I’ve debated whether or not to cover this project for months now. And upon seeing Shooter Jennings’ name in the collaboration effort you may wonder why, given that he’s very quickly become a fantastic producer for country music artists in recent years and has unearthed new potential for a lot of great acts. But Yelawolf isn’t really as farfetched of a name to see as you’d think, either. He’s a southern rapper known mostly for his 2015 breakthrough Love Story, which probably contained more of a genuine country flair than your average mainstream effort from that time. And I though 2017’s Trial By Fire was a great expansion of that and a genuinely intriguing blend of two genres most people don’t want to see mixed together … but that’s also about where my interest stopped, given his messy fallout with his record label in the years afterward and a Charley Crockett/Zach Bryan level of recorded output afterward that ranged from mediocre to bad, all while stripping the country influence and not being as interesting to me anyway.
So, then, why cover this? And now? Well, for one, it’s not the weirdest thing I’ve covered here from outside the country music universe, and two, because it just might be one of my most-played albums of the year – and I’ll rightfully admit it’s a mess, a smattering of ‘80s-flavored rock, country-rock, hip-hop, southern-rock, power-pop and maybe a slight taste of just straightforward country via the pedal steel on “Shoe String” that all somehow comes together even when it shouldn’t. It doesn’t really fit with what I typically cover, and the reception earlier this year wasn’t pretty, but I’m including it anyway.
Granted, if you are familiar with the names involved, the cross-genre fusion might not come across as much of a surprise, and even then, I wouldn’t say this album is experimental enough to be completely off-putting, weird, or unique – “Radio” in particular sounds exactly like a long-lost ‘80s rock staple or what one might have had heard on that Lucero album from last year, and I do mean that all in a good way – which is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, it’s easy to view this as a derivative side project with no real focus to it.
On the other hand, however, between Shooter Jennings’ excellent production and Yelawolf’s knack for great melodic compositions and hooks … it kind of ends up working in spite of itself? Don’t get me wrong, Yelawolf the singer and not the rapper is a tough sell, given that he’s not a particularly powerful presence and can sometimes get swept up in his own swagger and heaviness on a track like “Fucked Up Day,” or fail to be much of a balladeer on “Catch You On the Other Side.” And the writing, true to the main sonic influence here, is mostly built on Americana imagery and iconography and rock & roll fantasies rather than more cohesive narratives, which is a shame, given that I do think Yelawolf can be a great storyteller when he wants to be.
So it basically all comes back around to great melodic compositions balanced out by equally great production to catapult their way to forming equally great hooks: like the jangled acoustics and swell of organ blasting off of the guitar on “Hole in My Head” that forms a great one-two punch with the conversely darker sizzle of the fantasy life depicted in “Rock & Roll Baby.” And then there’s the repeated fantastic crescendos blasting off the roiling swagger of “Make Me a Believer,” the blatantly derivative but still pulse-pounding-as-hell drive of “Radio,” and the fast-paced shuffle adding a lot of driving urgency to the Bruce Springsteen-inspired “Jump Out the Window,” which is probably the closest we get here to a legitimate character portrait of Yelawolf himself, and I’ll take it. Even despite how he can’t really sell the heaviness of “Moonshiner’s Run” – “Copperhead Road” it is not – there’s still a high-octane rush to it I can’t deny. It’s a weird listen that I think many have forgotten about already – even speaking in terms of hardcore fans – but it’s stuck with me in a way where I knew I had to talk about it eventually – a fantasy album that’s actually worth the indulgence and better than it has any right to be.
- Favorite tracks: “Hole In My Head,” “Rock & Roll Baby,” “Make Me a Believer,” “Shoe String,” “Radio,” “Jump Out the Window,” “Moonshiner’s Run”
- Least favorite track: “Catch You On the Other Side”
3 thoughts on “Album Review: Yelawolf & Shooter Jennings – ‘Sometimes Y’”
Thanks for reviewing this Zack! I don’t normally listen too much outside of the country/Americana genres, but I gave this a try due to Shooter Jennings’ involvement in the project. A few of the songs don’t work as well as most of the others, but, overall, I’ve really enjoyed this album, which was a bit of a surprise to me. I really like “Hole In My Head,” which is the standout track for me.
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I have you to thank for pushing me to review it, so really, thank you!
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