout the album. An electric guitar also joins it and gives the song an earthy, singer-songwriter vibe about it. It feels and sounds like something that belongs on country radio. The song itself (written by Kelley, Eric Paslay and Abe Stoklasa) is a feel good sing-a-long about traveling around on the road and making music. So it’s only appropriate that Kelley is also joined on the song by Eric Paslay and Dierks Bentley. They harmonize in the chorus and it’s just fantastic.

“Dancing Around It” is Kelley’s attempt at the R&B/metro country sound that is popular right now. The drum machines and synth make this pretty evident. Overall everything about this song sounds weak, from the lifeless production to Kelley’s falsetto. It’s the perfect song to play in the lines at DMVs across America. The great Stevie Nicks joins Kelley on “Southern Accents,” one of two duets on the album. The song is about being a proud southerner and his southern accent. While the song could have gone about this better, it does a solid job of getting the point across. Nicks works well with the song and sounds great in her older age. The production is the best part of the song, as it’s softer with a combination of a piano, electric guitar and surprising amount of steel guitar.

Kelley embraces the R&B/metro country sound again on “Lonely Girl.” The song of course is about a guy professing that this girl is the only one for him and how she should never be lonely. It’s all just quite fascinating. The production is straight up weird, as its Bruno Mars meets Ed Sheeran. Considering how so many mainstream acts are ripping off these two pop artists, it’s no surprise we finally get a song that rips off both of their styles. As a country song, it’s terrible. As a pop song, it’s catchy and mindless fun, so expect this to be Kelley’s next single. The love ballad “The Only One Who Gets Me” is next. It’s the kind of roots-influence rock song that is easy to get behind. The production is subtle enough to let Kelley’s voice shine, but also strong enough to catch your attention and add to the song. The songwriting is solid, even if a little unspectacular. “Round in Circles” is another pop country with too much pop and not enough country from Kelley. It’s basically a more hook-up-y version of Brothers Osborne’s “Stay A Little Longer” with worse production and vocals. I don’t really have much of a feeling on this song because it puts me to sleep. Of course it’s this cookie-cutter, neutral music that just dazzles label executives and car commercial makers.

The second duet of the album is “I Wish You Were Here,” where Kelley is joined by Miranda Lambert. It’s arguably the best song of the album, as the song is about a man travelling on the road all the time for work and wishing every step of the way his woman was there with him. This is another song that surprises me with the amount of pedal steel guitar in it. Lambert sounds great and goes perfect with Kelley. This song represents the best Kelley can offer and something that I wish I could say about every song on this album. The Driver ends with “Leaving Nashville,” a piano-driven ballad about living in Nashville as an artist and the struggles that come with it. These struggles can be things like everyone wanting to be your friend and wanting a favor to struggling to pay your bills. But despite all of this, Kelley vows to never leave Nashville and give up on living the dream of being an artist. It’s nice to hear a song like this from a bigger name highlighting the struggles a musician goes through when you’re not one of the biggest names. As Kelley sings in the final line, “One day you’re the king and the next you’re not.”

The Driver is an album where you take the good with the bad. When Charles Kelley is at his best on this album, you can really enjoy it and marvel at his singing voice. He shows he has talent and can stand out as a solo artist. But at Kelley’s worst on The Driver, he sounds just like another artist and another song. It’s pretty easy to pinpoint where exactly Kelley is pandering on this album. So I guess it makes it quite easy what you should avoid. I’ve heard debut albums much worse and much better than this one. It’s worth at least one listen through for yourself and definitely would suit you if you’re a fan of Lady Antebellum. The Driver is the true definition of a 50/50 album.

Grade: 5/10

The Good:

The Bad: