Greta Van Fleet Releases Explosive First LP, Despite Production Issues

Greta Van Fleet still has a lot of room to grow, but this album leaves me excited to take that journey with them.

     Greta Van Fleet is neo-classic rock group based in Frankenmuth, Michigan. The group has achieved massive success since the release of their debut EP, Black Smoke Rising in the summer of 2017 and the follow up, From the Fires a few months later. The latter was certified gold and peaked in the top 40 on billboard, reaching number one in their hard rock classification.

   Their sound is often compared to that of Led Zeppelin, an observation which gains the bulk of its credibility from from frontman, Josh Kiszka’s high pitched vocal with which he wails over virtually every track. Beyond this, the instrumental work, particularly Jake Kiszka’s guitar, is evocative of the indulgent style of rock’s golden age in the early to mid-1970’s. Greta Van Fleet have continually dispelled the direct comparisons to Zeppelin in many interviews, and it’s become something of a hot topic in online circles. Personally, the similarities are far to obvious to be missed, but it’s never bothered me or effected my enjoyment of the band’s work, which I’ve found to be some of the best in modern rock music over the past few years. That being said, this LP had it’s work cut out, as it was tasked with exploring new sonic landscapes without losing the group’s classic style. It’s a difficult juggling act, but I must say, Anthem of the Peaceful Army performs it quite well.

   The Greta we know and love is hear in full force, particularly on tracks like “The Cold Wind,” or the lead single, “When the Curtains Fall.” Here, we’re treated to well toned guitar work, rock beats, and pure rock vocals. It’s fun, it’s powerful, and in every way it’s classic, which is everything we’ve come to love and expect from the group.

   There are also consistent improvements, however. Sam Kiszka’s bass work, which has been lacking up to this point, is excellent on “The New Day,” and “You’re the One.” In addition, Danny Wagner’s drums on tracks like “Mountain of the Sun,” are vastly better on this project, retaining the basic rock beats of From the Fires, but adorning them with well placed fills and crashes.

   And, of course, Josh and Jake Kiszka’s contributions on vocals and guitar respectively are fantastic, as expected. A tracks like “Lover, Leaver,” and “Brave New World,” just couldn’t be accomplished by many bands in the current rock scene, but Josh and Jake muscle them to excellence through catchy hooks and soaring vocals, both of which can be found on nearly every second of the forty minute runtime.

   The best addition to Greta’s arsenal, overall, are the dark and atmospheric tracks like “Watching Over,” and the opener, “Age of Man.” The latter works in a bit of orchestration and the latter uses an almost minimalist approach and an excellent guitar solo, but each achieve a more nocturnal feel than was ever possible on the band’s earlier hits. The best example of this comes in the closer, “Lover, Leaver (Taker, Believer),” the longest track on the record and my personal favorite, which dances between droning guitars, minimal interludes, and explosive screams to carry all of its six minutes. This is an obvious moment of growth for Greta, and as such a young band thrown into such a bright spotlight, the willingness to branch out is commendable, as well as sonically enjoyable.

   On the other hand, there was a surprising amount of acoustic guitar on this record, which doesn’t always work to the band’s favor. “The New Day” utilizes this quite well, but tracks like “Anthem” and my least favorite entry, “You’re the One,” which also suffers from poor lyricism and, my biggest complaint with this record as a whole, boring production.

   The production team at Republic records seems to have missed a large portion of what makes Greta Van Fleet the group they are, and because of this, this album suffers from multiple missed opportunities. This band has the opportunity to build a lush, maximalist sound, and instead, it sounds like for, albeit talented, musicians performing together. One of the best elements of the indulgent, stadium rock of the 70’s was hearing lead riffs, drum fills, and vocal hooks seem to peak above a powerful wave of sound for only a moment. This is a missed opportunity which I hope will be corrected in later projects.

   Anthem of the Peaceful Army is a blast to listen to. Its made to be played very loud and harken to a much earlier, prouder time in rock’s history, and yet it delivers substance along with its aesthetic. Every aspect of the band’s sound has improved and, despite a few lyrical and production missteps along the way, they’ve crafted an extremely enjoyable LP.

   Greta Van Fleet still has a lot of room to grow, but this album leaves me excited to take that journey with them.

