Earlier this year, before the existence of this blog, several albums came out that are definitely worth reviewing. This is true in the case of Sam Outlaw, whose debut album came out in June. While the album, Angeleno, falls short of being a ten for me, it is still one of the better albums of the year, and definitely one of the most unique. For its uniqueness alone, it should not be overlooked. With a name like Sam Outlaw, one would expect outlaw country music, or at least an attempt at outlaw country, but instead this is more of the Nashville sound that came before outlaw country. (Outlaw chose this name because it was his late mother’s maiden name.) But I feel many people are probably turned off by the name alone, and if so, you have been missing some great music.
The album opens with “Who Do You Think You Are,” a mid-tempo love song featuring horns and acoustic guitars. It’s pretty good, but I’m not sure if it would hold my attention if this was the first song I heard from Sam Outlaw (it wasn’t.) Having said that, there’s nothing wrong with it either. Next is “Keep It Interesting,” another mid-tempo song which does hold my attention and is about a couple keeping their love alive by “Keeping it interesting.” And yes, by “it” I do mean sex. You can argue that “keeping it interesting” might mean several things, but I think the intent was sex. Evidence for this includes lines like “Your mama and your daddy might think it’s a sin.” This is a refreshing song that is one of my favorites on the album. Next is “I’m not Jealous,” an interesting take on a cheating song in which he tells the cheating woman, “I’m not jealous of them, I’m embarrassed for you.”” Love Her For Awhile” is the first song I heard from Sam Outlaw, and it’s hard to say what caught my attention about it. It’s very much a case of less is more. It’s a simple little song about not really being able to explain the feelings he has, but somehow knowing that he’ll “love her for awhile.” There is something very honest about this song that made me wonder who sang it, and when I found out it was Sam Outlaw, a name I’d heard but basically ignored, I went looking for his music.
The title track is a love song with a western feel that tells a story. It’s a good love song and tells a great story, but on an album of love songs, it doesn’t stand out for this listener as much as the others. By contrast, “Country Love Song” is one of the best love songs on the album. Here, Outlaw is on the road and wondering if a woman back home will still love him as much as she used to when he finally returns. He says, “I wish that I could send you a country love song.” Again, there is honesty in this song that really helps it. Next is “Ghost Town,” and if you only listen to one Sam Outlaw song, make it this. This is one of the best songs of the year. From the instrumentation to the melody to the lyrics to the vocals, I can’t do it justice in words. It’s about a man returning home and traveling through ghost towns, and through excellent pictures, we are told the story of both the narrator and the towns. This is country at its best.
Next is a drinking song called “Jesus, Take the Wheel (And Drive me to a Bar).” It’s not bad as drinking songs go, but I could have done without it. “It Might Kill Me” is a great heartbreak song in which his friends are telling him the pain will get better. In response, Sam Outlaw sings, “If it don’t kill you, it just makes you better. It might kill me, it might.” The instrumentation in this song is excellent, featuring a great balance of steel guitar. “Keep a Close Eye On Me” finds Sam asking God to watch over him and make him into a better person. “Oh, Lord, keep a close eye on me” is an excellent line.
“Old-Fashioned” speaks of a kind of love that is less common in today’s culture. This love is the kind where men and women stand by each other and help each other. I like the sentiment of this song, but I felt it needed more lyrics. After two short verses, we are left with really nice instrumentation, but I kept waiting for an end to the song that never came. Angeleno closes with the simple heartbreak song “Hole Down in My Heart,” the first upbeat song on the entire album. It sticks out like a sore thumb among the slow and mid-tempo songs before it, and I think it should have been balanced by another upbeat song. Instead of showing variety, the lone track feels like it was thrown in on the end and doesn’t go well with the rest of the album.
Overall, Angeleno is a great listen and showcases the Nashville sound at its best. If “Hole Down in My Heart” and “Jesus, Take the Wheel (and Drive me To a Bar)” were removed, this album would be a ten. This album is one of the most unique releases of 2015 and features some of the best songwriting of the year. Don’t ignore this album because of the name Sam Outlaw.