Earlier this year, I was very impressed with Dillon’s six-track EP, which brought him to new ears and forms the backbone of his smartly titled 14-track debut album. He’s the protégé of Jon Pardi, the album’s co-producer along with Dann Huff, so it’s easy to compare him to the big-voiced Californian who has updated traditional sounds and added sprinkles of rock.
When the song came out, I was addicted to Hot Beer, three chords and an unwillingness to get back with an old fling. It is a brilliant start to the album. Big Truck was written with Jessi Alexander and David Lee Murphy, and the influence of the latter is clear thanks to the chugging rhythm and the song effectively being a rewrite of She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy, although Dillon has lots of other qualities and gifts.
Ray Fulcher, who will always be linked with his mate Luke Combs, pops up in the credits of the groovy and catchy love song Since You’ve Been In It (‘My world’s been better’). The equally addictive Sawin Logs has been out for a few months and showcases Dillon’s croon via lyrics which include the rhyme ‘hickory bundle/all kinds of trouble’. It’s filth flarn filth: ‘I’ve got wood and she’s sawin logs’ is a brilliant way of implying that his beloved is a passion killer.
The midtempo leaving song Somewhere She Ain’t, written by Dillon with Jessi and the Peach Picker Ben Hayslip, sounds like a Jon Pardi song produced by Dann Huff, with some spacious guitars (and a patented Huff solo in the middle of the song) and a lovesick narrator who sounds in pain. He can’t even go to Carolina ‘cos that’s her middle name’. What a palaver, expertly told.
Family Tree, which would be a subdued set opener, begins with some soft strums to set up ‘a thinker’ of a song, full of Jesus and ‘the way we are’ and ‘old school Merle’. Casey Beathard was in the room for this one and it sounds like a mid-2000s country radio tune that Casey would have written for Trace Adkins or Gary Allan. The title track has the same songwriters and is governed by a descending chord progression and a lovely lyric about parents and kids. Casey’s son Tucker, also a singer/songwriter, might have been in mind on the line ‘played the “long as you’re living in my roof” card’. The middle eight references the rising divorce rate, which is worthy of note.
Hose Water shares that old neo-trad sound, a gentle Rhett Akins co-write reminiscin’ about how ‘there was nothin’ else to do’ aside from get out driving with your beloved and cope with the heat by sticking a hose in your mouth. Blake Shelton might have done a good job on this, and Dillon’s voice hits all the notes Blake could hit. Gonna Wish You Did was written by the Warren Brothers, Hardy and Brad (son of Rodney) Clawson. Marshall Tucker Band get a mention in the first verse as an example of things you wish you should do in life, which tumble over one another in the chorus and give way to a rockin’ solo (with no G).
Man Made A Bar comes from the super trio of Shane McAnally, Luke Laird and Jon Pardi, and opens with neon lights, bar bands and a punter ‘drowning shots of tequila’. It sounds like a Jon Pardi song and I wonder if Jon will release his own version next year, perhaps as a duet with Dillon, who handles the lyric well about how ‘God made a woman, man made a bar’. It’s a fun examination of masculinity.
Leave The Lovin, a song of apology and how ‘there ain’t much we can’t fix with a kiss’, is a smooth Jaren Johnston/Laird co-write, two men who know what commercial country sounds like. The album ends with the morose heartache ballad Baby I Would, another Johnston composition with some wonderful production touches from Dann Huff. Indeed, Jaren’s band The Cadillac Three appear on Pickin’ Up Girls, a bit of fun filler on the album’s second side with a false ending and a guitar wigout. Might we see Dillon supporting TC3 next year?
In fact, Dillon comes across like a marketing executive has cross-pollinated Combs and Wallen, which every smart man knows is the Sound of Country Music Today. Red White Camo and Blue, which Dillon wrote with the great Bobby Pinson (best known for working with Toby Keith and Sugarland), is another blue-collar rocker with great imagery. ‘We got more deer and cows than we got people’ aims this squarely at rural audiences, as does the brilliant fiddle solo.
Paychecks and Longnecks is also an outside write which Dillon has plucked off the shelf, a working man’s song that is so close to a Luke Combs hit that Luke could probably sue. In the second verse, Dillon wants to flip the bird ‘but you can’t cos you know you’ll get fired’. Big guitars, heavy drums and blue-collar vocals.
As I thought when the EP came out, the country sound of 1994 is back, although it never really went away.