In the Piney Woods of East Texas is the small population center of Palestine, named by a preacher, and nestled square in the middle of the Texas’s swath of the Bible Belt. As much as country music still rings through the humble houses and beer halls of this rural region where judgement is severe, and opportunity is scarce, so do the sounds of rebellion with the likes of The Rolling Stones and AC/DC.
This is the chemistry behind Texas music’s preeminent Southern rock band called Whiskey Myers—not the proper name of the band’s frontman, but a moniker adopted to look good on a faded T-shirt, kind of like the name Lynyrd Skynyrd. It may be surprising to many that their fifth studio album would do something that only a select few independent artist have done in the past, which is crest Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart like it did during its debut week. But those who’ve attended Whiskey Myers shows recently won’t be shocked at all. Sure, it’s fair to characterize the Whiskey Myers phenomenon as mostly regional up to now. But in this fractured music environment, an outfit with a strong local pull and grassroots support can put together something more powerful than many of the people receiving airplay on corporate radio beamed coast to coast. Whiskey Myers is the latest example, and the latest to arrive on the national scene nurtured by support from Texas.
When frontman Cody Cannon takes the stage, he struts around like a cock of the walk, more resembling his hard rock heroes than a down home and humble country boy. But when he sits down in front of a legal pad or starts scribbling songs ideas on a fast food napkin on the way to the next gig, something resembling country is just as likely to emerge as rock n’ roll. Same goes for lead guitarist John Jeffers, who Cannon started the band with back in 2007. Twelve years of tireless touring melting faces and saving souls, a lucky break last year being featured on the TV show Yellowstone, and now they find themselves in rare company as independent artists that have crashed the mainstream party, putting them up there with Cody Jinks, Aaron Watson, and Blackberry Smoke who’ve risen to the top doing it their own way.
The six members of Whiskey Myers chose to make their latest record a self-titled affair to symbolically declare that his is the end of Whiskey Myers: the scrappy little band from East Texas, and the beginning of Whiskey Myers: one of our generation’s top Southern rockers. Working with Dave Cobb and others in the past, this is their self-produced signature statement, and just like previous records, it shifts gears from sincere country songwriting to straightforward rock songs in an instant, while also finding the sweet spot between the two. In that fine Southern rock tradition, they brought in a chorus of backup singers, enlisted some fiddle in spots, added a little steel guitar care of “Cowboy” Eddie Long, and with their two lead guitarists and dual drummers, they do their worst on 14 tracks they hope will make them household names.
Just like Texas weather, if you don’t like what’s happening on this record, wait five minutes and it will change. If anything, Whiskey Myers pushes the boundaries of their sound more than ever on this album, and in both directions. Some of the loud and heavier stuff has people drawing comparisons to trash metal bands with a Southern flavor like Buckcherry and Nashville Pussy. Whiskey Myers certainly stretches the limits on a song like “Bitch.” But no, this is not a foul-mouthed rebuke of the gentler sex. In fact the first verse lines up Bro-Country and its rampant cliches and gives it a proper tongue lashing. The next song on the record “Gasoline” reminds you that yes, this is Red State rock, and some country fans may find a reason to tune out as the guitars get pretty wild, and the vocals shouted and raspy.
But this is all balanced out by the comparatively-sedated and sweetly-written “Rolling Stone” composed by Cody Cannon and Adam Hood, or the steel guitar licks of “Houston County Sky.” And where Whiskey Myers has always found their sweet spot is combining country and rock like they do in the darkish “Bury My Bones,” where mandolin drives the song before giving way to electric lead, or how the final song on the album, “Bad Weather,” goes from intimate and reserved, to outright anthemic by the end of its six minutes. All those experiences growing up in small town Texas color these tunes, sometimes with feelings of hopelessness and being forgotten in a place that’s only known as a point on the map between Dallas, Houston, and Shreveport, but also an appreciation for the character and sense of identity such an upbringing instilled.
As is commonly said when it comes to 14-song records these days, a couple of tracks could have been left off so more attention could be paid to the stronger ones. And as it often happens with a big breakout record like this, it usually proceeds a band’s best efforts as opposed to paralleling them, and some will conclude fairly that a couple of their earlier records might be more quality cover to cover compared to this one. But that might be more of a commentary on the strength of their earlier titles than weakness of this effort. And maybe most important to understand is this record is meant to feed their live shows with new material for the coming years, and some of the loudness of the tracks is likely to translate better in the concert experience.
This new self-titled record is not going to make Whiskey Myers darlings of music critics or the Americana crowd. They’re too brash, too real, too untamed. Those East Texas roots have given rise to thorns and brambles, and their growl and attitude will not be what some want from their music. But others are all about it, and dyed in the wool. They’d run through walls for Whiskey Myers, and the blood and guts the band poured into this record, and into the dozen years of paying dues in Texas and beyond have paid off. People are finally paying attention well beyond Palestine, TX, and this record is just as good of a starting point as any into the power of Whiskey Myers.
1 1/2 Guns Up (7.5/10)
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