It really is an exciting time to be a country music fan isn’t it? Sure, 2016 has been loaded with unnecessary troubles, but if anything, country music has only gotten stronger, both in the mainstream and independent realms. While I’d rather talk about the overall jump in quality that’s transpired lately, I’d be a fool not to mention the resurgence of traditional country music, not only for fans but also for artists as well.
Now, you can say that someone like Alabama native Shane Owens is a little late to jump on the bandwagon of preaching about how much he loves real country music, but the truth is, the man’s always been fighting the fight. As of right now, Shane Owens has lost three record deals over the past decade, yet he still hasn’t given up the fight. Radio won’t play him, but he didn’t let that stop him from finally pulling together his debut album. Like I said, it’s an exciting time to be a country music fan, and an artist like Shane Owens is greatly appreciated in this day and age, especially when it looks like he may have a chance to make it.
Sadly enough though, at this point in time, it’s not enough to be “country”, and unfortunately when I listen to Shane Owens’ debut album, Where I’m Comin’ From, I’m not sure I really understand who Shane is. I know what type of music he’d prefer to make, sure, but I’m not getting a sense of who Shane Owens is as an artist or what distinguishes him from other traditional up-risers like Cody Jinks, Whitey Morgan, or even Cody Johnson. In other words, while I think Shane has talent and potential, there are definitely a lot of moments on this album that could have been so much more.
I’ll also say that I like the foundation for this album. It’s essentially a 90’s country album that incorporates plenty of fiddle, steel guitar, and mandolin to quench any country fan’s thirst. Heck, if you want to continue on with our talk of 90’s country, even some of the melodies and production choices sound reminiscent of the era such as “Country Boy Can” and “Alcohol Of Fame”. I do wish that they had taken a little more chances in the production here though. Like I said, I’m a sucker for this era of country music, so it really doesn’t bother me a ton, but still, we’re getting so many traditional country albums in the vein of throwbacks, and while I get that it’s called “traditional” for a reason, I also think there’s a way to blend the modern with the old. Heck, how else did we ever get “neo-traditional”? Again, it’s a minor gripe, and as I stated before, I’m a fan of this type of 90’s country sound, so it’s definitely my favorite part of the album.
However, the elements of this album that really need smoothed out are the lyrics and themes. Honestly, they’re what is keeping me from enjoying this album more than I want to, and unfortunately the other elements aren’t doing enough to compensate for the weak writing either. Like I said, I’m not getting a sense of who Shane is as an artist, and while a large part of that is reflected in the sound, it’s even more reflected here. The problem I’ve had with some of these traditional country albums this year has been in this area, and really, it’s frustrating explaining the problems once more. Many of these songs are operating on the basis of “checklist” territory such as the title track instead of telling an actual story to drive the point home. On a song like “Country Boy Can”, there isn’t even a point so much as a generic love song about how country he is. To be fair, this has got a nice melody to it, and the atmosphere is more sweet than in your face, but still, these types of songs never do much for me. The same can be said for “Country Never Goes Out Of Style”, a song that talks about how the country lifestyle will never go out of style. Look, I’m not going to say this is a bad song so much as that it just doesn’t do much for me on a personal level. I hoped that we would get some defiant message about how country music will never actually die and how it will always come back to its roots, in turn twisting the average protest song from angry to calm. Instead, we don’t get, and while I don’t want to grill the song too hard for not doing this, I will say I left disappointed.
Even when the songs are going for something a little bit more, they sometimes leave me confused. “Alcohol Of Fame” is very much playing in the same vein as Billy Currington’s 2010 hit, “Pretty Good At Drinkin’ Beer”, centering around how all this guy is good for is drinking. To be fair, the lyrics are playing it off as a cheesy comedic song, and hell, if you’re going to adopt a 90’s sound, might as well adopt some of the cornball lyrical humor as well. I’m all for it. The problem is that it’s being played as this serious ballad that leaves you wondering if you should be laughing or actually feeling sad that all this dude is good for is drinking himself to death. It’s a mixed signal here.
The other mixed signal comes courtesy of “Nashville You Ain’t Hollywood”, a song that yes, is the billionth protest song out there by now. To be fair, Shane has stated that some of these songs were from his second record label that he was on back in 2009 (my research couldn’t bring me the name unfortunately). So if anything, if he was on board with this all even then, hats off to you sir. However, in 2016, especially now, protest songs just feel unnecessary, almost being as cliché as the cliches they’re criticizing.
Now, that’s not to say this album is without its share of good songs. Despite me feeling that it goes a little overboard in the emotions and lyrics at times, the heart of a song like the solider oriented “19” is certainly a highlight, as is the John Anderson duet of one of Anderson’s key songs, “Chicken Truck”. Despite my overall criticism of the lyrics being predictable at times on this album, I will say I enjoyed how the framing of a song like “All The Beer In Alabama” played out. Here, we have a man who comes home late only to immediately catch hell from his wife for sneaking around on her with another female when in reality, he was just hanging out with his buddies at the bar. It even hurts him that his wife would believe he’d actually cheat on her, for even a second. If anything, it may seem a little immature to try and turn the tables of who’s really at fault here, but even with that being said, there’s something so relatable in the way he’s hurt and confused by the accusation, especially when he doesn’t get the chance to tell his story.
Of course, the best song on this album is hands down “God and the Ground She Walked On” for incorporating some really heavenly fiddle play against a really well mixed organ. Again, like “Beer In Alabama”, there’s a willingness to dig a little deeper for a point, and the point comes across as we witness a man get dragged to church every Sunday by his wife despite him clearly not wanting to be there. When she passes on, he continues to go to church if only to be able to feel her presence, and that’s a powerful sentiment that’s brought out even more by Shane’s vocal delivery here. Again, damn great song that shows what Shane can do with a well written song.
We don’t really get that elsewhere though, and that’s the unfortunate part. You see, I don’t want to sound like I’m “hating” on this album because after all, I criticize because I care. I like Shane, and I think he’s got a lot of talent. Heck, he’s waited long enough to release this album, and congratulations are in order for finally getting it out there. That doesn’t change the fact that there’s work to be done down the road however. Shane’s a decent singer, and he’s got a good foundation for his sound, now if he could push not only that, but also his writing into a territory that’s a little more distinctive, he could really be something. For now though, this is decent, but that’s the extent of it.
Standouts: “God and the Ground She Walked On”, “All The Beer In Alabama”, “19”
Worst Tracks: “Country Boy Can”, “Where I’m Comin’ From”