Singer/songwriter Brian Whelan is set to release his latest full-length studio recording later this month. The album, the second from the former Dwight Yokam guitarist, is currently schedule to be released Friday, March 25th. It is a very special new offering from the multi-talented musician and performer. That is because of the amount of musical ground that Whelan covers over the course of the album’s ten songs. The album opens with a fun, upbeat composition that directly celebrates Americana that is sure to entertain any listener regardless of whether or not audiences are fans of the genre. ‘The Only Thing’ comes across with its musical arrangement to be a throwback to the days of Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison by and large. Though, the melody established in the song’s guitar line harkens back to a rather well-known Rolling Stones song at times. Its lyrical content makes it just as enjoyable. Later in the album’s run Whelan shows the influence of his time with Yokam in ‘Number 1 Fan’ with an old-school honky tonk sound that is just as enjoyable as the pop rock sound of ‘Go Dancing’ and the poppy vibe of ‘We Got It All.’ If that isn’t enough for audiences, Whelan has plenty more to offer his listeners including a bit of psychedelic rock in ‘Talk To Me’ and southern rock in the album’s finale ‘The Bottom.’ That isn’t even to mention the album’s title track, the much slower but thought-provoking ‘Suckerpunch’ or any of the album’s other offerings. In listening to each of the noted songs Whalen’s broad talents become quite obvious. That is counting both the album’s musical content and that of its lyrics. All things considered Sugarland proves in the end to be quite the *ahem* sweet (bad pun fully intended) new album.
Brian Whelan’s new album Sugarland is a “sweet” new album. The ten-song collection is a rarity in today’s music industry. It is a collection that refuses to let itself be pigeonholed into one genre or another at any one point. From beginning to end this thirty-three minute recording runs the gamut from one genre to another. It does so in impressive fashion, too with songs that impress both musically and lyrically with each song. This is made obvious right off the top in the album’s opener, the aptly titled ‘Americana.’ This song is such a great way to open Sugarland because while it is in fact an Americana style song. But it is anything but the traditional Americana piece. Rather it is a sharp response to what he apparently believes has become an overly bloated, commercial genre; a genre that remains weighed down by certain stereotypes. He sings of those stereotypes, “You can still beat on those pots and pans/But your cowboy boots don’t make you a better man/You beat your head up against the wall/But American music is gonna outlive us all/You look like you stepped out of the Civil War/Sick and tired of being super bored. He also notes of those stereotypes early in the song, “Come on man/You gotta make the scene/The big bass drum and your tambourine/Sell it for a million dollars/But there is nothing wrong/Wrong with Americana. Whelan’s sharp indictment of today’s Americana here is a powerful statement in itself. The juxtaposition of the song’s Earl Scruggs-inspired banjo solo (played here by veteran musician Herb Pederson to the Reckless Kelly style southern rock sound is an even bolder statement. It shows that Americana doesn’t have to be just one specific way. It doesn’t have to be just the old stereotyped sound or even the more radio friendly, spit shined version of that sound. It can include that old sound but still have something more to it without sacrificing that core sound or its soul. The combination of the statement made in the song’s music and its lyrical content makes it a great way to kick off the album and to introduce (or even re-introduce) Whelan to listeners. It’s just one example of what makes Whalen’s new album a must hear for audiences of all tastes. ‘The Only Thing’ is another example of what makes Whelan’s album such a surprise.
