Album Review – Nick Shoulders – “Home on the Rage”

Nick Shoulders is the singing, yodeling, whistling, mulleted and mustachioed country music weirdo of our time, and like the rarest of birds, he and his environment should be protected at all costs, and mating partners should be brought unto him to repropagate the species since it would be such a shame if this bloodline should perish from the earth.

I was warning y’all about Shoulders back in 2018 when all he had was a handful of local fans and a Bandcamp page. Now he’s beginning to blow up via multiple viral videos, and some of his tracks have now reached over a million spins on streaming platforms despite him being a totally independent artist. It’s because Nick Shoulders can do what they can do, but nobody can do what Nick Shoulders can do.

We often bemoan how the most talented of our era don’t receive their deserved attention. If just given equal opportunities to their mainstream counterparts, they just might explode, or at least achieve a sustainable living from their talents and effort. Make no mistake, the music of Nick Shoulders is some really, really obscure stuff. But his gifts are so unique and expressive, it would be impossible for him not to eventually find some sort of appreciative audience like he has.

I’ll just state from the outset here that this new album might not be the best place to start your Nick Shoulders experience if you’re new to his work. That would probably be reserved for his previous two releases with the backing band Okay Crawdad. This is in no way to discourage you from eventually circling back around to this title—this is strongly encouraged—since for his core audience, this new album might be his most compelling and expressive yet. It just may be a bit fey for the new recruit.

Like many others records we’ve had delivered over the last year, Home on the Rage is a more stripped-back, socially distanced affair (hence the mask on the cover), that features just Shoulders, and some light accompaniment from Grant D’Aubin.

Nonetheless, Shoulders solo still presents such an incredible range of possibilities from the arsenal of vocal acrobatics at his dispose. Along with one of the cleanest and most confident yodels you’ll ever hear in this time period or any other, his whistling capabilities, his throat trumpet, or when he just compliments a melody within his regular singing range, it’s all a modern marvel of music, drenched in classic American roots influences, with the earnestness of Shoulders coming through it all to make sure this doesn’t come across purely as gimmick.

Writing all the songs for Home on the Rage aside for the old Jimmie Rodgers tune “Miss The Mississippi and You,” in a couple of instances, Shoulders took classic old-time melodies, and impressed his own lyrics over them. But even his originals works re-awaken the modes of old American music, especially the underlying tones and mood with archaic sounds that feel completely foreign to this era, but hauntingly familiar from somewhere in the back recesses of your musical DNA.

Where previous works took a mostly jovial approach, Home on the Rage is decidedly more dark and lonesome, revisiting themes of loss and lonesomeness on numerous occasions, with the title track being a reckoning and lamentation about America’s past sins, brought forth with a pandemic-era perspective in a forcefully poetic expression, even if probably deserving more portions of nuance.

On the surface, Nick Shoulders is one of those artists you’d anticipated a low ceiling for, even if the appreciation among a core fan base is rabid. But in an era when everything feels so plastic and anodyne, anything so expressive that can reawaken emotion in the human soul can find favor we previously believed would not reach beyond a few gaggle of fans. Colter Wall and others have proven this. Nick Shoulders is just too good, and too unique to be ignored, while Home on the Rage draws more dedicated attention to these unique talents from its sparseness.

7.5/10

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