REVIEW: Aaron Lewis – ‘Sinner’

CskW_HJWgAEfYoh.jpg-largeAaron Lewis has ruffled a few feathers recently. His personal attacks on country artists he perceives to be “sucking the life out of country music” have been extensively reported. Although Lewis has backtracked somewhat, he maintains that the message was clear even if calling out specific fellow artists wasn’t the classiest way to get that message across. His beef may be partially valid even if, until recently, he was the front man in a rock band ‘Staind’ and only recorded his first country track in 2011.

There is an old saying. ‘If you talk the talk can you walk the walk?’ and it’s inevitable that this new album will be judged with Lewis’s comments very much in mind. Whilst the publicity has certainly helped to draw attention to Lewis’s music it has also added to the burden on Lewis to deliver.

The album was preceded by the release of the single and video ‘That Ain’t Country’ which certainly ties colours to masts. A good old fashioned protest song of sorts that reminisces and name checks the artists of old. It’s a positive message and one that will find favour with many who yearn for the old sound. Leaving aside the baggage that Lewis himself brings to his current genre it’s a fine song that is true to the music that he wishes to emulate.

This can be said for the whole album. Lewis has written 9 out of the 11 tracks on offer and it’s a collection of authentic country songs. It was produced by Buddy Cannon who is known from his work with Kenny Chesney. It was also produced in a remarkably short time at Blackbird Studios in Nashville. All 11 tracks were laid down in 16 hours.

Willie Nelson was asked to provide vocals on the title track ‘Sinner’ which opens the project. Redemption is sought for misdemeanours but we never get to discover what they were. It has pounding drum beats that introduce the song and rocky guitar riffs which are untypical of the album. Much of it is low key. That said, there are significant highlights to be had here.

‘Mama’ is quite simply a great country song. When you consider that this is an album released by a subsidiary of Big Machine Records you have to wonder why Lewis needs to bad mouth anyone from the stage. His message is his music and it’s being brought to us courtesy of a label that is usually associated with the style of country music that he derides. Has Big Machine ever released anything that is more ‘country’ than this album? ‘Sunday Every Saturday Night’ and ‘Lost and Lonely’ continue the laid back beats, the slides and the story telling. Solid country music.

There are two covers. Stapleton’s ‘Whiskey and You’ and ‘Travelin’ Soldier’, a Bruce Robinson song that was covered by the Dixie Chicks. The ‘Whiskey’ cover is creditable but do we really need anyone covering a Stapleton classic? With the quality that Lewis displays with the original material here, it seems a waste to include a song that it’s impossible to emulate or better on an eleven track album.

The cover of ‘Travellin’ Soldier’ included here was a special project for Lewis as the lead vocals are provided by his 14-year-old daughter Zoe Jane. He describes it as “making a memory with her that no one could ever take away”. It’s a rendition that remains true to the original, acoustically backed and with Lewis’s harmonies on the chorus.

The only potential blot on the proverbial landscape is the inclusion of another statement song, ‘Northern Redneck’. Aaron Lewis originates from Massachusetts. We don’t always get the drift here in the UK but this is very much above the Mason Dixon line and the inference is that Northern guys don’t make authentic country music. It’s clearly something that has stuck in Lewis’s claw and he goes out of his way to demonstrate his country credentials.

“We grow tobacco and we drive trucks, we kill white tails and green head ducks and drive our four wheelers down the main road and break out our sleds when it’s cold”……“It ain’t all about the Southern Man cause we got outlaws and we got Hicks we got honkytonks out in the sticks” We know, Aaron. We get the message. Country music isn’t based on geographical constraints. If that was the case we might just as well dismantle our UK-based country music aspirations and relocate. The fact is we don’t need a song with clichéd lyrics to point this out.

Aaron Lewis really doesn’t need to preach from the pulpit. He has now produced two quality country music albums and has more than demonstrated that he feels that this is his home. Ignore the baggage and give this guy his chance. You might be impressed.