Album Review – Whiskey Myers – “Tornillo”

photo: Khris Poage

The country music revolution isn’t being pushed forward by just a few high profile dudes like Zach Bryan, Tyler Childers, and Cody Jinks. It’s broad-based, multi-pronged, encroaching on the boundaries of Music Row from all flanks. From traditional country, to bluegrass, to Southern rock, from the land, sea and air, fiercely independent artists unwilling to compromise are challenging the status quo. Leading the charge on the more rock side of country is Whiskey Myers.

The three Certified Platinum singles and another Certified Gold one without any help from the mainstream industry verify the propulsive infectiousness that have made this band an alpha male in this space, and have also proven that Yellowstone creator Taylor Sheridan is more of an influencer in music these days than Bobby Bones. But exposure is only of value if you can seal the deal with music that sticks to people’s bones and feels essential.

With their sixth album, Whiskey Myers chose to do the producing themselves, and more so than any of their previous releases, lean heavy in the Southern rock direction almost exclusively, including springing for the horn section and a backup chorus from The McCrary Sisters. Yes, this is at the expense of some of the more reserved, country-sounding tracks that kept a lot of the shit kickers in their crowd, but it doesn’t come as unexpected. Whiskey Myers have always leaned more in the rock direction.

“We’re going to bend [genre] even more, I think, with this new record,” frontman and primary songwriter Cody Cannon said way back in February when the album was announced. “It’s all over the place. But that’s fun, right? I hate the whole ‘Put it in a box. You gotta be this.’ … That’s not art to me.” Well, let’s not get too excited. There are plenty of artists whose music fits snugly in the country music box, and it’s still most certainly “art.” But we get the point. Coloring inside the lines is not for Whiskey Myers.

This was an album written, produced, and recorded to be played loud and live. Unapologetic and attitudinal, yet not judgemental unless you’re one of those pricks trying to tell them what to do or get in their way, Tornillo brings an energy, drive, pluck, and abandon most of modern music in this repressed era has vacated due to fear of reprisal. Rock music needs saving too, and Whiskey Myers is here to pick up the slack. They’ve identified their niche and what the crowd reacts to, and lean into it for 12 full throttle tracks.

You may not get a lot of straightforward country songs or singer-songwriter stuff here until the final track “Heart of Stone,” but that doesn’t mean the songwriting suffers on Tornillo. If you need to, Google the lyrics of “Antioch” and really take the time to appreciate the depth of story here, and how it illustrates how circumstance so often leads to tragedy. Nature plays a role, but nurture does too in a fall from grace. “For The Kids” is another track some are citing as one that hits them hard, and the writing certainly holds up to that standard, even if the music feels a bit schmaltzy in moments like when a hair metal band tries to sing a sentimental ballad.

“Whole World Gone Crazy” is also subtly well-written by the band’s other songwriter, John Jeffers, taking the perspective of a simple man, but imparting some important wisdom about the folly of our rabid polarization. But what you must embrace to get the full bore experience of Tornillo is the rage and brashness found in songs like “John Wayne” and “The Wolf,” with the latter directly addressing the difference between the hunger in an independent band like Whiskey Myers, and their counterparts in the mainstream. Digging past the cocksure attitude on the surface still gives you plenty of meaty substance.

“They tried to hold me down but can’t nothin’ last forever … I feel it in my bones there’s a change in the weather // You’re playin’ for fun I’m playin’ to eat // Everythin’ that you see is uncut and self-made.”

Though “Southern rock” will be the consensus term for where to slot this record, there is a decent level of variety within there. “The Wolf” is straight ahead hard rock. One of the funnest songs on the album called “Feet’s” reminds you a bit of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Call Me The Breeze.” By the time you get to “Bad Medicine,” you’re hear Muscle Shoals soul, just with a bit more attitude with it’s extended guitar outtro.

And everything is rendered with a vintage-sounding aspect in a purposeful attempt to put you in a more classic place while listening. They wanted Tornillo to sound like all those cool old records from the 70s when the sweat and blood stuck to the recordings, not like the digital and antiseptic tracks tooled for Tik-Tok placement that are so prevalent today. That’s an admirable goal, and works well on certain songs. But it’s also fair to characterize Tornillo as one of those projects where you feel like you’re listening through a filmy residue. This does render a favorable sepia-hazed mood at certain times, but other moments just sound too blurry to enjoy the individual beauty of some of the vocal or instrumental performances, especially with so much going on.

It’s also a shame there aren’t that handful of country tracks for country fans to gravitate toward like on their previous albums, at least from a country music perspective. But the boys of Whiskey Myers are still our brothers in arms. They helped us bust through the ramparts, and they’ll be disrupting the Billboard Country Albums charts in about a week when all the numbers for Tornillo are tabulated, along with raising a ruckus in rock. They’re an important part to this thing, and Tornillo is another quality entry into the Whiskey Myers arsenal.

1 3/4 Guns Up (8/10)

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