Album Review – Parker McCollum’s “Gold Chain Cowboy”

photo: Trenton Johnson

Some, or many on the independent and traditional side of country music will never give this guy a chance. He’s too pretty. His sound is too polished. The brim on his baseball cap is too flat. Would a raindrop even roll to one side or the other if it landed in the center? He recently launched his own wine brand for crying out loud. And what’s with this title, “Gold Chain Cowboy?” A sleek image always seems to accompany whatever Parker McCollum is doing. He reminds you of the dudes you hated in high school.

Parker McCollum will probably never be for the deeper, darker, more twangy, and more Americana crowd, and this new album likely won’t help his prospects with them either. But for a strong legion of disenfranchised country fans who find little to no favor with the ultra-polished and pop/hip-hop-influenced stylings of the country mainstream, and want music that speaks to them a bit more deeper—yet don’t necessarily want a dictionary to to be able to digest it, or get doubled over with emotional wallops on every single song while melody and infectiousness are forgotten—Parker McCollum sits right down in their wheelhouse, or may even mark the pinnacle of their musical pyramid.

Parker McCollum once said, “I’m trying to make Luke Bryan money singing Chris Knight-caliber songs.” This new album is not exactly that, on either of those counts. It’s too good to find a Luke Bryan level of appeal, yet it’s too safe to find favor with the Chris Knight crowd. McCollum’s first official major label release is a fairly-impressive collection of mostly heartfelt and well-performed love songs, with strong hooks and choruses, and production that refuses to utilize a lick of drum machine beats or hip-hop accents, and it even works in a steel guitar solo or two. But ultimately, the sameness and safeness of the effort renders it just alright instead of great, unless that sameness is what you’re seeking.

An 80’s influence is palpable throughout Gold Chain Cowboy, but not really country 80’s. “Falling Apart” sounds like it could be a Loverboy cut, and the only true country song is the final track on the record, “Never Loved You At All.” This is a mainstream rock country record that is surprisingly consistent with its approach, cover to cover. Songs like “To Be Loved By You” and “Heart Like Mine” could have been quality country songs, but take the same fairly uniform musical style as the rest of the record. There’s little spice or variety here.

“Drinkin'” does veer more in the country direction, and deserves praise as probably one of the best songs of the set. But it’s still set in the same sameness and consistency as the rest of Gold Chain Cowboy. It’s also inconclusive if you have that one signature Parker McCollum song on this record, like “Meet You in the Middle” and “I Can’t Breathe” from earlier in his career that helped put him on the radar of so many fans, and eventually the major labels.

But what’s also consistent with Gold Chain Cowboy is the quality of the writing, the strength of the choruses, and the unmistakable appeal these songs will find within their key demographic. He also doesn’t really turn in a stinker here. If you’re looking for strong character creation, or the unraveling of profundities in otherwise plainspoken language indicative of Chris Knight or some of you other favorite country songwriters, then no, this record will leave you limp. But as a pragmatic record from a Texas-based performer on a popular country label, it turns in a scorecard above par.

Parker McCollum is just kind of an enigma. His sleekness and attractiveness makes it easy for some to dismiss his music before a lick of it is even heard. For those who’ve migrated from the mainstream, his songs and melodies just carry so much more meaning and weight than what they’re used to, and the attractiveness draws them in.

In the end, the naysayers and the supporters are probably both right, and both wrong to some extent. For the package Parker McCollum comes in, he delivers more than you expect, but for some, less than they desire. And that’s where Gold Chain Cowboy rests—in a margin that’s better than most in the mainstream, but still mild compared to many others. But ultimately, it might be the bridge Parker McCollum presents between the two that makes his career and sound so paramount.


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