Jerrod Niemann seems to have something of a split personality musically. He is a competent if not particularly distinctive singer with a nice grainy quality at times, who seems determined to compensate for that by over-ornamenting his records with gimmicks. The songs are interspersed with a set of comic sketches conceived by Jerrod with Dave Brainard (with whom he shares production credits). These share the fatal flaw of not actually being funny. Most of them weren’t even funny the first time I listened to them, with the sole exception of a pointed if unoriginal little jab at radio demographics and teenage girls not being interested in drinking songs. After listening through the number of times I needed to in order to review this, I hated them. Self-indulgent in the extreme, these make an excellent argument to download selected tracks. There is a particularly annoying piece right at the end which implies one needs to be drunk to appreciate the album. I’m not so sure that’s wrong, either.
His current big hit, ‘Lover, Lover’, which has propelled this album to good early sales figures, is a remake of a 90s pop song which is very catchy with multi tracked vocals all from Jerrod himself, even though it has very little to do with country music. There is one other cover, Robert Earl Keen’s double-entendre ‘The Buckin’ Song’, which has some fine instrumental breaks but is tiresome to anyone sober over the age of about 15. Keen is a significant Texas songwriter, but this particular song is juvenile. However, I was familiar with Jerrod’s name as a songwriter, and had hopes for this album. He has written or co-written all but two of the tracks, most often with one Richie Brown.
In fact, one of my favourite tracks was a song which was already familiar. ‘How Can I Be So Thirsty’ was one of my favourite tracks from last year’s John Anderson release, which Jerrod wrote with Anderson and Billy Joe Walker Jr. Jerrod’s version is enjoyable if lacking the vocal punch Anderson brought to this hangover complaint. Jerrod has an obviously penchant for the subject matter, as Jerrod’s only solo composition here is the far less likable ‘For Everclear’, a drunken college (I hope) student’s song rather implausibly involving getting way too close to one of his teachers (an ex-stripper). Niemann appears to be about ten years past the point at which this song would be appropriate.
‘One More Drinking Song’ is a relaxed-sounding defence of that sub-genre, which has no actual reasons included, and has an irritating repeated hey-hey-hey in the chorus, but is good-humored and bearable. It was released as a single last year, but sank without trace. ‘Down In Mexico’ is very nice sounding, but a rather generic Chesney-style song about the impossibility of being depressed on the beach.
Written with Dallas Davidson and Jamey Johnson is the jazzy loungy ‘They Should Have Named You Cocaine’ which is a pretty good song about a woman with a hold on the singer, which would have been more pleasing to listen to without the pointless artificial sound effects in the mix. ‘Bakersfield’ is a pleasant sounding ballad about nostalgia for a weekend’s romance in California. Co-written with Wayd Battle and Steve Harwell, the song isn’t bad but the production gets a bit busy towards the end. ‘I Hope You Get What You Deserve’, a generous goodbye wish to an ex, also has too much going on musically. All these songs might have sounded better with a more stripped down approach.
I did really like ‘What Do You Want’, written with Brown and Rachel Bradshaw (who was featured alongside Chuck Wicks on Fox’s ill-fated Nashville TV documentary series in 2007, cancelled after one show). It has an insidious melody and Jerrod’s plaintive vocals are backed up effectively by Bradshaw’s harmony on a plea to a former lover who keeps on calling and won’t let him get over her. Yet again, there are a few too many bells and whistles in the production.
The highlight of the album, ‘Old School New Again’, is beautiful and worth a download. Written with Richie Brown, it is the gently sung testament of a struggling country singer:
They call me a throwback
Another old hat act
Well, I can’t help that’s who I am
I guess I’m just old school
I love makin’ music you can dance to
I may not sound like the latest trend
Never been on a TV show
But I got some buddies out at radio
That spin my records every now and then
So call me a dreamin’ fool
But wouldn’t it be so cool
If we made old school new again
I know times they change so I ain’t saying
We need to go back to Nudie suits, rhinestones and fringe
I just wanna be proud of what I’m playing
And sing a little Lefty now and then
This is a fine song, but feels out-of-place compared to most of the other material, hence my split-personality comment above. Lefty Frizzell is not a discernible influence elsewhere.
In contrast to ‘Old School New Again’ the immediately ensuing track, the horribly over-produced and repetitive ‘Come Back To Me’ (co-written with former Nashville Star contestant and Warner Bros reject Lance Miller and Trey Matthews) is unlistenable.
Apparently Jerrod was encouraged by his friend Jamey Johnson to make this record while between n albums; he then managed to get it written into his contract with SeaGayle/Arista that it should be released with no label interference. While I commend artistic freedom in principle, and this approach worked for Johnson and his masterpiece That Lonesome Song, this album is definitely not in that class. It is in fact exhibit A in an argument that some artists actually need an external guiding hand to save them from their worst instincts. Jerrod does have talent, although only a few tracks here work for me. It will also be interesting to see how Jerrod’s follow-up singles do, and whether his initial sales are sustained, as ‘Lover, Lover’ is by no means typical of the album as a whole.