Album Review – Midland’s “Let It Roll”
Authenticity has always been one of the most essential ingredients to the best of country music. But “authenticity” is a very loaded term. It can denote if an artist comes with the type of credentials that can endear them to a country music audience beyond the music itself. Is the artist from the American South, Texas, the interior West, or the central valley of California—the primary origination points of original country music? Did they grow up poor, or on a farm or ranch? Did the work in a factory or construction, go to prison, serve in the military? There are a host of qualifiers that can be used to endear or embellish the character of a country star to sell that coveted “authenticity” ingredient that an audience often craves from their favorite country stars.
But over the storied history of the music, the holy ghost of country has inhabited the souls of countless musicians and performers who don’t fit any of these requisites, or even had narratives that worked against them. Hank Snow was from Canada, but is one of the most iconic country stars of all time. Ray Benson of Asleep at the Wheel is originally from New York, but has singlehandedly been keeping Western Swing alive. Gram Parsons was the rich kid that migrated to California and started making country with hippie bands, but helped spread the appreciation for country music among the counterculture more than anyone else. Though country cred will always be a quotient in country music to calculate a given performer’s supposed “authenticity”—and arguably should be to some extent to help keep the music grounded in its roots—these rules should also be expendable if the quality of the music and the heart displayed by the artist shines through.
The true authenticity that should be insisted upon by all country music fans is if the artist is true to themselves, and their own story. This is where the band Midland ran afoul with many country fans, especially in Texas, when their yarn about spending years sweating it out in Austin honky tonks was clearly and demonstrably embellished, and easily and summarily debunked when they first came on the scene. These weren’t Austin natives and honky tonkers. Bass player Cameron Duddy had won VMAs directing videos for Bruno Mars, and sold a million-dollar estate in Southern California to purchase another million-dollar estate in Austin’s Dripping Springs community during the formation of the band. Lead singer Mark Wystrach grew up on a ranch, but had worked as an underwear model and starred in soap operas.
And when confronted about these inaccuracies, Midland doubled down on their tales of barely being able to make rent, and paying dues for years in Austin haunts. Sure, the trio played a few shows at Poodie’s out in the Texas Hill Country, and some one-off gigs at Hole in the Wall and The White Horse in Austin. But all of this was part of a calculated plan to present the narrative of authenticity they believed would set them apart from the often soulless and manufactured Music Row stars they would shortly become peers of. It wasn’t just the embellishment and outright lies that angered many fans, it was that a band like Midland could ride into Nashville, and immediately overshadow artists who embodied that hardscrabble Austin honky-tonk existence Midland was trying to emulate through their country music cosplay.
Midland signed to Big Machine Records via Cameron Duddy’s deep contacts in the music industry. The producer and co-writer on many of their songs was Shane McAnally, who was the puppetmaster behind Sam Hunt and other gross offenders from mainstream country music. Midland wasn’t a true Austin honky tonk band rising to the top against all odds, they were the Music Row machine incorporating this narrative to swindle country music fans, and re-integrate disenfranchised listeners back into the mainstream fold in a big marketing bamboozle.
But ultimately it’s the job of every truehearted music fan to shove all of these nonessential elements aside, open their hearts to a song and ask, “Is the music any good?” But Midland made this especially difficult to impossible to do so for many with their first record, because the marketing preceded and outpaced the music so demonstrably, you couldn’t get away from it. To buy into Midland, you had to buy into their marketing. To avoid it, you had to shun all social media, shield your eyes from their ridiculous promo photos of the band all decked out in high dollar Nudie fashion, and suspend disbelief. It wasn’t just that they lacked authenticity. They symbolized the antithesis of it.
Artistically and logistically, nothing has changed between Midland’s first record On The Rocks, and their new record Let It Roll. Most of the songs are still co-written by Shane McAnally. The album was produced by the unholy country music trinity of Dan Huff, Shane McAnally, and Josh Osborne (who also handles a lot of writing). The Midland members are also in the songwriting credits, but who knows how much they truly contributed. To tell someone they should stare straight past all the danger signs posted all over this project and not be offended by what Midland embodies would be against the principles of any concerned citizen of the country music community.
But to completely discount in entirety the importance Midland is having in revitalizing the authentic sound of country music in its most consumed and wide-reaching realm of the mainstream is to arguably be just as foolhardy, and unfair. Let It Roll is not a great country music album. But it is a great country music album for the mainstream, and perhaps one of the best that will be released all year. The adherence to the roots and modes of country music in this record is both admirable and undeniable, in both the songwriting and instrumentation. When considered with an open heart, the songs of Let It Roll allow that love for country music to well up in the soul. In short, it passes the listening test.
“Fourteen Gears” was a song that some considered the band’s best, and many were forlorn that it didn’t make it on the first album. But it appears on this new one, even if the demo version was better. “Mr. Lonely” and “Playboys” are just fun, easy-to-love country songs that make you smile. “Cheatin’ Songs” and “Every Song’s A Drinkin’ Song” might be songs about songs, but they’re good ones, and allow that sweet nostalgia for country music gone by to fill your senses. And Midland has a style. It’s not their own style. It’s sort of this combination of classic honky tonk and Eagles-era California country, but it works, and it’s fetching, with ample steel guitar and half-time beats, moody moments and sweaty tones that sound like country music is supposed to, even when they insert a bit of classic rock and folk pop sensibilities into the mix to endear themselves to a wider audience.
Midland is mostly style, and this is a fair concern. But a few songs like “I Love You, Goodbye” and the final track “Roll Away” dig a little deeper, or at least try to. It’s also fair to point out that they could have gone contemporary with their second record now that they’re popular, and didn’t. But when considering the music as a whole, and not on a sliding scale due to it emanating from the mainstream, it’s still pretty thin, and somewhat dependent on the flashy promo photos, throwback garb, and marketing push to create a full bodied experience. Kacey Musgraves can write circles around these guys, and they couldn’t even get juried into something like AmericanaFest. Yet they’re still leagues ahead of many of their mainstream contemporaries.
