When Megan first approached me about checking out this album, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d actually never heard of AJ Hobbs, but when she told me he was saying his music was “outlaw soul”, I knew I had to give it a shot. Let me tell you, he delivers on both fronts.
This album was quite unique from anything I’ve heard in a while. AJ Hobbs is a good singer, with a nice soulful voice. His backing band was awesome, particularly his steel guitar player. He put horns throughout this album on occasion too, and I haven’t seen that since Sturgill Simpson’s A Sailor’s Guide to Earth. Finally, there were his backup singers. They were soul singers, and even though they were just his backing vocalists, they really helped this album be more than just an outlaw country album. All that is to say that AJ Hobbs’ self-appointed label of “outlaw soul” is very fitting.
The opening track “Too Much is Never Enough” is pretty great. It’s fast with a party vibe. Except that the good times can actually be a bit too good. One beer is too much, but too much is never enough, as he says in the song. Things slow down for “Life Without You”. The sentiment of this track is nice because he’s basically saying his life, though crazy, isn’t worth living without his wife or girlfriend. The only thing that really made this song stand out is the tempo change and guitar solo near the end. “The Loser” starts a bit of a trend with this album. The main character is tired of his nine-to-five job, and the bindings of domestic life. He’d much rather be out on the road making music. I found AJ Hobbs’ portrayal of weariness quite convincing, and it definitely helps the song stand out.
Then there is “The Bottle Let Me Down”. It’s a cover of the Merle Haggard classic, with a slower, bluesy slant. There are some really great horns in this version. It’s not my thing personally, since I like the more country versions, but if you like soul and blues music, check this one out. “Daddy Loved the Lord” is one of my favorite songs off the album. It’s got some awesome piano in it for starters, even a solo. The actual lyrics are all about how a family split up due to a father who was a drug addict and alcoholic. He was religious, but he still couldn’t love his family enough to keep them all together. “East Side” isn’t my favorite song off of the album, but it has a nice theme behind it. The main character pledges to be there for a troubled movie star whom he loves, regardless of whether her troubles are of her own making, or just those of the fast changes of life.
“Shit Just Got Real” stands out right away due to the driving guitars and tempo. It’s a breakup song, where the main character is just tired of his life. He’s sick of being busy, is resigned to the fact that his wife threatens to leave him for being an alcoholic, and all he wants is just the money to pay his bills. This song’s instrumentation is great, with some very well-done guitar play. Once again, Hobbs skillfully portrays world-weariness. I love these kinds of songs from him.
I noticed the fiddle on the next song right away. “Are You Going to Tennessee?” is forgettable, other than that. It tells the story of a man who just wants to go to Tennessee where he could feel like he belonged, and not have to think about anything. The man is a musician, so it makes sense, but the theme of wanting to escape is a bit old at this point.
Due to this, “A Whole Lot of You and Me” is a nice break from all the tired songs on this album. It’s about a man who just wants to spend time with the woman he loves. A relatively happy song is nice to hear from Hobbs, even though it doesn’t completely stand out as unique. “Take it Slow” is the only duet on this album. It features Dominique Pruitt, whom I’d never heard of. I like how soulful her voice is. It involves two people meeting in a bar. The reason that that isn’t totally cliche is because you find out that the two are exes, who just can’t seem to leave each other alone. While I appreciated that it featured two exes, I thought the voices didn’t properly fit together. I ended up liking the duet more than I first thought, but it does take a minute to really get into the song.
“Waylon & Merle” shows off the steel guitar that’s so great on this album. The song itself is about a musician who has no luck, so he dedicates his songs to Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard, because those two knew the secret to musical success, and that’s what he is striving for. Finally, there’s “Tomorrow I’ll be Hurtin’”. You’d think it is a party song, but no. In actuality, it’s one of the darker tracks on this album, since it features a musician, once again. He puts on a show for the crowd, but then struggles to make money the next day. I think this is a great song to close the album out with, because it really represents a lot of what AJ Hobbs is trying to say here.
With all that said, Too Much is Never Enough is quite a striking album. AJ Hobbs is very convincing in his portrayal of the world-weary man. He does repeat this theme quite a bit, but I just can’t help liking the songs. What can I say? I love a singer who can portray emotion with vocal skill and delivery. Plus, he reminds me a bit of Jackson Taylor on his faster songs with the outlaw attitude. I think if you like musicians who do what they want, and if soul music is even remotely appealing to you with your country, this will be an album you should check out.