1. 7 Letters
2. Pay Phone
4. Growing Pains
5. Lift Me Up
6. Coming Down
7. Mountain Past
8. Bad Habits
Austin Meade’s new album has done something truly awesome. It inspired that feeling of hearing a song and immediately having to hear more and more, along with a surge of anticipation to hear the entire album. Obviously, we always hope the album lives up to the expectations we create in our head in these circumstances. Meade has hit the mark here with an album that will likely feature very highly on my Albums of the Year list in 2019. For those not familiar with Red Dirt music here in Texas, there are artists such as Cody Canada (Cross Canadian Ragweed, the Departed), Wade Bowen, Reckless Kelly, Micky & the Motorcars, and others who have created landmark albums in the genre by combining elements of Rock, Southern Rock, and Country together. There have also been individuals like Mike McClure that are not nearly as known nationally but have made incredible contributions to the genre. What Meade has done here is quite remarkable as this album immediately resonated deeply with me, and it contains tremendous depth as well.
Meade places the hard hitting ‘7 Letters’ as track one which works perfectly. I had been playing a live version of this from YouTube on repeat before receiving the album which stretches the beginning of the song out a little bit. There is a moment where Meade tells us that the only way he is ‘going down is in a pine box 6 feet underground.’ This doesn’t feel like a line in a song though; this is a declaration and a promise. The guitar riffs by Meade, Matt Gracy, and Shane Boeker are awesome, and I have to also say Jonathan Grossman hammers the piano keys in a way that would make Jerry Lee Lewis proud. This is the hardest rocking we get on the album.
‘Pay Phone’ paints a portrait of a father who is trying to take care of his family. Faced with the prospect of having a third child on the way and having to provide for them, he begins selling cocaine across 8 counties before he gets busted by the DEA. What Meade hits on here is part of what makes the Drive-By Truckers and Steve Earle so amazing, he creates a narrative about a character that we understand and root for even in the worst of situations. Musically, this isn’t far from DBT either with its distorted guitars twisting and turning over the rhythm. There is a moving line in here about how you cannot raise children during their twice a week visits to the prison. These narratives throughout the album are so well crafted with ‘Savannah’ offering another one. Musically, there is a lighter touch here with Meade’s vocals sounding great over the bass (Elijah Ford) and drums (Brandon Turner). The guitars have more air here with the lighter touch allowing the betrayal that Meade faces in the song to deliver some emotional shock and make a more profound impact on the listener.
I mentioned Mike McClure back in the introduction who has served as a co-writer and producer for acts like Cross Canadian Ragweed, but he has also had his own band over the years. ‘Growing Pains’ reminds me more of the Mike McClure Band with the bluesy guitar licks deeper in the mix with the music really creating a swirling dreaming feeling. The production is very dense with this being one of the songs that really expands with multiple listens as there is a lot going on in the song. ‘Lift Me Up’ has a positive sounding title but takes us down a dark road as well as Meade tells us to ‘Lift me up, throw me down, kick me around.’ This one keeps us in the midtempo zone with the backing vocals being extremely well done. With about one minute left, everything just about comes to a stop before a final run through of the hook gives us an excellent musical outro that I imagine could turn into a very nice jam in the live setting. There is no let up in quality with ‘Coming Down’ featuring an infectious beat that makes the foot move with the music. This one also reminds me of the Mike McClure Band, and I might even say there is a bit of Ryan Adams present as well.
While ‘Mountain Past’ might sound like a strange title, the song is beautiful with its relaxed feel drawing heavy from the pedal steel (Cody Steel) and piano. The build up in the song is masterful and feels like a vintage Cross Canadian Ragweed song. I would push this one out to the radio stations here in Texas as this could definitely become a hit. ‘Bad Habits’ keeps things on the mellower end with another song that packs a subtle hook that becomes a monster with multiple listens. Our character recalls his golden years being 18-23 with his 24th birthday representing his decline. Our character though recognizes that he is the one that is bringing the negativity on himself and not someone else. ‘Brooklyn’ continues the magic with another brilliant lyrical narrative and another dense musical mix for this mid tempo gem. The piano work here by Jonathan Grossman is much more delicate and perfectly placed.
Some gentle guitar strums give way to ‘Colorblind’ as we rapidly approach the end of the album. Meade sings beautifully over the bluesy feel of the song. This is another one that should be huge on Texas radio with its great guitar work given plenty of space to shine. Closing the album is the awesome title track ‘Waves.’ This one has more of a straight ahead Rock vibe based on a great blues riff. Meade recounts how bad things don’t seem to happen as isolation incidents but take the shape of waves where we often have to struggle to get through them to the calm that is on the other side. It ends the album with an upbeat feeling where we feel our resilience and stubborn perseverance has been rewarded. On a deeper level, it helps assure us that the characters in the songs have survived the struggles and tragedies they faced to fight another day.
These 11 songs fit together perfectly to create an album that is not just a collection of songs. This album takes it to another level with the depth of the songs at times making the listeners feel like we are flipping through a deeply personal photo album of all these characters. They have been given life by Austin Meade and the musicians on this record. I cannot encourage you enough to immerse yourself in this album. As an added benefit to satisfy your cravings for more, there is a back catalog to explore as Meade and team have been working their tails off for a long time now so you can check out the debut from 5 years ago, the EP from a couple years ago, and a non album track. Austin Meade should see a surge of people at the shows and album sales increasing based on the amazing ‘Waves,’ which stands tall as a possible Album of the Year for me.
‘Waves’ is released March 1st.
Website - https://www.austinmeade.com/
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/AustinMeademusic/
Big Cartel - https://austinmeade.bigcartel.com/
Review - Gerald Stansbury