Album Review: Old Dominion – Meat and Candy

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Is there still a distinction between country music and other modern genres? Listening to mainstream US country radio many would argue that the line has all but blurred. Sam Hunt’s R&B and hip-hop infusions lead the charge, but standing to the side of Thomas Rhett, Chase Rice and Florida Georgia Line, Old Dominion bring something a little different to the ranks that will no doubt further fuel the fire of traditionalists who rue the day that rock, pop and hip-hop influences established themselves at the top of the country charts.

On the continuum of country music my tastes are broad, I love the golden as much as I do the newer sounds. Yes, Meat and Candy pushes the boundaries of “New Country” with driving beats, handclaps, fuzzy electric guitar and elements of spoken word pop, maybe the lyrics don’t stop you in your proverbial tracks or remain in your psyche for days to follow (I have Jason Isbell and Don Gallardo for that), but I’m not always looking for thought provocation in my music and for those moments, I love this album for what it is – big, energetic, engaging and fun.

Produced by Grammy and multiple CMA award winning songwriter Shane McAnally Meat and Candy comes stamped with a seal of contemporary country credibility. McAnally is a long-time friend of the band and some quick research highlights that there is much more to Old Dominion than first glance or listen suggests. 5 long-time friends (Matthew Ramsey on lead vocals, Brad Tursi on lead guitar, Trevor Rosen on acoustic guitar and keys, Geoff Spring on base and Whitt Sellers on drums), they have been working behind the scenes in the music industry for the last 10 years, and chances are if you are a fan of new country, they’ve had a hand in your favourite tracks. As successful musicians and songwriters they have written hits for the likes of Dierks Bentley, Blake Shelton, Keith Urban, Kenny Chesney, The Band Perry, Tyler Farr and Luke Bryan. With a pedigree like this its no surprise that they co-wrote all the tracks on the album. It’s also worth noting that they kept their use of session musicians to a minimum, playing almost every note on the album themselves. “The only session musicians we brought in were for keyboard and an acoustic guitar player.” “Whatever skills we have and any limitations we might have come together in this band,” Ramsey says. “If we’d brought in studio musicians, they’d do a fine job, but it wouldn’t sound like us. We have friendship, chemistry and history.”

This quote sums up the vibe of Meat and Candy perfectly; the band are tight and clearly love their work, and the resulting music is fun, invigorating and welcoming. Although the lyrics are light, this is not throwaway pop, and I want to hear more.

Old Dominion – Snapback

The album opens with “Snapback” and immediately sets the tone – this is an upbeat collection of songs about “the girl” – we know her well, she pops up a lot and her laid-back style has inspired numerous of new country hits. “Snapback” pays homage to that sassy ball-cap wearing woman that we’ve heard so much about and that we see at tailgates and US concerts and festivals. Although the subject matter is well-worn the beat packs a punch and with the “whoa’s” and rock guitars it’s a fresh, infectious song; I’m hooked.

“Half Empty” is slower but maintains the fuzzy guitar and catchy beat. “Wrong Turns” plays in a similar vein with some polished guitar licks that would not be out of place on a Kip Moore record and an anthemic melody. I love this song, but I’d struggle to defend it if someone asked me what made it country!

It’s not all big guitars and “Said Nobody” changes direction with a slinky, funky beat and amusing lyrics that suggest that we’d be crazy to pass on a night out with these guys. There is perhaps a hint of country in “Crazy Beautiful Sexy”. Maybe Ramsey has more twang in his voice and there may be some mandolin in there too? While the lyrics are pretty bland, handclaps add pace to this track and despite it being one of the weaker tracks it still holds my interest.

“Beer Can In A Truckbed” is fast and fun, sure the same truck, beer can and girl crop up in a lot of new country songs, but go with it and have fun with the song in the moment.

Old Dominion – Break Up With Him

In an album packed with up-tempo, high-energy anthems my favourites keep changing depending on my mood, but “Nowhere Fast” and the hit single “Break Up With Him” both standout. “Nowhere Fast” is actually one of the slower numbers and as a result feels less produced and a little more stripped back. It also contains my favourite lyric on the album… “windshield full of road to run and a gas tank full of freedom”.

I have to admit the first time I heard “Break Up With Him” on the radio I assumed the spoken word vocal belonged Sam Hunt. But a closer listen highlights driving guitars that aren’t Hunt’s trademark. “Break Up With Him” was the first song the band wrote collectively and it’s been steadily climbing the Country Airplay and Billboard charts for a few months. Currently sitting at number 3 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs, it may yet deliver Old Dominion’s first number 1. They say that they are learning to hold back songs with a certain swagger for themselves rather than handing them over for others to cut.  More like this will be most welcome!

“Song For Another Time” cleverly plays like a book of the greatest songs from the last 60 years and for that alone it deserves a mention. It’s a nice track that invites the listener to lean in for a closer listen as it reminds you of songs you love but haven’t listened to in years. Although it still has the anthemic beat, the pace is slightly slower and it engages to great effect.

“Till It’s Over” is poppy in a fun and feisty Florida Georgia Line kind of way and the closer “We Got It Right” aptly prompts the listener to reflect on how far these guys have come.

Old Dominion have created an exciting blend of pop and country rock with just a hint of rap. Their sound is distinctive and for that reason they standout from their contemporaries. Meat and Candy delivers an inclusive collection of songs that welcome and engage and the overall package is appealing, upbeat, happy and commercial; in theory this should convert to radio play and deliver hits. Given that “Break Up With Him” has already certified gold I would wager that Old Dominion are on their way.

 Track List
  1. Snapback (Matthew Ramsey/Trevor Rosen/Brad Tursi)
  2. Half Empty (Matthew Ramsey/Trevor Rosen/Matt Jenkins)
  3. Wrong Turns (Matthew Ramsey/Trevor Rosen/Matt Jenkins)
  4. Said Nobody (Matthew Ramsey/Trevor Rosen/Brad Tursi)
  5. Crazy Beautiful Sexy (Matthew Ramsey/Josh Osborne/Ross Cooperman)
  6. Nowhere Fast (Matthew Ramsey/Trevor Rosen/Matt Jenkins)
  7. Beer Can in a Truck Bed (Matthew Ramsey/Trevor Rosen/Matt Jenkins)
  8. Break Up with Him (Matthew Ramsey/Trevor Rosen/Brad Tursi/Geoff Sprung/Whit Sellers)
  9. Song for Another Time (Matthew Ramsey/Trevor Rosen/Brad Tursi/Matt Jenkins)
  10. Til’ It’s Over (Matthew Ramsey/Shane McAnally/Jimmy Robbins)
  11. We Got It Right (Matthew Ramsey/Shane McAnally/Ross Cooperman)


About the Author

Amy

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I live for the experience of live music. Nashville is my kind of town and life feels pretty good at a country concert in the sun with a cold beer in hand. My appreciation of country came via my Dad’s collection in the 70’s and 80’s and I spent my teens listening to Springsteen. On a trip to the states about ten years ago I flicked to the CMT channel and Brad Paisley’s Whiskey Lullaby had me hooked. Since then my love of the genre has seen me travel to the US regularly to attend concerts, festivals and more intimate songwriter sessions in some great venues. It is terrific to see artists making the return trip this side of the Atlantic but equally refreshing to see some fantastic homegrown talent gaining recognition. This is an exciting time for “new country” and I am very happy to be along for the ride.