Album Review: Aaron Lewis – Town Line

Sam Gazdziak | April 12th, 2011

Aaron Lewis - Town LineYour enjoyment of Aaron Lewis’ EP, Town Line, is directly proportional to how much you enjoy his debut country single, “Country Boy.” If you loved the down-home, don’t-tread-on-me sentiments, then are you ever in luck, because the song shows up three times on a seven-track album. If you thought it was a pandering, turgid tune that relied on catchphrases and hackneyed imagery in place of any real emotional investment, then you’re going to find yourself using the skip button on your stereo frequently.

Lewis, front man for the hard rock band Staind, hit #1 on the Billboard Country Albums chart the week that Town Line was released, and “Country Boy” features contributions from George Jones and Charlie Daniels–not a bad way to start a country career. Musically, it resembles the solo work from another crossover artist, Darius Rucker. While Staind and Hootie and the Blowfish might not sound much alike, the country efforts from Lewis and Rucker both rely heavily on how lucky they are, how grateful they are for their families and how much they love their home.

For the most part, Lewis successfully avoided making a “Staind with a fiddle” record. Dobros and steel guitar are prevalent, and the electric guitar never drowns out Lewis’ voice. It’s an interesting statement about the genre when a rock star sounds downright traditional when compared to some of the current chart-toppers. Content-wise, Lewis adds in a little Tea Party flavor by including several references to gun rights, but outside of that, there’s not much to separate him from most other country vocalists.

“Country Boy,” the lead single, is presented in its original version, a radio edit and an unplugged version. It attempts to, in order, establish Lewis’ country credibility (he came from a small town, owns a tractor and likes hunting), detail his dealings with evil record executives in Los Angeles (he won’t turn his back on his family) and state his patriotism while simultaneously distrusting the government. It concludes with a bizarre monologue from Charlie Daniels, who says he loves his country, his guns and his family (in that order?) while threatening to stand up against any attempts to change the way things are. As a campaign theme, the Republican candidates will be fighting over it, as it evokes all the necessary imagery. As a song, it’s angry, droning, and polarizing.

Town Line is laced with references to Lewis’ New England home. Admittedly, after hearing countless references to Southern hills, hollers, boondocks, sticks and hicks, it’s refreshing to hear Lewis singing about the natural beauty and history of Massachusetts and Vermont. Unfortunately, those differences are just cosmetic. Change the references to Red Sox caps and the Berkshire Mountains in “Massachusetts” to cowboy hats and the Smoky Mountains, and it can easily turn into “Tennessee.”

There are two songs that don’t sound like Lewis was working off of a checklist of things that belong in country music (references to children, check; mention American flag, check), and they end up being the best two of the bunch. “Tangled Up in You,” originally recorded by Staind, successfully translates to the country genre. “Vicious Circles” is a nicely written relationship ballad that also stretches out Lewis’ vocal range. If he wants to record more of those types of songs, then he would be a welcome addition to the ever-expanding world of country music. As it stands now, Lewis’ background is more interesting than most of what’s on his EP.

2 Stars

  1. MR. ROBERTS
    April 12, 2011 at 7:08 am

    So a reference to the American Flag is simply a checklist item Sam? After that comment, you immediately follow up by calling out your two favorite tracks that, by the assertion you make, do not have these “checklist” items. I wonder if that is why you call them the best or if it is the actual song presentation itself. Are those two songs the best in terms of quality? They very well may be by the way.

    It seems your review says less about his artistic quality and more about your thoughts concerning “right-wing” interpretations.

    Only the third paragraph gives us any real insight of yours into the music itself. The main body of your review seems to focus on your angst for the lyrical messages and what “appears” to be your disagreement of those rather than the performances thereof.

    I do not really disagree with your review in summation. But I find it predictable that perceived lyrical weakness, though it may be a correct perception, always seems to have the light put on it when referencing items that one might perceive to be right-of-center.

    Yes, name dropping and “I’m country” lyrics pervade the music today. I weary with it at times like others here. However, I am wondering if a song that was good in quality, production, and artistic presentation would ever be well received if it mentions certain seemingly taboo items such as God, guns, family, and America.