The effort to save country music must be a pragmatic one. Classic country like the stuff Midland is peddling has become a hot commodity in the mainstream and beyond in the last couple of years, and don’t question for a second that Midland and their big radio singles haven’t been a catalyst for this positive development. As much as Midland might overshadow authentic Austin honky tonk bands like Mike and the Moonpies, Dale Watson and his Lonestars, or Croy and the Boys (who just released their own record), they also might become a bridge for those who like what they hear to start digging for something a little deeper and more authentic.
There is some fat on Let It Roll. It could be trimmed down to 10 songs easily, and some of the refrains and arrangements on certain songs don’t really work as intended. And with a band like Midland, it’s essential to point out that most of the magic is being done by the guys on the backline being paid a salaries as opposed to royalties. Midland is the Monkees of country music. But The Monkees did a pretty good job bringing all those Neil Diamond-penned songs to life if we’re being honest.
There should be no forgiveness for Midland and their naked plays to piggy back off the authenticity of actual Austin honky tonk bands until they ask for it, and the marketing run up to the release of Let It Roll was not much better than with their debut record. But if country music is ever going to be saved, the mainstream must also be conquered, and it’s going to take savvy marketers like the ones behind Midland to help do it. These guys are still turds. But it’s time to bury the hatchet, to be the bigger people in the room, to recognize the good they’re doing and the quality behind their efforts beyond the qualifiers, and say, “If you want to help make classic country cool again, fine by us.”
Midland will never be the authentic Austin honky tokers they tout themselves to be. But they can be authentic to themselves, which is the challenge we all face when trying to find ourselves, when trying to win acceptance from the world at large, while also trying to carve out our unique place in it. And if they did, it would allow their music to reach an even wider audience of true country fans who want to like their music through all the trepidation. Because the music is there.
1 1/2 Guns Up (7.5/10)
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August 26, 2019 @ 11:54 am
I understand the consternation associated with these guys. That said, I generally like their music and love the fact that radio is playing it.
August 26, 2019 @ 11:54 am
I want to like Midland. The problem with their being pushed to the mainstream through an inauthentic backstory about being honky tonkers is that that can only mean Music Row knows that there’s an audience for it and there will be a return on investment.
Why not find a band that’s already authentically doing what Midlands doing and push that band?
Lil' DL's Honk
August 26, 2019 @ 12:08 pm
a.k.a Mike and the Moonpies
Cool Lester Smooth
August 26, 2019 @ 4:42 pm
Mike and the Moonpies don’t do what Midland’s doing, though.
Midland’s music is, intentionally, much more along the lines of Countrypolitan/California Country than Mike et al’s ever will be.
The fact that Mike and the Moonpies wouldn’t appeal to Midland’s market the way, say, Turnpike would isn’t a good or a bad thing.
It is, however, a thing.
August 26, 2019 @ 12:12 pm
Probably because Music Row knows they won’t have control over that band like they do Midland..
Billy Wayne Ruddick
August 26, 2019 @ 12:12 pm
Their good looks are a big part of the marketing plan. I don’t think there are any bands (Vocal Trio I mean) out there who would look as “hot” with their shirts unbuttoned down to their belly buttons.
August 26, 2019 @ 12:14 pm
“Why not find a band that’s already authentically doing what Midlands doing and push that band?”
I have been. They’re called Mike and the Moonpies, and if I pushed them any harder than I have been for the last three years or so, I’d be labeled a shill.
But please understand, reviewing a record is not “pushing” a band. A review is objective criticism, not an element of promotion.
Also folks have to understand that with a band like Midland, people are going to have varying opinions. I’ve had people swear off ever reading this website again because I will not come out in full throated support of Midland. Meanwhile others say I’m a sellout for not slamming them as the bullshitters they are, even though the only reason they know they’re bullshitters is this site.
I’m just giving my opinions.
August 26, 2019 @ 12:18 pm
I’m sorry; I wasn’t clear. I was directing that question more towards record labels.
I know you’re just reporting on what’s going on in country music.
August 26, 2019 @ 12:20 pm
Oh, okay, gotcha. Well then I would refer to Lil DL Honks’s comment. It’s because they can’t have control like they do with Midland.
August 28, 2019 @ 5:22 am
… and/or royalties
August 26, 2019 @ 12:22 pm
Hey hey we’re The Monkees/And people say we monkey around/But we’re too busy singing/To put anybody down.
August 28, 2019 @ 10:34 pm
That’d be the ultimate trolling thing when I talk about midland from now on lmao
I like their music. I can’t be too snobby. I wanna party and the music is a party
I still rock my moonpies and Whitey
August 26, 2019 @ 12:46 pm
I understand the post. Maybe others are like me and find themselves conflicted over Midland. I do like their music. It is far better than most junk on the radio. Good throwback. Yes, the authenticity points are valid in my opinion. Yet many current artists (mainstream) are about as authentic as Pamela Anderson peddling granny shoes.
In a way, I find myself a bit guilty liking Midland’s songs. Trigger’s point is well-taken. It can be hard separating the music from the marketing. But at the end of the day, I will have to choose music over marketing.
Still, I am conflicted. No answer to this as far as I know. At least for now.
August 28, 2019 @ 9:04 am
“…about as authentic as Pamela Anderson peddling granny shoes…”
Love it! 🙂
August 26, 2019 @ 1:04 pm
I tried to like the album, and I like it much more than most of the crap on the radio. But, I cant quite put my finger on what is missing. It’s like eating Chinese food. You’re still hungry after eating it. No highs, no lows, just monotony.
August 26, 2019 @ 2:16 pm
Too much MSG
August 26, 2019 @ 3:07 pm
That’s ’cause you’re not eating real Chinese food
North Woods Country
August 26, 2019 @ 7:53 pm
What’s missing? Authenticity, but good songs are good songs. It’s good, just shallow
August 26, 2019 @ 1:15 pm
these tracks sound pretty damned country to me ….real players playing real instruments….nice arrangements vocally and musically . …and pretty decent country writes , in my opinion . these guys get a huge E for effort from me ….not sure about their ‘image’……but music isn’t for watching . if the rest of the record sounds anywhere near this i’d have to say these guys are certainly doing their parts to keep it real …at least musically .
