Album: On The Rocks
Label: Big Machine
Genre: Neo-traditionalist country
To some, it may seem as though I’ve missed the boat entirely on Midland’s 2017 debut LP “On The Rocks,” but if you’ve been following my reviews here at Lula since the beginning, you’ll have noticed that there isn’t really any rhyme or reason to them at all. You might find me reviewing an album that dropped just a few days ago one week, and the next it could be something from 1952. Having this kind of freedom is liberating as a music reviewer; I can share my old favorites, my new favorites, and everything in between. Good music is good music, and it deserves to be talked about no matter how long ago it was released. Granted, 2017 was only last year, but I think it’s time to build some of the hype back up around Midland with them going back into the studio for their sophomore album.
I want to start by clearing up a little confusion about Midland’s origins since it seems to have ruffled a few feathers. Midland was not named for Midland, Texas, but after the 2003 Dwight Yoakam song “Fair to Midland,” and in my eyes, Mr. Dwight Yoakam does no wrong. So, if you ask me, these Tom Selleck mustache donning, nudie suit wearing pretty boys were already off to a great start in my books. If you’re still a little confused, I’ll give you a rundown of how the trio came to be. They’re currently out of Dripping Springs, Texas, but that’s not where the story started. The trio, each having pretty successful careers prior to the formation of Midland, met separately around Los Angeles where Jess Carson (lead guitar, background vocals) and Cameron Duddy (bass guitar, background vocals) had formed an earlier band. Duddy and Mark Wystrach (lead vocals) ended up meeting after Carson left L.A. and also decided to form a band. Still with me? Great. Duddy got married in 2013 in Jackson Hole, Wyoming with Wystrach and Carson acting as his groomsmen. The three hit it off and knew they had something great. Wanting to be based in Texas, they found themselves in Dripping Springs and thus, became Midland. Riveting, isn’t it? Who says you have to have a modest upbringing to make genuinely good country music? That’s not what makes country music country. The songs are.
With three Billboard charting singles under their belts, Midland seems to have gone straight to the big times. Of course, with names like Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne on the roster as songwriters as well as producers along with Dann Huff, and signed to Big Machine no less, they were destined to be a hit. Upon release, “On The Rocks” even went straight to the #1 position on Billboard’s Top Country Album Sales chart. Impressive, but not surprising in the least. I know you know what I’m talking about. It seems that Midland might just be everyone’s favorite neo-traditionalist country trio on mainstream country radio right now. I know they’re mine.
You can hear mainstream’s heavy influence in their production which is not something I’m all that fond of, personally, but I do understand how that would appeal to some. However, that hasn’t turned me off from the album in the slightest. What really makes this album for me is how nostalgic it feels especially with the pedal steel, which hasn’t been center of attention in quite some time, polishing up each track. “On The Rocks” has everything a good honky tonk album should; lots of heartache, regret, lovin’, leavin’, and new beginnings. Midland has been said to sound very 70s/80s country, which I can see, but I’d be more inclined to say that they’re very 90s with a modern flare. I won’t outrightly compare them to any group or artist here as there isn’t any that quite stand out enough to make a direct comparison. They’ve said it themselves, they’re different, and that makes it difficult to place them, which isn’t a bad thing.
There’s some irony to this album that is not lost on me. Signing to such a big label and rising to the top right off the bat doesn’t quite seem to speak to the humble beginnings “Check Cashin’ Country” alludes to, however, the style they’re singing in also isn’t quite the “Check Cashin’ Country” we’ve been used to hearing on the radio for the past decade or so. “On the Rocks” was a strong debut that did very well, even earning them a 2018 ACM Award for New Vocal Group of the Year. Now, with them back in the studio, I’m quite interested to see where Midland goes from here with their sophomore album. In the meantime, I’ll be bopping along to “Make A Little” and “Drinkin’ Problem” when I hear them on the radio.
Favourite songs: Lonely For You Only, Make A Little, This Old Heart, Altitude Adjustment.