On the Rocks – 2017 (Big Machine)

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

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CDs by Midland

"On the Rocks" proves there's more to Midland than just vintage western wear and Spaghetti Western-extra good lucks. Don't be deterred by the fact that bassist Cameron Duddy won an MTV Video Music Award for directing Bruno Mars' "Locked Out of Heaven" video because this is an album of solid and distinctly traditional, country music.

The single, "Drinkin' Problem," hearkens back to the good old days of drinking songs, before all these types of tunes began to sound like spring break booze binges. "It's a broken hearted thinkin' problem," lead singer Mark Wystrach reminds us, in his best Jimmy Buffett-buzzed voice. Midland doesn't just sound like throwback country souls, though; their songs are also smart and relevant. "Electric Rodeo" comments on the neon image portrayed by many country music stars, while "Check Cashin' Country" addresses the many times dire economics of the musical road life. "Altitude Adjustment," with its salute to the less city, more rural life desire, as well as a less-than-subtle shout out to getting high (in the cannabis sense of the term), name-drops John Denver and would likely also make him proud.

While much of this release comes off like honky-tonk nighttime music, "Somewhere on the Wind" closes the album with plucky bluegrass instrumentation, augmented by harmonica accompaniment. Along with the track's mostly acoustic instrumentation, this song brings proper attention to the trio's strong, harmonic singing chops.

One might be tempted to assume Midland is some sort of Three Amigos western stereotype, based solely on the act's visual image. However, "On the Rocks" is proof of authentic country music goodness underneath them there suits.