Review – Aaron McDonnell’s “Too Many Days Like Saturday Night”

You love everything about country music. It’s the plaintive style of the writing, and the moan of the steel guitar. It’s a baritone voice billowing out emotion in a way that no other music can make you feel. It’s the familiarity and warmth that a good country song conveys—even one that’s new to you—that makes the music so immediately inviting. But sometimes the predictability and sameness of country music is not always the greatest asset.

The music of Aaron McDonnell’s new album Too Many Days Like Saturday Night has all of those familiar elements that make you love a country song, but it also sounds like few if any of the country songs you’ve ever heard before. Instead of leaning on the bright-sounding chords that most country song utilize, which work in contrast with the often down and destitute lyrical themes, McDonnell makes use of minor keys and melancholy movements to deliver a listening experience distinctly unique to country, yet still graced with that warm familiarity we all enjoy.

Imagine a country music universe built around the moody experience of Dwight Yoakam’s song “1000 Miles From Nowhere,” or the dour music of 90’s Chris Issak. Then infuse it with just enough 80’s-inspired New Wave goth to make it even more unique and nostalgic. This is the world where the songs of Too Many Days Like Saturday Night reside, and it’s as transportive as it is entertaining.

Aaron McDonnell is no new kid on the block. He’s been making music full time since 2013, and playing in country bands since way before that. He released an EP a year between 2014 to 2018, each containing quality throwback honky-tonk country music like the stuff he plays in the clubs around Austin, TX. Originally from Oregon’s Willamette Valley, he first began playing country in Seattle in bands like Gin Betty! and The Grandtours named after the famous George Jones song.

But Too Many Days Like Saturday Night feels worlds apart from all of Aaron McDonnell’s previous exploits, or really anyone else’s. Orville Peck may also come to mind for some, but McDonnell’s efforts are much more earthen and authentic, even if there is a lot of wetness in the vocal and guitar signals, giving the music that faraway feel. This also feels like a foundational shift in McDonnell’s career. Previously appearing short haired and clean shaven on his covers, now the bushy hair and mustache symbolize a new era for his music to go along with a full-length effort to anchor it.

At it’s heart though, Too Many Days Like Saturday Night is still just Texas honky tonk music. “Hill Country Saturday Night” with it’s punchy two-step reference could have been written by Dale Watson, while songs like “Tell The Devil” and the title track reference the restlessness of the honky tonk lifestyle, and the yearning to settle down, despite inner demons getting in the way.

There are also some more conventional songs to keep the album sensible, like the swingin’ “1000 Kisses,” and the drivin’ “Born To Leave.” Again, it’s about striking an auspicious balance between the familiar and the unique that render this album uniquely intriguing, and an excellent selection for evening listening during a sullen mood or a lonesome Saturday night.

With his band the Neon Eagles, and his wife Dani McDonnell singing backup, Arron McDonnell turns in eleven original songs, and an interesting “demo” version of “Tell The Devil,” that define a new turn in McDonnell’s career, and an under-explored approach to country that gives the music an immediacy and vitality that sometimes the same old country song just can’t achieve.

1 3/4 Guns Up (8/10)

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