Country Jukebox Jury LP: Old Dominion – Time, Tequila and Therapy

This isn’t a country album…It’s Shane McAnally Country, named after the successful ambassador for music in Nashville whose goal is to make money for the label whose act he has been entrusted to produce. Shane also runs his own imprint, Monument, who have hit big with Fancy Like by Walker Hayes. I would expect Walker to go out on the road with Old Dominion next year to capitalise on his success.

Experienced songwriters Brad, Trevor and Matt, together with bassist Whit and drummer Geoff, have done very well for themselves since Old Dominion broke through with their debut album Meat and Candy. They share management with Kenny Chesney and are good mates with Phil Vassar, which tells you what they sound like: country-inflected pop-rock with lots of soul and heart.

Recorded in North Carolina over a period of three weeks, this fourth album sounds like Old Dominion. No throat-singing or bagpipes here, as Matt Jenkins, McAnally and Josh Osborne help to shape the studio sound of a band whose music has been all over country radio since Break Up With Him broke them. One Man Band was the ACM Song of the Year while the album it came from, their self-titled third one, was up for CMA Album of the Year.

It’s odd that I didn’t love the third record as much as I did Happy Endings, the superlative second album which included live set mainstays No Such Thing As A Broken Heart, Hotel Key and Written In The Sand. Perhaps it was the fact that, as a pandemic project, they replaced the vocal tracks of album three with Matt going ‘meow’ that put me off, but it did show how strong the melodies of songs like Some People Do were.

The album title comes from the opening line of No Hard Feelings, where Matt is ‘more messed up than I care to be’ after a breakup. He seems to sing his cares away, as if Kenny Chesney has read a self-help manual and seen a therapist (‘the sun keeps coming up, baby, and I’m still breathing’). It’s good songwriting even if the bass slide is a little annoying.

The presence of tequila in the album’s title subtly reminds fans that the group have their own alcoholic beverage for sale, diversifying their portfolio in a time when this album will hardly sell any physical copies and they’ll earn back their advance through other means. They are a crack live band, as they showed in their weekly videos online recently, and the accordion-assisted song I Was On A Boat That Day will slot effortlessly into their show. I predict t-shirts bearing the line ‘drunk as a skunk eating lunch with a cross-eyed bear’.  

Opening track Why Are You Still Here, about the memory of a girl lingering, begins with ‘everybody’s drinkin’. It sounds like the sort of ballad that clogs up Maroon 5 records, complete with a singalong chorus and some hand percussion. Far better is Hawaii, which may be a memory of being with that girl, with suitably island-y guitar lines and Matt taking both ‘another cold beer from your brother’ and ‘pineapple rum out of a coconut’ and wondering why he and his belle left paradise; ‘on mainland, things ain’t the same, man’. This sounds like ‘third single summer jam’ radio smash, and those Old Dominion writers know how to craft a radio hit to fill the slots in between commercials.

Drinking My Feelings is a tongue-twisting tempo track where Matt sings ‘you can keep your 12 steps’, finding therapy through alcohol. There’s even some cowbell. Walk On Whiskey sounds like a John Mayer cut from one of his early albums, with melancholy in the chorus: ‘They used to call us the life of party but now the party’s over way too soon’. This is an album for adults, with flecks of country but which could well find a home for fans who like Adult Contemporary country of the sort that Keith Urban and Tim McGraw make.

In Something’s The Same About You, Matt spies an old friend drinking tequila and tries to rekindle something from the past. The production is very smooth and the song is based on a loop, without much variation between verse and chorus. This happens a lot on the album and it makes me want more variety in the tracks.

Time plays a role in Don’t Forget Me, where Matt pleads his ex to keep his memory in mind: ‘I’ll be right here where you left me’ could also be a plea to a friend or child. Having written a song about shoes, it’s only natural to work their way up the body; Blue Jeans is funky filler with a musical and lyrical nod to George Michael’s Faith. I wonder if they will interpolate the latter within the former in concert.

All I Know About Girls fits with the theme of time, as Matt claims to know ‘nothing at all’ about girls. I suppose this is one way of writing a song that fits the trend of The Pedestal, putting women front and centre in the man’s life. Gladys Knight, who lives in Asheville where the band recorded, was the obvious choice to accompany the band on Lonely Side of Town, where the band’s stacked harmonies make an appearance over another smooth groove. Perhaps history will remember Gladys as a country singer; Midnight Train To Georgia is at root a country song written by Jim Weatherly. I’ll overlook the age difference between the singers (maybe Mickey Guyton will appear on another version of the song).

I Wanna Live in a House With You Forever sounds vaguely Randy Newmanesque, like a sitcom theme tune with its many chords and a lyric full of tomatoes, jelly and ‘a couple rugrats singing Buckle My Shoe’. I like the way Matt leads into the second chorus (‘here comes the chorus on cue’) and how he packs the syllables into the line, a mark of a great writer. There is a double key change, so I suppose I got the variety I wanted!

Ain’t Nothing Wrong With Love closes the album with an insistent riff and a philosophical examination of human relationships: ‘eggs and bacon’, ‘Johnny had June’, ‘even that dish ran away with the spoon’. Old Dominion’s domestic concerns have made their way into their songs. It’s a companion piece to No Such Thing As A Broken Heart, with a fun kicker that I’m not going to spoil.

As always, there’s much to enjoy, although Brad Tursi must be disappointed not to get a lead vocal this time round. I am sure the royalties will help soften the blow.

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