Album Review – Dillon Massengale’s “Buckleshines”

In many respects it feels like a victory and cause for celebration any time a truly traditional country record is released. Making country music the right way requires such an uphill battle in today’s country landscape that it takes fortitude and dedication. To have a traditional country album from a 19-year-old is even more significant because it gives us all hope that these original sounds and modes of country music are being shepherded into the future.

When it comes to Dillon Massengale though, that’s just where the victories begin. You would have absolutely no clue listening to his new album Buckleshines, but Dillon Massengale was diagnosed with high functioning autism when he was 4 years old. He struggled to communicate, wouldn’t make eye contact with others, and doctors warned that Dillon may not be able to do the daily things many of us take for granted.

Dillon’s mother is Melody (Hart) Massengale—an award-winning fiddler and vocalist who’s performed with the likes of Joe Diffie, Mickey Gilley, and others over the years. But early in Dillon’s life, he didn’t like music performances, or movies, or anything with loud noise, even though he showed a gift for music by humming melodies in perfect pitch even before being able to sing them.

But instead of resigning Dillon Massengale to a life of compromises due to his diagnosis, his family used diet, therapy, country music, and tons of prayers to gently but confidently push Dillon to break through barriers. By the time he was 11, he was performing on stage in Branson. Dillon regularly performs with the Melody Hart Family Show with mother and father Wayne and Melody, and brother Garrett on drums. Not only did Dillon gain the confidence to step up to the mic and sing, he also plays bass.

But you don’t need the remarkable back story to enjoy Buckleshines, you just need to love traditional country music. Dillon’s confident baritone and natural twang make for a quality listen from cover to cover. Recording Max D. Barnes’ “That’s Why I Sing This Way” about being disciplined with swats from a George Jones record is fitting. He may not sound like Jones himself (who does)? But you can tell Dillon Massengale was born to sing country music.

Though Buckleshines includes a few songs that some astute country fans will recognize like Eddie Rabbitt’s “Drivin’ My Life Away,” it also has just the right mix of obscure tunes, including numerous one’s from Missouri-based songwriter Splinter Middleton to qualify it as an original album. Some of the songs like “Dreams Come True” may come across a little sappy to general audiences, but they’re all quality selections nonetheless.

Not only does Dillon Massengale impress himself, the legendary Junior Brown and Leona Williams appear on the album too. Rhonda Vincent appeared on Dillon’s previous self-titled album, and also bestowed Dillon with a Grand Ole Opry debut in August of 2021 when the two sung their duet inside the circle.

Dillon sure knows how to make the right company in country music, and with the way he expresses his passion for true country music, the traditional country community has welcomed him into the fold. This is also underscored by all of the top notch pickers that appear on Buckleshines, with the final track “Quit Pickin’ On Me” putting on a veritable country guitar pickin’ clinic. The instrumentation on this album is superlative throughout, and worth the price of admission alone.

Since traditional country like this has fallen out of style with the mainstream, albums like Buckleshines don’t get made without a lot of passion, love, and community. But it’s also that wholesomeness and warm feeling that only traditional country can convey that makes an album like Bluckleshines so valued in the right hands.

People have used country music to overcome many adversities in their lives: heartbreak, loneliness, incarceration, and addiction to name a few. Dillon Massengale does the same, though you would never know it by listening to this album. All you hear is great country music made the way it’s supposed to be made by a young man who will be thankfully keeping the flame of true country music burning for many years to come.

8/10

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