August 26, 2019 @ 1:34 pm
Well I’m 3 full spins in and I like the album and most of the songs. I’ll probably rearrange the running order, might drop 1 or 2 but it will go into my rotation with Moonpies, Jenkins, Jarell, Marie, Butts, and Blossoms. It’ll fit quite nicely. I’m well aware of the back story but even being so I don’t consider them Monkees (unlike King Calaway who ARE). These guys can play, I’m sure they write something…..considering every song has numerous credits. I knew what Jacob above meant posing his question but we all know Mike could never be controlled and we probably wouldn’t have their current masterpiece. I was thinking Trig would probably give it a 6 or a seven so I wasn’t far off. I agree. It’s better these tunes getting some airplay than 90% of what’s currently shoved at the sheeple then they might dig and find some Solid Country Gold.
August 26, 2019 @ 1:42 pm
Trigger, when I saw them on the last tour of the UK outside of the many covers and tracks off their debut, the songs veered heavily to Southern Rock. I take it this isn’t evident on this new album?
August 26, 2019 @ 3:06 pm
Definitely wouldn’t characterize much on this record as Southern Rock at all. There are some country rock or California country influences. Can’t speak for what they’re doing live these days.
August 26, 2019 @ 1:51 pm
I have to admit that I love this album. I have moved past all the authenticity stuff and am fine with just listening to their music. I admit early on that I was extremely put off by the authenticity questions with this band, but I know a couple of people directly that receive high praise on here that are absolute a$$es, but I decided to appreciate the music and not who I have seen them to be. I have done the same with Midland, the music is good, so i am okay with enjoying their music. I agree with you almost 99.9% of the time, but I think you are making some assumptions that there is just no way to know. This could have been their sound, they could have walked in and knocked the doors off of McAnally. Their is no absolute proof they we created out of thin air like some making the band episode and their is no way of knowing if they wrote the majority of those songs, so I’m not sure it’s fair to make those assumptions. For years songwriters have been writing songs and not putting artists name on them, why all of a sudden would Shane McAnally decide to start giving songwriting credits out to these guys, that has never been a prerequisite for success or authenticity. The amount of superstars who rarely wrote songs is a long one. I do understand where you are coming from, but I am not sure if going this route does any good at this point. I will say this, they have one of the most unique sounds I have heard in a long time, which makes me believe at least some of this has to be coming from them. If they are writing most of these songs and they are the primary people creating that sound and their biggest crime was embellishing how many start-up gigs they played around Austin, I am not sure that is a big enough crime to be creating a narrative that these guys are some huge fraud bordering on Milli Vanilli, because you have a loud voice that does get seen by a lot of people.
Cool Lester Smooth
August 26, 2019 @ 4:38 pm
Especially when McAnally has no credit on 14 Gears (the best song on the album, which predates his involvement with the band, and is very much of a piece with their other efforts).
Jess Carson receives sole credit for two other songs on the record, and another one is written only by Midland and Mando Saenz, who’s written for a “Who’s Who” of Texas Country acts – they all sound quite similar to the co-writes with McAnally…just like how Brandy Clark and Kacey Musgraves’ co-writes with him sound like their other stuff.
The whole “McAnally as puppet master” narrative that Trigger loves has never made much sense to me, frankly.
If he has any relationship with a shadowy cabal trying to destroy country music, it’s that they call him occasionally and say “We have a 25 year old in the other room who’s dumb as a stump, but he’s pretty and can hit the notes. Write him some songs that you think will appeal to East Coast women ages 19-27 who make between $30k and $60k annually.”
…and he does it, and does it well.
August 26, 2019 @ 1:58 pm
I have to say I think some of the songs on ‘Let it Roll’ are more quality but if I had to pick one I would rather listen to ‘On the Rocks’ cover to cover than their latest.
August 26, 2019 @ 2:23 pm
Agree with a lot of what’s been said about the marketing – my favourite was the bio on their website, written by someone trying so desperately to appeal to a traditional audience that it took country namedropping to a new level, and even went so far as to attack pop country in the softest terms ever (‘bluster and swagger have replaced heart and soul’ it went, which is one way of putting it). Listened to the title track, and thought it was quite catchy, though Mark Wystrich really isn’t a very good singer.
August 26, 2019 @ 2:48 pm
A lot to unpack here, Trig, and you did it well.
It basically comes down to how authentic you want your country music to be, because the sound is undeniable. When I want to feel real, I listen to Jinks. When I want to just enjoy some “new” music with a late-80s/early-90s vibe, these guys more than fit the bill.
All depends on the mood you’re in. And it’s a hell of a lot better than the pop garbage we’re all force-fed on the radio.
August 26, 2019 @ 2:48 pm
I just hope the gimmick doesn’t run out. Because it is a gimmick. They try so hard to look so country, they try so hard to be country. but it just isn’t them. Go to their own personal social media pages and it’s pretty clear that they aren’t honky tonk country except for the 1-2 hours on stage. However, the music is fine. Honestly, I like most of it. But… in the back of my head I always feel like they are a gimmick. The Monkees comparison is spot on.
August 26, 2019 @ 2:56 pm
Two other things:
1) If you see them live, you’ll have a good time. They put on an entertaining show.
2) A lot of their early stuff – penned by Jess – was actually their best work. ATV, Gettin’ The Feel, Fourteen Gears, Check Cashin’ Country, Gator Boys, etc.
August 26, 2019 @ 2:57 pm
Yea maybe they embellished a bit but their music is a net gain. Opening the gates wider to more traditional sounding music.
August 26, 2019 @ 2:57 pm
From the minute I heard “Drinkin Problem,” I was floored. You just don’t hear songs like that on mainstream radio. Then I saw these guys… and I was confused. As in, “WTF is wrong with them?” They look ridiculous! Then I saw all the controversy here on SCM. But I put it all aside because “Burn Out” is also a fantastic song, and “Mr. Lonely” is very Dwight Yoakam-ish. I will look past the fake bio and stupid poser clothes. Their music is an antidote to the pop garbage Nashville has been peddling. The more popular Midland becomes, the more chance we have of truly saving country music. Their success can open the door for more traditional acts. Hopefully they will also show people (who only know “country” as Aldean, FGL, Kane Brown, etc.) what country music truly is.
