Have you ever had that feeling where you feel like you SHOULD like an artist that otherwise doesn’t grab your attention all that much? I was kind of that way with Sam Outlaw’s debut album Angeleno back in 2015. I respected him as a songwriter (he does have a knack for compelling lyricism and great hooks), but his overall sound really failed to hold my attention for the duration of the album.
As such, when I heard that he was releasing a new album called Tenderheart this year, I wanted to give the guy another chance. After all, I absolutely loved “Ghost Town” from his last album, and again, the guy is a great writer. In addition, I wanted there to be more talk about Sam’s music rather than the origins of his name or any asanine bullcrap such as that.
Now I’ll be completely honest, I’ve given Tenderheart a LOT of listens (probably in the double digits at this point), and it’s a little frustrating delivering my thoughts if I’m being honest. I didn’t just want to run away from a challenge though, so here I am. I will say that if you were a fan of his debut album, you’ll most likely love this, and I’ve seen that sentiment echoed from other people as well. For me though, well, I do think it’s more consistent than Angeleno as a whole, but at the same time it’s not grabbing me all that much.
The big reason for that is his sound. Look, I don’t want to say the more polished, smoother tones aren’t for me because they usually are. Heck, I went on a Glen Campbell listening marathon the other week, and as a whole there are times where I vastly prefer that sound to the more rough edged honky-tonk sound. Variety is the spice of life after all. With this album though, it almost feels a little too polished, as if certain songs could have added more to the production in order to give them more of a flavor. Granted, part of that could be a mixing problem. The horns in the opener “Everybody’s Looking For Home” seem almost a tad too quiet (just one example).
It’s what makes certain songs like “Bottomless Mimosas” or “Trouble” standout. The former is a great philosophical rambling (you know how much I like those) that features some very tasteful acoustic playing alongside some very soft horns during the bridge. The latter song is just a fun upbeat song that is one of the few on here with a pulse. I especially loved the guitar riff that surfaces towards the middle of the track.
And here’s the thing, a lot of these songs are great on their own, and there are many good moments here, but in terms of an album experience, the lack of diversity in terms of the tempo and atmosphere can really start to make the album feel like it runs together after awhile. “Trouble” is a great break from it all, and I wish we had more of those moments.
Now, I did say that Sam is a great songwriter, and that sentiment is only more true on this album. As I said, “Bottomless Mimosas” and “Everybody’s Looking For Home” are great songs that deal with finding one itself and questioning life. Hell, I love that kind of stuff. “Bougainvillea” is also a touching homage to a dear friend of Sam’s. I also really enjoyed the clever take on finding love on the story song “Two Broken Hearts” as well as the waltz oriented “Diamond Ring”.
There are also moments that I wish could have been better in this area as well though. Outside of the hook, “She’s Playing Hard (To Get Rid Of)” feels a tad too lacking in the production and writing to take more advantage of that title, and as a whole the latter half of the album doesn’t compare to the much superior first half in all areas. “All My Life” is a little too cute to work for me, and I wasn’t much of a fan of the live feel of the album closer “Look At You Now”.
As a whole, Tenderheart really feels like an album that I’d like to enjoy more. However, in the spirit of honesty, I can’t say that I do, and I think the issues are front and center with this album. There still is potential in his writing, but hopefully more can be added to this more smoothed out sound on future works.
OVERALL ASSESSMENT (Yep, replacing number grades again) – It’s decent, and if I had to give a number grade I’d say 6/10, but again, probably not an album that will stick with me until the end of the year.