7/10

HEAR ANTHEM OF THE PEACEFUL ARMYhttps://open.spotify.com/album/7zeCZY6rQRufc8IHGKyXGX

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Coheed and Cambria Drop Epic Album, Keeping the Fire Alive on Ninth Release

The Unheavenly Creatures is a blast to listen to, and a must hear for fans of Coheed and Cambria or fans of good rock music in general.

     Coheed and Cambria is a progressive/emo rock group from Nyack, New York. They’ve been working fairly steadily since 2002, though they’ve achieved little commercial success save two gold records in 2003 and 2005. Regardless, they’ve begun to amass a substantial fanbase over the long run, many of whom are willing to follow the group down the conceptual rabbit hole that is the Coheed and Cambria discography.

   On top of the intricate, longwinded concepts that are riddled throughout their work, the band has built quite a unique sound. They blend elements of progressive and arena rock with a heavy dose of 1970’s rock influence. The guitars are screaching, the drums groove, and most importantly, Claudio Sanchez’ lead vocals and frontman presence is powerful and commanding. Today, the sound comes off as a bit indulgent, especially for listeners like myself who grew up enjoying the massive wave of loud, metal influenced, emo-rock of the mid 2000’s. Thankfully, The Unheavenly Creatures is more of the same.

   The key to this record is tightness. Coheed and Cambria move across this 70-minute runtime as one perfectly cohesive unit, swelling and falling together, in a way that’s rarely seen in rock today. Even on the less listenable tracks like “Love Protocol,” or “Old Flames,” listeners have little trouble following them because the instrumentals are so well crafted and each member plays off of each other so well.

   Tugging the band apart for a bit, Travis Stever’s guitar is the closest to a lead instrumental voice. His leads on “True Ugly,” or “All on Fire,” color the tracks well and make them some of the best cuts on the album, but his best contribution is in the rhythm department. His hooks on “The Dark Sentencer,” or “Pavilion,” for example, are thick and driving, mixing a great tone with excellent play.

   Zach Cooper and Josh Eppard helm the bass and drums respectively and their parts are hard to separate because of an interesting technique they use. Cooper’s bass is, among other things, used primarily to color the kick drums and tom grooves throughout the album. This is perhaps most apparent on a tracks like “Black Sunday,” and “Queen of the Dark,” where a prominent bass part follows the lower pitched drums, giving another layer to Eppard’s work.

   None of this, however, is as meaningful to this album as Claudio Sanchez’ vocals. He sings with an epic power but an expert touch, never overpowering a track but finding perfect ear worm hooks and blasting them to the forefront. This applies to nearly every second of the record but to name a few, the title track, “Toys,” “It Walks Among Us,” and especially “Night-Time Walkers,” benefit from this in a massive way. There is just no way around saying that Sanchez is the best part of The Unheavenly. Creatures by a mile.

   The best track on this album is so good, I thought it would deserve its own paragraph. “The Gutter,” is one of the funnest, most indulgent rock songs I’ve heard since the days of My Chemical Romance. It’s a sugar rush of power chords, grooving drums, and an undeniable performance from Claudio Sanchez. The production is excellent here as well, maybe the only time it’s really noticeable, as the the vocal harmonies are well placed in the mix and pushing the stereo image is especially rich near the end.

   My complaints with this record are far from substantial, but they are nagging. Several of the intros feature odd pianos or synth instrumentation which rarely works at all and often only serves to kill any momentum gained by the soaring moments of the previous tracks. In addition, the two worst tracks on the album, and the only ones I genuinely can’t imagine myself ever revisiting, are the opener “Prologue,” and the closer “Lucky Stars.” The former runs far too long with little to offer and is the only track to focus so heavily on the concept, a storyline which has run across nearly every release of the band’s decade and a half career, to be enjoyable for the uninitiated. The latter does feature some solid acoustic guitar work and a fun guitar solo from Stever, but it just doesn’t mesh with the overall sound of the record, and so doesn’t feel like a satisfying conclusion to such an epic project.

   If I could choose one word to describe The Unheavenly Creatures, It would be indulgent. For fans of the epic, emo-rock of the mid 2000s, this album hits the spot in a major way. There are some issues, but those flaws, for the most part, are small and forgettable, quickly blasted from our ears by the next soaring chorus or powerful guitar riff.

