Album Review: Aaron Lewis – Town Line
Your 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.
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