Sophomore albums are often a very interesting predicament for a band that have an acclaimed debut release. As an artist or a band your debut album is the story so far and you have had your entire life to work for it, meaning you have a long time to bring out your best shot and the reception received by Jess Carson, Mark Wystrach and Cameron Duddy for their 2017 debut ‘On the Rocks’ was rightly outstanding. A Neo traditional sound and their own sense of style that has defied the norm of the modern direction of country music in Nashville by sticking to what feels right to Midland as a band is something that fans have really been crying out for more over the last two years.
Move forward two years and the Texas trio have today unleashed their follow-up in the form of ‘Let It Roll’ which the most refreshing thing about this release is they realised that they had had something that not just was really fitting to themselves but was what people wanted! There has been no desire to modify a successful formula which has seen Carson, Wystrach and Duddy to again turn to Dann Huff, Josh Osborne and Shane McAnally to produce the record. The 14 tracks all feature the trio involved in the writing (Carson being a co-writer on 12 with individual credits on the other 2, whilst Duddy & Wystrach both were involved in 11 of the tracks each) where McAnally and Osborne being frequent collaborators in the process along with working with the likes of Liz Rose, JT Harding, Rhett Atkins and Bob DiPiero in this delivery.
Initially the thought of a 14 track album in the modern era of being so orientated towards streaming and particularly in Nashville where there a drive towards the radio market did make you wonder if it potentially would be too long? However this is more than a collection of songs as it almost feels like a story just simply in how clever the bookends of the album have opposing titles ‘Let it Roll’ opens the story and ends with letting it ‘Roll Away’ with the sense of melody driven smooth sounding tracks and late night slow dances occupying the body of the tale. Using it as a story analogy is quite a good way to support my initial view from the first listen that there doesn’t feel a lot of tracks that has an obvious feel to be a single meaning that all the tracks are as significant as each other in the project. The key messages about Midland as a band is that they are not trying to adapt or change what they want to do and just ‘Let it Roll’ with something that feels right to them and their fans whilst the lack of obvious radio singles just shows that this is what they have wanted to achieve with this.
With the sound that they deliver often being referred to as Neoclassical being like a more relevant take on a more old school theme does bring a lot of what come across as late night, slow dance in a bar type feel and you definitely get that in the album with a mix of ballads and mid tempo songs. There is quite a strong theme of breakups, chasing new relationships and doing things you shouldn’t when you are in a relationship. The first track that really grabbed me with this vibe which is what I think people may typically associate with Midland is ‘Cheatin’ Songs’ which is the fourth track on the album and this feels a lot more vocal driven compared to some other tracks where you are drawn more to the melody however the melody is really fitting to the title and it is such a smooth track which perfectly depicts a slow dance that you probably know you shouldn’t be having.
The “cheating” theme runs in other tracks like ‘Cheatin’ by the Rules’ which to me sounds the most radio friendly track which again has the slow dance in a bar theme but has a really distinct intro and the use of the steel and the fiddle in this track make it one of the strongest on the album which is very well written (along with Rhett Atkins and Bob DiPiero) and think this is a very good depiction of the overall sound and particularly the melodies on the record.
There are the obvious more up tempo tracks like the first single ‘Mr Lonely’ and ’21st Century American Honky Tonk American Band’ (which is the definition of what Midland are, pretty much will be their theme song which got great reactions from any fans that had previously seen them live) along with the track that they co-wrote with Jeremy Spillman and Liz Rose ‘ Every Song’s a Drinkin’ Song’ that will be fan favourites to sing along to and will be highlights of the live shows. However the song that I came away thinking this is the stand out is the track where lead vocal switches to Cam Duddy delivering ‘Lost in the Night’ because I am such a big fan of a West Coast sound rather than the typical Texan sound more familiar with Midland. It has a chilled out smooth smokey bar type feel with really slick transitions between the verses and chorus. There is a different WOW factor with some saxophone in the melody which really works and creates a very eighties type sound that could easily be a classic Eagles track or even a song off ‘Reckless’ by Bryan Adams which is one of my all time favourite records. This for me would be your best way to begin to fall in love with Midland if you weren’t sure if their sound was for you before drawing you in with what they are more typical with as a band. When we were fortunate to attend an album album playback at the release this did seem to be the song that got the best overall reaction because it was so different and unexpected but was perfect for the record.
I mentioned about ‘Let it Roll’ and ‘Roll Away’ being great bookends to this story and I like how unlike a lot of albums there is a beginning and an end with how they set the tone and then close it out with very fitting sounds and titles! On listening to both tracks I had in my head that they sounded like Dierks Bentley songs rather than being what I would expect from Midland but I think that is from the depth and reality I get listening to Dierks so to see Midland convey this imagery was something I really big on.
This album does have something for a lot of people! You can identify them working with Shane and Josh which you hear in the songs, there is that neoclassical feel that fans have become accustomed to, there is no danger of selling out and going away from what they best for the sake of radio perspective, there are linedance songs and there are these nice chilled out late night tunes that are hard not to be drawn to! Yes 14 tracks does feel a bit long and some of the middle tracks do feel a bit similar and may be in danger of being lost when you listen to it but it does create a complete picture and was definitely worth the wait for this record.
Let it Roll is available everywhere through Big Machine Label Group and you can hear the album HERE.