August 26, 2019 @ 5:27 pm
You’re so right, Tracy. Midland has taught me that I’d rather have a country-sounding country artist with a fake backstory than a crappy R&B/pop-sounding country artist with a genuine backstory. I’m tired of hating mainstream country, and though I don’t love Midland, it’s nice not to hate them either.
August 26, 2019 @ 3:29 pm
Still can’t bring myself to care about their authenticity or lack thereof. The music is good and that’s all that matters.
jessie with the long hair
August 26, 2019 @ 3:41 pm
“Midland is the Monkees of country music.”
This was funnier the first time I wrote it in the comments of another post! 🙂
August 26, 2019 @ 3:53 pm
I just can’t give them an honest spin and it’s because of the narrative behind them. I get it, that’s on me and what few songs I’ve heard of theirs isn’t the worst, but I’d rather spend time listening to them on finding other albums and artists like Shane Smith and the Saints, Mike and the Moonpies, etc.
August 26, 2019 @ 4:03 pm
I agree with everything you said Trigger. Given your history with Midland, i had looked forward to this review for A while. I think the reviewer over at Allmusic had it about right, that there isn’t a whole lot to this album but it sounds good. That said, Fourteen Gears shines on this one for me. A few of the songs made my rotation, which isn’t half bad for a mainstream Nashville group.
August 26, 2019 @ 4:07 pm
I’m listening to Okie and jumped out here to see if Trigger reviewed it yet and find this. Go download Okie, play it and try to care about these tools. Midland, whatever.
D Ray White
August 26, 2019 @ 4:56 pm
They look like they take their fashion cues from Florida Georgia Line.
August 27, 2019 @ 6:25 am
No they don’t.. I don’t see any sagging skinny jeans, tank tops, or hipster combovers, do you?
August 27, 2019 @ 1:50 pm
I’d say they look more like characters from Elizabeth Cook songs.
August 26, 2019 @ 5:32 pm
I just want to say, this review speaks well for you, Trigger. I appreciate your willingness to see both sides here, and recognize that Midland is ultimately a positive force for Country Music.
I’m a very biased observer. I’ve know Mark for many, many years, long before his underwear modeling and Passions days (I’m his ex-brother-in-law). I had a very different take on the authenticity debate, as I’ve spent much time at his family’s Arizona ranch, and many nights at their family restaurant.
Mark’s persona, dress, and attitude isn’t (and wasn’t) an “act”. He sang at my wedding, with an incredible and intimate performance. My sister still says Mark’s “Ring of Fire” at my wedding is one of the finest performances she’d ever seen. I vividly recall when Mark purchased that ridiculous Cadillac (with the Longhorns on the hood, the one you see in the Drinkin’ Problem video) back in 2007, right when he got that small part on Passions. I watched Mark practice and work harder than anyone I know, for years, struggling to improve. Yes, he took a variety of jobs, but music was always his passion. The Mark I see today in interviews and social media is the same Mark I’ve known for years.
Did the marketers and Music Row execs play some of this up, including his Texas roots? Yeah, they did. I can understand completely how that rubs folks the wrong way. I’m just testifying to the fact that the Mark I’ve known for years, is the same Mark I see today. He’s a great guy, always treated me with incredible respect, and his whole family welcomed me from the very beginning. Their working family ranch really is an amazing place, and the Wystrach family is still considered royalty in the cattle ranching community, especially their work to improve their Hereford lines. Their restaurant and bar is true western Honky Tonk, with rowdy bands most weekends, where the Wystrach kids (and now grandkids) continue to work alongside Grace and Michael.
I’ll say again, knowing your history with the band and some of the back-and-forth, this review is very generous of you. Yes, I’m biased. I took sides 2 years ago. If you’re the adult willing to bury the hatchet, then I am too. I wish only the best for my friend and for you as well.
August 26, 2019 @ 6:06 pm
Thank you for your knowledgeable insight and taking the time to post this.
August 26, 2019 @ 6:32 pm
Thanks for reading Joe.
August 26, 2019 @ 5:39 pm
Most of my favorite artists won’t tour with Midland.
Michigan Country Music
August 26, 2019 @ 5:45 pm
The outfits are ridiculous. The music is pretty darn good.
August 26, 2019 @ 6:00 pm
I just turn my head about the authenticity stuff and enjoy every note of a great album!
August 26, 2019 @ 6:27 pm
I mean, these songs aren’t bad, I would probably listen to them without complaint. But the authenticity thing rankles, and Mike and the Moonpies are still way, way better.
Thanks for the thorough review.
August 26, 2019 @ 6:29 pm
This album is awesome. I loved their last one. I always respect Trig’s opinion, but I never truly understood the hatred towards these dudes. Their music is awesome! Definitely one of my top ten albums this year. So many good albums this year: Hayes Carll, Tyler Childers, Mike and the Moonpies, Bruce Springsteen, Midland…
However, I think Vincent Neil Emerson is gonna be my favorite of the year
August 26, 2019 @ 6:45 pm
Ive been in music 50+ plus years, lived in austin, still play regularly. First, Austin (and all Texas country music groups) lack the commercial instinct , so people need to stop with the authenticity bit, it doesn’t sell enough records. Secondly, Midland is nothing more than a collective of Nashville minds that want to infuse their commercial savvy into a texas-like band…commercial songs, 3 part harmonies, nice hooks, short solos, some beatles chords…..expect some more bands like this to crop up, but don’t expect too much, the lack of sales of cds has virtually assured that there will be no more actual bands with their own style, long lives, and multimillionaire riches. The 60s and 70s were, and will be forever be, the zenith of music.
Billy Wayne Ruddick
August 26, 2019 @ 7:05 pm
All of the authenticity stuff aside, they simply just aren’t good vocalists or musicians. Their studio work is obviously pretty touched up digitally. One can see that from watching videos of them live. Also, if they were really into the music, they would put together a proper band instead of just going with this “vocal trio” schtick.
I will admit that I would much rather listen to Midland than most of what is in country radio. But that’s not a high bar. I’m guessing that people saying things like “this is a damn good album” are comparing it to the pop country radio crowd that midland competes with.
