If you like your country music served on Wonder bread with the crust cut off, delicately manicured and quaintly predictable in how each song unfolds just like all the others, with obviously signifyers of when you should puts your hands up in the air like you just don’t care and sing along with the catchy chorus, then by all means pipe up 98.1 and listen to Bobby Bones spin the hits while you spray your pits every morning. You won’t have to worry about being poked with sharp edges or challenged intellectually, and life will breeze by carefree.
But if you’re looking for music that immerses you in a sea of sludgy, gritty, thumping and twangy Southern melody served unfiltered and full-bodied, and mired deep in the honey and depression of the authentic Southern identity, then you have come to the right place.
If you held a fantasy draft for the most promising prospects in Southern rock of who could rise up and fulfill the legacy first forged by the towering overlords of the franchise like The Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd, right beside Blackberry Smoke and a few very select others would have to be North Texas’s homegrown offering to the effort to keep Southern rock alive known as Whiskey Myers.
Though now logging nearly a decade in the business, you get the sense the upside potential for Whiskey Myers and their songwriting frontman Cody Cannon is still infinite at this point. There are still nipples on these tires, and when they released their 2014 record Early Morning Shakes produced by Dave Cobb, folks were just starting to realize that following Cobb’s producer credits was a good way to vet music in the overcrowded release cue.
Now Dave Cobb is all the rage, and so may be Whiskey Myers and their fourth record Mud when all is said and done. Though critics, journalists, and fans love to fall over themselves fawning on every Dave Cobb concoction that comes out of the studio, truth is he’s had his hits and misses like everyone. However what Dave Cobb does best is mixing in the Southern soul with country influences, which makes him just about perfect for Southern rock and a band like Whiskey Myers. If music is ripe for having a set of swaying ebony backup singers on it, Dave Cobb is more than likely the man to give it the Midas touch.
Growling guitars and gruff vocals greet you at the very beginning of Mud, and are only given a rest when you reach the more country material. Whiskey Myers isn’t a Southern rock band from the stereotypical standpoint. Their range may ultimately balance them out as Southern rock more than anything, but much of their material could be prefaced with “hard” just as much as “Southern.” But for those country fans out there, they’re not afraid to pull out the acoustic guitars, or to play a slow ballad that some Southern rock bands may be worried is too soft or too country to touch.
Mud comes out swinging with its two most outspoken tracks, steeped in the true history of the American South instead of the idyllic Candyland those on the radio attempt to portray. It’s a life where you’re greeting by hostiles from the word ‘go,’ the land barely gives under the plow despite all your toil and trouble, then only to have the river rise and sweep all the meager progress by you and your ancestors away in one merciless moment, leaving you standing there drenched and knee deep in the black gumbo of broken dreams. This isn’t just about backroad bonfires in cornfields. It’s land disputes and the sense that at every moment you’re standing within an inch of your life, and moments from missing your next meal.
“Who’s this creepin’ through the sticks
Lemme talk at ’em with my 30.06
A couple city guys in suits and ties
Bet they can t feel this cross hair right between their eyes
I got no place to go, no place to run
Just a dirt farmer’s boy with his grand daddy’s gun
So step across that line, I’m gonna tell you son
We’re all gonna die right here in the mud”
You get the sense at the beginning that Mud could be thematic and dark, but it turns out to be much more diverse. The horn-driven “Lightning Bugs and Rain” is decidedly more upbeat and positive without being pandering, and one of the more country-oriented tunes on the record, “Trailer We Call Home” is more about making the best of what you have and seeing the positive despite the obvious adversity. “Frogman” for all of its bellicose chest thumping is just downright fun, while the well-written “Hank” is an homage to the country roots in the Whiskey Myers sound from both Sr. and Jr.
“Deep Down in the South,” just like a song or two from Whiskey Myers’ previous records, feels like a misstep from its self-aggrandizing barrel-chested unabashed Southern pride as opposed to a more articulate and authentic portrayal. Understandably this has always been a part of the Southern rock mindset and it’s what some listeners expect from a band like Whiskey Myers, especially at a live show. But it also dilutes the argument that Whiskey Myers is so much more than power riffs and Southern self-affirmations.
But that’s about the only misstep of Mud. Cody Cannon does the majority of the writing on the record, but gets some assistance from notables Darrell Scott, Adam Hood, Rich Robinson of The Black Crowes, and Brent Cobb, who writes one of the best songs on the record, the ending acoustic guitar pull that he also participates in called “Good Ole Days.” It includes a sentiment we should all take to heart, especially in a political world that loves to dwell on the negative.
Mud‘s portrayal of the South is not only accurate and diverse, but poetic and enticing, while the musical overlay is just about perfect throughout in both the production and mood for each song. Not for the faint of heart, but those looking for a full tilt take on life below the Mason Dixon, Mud is a high water mark for Whiskey Myers, and makes sure the legacy of Southern rock is in secure hands.
1 3/4 Guns Up (8/10)
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