May 5th just wasn’t a good day to release an album if you ask me. Sure, it was good for artists like Chris Stapleton and John Moreland, but for the other artists out there? You had a hell of a competition to grab everyone else’s attention.
And that’s a shame, because those two aforementioned artists weren’t the only artists worth keeping your eye on. I’ve been hyping Tony Jackson’s album ever since the announcement of its release, and I thought it would be truly be something special when I heard him do a wonderful cover of George Jones’ “The Grand Tour”. However, I’m honestly struggling to call this a good record, and in truth, I’m heavily disappointed as a whole with this release.
Before we get into why that is, let’s at least highlight the good first. For starters, while some of these vocal melodies are rather poor, Tony Jackson himself is an excellent singer (with a hint of Randy Travis in his voice) who’s able to convey a ton of emotional nuance when needed, and that’s evident most in the covers of “The Grand Tour” as well as Conway Twitty’s “It’s Only Make Believe”. You can tell Tony’s heart is in the right place, and when he’s signing the songs that influenced who he is as an artist, he’s spot on.
It’s just a shame that so many of these songs choose to incorporate production techniques from some songs you’d hear on the radio even today. Now, when I say that I don’t mean to come at this from the perspective of a purist telling you to get off his lawn. When I say “modern”, I mean that instead of any real grit or even smooth flourishes (think Sam Outlaw), we often get very watered down guitar lines or just uninteresting melodies all around. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a songs like “Go”, “I Didn’t Wake Up This Morning”, “Last Call”, or “She’s Taking Me Home”, there’s just absolutely nothing that stands out about them, taking worn out themes and doing nothing to put a new spin on them or add any sort of interesting twist. Even Tony himself sounds bored on these tracks.
“Nashville Cats” is fine on paper, but the vocal flow during the verses just isn’t all that good, and while I wouldn’t call any of these songs outright bad necessarily, I would say that “They Lived It Up” is the worst of the bunch. There’s good intentions with this song as Tony tries to explain how legends like Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash and others “lived it up” so they could write down their lives into their songs, but it’s just so awkward when essentially all of these artists never intended to “live it up” so much as just face demons in their lives (which I’m sure they would have been happier without). Yes, their lives did make for a ton of interesting songs, but it’s just such a bad turn of phrase for me.
Now, I did say there was some good to be found on this album, and while some of these songs suffer from the same problems as the aforementioned songs, they at least have something to make them stand out. “Drink By Drink” is nothing more than a fun drinking song at its core, but there’s some real punch to the guitars, and it’s a time where Tony himself sounds like he’s having fun. There’s actually a pulse to this, and for that it makes for a damn good time.
“Old Porch Swing” does a nice enough job of capturing the narrator’s evolution as a person, and the instrumentation on this one is warm and comforting, making for a heartfelt song that seemingly comes from a personal place for Tony. Additionally, while “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind?” is a tad dry melodically, there’s also warm production here, and the way that fiddle slowly creeps its way into the beginning is a nice touch, and again, it’s a good vocal showcase for Tony.
I’m not sure there’s enough missteps to truly call this bad, but as a whole it’s just very safe and boring, not really bringing out Tony’s full potential in my opinion. That’s the thing too, I think Tony Jackson is extremely talented, and I want to see him succeed, but most of this album is just playing things too safe to really elevate him to that next level, and as a fan, that’s sad to see. Still, there’s a lot of good moments to be found here with the covers as well as “Drink by Drink” and “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind?”, so as a whole, I’m feeling a light 6/10 for this project.
Best Songs: “Drink By Drink”, “The Grand Tour”, “It’s Only Make Believe”, “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind?”
Worst Song: “They Lived It Up”