The Endless Music Odyssey, Vol. 9 — Taylor Swift, wrapping up 2020 releases & more!

This edition of The Endless Music Odyssey is a bit shorter than previous editions, as I wrap up the rest of the 2020 releases I wanted to cover (with one big exception, which will be covered in a full review soon). So after one more review, I’ll begin to listen to and review new releases in 2021 (I haven’t listened to an album released this year yet as of this writing). This could also be dubbed the “Worth a Listen” edition, as every album I review in it falls under the category.

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Worth a Listen

Taylor Swift — evermore

I had a lot to say about folklore and a lot of it positive. With evermore, I don’t have much to say and a lot of it a simple “meh” from me. The album starts out pretty strong for me: “willow” is catchy and grabs my attention, “champagne problems” is an interesting song about how things fall apart and “gold rush” has a lush, soaring production I can appreciate. And the best song on the album for me is “no body, no crime,” an excellently written murder ballad with a great feature from HAIM. It’s mysterious, intriguing and I hope it’s a huge hit.

But unfortunately the rest of this album does nothing for me. Ultimately the folky, alternative-influenced brand of pop runs thin for Swift. Now admittedly part of what probably hurts my perception of this album is hearing folklore and reviewing it not too long ago. So this does make me a bit more susceptible of fatigue on this sound and themes. But there’s also just not a lot different from folklore for me to get excited about evermore. The production choices feel a bit safer on this album too. Who knows maybe with time I’ll find more to appreciate about this album, but for now it’s just not a record that moves the needle much for me.

The Wild Feathers — Medium Rarities 

The Wild Feathers are a heartland/70s rock-inspired group that I’m surprised doesn’t get more buzz. They have a style and sound that is breezy and easy to like. Nevertheless if you enjoy this style of music they’re well worth your time. On their latest release Medium Rarities, they join the 1,000 mile-long list of bands who released a cover album in 2020. This album covers a variety of different eras of rock and it’s all in all pretty solid. There’s not a single bad track, but there’s nothing mind-blowing either. While the cover albums were enjoyable in 2020 for a while, I hope this trend stops in 2021. I know bands are bored right now with no touring and they’re trying to keep generating attention so they don’t get lost in the endless jungle of music in today’s world, but I’m beyond over cover albums at this point and I would rather hear more live albums instead.

Jack Harlow — That’s What They All Say

I honestly didn’t plan to pay this album any attention until I saw Sturgill Simpson give it a shoutout on Instagram. Any time an artist I enjoy recommends an artist I’ve never heard of, I’ll usually give it a look because I’ve found several great artists this way. Jack Harlow immediately became intriguing when I read that his influences are old school country like Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson and 90s/2000s hip hop like A Tribe Called Quest and Kanye (his early material, not the garbage he’s recently released). The music is not quite as intriguing though.

It’s definitely got a catchy, melodic vibe, which is apparently what Harlow says he goes for in his music. So mission accomplished. However, it’s not catchy and melodic enough to make me want to revisit it. There’s a few songs that are like his hit “Whats Poppin.” “Tyler Herro,” “Faces of My City” and “Luv is Dro” are pretty catchy and something I certainly wouldn’t skip if I heard on a playlist. But that leads me to this album’s biggest flaw: it’s too safe. It takes no chances and is the definition of playlist fodder. There’s also an abnormally large amount of references to Harlow’s high school days and classmates, which I guess isn’t shocking for someone a few years removed from graduating high school. But it doesn’t make for very interesting lyrics and certainly isn’t an interesting topic for people any older than him listening.

With age I think Harlow will get much better as he gains maturity and goes through more life experiences. He shows hints of introspection and deeper thinking at moments on this album, especially when he addresses the opportunity and privilege gap between himself and his black friends he grew up with in Kentucky (“Baxter Avenue”). So while this album is not good enough that I would seek it out to listen to in my free time, it’s not bad either where you would avoid listening to it. It’s an agreeable, pop-y hip hop album from a young artist with potential.

Black Thought — Streams of Thought, Vol. 3: Cane and Abel

Black Thought is undoubtedly one of the best MCs and lyricists in hip-hop. But it hasn’t quite necessarily translated to a great front-t0-back, full solo project. In his first two volumes of his Streams of Thought series the rapping was excellent as you would expect, but the music itself wasn’t necessarily the most engaging and interesting. It admittedly lacked some flash and they were too short to really get hooked. So on the surface for the third volume, Black Thought appears to directly address both of these: it’s a full album with major label support now, so it allowed him to bring in some heavy-hitting, big names as features. Unfortunately this album goes too far in the flash direction and loses too much substance.

There are some great songs on this album that show Black Thought at his full potential and utilize some excellent features (“Good Morning” with Pusha T and Killer Mike and “Steak Um” with ScHoolboy Q). “Thought vs Everybody” is a prime example of Black Thought bringing his best to the table in terms of his strengths. But the rest of this album has a very disjointed, watered-down feel in an attempt to have greater universal appeal. In the process Black Thought strips away what makes his music appealing in the first place. One of this album’s biggest flaws is multiple Portugal. The Man features, as each one feels so out of place. If Black Thought wanted to bring a more indie pop flavor to his music, there are a plethora of better options that would have been better fits with his style. Portugal. The Man has unfortunately in recent years has come to exemplify the definition of generic indie pop music. See how this isn’t a good fit with deeply lyrical-based hip hop?

