Now that a red head from the Kentucky holler is out there selling out arenas, and a retired Navy guy from Oklahoma is doing the same with stadium dates—and neither with any meaningful support from radio or any other mainstream apparatus—it’s an entirely new era in country music.
Major labels are throwing cash around like mad, scouring Appalachia and looking for anyone out in the woods screaming into condenser mics about coal and cocaine, and canvassing the dirt between Stillwater and Tahlequah for most any kid who can write a song and sing it.
The labels know they won’t hit big on all of these prospects. But the ones that do hit will make the label’s money back ten fold. Now the issue is sifting through the chaff to find the wheat, separating the originators from the doppelgangers, and worrying about if all this is becoming some sort of hyper-trend or bubble that will ultimately burst and be made fun of like the Mumford & Sons arc of the late aughts.
Though so much of the appeal for this music is predicated on the almost amateurish and relatable “everyman” nature of many of these performers, it’s also what leaves this trend exposed in some respects. If anyone can do it, then what makes it remarkable?
But Wyatt Flores from Oklahoma has everything many of the other guys don’t, which is a refined ear, a more polished sound, and an actual production sense, while still delivering those cutting lines that make the music feel so much more visceral and reverberative than the mainstream product. Wyatt Flores is not the typical species of the country music insurgency. He’s a rare one.
As appealing as the raw and unpolished sound clearly is, it’s going to be the artists who are still able to score high on conventional musical gradients like singing ability, melody sense, and instrumentation who will survive. This is what will insulate certain performers from the wild mood swings of the zeitgeist. Where a guy like Zach Bryan and Oliver Anthony are excelling despite these traditional musical attributes, Wyatt Flores is separating himself from the heard because of them.
Flores has just issued a new seven song EP called Life Lessons. It’s a little hard to know how to regard this—if it’s supposed to be considered a preliminary EP that will feed into a bigger album like major labels love to do with newer artists, or if it’s meant to stand alone. At one point Wyatt was saying it would be 2024 when his big debut album would come. Flores is signed to Island Records as part of Universal Music.
The songs range from entertaining, to heartbreaking, to outright awe-inspiring. But they’re also thrown together in sort of a hodgepodge manner in some respects, with a upbeat song about Wyatt being the mascot of his high school’s football team thrown in between much deeper material. This is one of many things that makes you think this might be a precursor or a test balloon to a bigger album project still in development.
If there is a common thread throughout these songs, it’s that many of them come directly from Wyatt’s experience as an up-and-coming artist traveling across the country, trying to make a name for himself while still trying to suss out who he is and who he wants to be as an artist and person. This is a tall order for anyone, especially for an artist such as Wyatt who’s chosen to underpin his career by paying dues on the road as opposed to being foisted into big opportunities from the start.
“Orange Bottles,” “3/13,” and “West of Tulsa” are perfect specimens for the type of incisive and insightful writing that has put Wyatt Flores at the forefront of songwriting’s future. For some, these songs may be a little too “inside baseball” about the manic life of an up-and-coming entertainer out on the road. But they also speak to the indecisiveness chased with crippling worry that grips so many of us in modern times, especially young men and women who seem to be finding the most appeal in Wyatt.
One of the great things about Wyatt Flores is that he knows his strengths as a songwriter, but also his limitations. He’s not afraid of the co-write to help tighten up phrases, while also avoiding the committee-write that so often results in cliches and the obfuscation of the original inspiration for a song. With cuss words and cutting moments commercial radio could never handle, Wyatt Flores keeps it real, while also fostering widespread appeal by delivering introspective moments that resonate universally.
Though the musical approach to Life Lessons in some respects feels a bit unfocused, the result is a diverse and engaging experience for the audience. “Orange Bottles” employees the common country rock Red Dirt approach. The next song “Life Lessons” has a very rootsy and acoustical approach almost akin to bluegrass.
“Holes” sounds like singer-songwriter Americana. The final song “Astronaut” could be the scratch track to a rock song until it turns spacey at the end. It’s the songs that define the Wyatt Flores experience. Whether he’s probing the influences of American roots to find his eventual sound or just wants to keep things spicy, it’s certainly keeps you on your toes. It’s also worth noting that Wyatt co-produces all of his work.
Wyatt Flores and his team have been leveraging Tik-Tok to promote his music as opposed to more conventional means. But unlike performers such as Warren Zeiders or Bailey Zimmerman who also came up through social media appeal, Flores has also developed deep grass roots that will withstand any seismic shifts in social media algorithms. Similar to Zach Bryan, seeing Flores live is like a modern version of Beatlemania. His fans know every single word to every one of his songs.
There’s a chance we’ll see most or all of the songs from this Life Lessons EP again in another release, and it’s always hard to review the same songs twice. But it also feels irresponsible to ignore what Wyatt Flores is doing, and how he is doing it.
If you see the appeal of artists such as Zach Bryan, Oliver Anthony and others, but just can’t get on board because it all feels too unfocused and unrefined, Wyatt Flores is where you should point your nose next.