Tag Archives: Dave Cobb

Album Review: Wheeler Walker Jr.–Ol’ Wheeler

Rating: 7/10

**Language**

All right, I’m rising to another challenge this week, attempting to review Wheeler Walker Jr. So, for anyone possibly living under a rock who might otherwise be shocked by the content here, Wheeler is a character personified by comedian Ben Hoffman who rose to prominence rather quickly last year by releasing foul-mouthed, sexually explicit, and generally vulgar country songs, all while simultaneously creating a persona surrounding him of bashing Nashville and the current state of pop country. So for the easily offended and/or faint of heart, I don’t recommend reading on–he’s not for everyone. For all those out there who can take a joke, enjoy stuff like say, Rodney Carrington, and/or just like some really well-done, straight-up traditional country instrumentation, please read on. But you’ve been informed, so now I’m going to treat Wheeler like a real artist because that’s how this music is presented, and that’s part of its genius.

The glaring problem with Wheeler’s debut album, Redneck Shit, was that it was funny and provided quite a lot of shock value, but it didn’t really hold up. Some of it was vulgar for the sake of being vulgar, and Wheeler has definitely improved on that front. You still have plenty of examples of this on the new record; “Pussy King” was a fun single for a couple minutes, but it didn’t stay with me either, and it also went in a more bluesy direction which I don’t think suits Wheeler’s style. But then you have moments like “Summers in Kentucky,” which seems to be quite a serious song about Wheeler being out on the road and thinking about an ex from his past–she’s now married with kids, but he says that if she wants to leave her husband, she can come on tour with him. They’ve both “aged like shit,” and he’d trade all the young girls to have her “flabby ass” back. It’s songs like this, where the vulgarity comes out at unexpected moments to make serious songs funny, and yes, also to add something to the song, that make wheeler stand out as more than a comedy act and rather a country artist, which is what Wheeler’s character is going for. There’s also “Fuckin’ Around,” which is your classic country cheating song with a twist–Wheeler has been fucking around on his wife, Kacey, while on the road, but she has been doing the same back home, and now they’re both confessing their various misdeeds. Kacey’s part is sung by Nikki Lane, and she was a fantastic choice for this role. You also have a nice moment in “Drunk sluts,” where Wheeler laments his bad luck in love and that these types of girls are all he can seem to find. “Small Town Saturday Night” stands out too because it could be any mainstream party song–except for its traditional instrumentation and the fact that the characters are high on paint and propositioning a married woman while her husband “drain(s) his dick” in the bathroom–“drinking and smoking and looking for something to fuck.” The point is, instead of coming off as songs that were written for the sole purpose of being as vulgar as possible, a good portion of this record comes off as serious, if especially crass, country, and that makes it, for me, an improvement for Wheeler.

I mentioned the instrumentation, and except for “Pussy King,” which as I mentioned has a more bluesy slant, this is straight-up traditional country. Even if it’s not funny, or the humor wears off, it’s more country than 90% of the stuff being marketed as such, and Dave Cobb did a tremendous job with it. Wheeler also calls out Nashville in the closer, “Poon,” which backs up the things he says all over social media and in podcasts. It won’t be for everyone obviously, but it’s comedy, and damn it, it’s funny, and there’s wit in these songs and in Wheeler’s writing. And on top of that, it’s country. Credit to Wheeler walker Jr. for delivering us something different and unique, and even more than that, for being able to do it differently, and much better, a second time.

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You Know What? I Couldn’t Care Less About the Production on Colter Wall’s Album

Recently, I reviewed Colter Wall’s self-titled debut album, and if you haven’t heard that record, you’re honestly depriving yourself for no good reason. It’s right up there with the best of 2017 so far; it got a 9/10 here, but only just, due to one song, “You Look to Yours,” which admittedly has gotten only slightly better and less boring since my initial thoughts…but I digress.

