Apr
29

Jason Eady’s “AM Country Heaven” Is Country Music

April 29, 2012 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  13 Comments

What do we mean when we say “country” music? Well take a listen to Mississippi native and Texas transplant Jason Eady‘s new album AM Country Heaven, and that should give you the strongest of all possible clues.

And what do people mean when they say “Texas” country? This album isn’t a bad example of that either. With the help from a virtual who’s who of Texas-based studio musicians, including Redd Volkaert and Earl Poole Ball from Austin’s legendary “Heybale” talent collective, and joined by steel guitar maestro Lloyd Maines, the Texas sound is all over this album. And regardless of whose name is on the front, AM Country Heaven was very much a collaborative effort between Eady and songwriter Kevin Welch.

With no mincing of the country style or mixing it with rock or punk or even taking the often gimmicky “neo-traditionalist” road, Jason Eady does his best to rage at the dying of the traditional country light by being as steadfast and straightforward with his country approach as possible. And the classic approach doesn’t just include the musicians and sonic structures, it is extended deeply into the themes and words of the songs, from the punchy country protest song “AM Country Heaven”, to the drinking and heartbreak songs that make up the body of this album.

I miss the days when the women were ugly and the men were all forty years old. Because you had to say something for the people to listen, now they just do what they’re told … They sing about Jesus and they sing about Jones and they sing of American pride. But they’re all too damn clean and polished like stones and they won’t sing about cheating or lies.

Well Jason will, and does in AM Country Heaven unabashedly.

Where I distance from a lot of other music writers and fans who have been heralding this album since its release is in the project’s originality.

Quite a few of these songs are built around themes and lines that have been used in country many times before. For example, when Clint Black a dozen years ago delivered the line about how “…it’s enough to drive a drinking man to stop and take a think,” it seemed so fresh and inventive. In 1999, Roger Wallace put out a great album called Hillbilly Heights whose lead off song was also called “Wishful Drinking” that since has become one of Roger’s signature songs (and as was pointed out in the comments, Adam Lee also published a “Wishful Drinking” song in 2010). So when you take that same lyrical turn and song title and pose it yet again here, it just lacks a potency. Does that mean that Jason Eady stole this element? Of course not. But to the well-seasoned country music ear who over over the years has built up a tolerance to such lines, there is no cleverness left to keep you engaged.

And similar things can be said said for AM Country Heaven‘s “Water Into Wine” written by Scott Copeland. The irony of using Jesus’s saintly Galilee trick to talk about partaking in the sin of drinking has been done many times before. “Man On A Mountain” is one of the best songs on the album, with its bluegrass approach and Patty Loveless‘ fantastic contribution in the duet, but how many times has this “Oh we’re lovers from two two different backgrounds, can we pull this off?” approach been done? Even the song “AM Country Heaven” one of the best selections on the CD is a song that’s been done a dozen times over the last dozen years, with Dale Watson and many others calling out Music Row’s dirty business.

Granted, not all the songs carry this burden. “Longer Walk In The Rain” is an excellent composition, maybe one of the best Eady’s ever penned. It’s not just classic country, it is a classic, period. But it’s a slow song amongst many other waltzes and ballads, and this exposes another issue with this album, which is a lack of energy or youth; the same argument made by many pop and mainstream fans that oppose classic country.

But just when I was beginning to feel burdened on how to get right with this album, I realized what Jason Eady was trying to do here. When somebody wants to make a classic country album, what do they do? They turn down the drums, they go to waltz time, they emphasize the steel guitar and fiddle, just as has been done here. But sometimes the lyrics and themes are an afterthought. Sometimes they carry a positive pop love story that’s so counter-intuitive to how classic country worked, or sometimes they over-glorifying whiskey, the devil, and cocaine, counter to country’s traditional values. Or sometimes the lyrics get hokey with “aw shucks partner” type outmoded anachronisms.

Jason Eady’s attempt on AM Country Heaven was to not rehash classic country themes in his songs, but pay them forward to a generation or an audience whose likely never heard them before. Hardcore country music fans may hear this stuff as cliche, but in a world dominated by cliche mainstream country radio, a song about wishful drinking is original to them.

In the end though I wish Jason would have stayed a little farther from such obvious themes and lines in some of the songs, and understood that in the underground and independent country world, the “hard country” approach is commonplace. Is it really a commentary on the caliber of an album when we tout how country it is, or is it a commentary on the current state of country music?

But I would never argue against this album and can’t name you a bad song on it. If you truly like country music, you should give it a long hard try because in the ideal world, Jason Eady’s AM Country Heaven would be in heavy rotation on the FM. And if it was, country music would be much better off for it.

1 1/2 of 2 guns up.

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13 Comments to “Jason Eady’s “AM Country Heaven” Is Country Music”

  • I haven’t heard alot by Mr.Eady, but what I have heard, I’ve liked. The songs may not be terribly original, but I think they’re still pretty damn good.

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  • Leaves ya with that peaceful easy feeling………..

