Album Review: Taylor Alexander – ‘Good Old Fashioned Pain’

The short version: ‘Good Old Fashioned Pain’ is the kind of straightforward, no-frills country album that’s both enjoyable and full of substance.

  • Favorite tracks: “Sorry For Growing Up,” “It Don’t Matter To The Rain,” “I Never Ask For Nothin’,” “Real Good At Saying Goodbye,” “I Guess I Moved On”
  • Least favorite track: “Good Old Fashioned Pain”
  • Rating: 8/10

The long version: The million dollar question in country music is, “what is it?” In 2019, we seem to need an answer to that now more than ever. Listening to Taylor Alexander’s debut album, Good Old Fashioned Pain, it’s easy to just point to it as an answer – you know it when you hear it.

Alexander has been on my radar for quite some time. After winning a three-song EP in the form of a CD from a Farce The Music contest years ago, I was immediately captured by his tone and his writing. But with only three songs, it’s hard to judge an artist beyond mere predictions for what you think their future holds. In 2017, Alexander tried out for The Voice, making it as far as second round with a country cover of Cher’s “Believe.” As far-fetched as it sounds, the song worked, and it exposed both Alexander and country music to a wider audience.

Now, in the aftermath of all that, Alexander has released his debut album, Good Old Fashioned Pain, and I can finally say after three years, my predictions were right. Truthfully, this isn’t the kind of album that leaves me with a lot to say, but that’s not a mark against it. If anything, Good Old Fashioned Pain is the sort of straight-shooting country album reminiscent of the genre’s best elements, but never sounding old-fashioned simply for the sake of doing so.

The tones on this album are somewhat vintage, but they never feel like they’re stuck in any particular era outside of the ’40s-inspired “Break My Heart Tonight,” one of the album’s weaker cuts. Instead, the album comes through with a warm, rich polish that gives it a down-home, almost intimate atmosphere to it.

And by all accounts, Good Old Fashioned Pain is meant to be a simple country album aimed at those who understand what it’s like to be knocked down and try again. Alexander isn’t one to blame his problems on others either. He understands his well-intended trait of keeping to himself cost him love on “I Never Ask For Nothin’,” and “Real Good At Saying Goodbye” is another track that essentially spells its meaning out in the title itself.

But there’s a sense of optimism to this record as well, as if Alexander is content with where he is now, even if he never exactly found a solution to those problems. Sometimes you have to work with what you have in your current situation, and it’s up to you to determine the next step. After all, as Alexander says, “it don’t matter to the rain” what step you take. Life moves on either way.

But that theme also showcases itself nicely on a track like “Hole In The Wall,” where Alexander makes a shoddy first apartment work knowing the situation won’t last forever. It also showcases itself in the sequencing of the album, where on the first two tracks, Alexander is almost a destructive force of nature. By the album’s end, we get a piano ballad called “Sorry For Growing Up” addressing how not all of us are ready to take those next steps into the unknown, an honest reaction to a pivotal moment in our lives.

This also highlights another unique feature of this album – the titles. It sounds strange, but Good Ole Fashioned Pain brings back an underrated element of country music – good songs built with captivating titles and strong hooks to build up to throughout these songs. Sure, sometimes it can border on corniness like on “Break My Heart Tonight,” but country music loves a good story, and the songwriting is excellent enough to deliver a gut-punching moment when it’s called for. First, there’s the brilliance of, “I’m sorry for growing up, I won’t do it again” with its dual meaning, but there’s other moments where the turn of phrase really sells the track. Take “I Guess I Moved On,” for example, where Alexander finds an old photograph of an old lover. He reminisces on the good times, but he also is frank to point out that both parties have moved on, and it truly sells the moment with a genuine sense of nostalgia without letting those lingering feelings take control.

But that also leads into Alexander as a vocalist. If there’s any nitpick with this album, it’s that he can sound a tad buried in the mix at points. The title track is overblown in every other way anyhow, but it’s one track where he sounds like he’s shouting into an abyss. But it’s a slight problem lingering all throughout this album, save for a track like “Sorry For Growing Up” where his voice sits at the front of the mix. Perhaps, too, this is a sign of a debut album, but while Alexander is a convincing performer, he could afford to sound less stiff on future projects.

On the positive side, however, Alexander is a convincing singer who, while perhaps not featuring the most impressive range in the world, uses that conviction to his advantage. Again, it’s very surprising just how well “I Guess I Moved On” is executed, but even “Sorry For Growing Up” cuts deep, especially as the closing track. “Wishing My Life Away” and “Hole In The Wall” feel like they carry genuine lessons learned.

And that’s the entire moral of the story when it comes to Good Old Fashioned Pain. It’s a heavy-hitter in terms of its themes, especially for a debut album. But Alexander has been there too, and he’s fine with sharing his story with us, because we’ve been in those situations as well. The songwriting is excellent, and Alexander taps into a long-lost art form that’s crucial to country music when it comes to his phrasing. Elsewhere, the warmer textures of the album make for an easy, but compelling listen, especially when the artist behind it all is a likable performer. The album may end in a dark manner with “Sorry For Growing Up,” but it still carries an air of optimism toward its end, and that’s good, because Alexander should be on everyone’s radars for what lies ahead.

(Decent to strong 8/10)

Buy or stream the album!

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