Essential Review – Tyminski’s ‘Southern Gothic’

Sometimes it can take years for people to recognize an impactful piece of music. This can happen because the music is by an artist that isn’t well-known or the music is so different that it takes the genre and audience years to catch up. I fully believe this when it comes to Tyminski’s Southern Gothic album he released last year. When it becomes more common place for electronic elements and country to be fused together, people will look back and point to this album as a pioneering effort in electronic country. Dan Tyminski was the perfect artist for an album like this one with his extensive bluegrass experience and being the voice behind the hit “Hey Brother.” Southern Gothic may not be a perfect album, but it shows us just how excellent electronic country can sound.

The album’s title track opens and right away Tyminski delivers one of the best tracks on the album. It’s a scathing, cynical and dark look at the average small town in America. What were once regarded as little Mayberry-like towns with hard-working people is now full of sin and hypocrites. I particularly enjoy how the song shows the dissonance of how the town full of God-fearing people and churches on every corner demonstrate themselves to be anything but Christian-like. The production on this song is so spot on, perfectly creating the haunting, creepy vibe that lulls over the town being described in the song (credit to producer Jesse Frasure). This song is such a refreshingly real look at really the state of small town America right now, exposing the flaws and problems that plague modern society that many seemingly don’t want to acknowledge.

“Breathing Fire” is your “I don’t give a shit anymore” anthem. It’s about being fed up of turning the other cheek and just raising hell instead. It’s fun and catchy, making it impossible to not bob your head along with the beat. The next song “Gone” is about the loss of small town love. While love leaves the small town, the man is left to be haunted by her memories and wondering what if. I enjoy the urgency Tyminski shows in his voice throughout, showing the passion and heartbreak of a broken man well. The bouncy and infectious “Temporary Love” just grabs ahold of you and doesn’t let go. It’s one of the catchiest songs I’ve heard in recent memory in country music. Throughout the song the man decries one-night stands and his short-lived relationships, blaming both himself and the intoxication of quick sex. He’s ready for something more permanent and meaningful, but can’t pull himself away to find it. The rhythmic clapping with the interludes of drum machines makes this song so damn danceable, an element that gets under-looked in the genre.

Tyminski follows this with another catchy song in “Perfect Poison.” It could easily serve as the song about the short-term and hook-up relationships mentioned in “Temporary Love.” The opening of the chorus, “You’re no good for me/Like a methamphetamine”, is delivered perfectly by Tyminski and the song just sounds like the chaos of the relationship. “Devil is Downtown” deals with the access of opioids in small town America. It goes into detail of how easy it can be to get a quick hit from the drug dealer downtown and how easy it is to fall into the trap of drugs. It’s a dark, but necessary glimpse into something that is a real problem.

“Hollow Hallelujah” is one of the more underrated moments on the album. I interpret the song to be about being afraid to get help and look for answers, instead just crawling on your own and wandering in your own darkness. The song’s ultimate message is it’s okay to ask for that help and that God and friends are there to help you through. This song demonstrates the importance of showing the light in a dark song, as it provides the contrast necessary to drive home the message. The Celctic-folk influenced “Good For Your Soul” gets back to the fun side of the album. It’s an enjoyable ditty about a man pleading he’s good for his woman and desiring to remain with her wherever she goes. “Wailing Wall” follows a similar line. The heavy bass of the drums gives the song a swaggering, pounding tone that sticks with you.

“Haunted Heart” puts me in the mind of one of my favorite books, The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. It reminds me of the part of the story where it reaches the sweaty and dark jungle. It conveys a sense of urgency, fear and loneliness, just like the heartbroken man described in this song. Tyminski reflects upon his love of music being handed down to him by his family on “Bloodline.” It’s a nice homage to where and who he’s come from, showing how it went from a hobby to a passion for him. For those who dismiss this album for its sound, they miss out on the many meaningful songs like this one.

Tyminski addresses the end of a relationship on “Wanted.” He’s ready to walk out the door and be gone for good, knowing both him and his woman got what they wanted in the relationship. She got his love for a while and he leaves, as he knew what the relationship was destined for from the beginning. It’s a solid track, albeit maybe unnecessary with the album run time going a bit too long for my liking. The album closes out with the ominous sounding “Numb.” It’s one of the rawest moments on the album, as a man realizes he can’t recapture the old feelings of a past love. He feels nothing about her, as the pain of the fallout has made him empty inside from his inability to let it go. In an album full of dark moments, this is perhaps the darkest as it shows a window to the inside of the loneliest type of heartbreak imaginable.

Tyminski’s creativity and innovation is on full display on Southern Gothic. As I said this isn’t a perfect album, but its brilliant moments outshine the few flaws. A big credit should be given to Jesse Frasure, who produced the album and helped write many of the songs. He’s helped introduce many new wrinkles in fusion country and this is perhaps his best work so far, capturing the dark and chaotic nature of the songs throughout this album. I hope this pairing will continue to work together and create more projects in the future. Tyminski is the one who should lead this electronic country sound and demonstrate its potential to the rest of the genre. But regardless of future plans, Tyminski’s Southern Gothic is without a doubt an essential album in the realm of fusion country.

