The short version: Carlton Anderson may have gotten on the wrong foot with country music on “Drop Everything,” but this self-titled EP showcases an artist worth hearing.
The long version: If you had told me at one point I wouldn’t be excited to hear a new artist who sounds like a throwback to country music from 10 or 15 years ago, I’d have called you crazy.
Unfortunately, that was the case for Carlton Anderson and his debut single, “Drop Everything.” For as good as he and the song itself sounded, the lyrics were devoid of any class and presented Anderson in an unfavorable light.
But when a raw talent like this hits the airwaves, you want to hear more before simply writing him off. Like fellow newcomers Travis Denning and Riley Green (who, thus far, have also strangely enough played in a neo-traditional lane), there’s not much information to find on Anderson. He’s a Texas native signed to Sony Nashville who released his debut single last May. While “Drop Everything” hasn’t really flown up the airplay charts, there was nonetheless enough success present to warrant an EP release.
Thankfully, “Drop Everything” is simply an anomaly to this short project, and as I had suspected before, Anderson is definitely the kind of artist who should stick around in this genre.
Anderson himself has hints of Josh Turner in his voice, but the comparison that jumped out the most from listening to this project as a whole was Dierks Bentley. The hangdog roughness to his approach on say, “Country Music Made Me Do It” almost made too much sense in that regard. There’s a smoothness to his voice, but he also isn’t afraid to stretch himself out and have a little fun.
Of course, the main element still somewhat holding Anderson back is his lyrical content. The aforementioned “Drop Everything” speaks for itself, but even the references and tributes made on “Country Music Made Do It” can feel a bit thin and surface-level at best (put it this way – George Jones isn’t the type of artist you’d want to listen to at a bar if you’re trying to have fun).
On the other hand though, not only is Anderson himself a likable personality behind the right song, his instrumental and production mixes have the right muscle backing them up. “Country Music Made Me Do It” is completely foolish and almost nonsensical in terms of its framed scenario, but there’s a self-awareness to this track that makes Anderson owns the silliness behind this song. The harmonica blends well with the electric guitars and fiddle to create an upbeat, punchy mix that’s got some real drive behind it. The pounding drums that kick in halfway through the chorus only further its energy.
On a further note with the song’s instrumental mix, the nod to the “Folsom Prison Blues” solo during the bridge is a really nice touch, but even during the outro, the band is really allowed to cut loose and have fun. I’m almost certain I hear the opening riff from Gary Allan’s “Nothing On But The Radio” once the outro starts, but it also makes me wonder how many other songs are mixed in. If anything, it’s certainly the kind of sampling I can get behind in country music.
If Anderson can sell the role of a fun-loving country music lover well though, he’s also good at showcasing his tender side on “Keep Abilene Beautiful,” a truly stellar song. The spacier mix consisting of fiddle, piano and brighter acoustics with pedal steel lingering in the background makes for a rich, warm sound. This is a track where the execution takes it the next level. It’s a better showcase for his rich voice than the other two tracks, and it’s also an example of how vague songwriting can ironically work in a song’s favor. The basic premise is that the male narrator is driving home to reunite with his lover, but the story only hints at the reasons why. As a musician, it could just be the end of a long tour that finally allows him to rest his wings, or perhaps they needed some time away from each other only to realize they need each other after all. There’s a line though at the beginning that mentions him leaving the Hollywood sign in his rearview mirror, perhaps symbolizing the chasing of a dream where the outcome could never be greater than what he had before anyway.
At any rate, it’s a beautiful song that’s simple and delivered with a ton of passion, as no matter what the reason actually is, Anderson is going to fight like hell to get back to her.
At only three songs there’s still a lot of questions as to who Anderson is, but this short project at least provides a little more of an answer. Despite only having three songs, the project is well-balanced and showcases Anderson’s knack for good grooves (even on “Drop Everything”). If anything, this project at least continues to highlight why Anderson is worth keeping an eye on in the future.