August 26, 2019 @ 7:10 pm
I loved Midland until I found out about their backstory, but good music is good music so I was still willing to give them a chance. Then I made the mistake of going and seeing them live last year at a bar in Indy. It was like looking behind the curtain and seeing that the wizard was just a man. Sounded absolutely nothing like the record. I told my best friend halfway through the first song that I would be leaving shortly to drive 2 hours home on a work night. I think I made it through 5 or 6 songs before I gave up. I’m sure I’ll eventually listen to this record but I’ll never pay money to see them again
August 26, 2019 @ 7:17 pm
Wallpaper. Midland is the Pottery Barn, or the Crate & Barrel, of country music. The vocals especially are either flat or affected. Hilarious.
August 26, 2019 @ 7:17 pm
I recall putting on a random country radio station in early 2009 while driving cross country and commenting to my girlfriend at the time (currently my wife) that it was nice to know that no matter what else was going on in the world, you could count on a certain familiarity in country music. That changed a couple years later. Now we seem to be correcting course. I will say unequvically that if everything on country radio was similar in style to Midland, Trig would be out of a job. Country Music would be saved.
Keepin it Country
August 26, 2019 @ 8:24 pm
I know they may not be authentic but little is in Nashville sure they may be a little overproduced but I still love the album.
August 26, 2019 @ 9:49 pm
On a side note the Mavericks are releasing a cover of John Anderson’s Swinging on Friday. Can’t wait to see what they do with this song.
August 26, 2019 @ 10:09 pm
I just don’t know If I can listen to a pink rhinestone album.
August 27, 2019 @ 12:47 am
Great review, Trigger – I think it gives us a solid understanding of the downsides and the upsides with a group like Midland.
On the whole I think they’re making some pretty good music.
Certainly a hell of a lot better (to me) than most of the other trash out there.
August 27, 2019 @ 1:24 am
Look at it this way… I’m from Northern Ireland, I stopped listening to modern Country circa 2012. For years, I had my own music that I come to love, from the 50’s right through to about 2012 as I said, but it stopped there. Mainstream country was the only source of new music I knew, and as Blake went Bro and Bryan came on the scene, I hated it.
Midland changed that, first time I heard Drinkin’ Problem, I couldn’t believe it. I listened to the whole album and every song was brilliant, I was baffled at how a modern country artist could make actual country music.
But it didn’t stop there and this, my point. Hearing On The Rocks gave me the buzz and heart to dig more and think, ‘there has to be more music like this out there today’. It was because of Midland that I found Mike and the Moonpies, Aaron Watson, Troubadours, Tyler Childers, Cody Jinks etc.
A lot of these artists, I had never heard before and it was due to Midland that I did. I fully understand the authenticity issue and I get it but for me personally, It was that night when I gathered up my whole family to ‘come and listen to these hallions in swanky suits play real NEW country music’.
That night, I found a Country Music Saviour, one that guided me to so many more.
August 27, 2019 @ 4:57 am
What is their real story? Not just the lead singers but the players in the bAnd. There is always stories that are written about that no one knows the background. Like the group or not is your opinion. They are out there making a living doing what they love to do. Sorry your day job sucks! Move on to the next song. Kuddos to the Midland crew for being that 1 in a million band.
Billy Wayne Ruddick
August 27, 2019 @ 12:04 pm
Lord help us all if Midland is “1 in a million” in any category. They aren’t a band, they are a vocal trio…so they aren’t contributing to the country landscape from the honky-tonk band perspective. And they are mediocre vocalists at best. The one thing they have going for them is the fact that they got the chance to be the faces (and the chest and abs) of Big Machine’s plan to put $ and industry muscle behind pushing a more traditional California Country sound to big radio. It isn’t lost on anyone that this will end up making the band members a decent amount of money (that some of them don’t really need, as they have already made a good chunk in their prior LA lives), and the ride will be fun while it lasts. But to imply that they are in any way unique, or uniquely talented vs. any number of real country bands out there is absolutely insane. Let’s not get carried away…..
August 27, 2019 @ 2:58 pm
Wait you said they weren’t a band, then called them “band members.” If they aren’t a band, then neither was/is Alabama.
Billy Wayne Ruddick
August 27, 2019 @ 6:35 pm
Sorry. Meant to say “vocal trio” members. Hopefully they will also pay the other players who they hire to tour with them a fair rate, but I doubt it.
August 27, 2019 @ 7:30 pm
Why do you doubt it? If it isn’t fair rate then the musicians don’t have to tour with Midland. I’m sure they’re paying support musicians as well as any other major label touring act. So would you call Alabama a vocal trio because they hire a drummer? I’ve seen midland play just the 3 of them bluegrass style.
September 1, 2019 @ 10:49 am
Once you see these guys with no drums and steel etc and They are playing with acoustic guitars, you will see and hear inferior musicianship and horrible harmonies and singing (super flat) and no pulse or rhythm to their playing. I wanted to like these guys. Their first album with a lot of help from the best in the business was a great album. Start to finish. It was a little elevatoresque but it was fun and tight. Second album is sonically poor. Lyrically poor and no real substance. You might say there are a couple good tracks but overall no comparison to on the rocks. The two songs that the lead singer takes a back seat on are so bad I can’t even listen to them. These guys are not the answer to country music. Way better song writers and musicians out there. Plenty of them
August 27, 2019 @ 5:11 am
For me, in the end, it’s “how does the music make me feel?” In Midland’s case, the answer is “Pretty good!”
I understand that they are a “made-up” band, but amongst all those “made-up” artists (no need to name names), they’re the ones I like, and if the industry gauge the popularity of that band to determine the orientation of their next “stars”, well I’d rather hear that kind of music than all those country-bro and country-pop artists, even if they’re made-up.
Something Always Told Me They Were Reading Tommy Wrong
August 27, 2019 @ 5:13 am
Sometimes you do have to bury the hatchet for the greater good. But I found it hilarious that Trigger got one last shot off at them before doing so. Turds, indeed. 🙂 🙂
By the way, when I tried to post this comment the website told me to slow down, that I am posting too much. Erm, I don’t think I’ve posted a comment in a week. Is something broken?