Album’s Top Highlights: Southern Gothic, Temporary Love, Hollow Hallelujah, Bloodline, Breathing Fire, Perfect Poison, Numb, Devil is Downtown


Producer: Jesse Frasure

Songwriters: Dan Tyminski, Jesse Frasure, Josh Kear, Will Weatherly, Cary Barlowe, Nick Bailey, Kyle Fishman, Paul Moak, Ashley Monroe, Amy Wadge, Sarah Buxton, Tofer Brown, Andrew Dorff, Ryan Ogren

 

The Poison Pen, Volume 1: Because Lazy Songwriting Needs Called Out

Critical music reviews are something I’ve constantly gone back and forth on throughout my blogging experiences. They’ve been essential and cornerstone or how it’s been on this blog up to this point, no negative reviews. I’ve simply been ignoring the fusion country music I find to be bad and subpar. I think though I’ve realized that you ultimately need to have balance. While I’m going to continue to put most of the focus on the music I find to be good and share it with you through reviews, I’m now going to start sharing more critical views of music through a new feature called The Poison Pen. It’s really quite simple: this is where I’m going to share my negative reviews. They won’t be near as long as full reviews, but at the same time long enough to properly convey my points. So without further ado, here are some albums I do not like.

Brothers Osborne – Port Saint Joe 

I’ve seen a lot of praise for this album, but there’s no way I can get on board with it. I will give credit to the production on this album, which is quite good. But let’s get to what I can’t stand about this album and it’s the songwriting. It’s just flat-out mediocre, flat and at times pure lazy. The most egregious example is “Drank Like Hank.” The main hook of this song is “party like the Possum and we drank like Hank.” To the people who love this album: how is this acceptable? I guarantee Florida Georgia Line would be shredded for just blatant and forced name-dropping. But the Brothers Osborne apparently get a pass? Is it because of their lovable attitudes? Their politics lining up well with the country music press? I have zero issues with them expressing their politics and all artists should share their thoughts on important issues. But when the critics and writers are so blatantly giving free passes to certain artists and overreacting to other artists when they do the exact same thing, it kind of grinds my gears. There’s no consistency and great proof of the lack of integrity in music journalism today.

“Shoot Me Straight” is barely a song, three minutes of cookie-cutter lyrics and then a few more of some admittedly jam-y guitar play that saves it from being a complete waste of time. “Weed, Whiskey and Willie” is such a great theme and I love the imagery invoked by the lyrics. But then you get to the lazy hook that ruins it. I mean I get why they make such lazy hooks because so many marks eat this shit up. But if you want to be taken seriously in country music, name-dropping past legends isn’t going to do it. It’s just trite and meaningless. “Pushing Up Daisies” is the only well-written song on the album, as it actually has layers and a message. The rest of this album though? It’s just plain forgettable, in one ear and out the other. Sure I can listen to these songs, but they pass through me like air. The Brothers Osborne are capable of so much more than this album shows. But I don’t have faith of seeing improvement when so many people are endorsing this run-of-the-mill songwriting.

Ashley Monroe – Sparrow

Boring, boring, boring. That’s all that comes to mind when I think of this album. And not just boring, but there are multiple songs about making love and romance on here that are boring. I never thought sex songs could sound so boring until I heard this album. The songwriting wears thin quite quickly on this album, especially on a song like “Rita.” It feels like an endless loop of Monroe singing “Where are you Rita?” over and over and over. On Monroe’s last album she chased radio and pop country to mixed results. She tried to appeal to all and appealed to very little. On this album, she chases Americana to even worse results. In fact I would slap this album with the “Genericana” label. I have to question why she even went this route, as the Americana crowd is snobby, even harder to impress than pop country fans and even more dominated by boring white male artists. I wish I could get more into specifically why I don’t like this album, but it’s best summed up like this: you listen to it a few times and you have zero desire to revisit it. I hope Monroe can get back to the sincerity and quality of her debut album.

Tami Neilson – Sassafrass! 

This one might come as a shocker, especially after I praised the lead single of this album. But I just can’t get into this album. What this album ultimately challenges is the great balance between art and entertainment. While the themes of gender inequality and sexism in society are topics of great importance that need to be discussed and issues I wholeheartedly agree with Neilson on, she fails to make this album an interesting listen. My problems are largely focused around the production, which feels like hasn’t progressed since Dynamite. It’s the same old retro, throwback sound that is so tiring and old, especially in country music. I especially don’t like the jazzier songs that are essentially audio NyQuil. It shouldn’t feel this arduous to get through an album. Political and social commentary are essential topics that should be in music. But if it feels this forced and repetitive, it ultimately fails to accomplish what it sets out to do and that’s getting people to listen and think about it. It’s an admirable effort from Neilson that unfortunately fails to land.

Dierks Bentley – The Mountain

This might be the stalest and one of the most disappointing albums I’ve heard in 2018. It felt like it had so much promise with the mountain theme, a Brandi Carlile feature and Bentley raving about the inspiration he got from the excellent Way Out West album from Marty Stuart. In the iTunes review of this album, it says this album was written by a “team of Nashville songwriters” in a cabin studio in the mountains. It sounds like it. For an album like this to be effective, it needs to feel personal and immersive in the mountain setting. Instead this is the same old processed songwriting we’ve heard out of Nashville with the mountain setting copy and pasted in. The only redeeming song on this album is “Burning Man,” ironically with the Brothers Osborne as a feature. I love the energy of the song and it’s the perfect opener.

This rest of this album is riddled with the most paint-by-the-numbers lyrics I’ve heard this year, with the most egregious offender being “Goodbye in Telluride,” the kind of song where you know exactly what you’re getting 30 seconds in with a lame hook to boot. “The Mountain” is a generic motivation song with obvious mountain clichés. I thought “Woman, Amen” would sound better within the context of the album, but it’s still just as inoffensive and sterile when first released. Bentley somehow manages to waste a Brandi Carlile feature on “Travelin’ Light,” the kind of song that feels substantive, but then you listen closer and realize there isn’t much being said. “My Religion” is so saccharine that I gag when Bentley utters the line “your love is my religion.” So original! I could spend more time breaking down how bad this album is, but it would be a waste of time on such banal and vanilla music. This might as well be a Chris Young album.

Feel free to inquire in the comments for more clarification on my thoughts on any of these albums.