The country music revolution isn’t driven by a few high-profile guys like Zach Bryan, Tyler Childers and Cody Jinks. It is wide, multi-pronged, encroaching on the boundaries of Music Row on all sides. From traditional country to bluegrass to southern rock, land, sea and air, fiercely independent artists who don’t want to compromise are challenging the status quo. Whiskey Myers is leading the charge on the rockier side of the country.
The three singles certified Platinum and another certified Gold without any help from the mainstream industry verify the propulsive infectivity that made this group an alpha male in this space, and also proved that Yellowstone creator Taylor Sheridan is more of an influencer in music these days than Bobby Bones. But exposure only has value if you can seal the deal with music that sticks to people’s bones and feels essential.
With their sixth album, Whiskey Myers opted to do the production themselves, and more than any of their previous releases, leaned almost exclusively in the direction of Southern rock, including the horn section and a backup choir. of the McCrary Sisters. Yes, it’s at the expense of some of the more reserved country tracks that have kept a lot of crappy kickers in their audience, but it’s not that unexpected. Whiskey Myers has always leaned more in the direction of rock.
“We will bend [genre] even more, I think, with this new disc”, frontman and primary songwriter Cody Cannon said in February when the album was announced. ” It’s everywhere. But it’s fun, right? I hate the whole ‘put it in a box’ thing. You must be that. … It’s not art to me. Well, let’s not get too excited. There are plenty of artists whose music fits right into the country music box, and it’s still most definitely “art.” But we get the point. The coloring inside the lines is not for Whiskey Myers.
It was an album written, produced and recorded to be played loud and live. Shameless and attitudinal, but no judgment unless you’re one of those jerks trying to tell them what to do or get in their way, Tornillo brings an energy, dynamism, pinch and abandon that most modern music of this suppressed era has left for fear of retaliation. Rock music needs saving too, and Whiskey Myers is here to pick up the slack. They identified their niche and what the crowd responds to, and leaned into it for 12 full-throttle tracks.
You might not get a lot of simple country songs or singer-songwriter stuff here until the final track “Heart of Stone,” but that doesn’t mean the songwriting suffers on Tornillo. If you need to, Google the lyrics to “Antioch” and really take the time to appreciate the depth of the story here, and how it illustrates how circumstances so often lead to tragedy. Nature plays a role, but so does nurture in a fall from grace. “For The Kids” is another track some cite as the one that hits them hard, and the writing certainly lives up to that standard, even if the music does sound a bit schmaltzy at times like when a band of hair metal tries to sing a sentimental ballad.
“Whole World Gone Crazy” is also subtly well written by the band’s other songwriter, John Jeffers, taking a simple man’s point of view, but imparting important wisdom about the craziness of our rabid polarization. But what you need to embrace to get the full experience of Tornillo is the rage and boldness found in songs like “John Wayne” and “The Wolf,” the latter directly addressing the difference between hunger in an indie band like Whiskey Myers and their mainstream counterparts. Digging past the safe attitude on the surface still gives you plenty of meaty stuff.
“They tried to hold me down but nothing can last forever…I feel in my bones there’s a change of weather // You play for fun, I play to eat // All you see is uncut and homemade.
Although “southern rock” is the consensus term for where to place this record, there is a decent level of variety within. “The Wolf” is straight out of hard rock. One of the funniest songs on the album called “Feet’s” reminds you a bit of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Call Me The Breeze”. By the time you get to “Bad Medicine,” you hear Muscle Shoals soulful, just with a little more attitude with its long guitar outing.
And it’s all rendered with a vintage look in a deliberate attempt to put you in a more classic place when listening. They wanted Tornillo sound like all those cool old records from the 70s when sweat and blood stuck to the recordings, not like the digital, antiseptic tracks designed for Tik-Tok placement that are so prevalent today. It’s an admirable goal, and it works well on some songs. But it is also correct to characterize Tornillo like one of those projects where you feel like you’re listening through a filmic residue. It makes for a sepia-blurred vibe favorable at times, but other times feel too blurry to enjoy the individual beauty of some of the vocal or instrumental performances, especially with so much going on.
It’s also a shame that there aren’t as many country tracks for country fans to gravitate towards as on their previous albums, at least from a country music perspective. But the boys from Whiskey Myers are still our brothers in arms. They got us through the ramparts, and they’ll be rocking the Billboard Country Albums charts in about a week when all the numbers from Tornillo are tabulated, while raising a ruckus in the rock. They’re an important part of this thing, and Tornillo is another quality entry into the Whiskey Myers arsenal.
1 3/4 guns raised (8/10)
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