   The Unheavenly Creatures is a blast to listen to, and a must hear for fans of Coheed and Cambria or fans of good rock music in general.

8/10

HEAR THE UNHEAVENLY CREATUREShttps://open.spotify.com/album/42S0lDJT9wHKCVaMGgqKdm

Eric Church Turns in Imperfect but Listenable LP

Put simply, Desperate Man gives something to enjoy on every track, and yet leaves much to be desired just as often.

     Eric Church is a country/americana artist from Nashville, TN. He debuted in the late 2000’s with two modestly successful releases on Capitol Records before signing with EMI and dropping 2011’s Chief. The album rode the success of its lead single, “Drink In My Hand,” and went triple platinum, establishing Church as a major player in Nashville’s radio country scene. He followed up with two more LP’s in 2014 and 2015, each of which went platinum and rode singles like “Springsteen,” “Give Me Back My Hometown,” and most recently, “Record Year.”

   Church, especially the version of him presented by EMI, is known for a certain outlaw flare, a more traditional country twang in his vocal, and heavily rock inspired instrumentation. While he is, by no means, a member of the growing outsider movement in country music, he is certainly a more radio friendly form of what people like Stapleton, Isbell, and Simpson are doing. He has tended to position himself against the grain in a few safe ways, but for the most part he is one of the higher quality members of the modern Nashville stable. His recent comment in criticism of the NRA, inspired by his being present at the deadly massacre in Las Vegas in 2017, was easily the most controversy he’s faced in the industry thus far, and they left me curious as to what we’d hear from him next. Well, Desperate Man is here, and it is a mixed bag in just about every way imaginable. We’ll start with the good.

   Church’s vocals on this album are very good. His twang fits very well in most of these tracks and he walks the line between county and blues in an interesting way. Tracks like “Higher Wire,,” and the closer, “Drowning Man,” benefit from this quite a bit and his upper register is surprisingly well executed.

   The instrumentation is also excellent here, perhaps the record’s best quality. The acoustic guitar on “Some Of It,” and the extremely creative opening to “Heart Like a Wheel,” stand out as a few especially exciting moments, and the title track even features a latin percussion section, but Drowning Man is really adorned with excellent instrumental work throughout.

   Eric Church’s ability to write earworm hooks is also here in spades, as it has been on previous projects. The chorus for “Jukebox and a Bar,” is perfectly hummable and the prechorus to the album’s best track, “Hangin’ Around,” is absolutely one of the best hooks of the year. Additionally, “Hippie Radio,” has a fun way of incorporating classic rock phrases into its chorus and will leave you singing along for days to come.

   Even the lyricism is well done here, mainly coming from the mind of Church himself as well as a few friends and collaborators. “The Snake,” for example, opens the record with an enigmatic story over the atmospheric, blue guitar and “Monsters,” is genuinely interesting, playing with the ideas of “killing a monster,” by turning on the light or checking under the bed. These are very nice touches which aren’t expected on a mainstream country album these days.

   For all of these reasons, Desperate Man can hardly be called unenjoyable. However, there are a few deep seeded issues which run through the heart of this album, many of them owing to unfinished ideas.

   There are some horrendous production decisions, most notably the vocal effect on “Solid,” which butchers an otherwise fun cut. The worst offensive, though, is this albums constant tendency to open tracks with the seeds for sprawling, interesting instrumentals before cutting them short in favor of traditional, 16 bar structure. “The Snake,” opens with a long, contemplative guitar riff before being tossed into a rhythmic cage for the song’s duration, “Heart Like A Wheel” features a unique, minor progression which resolves to a more traditional key before Church starts singing, and this happens far more than it should across the entire rest of this project. Plenty of modern country artists, Sturgill Simpson being perhaps the best known, toy with creative and even orchestral introductions, but when this is done, it needs to be further developed throughout the song. Instead, Church teases with a fun idea and expects credit for four bars of it.

   Eric Church isn’t the best artist in country today by any means, but he’s certainly one of the better voices receiving mainstream radio play. On top this, he’s still showing clear signs of growth, now seven releases into his career. Desperate Man is a huge improvement on its predecessor, but there’s still a lot of work to be done, which I worry may hindered by his need to keep his work accessible to larger crowds.

