Thursday, October 3, 2013

album review: 'redneck crazy' by tyler farr

We return - again - to country music, where things have certainly escalated.

When I originally wrote my Special Comment on the state of modern country music, I did not expect the response I got. I expected maybe a bit of praise, a larger bit of hatred as a holdover from the Justin Moore review (keep the hatred coming, folks, I can take it), and then for it to sink like a stone. I did not expect to be pointed towards a growing contingent who are growing very angry about the state of modern country music, or to discover the country music feuds to be heating up in a big way with more and more stars taking sides, and then to be contacted directly by the country music correspondent from Entertainment Weekly! Suddenly, I was inundated by country music news and links to underground country acts that I'm excited to explore, and it appears my Special Comment may just be one of many from mainstream publications talking about and analyzing this issue. A feud within country music hasn't been this enflamed since the 2000s, and with the rise of social media and instant responses, I can see this blowing up in a big way.

But let me make this part absolutely clear: I'm still a music critic and not a gossip columnist, and my job is not to get involved in the drama of the stars or their various feuds. I definitely stand by my criticism of certain other online critics for their refusal to cover country music on narrow-minded genre classifications, but I've found good music in traditional and neotraditional country music, and I've even managed to find good stuff in the pop-country and bro-country subgenres as well. Admittedly, I've got more of a pop sensibility than most, but good music is good music, and as long as I can defend my critical opinions, I'm gong to be fair with my coverage regardless of genre.

So when I heard about the rumblings against Tyler Farr's debut bro-country album Redneck Crazy, I took a deep breath and kept my senses. Sure, the guy has basically come out of nowhere and had a criminally underwritten Wikipedia page, but maybe the hatred was overblown, right?

Well, unfortunately, not really. And while Tyler Farr's Redneck Crazy isn't nearly the atrocity that Justin Moore's Off The Beaten Path was, it still managed to get on my nerves more than once. Let me make this absolutely clear: my issues with this album aren't because it's a bro-country album - it's because it's a bad bro-country album, and not even the horrifying trainwreck sort of way either (well, for the most part - I'll get to the exceptions in a moment).

So I think a good place to start with this album is describing what it does better than Justin Moore, just as a comparison point. Well, for starters, there isn't nearly the same amount of pandering to southern 'values' in comparison to just rural pride, of which Tyler Farr has in spades. There's no plagiarism with regards to any of Tyler Farr's material, the songwriting is a bit more straightforward (not to mention on a measurable level better-written than Justin Moore), and for the most part, his voice doesn't grate on my nerves. 

In fact, Tyler Farr's voice might be one of the best parts of his entire presentation. The best way I can describe it would be a huskier, raspier Vince Gill, with audible grit yet still emotionally expressive. And like with Vince Gill, it works for him extremely well on the album's two ballads, 'Hello Goodbye' and 'Living With The Blues', the latter of which I'd argue is the best song on the album. It's stripped down, it's intimate, and Farr sings with a lot of genuine emotion with which I could really empathize.

If only the rest of the album was anywhere close to being that good. Instead, we get a selection of interchangeable songs about booze, trucks, and girls that are more bland than actively offensive, and if anything, it's Farr's delivery that makes them worse. I don't know what it is, but his raspy delivery just makes some of the songs about the girls come across as aggressively creepy, and there are points you can almost smell drool and bad whiskey breath through the microphone, and it's not pleasant in the slightest. The worst song of the lot is aptly titled 'Chicks, Trucks, and Beer', and it might just be one of the laziest tracks about said subjects I've heard on record this year.

What also doesn't help matters is that the production and instrumentation quality is all over the place and not in a good way. A third of the time, it feels like reasonably authentic country, but the other third tries to go for rock and has no idea how to balance the electric guitars in the mix and the final third goes for a smoother pop production that feels extremely out-of-place, especially when placed up against Tyler Farr's raspier vocals. The biggest problem is in the guitar placement in the mix - some of the time it's at the front and attempting to bring some serious grit, occasionally it's at the back and just roars to life with a strangely muted sound that contributes nothing! All of this adds up to an album that feels distinctly disjointed and messy, even though the lyrical content is pretty much the same across the majority of the album!

But even if we step away from the typical bro-country song, there are still tracks that manage to piss me off, the leader being 'Redneck Crazy', a song where a guy goes after his ex and her new boyfriend with the express intent to harass them - dude, move on! I get that you're angry, but you just come across like a completely unsympathetic and immature asshole when you do this. And then you expect me to sympathize with you on a track like 'Cowgirl', where you just want to be given some cowgirl who's willing to 'give everything she's got'? Aside from that vaguely sexist qualification, I'm not drawn to songs where people just ask the higher powers to 'give them' anything, particularly when it comes across as lazy as it does here!

Look, if Billy Currington got bro-country 'right' by some standards, Tyler Farr gets it all wrong. Sure, he's somewhat sympathetic on the ballads, but those are spaced out between leering, sleazy, and ultimately shockingly forgettable bro-country tracks that do nothing to paint him as likable, and like Luke Bryan before him, he only seems to be having a good time when he's drooling over some country girl. Really, the rural pride elements on these songs didn't bother me nearly as much in compared to how tedious the rest of the album was, only standing out when it found ways to get on my nerves. And combined with the lackluster instrumentation and seriously messy production, this album earns its 4/10. If you're looking for sub-standard songs about beer, cars, and girls in between your Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean and Florida Georgia Line, I guess this album is for you, but otherwise I definitely advise you avoid it.

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