Many outlets had a common criticism, in varying degrees of intensity, of the production. Produced by Dave Cobb, this record was minimalist to say the least–in fact, Cobb did virtually nothing, letting Colter and his guitar speak for themselves on a good portion of the album. This was quite a contrast from Wall’s debut EP which featured more interesting instrumentation and sometimes lively fiddles. I wrote that I thought that might have worked in some places on this record, and that Dave Cobb was to blame. I was careful to add that I personally thought that on this particular album, Dave Cobb did a fantastic job, getting out of the way of Colter–but I added that Colter will have to expand his sound going forward, and I agreed that the concerns of production are valid, if perhaps a little early.

But now? After listening to this several more times, and as this record becomes one of my personal favorites of 2017, as well as one of the best from a critical standpoint, I have to take back those comments. I think the production here was fantastic, as I already said, and I do think Colter’s next album can’t be more of the same without running the risk of it feeling a little stale, a la Stapleton. However, Stapleton is an easy comparison because they used the same producer; the bigger problem with Stapleton wasn’t Dave Cobb’s production as much as a general lack of passion from Chris Stapleton himself, which stands out even more on a minimalist Dave Cobb project where there’s not much going on to distract you. Now, I do have a problem with some of the production on Stapleton’s album, but my point is that it made it easy at first for me to draw comparisons with Colter Wall and seek out problems with the minimalistic approach, especially one that differed so much from Colter’s previous output.

But that’s just it; Stapleton’s two albums sound exactly the same, whereas Colter’s album and EP sound nothing alike, so I believe this means that any concern we have about him sliding into a rut with production is completely unwarranted until his next project. That concern should have no bearing on this album, and when I listen to this album, I can find no flaw in the production. Colter Wall and his guitar are enough, and that is all the more reflective of his talent and of the strength of these songs. I’m actually glad Dave Cobb got out of the way of this and let Colter and his stories shine. I can still understand people who wanted more production wise, but it is no longer my criticism–and as for expanding his sound going forward, we’ve already seen two very different sounds from Colter Wall, so I’m no longer sure we have to worry about this either. Now seriously, go listen to this album, it’s still incredible.

Album Review: Colter Wall (self-titled)

Rating: 9/10

Eleven miles west of Dodge City, Kansas, on West Highway 50, otherwise in the middle of nowhere, there is a boardwalk and a historical marker to denote the place where over a century ago, wagons passed through on the Santa Fe Trail. If you stand there on that boardwalk in that relentless prairie wind and look out over the land, you can still see the ruts these wagons drove into the ground as countless people made their way to Santa Fe, and though so much time has passed, their stories are still etched into the prairie and echoing out of the past. Though you stand there in the 21st century, a piece of 1872 is still with you in those ruts, and there’s something about that that’s powerful and timeless.

It’s that same sort of feeling you get when you press play on this record, and Colter Wall starts to sing, with often little else but his guitar and some well-placed steel or drums to accompany a voice reminiscent of Johnny Cash and stories that seem to come pouring out of another place and time. From the opening words to “Thirteen silver dollars,” where we are invited in with, “It was a cold and cruel evening, sneaking up on speedy Creek, I found myself sleepin’ in the snow,” it’s an album of rambling and searching, more story than song, more folk than country, and more past than present. That remarkable voice will draw you in and remind you of earlier days in country, but it takes more than that to sell stories like these, especially in these modern days. It’s the conviction and emotion in these words that keeps you listening and makes it more than just a singer with a great, throwback voice, and rather a storyteller taking you on a journey. This particular journey includes hopping trains and sleeping in lonely motel rooms, and culminates in prison–and that’s just the front half. This half of the record ends in fine fashion with “Kate McCannon,” as Colter Wall sings from his prison cell about meeting “the prettiest girl in the whole damn holler” and then subsequently “courting” her and murdering her after finding her with someone else. This song builds and builds until the climactic line, “I put three rounds into Kate McCannon,” and you can feel all the pain and guilt of the song and whole first half of the album in that line.

I separate the album into halves because that’s exactly how Colter Wall presents it, and between the halves, there’s another slice of the past, as a DJ on the “Old Soul Radio show” is supposedly debuting Colter’s album, complete with static and background noise before he “flips the record over.” I can see how people would love or hate this moment, but it does serve to add another vintage element to the album, and it also breaks the record nicely into two parts, providing a break after the intensity of “Kate McCannon.”

