Album Review: Whiskey Myers – ‘Tornillo’

There’s a part of me that’s always respected Whiskey Myers – particularly their hustle – more than outright liked or loved their work. You see, unlike some of their southern-rock contemporaries, they’ve remained fiercely independent throughout their career and finally had that groundswell support and hard work pay off, thanks to Yellowstone featuring their music and steamrolling that momentum into a self-titled project… albeit in late 2019, with no chances to forward that momentum over the course of the next two years.

And while I wasn’t much of a fan of their self-titled album, I did respect the choice to self-produce it and stick with that route ahead of this year’s Tornillo. “John Wayne” really faded on me over the year, but I was happy to hear them iron out some of the production kinks from that last album, and I really want to see them succeed overall.

If you sense a “but” coming, however, you’d be right, because for as much as I hate to say it, this feels like another swing for the fences that’s just not landing with me as effectively as I want it to. And it leaves me thinking that maybe Whiskey Myers just isn’t for me anymore. Tonally and stylistically I’d say this album leans closest to their self-titled effort, with plenty of hard-charged swagger and blazing, sludge-filled bluster winning out over something a bit more fine-tuned or nuanced, albeit with a lot less diversity in its instrumental palette, tone, or dynamics. And that’s a shame, at least in comparison with more eclectic projects like Mud or Early Morning Shakes. Granted, between John Jeffers and Cody Tate’s electric axes having a ton of firepower to their delivery and the band overall leaning more heavily on elements of soul and blues with the prominent horns, I’d still say the bones are here for a really solid southern-rock project.

Unfortunately, this is another project from the band to stumble with the actual mixing. It’s the sort of record I could see play excellently live but sounds somewhat overworked and overblown here in nearly every regard. I mean, I already noted in my review of the song how everything comes together pretty well on opener “John Wayne” and sets the tone for the project, but there’s not much in the way of actual groove or stronger melodic flow to carry this album further for me, no thanks to an oversaturated mix that rarely ever lets this album breathe, outside of the great AM sheen of “Other Side” and the rougher acoustic pickup of closer “Heart of Stone” – both of which end this album really strongly. Granted, that’s more of an issue with the vocals, where even though Cody Cannon is one hell of a presence and the McCrary Sisters have an even stronger role to play here in letting the emotional resonance soar, everyone just feels crushed within and never gets to rise above the noise.

But look, it’s groove-driven, southern-fried blues-rock that, despite its issues on record, could be forgiven by how much better it would likely play live. If the writing could carry it it’d be way more forgivable, even if I get that lyrics and themes don’t matter as much when it comes to southern-rock. But if anything, it’s probably why I’ve never held this band in as high of a regard as contemporaries such as, say, Blackberry Smoke or The Steel Woods, because while they’ll always have “Broken Window Serenade” to their name, I’ve never found the band’s songwriting to be all that intricate. And that’s especially (and unfortunately) true for yet another pandemic-themed project that mostly coasts on cliché – it doesn’t get much more surface-level or basic than a track called “Whole World Gone Crazy,” especially coming after the similar “John Wayne” that I’d argue approaches the same theme from a more interesting, if apocalyptic, point-of-view.

And I wish I had more to say about these songs other than that. “Antioch” is your pretty by-the-numbers portrait of what hard living can do to a person without the deeper anchoring stakes, and “The Wolf” and “Feet’s” are your typical braggadocios, chest-pumping touring-themed songs, the latter of which is actually pretty incendiary and great, if only for that uptick in tempo on the outro and little else. And for as much as I’d even love to get behind what seems to be the fan favorite of “For the Kids” and can respect the passion behind it – a song about a falling out between two partners and the possibilities of what a potential divorce could do to their children – I’ve got a few issues. For one, staying together for their sake knowing full well there’s nothing left between them isn’t nearly the healthy solution they try and portray it as – kids will easily catch on to the tension, and it will only grow worse together than apart. And the guilt shaming on the second verse is also really gross.

Granted, I can also see why self-destruction may be part of the point with this project in tone and content, given these last few years. And I do like that it tries to pick itself up and find a way forward even in spite of hardships on “Other Side” and “Heart of Stone.” But it’s an album that should feel thicker and heavier than it is, with a lot of texture but not a lot of actual meat on its bones. And I just wish it cut through that noise more often to delivery something truly potent, that’s all.

(6/10)

  • Favorite tracks: “John Wayne,” “The Wolf,” “Other Side,” “Heart of Stone”
  • Least favorite track: “Whole World Gone Crazy”

Buy or stream the album.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s