The short version: Dillon Carmichael is a talented vocalist, and the best cuts on his debut album are excellent. With that said, it also feels like he’s copying his influences rather than showcasing who he is as an artist on ‘Hell On An Angel.’
The long version: Sometimes albums will just jump out at you as projects that look like they’re worth covering. Enter Dillon Carmichael, an artist who joins the Colter Wall club of artists who sound far more mature beyond their years (at least vocally). With a voice that sounds like a dead ringer for his uncle, Eddie Montgomery (along with John Michael Montgomery), the card were in place for Carmichael’s debut album, Hell On An Angel to be a stunner. With Dave Cobb at the wheel for production too, the only question remaining was why the album got pushed back from August to October. While strange, anticipation was high for this debut album, and while it may have been an unfair high bar, it was set.
With all that said, this album feels like a letdown overall. Carmichael has a strong vocal presence and can sing a damn good country song when he wants to, but Hell On An Angel for the most part feels derivative, with him copying his influences rather than simply crafting his own path.
That’s a shame too, because by all accounts, the album starts off with its strongest track, “Natural Disaster.” The organ, siren sounds and steel guitar combine together to form an extended introduction that really sets up a darker, almost stormy mood (true to the song’s intent). Once it begins too, the ballad showcases Carmichael’s power in the best possible way, especially during the chorus.
After that though, the next track, “It’s Simple” is mostly just a cliched look at how all you need in life is a good woman, some cold beer and to live in a small town in ‘Merica. Again, that only serves to highlight the album’s problem. It checks off every box or bingo card you’d have on common clichés in country music. Of course, clichéd is better than the absolutely awful “Country Women” which begins with the line “I like girls that ain’t afraid of a tractor and don’t mind the loudness of my gun” and doesn’t get much better than that. The track frames women as good for loving and really nothing else, making it a sleazy track despite likely having no ill intentions with the theme.
“Dancing Away With My Heart” is at least a decent love song, but again, lines like “Heaven ain’t ever seen an angel like you” elicit eye-rolls more than emotional tugs. “That’s What Hank Would Do” basically tries to recreate “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?” only by taking itself way too seriously. It’s a fairly basic protest track that operates on clichés than anything else. Yes, Hank Williams might have put “pedal steel on everything,” but there was more to it than that.
It’s mostly a shame, since Carmichael has the talent to craft some really good country music when he wants to. “Hell On An Angel” is one of the album’s stronger tracks, showcasing a slight gospel-meets-country-rock influence as Carmichael is matched against the background singers to create a modern day outlaw track. Sure, it’s a tad basic lyrically, but it does deserve points for its self-awareness, with the narrator ashamed of how his actions have affected his mother even though he’s too far gone to really do anything about it.
“Old Flame” adopts the same formula as “Natural Disaster” does by establishing more of an edgy mood, once again showing a narrator who’s too far gone to see that this hookup with an ex-lover will only lead to loneliness later on. Even “Dixie Again” is a fine enough song even if it runs on longer than it needs to.
To sum it all up, I want to like Hell On An Angel, but it’s a case where the talent is on full display and the songs often aren’t up to snuff. There’s at least a foundation here though, and I’d like to see Carmichael craft something that honors his influences while also showcasing something unique and personal about him, because that’s when we’ll get something great. For now, there are a few good cuts here, but Hell On An Angel mostly feels like a disappointing effort.
- Favorite tracks: “Natural Disaster,” “Hell On An Angel,” “Old Flame”
- Least favorite tracks: “Country Women,” “That’s What Hank Would Do”