Eight new albums are reviewed in this batch, with the best efforts courtesy of Roberta Lea, Willie Nelson, and Wilco.
Best writing advice I ever received, courtesy of P.F. Kluge: “Irony is corrosive.”
Who cares if there’s some inventive production and a couple of clever turns of phrase when your whole vibe is that it’s all a smug piss-take, and you punch down as much as you punch up?
Do it Anyway
In the ongoing 90s revival, here’s the new Paul Brandt in literally every way. Which is to say it’s largely fine, other than a stultifying cover of One Direction’s “Steal My Girl” that is beyond my capacity for descriptions of horror.
Too Much of a Woman
A debut album of clear-eyed vision that leans hard into the idea, both lyrically and aesthetically, that an individual can contain multitudes and still know exactly who they are. There is real subversive power in the way Lea plays up her drawl, too.
Killed the Cowboy
Music Row at its absolute worst, this is the sound of craven, po-faced trend-hopping by an act who’s never settled on an identity as anything more than a thin-voiced latecomer. Utterly forgettable in every way, but for the hate crime of “Chevrolet” with Jelly Roll.
Thoughtful and lovely and frequently excellent in ways that, despite being what’s supposed to be their exact target demo, I have found it hard to care about for years now. Not as experimental as some have suggested, but more-than-minor variations on their familiar themes.
Son of the Mountains: The First Four Tracks
Not a full return to form, but the closest he’s been in ages, and the title track for sure is dialed-in. Now that his A-list era is long gone, he seems committed to taking clear principled stances and setting them to decent hooks.
Dan + Shay
Hateful, garish production imagines the C-list boy bands of the aughts (BB Mak, Evan & Jaron, SoulDecision) if they’d all lost the Loudness War; they’re back w a new image, but Shay still screams like Gary LeVox (…) on songs that are never worth the bluster.
Hard to believe he’s never released a proper Bluegrass album, but better late than never. Rather than a de facto greatest hits comp, this serves as a purposefully curated reimagining of the songs from his miles-deep catalogue that truly work in this style.