    O.K. I get it with the Repubican and Tea-Party reference. Another unsurprising comment. Would it be fair to say that the Democrats would be fighting over a “Courtyard Hounds” song then? As a matter of fact, I am not aware of a statement even remotely similar to this that has ever been referenced towards the Democrats.

    You stated, “It’s an interesting statement about the genre when a rock star sounds downright traditional when compared to some of the current chart-toppers.” I COULD NOT AGREE MORE ON THAT! A very good point indeed and thanks for saying it.

  2. luckyoldsun
    April 12, 2011 at 8:00 am

    It’s hardly something new to this era that a rocker would sound more “downright traditional compared to some of the current (country) charttoppers.)
    I think a lot of “traditional” country/Americana fans would take “Honky Tonk Women” over “Welcome to My World”; would take Eric Clapton over Kenny Rogers, or would take Bonnie Raitt over Janie Fricke.

  3. Fizz
    April 12, 2011 at 8:33 am

    the way.

    Monsieur Roberts says: It seems your review says less about his artistic quality and more about your thoughts concerning “right-wing” interpretations.
    <——Because you're looking for it.

    I thought "Country Boy" was stupid, and never cared for Staind's brand of crybaby complaint-rock, so I guess I'll be passing on this one.

    And Charlie Daniels has turned into a self-righteous prick in his old age.

  4. MR. ROBERTS
    April 12, 2011 at 8:50 am

    In this review, one doesn’t have to look too hard.

    Good ole Charlie Daniels. Love him to death. God help that he speaks his mind like ole’ Willie does. Of course, that is different. Right?

  5. Fizz
    April 12, 2011 at 8:57 am

    Hell no! Since when did this aging burnout become the authority on biodiesel and foreign policy? At the same time, I don’t seem to recall Willie being as ham-fisted and pugnatcious about his pet issues as Charlie.

  6. MR. ROBERTS
    April 12, 2011 at 10:00 am

    Now Fizz. You have not done your research. Regardless, I have no problem with Charlie’s comments the same as others have no problem with other entertainer’s comments that are, shall we say, left of center.

    But enough of that. So do you agree with my last statement in my original post? That is something maybe we can agree on possibly. I mean, Rock and Crow’s “Picture” was more a country duet than most of the garbage passing today. I am liking “Collide” as well. Compare to, say, Sugarland. Nah, I don’t even want to go there. If I do, ole’ Waynoe will show up again.

  7. Fizz
    April 12, 2011 at 10:17 am

    With most people, it’s not about “free speech” or “the right to express opinions” as it is about “saying whta i want to hear.” Personally, I like to invoke the immortal words of Frank Zappa: “Shut up and play yer guitar.” And that goes for Charlie Daniels and Neil Young equally.

    And I can agree with your last statement. I wonder if it’s because rockers crossing over have already done the rock thing, and want to do something totally different, that their songs can tend to sound more country than Country, so to speak. As for Kid Rock, he’s always been a pretty effective musical chameleon, love him or hate him. Meanwhile, country artists trying to do rock? Not so good. Remember Garth Brooks’s Chris Gaines abortion?

    Dude, all this good behavior, did you get a talking-to or something? Swatted on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper?

  8. MR. ROBERTS
    April 12, 2011 at 10:34 am

    Your second paragraph is right on and I think provides insight into why one direction works better than the other.

    The last statement, well lets just say I had a very fair conversation and decided that my great comments might resonate a bit more if I worded them a bit differently. I have no complaints there.

    As my original post shows, I really haven’t changed my opinions much and remain dogmatic about them and will display them here in my usual pointed manner, my hate/love relationship with critics notwithstanding. As stated previously, I have been exposed to some artists here that were a great addition to my ear-catalog.

  9. Rickster
    April 12, 2011 at 10:47 am

    I can understand why all these rockers want to try to tap into the country music genre to sell some music, but that doesn’t mean I have to listen to this sonic bilgewater! It does warn my heart though when these cross-over attempts run aground and sink like a millstone on their maiden voyage…

  10. Fizz
    April 12, 2011 at 11:05 am

    I wonder if Mr. Lewis will adjust his stage presence for a country setting. Staring at the floor and holding your stomach like you ate a bad hot dog isn’t very country.

