Jason Eady: AM Country Heaven Album Review

The first three records of Jason Eady’s career established him as a worthy songsmith with a fine voice and an eye for the details of both the heart and the heart of the matter.   Eady declared for anyone who’d listen prior to the release of this fourth album in his catalog, AM Country Heaven, that it was a shift from his previous works.  In fact, his website still reads as follows:

“I admit that this record is a drastic departure from anything I have done before, but this is where my heart is.”

And if we’re talking purely about the sound, agreed, there are distinct differences between this record and his earlier works.  This one sounds like the sort of country record you’ll remember from your youth, the scratchy LPs your grandparents played in the house when you were over.  (Which is a beautiful thing, just so we’re clear) But any fan of Eady will readily recognize the lyrical content here.  As has been his way thus far in what is shaping up as a damned respectable career, Jason effectively uses simple lyrics to mine the deepest emotional and psychological veins.  His gaze can be unrelenting in places, tempered in others, but it is always insightful and incisive.  This record is not for mental midgets, nor for the clamoring hordes who view the latest Bieber single as just awesome background music.  There’s nothing background about AM Country Heaven, even though the entire track list is devoid of one single rabble rousing roof raisin’ anthem.  No mentions of Shiner Bock or I-35, either.  So the Ballcap Nation may be befuddled for a bit.  It’s okay.  They’ll grow up one day.  And when they do, they’ll wonder why they didn’t spend more time with this record back in the day while they struggle to remember the name of the flavor of the month band that some print rag told them was the best thing going.

Top to bottom, what Eady’s unleashed here is a masterpiece of pure country gold (not always sunshine, but definitely always golden) that plays well in truck cabs, tack rooms, feed stores, and the very best of undiscriminating beer joints.  It also works equally well on a back porch in the deep of a Friday evening or the stillness of a fresh Sunday’s morn.

The argument Music Row and its supporters always seem to trot out about the slop the mainstream serves these days boils down to an errant idea that music must always evolve, find a freshness, somehow be eternally new.   Whatever that means.  In the title track here Eady puts that mantra to the lie, in brutally blunt yet unassuming fashion.  You’ve likely heard the song by now, but if not, do yourself a favor and remedy the oversight.   It’s a lyric from the calmest and deepest waters of a tattered soul, delivered in a manner that would make Lefty or Faron proud.

I miss the days when the women were ugly

And the men were all forty years old

Because you had to say something for the people to listen

Now they just do what they’re told

Now it’s all about Idols and pretty blonde hair

And how many trucks you can sell

Out here in AM country heaven and FM country hell

Lot of insightful truth there, delivered in about as direct a fashion as this album aspires to.  The remainder of the track list hews close to timeless roots without firing direct shots across the bow of the establishment.   It’s a mature and honest approach, setting the table on the leadoff cut and then backing up the assertion with consistent and formidable examples the rest of the way.  Why tell someone something when you can just show them, Eady seems to be saying throughout.  And sometimes those punches land the truest and the hardest.

It’s rarely a difficult task to identify a standout cut or two on a given record.  Definitely not the case here; as the track list progresses each song seems to build upon the last yet stand firmly on its own.  Some tunes (“Man On A Mountain,” “Sober On the Weekends”) jump out solely on the basis of distinct stylistic differences.  The first is a rollicking mountain stomp, with a terrific bluegrass-y vocal by the incredibly talented Patty Loveless.  At first blush one wouldn’t necessarily pick Patty as a duet partner for Eady, but boy howdy does it work.

“Wishful Drinking” also departs sonically from the majority of the songs here, stepping away for a moment from the old school stone country sound and dropping listeners right into the beating heart of a late ‘80s New Traditional movement melody.  It’s easy to imagine this cut as a chart topper for Randy Travis or Doug Stone back in the day.  The pedal steel will haunt you long after the last note fades, and the guitar work provides ominous foreshadowing and atmosphere throughout.  A stunning arrangement expertly delivered behind a vocal that simply won’t get out of your head.

Nuggets like that litter the byways of AM Country Heaven.  Eady put together a legitimate all star lineup of musicians for the record – Redd Volkaert, Earl Poole Ball, Tom Lewis, Kevin Smith, Lloyd Maines, and on and on.  Every one of those is a standout in their own right, with a laundry list of credits to their names.  Here (as is often the case when many of these guys play together in Austin supergroup Heybale) they mesh together in defiantly incomparable fashion, channeling the ghosts of legends who once routinely made the greatest, truest music in the world.  The results are consistently and perfectly understated, and all the more astonishing as a result.  What Jason Eady and these musicians do here serves as an incomparable counterpoint to the bombast, the stage shows, the sound and fury of what passes for country music in the mainstream consciousness today.

When it’s real, it doesn’t need a loudspeaker.   It just needs an audience.   AM Country Heaven is real.  And Eady’s already delivered it.  Now it’s time for you to hold up your end of the deal.

www.jasoneady.com for more info.

~ Dave Pilot

Dave Pilot lives in north Texas with his first good wife (don’t ask about the other one), seven horses, and five dogs.  When his wife’s not looking, he tries to figure out ways to feed the 987 or so cats to the coyotes out behind the fenceline.  When he’s not trying to raise his kids to turn out better than he did, he’s hitting historical sites on his way to honky-tonks from Denton to Port Aransas. Visit Dave Pilot on Facebook.

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