It’s always been my thought that reviewing “bad” independent country or Americana acts is a waste of time. After all, who cares anyway right? Well, I’ve revised that, and there really isn’t a better example to start that with than the latest album from the Country Side of Harmonica Sam titled A Drink After Midnight.
My reasoning extends towards this – I don’t like it, sure, but I have a feeling a lot of you will love this, and that’s fine. We’re all made to like and dislike certain things. After all, it’s straight up honky-tonk music from the 50’s of country music, this will be right up some peoples’ alleys.
And again, that’s fine. But it’s not for me. I don’t even really want to say it’s not for me, because I like retro styled music (as evidenced by artists such as Luke Bell and Margo Price). But this album is too one-dimensional as a whole for me to call good, and when I say that I’m unfortunately not solely talking about just one area here.
For starters, I’m not a huge fan of the lead singer Harmonica Sam’s vocals, and yeah, I get that he’s trying to emulate other vocalists of this time period such as Webb Pierce and Hank Williams, but I just don’t find him to be a good singer. There’s times he tries to hit some high notes, and they often don’t work well such as on “Empty Hours”. Moreover, as a singer he’s a little bland in terms of conveying any sort of emotion. I don’t really feel anything from these songs.
But that also extends towards the writing as well. Many of these songs are about the same thing – love lost. There are albums that can pull this thematic arc off well, but again, Sam isn’t an engaging vocalist, and many of these songs are wrapped around uninteresting hooks or ideas that don’t really evolve the way I hoped they would. The hook for “Unjust Friends” is corny as all hell for example, and there’s absolutely nothing that sets apart tracks like “Empty Hours”, “Even At My Best”, “Blues Are Settin’ In”, or “Tears Don’t Stain”. The last track speaks to how many details are missing from these songs. We get that wearing this suit makes this guy long for his long lost lover, and we get that there are memories attached, but we don’t get a glimpse into what those memories are. It’s all just very basic.
Granted, when I reference those tracks, it’s more than just the writing which is bland. This album is also very one dimensional on a compositional level as well, with many of these tracks seemingly running together as a whole. Granted, you get some tasty pedal steel along the way, but that’s about all you get. There’s nothing to separate these tracks otherwise. “Country Girl” at least features some nice fiddle, but the lyrics on this track are too atrocious for me to forgive it. The amount of smug arrogance the narrator portrays on this track as he tries to keep his former lover from living out her dreams and doing what she wants isn’t a flattering look. I feel no pity for you, sir.
Granted, there are tracks that deviate away from the norm a little bit. The title track is the outlier of a track that features a good melody, and “Big City” at least tries to incorporate a story into it, even if it’s the exact same one we get on “Country Girl”. “Lookout Heart” is a little cutesy for me to call great (as is “I Will”), but it’s at least pretty catchy and fun as a whole.
Again, as a whole I feel that many of you will end loving this for the sound it captures, and that’s perfectly fine. If the exposure of Harmonica Sam’s music to you makes your entire day, I’m happy to help. But I do think there’s a ton of room for improvement here, and while I wouldn’t quite say this is bad enough for me to give it a thorough thrashing, it’s incredibly bland if I’m being honest, even if there are a few fine moments. For me, it’s a light to decent 5/10.
Best Tracks: “A Drink After Midnight”, “Big City”
Worst Tracks: “Country Girl”, “Unjust Friends”