Album Review – Cody Jinks – “Mercy”

photo: Brad Coolidge

Cody Jinks says it best himself.

“When you’ve made it to the top you don’t feel like number one
You can’t stop because they count on you to be what you’ve become…”

What Cody Jinks has become is arguably the preeminent independent artist in all of country music. Sure, you could also cite Tyler Childers, or maybe Sturgill Simpson as candidates for that position. But both had their dalliances with major labels, while Cody Jinks has now gone completely independent, with no label support at all. In fact, this new release didn’t even employ a publicist to help promote it. It’s just Cody, and his fans.

The one exception is that Cody’s new song “Like a Hurricane” (where the quote from Cody Jinks above comes from) is currently being pushed to mainstream country radio, and finding some serious traction. Corporate radio is arguably the last frontier for Cody Jinks to conquer. He’s already made it to the top of the album charts. He’s already minted Certified Gold and Platinum singles without radio support. And he’s one of the largest-drawing independent artists in all of country music, filling out small and mid-sized arenas and amphitheaters, and headlining festivals right beside mainstream acts.

Aside from making noise on mainstream country radio, Cody Jinks really has nothing else to prove. And even if he didn’t release a lick of new music ever again, the catalog he’s compiled and the legacy of memorable songs he’s amassed already constitutes a rather legendary career. But he keeps going, because that’s the kind of blue collar mentality Cody Jinks approaches his career with. Write songs and record them, and then tour behind them. Keep pushing and don’t stop, and don’t take anything for granted.

This doesn’t always result in the best music though. On an album (or two) per year cycle, that’s not a lot of time for recharging the creative batteries, or for the inspiration for songs to come to you organically. You can employ co-writers, like Cody Jinks does on this new album (most notably Josh Morningstar and Kendell Marvel, as well as Ward Davis, Tennessee Jet and others), but sometimes these collaborations can come at the expense of a personal connection between the songs and the singer.

If you didn’t care for the last few releases from Cody Jinks, it’s unlikely you will find favor with his new one either. Like all of his albums tracing back to 2015’s Adobe Sessions, they’ve each been recorded in the same place, and utilized the same basic personnel. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it seems to be the philosophy. Then again, if there’s nothing new, it might all begin to blend together.

Like Cody Jinks said in the quote at the top, “They count on you to be what you’ve become.” But when you’ve become the preeminent independent artist in country music, the expectations often outpace any reasonable benchmarks to where they arguably become unattainable. “When you’ve made it to the top…” there’s often only one direction to go from there.

Certainly, when you first dive into Mercy, there is sort of a Groundhog Day feel to it all. There’s just nothing new, or groundbreaking. It’s very much a Cody Jinks album in the sound and approach. It also doesn’t help that the first two songs may be the weakest of the set. “All It Cost Me Is Everything” and “Hurt You” feel more like character sketches as opposed to something that’s sincere to the Cody Jinks experience.

But the deeper you listen, and the more times you cycle through, the songwriting and the passion behind Mercy begin to reveal themselves more definitively, as does the album’s appeal. The crying steel guitar and the conviction in Cody’s delivery give you all the feels during “Feeding The Flames.” I don’t care who you are, or what your preconceived notions of Cody Jinks might be, if you can’t recognize the country music songwriting genius behind the song “I Don’t Trust My Memories Anymore” co-written with Kendell Marvel, I’m not sure your opinion qualifies.

Released simultaneously with an album for Cody’s metal side project called Caned by Nod, it could be lazily concluded that Cody parsed his creativity between the two efforts, or that his passion for country is waning. But Mercy might lean even more heavily into slower, authentic country songs than any of his previous albums.

The run of the expressive and wise “Nobody Knows How to Read,” the encumbered sense of frustration and overcapacity in “Shoulders,” and the despondency of “Dying Isn’t Cheap” with it’s crying steel guitar is where this album sells itself to you in a way that hard not to buy, and with songs that are distinctly country. And “Mercy” co-written with Adam Hood is one of those personal Cody Jinks songs you hope for and expect.

Mercy is about the struggle of soldiering through life’s curve balls and adversities, and asking for understanding and forgiveness. About the only lighthearted moment is the final track, “When Whiskey Calls The Shots,” where Jinks and Co. salvage what could be a rather cliché song by delivering it with a tongue in their cheek.

This album is not Adobe Sessions or Less Wise. Cody Jinks already released those records, and they went onto define some of the very best album releases of the modern country era. But just because it doesn’t rise to the lofty expectations those titles set doesn’t mean Mercy doesn’t stand on it’s own merits. It very much does.

1 3/4 Guns Up (8/10)

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