If you’re unfamiliar with Sam Outlaw, you’re missing out on some great and frankly just cool, unique music. He calls his music SoCal country, and it’s got a smooth, clean feel that’s just pleasant and soothing to hear. It reminds you that polish doesn’t always remove emotion, and a record doesn’t need grit to convey something real. His debut album, 2015’s Angeleno, was one of the few projects that came out prior to Country Exclusive’s birth that I felt I had to go back and cover because the record just deserved it.
With all that said, this was definitely a 2017 release I was looking forward to. and after a couple listens, it’s not quite blowing me away on the level of Angeleno, but it’s another great album from Outlaw.
Tenderheart hones in on that unique style Sam Outlaw introduced with his debut record. It’s just so clean and pleasant. At times, I was reminded sonically of Jim Croce in “Time in a Bottle” or “Walking Back to Georgia.” This album has a mellow feel like those songs as well as some quietly great songwriting. The front half is particularly strong, featuring the deceivingly reflective “Bottomless Mimosas,” the bittersweet title track, and the beautifully written and achingly true “everyone’s Looking For Home.” This, I might add, was a very nice album opener and set the tone of the whole record well. The sparse arrangements throughout the album really allow the lyrics and Outlaw’s vocals to shine and bring emotion to the stories. IN many cases, it’s a matter of less is more, and that’s the reason you won’t find me explaining too many of these songs. Many of them are quite simple yet elevated by the arrangements, the clean production, and the vocal delivery. Breaking down the tracks would take away some of that beauty and experience you get just by listening to Sam Outlaw’s music.
One exception I feel I should highlight is “Two broken Hearts,” a song depicting the fate of two missing broken hearts after two people found each other one night. Another exception is “She’s Playing Hard to Get (Rid of),” which gets points for the originality in the title and hook even if the songwriting here doesn’t quite live up to it. Still, it’s the mood of the record that really brings it to life and makes tracks like the previously mentioned “Bottomless Mimosas” stand out.
If I have anything to say against this album, it’s that nothing really blew me away like “Ghost Town” on Angeleno. Some of this record is better than that album as a whole, so that’s not entirely a fair criticism, but I kept waiting for that one moment where I would just sit back and be blown away by musical greatness. admittedly, I might be grading Sam Outlaw a little too harshly because the main reason I feel this way stems from the fact that I’ve seen what he is capable of. “Ghost Town” was one of the best songs of 2015. I don’t think you’ll find a song of the Year contender here, but this album is stronger in places than Outlaw’s first. Having said that, the back half does start to run together a little, and I don’t think the last few songs will hold up like the first seven. For me, the shining exception to this is “All my Life,” where the narrator is explaining to a woman in his hometown that even though he has the rest of his life to find a wife, he’d rather spend it with her. It’s a nice twist on a love song, and it’s also one of the only upbeat moments on a mostly mid-tempo album, so it certainly stands out.
Overall, this album is another great one from Sam Outlaw. He continues to do what he does best, perfecting his so-called SoCal country sound into something unique and cool, a modern take on the Nashville sound that suits his voice and these songs excellently well. As I said, it shows that it doesn’t take grit to be authentic. Although there isn’t a “Ghost Town” moment on Tenderheart, it’s a really nice, solid album most of the way through, and there’s a lot about it to enjoy.