The short version: Dee White may still have to grow into himself as a vocalist, but ‘Southern Gentleman’ is a fine debut album.
- Favorite tracks: “Rose Of Alabam,” “Way Down,” “Under Your Skin,” “Road That Goes Both Ways (w/ Ashley McBryde),” “Bucket Of Bolts”
- Least favorite track: “Tell The World I Do”
- Rating: 7/10
The long version: I must admit I’m in a bit of a weird spot regarding this review. I already reviewed half of this album last August, but let’s give a refresher course on Dee White as an artist. He’s an Alabama native signed to Dan Auerbach’s Easy Eye Sound label alongside Warner Music Nashville. After touring extensively with Alan Jackson (where I had heard of him), Ashley McBryde and Alison Krauss, he released half of his debut album last year in the form of Southern Gentleman Side A.
In addition, Harold Shedd, the music mogul responsible for signing Alabama, discovering Shania Twain and producing Reba McEntire’s first gold record, is the person who encouraged White to pursue music.
Because I’ve already shared a few thoughts on this album, let’s just cut to the chase and address the nitpicks first. I’d still say White needs to develop a bit more confidence in himself vocally. He’s a bit more serious and stiff in his delivery, and that can make some of the lighter tracks like “Wherever You Go” and “Ol’ Muddy River” not come across quite as well. I will say the other five tracks show improvement overall in this department, so it’s hard to say if it’s just a happy coincidence or if the last five tracks were recorded later. As I said before though, this is also something that will likely come with time and more experience on future projects.
Aside from that, the remainder of Southern Gentleman is as solid as its first five tracks, and the overall album comes together quite nicely. To sum it up, it’s essentially a love letter to the smoother pop tones of say, Roy Orbison, and Countrypolitan music of the ’50s and ’60s without feeling ripped straight out of the era. Granted, smoothness and polish is a key trademark of the Easy Eye Sound label, but for White it works. Southern Gentleman is a lush sounding record complete with plenty of strings, banjo, pedal steel and fiddle to create warm, rich atmospheres.
It doesn’t always work, as “Tell The World I Do” is still a track where the sweetness and schmaltz are laid on too thick. But on the other hand, “Road That Goes Both Ways” with Ashley McBryde feels like a long lost country classic that could have been recorded by Ray Price, a track where the unique perspective of optimism in regards to finding love manages to work nicely. Both artists sound excellent here.
For as young as White is, the songwriting on this album is mostly impressive. “Rose Of Alabam” is still a mind-blowingly good song where the metaphors for infidelity are woven in excellently. It’s also an instance where that stiff, serious delivery of White’s actually manages to work in his favor. His attempts at the higher notes on “Crazy Man” still fall flat for me, but “Way Down” finds him really leaning into the huge chorus and hook of that track.
But as someone who’s only a year older than White, I can also appreciate a lot of the sentiments he’s going for. The tribute to old high school friends on “Bucket Of Bolts” feels authentic because he’s not that far removed from that time period, and as we begin to tackle this thing called life, it’s easy to reminiscence on better days before challenging the road ahead. “Oh No” is a really well-executed track where the jealousy and bitterness surrounding seeing an old flame with someone new feel justified, as it captures the relatable element of surprise we’ve all likely encountered. And when the saxophone is brought in on “Under Your Skin,” it only bolsters that great melodic hook and emotional complexity surrounding the woman in question trying to move on from an abusive lover.
Of course, not every track is necessarily a stellar moment lyrically. “Wherever You Go” and “Tell The World I Do” still suffer from relying on non-specific details and weaker sentiments. In the case of the former track, if you want a greater moment of levity on this album, “Ol’ Muddy River” could have afforded to well, “muddy” up some of the instrumental textures to give it some more crunch, but its folk-like melody is pretty hard to dislike.
In fact, Southern Gentleman as a whole is easy to like, and White is a promising young talent. Between “Rose Of Alabam” and “Way Down,” there’s some incredible moments here, and while White may need to grow into himself as a performer a little more, mostly everything about this album works in his favor.