August 27, 2019 @ 8:24 am
If the site is receiving an excessive amount of spam comments (sometimes get over 1,000/hour that must be filtered out), you might see that. You’d be blown away how many spam comments get sent this way. It’s a daily battle.
Something Always Told Me They Were Reading Tommy Wrong
August 27, 2019 @ 2:03 pm
Seems my email program took offence at that. The notification for your reply was in my spam folder! 🙂
August 27, 2019 @ 5:29 am
Anybody know who the session players were?
August 27, 2019 @ 8:21 am
Dan Dugmore and Paul Franklin played most of the steel guitar. Dan Huff did most of the other guitar work.
August 27, 2019 @ 1:56 pm
Dan Huff is an Axe Master. Been a fan since Giant.
Shaving Country Muzak
August 28, 2019 @ 10:11 pm
Trig, if you can’t even do this simple research then why would anyone believe anything you write? Huff didn’t play most of the guitars, or even a quarter of them (no slight to him, he’s an established monster of a guitarist in any field). Show some respect for Luke Cutchen, Rob McNelly, Laur Joamets, and Jess Carson, and take a fuckin seat. Cheers.
August 28, 2019 @ 10:19 pm
Dude, chill out. Was just responding to a comment in passing, not trying to profess myself as the authority on who played what on this record. I was told Dan Huff did a lot of the guitar work. If that’s incorrect, then by all means correct us. That’s what comments and responses are for. We’re spitballing here. I wouldn’t say something I wasn’t 100% in an article proper. Wasn’t trying to slight anyone. Goodness.
Shaving Country Muzak
August 28, 2019 @ 10:35 pm
I wouldn’t have so much of an issue with it if it wasn’t such a consistent thing with you to present opinions or guesses as facts. Dunno why this pushed my buttons after all the other stuff, but I guess there’s a threshold for such things. Maybe in the future if you don’t know the facts on something preface it with “I believe” or “I heard”? It’s just a bit indicative of the generally journalistic slovenliness apparent in the article and the writing in general. And even if you’re responding to a comment in passing, facts matter. Ffs most people would have more care in a general comment on FB, let alone on a thread on their own endeavour.
August 28, 2019 @ 11:29 pm
Look man, if I unfairly embellished the role that Dan Huff played in performing the guitar parts on Midland’s “Let It Roll,” then I apologize, and I’m glad you came here to help clarify Dan Huff’s role and enumerate some of the other players. But as you even said, Dan Huff did play guitar on the record. A person I asked said he played a primary amount of the guitar parts. I guess what that means specifically is in the eye of the beholder. But someone posting in the comments section of an article under the alias “Shaving Country Muzak” isn’t necessarily a trusted source of information either. Seeing how passionate you are about this, I tend to believe you. But ultimately we would need a run down of each studio session to verify just how much guitar was played by Dan Huff and others. Unfortunately, I wasn’t invited to Midland’s studio sessions to observe it myself. Mark has said in interviews if he ever sees me in person, he’s going to kick my ass, so it’s not as if I’m buddy buddy with this band. Of course I always want to get information right, but in this instance I have to rely on others for that info.
August 29, 2019 @ 11:42 am
Trigger, it seems access to this kind of info is a casualty of the streaming/downloading era. Even CD’s often lack liner notes. It was nice when liner notes (often booklets) included lyrics and lists of studio players for each cut. It was fun to notice certain things, such as Cactus Moser (of Highway 101) being the drummer on a Steve Taylor album. An irony of the Information Age.
August 27, 2019 @ 6:19 am
Sounds pretty motherfucking country to me.
August 27, 2019 @ 6:21 am
Appreciate the fair article, that’s why we come here! I like the album, when I’m driving to and from work I like stuff I can just sing along with and not think too hard. There are lots of “deeper” artists out there putting out good stuff, but I need to be in the mood to listen to them if you know what I mean.
August 27, 2019 @ 6:45 am
Gonna listen to it today. Do you think it’s better than On the Rocks, Trig? I really enjoyed that album, despite their embellished background. They are one of the best acts in mainstream country, and out of the artists you compared them to in this article I like them better than Mike and the Moonpies. I haven’t listened to the others.
August 27, 2019 @ 8:18 am
The two albums are surprisingly the same in my opinion, though I would personally say “Let It Roll” is slightly better.
September 1, 2019 @ 10:52 am
Really ? better? You must have some really good $hit man. Wow. Not sure how this album is better than on the rocks ???
August 27, 2019 @ 7:32 am
Yes, a questionable back story… the music is there. Us ” woke” & ” enlightened” fans will often choose a boredline tone deaf, poorly produced “authentic” album, though. I would rather listen to this over Shook or Isbell. oops, blasphemy! Signed, A gal raised Ray Price, Loretta, Haggard, & Waylon & steel player for a Dad.
August 27, 2019 @ 6:12 pm
When you have to qualify yourself with who you grew up listening to, your point becomes moot. Knowing who Ray Price is doesn’t make you an expert on traditional county. Ever.
August 27, 2019 @ 7:42 am
Well i’m a country music fan and singer from Italy so i totally agree about the universal appeal of music regardless where you hail from. But while i don’t mind authenticity in a hardrock band (i know for sure that KISS members don’t come from outerspace neither are they demons ..), i feel it’s different in roots music. These guys are probably good but c’mon men they look like REO SPEEDWAGON starring in a DALLAS rerun.
Something Always Told Me They Were Reading Tommy Wrong
August 27, 2019 @ 8:44 am
Well I now have something else we can blame them for. My nephew has a wedding to go to, and, inspired by Midland, he’s going to try and get a nudie suit to wear to it (no idea where you’d even get one in this country). I told him you’re not supposed to upstage the bride, but he’s not listening, he don’t care.
August 27, 2019 @ 9:34 am
I like their music. I think they definitely put on an act, but I don’t think their outfits are any less authentic than all the “true artists” running around dressed like a depression era farmer.
August 28, 2019 @ 8:16 pm
I miss the days when a band’s stage clothes were different than what they were wearing when they got there.
August 27, 2019 @ 9:38 am
I’ve just spent the morning listening to much of the Midland catalogue.