The back half of the album is just slightly weaker, at least for me, as I’m still not really getting into the song “You Look To Yours.” If there’s any filler on this record, it would be this song. Here we have two nice covers, Townes Van Zandt’s “Snake Mountain Blues,” which serves nicely as the opener to the second half, as well as the excellent “Fraulein,”–originally done by Bobby Helms, but also previously performed by Townes–featuring Tyler Childers. These two are excellent together; Childers adds some high harmony and some great contrast to Wall’s bass, and they should sing together more. Townes Van Zandt is a fitting artist for Colter Wall to cover on this album because his songs work well with the images and stories portrayed here. Some of the best songwriting on the record can be found on “Transcendent Ramblin’ Railroad Blues” and “Bald Butte.” The former is more of, well, exactly what the title says, but this one stands out for its lines like, “If I don’t leave here tomorrow, I believe I’ll blow out my brains. But either way, there’ll be sorrow, you won’t be seeing me again.” The latter is a story straight out of the past, as we are told the tale of Henry, who had his horse and rifle stolen by some Southerners and sought revenge, only to be shot. The details and imagery in this one are impressive.

I mentioned before that there’s not much to accompany Colter Wall here usually except his guitar. Sometimes there’s some steel and sometimes some drums, which certainly do a lot for “Bald Butte.” For people that knew Colter wall before this and enjoyed his debut EP, Imaginary Appalachia, this could be a good or bad thing–that EP had much more interesting instrumentation and production, often with lively fiddles. I think some of that could have helped this record in places, and having Dave Cobb as the producer is certainly to blame for this. Having said that, personally, for this particular record, I think Dave Cobb handled it excellently, getting out of the way of Colter wall and his stories and letting them speak for themselves. I do think that going forward, Colter will have to expand his sound–we saw with Stapleton’s record that it wasn’t as interesting production wise as Traveller. But as far as this record goes, I don’t have any major complaints with the production. And for me, it’s actually quite an improvement from Imaginary Appalachia for Colter Wall himself, as on that EP, I felt he was singing too often in higher registers; this record shows off much of his lower range which suits his voice, as well as these songs. I would say that while he may be still developing his sound and style, he’s also come quite a long way in that aspect on this album. So I agree the concerns of production are valid, but something we should hold off on for the 21-year-old Wall until his next project.

There’s also the concern that by singing in this throwback, sometimes dated style that Colter Wall could develop into a niche performer, and that’s also something I’d argue it’s too early to speculate about. If it turns out to be the case, I’m proud to be one of the throwback types that enjoys this music. if not, I think there’s a conviction and heart in Colter that, combined with that kind of voice, can impact people on a much larger scale. I see a tremendous amount of potential in this 21-year-old Canadian folk singer, and only time will tell if he lives up to that potential. For now, this is a pretty incredible album, and rather than speculating on Colter’s future, we should all just go listen to it.

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Single Review: Zac Brown Band’s “My Old Man”

Rating: 9/10
What a great day in the lives of Zac Brown Band fans, one of which I’ll unashamedly admit is me. After producing three great albums, including 2012’s excellent Uncaged, the band, or more accurately Zac Brown himself, disappointed the majority of their fan base with 2015’s Jekyll + Hyde. It was not exactly a bad album, and there were even some great songs from it, but it was all over the place in terms of style and seemed more like a Zac Brown solo project at times. Brown promised a return to their roots with their upcoming album Welcome Home, already made promising by the choice of producer Dave Cobb, and thankfully, the first single delivers.

“My Old Man” sees the narrator looking back on the life lessons his father taught him, as well as reflecting on how to be a better man and pass those lessons on to his son. It reminds me thematically of George strait’s “Love Without End, Amen.” The acoustic guitar in this song is gorgeous, and there is some great fiddle play too, a sound that was noticeably and sadly lacking on their last album. Also, this song showcases the great harmony of the band that was forsaken all too often on Jekyll + Hyde. In short, this is where they belong, and zac Brown band fans everywhere should be joyful.

