Quick Draw Album Reviews: Chunks Of Coal In The Goldmine

The short version: In the tenth edition of Quick Draw Album Reviews, I review new projects from Corb Lund, Tenille Townes, Clint Black and Gabby Barrett.

Corb Lund, Agricultural Tragic

  • Favorite tracks: “I Think You Oughta Try Whiskey” (w/ Jaida Dreyer), “Tattoo Blues,” “Oklahomans!,” “Never Not Had Horses,” “Grizzly Bear Blues”
  • Least favorite track: “Old Men”
  • Rating: 8/10
  • Buy or stream the album

Tenille Townes, The Lemonade Stand

  • Favorite tracks: “Jersey On The Wall (I’m Just Asking),” “Lighthouse,” “White Horse”
  • Least favorite track: “Find You”
  • Rating: 5/10
  • Buy or stream the album

Clint Black, Out Of Sane

  • Favorite tracks: Moments of “What I Knew Then” and “Can’t Quit Thinkin’,” I suppose
  • Least favorite track: “America (Still In Love With You)”
  • Rating: 5/10
  • Buy or stream the album

Gabby Barrett, Goldmine

  • Favorite tracks: “I Hope,” “Strong”
  • Least favorite track: “Got Me (feat. Shane & Shane)”
  • Rating: 4/10
  • Buy or stream the album

The full version:

Corb lund agricultural tragic

Corb Lund, Agricultural Tragic

The Hurtin’ Albertan is back, and it’s about time. In the grand scheme of things, the two-month delay between when Agricultural Tragic was originally supposed to be released and now is nothing, given that this is Lund’s first album of new material since 2015. And though the Dave Cobb collaboration with Things That Can’t Be Undone was a bold pivot into different sonic territory for Lund, it always felt like an awkward match of voice and style.

Which is why it’s refreshing to hear a sharp return to form on Agricultural Tragic, where the guitars have a lot of crunch and rollicking swagger in the mix and Lund is back to his old rambling ways as a lonesome, drifting cowboy. I wouldn’t call it one of his best albums, truthfully; “90 Seconds Of Your Time,” about a hunting trip with the Turnpike Troubadours’ Evan Felker, feels a bit too cutesy and fast-paced in its presentation to make its actual point – which is to hopefully stop this man Lund meets from killing his animals by having a rational conversation with him. And “Old Men” tries to bridge a divide between old and new by commending older men for their collective experience and wisdom while pointing out that young men are too reckless to know what life is about just yet. Granted, the cowboy lifestyle is an older fantasy by now, but it still feels a bit misguided in its actual execution – some young people have to grow up fast due to differing circumstances, after all. “Louis L’Amour” hits on a lot of the same points in a much more nuanced, subtler fashion and is better because of it.

But starting with the absolutely hilarious “I Think You Oughta Try Whiskey” with Jaida Dreyer right up until the end, this album is an absolute blast to listen through. What I like about Lund’s duets is that there’s always some sort of witty banter and camaraderie between him and whoever else is involved; this is no exception. As for the remaining tracks, which coast on performance and very little else – not that that’s bad, mind you – I love the rickety, minor interplay between the rockabilly tones and the bass groove on “Grizzly Bear Blues,” the fast-paced ramble of “Okalhomans!” that kind of works for capturing his scattered thoughts on the places around him, the humourous self-deprecation of “Ranchin, Ridin’, Romance … ” and the full-blown, jumpy bass driving “Rat Patrol.”

And though Lund has never been known for his vocal performances, it’s always worth noting when he’s slying underplaying the humorous moments here – which serves to have it hit more naturally … and makes him come across as the quirky, smart-ass rambler he is, which is part of the point. He’ll deftly fumble through the poetic meter of “Tattoo Blues” just for that hilarious ending while having a blast with “Dance With Your Spurs On,” which is one of few inspirational songs that works, if only because it’s made to be overblown and goofy. With that said, it’s a moment like “Never Not Had Horses” – where Lund observes his mother’s despondence over having to put her horses down – that shows a more reflective side to him I wish we heard a bit more often at points, which is another criticism for that album opener. At any rate, it does feel a bit slight overall, fun as it is. But I also know I’ve continuously had more and more fun with it with every listen. (Decent 8/10)

Tenille townes Lemonade Stand

Tenille Townes, The Lemonade Stand

Mark Grondin of Spectrum Pulse always claims that “the Canadian charts are better,” and when it comes to country music, I’m mostly inclined to believe him. Sure, there’s … well … Dallas Smith, but outside of radio acts we have Lindi Ortega, Whitney Rose and, oh, hey, Corb Lund again! Even on radio, though, most of the talent that crosses over to the U.S. seems to be pretty promising – Emerson Drive’s “Moments” is a truly terrific song, and High Valley brought a healthy blend of bluegrass, country and pop into the mainstream a few years ago.

It’s just a shame that it never seems to stick around long, and that’s unfortunately been the case with Alberta native Tenille Townes, who’s released plenty of EPs and singles and found success in her native country, but hasn’t quite achieved the same success over here – which is a shame, since “Jersey On The Wall” is still a fantastic song.

At any rate, her debut album, The Lemonade Stand, is finally here … which I want to like more than I do. The production is pretty interesting at points, but largely feels inconsistent overall. And while that’s usually an easy criticism to levy toward Jay Joyce, he’d been improving in this area. It’s easiest to hear right away in opener “Holding Out For The One,” where the fusion of echoed vocal effects and synthetic blending over the organ is a mismatch in its own right, and that’s before those elements drop out in favor of verses that support little more than badly blended acoustics and snap percussion.

