COLLIER – “OFF THE RECORD VOLUME ONE”
PRODUCED & ENGINEERED BY TOM COLLIER
If songwriters are storytellers, then maybe people that review albums by songwriters can be storytellers too, because once again, I’m going to ask our amazingly patient readers to stick with me here for a minute or two. If you’re new to my writing, please give me a chance. I tend to do this. It’s a flaw. I’ve tried working on it and I fell apart. I’ve watched tutorials on how to be a better writer, read everything I could find on how to break this habit, and finally decided that it isn’t all that bad. It’s just my “style”, or lack of style, whatever. It seems to be working and once again, I need to take care of a little pre-review business.
Most people know that Nashville is called “Music City, USA”. What many don’t know, or at least don’t know much about, is it’s also the “Songwriting Capital of the World”, meaning songwriters come from everywhere across the globe to live and work here. They come to collaborate with other writers to create some of the best music we all know and love, yet often, we only know the songs based upon who recorded them and turned them into radio hits. Are you staying with me? I hope so, because this is important and it is going somewhere.
Your very favorite songs you’ve loved forever may not have been written by the artist on the album cover. The one you’ve gone to see in concert so many times? He or she probably sings those songs beautifully, but they may have had nothing to do with creating them. Some person with a name you would never recognize did. You might come to Nashville and be sitting right next to the person in a restaurant who wrote a bunch of those songs and never even know it. They’re somebody very important and a whole lot of people in the industry know who they are, but you, the average music lover, does not. Do they dress flashy? Usually not. Do they run around with an entourage? Almost never. Are they talented? Hell, yes, they are, and every now and then, one of those songwriters decides to take a chance and put out an album of his or her own.
Back in February 2018, Annette Gibbons and I interviewed Ashley McBryde at CRS in Nashville. At that time, we asked her an off-the-wall question about celebrity bars, and if she were to open one, what would she call it and what would the theme be? She knew immediately. The bar would be called “Southern Babylon” and she then went on to explain the theme. The bar would be named after a cut on her then yet-to-be-released album “Girl Going Nowhere”, which she said she co-wrote with “a friend”. The theme sounded cool. I wrote up that interview and then reviewed McBryde’s album. When I got to “Southern Babylon”, I was excited to hear it, remembering the whole celebrity bar question and answer, but what she didn’t prepare me for was the song itself. The whole song. From the very start, I don’t think I took a complete breath. It was just that good. Truly one of the best songs I have ever heard. Period. That’s just about what I said in my review too. I didn’t say that lightly. Songwriters are amazing people to me in the first place. Great songwriters are on some other plane. This particular song lives on that other plane and only the creators of it know where the map to that is. Others may try to cover “Southern Babylon”, but nobody else can ever design it. That’s where the brilliance lies. That’s where I get really impressed. So, now I had Tommy Collier on my songwriter radar, as he was “the friend” she had co-written “Southern Babylon” with. I guess, eventually, he found me too.
Several weeks after the “Girl Going Nowhere” review came out, I received a message from Collier asking if I might want to hear his new album, and of course I did, thinking back on how good “Southern Babylon” was, even though it wasn’t him singing on it. Now, keep in mind, there are a lot of good songwriters out there, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are great performers. Many are, but many also choose to stay in the background, write outstanding songs and let better singers get out there and perform them. So, I had this in the back of my head as I waited for the CD to come in the mail. When the moment of truth came for me to pop the CD into the player and listen, I didn’t quite know what to expect. You just never know, do you?
When the opening lyrics to the first track are “I kicked the bottle for good today, I threw my Marlboro cigarettes away, deleted every Jezebel hiding out inside my cell…” I’m wondering not just where this song is going, but where the entire album might be heading. The title of the track is “Quit You” (Collier) and it starts off with a chill guitar melody and just when I was about to settle in for a mellow introspective tune about a guy entering the world of sobriety, it happened. All Hell broke loose. Truly. Guitars, drums and talk about dealings with the devil. This one boils down to one thing. Sometimes you can give up every vice you’ve got, but if there’s a love interest that gets inside your head and heart and most importantly, your soul, you’ve got problems, and they don’t come out of a bottle or anything else you can find a 12-step program for. This is solid, hard rocking country here. Track 1 comes flying out of the gate on fire.
