After a few years of consistently low-quality country music, we are finally seeing a resurgence reflecting the genre’s golden age, complete with steel guitars and gritty lyrics. Midland’s music is reminiscent of Chris Stapleton’s, but is easily inspired by all-time classics like Willie Nelson and Alabama. The group saw tremendous success with its debut On the Rocks, gaining impressive airtime through crude, clever singles, such as “Drinkin’ Problem” and “Burn Out.” Midland’s latest release, Let It Roll, somehow retains the group’s down-home integrity while broadening its horizons with new sounds and brilliant lyrics.
Thanks to Midland’s partnership with production powerhouses Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne (as well as Dann Huff), Let It Roll flows from one song to the next in the way only traditional country can. Long instrumental outros are dominated by twangy guitars and dobros, extending the lengths of tracks. While the album is front-heavy, in terms of its higher-profile songs, the end is filled with more diverse, surprising tracks that don’t fit Midland’s overall aesthetic at all. And somehow, the band pulls it off better than anyone in the industry could in 2019.
The trio has a reputation of singing about nothing but alcohol, drugs, and lots of cigarettes. And while Let It Roll does not disappoint on that front, it also reveals another side of Midland—one that falls in love, gets hurt, and has plenty of, or maybe too much, fun. The album might be rough around the edges, but songs like “Put That Hurt On Me” showcase a different kind of emotion. Lines such as “Kill me softly with your kiss / If I go I want to go like this” reveal a version of Midland previously unbeknownst to listeners. “Lost In the Night” has a particularly romantic quality and is sung by Cameron Duddy, rather than the group’s lead singer Mark Wystrach. These two love songs are enough to balance out the rest of the album, which exudes a very different message.
One of Midland’s best attributes is its relentlessly gritty, cowboy image. Its songs take you to places you only see in movies, painting images that exist all over this country, but definitely not in Boston. “Mr. Lonely” quickly became a radio hit because of its catchy guitar and upbeat rhythm and describes a place both thrilling and unnerving, filled with “debutantes and socialites and mamas from the PTA.”
Even within these dizzying, fun songs, Midland stays realistic and revealing throughout the record. In “Mr. Lonely,” Wystrach acknowledges his social status when he sings “I ain’t Mr. Right, I’m Mr. Right-now.” Later on, comes “Cheatin’ By The Rules,” which starts off with a rare piano intro accompanied by a harmonica. The song is an absolute standout, replete with funny lyrics that are both clever and understandable (but hopefully not relatable). Lines like “Pay cash for all our drinks / We don’t need those receipts / Following us home” exhibit an amount of detail not usually included in modern country music.
Most divulging of all, however, is “Playboys,” a song that is a bit darker than one might expect. Upon first listen, the song is clever and upbeat, but the lyrics showcase the reality of Midland’s life on the road. Verses are dusty and dark, with lines like “A hundred miles outside of Houston / Third name on the marquee sign / But out here you get used to losing / Your friends, your lovers, and your mind.”
More content that is typical for Midland is scattered throughout the album—one of the best aspects of Let It Roll is that it stays true to the group’s identity. It builds upon the foundation the band created with On the Rocks. Every song is an upgrade from the last—“Every Song’s A Drinkin’ Song” is reminiscent of the band’s 2017 hit “Drinkin’ Problem,” but is just different enough to be considered an upgrade. The track is especially twangy (a non-country fan’s nightmare), and allows for lines like, “You don’t have to wait on Cline / If you just want more wine” to be riddled throughout. Having said this, it’s important to mention that there is no way this song was written sober, and it shows.
Let It Roll may be rugged and rowdy, but it is easily the highest-quality country album since Kacey Musgraves’ award-winning Golden Hour. It’s completely unpolished, and that’s what country music needs. The musical and songwriting talent encompassed within the group, paired with the never-failing production by McAnally and Osborne, allows the dark, rough record to shine. Let It Roll is a living testament to the fact that traditional country music—bootcut jeans, cowboy hats and all—will never go out of style.
Featured Image by Big Machine Records