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  • Good review for the most part. What I don’t understand is why you didn’t criticize Adam Lee and the Dead Horse Sound Company in your review for “When The Spirits Move Me” for having a song called “Wishful Drinking”, but you felt the need to do that here. As a matter of fact you went as far to say, “A duet with Abigail Henderson called “Wishful Drinking” was another standout track.” A stand out track when they do it but a lack of originality when Jason Eady does it? I don’t get it.

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    • That’s a great point.

      Specific to Adam Lee, the reason I didn’t criticize him is because when I wrote that review over a year ago, I was barely familiar with Roger Wallace, and wasn’t familiar at all with “Hillbilly Heights”, or the “Wishful Drinking” song. But you’re totally right, Adam Lee has done it too, and I’m sure many others have as well. Maybe Roger Wallace wasn’t even the first to use “Wishful Drinking”, and Jason Eady will probably not be the last, further illustrating the point that “Wishful Drinking” is probably an overused song idea, if not a cliche.

      The problem with that phrase is it is not just being used as an element of the song, it is what these songs are being built around, especially when it is the title. It is dependent on the irony of being juxtaposed with “wishful thinking” and the more it is used, the less effective it is.

      I had a whole paragraph in this review about how important the perspective of the listener is to the effectiveness of some of these common countryisms and took it out for space. Now I wish I had left it in, because your comment perfectly proves the point.

      Half a dozen songs about “wishful drinking” is the reason pop country fans hate traditional country, and it’s a valid concern. Having said that, I like all of the versions, including Eady’s.

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      • Totally understandable, thanks for being upfront and honest. Trigger, you should seriously do an article on the whole Eric Church and Blake Shelton thing, hilarious. Some of the quotes in Rolling Stone from Eric Church were pure comedy, I had to look at other sources online because I thought the article in your newsfeed was satire.

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  • another good heads up. much appreciated.

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  • Being that I’ve been on the Eady bandwagon for a while I won’t add in the obligatory “It’s sooooo good”. But I will say that one thing that I think is really great about the production on this album is how well his vocals sit on top of all the instruments.

    Also for anyone wanting more info, here’s a full interview on the record:
    http://vimeo.com/40007473

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  • I really liked the title track, although it sort of sounded a lot like “Are The Good Times Really Over,” by Merle. I’m not sure about his hat choices, though.

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  • Been looking forward to this album for some time and really enjoy it. I agree that the themes are familiar and just a bit boring. Though lots of country bands do that, Hellbound Glory and Whitey Morgan included, give these artists time and their songwriting ability will only get better. I’m sure they will get sick of writing about the same tired themes too.

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  • So what if the title song calls out music row’s dirty business?? I think that is what we need! Hank III has used this many times, despite it not being original, and you haven’t ever called him out on it.

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    • Agreed, I cannot get enough of music row getting bashed. Eventually one of these Nashville bashing songs will go viral and we will have a ton of mainstream fans start to discover that real country is still alive and well.

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    • I think you misunderstood my comments. I think “AM Country Heaven” is a great song. I simply referenced it along with others to talk about a general issue with originality throughout the project. I didn’t criticize Hank3 for his anti-Nashville songs because when he did them, they weren’t cliche at the time. More importantly, Hank3 and Dale Watson stopped releasing anti-Nashville songs in about 2008, almost 5 years ago because they were beginning to become cliche, or as Dale Watson said:

      http://www.savingcountrymusic.com/dale-watson-discusses-the-sun-sessions-gene-kurtz

      “We were definitely the loudest mouths (laughing). We had been in that mindset for so long, I think we’ve all kind of mellowed. We got where we were preaching to the choir of the folks that would listen to us. I think that all of us have learned to say our opinions when they count now. At some point you get repetitious, and you come across as bitter, and that’s not what any of us want to do. We’re trying to make a point, and now I think we’re doing it more with our music than our mouths. Even though we did it with our music before, we’re just less vocal about it.”

      All that said, I tend to agree with Chris more than I do with Dale. I’m all for keeping the boot on their throats. But as Dale said, we have to become smarter, more effective in how we do it.

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  • This album is great. Easy listening. Jason isn’t trying to break ground, he is just doing solid country. Maybe there isn’t a SCM song of the year on the album, but this should be up for Album of the year and will be tough to beat. It is just consistently rock solid AM radio country. The album does everything it is expected to and should do with the title it touts. And does it perfectly. There isn’t one song that is “oh that is polished up like today’s music” or “that is real backwoods hick shit”. No, but if this were early ’80′s, this guy would right there with the CMA award winners like Don Williams and Loretta, Willie, etc….

    This is Don Williams, mixed with some Keith Whitley. This is another album (several have come out over the past couple years from underground and mainstream artists) that toys with the current country stars. I mean, Brantley Gilbert has some awards for Dirt Road Anthem and radio was all the rage for this “Country must be Country Wide”. Seriously… could Gilbert even tune Eady’s guitar?

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