REVIEW: Cole Swindell – ‘Down Home Sessions III’ EP

14900355_10154195108182572_2955537401693576943_nCole Swindell maintains his annual tradition by releasing the third edition of his ‘Down Home Sessions’ EP. This 5-track collection follows the release of Swindell’s full album ‘You Should Be Here’ which was released in May, so his fans are hardly starved of new material. He recently told Country Countdown USA that the EP was “a way for me to get out songs I’ve written and something we can tour around. It’s for the fans, it’s new music, and any chance I get to do this is something I want to do”.

He is currently embarking upon his ‘Down Home Tour’ which will see Swindell appearing in smaller club and theatre venues throughout the winter period before it wraps at the end of February. In many ways, Swindell’s career to date fails to fit the model that we often preach. We regularly comment upon the need for 1 hit country single to launch the career of a potential star. Swindell has had 6 top 10 singles in the last 3 years. His first, ‘Chillin’ It’, got to number one and sold 1.4 million copies. ‘You Should Be Here’ also reached number 1, became an anthem for anyone dealing with a bereavement and sold over 700,000 copies.

His debut album had 5 big hits, all of which were certified gold or platinum sellers and sold a very creditable 500,000 plus copies. His latest album has sold 200,000 copies. However, for some inexplicable reason, he was nominated for ‘Best New Artist’ at this year’s CMA awards but lost out to Maren Morris.

He supports Jason Aldean and Florida Georgia Line when those guys play the big venues. The inference is that Swindell doesn’t have the fan base to inspire the promoters to take the risk when considering a headlining tour. His record sales would suggest otherwise. Also, to be fair to Cole Swindell, he appears to be relishing the chance to play smaller venues and showcasing his latest music. This EP is another demonstration of his song writing skills. He co-wrote every track.

The first track is likely to be his next single ‘You’ve Got My Number’. Florida Georgia Line recently took the words of the song and tweeted Cole’s personal telephone number. He appears to have taken it all very well which is the measure of the man! He actually returned a few calls to fans and thanked FGL for getting him closer with his fan base. Musically and lyrically it follows a path that is well worn. Boy has a brief and fleeting relationship with a girl consisting of one dance. He provides his phone number and waits for the call. “You got my number. But you ain’t callin’me”

It’s not hugely country despite Swindell’s Georgian drawl. It sounds very retro with its pounding drums and heavy electric guitar and whilst there is a groundswell of opinion that country music is becoming more authentic, Swindell seems to have entirely bucked the trend with this one.

He doesn’t push his own boundaries. The tried and tested formulae that has worked pretty well for Cole Swindell is maintained. You won’t find any slides or fiddles within the 5 tracks offered here. ‘Does It Hurt’ is Swindell’s tongue in cheek demonstration of his worst pick up lines. It’s a fun, bouncy song very reminiscent of the material that FGL would release.

He has always excelled with powerful ballads. ‘Six Pack Lines’ is a very powerful track. His vocals are faultless and it ticks all the boxes. However, they are boxes that have been ticked so often before. The guitar hook in the introduction, the verse that deals with the boy-girl attraction and the chorus that peaks too early. Let’s wait for the instrumental break where the audience clap along…It’s all there, apart from the beer and truck references. It’s decent enough but totally lacks gravitas or originality.

‘Chevrolet DJ’ is a song that Swindell wrote back in the day before he was signed to a label and before his first hit with ‘Chillin’ It’. It’s an improvement on ‘Six Pack Lines’ despite displaying the same basic traits.

The final track ‘Wildfire’ is a return to the screaming electric guitars and beer references that Jason Aldean does so much better. The need to continue a sequence of releasing new EPs on an annual basis can become a crutch to bear unless the material demands an audience. The proximity of the album in May this year will inevitably lead many to conclude that these were songs that didn’t make the final cut.

Mainstream country music may have to adapt to the changing landscape and it will be fascinating to see if artists like Cole Swindell will sink or swim. He is a musical conundrum. A genuine guy who can sell huge amounts of music yet also remains extremely one dimensional.