   Put simply, Desperate Man gives something to enjoy on every track, and yet leaves much to be desired just as often.

5/10

HEAR DROWNING MAN: https://open.spotify.com/album/5TjDN2hfsgNWVtP8Ew56Xx

Mudhoney’s Tenth Studio Release is a Brash Punk Jam, Hectic but Brave

While Digital Garbage isn’t perfect, it is yet another strong showing for the most important band you’ve never heard of.

     Mudhoney is an American grunge/punk band based in Seattle, WA. Often called “the most important band you’ve never heard of,” the group’s early work following their formation in 1988 was released on Sub-Pop Records and was massively influential in the early grunge scene which eventually gave birth to the likes of Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and fellow Sub-Pop group, Nirvana. Unlike their label mates, however, Mudhoney has remained with Sub-Pop for the duration of their career with ten albums over three decades, each critically well received, but none finding commercial success.

   The group is lauded for their heavy guitars, blues and punk influence, and brutally honest lyricism. Their sound is far less accessible than the bulk of grunge music thanks to their jarring sound and frontman Mark Arm’s unique singing voice. Nevertheless, Mudhoney has built quite a loyal following over the years, including a long list of very famous and influential fans, while continuing to work day jobs in their hometown. Now, 30 years after the band’s groundbreaking debut, Mudhoney is back with Digital Garbage, and it seems that they still have quite a bit to say.

   The punk influences are worn directly on the sleeve in this album. Tracks like “Paranoid Core,” or “21st Century Pharisees” are pure punk rock jams complete with distorted guitars and metronomic high-hats. “Night and Fog,” even pulls a few post-punk inspirations, easily the most modern style featured on the record.

   Steve Turner turns in the best performance of the group on guitars. “Hey Neanderf**k” leans entirely on his bluesy riffs and fuzzy distortion while his active play on the closer, “Oh Yeah,” makes the short, 90 second song more than worthy of wrapping up the project. He’s constantly moving, often toying with dissonance and rarely settling for simple chords and rhythm, giving Digital Garbage a constant forward motion throughout it’s 35-minute runtime.

   The rest of the band works well with each other, showing off the kind of tightness that comes from three decades with only one substantial lineup change. The drums are fantastic on “Next Mass Extinction,” complementing the open blues tone set by the harmonica melodies, while the bass intro on the opener “Nerve Attack,” is the highlight of the admittedly tame track.

   Lyrically, Digital Garbage is nothing short of pure, distilled punk of the political variety. Mark Arm’s criticism of modern culture is especially sharp when his gaze is fixed on the current state of organized religion on “Prosperity Gospel,” or my favorite cut, “Messiah’s Lament.” Here, he turns the scalpel of whit to the conjoined nature of American Christianity to the Republican Party and right wing ideology. This is nearly as sharp in “Kill Yourself Live,” as Arm lambasts today’s youth for their obsessions with social media and glorification of self-harm in addition to providing the albums title on an anthemic bridge.

   My first and strongest criticism, however, comes on this same topic, namely in the lyrics to “Please Mr. Gunman,” which, I believe to be in quite bad taste. Of course, there are no topics off limits to artists, especially in punk rock, but the song sets out to tackle issues like mass shootings, religious hypocrisy, and national apathy, doing so with the grace of thirteen year old arguing with their teacher. I won’t use the term “offensive,” because, as I said, no topic is off the table to good writing, but issues like these need tact and nuance, which they are not afforded on this, the worst track on the album.

   Arm’s voice, though unique, can be a bit much at a few moments. At times, he is a dynamic leader, and at times, he sounds like Weird Al Yankovic trying his hand at punk rock. In addition, the album has a tendency to be a bit one-note, with many songs sounding very similar, though the short runtime and energetic spirit helps smooth this over.

   Digital Garbage is a fun listen and in many respects, it’s one of the bravest punk records of the last decade. The political statements on this album are the kind of brash, boldfaced lyrics that are rarely heard outside of the underground. A hugely influential rock band with a catalog full of classics, it’s good to hear Mudhoney still working and putting out such high quality work.

   While Digital Garbage isn’t perfect, it is yet another strong showing for the most important band you’ve never heard of.