Album Review: Lindi Ortega–Faded Gloryville

Rating: 8/10

As mentioned in Female Fridays, Faded Gloryville is Lindi Ortega’s fourth album for Last Gang Records. She brought in producer Dave Cobb from 2013’s Tin Star, as well as Colin Linden from 2012’s Cigarettes and Truckstops. Dave Cobb seems to be on a roll–he worked on Jason Isbell’s Something More Than Free as well. Lindi experimented with “a more Muscle Shoals sound,” for which she got help with Ben Tanner of Alabama Shakes and John Paul White of The Civil Wars. The result is the most soulful album of her career to date.

The album opens with “Ashes,” which is also my favorite track. Basically, the premise is that she was once in love, but now the fire has burned out, and he has left her with “these cold, dark ashes.” Lindi’s voice soars through this song, singing, “Darling, this is madness, why don’t you come back to me? Don’t leave me in the ashes of your memory.” The title track is similar to “Tin Star” and is an ode to the disillusioned dreamers who feel like there is no hope left. However, unlike “Tin Star,” which was only for musicians, this feels more universal. It is a theme that I feel Ortega uses too often, but this is still a good song, and I prefer it to “Tin Star.”

“Tell it Like it Is,” takes a more bluesy, soulful approach. Lindi is trying to persuade a man to stop pretending and “tell it like it is.” It’s a more interesting version of Clare Dunn’s “Move On.” Next is “Someday Soon,” which is one of the more relatable songs on the album. Lindi says she’s been “spending all my nights on someone that just ain’t right” and looks forward to a day “someday soon” when she can move on from her disappointing life. This is another song that stood out for me and will hit different people in different ways. Lindi then does a cover of “To Love Somebody,” and although it is unique, I prefer the original. Some people will probably love it, I am just not one of them. It was released ahead of the album, and it was the only song I heard beforehand that I didn’t like. I haven’t warmed up to it much.

“When You Ain’t Home” is an upbeat song ironically about the narrator feeling lonely while her lover is away. I said before that I hear Dolly Parton, Stevie Nicks, and Emmylou Harris in Lindi’s voice, depending on the song, but never have I heard so much soul in her voice. I can’t think of anyone to compare her to, and while it sounds less country, it makes her sound even more like just Lindi. This side of her adds to the individuality that she so obviously prizes. I can’t say I love this song, but I do love what it brings out in her.

“Rundown Neighborhood,” is a lighthearted track about two friends who look out for each other in a bad neighborhood. They are “bad for each other,” but that’s all right because they will always have each other’s backs. Among other things, they share whiskey, rum, cigarettes, and weed. Next is “I Ain’t the Girl,” a relatable song in which Lindi tells a guy she’s not the girl for him because he’s too straight-laced. She likes “long-haired guys” who are “rugged with tattoos,” and he wears a suit and tie. It’s a fun song, but it speaks to many people who feel like they are with the wrong match. As a girl who doesn’t like pretty boys like the one she seems to be describing, I am a little biased toward this song.

In “Run Amok,” Lindi pours out her frustration with someone who is doing “every crazy drug,” alcohol, etc. It’s upbeat and catchy, but a line still caught my attention–“When you run with the devil you burn everything you tuch, bridges and money and everyone you love.” In the end, she finally gives up and decides, “I’ll just let you run amok.” The album slows down to close with “Half Moon,” a thought-provoking ballad. This is actually one of my favorite songs on Faded Gloryville, but I was surprised that I enjoyed it because it is one of those that has to be heard to appreciate. She compares people–or at least herself–to “Half moons hanging in the sky,” with something to hide, but still shining some light. This is probably the most country song on the album, and the mystery in her voice fits the lyrics very well.

All in all, this is my favorite Lindi Ortega album as a whole. Some people will not like it as much as her previous material because of the more soulful songs, but I think this is more in her wheelhouse. This is also a better mix of ballads and upbeat songs, as well as a better balance of lighthearted and dark material. Faded Gloryville is a solid album and one that I would recommend, especially for people who have just been introduced to her work.

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