Album Review – AJ Hobbs’ ‘Too Much Is Never Enough’

aj-hobbs-cover

It’s always fun starting one of these pieces without a lot to say in the introduction (and a little awkward). Really though, other than telling you that AJ Hobbs hails from California, deems himself a “soulful outlaw” and has released his debut album, Too Much Is Never Enough, that’s really all you need to know.

Now, I’ve seen this album get a lot of praise from other bloggers for fusing together an “outlaw country” sound with a more livelier soul feel (in other words, lots of horns), and that is what you’ll get, but in all honesty I’m a little more lukewarm on the project.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this album, but as I noted in my recent Jason Isbell piece, a lack of bad doesn’t equate to an abundance of good. Really, it’s a debut album, so I think a lot of the problems I’ll discuss today can all be boiled down to that. Still, I think there’s a great potential in AJ, and I want to see it be brought out more throughout his career.

I usually would rather start with what I liked about a particular project before discussing what I didn’t, especially in cases like this. However, there are a couple more points we need to address. To start with, you can tell this album is going more for that type of fun, soulful vibe throughout. While that’s fine in principle, I’m not sure it suits AJ’s style. Songs such as the title track, “Shit Just Got Real” (which really is too corny for it’s own good) and “Are You Going To Tennessee” all fit into these categories, and yet AJ’s rougher, more serious tone don’t really add that type of levity the songs need. Conversely the spot where it does work is the song, “Daddy Loved The Lord” which speaks of how (presumably) either his or the narrator’s father ruined the family with his love for more a dangerous lifestyle. As you can tell, that makes for a weird tonal balance, and while that particular story isn’t mine to tell, speaking as a fan it just is a little jarring.

My other main criticism comes in the form of the writing. Now, we’ll get to specifics later, but in terms of the big picture here – the themes of this album, there’s nothing really here that’s grabbing me right away. It’s already a little retro in nature given the production choices, but it also is in terms of the themes. You have your songs which talk about hard living or drinking (or both) such as the title track, “Life Without You”, and “The Loser”. You also have the nod to heroes and legends in the Merle Haggard cover of “The Bottle Let Me Down” as well as, surprise surprise, “Waylon & Merle”. Again, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially when many of these songs are enjoyable. It’s just hard to really tell who AJ Hobbs is overall. I get the music he likes, but aside from “Daddy Loved The Lord” I’m not entirely sure of who AJ is.

To branch off into the areas of this album I did like, I will say that AJ Hobbs is a good singer from a technical standpoint with a lot of grit and heartfelt sincerity anchoring his sound. Ironically enough he’s able to pull of the one type of song that I never really care all that much for – the sweeter love songs. Between his delivery on “A Little Bit Of You and Me” backed by the soft acoustics, pedal steel and fiddle, it really feels like a relaxing and nice moment on this album (might even be my favorite song here).

That leads us to another point, because while I still think he could broaden his horizons in terms of his thematic content, I would still say AJ is a great writer in terms of the details within the songs, especially when it comes to the hooks on the album.

“Eastside” is an example where AJ really shines with his songwriting, detailing a unique story of an actress struggling to make it in the business while the narrator plays her rock, someone who she can lean to get back up and make her dreams come true. Again, it’s that sweeter atmosphere that AJ surprisingly pulls off well. I also enjoyed the final song “Tomorrow I’ll Be Hurtin’” for taking the theme of life on the road and really hammering down on it with better details and how it personally affects him within. Even considering the title track is a little broadly sketched, the hook of “one is too much, and too much is never enough” is a killer hook.

So overall, I wouldn’t say this is a great debut album, and to call it really good is also a strecth, but again, there’s potential here. To be fair, for as unfocused as this album can feel at times between the more straightforward country tracks, horn section, fun songs and serious songs, AJ is able to bring it together somehow. At thirteen tracks, it does run a little long, especially when some songs such as the Merle Haggard cover and “Shit Just Got Real” really didn’t need to be here. As a whole though, there’s a lot to be fascinated by here, and while this didn’t blow me away, I’m looking forward to seeing what AJ does in the future.

(6/10)


7 thoughts on “Album Review – AJ Hobbs’ ‘Too Much Is Never Enough’

  1. with a more livelier soul feel (in other words, lots of horns)

    I’m not hearing lots of horns. In fact, other than the Merle cover, I don’t recall any horns. The instrumentation is traditional country throughout: pedal steel, fiddle, and telecaster. Merle used horns on occasion, as did other stalwarts in country history, but I wouldn’t say it adds a soul element in the way that, for example, Sturgill clearly did with his latest album. Anyway, that’s a discussion for another time and not important for evaluating this album.

    I’m new to your blog, so I’m not yet sure about your overall inclinations. It seems that you are probably a little younger than me (I’m in my early 30’s) and thus grew-up on 90’s/00’s country. (Correct me if I’m wrong!) I did too, but I’ve been heavily steeped in late 60’s / 70’s country for several years now, and that’s how I approach this album. So, speaking as someone who adores 70’s country music, I love this album. It’s already become one of my favorite albums of the year, easily in my top two or three. And I enjoy it more and more with each listen. AJ brilliantly captures the spirit of 70’s country. It’s got the fun, rockabilly honky tonk vibe alongside the more somber moments, and you can see this aesthetic in his hilarious “official infomercial” on YouTube. This is great honky tonk music, and I would put it alongside Gary Stewart, Johnny Paycheck, and Waylon Jennings, especially as a debut offering. Whitey Morgan is currently the best honky tonker on the road, and AJ would make a great touring companion.

