There is a wise old saying when listening to new bands and new music. “It’s a rare person who wants to hear what he doesn’t want to hear”. It’s something to consider when recommending new country band Midland who have released their debut 5 track EP on Big Machine Records. The devil is in the detail. In some quarters they are a product of the Nashville machine. In others they have paid their dues working the Austin honky-tonks and have put together a very creditable, authentic and traditional country EP.
There have been suggestions made that the band are ‘manufactured’. They have been on Big Machine’s artist development programme and have had gigs ‘arranged’ for them in favourable venues over the last few months.
The lead track ‘Drinkin’ Problem’ was written by Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne which has fanned the flames of the conspiracy and the publicity shots are very ‘designer country’. However, let’s wind back to our opening paragraph and trust your ears. The music’s good. In fact it’s very good.
They may have been created on Westworld for all we care but we guarantee when this song is played on country radio, we may have another ‘I Met A Girl’ on our hands. We can add this collection to the list of very strong EPs that have come our way in 2016. These five tracks add to the growing quality of old style country music that we have been yearning for over the last couple of years. The fact that a huge corporate label like Big Machine Records have decided to invest in them speaks volumes for the changing shift in country music. The band are Mark Wystrach, who sings lead vocals, Cameron Duddy and Jess Carson. They have recently supported Dwight Yoakam and Willie Nelson which adds a tick to the ‘genuine’ box.
‘Drinkin’ Problem’ is proof that McAnally and Osborne have no problem creating retro country, and the clever play on words “people say I’ve got a drinking problem but I’ve got no problem drinking at all’ would resonate with a sizeable minority. They throw in a few slide guitars and you have the perfect country song. This will be a future hit on the US country charts.
‘Check Cashin’ Country’ sounds like a song that would have improved the latest Chesney album. The mandolin intro gives way to three part harmonies and a sound that the old style bands were creating in the 80s. If the new generation of country bands can replicate the sounds of the old school with this credibility, we don’t imagine that there will too many questioning their heritage.
‘Burn Out’ is the type of song that George Strait or Alan Jackson would have been happy to record. A straight up traditional country track which recreates the feel that William Michael Morgan tapped into so successfully on his latest album.
‘This Old Heart’ continues the new traditionalist vibe. It has the potential to appeal to a huge range of country music fans. The line dancers will love it, as will those who savour a return to the days when songs told a story without reliance on innovation or fancy production values.
The favourable reviews on social media and iTunes reinforce our views on this collection. Many actually consider that the final track ‘Electric Rodeo’ is the best of a very good batch. Wystrach’s vocals excel and the chorus is filled out by exquisite instrumentation.
Throwback country really doesn’t get much better than this. We confidently predict that you will be hearing a lot about Midland next year. Big Machine are scheduling the ‘Drinkin’ Problem’ release to radio for early new year to avoid the Christmas rush. You can be sure that they will be placed on very favourable and high profile media outlets, and 2017 is going to be their year. Our ears are certainly telling us that this is one of the best EPs to have emerged this year.