Album Review – Cody Jinks – “Change The Game”

When the history books are written about the period of country music we’re living in right now, Cody Jinks will be much more than a bit player. When mapping out how independent artists rose out of the ranks of the unknowns to rival mainstream country’s biggest stars, how artist began to win back control over their music, and how quality songs that actually sound country came roaring back into popularity, Cody Jinks will be one of the primary characters in that compelling narrative.

Yes, he changed the game, and big time. And while some of the other characters in that story became polarizing from offering divisive pronouncements or outright pissing off their own fans, or signed to major labels to see big paydays, or significantly changed their sound or sometimes dropped off the face of the earth entirely, Cody Jinks kept on pushing forward independently, bringing even more of his operations in house and autonomous from the industry as time has gone on.

Without even regarding the musical influence Cody Jinks has as an Outlaw revivalist, he changed what was possible for a free agent in music. But it’s 2024 now and Cody Jinks isn’t one of the scrappy up-and-comers disrupting the system, he’s one of the Veterans. He busted down the doors and smashed the glass ceilings so guys like Tyler Childers and Zach Bryan could walk through them and rise above previous benchmarks. And as opposed to being embittered by artists building on his work and taking it to the next level, he’s out there pumping his fist and cheering them on.

The title Change The Game comes with a host of meanings, not just one. It’s about Cody Jinks looking back and taking stock of how he went from a guy just wanting to play guitar for a living to headlining festivals with 25,000+ head counts. It’s also about knowing that the earth is always shifting beneath you, and you can’t be the same artist you were eight years ago and put out the same album you’ve released previously.

But Change The Game is also about how you always have to be changing yourself on a more personal level and evolving as a human. The album comes with multiple moments talking about sobriety—something that would have seemed crazy to hear from Cody just a few years ago when he was slamming beers on stage and hard cussing the mainstream country industry.

Starting off the album with the reflective and understated song “Sober Thing” signals that this won’t be just another Cody Jinks album chugging through bangers. The surprisingly vulnerable and mid tempo “Take This Bottle” goes from recognizing the problem to doing something about it. The song is lovingly sung with Pearl Aday who is the daughter of Meat Loaf and been featured on many rock albums previously.

Later the song “Wasted” finds Jinks reflecting back on who he was, just as much embarrassed and ashamed as he is proud at how far he’s come. And unlike parts of the rest of the album, “Wasted” features a heavy dose of steel guitarist Austin “Hot Rod” Tripp.

But this album isn’t all about drowning in the misery of past mistakes. It also comes with some killer up-tempo tracks about celebrating victories. The song “Change The Game” is about a performer who climbed the mountain and fought through adversity reflecting back proudly. Some of the phrases employed may feel like bromides, but the sentiment is spot on, and Jinks has earned the right to pat himself on the back.

“Outlaws and Mustangs” is so damn good, some independent country fans think it must be bad. It’s a hall pass to all those who feel the need to roam, and assurance to all that love them that eventually they’ll come back. It’s a song that raises the pulse and fills the heart.

Just like some of the other top artists in independent country, Cody Jinks will always be haunted by the ghost of releasing a magnum opus, and being measured against it for the rest of his career. In Cody’s case, that’s 2015’s Adobe Sessions. He may never top it, and neither may anyone else. But that doesn’t mean all the subsequent songs and albums he releases are bad or lesser than they should be, even if that’s how it’s couched by some of his critics.

Nonetheless, Change The Game does have a few tracks that come and go whose writing is fine, but seems more formulaic than inspired, while the music doesn’t really offer anything novel or interesting. It’s hard to find the hunger when you have wealth, a beautiful wife, and cool kids. Cody Jinks was recently seen hanging out on WWE with his son, and had his name and album cover on a NASCAR Xfinity series car. These are the things most folks only dream of.

But when you get to the final song of the album “What You Love” co-written with Tennessee Jet, nobody will be complaining they’re getting a lesser version of Cody Jinks. Bolstered by piano and a lush string arrangement, this is a full-hearted, full-throated effort by Jinks to convey what he’s learned through persevering through adversity and rising to the top.

Cody Jinks succeeded at changing the game, and in ways that are inarguable and easily measured, and universally recognized. But not all who labor at changing the game will succeed at the level Cody did, or see the economic reward or recognition he enjoys. But that doesn’t mean that effort or pursuit is not worth making, or fruitless.

Cody Jinks is now in that mid career stretch where he has plenty of “hits” to ride on and his future is secured, both financially and as a legacy that will be remembered beyond his years. You can reflect back on that and be proud. But it’s those that continue to change, continue to challenge themselves and refine who they are that will squeeze the most out of this life. That is the lesson of Change The Game. And it’s a good one to heed.

1 3/4 Guns Up

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