Midland – On The Rocks (Album Review)

Spend enough time in Country music circles and one inevitably hears something along the lines of “Country music just isn’t what it used to be. It’s too Pop, too produced, and too pretty.” Many purists believe that Country music’s evolution from the Honky Tonk of Hank Williams and the pedal steel and electric guitars from 1980s George Strait to the Stadium Rock influenced Pop music, performed by the likes of Rascal Flatts and many other New Country artists, have reduced Country to nothing more than a sub-genre of Rock and Pop.

There is a fair point to made there. In 2009, when Taylor Swift made her breakthrough, Rolling Stone asked, maybe ironically, if Swift was “too pretty for Country.” Turns out that was a fair assessment. Following in the footsteps of Shania Twain in the 1990s and, to a lesser extent, Leann Rimes, and others, Swift crossed over and is now one of the biggest Pop stars on the planet.

Enter Midland, whose debut album On the Rocks releases September 22nd on Big Machine Records as a counterpoint to the current trend in Country. Midland, which consists of Lead Singer Mark Wystrach, Bassist/Vocalist Cameron Daddy, and Guitarist/Vocalist Jess Carson who grew up in Oregon, Arizona, and California respectively, but now call Dripping Springs, Texas home. That is the same Dripping Springs that Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July Picnics made famous in the 1970s. By choosing to locate themselves in the heart of Texas, Midland are not likely to cross over to Pop any time soon.

In their music, guitars tangle, steels melt, and the banjo marks classic Country. Even more, their harmonies hearken back to the Eagles circa 1972. To further enhance their Country music credentials, Midland opened for Tim McGraw and Faith Hill on four Canadian dates of their Soul2Soul tour in June of 2017. Furthermore, Midland recently announced that they are scheduled to support Little Big Town and Kacey Musgraves on their spring 2018 tour.

If Country music is, at its core, an amalgam of clichés packaged with catchy tunes in tight jeans, then it is no surprise that Midland have made a brilliant Country album. On the Rocks’ first single, “Drinkin’ Problem” brings all the elements of traditional Country together very successfully. As if to exemplify their newly formed Texas roots, “At Least You Cried” is a breakup song that incorporates some Mariachi influence. “Check Cashin’ Country,” a song meant to build solid country credibility, about being broke out on the road, feels like old school Country in the vein of George Strait and Waylon Jennings in the 1980s with strong harmonies, fiddles, and electric guitars.

Then there is “Altitude Adjustment,” which is a fun song about heading to the Colorado to channel their inner John Denver. Lastly, On the Rocks closes with “Somewhere on the Wind,” a wistful ditty about goodbye that includes the harmonies that Midland does so well with harmonica on backup. All three bandmates collaborated on songwriting duties for the album.

Overall, On the Rocks does not break any new ground, but it does not mean to. If anything, Midland aim to recall the good old days of the 1970s and 1980s. In that regard, On the Rocks succeeds mightily. That said, Nashville should take notice because On the Rocks is an impressive launch for an up-and-coming neotraditionalist Country band whose best days are imminent. For these reasons, CrypticRock give On the Rocks 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Purchase On The Rocks:

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