Midland is more magicians than musicians. When the trio came out with their omnipresent 2017 single "Drinkin' Problem," they pulled off their first trick: a brand-new band to radio who sounded like old friends. Their sound and their look (matador jackets, mullets and high-density mustaches) were pure vintage. So why did it all seem progressive? Some of this is the landscape. Athletic-fit tee-shirts and a frat boy oversmile make the standard uniform for most of today's country crop. What a relief, then, for three Texas guys to bring back a little style, grunge and slide guitar.
Mark Wystrach may be lead vocalist, but everybody here can sing. Jess Carson can play guitar in any decade you name. Cameron Duddy doesn't just play bass, but is an accomplished video director, who helps architect the band brand.
"Let It Roll" is one of the best records of the year. Best of all, it's mostly pure country, sparing all hints of hick-pop experimentation. "Every Song's a Drinkin' Song" could have been written 30 years ago. Its sweet pedal steel is tailor-made to propel a couple around a dancefloor or a living room. That doesn't mean the band didn't forget when Joe Walsh joined the Eagles ("21st Century Honky Tonk American Band"). But you'd need a detective to uncover a secret ingredient that makes this set so damn tasty.
Great songs ("Fourteen Gears," "Mr. Lonely") and how'd-they-do-that guitar work take us some of the way. Shoutouts to Holiday Inns and barstools help, as do the occasional Spanish-flavored arrangement or a good Hammond organ fill. The production team of Dann Huff, Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne all have big individual credits. That team's best choice was to put the harmonies balanced in the mix. No song's been overpolished, or about showing off. It works well with that slow-burn George Strait delivery of "Cheatin' Songs."
Even in tracks where the main character's losing or lost, there's still a spirit of joy baked into the music. There's a natural swagger to this band, who would clearly be happy playing for a festival or themselves. A great band isn't just cool, they make you feel cool too. Best not to worry how the Midland tricks are done, and just enjoy how they roll.