I don’t know how it happened but it seems as if mainstream country music is starting to see a large influx of artists who owe more of a debt to 70s and 80s pop-rock than Hank Williams or even Waylon Jennings. Travis Tritt often fell on this side of the coin so it should be no coincidence that his latest record, “The Storm“() is steeped in it. The Randy Jackson-produced affair is one of Tritt’s strongest albums in years and rocks and rolls on the up-tempo tracks while Travis’ whiskey soaked vocals provide lots of country soul over the ballads.
Many of the newer groups and duos seem to be heavily steeped in such comparisons. The artist who should have ‘no brainer’ thoughts attached to their music is Van Zant. The brothers are southern rock royalty and then they hit it big in Nashville with “Get Right With The Man.” from 2005. their newest record, the just released “My Kind Of Country” () and it covers much of the same territory as their Columbia debut. It Rocks, it rolls and it will service their fans just fine. Is it a great album? Well, no. Still songs like “Train,” current single “Goes Down Easy” and “Headed South” ar well-done and worthy of listening to, particularly The Warren Brothers co-write “Headed South.”
Cole Deggs & the Lonesome received some moderate airplay with their debut single “I Got More.” Their self-titled debut record () goes past the ears quite easily with Deggs’ vocals at times recalling both members of Montgomery Gentry. Songs like new single “Girl Next Door” and “Out Of Alabama” Tread down the heartland rock of Tom Petty more than they do the soft rock of The Eagles. But other songs on the solid debut disc do fall more in line with the Eagles. Particularly “The One That Got Away” and “Huggin’ That Blacktop.” Perhaps their strongest track on the record (and a likely single) is “Everyone’s Beautiful To Someone.”It actually reminds me of something Charlie Rich might have recorded.
Halfway To Hazard () enthralled me with “Daisy” and their second single “Devil And The Cross” isn’t half bad either. The two former rockers from Kentucky (ergo the band name) certainly have stellar vocals and strong backing from producers Tim McGraw and Byron Gallimore. When I first hit play on iTunes, “Countrified” blared out of the speakers and ‘traditionalists’ would not have liked the Jeffrey Steele song. It is country/rock to the core with a huge emphasis on the rock. Still, I happen to like the song as I do most of the record. It took a few spins to appreciate the record but I came around. “Takin’ Me On” had a swamp-rock feel to it that reminded me of much of Steve Azar‘s music. Perhaps the thing holding the band back is that numerous tracks eclipse the 5 minute barrier, thus rendering most of them the requirement of being re-worked for radio. If I was working for Mercury Nashville I’d be quick to promote songs like “I’m Tired” to radio. It’s a good song that has shades of Brady Seals in the vocals. The band also has the balls to take on the establishment with their track “Welcome To Nashville.”
Whiskey Falls () certainly has an interesting story in to how they came to be. Two of the band’s members were successful writing and recording theme songs for commercials and TV shows while the lead vocalist Damon Johnson comes from the alternative rock world. He was the lead vocalist for the popular rock band Brother Cane. While the band was lumped in with the “Grunge era” they were more southern rock than ‘metal’ so it actually is a natural that Johnson would become the vocalist for Whiskey Falls. Perhaps the best thing going for the group is their impeccable vocals. They simply have the chance to be very big in Country music. They’re more organic than Rascal Flatts and perform organic songs that have the same homespun charm that propelled Little Big Town into the spotlight. Signed to new indie Midas Records, Whiskey Falls has at least 4 potential radio hits (after “Last Train Running,” which is already a hit) in “The Night Ain’t Over Yet,” “Highway 59,” “Keep The Light On” and “Workin’ Man.” However, like Rascal Flatts the band will not be thought of fondly by anyone who loves traditional country music (take one listen to their “We Will Rock You” inspired “Load Up The Bases (The Baseball Song)” and you’ll see my point.
These are just four acts to have come out in the last few months who owe a lot to pop and rock than traditional country. Other ‘newbies’ with similar sounds are Broken Bow Recording artists Crossin’ Dixon, Capital Records’ Lady Antebellum, Lofton Creek Records’ Drew Davis Band and James Otto (who’s now with RAYBAW/Warner Nashville).