The Melting Pot is a recurring feature where I cover miscellaneous topics related to country music. Greatest Hits is a brand new offshoot of that feature, which I explain below
From running a music review blog over the past few years, I’ve thought about how I’ve typically framed my conversations through my album reviews. To be clear, I consider those the life blood of this outlet, mostly because, for me, it’s rewarding trying to interpret an artist’s message, or, at the very least, try to better understand why I connect with it so much beyond a basic framework.
Now, this doesn’t always happen, of course; some artists don’t make music or even craft albums with that type of approach or deeper meaning. And even if they do, all that critics can do is offer one version of how they interpret said message. Most listeners, too, aren’t really looking to interpret music in that way. Sometimes a collection of songs is good enough.
To me, though, I’ve noticed I’ve gravitated toward artists who have taken this approach over the years and have cared about the album-making approach, and while this does spring to mind one immediate criticism of how certain artists tend to tread the same ground with their subject matter from one project to the next, my counterpoint is … that’s just how it appears on the surface. Often, I find that, while certain artists do tend to revisit certain subjects, it’s often to recontextualize them in a new framework – find a new way to say what you’ve always wanted to say even better, in other words. Jason Isbell, for example, often revisits his sobriety, and yet the subtle details mean that projects like Southeastern and Something More Than Free are about shutting the door on a dark past for good, only for him to realize, on later projects like The Nashville Sound and Reunions, that there’s no real way to do that; and the man just finding love on Southeastern is now a father trying to grapple his personal demons with the fears and anxieties he has for the sort of world his child will inherit someday.
Safe to say, then, that I’m introducing a new feature, one that disobeys the traditional album listening process, but also – hopefully – offers a new way to experience artists and the themes they’re most associated with. I’ve listened to a lot of Cody Jinks lately, and the element I appreciate most about his music is how he’s able to tap into some very deep, dark, personal thoughts and make them relatable to anyone with the same fears, even if he’s coming at it from the perspective of a singer who has never been quite cut out for fame. The basic premise of this feature is to strip certain songs from all of Jinks’ albums to try and craft an album – or, really, a glorified playlist, if we’re going to get cynical about it – that reinforces those themes and, hopefully, craft a cohesive set of songs that tells a story, just as an album would. Note that the following is not a list of favorite songs from an artist; it’s a way of piecing together tracks that fit a cohesive narrative. I imagine it as trying to craft a “greatest hits” for an artist from, well, an artful perspective, which means there’s plenty of room for debate. Keep in mind, too, my focus is to explain how the songs could fit the album arc, and not necessarily to explain their meanings outside of that context.
One last note, this is all in good fun and shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Any artist or act I examine for this feature obviously already makes compelling albums as it is. This is just a light attempt at reimagining certain songs.
So, then, for Jinks, I’d begin with the opener from his slightly more experimental 2012 album, 30, “Memory and a Dream.” For me, it’s dark, unsettling, and perfectly sketches a basic picture of a wounded mind that will be explored more in depth as the album progresses. There’s a story already there, for sure, but it’s meant more to raise mystique, and the wild, unhinged production highlights how it’s going to be a dark journey ahead. All in due time, though. Until then, I’d use the second track to further sketch out the featured antihero without giving too much away. Hardcore Jinks fans will likely be happy to see this next track, which is “Hippies & Cowboys.” For many, it’s Jinks’ signature tune, and while I’d go to bat for others first, I can’t deny the slightly burnt out, woozy barroom nature of the track isn’t great in its own right. Here, now, we have a better idea of this character. Sure, it’s mostly framed through Jinks’ very specific place within the music industry, but I’ve always saw it as a portrait of someone caught somewhere in the middle, haunted by a yet unclear past while never quite hopeless, either. Indeed, it sets up a strong thematic undercurrent of duality that’s appeared in Jinks’ albums before.
Still, it’s at this point that I think we need to establish some background information, and since I think “Memory and a Dream” is quite the adrenaline kick, I’m OK with placing another slow burn as the third song in the track list. I wouldn’t say “The Same” is anywhere near my favorite cut from Jinks’ 2016 I’m Not The Devil album, but it speaks to that aforementioned thematic undercurrent of being caught somewhere in the middle. He’s quite literally the same old soul he was when he and his ex-significant other parted ways. Well, that’s not quite true. It could be a front to hold it all together in the wake of an unexpected encounter with her, or it could be that, at least at this point, this character has thought about the past and the road ahead without actually acting on it, content to remain in that purgatory until things are a bit more clear.
