Album Review – Nick Shoulders – “All Bad”

Nick Shoulders is the singing, yodeling, whistling, mulleted and mustachioed country music weirdo freak of our time. It’s a requisite that you instigate any discussion about him or his music with that introduction because it’s the best summation for what you’re in store for when you press play. Perhaps it’s not for everyone, but for those that want a dash of the surreal and silly in their country music topped with some deadly serious talent, Nick Shoulders is a hoot and a half.

It’s not hyperbole to say that Mr. Shoulders might be one of the most gifted vocalists and noisemakers of our time. The range and the cleanness of his tone is as uncanny as his whoops, moans, and whistles that he serves with command and confidence. And this speaks nothing to the Nick Shoulders yodel, which perhaps no living soul can match in strength in the modern era. He’s got the singing aptitude of operatic maestros, with a toolbox of noises at his disposal deeper than the memory banks of many MIDI controllers.

Nick Shoulders is a modern musical marvel, and when Saving Country Music first discovered him on Bandcamp in 2018, he was totally underground and completely independent. Now his powers have been showcased on numerous viral videos, and on the stages of major independent country festivals. The word is out, but he’s far from spoiled, and has maintained his independent spirit. This new album All Bad may have the gusto to take the swelling appreciation for Shoulders and send it to the next level.

There was no real niche or appetite for Nick Shoulders music before he crawled out from under a rock in Arkansas and started stunning listeners. But since his talent is so innate, and his approach is so unique, he’s created an appetite for otherwise arcane and forgotten modes of country music. There is no competition, comparable, or peer to Nick Shoulders. He’s a subgenre all unto himself.

Sure, all of that talent is great. But what makes Nick Shoulders so valuable to his audience is that he can match those skills with original songs that showcase his soaring and varied talents instead of wasting them on tripe or acrobatic vocal performances just to wow a crowd. Nick Shoulders has something to say, and capacity to convey it through his songwriting.

Using the names of fish species to self-deprecate your skills as a lover is something most songwriters couldn’t pull off like Shoulders does in the song “Hook Line and Sinker.” A key ingredient to his magic is that Shoulders knows how to not take himself too seriously. But the song “Toast First” is a serious country heartbreak song served cold and without sarcasm. Nick Shoulders can dabble in a range of emotions and moods.

“But Trig, he’s a commie!” some will cry. Yeah, he’s kind of a commie. But he’s one of those commies who centers his attention on the plight of the blue collar worker in a way that rings universal. Nick’s muse for all the sounds noises he makes is mother nature. As a kid growing up in the Ouachita foothills of Arkansas, he’d hear the birds and toads and other creeping things, and try to emulate their sounds with his own. It’s not hard to understand why he then worries about mother nature’s future, or finds passion in the plight of Native people.

As Shoulders sings in “Won’t Fence Us In,” most all of us are suffering from the industrialization of the food supply and the lack of fulfillment from corporate jobs. Nick Shoulders isn’t really singing about left vs. right as much as top vs. bottom like so many of the era’s greatest performers, picking up on the true agitations of our time and give voice to them.

Like many 14-song albums, there’s some fat that could have been trimmed. You may wonder if the “Arkansaw Troubler” instrumental on a saw and jaw harp was entirely necessary, but this is just Nick Shoulders being his weird self. “Whooped If You Will” is a rather incredible display of yodeling, but perhaps a little annoying if yodeling is not your thing.

There is a lot of variety on the album though, and plenty of songs served more straightforward if you’re not feeling as adventurous as others are. Shoulders also tries to land on a more positive note in these negative times, and that’s what inspired the album’s title. Props also to his backing band Okay, Crawded who help give even more color to these tracks, and the steel guitar pairs perfect with Nick’s songs.

Nick Shoulders is like no other. As we have Tyler Childers and Zach Bryan dopplegangers coming out of our ears and signing major label deals left and right, the future of Nick Shoulders is secure because nobody can do what he does. He’s a national treasure, and a talent to behold.


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