This is pop-country in the truest sense ,…..not the ‘flavour of the times’ ‘country’ radio is mostly peddling .
THIS is how its done when you are trying to make a country record that hits ALL the marks and DOES for all the right reasons …not simply because it sounds current in an effort to attract ears from other genres who don’t know or really care about country’s roots and what separates it from all other genres . Yes …its is crafted , polished and arranged and its slick and , ok , a bit contrived . BUT its also country’themed music with some retro-styled/timeless songwriting ….its hook-riddled and damn if it isn’t ALL dance-able. The vocal arrangements are front and centre and deserve to be .They are GOOD ! The musicianship is totally supportive drawing on every country-ism at it’s disposal from instrument selection to sonics…..from grooves to clever lyric twists and wordplay . Musically these guys can’t be faulted , IMO . This stuff wll stand up to countless plays , will have you AND your kid AND your dad singing along and in a just world these guys would be MEGA country stars excpt for the fact that we have , indeed , heard it before.
I’m more than impressed when I listen to a lot of Midland at one sitting . Its consistently good , consistently country and holds up . They are not breaking new ground but they are sure finding ways to mine the tried and true old ground and keeping faithful to it . And because of that …damn if it doesn’t SOUND new in that wall of white noise we’ve been subjected to in recent years .
August 27, 2019 @ 10:05 am
I like Midland a lot, but I come from a little different perspective.
I’m a bit of a metal head (power metal mostly, so I know you death metal and black metal guys would say it doesn’t count), and there’s a significant element of metal that’s playing characters, going all the way back to classic rock. Bands like Manowar put on the image of being warriors riding into battle, though everyone knows they aren’t. It’s not the reality of a thing that matters, it’s the persona they inhabit for the performance. And for most of them, that persona isn’t just an act–it’s a part of their soul–but it is an exaggeration and a persona nonetheless.
That’s how I feel about Midland. They are country music fans, no question and no doubt–a non-fan would never build a persona like this one. They didn’t come up the hard way through the bars and honky-tonks… but the characters they’re playing did. They are doing an impression of a 70’s band with a real Southwestern/California style, and carrying that influence from the music to the image to the outfits, etc.
And so yeah, it’s partly a front. But that’s not unusual for the music industry. I think that what Midland may lack is a slight wink and nod to let the hardcore country fans know they’re in on the joke.
As someone who is a fairly recent country fan, and even more recent to paying attention to the industry as a whole, I wasn’t there for the buildup of their first album or their introduction to the community… but I imagine that a few self-aware jokes or comments would do a lot to diffuse the animosity I sometimes see toward them from the classic country fans (or purists, or whatever label our community claims).
August 27, 2019 @ 10:57 am
Let’s talk authenticity for a moment. Are Lauren Alaina, Marren Morris, Kane Brown authentic?
I would venture to say that Luke Bryan IS authentic. Am I a fan of most of his musical output? No. But many of the songs, such as “Hunting, Fishing, Loving Every Day” is authentic because it is truly what he loves to do and has done it his whole life.
Is Midland authentic? Probably not. But the music on this album is satisfying to me. Not great, but satisfying.
So I am again conflicted. Maybe I will let my ears do the deciding. After all, that was the first part of my body that interested me in this genre, to begin with.
Is Brantley Gilbert authentic? Yes. He is pretty much what you see is what you get. Am I a fan of most of his music? No. Though his latest output is more palatable to my ears.
August 27, 2019 @ 11:38 am
I’ve read all your articles about Midland’s authenticity issue, and I think your intro to this article does a good job balancing out how important it is, but also bringing to light that it’s not everything. That’s just not how humans work. It’s warm and fuzzy to want to always eat local, shop at expensive boutique butcher shops, only listen to Guy Clark and Townes etc, but sometimes music is just good because the ear likes it.
I guess the big question is will it matter in the long run? I say no. Over time, their true character will pan out and I don’t think it will be as black and white as some may make it out to be. I think they are just a sign of what the newer generation of country fans are trending towards.
August 27, 2019 @ 3:03 pm
$100 donation to charity if someone can slyly tape a sign to Mark’s back that says “Captain Underpants” just before he walks onstage somewhere. Love ya Midland!
August 27, 2019 @ 3:52 pm
Midland’s songs sound a helluva lot better on country radio than bro country.
Strait Country 81
August 27, 2019 @ 4:00 pm
People complaining about their vocals when i’ve seen/heard people rave about artists on here that sound worse.
August 27, 2019 @ 4:26 pm
I would love to see a similar article examining “authenticity” on Eric Church. I have followed the guy a long time now and would just be curious as to how this article would play out as him as the subject. Maybe Cody Jinks too.
August 27, 2019 @ 8:13 pm
I’ve written probably half a dozen of those articles on Eric Church, and broached the subject in numerous reviews on him as well. Church also started off trying to present himself as something that he wasn’t. Over the years, he’s really evolved to be a lot more honest, and more of an artist as opposed to a marketer, though he’s still a mainstream guy.
August 28, 2019 @ 10:01 am
Songs like “Monsters” is where Church shines, both in substance and style. His last couple of albums really set him apart from most mainstream artists due to the substance of the songwriting, and secondarily, the presentation. Most of the singles since 2012 are what I call good songwriting. And for the most part, the style does not drown the substance.
Billy Wayne Ruddick
August 27, 2019 @ 8:50 pm
The authenticity thing with midland doesn’t have to do with anything other than the fact that they fabricated their past and and a fake “authentic country” past for marketing purposes. Also the over the top Nudie Suits and other garb is just silly. I think everyone with any sense would agree that one can play good country no matter their background. Just don’t lie about it. Or all of the sudden go from being normal LA dudes to being clad in Nudie Suits for marketing purposes / an effort to show the world how authentic you are. I agree that Church falls into that category in a few ways, but to a lesser extent. Guys like Jinks and Whitey Morgan are just guys who also like Metal and used to play metal in their younger years. Nothing wrong with them now playing country.
August 28, 2019 @ 8:12 pm
August 27, 2019 @ 9:39 pm
I like the Midland boys. To me, they play in the same league as Daniel Romano; hipster country. Not really artistically impressive but it makes for an amusing, nostalgia-fueled good time. And i much rather see kids embrace country from the perspective of hipsters than bro-country.
