If Carlsberg Made a Country Radio Show It Might Sound Like This.
The basic idea behind Texan James Hyland’s Western is a guy switching between radio stations during a late night drive. We get country-flavored songs about how the American West was won, along with modern America and even “Americana” songs including songs; about trains, mullets, Native Indians, the Civil War, the Gold Rush, old guitars, brothels, Nashville songwriters, lost loves, and just about every other Western theme there is.
(And can we finally stop using the term “Americana” please? Has it been long enough yet? We need something more all-encompassing without coming up trite or missing the mark.)
In 1974 songwriter great Randy Newman wrote an epic album titled Good Old Boys, which skewered the South and rednecks in general, but some people didn’t get the joke. Hyland takes the high road here (well, mostly anyway) and saves his vitriol for the songs “STFU” (which, you may have guessed is not safe for work, and could apply to many politicians across the globe, sad to say); “The Ballad of Eddie Mullet” (which would make an awesome cartoon ala King of the Hill, or even Squidbillies!) and the wonderful “Nashville Song” (which in my head, I keep calling “Cashville Song,” give it a listen, you’ll hear why) which Hyland uses to make a point about the current state of Country Music Radio and Nashville in general. Everyone complains about what ‘modern’ Nashville has become, Hyland has done the impossible and written about it succinctly and hilariously. I tip my hat to you, Mr. Hyland.
But Western is much more than even all that. This is a double album, twenty full length songs, and I was going to make a short list of the best ones on this album, but it quickly became a long list, then a much longer list, until three-fourths of the album was counted, which means that the amount of really great songs here would make up a longer album than anyone else is putting out right now.
Which goes to show how much further ahead Hyland is than anybody else out there at the moment.
So here’s a few more details to whet your appetite, without getting too crazy. There’s a charming song about the suffrage movement, “Swing Your Way,” with very fun guest vocals by Stephanie Marlar and Betty Soo.
I really liked this one.
Kickin’ and cute and informative and funny all at the same time, and the guest singers really do a good job of making this tune their own.
“Don’t Feel Like Cryin'” neatly uses a reliable melody to make an emotional point. Some funny lines make this a standout track, for sure.
“First Westbound Train” is one of the best train songs I’ve ever heard, with a wonderful refrain, and an easy “going down the tracks” feel to it.
“Weather on the Wood” which is, of all things, a love song about a guy missing his old guitar.
“Ramblin’ Man,” “Dark and Weary World,” “Kera,” and well… I could go on and on and on but you get the point.
This is a grand achievement.
A masterpiece of an artistic document. Twenty fantastic songs, performed and produced perfectly. Hyland knows how to use familiar tropes without ever abusing them. He uses his easy-going voice (with a hint of gruffness) to full effect throughout, never reaching for the notes, just hitting them square and true, then onto the next well-planned rhyme.
He has a kick-ass and formidable band with some great guitar and fiddle as well as some definite delicious pedal steel throughout (always a game changer, in my opinion) and a tight rhythm section capable of sounding sincere on the folk tunes as well as the harder stuff.
I couldn’t finish this review without remarking just how wonderful it all sounds. A perfectly balanced mix. Full without resorting to a wall of sound, and enough sparseness to remind one of the prairie. The bass sounds perfect even on tiny little speakers or the crunchy ones in my old Chevy van.
Whoever did the mastering on this album deserves a medal!