Despite making notable efforts to diversify their style, Whiskey Myers still "love it deep down in the South" on Mud.
It’s always interesting to watch a band’s first moves immediately after coming up with a commercially successful record. As listeners, we’re rife with questions in anticipating the follow-up: will it manage to equal, or top, its beloved predecessor? Will it see the band slip into habit, having already won the hearts of fans? Or will it disappoint, leaving listeners to ponder what went wrong? I would venture that rootin’ tootin’ full-blown Southern gentlemen, Whiskey Myers, have set an exemplar of how to produce an immaculate follow-up release with their fourth album, Mud.
Whiskey Myers first began to make waves with their debut album, Road of Life, back in 2008; however, even the most loyal of fans would probably agree that things didn’t really start kicking off until 2011’s Firewater. This second record saw Whiskey Myers produce introspective country rock ballads to rival Ryan Adams or The Dixie Chicks, winning the hearts of the Texas faithful in the process. Many would argue, however, that it wasn’t until their third record, 2014’s Early Morning Shakes, that we really saw what this band of Texan countrymen could do.
It would have been easy, then, for Whiskey Myers to run with the same formula as they did on Early Morning Shakes when crafting their follow-up release. But, in keeping with the hard-working, honest ideals that endear us to the Southern gentleman, Whiskey Myers have certainly tried to do things the right way, rather than the easy way, on Mud; they’ve picked up two extra band members to fill out their sound and have dabbled convincingly in new genre stylings. Admittedly, Mud is perhaps more in the style of Early Morning Shakes than of the band’s first two records, but by the same token, it’s hardly a carbon copy of any of the group’s previous work.
The opening portion of the album stakes this claim, as we go from an up-tempo country hoedown with “On The River” to gritty hard rock on “Mud”. We even see old-style R&B influences being mixed in on “Lightning Bugs and Rain”. All of this occurs in the space of three tracks. On each occasion, Whiskey Myers produce music that, for all its diversity of stylistic influences, is still rooted in the country songwriting tradition. The lyrics are still rife with that country moxie that we’ve come to know and love, and the band’s vocal melodies are still reminiscent of their previous work. In short, Whiskey Myers masterfully strike that difficult balance between delivering on familiar ideals and also exploring uncharted territory.
We need look no further than the band’s lyrics to see that this is still the Whiskey Myers we’ve come to love. Singer Cody Cannon name-checks the group’s first album on “Hank” and references their hometown of Palestine, Texas on “Trailer We Call Home”. The band go as far to declare that they love it “Deep Down in the South” on the song of the same name. We see lyrics that still tell of hard times and glory in small-town America, but they occur in the context of music that is coloured by stylistic exploration. This is a band who will never forget where they have come from, but are not content to run be tied down to a formula.
Fans of 2011's Firewater may be disappointed to learn that the acoustic ballads that characterised that record are largely absent from Mud. There are still profoundly effecting country ballads on the band’s newest release, but they don’t seem to follow the same precedent as the group’s previous efforts. “Stone”, for instance, is lumbering and emotional, but it comes with vaguely jazzy piano work and brushed hi-hats.
On the whole, Mud is an album that feels like it could accompany both a road trip away from the south or an emotional trip back. It’s a statement of willingness to change, but also of recognising the power of the past and of home. It’s also a clear affirmation of Whiskey Myers’ place amongst the pre-eminent country acts of the millennial generation.