By Kevin Broughton
When Whiskey Myers front man Cody Cannon got the call last year, the band was in the studio working on what would become their fifth, self-titled album. The pitch: Would the group like to appear in Kevin Costner’s Yellowstone? Not just on the soundtrack, but in an actual scene?
It was a no-brainer, and a decision that had nearly immediate – and retroactive – benefits for the Palestine, Texas-based Red Dirt rockers, as noted by Saving Country Music:
In the aftermath of the episode, the band’s most recent album, Mud, went to No. 1 on the iTunes country chart, and Top 20 all-genre on the hourly-updating aggregator. Also, their album Firewater came in at No. 3 in country, and the album Early Morning Shakes came in at #9. On the iTunes country songs chart, the song “Stone” was in the Top 10.
In an ever-evolving music business, independent artists often find a shot in the arm of exposure from film and television; Colter Wall, Chris Stapleton and Scott Biram all got boosts from appearing on the soundtrack of the Oscar-nominated Hell or High Water. But Whiskey Myers’ catapult ride from relative obscurity to the forefront of commercial success was almost otherworldly. The Yellowstone appearance landed three previous records – dating back seven years – in the country Top Ten. That momentum set the stage perfectly for the band’s self-titled album released today.
Their two previous offerings, 2016’s Mud and Early Morning Shakes from 2014, were both helmed by all-world producer and Grammy machine Dave Cobb. For their fifth release, though, the band decided to produce it themselves. Lead guitarist and multi-instrumentalist John Jeffers emphasizes how a sense of collaboration and experimentation really defined their whirlwind eighteen days of recording at the Sonic Ranch studio, outside of El Paso. “There’s never a right or wrong answer when it comes to ideas,” he says. “We would run every single idea from everyone — some work and some don’t, but we give them all a shot. And then there’s that magical moment when the whole band hears it, your eyes get a twinkle — ‘That’s it, that’s us!’”
Their do-it-yourself result is a Southern rock masterpiece.
The album kicks off with “Die Rockin’.” Cannon’s raspy, proud vocals are right in your face – and you definitely feel the influence of co-writer Ray Wylie Hubbard.
Over the course of fourteen tracks, though, songs expand, moods change and songs like “Bury My Bones” and “California to Carolina” explore different stories and emotions. “You want an album to be like a rollercoaster,” says Jeffers. “Does it really take you for a ride, with ups and downs and some loops and sometimes you’re upside down?”
There are indeed shifts in the album’s momentum and flow. “Bitch” is the best indictment of Bro-country you’ll ever find.
Collaborative writing with Adam Hood (“Rolling Stone”) and Brent Cobb (“Running”) provide balance and country texture. Ultimately, however, this is a Southern rock album in the very best tradition of the nearly forgotten genre. “Houston County Sky” channels The Marshall Tucker Band, and “Little More Money” and “Bad Weather” are right out of Dirty South-era Drive By Truckers. “Hammer” is a sultry, swampy reminiscence of early Black Crowes.
Whiskey Myers has positioned itself on the cusp of rarified air; can they enjoy widespread mainstream success without benefit of commercial radio in the way, say, Jason Isbell has in recent years? We’re about to find out. This album is a triumph.
Whiskey Myers is available everywhere you consume music today.