    As for the individual songs, I don’t have the time to do a breakdown, but I’ll just say that I love “Daddy Loved the Lord” and “Shit Just Got Real.” At the very least, the instrumentation in both songs, as with the whole album, is excellent. I’m glad you highlighted “Eastside,” which is indeed a fine piece of songwriting and has a nice Southern rock feel, like one The Allman Brothers’ softer songs.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Alright “lots of horns” is definitely an overstatement on my part, and actually the whole “soul” element is only prevalent in the middle of the album really, but that’s fine. My main criticisms had nothing to do with it anyway. As you said, there aren’t a ton of songs that lean that way anyway.

      You’re not wrong in your assumption either – I am currently 19 years old (I’ll edit this comment later for privacy purposes, but it’s alright for now). To be honest, I didn’t care about music at all until 2010, and I didn’t even get into the independent side of things until about mid-2014 thanks to blogs like SCM and Country Perspective. I honestly don’t really have any inclinations if I’m being honest. I like what I like, haha. I am a fan of 70’s country though (and really the traditional side as a whole, although I’m also more open to the mainstream than others). That’s why I’ll admit to my review of Josh Turner’s last album being somewhat biased (skewed, really….I’d probably downgrade that to a 5 or 5.5 now) since he was one of the first artists I listened to when I got into country.

      Like I said, the main thing I didn’t care for on this album (which doesn’t equate to not liking it necessarily) is that his more serious vocal tone doesn’t always make the fun songs standout as much (alongside other things I mentioned). I do like the sound a lot, and that’s probably the album’s biggest asset IMO.

      That said, I respect where you’re coming from in regards to your stance on this album, and I thank you for sharing them as well! I might be the one tying the review on a blog, but it doesn’t make me any better than anyone else. My opinion is simply just what I thought of it. It’s not right or wrong, it’s just my thoughts. Most of the time the more insightful analysis (like yours) shines through in the comments rather than my posts anyway.

      I’ll have to check out those infomercials. I’ve heard great things about them but have never had the time to check them out!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yep, we’re just trading opinions. Wow, you’re barely even a millennial! I’m a millennial too but on the older end of the spectrum. I think you’re off to a good start with music criticism/evaluation, but it will obviously take some time for you to gain the experience and exposure to the wide sweep of country music history. That’s true for me as well. I grew-up with country music as part of the environment here in the South, but I didn’t start taking it seriously until about ten or so years ago. In college, I started buying Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings albums, in mostly chronological order, and then I went methodically backwards to Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams and forwards to George Strait, John Anderson, Dwight Yoakam, etc. I’m sure that you’ve already started to do some of this, and I encourage you to keep with it! It’s a great experience, and it has allowed me to appreciate the best of the current generation, like Cody Jinks, Whitey Morgan, and, of course, Chris Stapleton…alongside far too many women who should be superstars, like Whitney Rose and Margo Price.

        “…his more serious vocal tone doesn’t always make the fun songs standout as much….” That’s a good observation, and that’s why “Daddy Loved the Lord” is his sweet spot. He certainly doesn’t have the emotional range of Waylon Jennings, even though Waylon also had a limited vocal range. Waylon was brilliant with what he had.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yeah, an exposure to the genre’s history is my Achille’s heel so to say. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve heard a lot of albums/songs from all of the greats like Hank, Merle, Cash, Waylon, Dwight (who is probably my favorite artist at this point)….etc, but in terms of really digging into EVERYTHING? Yeah, I definitely have some work to do.

        I’m kind of a nut for keeping up with all of the current releases and trying to discover any buried treasures that come my way (one of the reasons I created a blog in the first place), but the drawback is that I don’t leave enough time to explore the classics. I keep saying someday, but then again I say that about a lot of things, haha. My co-writer Andy is definitely more knowledgable than I.

        Thanks for the kind words as well. Again, I also appreciate your insight!

        Liked by 2 people

    2. I’m a good bit older, so I do think something like his “80’s infomercial” might connect more with someone my age than it might with someone much younger. I just think it’s cool that we’re discussing artists like AJ Hobbs who aren’t on the radio.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I already shared my thoughts a little when Bri reviewed it, but I quite like it. I do agree that the problems with it stem from it being a debut, and I think he can only get better. But I like the sound of this album a lot, and I actually got into the fun songs more, with the exception of “Daddy Loved the Lord.” I think the soul part comes with the horns but more so with the backup singers. They add something to make it more than an outlaw country or honkytonk record, in my opinion. I liked the focus on music, the instrumental solos, like the piano in “Daddy Loved the Lord.” I think he shows a lot of potential, probably a 7 to 8 if I reviewed it. “Are you Going to Tennessee,” “Shit Just Got Real,” and the duet were really underwhelming to me, and “Waylon and Merle” was a little forgettable, but I don’t have a thing to complain about with the rest of it, and I especially loved this take on “The Bottle Let me down.” solid, fun album.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yeah, I mean I knew some would disagree with my take and that’s perfectly fine of course! I respect where you and Kevin come from in your assessments. I agree with them, I just wish I personally liked the album more than I honestly do (another reason I wrote this review – I have to start being more honest with my true thoughts). Like I said, I do like this overall, and again it is a debut album (also, I like AJ’s style as a whole). I’ll be looking forward to more!

      Liked by 1 person

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