  11. Stormy
    April 12, 2011 at 12:19 pm

    Seriously, conservative, just jump on the Billy Joe Shaver train and ride the h* out of that one. Face shootings aside, he is the one who makes you look good.

  12. MR. ROBERTS
    April 12, 2011 at 12:38 pm

    Stormy,

    I am slow today but trying to understand your comment.

  13. Dan Milliken
    April 12, 2011 at 12:40 pm

    “However, I am wondering if a song that was good in quality, production, and artistic presentation would ever be well received if it mentions certain seemingly taboo items such as God, guns, family, and America.”

    “Red Dirt Road” (Brooks & Dunn)
    “Time to Get a Gun” (Fred Eaglesmith / Miranda Lambert)
    “This Land Is Our Land” (Todd Snider)
    “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” (Alan Jackson)
    “Small Town Southern Man” (Alan Jackson)
    “The Fightin’ Side of Me” (Haggard)
    “Long Black Train” (Josh Turner)
    “America” (Waylon)
    “Family” (LeAnn Rimes)

    And on and on and on. Just an offhand list. It’s not the subject matter that reviewers object to; it’s that that particular subject matter is only occasionally explored with much substance or distinction.

  14. Leeann Ward
    April 12, 2011 at 12:57 pm

    I think she’s saying that Billy Joe Shaver should be the conservatives’ Willie Nelson?

    Politics aside, I’m late to the BJS train (in the last year), but his music is awesome.

  15. Leeann Ward
    April 12, 2011 at 12:59 pm

    As for Aaron Lewis, he sounds like a contemporary Christians singer in this “country” form to me. Not the lyrics, but the way that he sings. Strange.

  16. Fizz
    April 12, 2011 at 1:03 pm

    As for “seemingly taboo items,” get over that martyr complex.

  17. MR. ROBERTS
    April 12, 2011 at 1:09 pm

    @Leeann – Precisely! I listen to a fair amount of that genre as well. Predominant male half-whisper half-growl voice.
    @Dan – Red Dirt Road is one of my favorites of Dunn and the silent partner. Just a good identifiable song. Long Black Train is already a classic.
    @Fizz – Don’t stir up my Waynoe.

  18. Fizz
    April 12, 2011 at 1:14 pm

    Well, his vocals in Staind were 50% whine and the rest full-blown blubber.

  19. MR. ROBERTS
    April 12, 2011 at 1:15 pm

    @Fizz – I have no arguement there at all.

  20. Leeann Ward
    April 12, 2011 at 1:16 pm

    Good to know I’m not imagining it.

  21. MR. ROBERTS
    April 12, 2011 at 1:43 pm

    @LEEANN – That is one reason I think the group “Third Day” was, and is, so successful. The are to contemporary christian what Alabama was to country years ago, at least to some degree.

  22. Mike W.
    April 12, 2011 at 6:06 pm

    Couldnt agree more with this review. “Country Boy” is awful and the EP/album is generally pretty “eh”, but Tangled Up In You and Vicious Circles especially are quite good and more indicative of what I would like to see him record.

  23. davecefus
    April 14, 2011 at 2:10 pm

    Funney anyone who likes real country music gets made fun of and bad reviews? Country boy is a good song and yes it is sad that the lead singer from stained is more in tune with real country fans than Nashville’s, corperate watered down 26-34 year soccer mom country music. also Charlie Daniels is has not a self ritious prick, He has not changed the world has.. People are like sheep they follow the majority, Good ole Charlie ain’t drinkin your kool-aid he is his own man thats why you dont like him your jelous of his intestinal fortitude!!!!!

  24. Jack Williams
    April 14, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    Me, I think Country Boy sounds like Dead or Alive by Bon Jovi. Now that’s country!

    I’d say Charlie’s changed a little over the years. Back in the early ’70s when he was in his mid 30’s, he poked fun at the John Birch Society in Uneasy Rider. After seeing his monologue in the video, I’m thinking he might as well be in it.

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