6/10

HEAR DIGITAL GARBAGE: https://open.spotify.com/album/3VlqKyu14rAorKhWFStRMY

Twenty One Pilots Reemerge With Catchy but Deeply Flawed Fifth Album

With the increased maturity, the duo’s weaknesses shine more brightly than ever, and in some cases even cover up the many strengths that do exist on this album.

     Twenty One Pilots is an alternative hip-hop/pop/electronica duo from Columbus Ohio. They worked their way up through the music industry with an organic, grassroots fanbase eating up their self-titled debut and the follow up, Regional at Best in 2009 and 2011 respectively. They went on to sign a deal with Fueled by Ramen and release their breakout LP, Vessel in 2013, which still holds up to this day thanks to it’s youthful exuberance and experimental nature. Their 2015 follow up, Blurryface hasn’t aged nearly as well as it’s predecessor, though it was well received with the “Stressed Out” single netting them a grammy in 2016. Earlier this year, Blurryface became the first album in music history to have at least a gold certification for every track.

   Twenty One Pilots have been touring relentlessly since their last release until their recent and rather pretentious announcement that Trench would release later this year. Social media was abuzz and the first few singles showed quite a bit of promise. Though the once dominant Fueled By Ramen label has, in recent years, become a cesspool of thirty-something year old pop-rockers singing to twenty-something fans reliving their high school emo days, Twenty One Pilots showed a few signs of life and maturity in their lyricism and sound. I found myself excited to hear Trench, if a bit cautious, and now that it’s out, the record does pack a few surprises.

   The band’s best talent on this record is, as it always was, their ability to write hooks. Tracks like “Chlorine,” or “Morph,” are built around undeniable ear-worms that will bounce around in a listeners head for weeks to come. Even some of the records later cuts, “Bandito,” for example, are extremely catchy and feature very well written choruses.

   Beyond this, Josh Dunn’s drums are, of course, a treasure trove of fun fills and rhythms. “Legend” features a fun, easy rock beat which stands as one of the last remnants of the duo’s earlier sound. Much of the closer, “Leave This City,” on the other hand is driven by a fairly complex cymbal rhythm which all but makes up for the unremarkable nature of the track.

   Tyler Joseph’s contributions, however, are not as consistent. He gives an excellent, emotional performance on the opener and my favorite cut, “Jumpsuit,” and his quirky vocal is perfect for the upbeat tribute to his wife, “Smithereens.” His rapping, though, is not nearly as exciting on the trap influenced “Levitate,” or most anywhere else he raps on this project. Where Tyler’s screaming flow was once erratic and youthful, it comes off as awkward or uninteresting on much of Trench.

   The instrumentals are rarely memorable, but do provide a few highlights. The fuzzy guitar on the aforementioned opener are fantastic, and the discreet ukulele on “Nico and the Niners” is a nice touch. Furthermore, a few of the more electronic tracks like “My Blood,” or “The Hype,” are actually quite rich and mix in Joseph’s newfound love of bass guitar well.

   Lyrically we find an odd issue rearing its head. Songs like “Neon Gravestones,” or “Legend,” benefit from interesting choices in topic, especially the former which indicts our culture’s glorification of mental illness and suicide. The bulk of the lyricism is relatively inoffensive, though a bit repetitive.

   However, Trench is constantly plagued by an effort to develop an absurdly intricate concept following a dystopian future and some kind of rebellion against a theocratic government with so many characters and details that virtually no casual or even dedicated listener could unweave it without reading the loads of written material which the band uploaded along with the album. The vast majority of the storyline takes place in the writing with the album only casually mentioning it and many tracks completely forgoing the concept all together. This has the effect of interrupting otherwise interesting songs with ridiculous and meaningless lyrics which only exist to loosely tie in the plot of this external story. In short, Trench is a textbook example of how not to write a concept album.

   The only other complaint I have falls mainly over the second half of the album in that much of it is simply boring. Tracks like “Cut My Lip,” and “Pet Cheetah,” are messy and go nowhere, with the latter easily standing as the low point of the record. “Bandito,” though featuring a nice hook, doesn’t justify it’s five and a half minute runtime as none of the musical ideas really grow or develop in anyway.

   Trench is an odd album because it shines in many ways. Josh Dunn is as good as ever on drums, Paul Meany’s production leads to many interesting, small touches to be discovered on repeat plays, and Tyler Joseph clearly still has the ability to craft interesting musical ideas. This album could even pass as an alright addition to the Twenty One Pilots catalog, but after revisiting Vessel or even Blurryface, it becomes clear that Trench lacks a certain youthful energy which once glaze over the weaker elements of the band’s work.

