After the release of their 2014 critically acclaimed album Early Morning Shakes, the expectations were remarkably high for Whiskey Myers. Hailed as the latest in a string of country-music classicists, the five-piece from Palestine, Texas certainly don’t disappoint with Mud, the followup to Shakes that will almost undoubtedly propel these hard-rocking country boys into broader national recognition.
It is worth noting that Whiskey Myers is a band that has, in the past, been pretty damn hit or miss for me. The band’s most notable song, “Ballad of a Southern Man,” with its references to family heirloom guns and Skynyrd and moonshine is a sort of alt-country companion to the grocery list of Southern tropes that pepper music from country entertainers (note: not artists) that are decidedly less authentic than an act like Whiskey Myers. It also doesn’t help that this track offers a tacit endorsement of flying the “Southern flag,” a.k.a. the battle flag of the Confederacy, otherwise known as the most common visual representation of Southern racism.
But Mud is a much more lyrically sophisticated follow-up for Whiskey Myers, one that is a testament to how much they’ve grown as musicians and songwriters. Lead singer Cody Cannon’s country-fried voice has grown steelier, his lyrics more sophisticated and vivid. And production from “musical genius” Dave Cobb adds a much-needed dose of aesthetic polish to the twangy, Skynyrd-influenced take on Texas Country.
“On the River” provides a unique entry point to an album that almost defies a genre-based description. The track kicks off with these gorgeous, nearly haunting Celtic rhythms that give way to a heavy chorus with a catchy, toe-tapping thumper of a beat. The result is this seamless blend of all styles from which Americana and country and Southern rock all find their genesis. Toward the end, the tempo intensifies, the guitars get harder; by the end, you’re ready to tear shit up. It’s a pretty damn remarkable journey for a three and a half minute song.
And then you lurch right into the album’s title track, a working man’s ballad that does an incredible job of conveying the struggles of small-town farmers who “owe the bankerman” to the point of plotting his demise, and are worried about the creek rising too high. This is the song that “Ballad Of A Southern Man” really should have been, weaving salient commentary on the state of the rural middle class, family history, and some pretty incredible scene-setting.
A couple tracks later comes “Stone,” and Whiskey Myers turns everything that you thought this album was going to be right on its head. The themes are the same, but sonically “Stone” is unlike anything else Whiskey Myers has ever really done. A solid piano lead-in lays down the foundation for this quintessential heartbreak song, and you’re almost thinking that the iTunes playlist flipped to the wrong artist. But then the last minute of the track crescendos right into those killer guitar riffs you’ve come to expect from Whiskey Myers.
When you’re listening through an album like this, it’s almost easy to forget that a superstar producer like Dave Cobb was even involved. With as much credit as Cobb has (deservedly) gotten for his work with artists like Jason Isbell and Bonnie Bishop and Chris Stapleton, here it appears that he just took the solid identity that Whiskey Myers had cultivated before they even stepped into his studio and made it all a little more cohesive. To be sure, this is an effort that is 100 percent, all the way, thoroughly a Whiskey Myers album. Here, their identity shines, not the influence of a kingmaking producer.
Ultimately, this record is just stone solid all the way through. You won’t find any throwaway tracks or basic-ass attempts at pandering to a broader audience. Mud is gritty, mature, well-rounded, and already a serious contender for one of the year’s best country albums.
And all of that –– this impeccable album, the fact that they’ve managed to maintain what made Whiskey Myers great in the first place –– is exactly why you shouldn’t be surprised to see the band have some real breakout success after the release of Mud. They’ve already been touring with rock bands like Shinedown and Bocephus and Eric Church, and now it looks as if the band is going to finally take its place on the national stage.
That’s something that Texas country fans should be uniquely proud of. Whiskey Myers came up and built their sound in this scene, and while you probably won’t hear them a whole lot on country radio, it’s almost a foregone conclusion that they’re going to be alt-country’s hottest new act.
Considering that most of the artists that ditch the Texas country scene for Nashville make a deliberate effort to shine up their edges in order to make their sound more “universally appealing,” it is abundantly clear that Whiskey Myers has no plans to ditch their hard-won identities or make any compromises when it comes to their heavy, decidedly edgy sound. In this case, it appears that, in the words of Bocephus, these country boys are gonna survive.