Album Review – Luke Grimes – (Self-Titled)

When it comes to mainstream people, if one of their favorite actors or a famous name releases a music album, they’re likely to give it a listen and perhaps regard it more favorably than they normally would. But with grassroots and independent music fans, an actor moving into the music space is more apt to be met with speculation, tough scrutiny, and accusations of using their celebrity to cut in line.

If you listen to the albums of actors such as Kiefer Sutherland, or Kevin Bacon’s Bacon Brothers, or maybe ol’ John Dutton himself, Kevin Costner, you’ll find they’re probably pretty good. All the pieces are in the right place, the songs are pleasant enough, and the production is professional. Yet there’s usually something fundamentally missing. There’s just not the pain or a unique enough perspective to make the music feel real, or what’s often referred to as “soul.”

With the new self-titled album from Luke Grimes, you don’t get that empty feeling. Patient, purposeful, authentic, vulnerable, and expressive, Ol’ Kayce Dutton isn’t just relying on his Yellowstone cred and what your girlfriend thinks is a cute butt to get by. He put in his time, paid some dues, and the result is a full-length debut album that’s worth listening to regardless of his name recognition.

In real life, Luke Grimes was born in Dayton, Ohio, and is the son of a Pentacostal pastor. Grimes grew up singing and playing music in church, including drums, and later learned piano and guitar. Grimes also briefly played drums in a band in Los Angeles before his acting career took off. Grimes says he grew up on Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, and Willie Nelson. Now 40 years old, he cites Colter Wall and Ruston Kelly as modern influences.

Working with Dave Cobb as producer, this self-titled album is not super twangy, or super singer/songwriter. But it’s just enough of both to make for a pleasant listen that will pull you in no matter your sensibilities. You’re not here for Luke Grimes the singer either, but his singing is good enough to represent the songs well. And really, it’s the songs that carry this album.

Luke not only had the presence of mind to work with professional songwriters, he worked with the right ones. This includes Brent Cobb and Aaron Raitiere on multiple tracks, as well as Jon Randall, Jesse Alexander, Josh Thompson, and the Love Junkies (Hillary Lindsey, Lori McKenna, Liz Rose). He also covers Hayes Carll’s “Worst of Me.” Luke had a lot of help, but it results in one quality song after another, including songs that feel personal to Grimes himself like “Oh Ohio.”

The debut single “No Horse To Ride” sounded good enough, but still left you a little inconclusive if Luke would have the goods to make music more than a side hustle. It was the second single “Hold On” that really sold many on Luke Grimes the singer. “Playin’ On The Tracks” co-written with Brent Cobb, and another Grimes co-write “Ghost Of Who We Were” are really solid early tracks, pulling you into this album.

At times the album can get a little sleepy, but “Black Powder” with its gritty, AM radio treatment spices things up. “Ain’t Dead Yet” also gives he album some needed grit and pulse. About the only song that feels a little like Music Row formula is “God And A Girl.” But you can tell that Grimes is not angling for radio play or to make it onto pop country stages.

The songs of this self-titled album feel like they could slide into the soundtrack of a Yellowstone season right beside Colter Wall, Whiskey Myers, and Shane Smith and the Saints. Sure, Grimes can flash his actor’s guild card and get himself booked on Dave Cobb’s busy calendar, pull a bunch of important songwriters to his side, and book slots at some of country music’s biggest festivals. But none of this means the music is bad.

The Luke Grimes self-titled album isn’t just good for an actor. It’s good for an album. It’s country. It includes good songs. And seeing how Kevin Costner and Taylor Sheridan can’t seem to check their egos and figure this thing out—dooming Yellowstone to only five seasons—Luke Grimes needs a Plan B. As he proves on this album, music isn’t a bad one at all.

1 3/4 Guns Up (8.1/10)

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