Album Review – Chris Hennessee’s “Ramble”
If you’re familiar with the name Chris Hennessee, you were more than likely hipped to him by Jamey Johnson in one capacity or another. A band member of Johnson’s band since 2012 and a pretty regular opener for the bearded one, Hennessee’s also penned songs for guys like Cody Johnson, Corey Morrow and Rodney Carrington. He’s the journeyman songwriter and side player you’ve seen on the stage and in album credits that perhaps you always meant to delve into, but maybe never took the time to because there’s so much music out there to explore.
But Chris Hennessee doesn’t deserve to be in anyone’s shadow, or delineated by who his boss or collaborators have been at different times. Don’t let his willingness to be a side player for others fool you into thinking that when the spotlight shines upon him, he’s not worthy of soaking it up, or commanding a crowd from center stage. He’s his own man, and if there’s any evidence this is the case and not just the sucking up of some music journalist, it’s Hennessee’s latest record Ramble.
This album has some great songwriting on it. The music on some of the tracks is downright stellar. But the real distinguishing factor of Ramble is just how damn enjoyable it is to listen to. So many songwriters these days get too swept up in one-upping the competition with their compositions. This approach has resulted in some great songs, but we sometimes forget that music is there to be heard and enjoyed. A record like Ramble reminds you of that—the unbridled joy that music can afford.
This is made possible by the approach Chris Hennessee takes to this record to include a little Southern rock in it as opposed to sticking strictly to country, letting the band stretch their legs a little bit by allowing the arrangements to breathe and determine their own stopping points, yet not cutting corners on songwriting or message at all. This isn’t a jam band record by any stretch, but with the harmonized guitar lines indicative of The Allman Brothers, a bit of well-placed organ, and a willingness to hang in a groove if it feels right, it gives Ramble a distinctly Southern and easy-feeling vibe.
From the opening song “Wrong End of the Rainbow” featuring Jamey Johnson, to the 5-minute “Midnight Run,” the Southern textures keep this thing trucking, and keep you hitting repeat on your audio player. There’s plenty of straight ahead country music here too though. The stripped down “Ramble” pairing Hennessee with Alison Krauss is a standout, and if you can’t have a chuckle at “A Little Too Loretta,” you need to check the expiration date of your country music membership card.
Even when Chris throws you a curve ball by pulling out a cover of “Learn To Fly” by the Foo Fighters, it comes across as just about perfect at that moment in the track list. This is a perilous move—putting a rock cover in the middle of a country album. But if you can capture the original mood in the country context and stick the landing like Hennessee does, it elevates everything around it, just like Sturgill did with his cover of “In Bloom.”
This is Chris Hennessee’s fourth record, and though all his previous works include good songwriting and quality playing, there’s just something about the ease of listening to this record that makes it a great starting point into his solo efforts. Not to sound trite, or spook you into thinking it veers into Bro-Country territory, but this is a record you cue of for a long road trip, a backyard barbecue, a party out by the lake. Because it’s not just good music, it’s music that reminds you how good it is to be alive.
1 3/4 Guns Up (8/10)
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Purchase Ramble from Chris Hennessee
July 6, 2018 @ 8:18 am
Nice stuff. When i first heard it i thought it was Cody Canada singing.
July 6, 2018 @ 8:38 am
Sounds good. Adding to The List.
July 6, 2018 @ 8:41 am
Sounds more like the Eagles than country, but it’s pretty cool.
That said, i love Sturgill Simpson so much, but that In Bloom cover is so boring. It’s hard to cover a band like Nirvana.
July 6, 2018 @ 5:47 pm
Are you familiar with the Eagle’s first three albums?
July 7, 2018 @ 10:49 am
Yup. Good, but not country. More like country-soft rock.
King Honky Of Crackershire
July 6, 2018 @ 8:43 am
The intro to “A Little Too Loretta” was a huge tease. I heard that steel and thought, “Heck yeah, here’s a Country song.” Then he starts rocking out.☹️
July 6, 2018 @ 9:25 am
It’s great to hear Jamey Johnson again.
July 6, 2018 @ 9:34 am
The cover of the album is almost identical to Charlie Daniels’ Fire on the Mountain.
July 6, 2018 @ 10:11 am
I’d bet it’s intentional.
