REVIEW: Midland – ‘On The Rocks’

Imagine it’s a Tuesday night, in September 2017. You’re sat at an almost-empty bar, somewhere near a Texan border; you’ve probably forgotten why you’re there. Without turning on your seat, through the mirror opposite, you can see a three-piece band setting up on stage. The lead singer resembles an extra from American Hustle, if not an eighties-era Burt Reynolds. With added rhinestones. His two band mates, tuning their guitars, look just as fancy. A waitress passes by, drops an album cover near your drink. Midland: On the Rocks. On the reverse is a biography of the band and a set list of 13 songs.  Who has time for that? You’ll finish your drink and go.

A steel guitar melancholy starts their set and the chills run down your spine.  The song, Lonely For You Only, is a pretty good opener: at least they play authentic country instruments.  Lyrics like, ‘everyday is a deeper shade of blue’, burrow down in your nerve-endings.  But you remain facing the bar.  As the song plays, you glance at the bio: “Lead vocalist Mark Wystrach, bass guitarist Cameron Duddy and lead guitarist Jess Carson formed the band in Dripping Springs, Texas”.

The trio switch to a honky-tonk two-step, instantly livening up the room, as folks wander in.  You check the list and read, Make a Little; reminds of you dancing with your lady to Dwight Yoakam.  In fact, he recorded a song not so long ago called Fair to Midland; seems the band appreciates country classics. The melody also reminds you of Queen’s A Crazy Little Thing Called Love.

You order up another drink as the band play a song you’ve heard before. You revisit the bio in front of you: “Drinkin’ Problem made the top five in the US Country charts, in the summer of 2017”.  You smile at the lyrics; ‘last call gets later and later I come in here so I don’t have to hate her’. You turn slowly in your seat and raise your glass to the band – they are truly several decades of pure country music. You lean back in your seat, your view almost obscured by dancing patrons.

Over the next few songs, At Least You Cried, Burn Out, Out of Sight, More Than a Fever, you imagine dancing in a cantina to this band, their sound a jam session between the Mavericks, a relaxed Mariachi band and the Bee Gees. You’re hooked like the seventies band Dr. Hook stories that this here Midland remind you of. Out of Sight, could easily follow on the emotional heartbreak of losing Sylvia to her Mother, ‘I called her Momma and I called her best friend, she said she called it quits, so, boy don’t call here again…I’m going crazy, one night at a time; she’s out of sight and I’m out of my mind’.

“Good, ain’t they?” The waitress calls to you, setting another drink down. “Wait ‘til you hear their next one – Check Cashin’ Country. Real country. They all are supporting Little Big Town and Kacey Musgraves next Spring, too.”

She sashays around the room, keeping time with the music like a let-loose merry go round.

Kacey. Absolutely; they would work together as well as their style, and the harmonies of the band.  Which are flawless. As is this song: ‘with the highway below and the Lord above me…tryin’ to make enough to keep the motor runnin’, sure ain’t in it for the money’.

You reach for the waitress and dance her to the floor. Startled initially, she then unwraps her apron and wraps her arms around you. As the Eagles-esque Nothin’ New Under The Neon plays, you move across the room to the perfect time. There’s a whisper of a long-forgotten feeling resonating in your chest, and you just know a classic debut album plays before you.

Nearing the end of their set, This Old Heart plays, consisting of lyrics that could be about you: ‘living your life like an old country song for too long…been lonesome…been on some world class benders that could get you put in Folsom’. Midland carry the air of hard-working outlaws.  You twirl the waitress once more around the floor, before heading back to your seat, her hand in yours (making just a little). You check the set list and read that there are just three more songs before the band call it a night. Altitude Adjustment and Electric Rodeo play back to back – they certainly sound like a ride you’ve been on tonight.

Finally, the long whistle of the harmonica blows through the last song and the packed bar. You take your woman to the floor one more time, before you tell her to, ‘dry her eyes; goodbye is just too hard to say, so let’s just say I’ll see you again. I already miss you, so baby let me kiss you, ‘for I head back to where I’ve always been, Somewhere on the Wind.

She repositions her apron and you pass by the merchandise table, picking up a CD for your pick up. You spot the band on the cover of Rolling Stone Country, and chuckle along with Dr Hook’s premonitory lyrics, as you imagine Midland feeling their thrill that’ll getcha, when you get your picture on the cover of a Rolling Stone.

Then you roll out across Texas, towards the high plains, wondering which tracks you’ll alternate between: highlights are definitely Drinkin’ Problem and Check Cashin’ Country.

Ah, who are you kidding? On the Rocks is made for the repeat button. You turn up the dial as the steel guitar crying of Lonely For You Only plays into the night air. If you haven’t treated yourself to On the Rocks yet, please do so.

Midland are the third trio to join the Big Machine Label Group, alongside The Cadillac Three and Rascal Flatts (as well as, y’know, Reba, Drake and Hank Jr.), so they’re under the safe tutelage of CEO Scott Borchetta.

Their seventies and eighties inspired country ensures they sound like they’ve been around a lot longer than the 12 months since the release of their self-titled EP. Their second single, out this week, Make a Little holds the country truth – ‘it can’t be wrong when it feels so right’.

Oh, and did you spot the Breakers tour (Midland joining Kacey Musgraves and Little Big Town on the road) has a handy break around 9th-11th March 2018?

Emma Jordan