Album Review: Lainey Wilson – ‘Bell Bottom Country’

I’m not sure how to properly describe Lainey Wilson’s career arc as of right now, mostly because it scans as something of a roller coaster ride where she’s managed to come out on top overall. Her major label debut album was released in February of last year but didn’t really garner much attention … and yet “Things A Man Oughta Know” became a huge hit regardless. And while she has mostly played the painfully long, slow, Nashville-built road to success through radio, there has been something unconventional and more calculated to her movements. I mean, she attached her name to two of the biggest duets in country music this year, she has industry support, and she’s about to become a Yellowstone cast member; many speculate she’s about to blow up as a legitimate star, and I can’t exactly argue with that.

I do find it odd, then, that her own solo work tends to draw the least amount of conversation surrounding her as an artist, because while I did love “Things A Man Oughta Know,” the rest of the album it stemmed from was patchy and uneven, aimed at cultivating a distinct image but somewhat shoddy in its actual execution of it. And I’m in a similar boat with Bell Bottom Country, as while I do like its lead single a fair bit, I feel like I can copy everything I said about Sayin’ What I’m Thinkin’ and apply it to this album, which feels more like an extension of her established style than the next step forward. And it’s one of those instances where, once again, producer Jay Joyce’s frustrating sense of inconsistency is mostly to blame for yet another album that embraces the overemphasized, unsubtle clunkiness that’s characterized his groove sections in the past.

It’s a project that’s not as organic or groovy as it could (or is trying to) be, especially when those aforementioned heavy, driving moments seem at odds with plenty of other tracks here reliant on slicker polish that doesn’t really add much warmth or intimacy to this project. I’ve seen comparisons made between “Watermelon Moonshine” and Deana Carter’s “Strawberry Wine” as two songs rooted in teenage romance, but with the former cut’s dated-sounding synthetic moments cropping up at points, it sometimes sounds like it precedes the obvious classic – and not in a good way. And that’s before mentioning the overworked attempt at Jerry Reed-esque funk on “Grease” that sounds like the clunkiest experimental cut that both the Pistol Annies and Eric Church never cut, at best.

That’s not to say there aren’t moments that can still work in spite of themselves: I love the ’70s-esque, swampy, roiling rollick anchoring “Hillbilly Hippie” for a great album opener, and the biting gallop really helps kick “Road Runner” into high gear, fittingly enough. And a moment like the darker, almost bluegrass-inspired “Wildflowers and Wild Horses” wrapped in all of its smoky, hazy texture sounds like an off-the-wall experimental cut toward the end, and I’d love to see Wilson expand upon this sound for something equally heavy but a whole hell of a lot less messy.

Even then (and even with that particular track), it’d still put me at odds with the writing, which, much like that aforementioned debut album, is cultivated around Wilson herself – namely her loose, freewheeling spirit. It’s just that a lot of the album feels cultivated more around image over proper identity, not helped by a lot of checklist, “I’m this, I’m that” songwriting structures, descriptive as her actual imagery can be nonetheless. Granted, it’s never necessarily defensive as some of the worst projects in this vein, but for all of the bluster we get from tracks like “Hold My Halo” or “This One’s Gonna Cost Me” that feel like lesser Miranda Lambert cuts, I’m still not necessarily sure we ever get the deeper portrait of who Wilson is.

It’s why I actually still appreciate lead single “Heart Like a Truck,” where it feels like the weathered, driving urgency is actually rooted in something a bit more raw and the dramatic stakes actually fluctuate, resulting in a moment that actually feels more personal than much else here. I actually think the unexpected 4 Non Blondes cover that closes out the album speaks more toward her idiosyncratic nature above all else here, certainly more than the clunky premise and double-entendre of “Weak-End” or the platitude-filled “Atta Girl.” It’s a project that won’t be anything close to a sophomore slump but feels like one nonetheless – a project caught in something of an artistic rut, at least – and that’s a bit worrying.

  • Favorite tracks: “Hillbilly Hippie,” “Road Runner,” “Heart Like a Truck,” “Wildflowers and Wild Horses,” “What’s Up (What’s Going On)”
  • Least favorite track: “Atta Girl”

Buy or stream the album.

One thought on “Album Review: Lainey Wilson – ‘Bell Bottom Country’

  1. This really nails my feelings on it. I couldn’t pinpoint what didn’t work for me it until I read this. Joyce really can get too heavy handed with the production and in this case it just really distracts.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

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

You are commenting using your 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