July 7, 2018 @ 7:44 am
Yeah, I would take it more as flattery than infringement. I really like the cover. That’s why I put it at the top of the article. Stark color and classic design.
July 6, 2018 @ 10:12 am
Glad to see you had the chance to review this. Good to see I wasn’t alone in picking up the Allmans influences all over it. Damn good record.
July 6, 2018 @ 11:08 am
terrific stuff …terrific writing ….and love the vocals
see…….this is why that Rucker song is so hard to stomach …. there’s tons of smart , clever , interesting and UNRECORDED songs around like Chris’ stuff for those guys to not know it and to record that lame crap they choose to …WTF …WAKE UP !!
July 6, 2018 @ 1:33 pm
I really like the second song. Is it “A little Too Loretta” some sort of “funny” attribute, (don’t know how to put it), to Loretta Lynn?. I immediately came to think about songs like “You Ain’t Women enough To Take My Man”, “Your Squaw Is on the Warpath” and “Don’t Come Home a Drinking with Loving On Your Mind”. And both the intro and the outro sounds like the 70’s “Nashville sound.”
July 6, 2018 @ 1:54 pm
And of course “Fist City”…… 🙂
July 6, 2018 @ 9:01 pm
Great review. I streamed Ramble on my Amazon Unlimited (I finally picked a service). I’ll probably buy it once it becomes one of those albums I need when I’m out of service. The only song I didn’t like was Something Bad …. it reminded me of the True Blood opening song and went way too long. I wonder if Hennesse is friends with Chris Shiflett? Strawberry jelly & Blackberry Jam.
July 7, 2018 @ 6:59 pm
No disagreement on “Something Bad.” It just seems out of place with all the other tunes.
July 7, 2018 @ 5:26 am
If you’re an old fart like me, and want a CD, order directly from Chris.
July 7, 2018 @ 7:34 pm
I don’t own anything that plays a CD.
July 7, 2018 @ 8:20 pm
Show off. You young guys…
July 15, 2018 @ 3:21 pm
So how do you get your uncompressed lossless music files? I don’t know any artist that’s selling FLACS yet. Without a CD to rip you’re shit out of luck. The CD has become a delivery device. Artist’s that deliver that way get my money. Artist’s that don’t? Well………………..
I can’t wait for my new Cody Jinks lossless files to be delivered on that little shiny disc.
July 7, 2018 @ 7:33 am
Nice set last Friday at the Shed in Tennessee. He played a large chunk of this, so I’m glad to hear it. Good review. I think Learn to Fly fits here better than In Bloom fit on Sailors, but you know what they say about opinions…:)
Precious Time is spot on.
July 7, 2018 @ 7:41 am
I would agree “Learn to Fly” is better here. Hennessee fit this in PERFECTLY on this record. If there’s an artist out there who’s thinking about doing an obvious cover, study how it works on this record. It’s not just the version, it’s where it was placed in the track list, how he sort of leads you gently into the song where you slowly realize what you’re listening to. Really deftly done.
July 7, 2018 @ 7:50 am
Saw him open for Jamey a few years back. He was good I remember I had ‘Red Dress’ on my playlist for the longest time.
July 7, 2018 @ 2:14 pm
Great songwriting, not a stellar voice, but I’m buying the album nonetheless. Thanks for the heads up!
July 9, 2018 @ 7:58 am
Been listening to his music since I saw him open for Jamey. Great review Trigger. And as another commenter mentioned, I’m glad to hear I wasn’t the only one hearing the Allman Brothers influence. Good stuff.
July 9, 2018 @ 11:34 am
I hear the Brothers and Sisters vibe. I like Midnight Run well enough but it highlights to me how important those southern rock rhythm sections were. The ride cymbal makes it lurch along instead of driving like Ramblin Man or 24 Hours at a Time did.
July 9, 2018 @ 10:45 am
Midnight Run is straight up Marshall Tucker. Dig it.
July 9, 2018 @ 2:16 pm
The first time I heard a cover of “Learning to Fly” was live in Lufkin, TX when I saw Glen Campbell. It was right before he announced he had Alzheimer’s. It was a pretty cool rendition. He put his countrypolitan spin on it.
July 9, 2018 @ 6:29 pm
Fantastic album. Best I’ve picked up this year. Agree with Trigger, a modern throwback, some really good and fresh musicianship and lyrics.