   With the increased maturity, the duo’s weaknesses shine more brightly than ever, and in some cases even cover up the many strengths that do exist on this album.

5/10

HEAR TRENCH: https://open.spotify.com/album/621cXqrTSSJi1WqDMSLmbL

Revocation Drops Thrashing but Technical 7th LP

While the record is flawed, it’s a passionate attempt to balance loud, thrashing instruments with virtuosity and precision which, when it works, works gloriously.

     Revocation is a thrash/death metal trio based in Boston, MA. They founded nearly two decades ago and quickly gained notoriety from a very strong, self-released EP and a follow up LP in 2006 and 2008 respectively. After signing with Relapse Records in 2009, the group went on to release three very successful projects, the last of which, 2013’s self-titled album, actually charted in the billboard 200. Recently, they’ve signed to Metal Blade Records for 2014’s Deathless and 2016’s Great Is Our Sin, each of which charted and received heavy critical acclaim in the US and parts of Europe.

   The groups is known, first and foremost, for their technical abilities on each instrument and attention to detail in every riff and fill. This serves them well in a genre which caters to fans with a strong knowledge of musicianship and provides a window in for listeners from outside the genre who don’t necessarily know what to listen for in heavy metal. They’ve gone through a few lineup changes over the years, with frontman David Davidson remaining as the only member of the original cast, but they haven’t lost any of their edge or skill. With that, let’s take a look at The Outer Ones.

   The backbone and workhorse of this group is Ash Pearson on drums. Having just joined in 2015 to replace longtime and founding member, Phil Dubois-Coyne, Pearson stepped into big shoes, which he filled instantly. His ability to switch from complex groves to ridiculously fast, driving passages is extremely impressive. This shines a lot on tracks like “That Which Consumes All Things,” or “Fathomless Catacombs,” but it is the spine of the record as a whole and allows Revocation to put clear separations between their thrash and death metal influences.

   While the drums may be the bedrock, you could be forgiven for missing much of Pearson’s work thanks the distraction of David Davidson’s soaring lead guitars. The solo on the opener and my favorite cut, “Of Unworldly Origins,” just cuts the very dense mix in half with power and direction and the way he toys with atonation and dissonance on the opening of the title track gives an eery feel which is far too rare on this record. This, of course, not to mention the lead only passage on the closer, “A Starless Darkness,” which is simply fantastic.

   The rhythm guitar is excellent is as well. Davidson’s tone and chunky play works well over the drums to enforce the rhythm well on tracks like “Vanitas.” Throughout the entire album, this guitar is an essential part of pulling listeners along for the constantly changing rhythms and tempos that The Outer Ones throws at them.

   Vocals are a much weaker area as Davidson is a much better guitarist than vocalist. While he has high points like “Luciferous,” where his more thrashing voice comes through to imbue the track with a certain epical feel, most of his performances aren’t memorable, and tend leave listeners waiting for the next virtuosic instrumental passage.

   The bass guitar is very nearly non-existent on this project. Brett Bamburger’s work peaks its head out in tracks like “Luciferous,” or “Vanitas” but weather its buried in the mix or just forgettable and unnoticeable, the bass can hardly be heard outside of these few spotlighting moments. Because of this, every single track is wanting of a depth which just doesn’t come from the rest of the rather narrow instrumental pallet.

   Easily the album’s worst quality, though, is the production. Accomplished metal producer, Zeuss takes the reigns on The Outer Ones and paints this record with more than a few cliched choices. The swirling fade in on “Blood Atonement,” is extremely overused and dated and the fade out on “A Starless Darkness,” is simply unforgivable and all but ruins one of Revocation’s strongest pieces in the tracklist. Beyond this, the entire project has a very thin sound, the bass guitars are buried through much of it, and what stereo imaging there is comes off as gimmicky and unnatural. This seems to be simply a case of trying to fix what isn’t broke.

   All together, The Outer Ones is a fun, heavy release from one of the most talented groups in rock music. The less than 50 minute runtime doesn’t overstay its welcome, tracks are well paced and consistently entertaining, and the musicianship is nothing short of fantastic.

