Sometimes when you listen to an album, you know right away you’re listening to something different. As I’ve said, change is hard to accept. But I think Jeff Hyde has stumbled onto a pretty good change on his debut album Norman Rockwell World. Hyde is no newcomer to country music, as he’s spent the last 12 years in Eric Church’s touring band. In addition he’s helped write songs for multiple top artists in Nashville. Now he’s stepping into the spotlight with Norman Rockwell World, an album that perfectly demonstrates how you can sound both traditional and modern.
The opener “Old Hat” greets you with some swanky licks that show up throughout the song, as Hyde sings of old-fashioned ways in a new world. Despite an ever-changing world, Hyde insists there’s still a lot of people left who like to do things the old way. The hook is particularly good, as it sticks with you immediately. This segues right into “Fiction,” which tackles lies and deception in a world filled with them. Hyde slyly suggests he “can’t write enough fiction, to keep up with the truth.” This feels like something Church would cut on one of his albums by replying to a troubling situation with a witty response. “Baby by Tonight” is without a doubt one of the highlights of the album, as it wins you over with its smooth, So-Cal influences. The song revolves around a man trying to reach his baby by the end of the night and I think Hyde does a great job of conveying the urgency of the lyrics. Not to mention it’s another solid hook.
“Cold” is your classic breakup country song, where the fires all gone in the relationship and both are left feeling cold. I think the production really does it’s job on this song, as the combination of crashing drums and piano help convey the feelings of the lyrics. The drum play shines again on “The Filter,” which is another standout of the album. This is really the song where I feel Hyde is able to meld traditional and modern the best. It’s got a decidedly country feel, but it’s also soaring and infectious. The lyrics are equally great, as the song is about the mix of emotions when someone breaks up with you. There’s leftover love, a new and resentful hate, and a regret over how it all went down. This is one of those songs that just gets everything right.
Hyde takes a funky turn with the album on “Cabin Fever.” It’s a sex jam about your baby wanting to spend all day in bed. I have to say it’s refreshing to hear a country song tackle sex, as nowadays most artists seem too scared to touch the subject so bluntly in fear of offending. The album’s title track gets historical, as the subject is about the picturesque worlds depicted in the paintings of Norman Rockwell. During Rockwell’s time he was often derided for his paintings to be too commercial and now they’re heralded as classics (particularly his commentary on race). Ironically now there are people like Hyde who pine to live in a world like in the paintings where families were happy and people lived in harmony, a stark contrast to the feeling in today’s world. In a fair music world, I think this would be a hit.
Hyde continues to satiate the inner history buff in me on “Henry Ford.” In another clever bit of songwriting, this song is about Hyde giving an interview to a media member. He explains to the interviewer that you don’t have to know Henry Ford, to drive one just like you don’t have to know the artist to understand the song. Creations are a part of a creator and will tell you more than you need to know about them. “One Light Town” features more creative production, as drops of a piano and clangs of a drum dot the song throughout. It’s the kind of interesting production you wish you would hear more from pop country. The lyrics do a great job of painting a picture, as love is likened to one light in a city full of hustle and bustle. It’s the love that shines through all of the noise. Appropriately the album ends with “How the Story Ends,” which has a euphoric and echo-y feel. It’s about seeking forgiveness from God when you sin and guidance when fear and doubt get you down. But despite this Hyde knows how it will all go down in the end through faith. It’s a nice moment of calm to put a cap on the album
Norman Rockwell World is a promising debut album from Jeff Hyde. It demonstrates that he’s an artist that is willing to get creative and adapt in a music world where many are afraid to change. But it’s this embracing of modern flourishes that will put him on many radars, while earning respect for his ability to keep the soul of country in his songs. Norman Rockwell World manages to feel both familiar and strikingly different, ensuring you won’t forget it in a world of forgettable music.
Grade: Eclectically Great Album
Album’s Top Highlights: The Filter, Norman Rockwell World, Baby by Tonight, One Light Town, Henry Ford
Producer: Ryan Tyndell
Songwriters: Jeff Hyde, Ryan Tyndell, Matt Jenkins, Luke Dick, Casey Beathard, Oscar Charles, Jacob Powell, Clint Daniels, Michael Heeney, Jon Randall