Our album in question today comes courtesy of singer/songwriter Erik Dylan, originally hailing from Kansas. While Erik is a relatively new artist, you may just have heard of him or his songs before. He’s written songs for the likes of Kip Moore, Eric Paslay, Brent Cobb, Chad Brownlee, and Justin Moore just to name a few. I’ll add that those songs he’s written are all damn good. As such, this guy has been on my radar for awhile. Back when I started this blog a week ago I didn’t know if I’d have time to cover this album (or any others in my backlog), but after seeing some new reviews arise for this album I knew I had to talk about it. After all, Heart Of A Flatland Boy is a damn good album
The first thing that might grab you is Erik’s rougher, sandier vocal texture. If you’ve heard guys like Kip Moore or Steve Earle (80’s and early to mid 90’s Steve that is), then you might have an idea of what I’m talking about. Much like the aforementioned artists, Erik matches his rougher tone with an electrifying mix of country and rock, two genres that I love. The album opens fiercely with tracks like the title track and “It Ain’t Broke”, two songs that I might add have some really great meaty guitar texture to them. I should add that both of those songs are about life in a small town. However, unlike most songs you hear on country radio about small towns, the tracks on this album are more about exposing the darker side to life in a small town rather than glorification. There’s an underdog attitude to these tracks that make them easy to connect to. I should also add that Dylan had a hand in writing in every one of these songs, and it shows in the tight, sharp writing.
Other tracks in this small town vein include “Pink Flamingos” where a mother kills her abusive (and creepy) boyfriend after he messes with her daughter. This is also a guy who the whole town does not like at all. In their minds, nothing ever happened. Sure, it may stretch the reality of the situation, but it’s that rougher edge to the song that makes me really enjoy it. Heck, I could say the same for most of this album. It’s kind of fitting that I brought up the Steve Earle references considering that Steve’s niece Emily Earle joins Dylan on backup vocals here.
Of course, that darkness doesn’t just come across in the form of anger or revenge. The closer, “Map Dot Town” is an absolute stellar track about learning to accept that not all dreams come true. Sometimes you want to leave your small town but you can’t. Memories, financial reasons, it doesn’t matter. Life doesn’t always work out how we want. There’s also details here such as the male narrator watching his wife leave him and never getting to meet his son that really once again show you what a sharp writer Dylan is.
“Astronaut” sort of moves away from the darker tones to deliver a more humorous take on being stuck in a 9 to 5 job. Here, the narrator just wishes he could be an astronaut instead of working. Hey, we all have dreams right? I’d rather blog for a living rather than work so I can completely understand the sentiment of the song. Moving away from the small town themed songs, “Willie Nelson T-Shirt” also fits that vein of being more upbeat and fun. Sure, I could use without the male narrator’s arrogance and him calling his ex-lover a whore, but at the same time there’s something kind of refreshing about him just wanting out of the relationship. He wants his Willie Nelson t-shirt back sure, but that’s it. He’s not looking for anything else except to move on.
Speaking of songs that shy away from the small town theme, “Fishing Alone” is easily the album highlight as we watch the male narrator express his regret at not spending anytime with his grandfather before he passed away, You always think you have time but you don’t. From my understanding, this was actually inspired by Erik’s grandfather, and as someone who’s lived the sentiment of this song, it really got to me. Again, there’s some damn good songwriting here, and I enjoy the spacier textures of this song.
If I were to nitpick with this album, I’d say that the album suffers from a real lack of diverse subject matter. Don’t get me wrong, I stated that Erik was a sharp writer for a reason. With that being said, there’s no bad songs on this album, but at the same time, a song like “The Good Life” just doesn’t feel all that essential to the project, and I wasn’t really a fan of the vocal flow during the verses of “Your Way Down”.
But overall, Heart of A Flatland Boy is a damn good album. I know I’ve said this quite a few times throughout this review, but Erik truly is a great songwriter. There’s a lot of detail and nuance to these tracks, and the production is solid all throughout. You may only know Erik as the man behind songs for other artists at this point, but if he keeps pumping out albums like this then I’m sure you’ll eventually know him as much more.