Review: Sam Outlaw’s ‘Tenderheart’

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.

Buy the album!

6 thoughts on “Review: Sam Outlaw’s ‘Tenderheart’

  1. Yes, one’s assessment of Angeleno is going to pretty well match their assessment of Tenderheart. I love Angeleno, and so I also love Tenderheart. But it is more like Angeleno part 2. I don’t mind another album in the mold of Angeleno, but he will need to expand his sound more in his third album. Thus, I actually agree with your criticisms in large part. Critics have been praising this album just as they did the debut album, but the praise has been a bit more muted. Angeleno was fresh and exciting, whereas Tenderheart is more of something we’ve already experienced. He’s got to use his enormous talent to, like I said, expand his sound, incorporate some new elements, add some variety, team-up with some different artists, etc.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, I saw you comment on Saving Country Music’s review talking to that one guy and telling him how the material may just not be his thing. I thought about that honestly, and you’re right – if you are into his style, you’ll definitely love it. I still wanted to talk about this just because I do like Sam and I do want to see him grow. I think the criticism surrounding his name is completely asinine, and moreover, he seems like a genuinely nice guy. And hey, all press is good press right? It’s cool that we can disagree on certain things and still come together on other things as well. In the end, again, just my thoughts, I like hearing what others have to say even more.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, I knew we would be apart on this one. But hey, nothing wrong with that man! How else would people know that Country Music Minds is Country Music Minds and Critically Country is Critically Country? 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Yep, we’re a little apart on it too. I like Angeleno, so I like this. But it’s not quite as good as angeleno. And you’re exactly right about the back half, it runs together. The thing is, I feel like this works more as an album, where on angeleno you could say, “Hey, go listen to Ghost Town by Sam outlaw,” and people would be hooked. I’m not sure there’s a song here that hooks you like that, but if you’re into the style, you hear four or five songs, and you’re sold. And that’s what I think holds it back from being as strong as Angeleno. I think it’s cool that you and Alex and I all feel a little differently because I actually think that’s what Sam’s strength is; he’s developed a sound so unique this early in his career that people already love or hate it. Sometimes it’s hard for an artist to find that in a debut, or if they do, they might struggle with a sophomore slump. Not saying you hate it at all, but I think you get what I mean 🙂 I like and respect that he’s being Sam. It also helps that I happen to like Sam, but if I didn’t as much, I’d still respect him for sticking so well to this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I should acknowledge that I do like Sam overall, and I do want to see him succeed because he is unique. His style as of right now isn’t completely for me outside of a few songs but I still wanted to talk about him. All press is good press right?

      Liked by 1 person

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