“Licking my wounds with some salt and some lime
While singing a she done me wrong song”
Don’t be discouraged though, this song gives hope and encouragement. The proper medicinal use of tequila in repairing broken hearts, better matchmaking via bathroom walls and other assorted manly advice for the lovelorn. It’s fun and I think that’s all it’s supposed to be. Play this one in bars and test it out. If it passes there, that’s all that’s needed.
Ballads are always a touchy one for me, especially when it comes to guys singing them. They can either be really good to me or I have to just turn them off. I think I’m programmed to think that way because so many (in my own opinion) cheesy ballads came from bands I otherwise liked growing up, and I wondered why they ever recorded those terrible songs to begin with, much less put them on albums after they heard how they sounded. I guess I think extra hard when I listen to ballads in general, but I understand they’re necessary and people do love them. I put male ballads under a huge microscope. On Collier’s album, there’s a ballad called “Window” (Collier, Harper). Make no mistake, I listened to it several times. Probably at least eight times.
Up until now, I haven’t described Collier’s voice. In my opinion, it’s all there. It’s a raw, southern rock type of voice with something else mixed in. I gave it some thought and I don’t know if I’m happy with this mash-up yet, but it’s the best I’ve got for the moment. Tommy Collier’s voice, and this is just my own recipe, is like one-part Gregg Allman, one-part Bob Seger and one-part Leslie West, with a slight margin of error for someone else who I can’t quite figure out, but I think I’m close. In any event, those are three voices that I don’t think are too difficult to shake a stick at, and when a voice like that sings a ballad, it better be masculine or it’s just going to come off as incredibly cheesy. So, what does it come down to? Lyrics. The lyrics have to fit the voice. I had to do some serious visualization here.
“What was broken and left for dying
I hear love saying ‘This is our revival’
I can see a whole lot of window in those eyes”
So, does it work? Yes. It works. That’s just a very small piece of a much bigger picture that I created in my head when listening to this song several times. Overall though, we’re taking a masculine voice and attaching lyrics that I could imagine coming from a guy fitting that voice. They were words that related to the outdoors, and just the word “window” is something around the house that isn’t long and poetic, yet when you put it into a song, it can become all kinds of things. With all due respect, it’s a “guy word”. They generally like to keep things simple. That’s simple at face value, but throw it in a ballad and suddenly, it takes on a much deeper meaning. Pretty cool stuff. A guy looking into his woman’s eyes. Eyes that previously were nothing more than a blank stare, and all of a sudden, he’s seeing some light, like a window opening up in there. “Window” gets my stamp of approval if that means anything at all.
We’ve covered the full-out ballad, let’s get back to something heavier. “The Fifth” (Collier, Rudd) comes in at Track 5, oddly enough, and it’s edgy. “The Fifth” immediately follows “Window” on the record, so if ballads put you in a bit of a trance, this is your wake–up call. In this charming end-of-love story, our main character is telling his ex and the world exactly what his plans are. Will he be crying to his best buddy? Nope. Will he be jumping off a cliff? Hell, no. Will he be seeing a therapist? Wrong again.
“Let my drinkin’ do the talkin’ to the bottom of the bottle
It’s my right and I’m exercisin’ it
Girl, I’m takin’ The Fifth
Not a single word about it, except remainin’ silent
Pour another one, drink it all in
Just let live and let live, double shot in my defense
I’m takin’ The Fifth”
So, as you can see, we don’t need to worry about our friend at all. Not only does he have this situation handled, in case his own silence gets the least bit awkward, he has a killer band behind him rocking things out. Creative songwriting all the way.
I talked about guy ballads earlier and I liked “Window” a lot. Then I heard “Cold War”. This one epitomized what I was trying to describe about the perfect ballad for a guy with a voice like Collier’s. “Cold War” was written solely by Collier. I love the melody, it’s slow enough that you know it’s a ballad, but I wasn’t falling asleep and his voice really stands out here. This song is one that a lot of couples are going to relate to. It’s an emotional plea to go back in time, with all the masculinity I crave in a ballad being sung by a man with vocals like his.
“I feel a draft that kinda cuts you to the core comin’ from that back bedroom
In the middle of June, behind that closed hall door
The thermostat is sayin’ it’s plenty warm
But I can see my breath like a smokin’ cigarette
As I lie here alone
We used to be burnin’ up the night, we were so hot to the touch
Flames so high girl, we couldn’t get enough
Well, the lines fell down to the frozen hard ground
Like a winter ice storm
Now we’re in a Cold War”
I’ll tell you what. There are 10 tracks on this record. This was in my top three when trying to pick a favorite. I’ll let you know at the end where it landed.