August 28, 2019 @ 5:44 am
What are chances that any of those dudes knows how to drive a manual transmission?
Billy Wayne Ruddick
August 28, 2019 @ 7:36 pm
0% on two of them. The one who’s parents own a ranch in AZ likely remembers how to from his youth. Would probably require a little refresher lesson in the H-E-B parking lot near his TX estate though, before being ready to drive on a public road.
August 28, 2019 @ 6:58 pm
Y’all folks are listening to cheap silver, you need to be listening to solid county gold!!!
August 28, 2019 @ 8:20 pm
I really enjoyed the Allman Brothers-esque guitar harmonies in ‘Roll Away’.
August 29, 2019 @ 8:09 am
Just got through a first listen of the whole record. It’s good. The sound occupies the sonic sweet spot.
Lyrically, I suppose it’s not as deep as it could be, but the writing is plenty good enough to let the sonic vibe lead the way.
I’m adding it to my rotation.
Easily the best “mainstream country” album I’ve heard all year. Not a high bar, since I can’t recall another “mainstream country” album this year I could even get through, but I already know I want to listen to this one again.
August 30, 2019 @ 9:28 pm
This has to be the most pretentious review of all time. This guy is butthurt that the Midland boys aren’t cowboy enough for him? The music is the best thing on Country radio right now and it ain’t close.
September 4, 2019 @ 11:19 am
I usually agree with 98% of the reviews I read on this site, but NOT in regards to the reviews and stories written about Midland. I don’t live in Texas, I don’t care about backstories, honky-tonk cred, Manuel suits, etc. I just want to hear good mainstream country music for a change and these guys deliver. It always feels like this site is rooting for them to fail and I really don’t understand why. It does feel like envy or even jealousy might be at play. I love their music. I hope they take some awards this year out of the hands of the pretty boys who sing pop country music. I’m sick to death of them.
September 4, 2019 @ 11:27 am
I think this is a fair review. Make sure you read the whole thing.
September 5, 2019 @ 3:58 pm
Trigger…don’t short sell these Midland guys on their songwriting as you seemed to when you said they are listed as writers on most of the songs, but you didn’t know how much they actually wrote. A lot of times, it’s the producers that add themselves as songwriters, when it’s the artist who actually did most of the writing. Rarely do the producers add the band members as writers, if it was written by the producers. Often, if a producer just changes a word or two they are credited as being songwriters of the song.
September 6, 2019 @ 8:42 am
The week before this album was released I looked up all the articles you had written about the backstory of Midland. The criticism is fair, as along as you are able to have an open mind regarding the music. That’s the problem lots of people have with Midland. Midland does not seem authentic compared to the artist they want to save Country Music, therefore, they hate Midland with all their might. It was nice to see you not fall in that trap, Trigger.
I was looking forward to this album and it did not disappoint. I would give it a 8 to 8.5 after the first couple of listens. I do not think the writing is as weak as some, musically, this is such a fun and enjoyable album. It has a consistent feel and flows well. Sure, cutting 2 or 3 songs would make it a tighter album, but that is a minor critic.
Midland is helping move mainstream Country in the right direction. Like, Midland or not, no one in mainstream country radio sounds like them. The album went #1, which is a HUGE win for what this website is about. Mr. Lonely, which is a wonderful song, is moving up the charts. “Playboys”, “Fast Hearts and Slow Towns” and “Cheatin’ Songs” would make wonderful singles. All these factors should help open the door for other acts with that Midland sound, and artist who want to do Traditional Country Music! All this is a win for Country Music!!
September 7, 2019 @ 9:34 pm
Nice article. There’s a whole ocean of authentic bands all over the country that don’t have the $ behind them or a music industry to help that are writing and recording great tunes. Check out Santa Poco ya’ll :))))
John M Taylor
September 10, 2019 @ 2:45 pm
Not sure how much staying power these boys really have considering that their album has already dropped to #110 on the billboard 100, compared to Luke Combs’ album staying in the top 20 almost every week for 2 1/2 years! I don’t care for either of them, but at least Luke takes his music seriously and doesn’t try to overly pander his audience.
September 21, 2020 @ 10:05 am
You can have Luke Combs and the countless other nameless faces in country music right now. The music stinks, the lyrics stink, the productions stinks. I just learned about Midland the other day because I quit listening to country music radio over 10 years ago. I listen to the old stuff because it’s quality songwriting, singing, musicianship, etc. Then I heard about these guys on the ACM’s the other day and I looked them up. Well, I didn’t know their fake back story and all this nonsense. I hadn’t heard any reviews. I just listened to their music. I questioned their authenticity because one minute I hear elements of Brooks and Dunn, the next I year Yoakum, then Diamond Rio, then next the Eagles, and the Beach Boys and Pure Prairie League. It blew my mind that anybody out there even wanted to HEAR anything like that again. I had my husband listen to them (we are both musicians). He doesn’t care for country but he said “They sound like a bunch of guys who have been playing together for a long time”. So, all I have to say is the songwriting (melody and lyrics) are stellar (I’m over the rappin baby get your jeans and dog and my cold beer and we’re gonna get our dirt road cred faux americana CRAP), their vocals are great, the production is spot on. It’s just good old fashioned country singing and playing. No garbeldy growling or face screaming divas or pop wannabes. It’s VERY good music.
Kenneth d Taylor
January 12, 2021 @ 11:28 am
The reviews of this band remind me of Eagles reactions back in the day: critics loved to hate on them, the people enjoyed listening to them. The interesting thing for me is that Midland continually does throwback lyrics and musical hooks in their songs which indicate to me their knowledge of older classic rock and country songs which the band seeks to honor in their work. I don’t catch all of these references, but I’ve caught enough to suspect this is way more than a coincidence. I believe there’s more to them than meets the eye. I don’t know if their lyrics will ever rise to Henley/Frey level, but how many bands ever have? Their music for me is whimsical, humorous, and a real delight to hear compared to the crap from bro/pop/hip hop shit that’s been played for the last 10 years. That is a HUGE improvement in and or itself. More power to them.