Midland tops charts and avoids country cliches in sophomore album “Let it Roll”

Lauren Steele

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If you like country music, this review is for you. If you don’t, here’s to expanding your horizons. So stick around! 

Country music trio Midland doesn’t stray far from the bluesy authenticity that shot them to stardom in their first album. Faced with the daunting challenge of topping a chart-topper, “Let it Roll” manages to find success following the popularity of 2017’s “On the Rocks.”

Midland follows the success of 2017 album “On the Rocks” with “Let it Roll,” released on Aug. 23.

Nominated for Best Vocal Group at the 2019 Country Music Awards, Midland can also now count Justin Bieber among their fans. Mainstream pop enthusiasts, rejoice! “Let it Roll” has the Bieber seal of approval.

Don’t let the cheesy cover photo give you the wrong idea. The 14-song album actually differs from much of popular country music today, using impressively few country tropes. In fact, they only say the word “whiskey” three times, all in one song. And amazingly, it isn’t the song called “Every Song’s a Drinkin’ Song.” Go figure.

Although, they do fall back to country cliches in “Fourteen Gears,” a trucking song set in Austin, Texas. But the catchy chorus and unusual storyline almost make you forget about it. Almost.

The album’s lead single, “Mr. Lonely,” is an upbeat, undeniably fun song. You’ll find yourself singing about “Mr. Good Time/Mr. One-You’re-Gonna-Want-on-a-Saturday-Night” with a nice southern twang in no time.

Cheating and country music go together like whiskey and water. But “Cheatin’ Songs” strays far from the Louisville-slugging ballads with… a pro-cheating song. Or at least a quick how-to: “Don’t call me after 5 o’clock/Change my name in your phone/Pay cash for all our drinks/ We don’t need those receipts followin’ us home.” By taking a contrarian’s stance on such overused topics, Midland leaves listeners with a country album that’s defying country music stereotypes. Or it’s rewriting them.  

On top of their unique sound for country music today, Midland gives listeners another surprise in “Let it Roll.” Bassist Cameron Duddy and guitarist Jess Carson take over lead vocal duties on “Lost in the Night” and “Roll Away,” respectively. Though the two don’t quite possess the vocal character that makes lead singer Mark Wystrach so distinctly compelling, these vocal change-ups are just one way Midland avoids the music industry’s dreaded “sophomore slump.”

Admittedly, “Playboys” is a bit repetitive. And “21st Century Honky Tonk American Band” is more than a bit cliché, as you can probably guess from the title. But Midland manages to separate themselves from the other whiskey-drinking, dirt-road-riding, supper-on-the-porch type of songs that blanket the country music scene today. And it’s precisely this separation that earned them No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart.

They’re self-aware. They know exactly what kind of cliches they’ve written, and they use them strategically. Whether it’s for nostalgic purposes (see: “Fast Hearts and Slow Towns”) or for humor (see: “Mr. Lonely”), all cliches in “Let it Roll” are intentional. 

So, if you hate country music and you’re still here, kudos. If you’re a huge fan and you, too, made it this far, let’s chat sometime. In the meantime, plan your road trip to catch the “Let it Roll” tour in Reno on Nov. 2.

Posing for their album cover, the three-man band has a distinct style in country music today.