Clusterpluck Album Reviews: Flatland Cavalry, Julie Roberts, and Emily Scott Robinson

Featuring reviews for two distinctly fall-related EPs (worlds apart as they are in sound and style), and a bonus comeback album – all of which only scratches the surface of last week’s releases; oof. Onward!

Flatland Cavalry

Flatland Cavalry, Songs to Keep You Warm

You know, with an album title like that and a mantra to deliver songs that are “easy on the ears and heavy on the heart,” one could say this newest EP isn’t so much a pivot away from Flatland Cavalry’s usual Texas-flavored neotraditional style as it is a natural extension of it. And indeed, it is, and all the more solid for it, though I would say there are a few defining characteristics that help it stand on its own … and maybe keep it a shade away from being great. Don’t get me wrong – the choice to emphasize the warm intimacy of the band’s usual work is a great choice here, especially when most of these songs fit the perfectly relaxing, intended campfire nature. It’s a bit subtler overall and maybe a bit on the sleepier side at points, but with their usual blend of gorgeous-sounding neotraditional tones favoring just a bit of polish this time to savor the atmosphere, I’d say it works well; “Mountain Song” is directly a track about finding spiritual healing through escapism, and for me it’s still the easy highlight.

I don’t know, though. Maybe it’s the overall execution that’s not letting this project sink in as deeply for me as it could. I say that because, even though this is meant to be a relaxing effort, it’s comprised of arguably the band’s most mature and complex set of heartache-fueled tunes to date, putting it at odds with the intended spirit – especially coming off of “Mountain Song.” Still good, mind you – though I find it odd that “Parallel,” a song about two touring musicians doing their best to love one another from afar out on the road, is a duet with Ashley Monroe while lead singer Cleto Cordero’s wife, Kaitlin Butts, shows up to merely sing background vocals on a breakup track called “How Long” before it (even if I do like both tracks). Again, Cordero’s mature framing and even-keeled hand do help these songs come across as witty and introspective as the band’s regular material, but I’m not sure that the quainter atmosphere emphasizing him as an interpreter is always the right call to help these tracks pop as well as they should. For a short little holdover, though, it’s still pleasant and substantive; I just wouldn’t say it’s any more or less than that.

  • Favorite tracks: “Mountain Song,” “Parallel” (w/ Ashley Monroe), “How Long” (feat. Kaitlin Butts)
  • Least favorite track: “Show Me Now Which Way to Go”

Stream the album.

Julie roberts ain't in no hurry

Julie Roberts, Ain’t In No Hurry

Those who remember Julie Roberts’ name usually wish she could have far more success than she did; If you’ve kept up with my Favorite Hit Songs series, you know I’m also within than camp. And after nearly a decade since her last project, she’s made her return in a big way through Ain’t in No Hurry. After all, not only has she always been a terrific vocalist, but with production credits from both Shooter Jennings and Erin Enderlin along with guest assists from Jamey Johnson and Randy Houser, and a revival of a long-lost Waylon Jennings song in “Devil’s Pool” … well hell, talk about stacking the deck.

And full disclosure, I want to like this a lot more than I ultimately do, and it’s hard to pin down why this isn’t clicking with me further. If you’re familiar with at all with any of those aforementioned artists – particularly the producers – this won’t bring a lot of surprises in terms of sound or style: crisp, weathered neotraditional country with a few meatier southern-rock moments thrown in for good measure. I think it’s an issue of the foundation being rock-solid and the album itself just missing a bit more muscle in its compositional aspects or production, which doesn’t really carry a lot of warmth or texture to it and doesn’t help matters for a project than runs long like this and tends to drag in spots. It’s certainly weathered and raw enough to complement Roberts’ tone that’s still as solid as ever, just maybe a shade too much for its own good.

Granted, I suppose one does need that approach when it comes to this particular thematic arc, which mostly centers around aging and questions of relevancy in terms of her relationship to the music industry and relationships in the form of more general love songs, including a nice but overall muted cover of K.T. Oslin’s “Do Ya.” And I do think it’s what adds weight to songs like “Don’t Call Me Baby,” a track where Roberts’ character is caught in a dead-end relationship but not to the point where she’d openly cheat even when given the chance, even if she’s tempted to, and especially “The King and His Crown,” which tells the story of an abusive father and the scars left on the family through vivid, heartbreaking detail, even if its ending feels a bit rushed. But as I noted in my review of “Music City’s Killing Me,” this is also an album where the greater focus and details can feel a bit too distanced to hammer in more effectively or feel more personal to Roberts’ own journey and experience. Still, even if it’s not quite the slam-dunk return I had hoped for, it is nice to hear from her again, all the same.

  • Favorite tracks: “Don’t Call Me Baby,” “When You Wake Up (In the Bed You Made),” “Easy Street,” “The King and His Crown”
  • Least favorite track: “A Little Crazy’s Kinda Nice” (w/ Randy Houser)

Buy or stream the album.

Emily scott robinson built on bones

Emily Scott Robinson, Built On Bones

As I noted before, Emily Scott Robinson pivoting into distinctly witchy territory comes as no surprise, given that I remember a lot of her own distinct grapplings with religion and faith on last year’s American Siren. But it’s still welcome, all the same, especially with co-conspirators Violet Bell and Alisa Amador joining the coven. And I think therein lies the key to this album, in that one shouldn’t really expecting the anchoring point just to be Robinson’s usual terrific writing. Really, you’d be surprised how much this pulls directly from its source material of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, a historical retelling of the sacred feminine that’s presented as much more morally ambiguous here – and just as timely now, for that matter. The odd comparison that came to my mind was actually Ashley McBryde’s recent Lindeville project, in that it’s built around its collaborators just as much as the artist in front of it.

And indeed, between the absolutely beautiful harmonies we get from all three artists along with the same bone-deep richness in the production calling back to Robinson’s own work, this is stunning with or without the added context of the framing – which may be intentional in making it more accessible. Even with all of those defense in mind, however, I will still say I missed the greater storytelling focus of Robinson’s own work that could have pushed this retelling even further into something more distinctly unique. The closest we get is two contextualized versions of “Old Gods” off of American Siren, of which only the second version feels essential to the project in adding greater weight behind its stakes, thanks to the slower tempo and heavier reliance on darker minor chords; I can’t help but wish we had another original track or two to tie it all together just a little better. Even still, for a side project meant to stand as something different for all three acts involved, it’s still pretty great and pulls from their strengths accordingly. And, though this review comes a bit past Halloween, I think this album still deserves the chance to be heard and appreciated.

  • Favorite tracks: “Built on Bones,” “Old Gods” (Minor Reprise), “Double, Double,” “Men and Moons”
  • Least favorite track: “Sleep No More”

Stream the album.

One thought on “Clusterpluck Album Reviews: Flatland Cavalry, Julie Roberts, and Emily Scott Robinson

  1. Good reviews Zack! I liked all three albums – the two EPs were quite good throughout.

    Re: Julie Roberts – first off, I’m glad she’s back! She’s one of the 90s artists that really deserved more success and a longer peak. Her self-titled debut album is understandably her most popular, but “Men & Mascara” was a really good album as well. This new album is quite good and I hope it leads to more releases on a more regular basis.

    Liked by 1 person

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