Album Review: Sammy Kershaw – ‘I Won’t Back Down’
July 10, 2015
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One of the greatest challenges facing veteran artists past their commercial peaks is gaining access to top-notch material. Last month’s I Won’t Back Down shows that even the great Sammy Kershaw is not immune from the problem. Although he didn’t receive as many accolades as his 90s contemporaries, he was one of that era’s best artists, as well as one of the most sincere in his love for country music. He resisted, for the most part, the pressure to go for big crossover hits, which makes some of his song choices for his latest album all the more puzzling; he seems to be trying to strke a balance between traditional and contemporary country, and I’m not quite sure why. This album isn’t going to get any attention from radio and as independent release, it’s unlikely that there any label “suits” trying to make a case for more pop-sounding material. As a result, I Won’t Back Down is less traditional than most of Kershaw’s catalog and definitely less interesting.
The album opens with a cover of R.B. Greaves’ 1969 pop and soul hit “Take a Letter, Maria” in which he has his secretary send a letter of separation to his unfaithful wife. Though such a concept may have worked 46 years ago, it is extremely dated in the modern era when few people have secretaries and correspondences are more typically done via text or social media. That being said, it’s one of the better songs on the album.
“Lay Back Down” is an attempt at a steamy love ballad that sounds like something that is competing for mainstream airplay. Country instrumentation is downplayed and it just doesn’t sound like something we’d expect to hear from Sammy Kershaw. “Don’t Move” is another contemporary number that is an ill fit for Kershaw. “Griffin’ and Chillin'” and “Fixer Upper” are at least more country sounding, but the lyrics are cliche-ridden and neither song ever rises above the level of filler. “Groove” has an annoying “hick hock” arrangement.
It isn’t all bad news; however, as there are a handful of decent tracks on the album. “I Had To Give That Up Too” is a traditional number reminiscent of George Jones’ “A Thousand Times a Day” and “I Can’t Wait To Waste a Little Time” sounds like something Sammy might have included on one of his major label albums. “Let’s Lay Here Forever”, one of Sammy’s original compositions, is very nice ballad that is the best song on the album.
Bottom line: I Won’t Back Down contains a few pretty good songs as well as a few pretty bad ones. The overall effect is an album that is bland. I hope that Sammy uses the time between now and his next project to seek out some stronger material.