Since it’s me, though, I’d insert “Must Be The Whiskey” as the next track, which works well enough on its own, but also acts as a downward spiral in the wake of the events on “The Same,” all while providing another uptick in tempo and bringing back in some of the darker production elements. Maybe he did have it all together, but that encounter with an old flame may have made him ponder life choices later that night, leading to a night of hangovers and regrets. And Jinks is the type of insightful writer who is aware that it’s all an endless cycle. So the ultimate goal, hopefully, is to break that cycle, all while hoping this character better understands who they are, at least a little bit. I’d go with a recent tune for the next track because of that, “Ain’t A Train,” from last year’s After The Fire release. It’s a pretty simple moment of levity, all things considered; but it’s one needed at this point, if only to keep hope alive.
Still, with a break point comes a needed transition for the thematic arc. Perhaps it’s a past relationship and his role in its demise that haunts him, or maybe it’s something deeper. Or maybe both. After all, I did want duality to be a strong point for this piece. I think I’d go back to 30, then – specifically “Thunderheads,” which, yes, is another journey into a dark, hazy scene, but is also a bit more metaphorical than the other tracks so far. For the context of this specific piece, I see this journey as a journey back to the past – facing it head-on to try and subdue whatever has been haunting this character throughout the entire album, if only for a little while. Plus, while this isn’t meant to be a literal reimagining of songs meant to exist outside of this particular feature, I do like imagining it as a tad more confident in its framing than past tracks, as if the character is ready – no, willing – to find the peace he’s desperately sought after all these years.
So let’s examine the other thing that could potentially be haunting this character. Yes, I’m referring to the regret-filled “David,” where two friends drift apart in the worst possible way, and the one who lives has to live with the guilt in his role of the friend’s demise forever. It’s a masterful story in its own right, but I think it’s a worthy next entry as a song that serves as a painful reminder, but also a way of understanding that he wasn’t the only contributor to the title character’s actions in his short adult life. In the context of this piece, I see it as a way of remembering every ugly detail of that day, but also a path to forgiveness, of which he can only grant himself.
How does one follow that up, though? I’ve always been a fan of sequencing within albums, and coming off something heavy like “David,” I think I’d return to 30 one more time to insert another one of its more experimental cuts, “Prairie House Redemption.” For one, it’s another uptick in tempo, with the dusty rush and rickety percussion playing well off the fiddle and pedal steel, Granted, it’s another individual story song that doesn’t necessarily extend this particular plot, but that also works as another moment of levity without sacrificing the darker edges that, to me, would comprise this project. Plus, I think it’s one rare instance where Jinks actually does forgive himself of his transgressions, even if it’s through the mindset of a fictional character. I’ve never been wild about this song’s outro, but I suppose the extended instrumental somewhat works as a mental break. I wouldn’t necessarily call it another transition, but it is, to me, the start of the redemption arc. Which is why I’d slot “Heavy Load” next in the track list, which is more conversational and is, essentially, Jinks telling himself to ease up on himself, while acknowledging that it’s easier said than done.
Of course, it’s more biblical and brimming with a broodiness that may be starting to overrun this project, so let’s put the more contemplative, slightly optimistic “Birds” next, which, to me, works better as a late album cut anyway. The focus here is on aging and questioning what one has to show for their time while also acknowledging that pondering that question for too long will only shave off more years of a life, when, really, it’s possible to find solace even in the darkest situation. We’re nearing the end, so I think it’s important to have one more track that anchors the album’s main theme. “Which One I Feed” was one of my favorite songs last year, and I think it reinforces the aforementioned duality theme and, while still sounding fairly dark and moody overall, sounds more confident – cinematic, even – as if this character finally has a handle on their demons and is starting to overcome them.
Now, the ending. I wasn’t sure what track would best end this “album,” so I left it up to choice. For a darker ending, I’d go with “Wounded Mind” off the same album as the previous “Which One I Feed,” which leaves the situation open-ended for this character. On one hand, he’s got a better handle on his mental instability, but that doesn’t mean there’s a happy ending. The best we can hope for with any album is that an artist finds closure, paving the road ahead for future works, if nothing else. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a happy ending, and I think “Grey” provides that without sugarcoating the hard path it took to find that clarity. Plus, with the warm, firm acoustics anchoring the track, it’s a moment of warmth that’s low-key, but still subtly brimming with optimism for tomorrow. If I had to choose a final track, I’d go with this, but either one works.
And that’s that. This may either be my stupidest idea for a feature or a weirdly creative one. You decide, though it was fun either way. If you were the one sequencing an album, what Cody Jinks songs would you choose? Let me know in the comments below!