‘Americana’ was a great choice with which to open Sugarland. That is thanks to the statement made by its lyrics and its musical content. While it was a good choice with which to open the album and an equally good addition to the album’s whole it is just one example of what makes Sugarland such a joy. ‘The Only Thing’ is another good example of what makes Sugarland such an enjoyable new effort from Whelan. The song’s musical arrangement conjures thoughts of Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison with its combined guitar and bass line set against Whalen’s vocal delivery. On a related note it could just be this critic’s own interpretation but the song’s guitar line sounds eerily similar to that of The Rolling Stones’ hit song ‘Shattered.’ Given it isn’t entirely the same. But the similarity can’t be denied. It is probably purely coincidence. But it is there nonetheless. The relation of this song to works from so many greats is in itself more than enough proof of why it is another of the album’s highest points. The song’s lyrical content is yet another reason that it stands out. In regards to its lyrical content the song comes across as one of those songs steeped in the issue of a broken relationship. What is interesting here is that if it is indeed centered on the subject then Whalen doesn’t come across in the same fashion as so many standard oh-woe-is-me opuses. Yes, that sense of bittersweet emotion is there. But it isn’t the typical piece about a relationship at its end. That is argued as Whalen sings “I tried to run with a different crowd/But I just kept falling down/A change of clothes and a new routine/End up right back here at the beginning/Breaking away from you/Is the hardest thing to do/The only thing to do/would be true/Is you.” And, that is just the song’s first verse. He follows a similar vibe in the song’s second verse, singing “I tried around till I’ve had enough/I drive all night till I’m out of luck/Eyes trained on the city lights/They dance on the lathe/And they fade on the mirror.” Again, there is that bittersweet vibe, which is again illustrated via the song’s musical arrangement but it is not one of those standard oh-woe-is-me sort of songs. Considering this it makes the song stand out that much more among the other offerings on this record. It still is not the last remaining example of what makes Sugarland a “sweet sophomore” record from Brian Whelan. ‘Number 1 Fan’ is yet another example of what makes the album stand out.
Brian Whelan shows through both ‘The Only Thing’ and ‘Americana’ are both prime examples of what makes his latest album stand out among this year’s current crop of country, folk, and Americana records. As impressive as they are in the bigger picture of Sugarland, they are not the only songs that can be cited in exhibited this. The old school honky tonk sound of ‘Number 1 Fan’ is another great addition to the album. In terms of its sound it is a direct throwback to his time with country great Dwight Yokam. That is clear through its twangy, guitar-driven sound. There is an infectious fiddle line that couples with an equally fun piano line that together adds even more enjoyment to the song. Of course without note of the song’s lyrical content the song would be nothing. In regards to its lyrical content, it is actually a pretty funny song. That is because it is a joking commentary about the superfans across the board. Whether it be in the country music world, the rock world or any other, every act has those fans. Few if any artists out there have been brave enough to address those fans save perhaps for rapper Eminem. And his commentary takes a completely different tone than that taken by Whalen in this song. Whalen sings of said fans here, “I went out back/The people are gone/Behind yellow tape with my laminate on/I just love to watch you/Doin’ all the things you do/City after city/Night after night/If you called me crazy/You might be right/But there’s one thing, baby/I really wanna say to you/I’m your number one fan/I’m your right hand man/I’m a workin’ and slavin’/At every little thing I can/I’m the gleam in your eye/I’m the catch in your thigh/For that fine sweet love/Swim the Rio Grande.” Plain and simple, this is someone that seriously needs a life, obviously. Interestingly enough there really are people out there like this person. It would have been easy for Whalen to take an overly serious tone here. But he didn’t. Instead he opted for the more playful tone. And that tone rolls on in the song’s second verse with Whalen singing about the subject dreaming of being this and that, from the star’s personal banker, to his/her lover, to any number of other things. It really is a little disturbing. But again thanks to Whelan’s tone here one can’t help but laugh about that figure. Considering this the combination of that light-hearted tone in the song’s lyrical content and its musical content the end result is one more of the highest of the album’s points. And together with ‘Americana’ and ‘The Only Thing’ the picture that Whalen paints of Sugarland is that much clearer and fuller. It is a picture of an album that is one of the year’s best new albums overall hands down. That is even more the case when considering the rest of the album’s songs.
Sugarland is only the second full-length studio recording from former Dwight Yokam guitarist Brian Whelan. Listening through the whole of the album is can be said that this album is one of 2016’s top new albums overall. This is evident in both the musical arrangement of the album’s songs and their lyrical themes. Whalen doesn’t stick to one style from one song to the next. He touches on old school honky tonk, more modern southern rock, pop rock, and other sounds from beginning to end. And the lyrical topics featured in the songs range from the emotional to the silly. Even within the songs, Whalen’s approach to each topic plays its own important part. All things considered Sugarland proves to be a “sweet” new album from Whelan and also one of the year’s best new albums overall. It will be available Friday, March 25th in stores and online. Whalen will hit the road beginning Wednesday, March 23rd in support of Sugarland ahead of the album’s release. His current tour schedule runs through Sunday, April 3rd in Los Angeles, CA. More information on Whelan’s tour is available online along with information on Sugarland at:
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