   While the record is flawed, it’s a passionate attempt to balance loud, thrashing instruments with virtuosity and precision which, when it works, works gloriously.

6/10

HEAR THE OUTER ONES: https://open.spotify.com/album/1Ela7sSi5MIp9HmEuLbCdY

Loretta Lynn Pairs with John Carter Cash For Powerful Album with Legacy Records

Wouldn’t It Be Great avoids the trappings of sentimentality, for the most part, and instead presents the image of an icon continuing to master her craft.

     Loretta Lynn is a legend at a caliber that very few ever reach. She’s been a member of the Grand ‘Ole Opry for more than 50 years, featured in the County Music Hall of Fame, won four Grammys, and even received a Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama in 2013. After a studio career that spans 41 albums and 55 years, Lynn is now reaching the twilight of her career and she’s doing so with grace.

   Her 2017 album, Full Circle was nominated for the Best Country Album award at the 59th Grammy awards, and having signed with Legacy Records, she doesn’t seem to be done yet. This is especially the case due to the recent resurgence of the outlaw and traditional country styles. Wouldn’t It Be Great released earlier this week and it is yet another great addition to her catalog.

   Lynn’s voice on this record is especially impressive, as she still sounds fantastic after her very long career. This is especially true on her higher, more open notes in tracks like “I’m Dying for Someone to Live For,” or the opening title track. She sings with a power and control that just doesn’t exist in modern country music.

   This is made all the more impressive by the fantastic instrumentation on this album, which is easily it’s best quality. Sam Bush’s fiddle on “Another Bridge to Burn,” is just pure bluegrass and the electric guitars on “Don’t Come Home from Drinkin’” set the perfect tone for such a classic of country music. The bedrock to all of this is, of course, Mike Bub on the upright bass who holds down every song with an active, leading bass line. This instrumentation, more so than anything else, is what sets Wouldn’t It Be Great apart form other recent releases from older country icons.

   This large band and wide pallet is masterfully helmed by John Carter Cash on production. The only son of Johnny Cash and June Carter, John is quickly becoming one of the best producers in country music with his simple but elegant style. His stereo imaging gives tracks like “Lulie Vars,” or “These ‘Ole Blues,” a very organic feel and he has a good ear for which instruments need to take center stage.

   While the album carries plenty of crooning ballads, it is at its best when its fun. Listen to songs like “Ruby’s Stool,” or my personal favorite, “Ain’t No Time to Go,” which take almost an Irish slant with the loud fiddle, mandolin swells, and excellent banjo work by Larry Perkins. These tracks are best described as foot-tappers, and they’re some of the funnest country songs of the year.

   Lyrically, the album is a bit of a mixed bag. “My Angel Mother,” is a moving and well crafted tribute and “The Big Man,” is a clinic in how to write religious music. On the other hand, “God Makes No Mistakes,” is a good example of how not to write religious music as it comes off as repetitive and answers few of the questions it poses and may be the weakest song in the track list. In addition, “Darkest Days,” one of Lynn’s oldest songs, repurposed for this project, shows it’s age a bit in it’s simple writing and rhyme scheme.

   Many of the tracks on this album are older Loretta Lynn songs which she’s re-recorded for this album, and most of them gain something from the update. If one doesn’t, it would likely be the closer, “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” This is, of course, one of the most iconic songs in the country cannon, but nothing is improved by recording it again, especially since it was recorded as recent as 2012 before this.

   On the other end of the album, the opener and title track is easily the highlight of this project. Loretta’s vocal is gentle but powerful, Randy Scruggs’ acoustic guitar lays an excellent bedding, and the lyrics are very well written, dealing with a woman asking her alcoholic husband to “throw the ‘ole glass crutch away.”

   Loretta Lynn is one of the all time greats and her pairing with the John Carter Cash is more than fitting. The vocals are excellent, the instrumental pallet is broad and exciting, and Loretta Lynn commands respect in a way that few artists ever are able to.

   Wouldn’t It Be Great avoids the trappings of sentimentality, for the most part, and instead presents the image of an icon continuing to master her craft.

8/10

HEAR WOULDN’T IT BE GREAT: https://open.spotify.com/album/4Uk33jRr1FKDvYBDy8J3Xr