Even the moments with some semblance of tonal consistency feel oddly lacking. I like the jangly acoustic, atmospheric midtempo rush of “Where You Are,” but there’s a Celtic flourish in the melody they’re not emphasizing nearly enough. The same can be said for “I Kept The Roses,” which carries a lot of warmth in its overall presentation, but feels oddly lacking in the low end, especially for a song opting for natural soul. That’s not to say there aren’t moments I don’t like: there’s a nice, atmospheric shimmer to the bass groove of “Lighthouse,” and I love the rush of blazing electric guitars and pounding drums on “White Horse.” It’s just that they’re balanced out with tracks like “Come As You Are,” “The Way You Look Tonight” and “The Most Beautiful Things” – where I swear I thought I was about to hear a child choir swoop in toward the end on that track for a moment – and they all way too overproduced and slick to compliment her gravelly vocal tone.

Sadly, too, the singles are the outliers when it comes to the writing on this album. Not that I’ve ever really liked “Somebody’s Daughter” to begin with – why fantasize over boilerplate imagery surrounding what might have been this homeless woman’s life before, rather than ask the tough questions of how she got there in the first place? Granted, that sort of weird, off-topic perspective can lend itself nicely to something like “Jersey On The Wall,” where the stream-of-consciousness thoughts emanating from her as she thinks about the death of a high school friend feel relatable and honest. Other than that, these songs are mostly different variations of tepid love songs, where the focus is on finding “the one” and … very little else. The fact that it’s all driven by pure fantasy is perhaps what’s really frustrating, as it can make something like “The Way You Look Tonight” feel really overblown, not to mention the reverb-satured, overwrought platitudes of “The Most Beautiful Things.” As a whole, it’s certainly interesting, and I hear a lot of potential in Townes. But she needs to ditch Joyce and find someone who can find a more consistent sound for her – there’s a difference between versatile and scattered. (Strong 5/10)

Clint black out of sane

Clint Black, Out Of Sane

Count me in as one of those critics who think Clint Black’s creativity tapered off somewhere after his first few albums. Even typing that out, though, seems overly harsh. After all, it was Black who had the quickest start out of the gate among his fellow “class of ‘89” members, not Garth Brooks. And that, at least to me, was due to a combination of a Merle Haggard-esque vocal tone, smart writing and a sharp production bite to bring country music into the (then) modern era. And he kept that going … until he started producing his own records and sanded away most of those edges.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for artists having complete freedom over their creative decisions, but Out Of Sane scans as just another modern Black album – made for the die-hard fans, with a sound caught somewhere between the early 2000s traditional country and adult-contemporary fusion that’s rarely ever interesting. It’s further frustrating when Black is clearly opting for a focus on stronger grooves and hazier, darker, blues-inspired textures on “Hell Bent,” “Down To It” and “Can’t Quit Thinkin’,” but there’s rarely ever any bite to the production muscle – not when the guitars often sound dull and drab without any real presence. “What I Knew Then” is probably the best track here, if only because it’s the only one here that doesn’t get bogged down in a midtempo groove, and even then, it’s not worth sitting through the remainder of the album to get to it.

Of course, the bulk of the conversation for this album so far has centered around the lyrical content, mostly around lead single “America (Still In Love With You).” It’s for good reason, too; it reads less like an ode to America (or any country, really) and more like a tepid, generic love ballad that even John Michael Montgomery would have passed on in his heyday. It doesn’t even have the good grace to define what the “ups and downs” of the relationship have been (because I’d really like to know) and is among Black’s most cloying, sappy cuts yet. It doesn’t help that the saccharine lyrical focus infiltrates other cuts like “With Love” and “A Beautiful Day,” too, where the focus is less on storytelling and more on catering to vague platitudes. All of this is to say it’s not a completely horrible project – bland music doesn’t really set out to offend anyone. But it is one of the most forgettable albums I believe I’ve ever reviewed anywhere. (Very light 5/10)

Gabby barrett goldmine

Gabby Barrett, Goldmine

I must admit that, while I enjoyed Gabby Barrett’s debut single, “I Hope,” I didn’t expect it to become a huge hit in any capacity. While that would normally refer to the clunky production and Barrett’s voice feeling absolutely buried in the mix at points, let’s be honest – country radio loves things like that. No, I’m referring to the fact that, one, Barrett is a woman working in country music and thus has a naturally harder time breaking through; sad as that is to have to still type in 2020. And two, American Idol has a better track record of breaking out major talent better than its competition, but aside from Carrie Underwood and arguably Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina, it hasn’t produced any country music acts with real staying power.

Sadly, the rest of Goldmine mostly sounds exactly like the kind of album one would expect from a reality show alumnus: polished, lacking tonal and production consistency, bland, and all around uninteresting in defining Barrett as a unique artist. Sure, there’s a religious bent to the whole affair, but it’s of the preacher, cheesier variety, where “Got Me” is an overwrought piano ballad aimed at finding the Holy Spirit. On the flip side, she somehow managed to turn “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so” into a southern-rock anthem on “Jesus & My Mama,” because why not.

Of course, that brings up the other issue of this album, in that it has no idea what it’s trying to be. Barrett is a good singer, but she often confuses having raw firepower with a constant need to oversing her material. And it’s made worse when there’s these constant filters placed on her vocals to try and balance it, when all it really does it make her sound flat in the mix. I’ll say this, too – since he was already a topic of discussion in this post – she needs to work with Jay Joyce, because while there’s a wilder rock edge to the title track and “Jesus & My Mama,” it all feels subdued by the lackluster production muscle pushing her into generic pop-country territory, where the synthetic elements feel way too polished and overbearing in the mix. Even with that, though, it doesn’t mean she’s got anything interesting to say anyway. These aren’t just love songs – they’re overblown declarations that her significant other is the best on the entire planet, which wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t overtake most of this album and make most of these tracks feel completely interchangeable. (Very light 4/10)

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