ON THE ROCKS - MIDLAND
LCM ALBUM OF THE WEEK
- Release Date: 21st September, 2017
- Genre: Country-Rock
- Record Label: Big Machine Records
- Tracks: 13
- Website: http://midlandofficial.com/
- Review By: Gary Smith (LCM)
They are one of Big Machine Record new signings and one of my personal favourites. Midland have a wonderful retro 70's Californian Country Rock and Honky Tonk sound, yet with a fresh new twist. Layering their crafted songs full of heart and soul with great three part harmonies. Imagine the Eagles, CSNY and George Strait having a 'love child' and you won't go far wrong. In fact Midland are big fans and students of Country music and took their name from a Dwight Yoakam song. Based in Dripping Springs Texas close friends Mark Wystrach, lead guitarist Jess Carson and bass player Cameron Duddy are no strangers to music. Their debut album 'On The Rocks' is the highly anticipated follow up to their self titled debut EP released in October 2016. They are also scheduled for their first UK live date at C2C in March.
They excel in setting a mood, transporting the listener to another place and time. This is music made for wide-open skies, endless deserts and wondering where the road is going to take you next. "We write with a very visual storytelling approach. We paint that big picture and go to that place," says Mark. "Where is this story going? Let's paint it." It's no coincidence then that it was in an especially scenic setting where the band first came together at Cameron's wedding in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. There, casual friends Cameron and Jess formed a musical and personal bond while picking songs together on Jess's cabin's front porch. The connection was only strengthened when they found themselves jamming with Cameron onstage later that week at his rehearsal dinner. "It was this serendipitous chain of events," says Mark, an Arizona native. "And it was the best week ever." "All of us playing together happened only because Mark and I both showed up in Jackson Hole a week before the wedding with time to kill," adds Jess, originally from the Pacific Northwest. "But, by the end, we knew the three of us had amazing chemistry," says Mark. Armed with the newly married Cameron's nest egg, Mark, Jess and the California-raised Cameron decamped for the Sonic Ranch studio, near El Paso, Texas. They cut 15 songs and, bolstered by the outcome, realized they had a unique sound. "When we went to the Sonic Ranch, we became a band. We walked away believing in what had happened," says Mark. "All of our souls, our imaginations, were wrapped up in these 15 songs. We went all-in.........And then we all moved out to Texas," says Cameron with his gregarious laugh.
Now signed to Big Machine Records, Midland has been in the studio refining and expanding their catalog with ace songwriters like Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne. The sessions have yielded some of the most traditional-sounding country music to come out of Nashville in a decade. Midland have filled a void in country music and soon they can do likewise on country radio. Like their inspirations the Eagles, they are writing and recording songs with mass appeal. "The commonality with the Eagles is that we set out to make soulful, catchy and accessible music," says Mark. "Our greatest compliment is when somebody who says they're not a country music fan says they really like our songs." But those songs succeed because of one key ingredient: the friendship of Mark, Jess and Cameron. To a number, they each agree it's their secret formula. "Midland isn't manufactured," says Cameron. "We are three real friends who stumbled upon making music together." "We are a band," adds Jess, declaratively. "That's a big part of the spirit of what we do, that group experience and camaraderie. And it is ever-evolving." Midland's music is truly a sound decades in the making, that’s just right for today.
The album begins with the beautifully written lonesome love song 'Lonely For You Only' 'Every day is just a deeper shade of blue and I don't want no other heart to own me.......'cause I'm only lonely for you'. The very catchy honky-tonk Country rock 'Make A Little' is a real toe-tapper. Aiming to make the world a better place one person at a time, starting with the song's love interest.
The album's very catchy lead single 'Drinkin’ Problem' evokes Gary Stewart, one of Midland's biggest inspirations along with Merle Haggard. It works perfect with it's pedal steel, electric guitar and drums rolling around the central vocal and harmonies. As Mark croons, "They call it a problem, I call it a solution. Just sitting here with all my grand illusions." "It's talking about something that's real, but it's told in a way that it can be tongue-in-cheek, depending on how the audience experiences it," says Mark. Adds Cameron, "Every good country song has that versatility. But the best are the ones you can listen to when you're angry, sad, happy or however you may be feeling."
The classic break-up song 'At Least You Cried' is about your partner being less than truthful in a relationship. "Was it all a game to you?........you didn't mean it......but a least you cried". Well crocodile tears at least. Almost classic CSNY is 'Burn Out' another stand-out on the album. Great thoughtful and reflective lyrics with the trademark Midland hooks and harmonies. 'Just watchin' rivers run down the side of the bottle. Almost like it's crying my tears. Had the world on a string and then I lost everything........Watchin' cigarettes burn out, 'til all the neon gets turned out"
Another classic break up song is 'Out Of Sight' with it's catchy "So long, she's gone" refrain. "The train went off the track.......I'm going crazy one night at a night.......She's out of sight and I'm out of my mind". Things get a little more positive in 'More Than A Fever' a lovely love song about desire and the power of love. It reminded me a little of the Eagles with it's underlying harmonies. The autobiographic 'Check Cashin' Country' tells of the history of the band, the difficulties of life on road and the hardships of making it in Country music. "Sure ain't it for the money....this ain't check cashing country". A personal and heartfelt tale of lost love is explored in the majestic "Nothin' New Under the Neon", it sounds like vintage Eddie Rabbit, whether they intended it or not.' Living a life like a bad country song for far too long' is the central theme of 'This Old Heart'....*it's been kicked around and had all it can take......it needs a little less wrecking....and a lot more affection. Some loving and a little less ache....it needs a break". The desire to escape the problems in Music City (Nashville, Tennessee) and head for the mountains is the theme of 'Altitude Adjustment' name checking The Blue Mountains, The Rockies and Colorado where "The sky is baby blue and the grass is green"
'Electric Rodeo' with its plaintive piano, sweeping strings and high-in-the-saddle chorus, is a prime example of the 'soundscape' the band so often talks about creating. It's another autobiographical song about the band. "We never stop.....we just slow down....We're paintin' on our suits, plugging in our boots........and the rhinestones shine just as bright as diamonds underneath the lights" . It could quite easily be the answer song to Glen Campbell's famous Rhinestone Cowboy. The album closes with the toe-tapping harmonica, banjo and pedal steel driven 'Somewhere On The Wind'. A classic country music tale of trains, relationships, loneliness and the life on the open road.