Checking in at Track 9 we have “Space” (Collier, Rudd), which is an upbeat tune about a guy watching his girl take off for the stars (of Los Angeles) because she needed “Space”. It’s got a great hook and it’s completely catchy. I included this one, not only because it was one of those instantly likable songs, but because I thought it was the most radio-friendly one. Am I always pushing the most radio-friendly songs? Not at all, but that would be a whole new article, wouldn’t it? To go back to the days when disc jockeys could just play whatever they wanted… but don’t get me wrong, “Space” is a really cool song, I just wanted to point out that it has that “made-for-radio” sound to it. Not a bad thing by any stretch.
The last song on the album is called “Hallelujah Highway” (Collier, Fenley). Before I even played it, I took a moment to think about the title and envisioned what it might be about. My first thought, corny as this may sound, was of that old Michael Landon TV series, “Highway to Heaven”. Was it going to be about angels helping wayward people get back on the right path? Then I thought maybe it was about finding God in general. Then I gave up and just played the thing. The moral of the story is, JUST PLAY THE RECORD.
This song was not about Michael Landon or crappy angels trying to get their wings back or anything remotely about finding Jesus. It was an entire universe better than any of that. This is about a guy and his girl packing up their vehicle and saying goodbye to their old life to try and find a better one. It’s one of the most uplifting endings to an album I can imagine and the best part of all? I can’t even explain how much I could relate to this song. I love when I hear a new song, that I might not have EVER heard, and it’s one I could have written myself. It happened on the last album I reviewed and now it happened again! I feel like some weird, divine intervention is trying to get to me lately. I lived this song! This is a close secondin radio-friendliness to “Space”. Radio stations, please play “Hallelujah Highway”! I guarantee people will be blasting it, with their windows down, as they drive down the roads of America and the UK (Think Country began in the UK and our Founder and so many of our followers live there).
“So, let’s pull on out of this quicksand town
And we’ll raise your hands up to the clouds and let the heavens open up
‘Cause far away ain’t fast enough
And with a little bit of faith and hope and love
And our favorite song blastin’ on the radio
Come on girl, let’s go
Yeah, tonight babe
We got the highway”
The instrumentation on this song is exceptionally cool and Collier’s vocals are convincing. I believe him. In this song, he really wants to do this.
To sum it up, I said I had three favorites on the album. They were “Quit You”, “Cold War” and “Hallelujah Highway”. It was seriously difficult to choose a favorite, and for the first time, I ended up in a draw. “Cold War” and “Hallelujah Highway” tied.
They both were fantastic to me for completely different reasons, but when I pick a ballad on a guy’s album, that’s big news for me. The last time that happened, I think, was with Brett Eldredge’s “The Reason”, which I thought was an amazing song and so unlike Collier’s work, which proves I’m not a one-trick pony when it comes to what I like in male ballads. I just know that the song needs to fit the voice, and Collier hit the nail on the head with his own ballads. Putting it bluntly, he knows what to do and what not to do in order to stay in his lane and not come off sounding “schmaltzy”, because with a voice like his, any form of “schmaltz” would be frightening.
As for “Hallelujah Highway”, this is golden. It’s something we need. Even if you love where you’re at right now, it’s perfect. Even if life is grand, who doesn’t need another good song to jam out to on the road? I look at Spotify and there are countless “Roadtrip” playlists. Countless! This would be just another one of those songs that would be a staple on those playlists. I know it will be on mine. In fact, I can add it to almost all of my playlists. It’s got versatility.
Other tracks not reviewed, but still worth mentioning are, “So Far” (Collier, Drinkwine), “Wood Bees and the Buzz” (Collier, Rudd) and “A Little More” (Collier, Ruth, Griffith). Overall, I think this record deserves the attention of anyone that is already a fan of southern rock, country rock or even classic rock or the blues. Like I said, put Gregg Allman, Bob Seger and Leslie West into a blender for about a minute, pour the mixture into a mason jar and drink it up. You can even take “The Fifth”. You won’t need to talk, you’ll be way too busy listening. It’s that good.
TOMMY COLLIER can be found: