Album Review – Chase Rice’s “I Hate Cowboys & All Dogs Go To Hell”

Album cover featuring Chase Rice’s late father Dan Rice.

Is country music truly experiencing a transformational moment? Is this moment really touching most every sector of country, including some of the most corrupted corners of the mainstream? If this new selection from Chase Rice is any sort of bellwether, then the answer would be in the affirmative. Is it “good”? Of course, that question is subjective. Is it an improvement from what we’ve come to expect from this specific artist? Absolutely. Does this symbolize a broadening and entrenching of positive trends in country music including better quality and more country-sounding songs? Yes it does.

Don’t misunderstand this as a glowing recommendation for the album itself. There are multiple criticisms for this work that will be enumerated shortly. Also don’t assume anyone has gone soft, or that the wool is being pulled over anyone’s eyes. After all, Chase Rice was a co-writer on Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise,” which ushered in the Bro-Country era in earnest. If there was a Bro-Country Mount Rushmore, Chase Rice would be on it, right beside the Beavis and Butthead of Florida Georgia Line, and Brantley Gilbert.

But all of this is what makes an album like this important to regard, and quite remarkable. The thing about these mainstream guys is that you never truly know who they are once you strip away all of the Music Row marketing and packaging. Of course Chase Rice isn’t some troubled soul like one of your favorite Americana songwriters. He’s still the waxed chest contestant on Survivor turned Nashville hit writer. But could the death of his father reshape his perspective and priorities to where he wants to start releasing music with more meaning? Sure it could.

Chase Rice claims this is the album that he’s always wanted to make, and there’s no reason to not take him at his word. After all, as a performer, he’s always been on the third tier, so it’s not like he has a ton to lose by taking a risk. He may not be super talented, but he’s not stupid either. Chase sees where the trends of things are going, and it’s in the opposite direction of what his early career embodied. So why not release an album of more quality songs, and something for yourself, and sure, seed it with a few radio singles just to keep the label from shutting you down?

In some respects, Chase Rice didn’t give up on the formulaic songwriting, he just shifted the focus from modern to classic. There’s a song on here about moonshining, another about losing your dog, one about letting down momma, and another that evokes geography in “Key West and Colorado” that reminds you of all those classic late 80s and early ’90s country songs that do the same. The song “Bad Day to be A Cold Beer” has been written in one incarnation or another probably 100 times now. But the reason it keeps getting written is because it tends to work.

And don’t worry, the little buzzy radio friendly words and phrases that tend to sour so many songs find their way into a few of these tracks. A snake can shed its skin, but it’s still a snake. The music is also only country in close approximations, with some exceptions. Even Chase Rice at his best can’t resist dropping inane beer references into an otherwise decent track, like The Natty Light callout in the surprisingly heartfelt “Life Part of Livin’.”

But listening to this album is an experience in being regularly surprised. “Bench Seat” is another song that has been done before, and probably better than this one, but still is way too good of a song to have any business being on a Chase Rice record, let alone being written by Chase himself. The last time we heard Chase Rice reference truck seats, it was commanding some girl to “Get ya little fine ass on the step, shimmy up inside” in his terrible single “Ready, Set, Roll.”

“I Walk Alone” almost sounds like something you’d hear from early Lucero, with a Ben Nichols quality to Rice’s voice. Chase shared management with folks in the Texas/Red Dirt music scene for a while. The nearly 8-minute collaboration with the Read Southall Band on the song “Oklahoma” maybe shouldn’t surprise us. It’s not spectacular and more rock than country, but it’s once again stretches our expectations from Chase. Maybe it’s rubbing elbows with some of these more independent folks that has resulted in an album like this.

There is also some pretty terrible stuff. “Sorry Momma” tries to find inspiration from Merle Haggard, but only results in bad Bro-Country mimicry. “If I Were Rock & Roll” is a backsliding version of Chase Rice too, and of course was picked as a radio single. And this whole “I Hate Cowboys” and “All Dogs Go To Hell” gimmick feels a little trite. It’s as if for sarcasm to work in the mainstream, they have to make it supremely obvious while giving themselves too much credit for being clever. But as a songwriting mechanism, there are most certainly worse ones, especially from the Chase Rice catalog.

It’s album reviews like these that commonly get grossly misunderstood as being promotional to otherwise mild mainstream artists. But the premise of Saving Country Music has always been to challenge the mainstream with spirited criticism in hopes for more constructive outcomes for all consumers of country music. An album like this from Chase Rice portends a continued improvement for music in the country mainstream. It still may not be something independent or traditional country consumers may enjoy. But it symbolizes growth in how independent and traditional country music is influencing the mainstream toward the positive.

Meanwhile, if you’re a mainstream country fan looking to have your opinions validated about the quality of this album, you can feel justified. “Cruise” was released over 10 years ago. Chase Rice has grown up, so has his fans, and so has popular country music. It’s the folks trying to act perpetually 22 that are the problem. Chase Rice and this album are far from that. It’s a maturing, and a testament to the truth that you can always grow and challenge yourself, not matter where you started from.

1 1/4 Guns Up (6.8/10)

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This article has been updated.

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