It’s worth checking this album out, as there are some good things to enjoy about it. But it’s certainly not an album as a whole worth revisiting and if anything repeat listens makes one frustrated that this album couldn’t avoid such obvious pitfalls.

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Album Review — The Wild Feathers’ ‘Greetings from the Neon Frontier’

[This post originally appeared on Fusion Country in July 2018. It’s being re-posted for reader visibility and appears as it was originally posted, with the only changes being for grammar/spelling.]

This sounds a lot like the Eagles. That’s what I imagine The Wild Feathers hear a lot when someone first comes upon their music. While this is a tiring and obvious observation, it’s hard not to compare this country rock band to bands like the Eagles, Poco, Gram Parsons and Pure Prairie League who rose to prominence during the early 1970s. But don’t get hung up on the past, as these guys bring a modern take to a classic sound. The Wild Feathers are Taylor Burns, Ricky Young, Joel King and Ben Dumas and together they make the kind of melodic, guitar-driven music that quite frankly is missing a lot in today’s music. On their new album Greetings from the Neon Frontier, they deliver a warm and breezy sound that takes you away and makes you wish would come back.

The album greets you with the anthemic “Quittin’ Time.” It’s a thumping and head-banging rocker that perfectly sets the tone for the album and has you singing along by the end of the first listen. “Wildfire” is a song that immediately stands out on the album. It’s an easy-going, mellow song that you want to play when driving down a seaside highway. Its carefree tone immediately endears you. The harmonies from The Wild Feathers are fantastically infectious and appropriately are the centerpiece of the song. “Stand By You” is a song about togetherness and standing alongside the one you love through thick and thin. It’s a simple love song that avoids the pitfalls of being too saccharine or paint-by-the-numbers, but at the same time it’s missing something to make it emotionally stand out better.

One of the clear strengths of The Wild Feathers is their sound, as they clearly know who they are and what their strength is as a band. I think “No Man’s Land” is a great demonstration of it. It’s about wanting to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and getting away to the peace and quiet of the countryside. Now this theme is nothing new, but it’s the instrumentation that gives this song a liveliness that sticks with you. Particularly the jam-y outro of the song with the extended guitar solos really gives it a punch. The fiddle-driven “Two Broken Hearts” is the quietest moment on the album. The song is about the heartbreak of a failed relationship and the regret of letting a special love slip, as the line “And I’ll always regret never buying you that ring” alludes. The production of this song does a great job conveying the heartache, as the slow and tender fiddles paints the picture of a man drinking in the dark over lost love. It’s a pretty good song, although sonically it doesn’t fit the rest of the album.

The B-side of this album might be one of the strongest I’ve heard all year. While this album is great throughout, it’s the second half of this album that really show The Wild Feathers at their best. Nostalgia and reflection are the topic of “Golden Days.” It’s about not truly enjoying and appreciating what you have in front of you until it’s gone. The song puts you in mind of the end of a long summer full of memories, but realizing you’ll never get them back. It’s a happy and sad feeling all at once.

“Big Sky” has the same quality of breeziness about it as “Wildfire.” It’s the perfect summer driving music with its hazy, atmospheric guitars playing throughout. “Wide open spaces/Cool mountain breezes/Reaching down to save my soul/Take these city blues away” really do take you away to that very scene in your mind. It’s really important on atmosphere-based songs (and albums) to establish that scene in the listener’s head; otherwise the words don’t connect with you. And as The Wild Feathers demonstrate throughout this album, they are quite good at this. The harmonies really shine again on “Hold Onto Love.” It’s about a long and loving relationship that has plenty of rocky moments, but it’s the resolve and strength of love that carries them through the hardships. Sometimes you’re just holding onto each other for dear life and it’s these moments where you realize how important it is to have each other. This is a song that relies on heart to reach you and I think everything in this song works together well to accomplish it.

“Every Morning I Quit Drinkin’” is about not being able to give up the sins of drinking and partying. While the party is fun at night, the regret in the morning is even worse (I imagine the hangover is too). It’s a broken solution to a never-ending heartache. The ominous outro of the song adds to the emotions of the song, with the hazy instrumentation putting you in mind of someone lying on the floor after a night of drinking. The album closes with the upbeat and fun “Daybreaker (Into The Great Unknown).” It’s a mantra to life on the road, living life to the fullest and always chasing your passion. The bouncing energy of this song makes it a great closer that not only ends the album with a bang, but also makes you want to revisit it all over again.

The Wild Feathers impress me with their brand of country rock on Greetings From The Neon Frontier. This band has a tight, cohesive sound that borrows from the late 70s era of country rock while also sounding fresh and modern-day. What this band absolutely excels at is their ability to paint a picture in your head with their music. Their lyrics are descriptive, engaging and cleverly composed, while the instrumentation compliments the words well and add to the scene of the song. Their others strength is their soaring harmonies, which they shouldn’t be afraid to let shine more. Greetings from the Neon Frontier is a memorably fun album of country-flavored rock and roll that can be enjoyed both quietly and at full volume.

Grade: 8/10