Photo: Trenton Johnson
Some or many on the independent and traditional side of country music will never give this guy a chance. He's too pretty. Its sound is too polished. The brim of his baseball cap is too flat. Would a raindrop even roll to one side or the other if it landed in the middle? He recently launched his own brand of wine to scream out loud. And what about that title, "Gold Chain Cowboy?" A slim image always seems to accompany whatever Parker McCollum does. He reminds you of the guys you hated in high school.
Parker McCollum will likely never be for the deeper, darker, sharper, and more Americana audiences, and this new album is unlikely to help its prospects either. But for a strong legion of disenfranchised country fans who find little or no favor with the ultra-polished and pop / hip-hop-influenced styles of the country mainstream and who want music that speaks to them a little deeper – but don't necessarily want a dictionary, to digest it, or to tense up with emotional banter on every single song while the melody and contagion are forgotten – Parker McCollum sits right in her wheelhouse or even marks the top of her musical pyramid.
Parker McCollum once said, "I try to make Luke Bryan money singing Chris Knight-caliber songs." This new album isn't exactly that in either of those two ways. It's too good to find Luke Bryan draws, but it's too sure to be enjoyed by the Chris Knights. McCollum's first official major label release is a pretty impressive collection of mostly heartfelt and well-played love songs with strong hooks and choruses and a production that refuses to use a whiff of drum machine beats or hip-hop accents, and it even works in a steel guitar solo or two. But ultimately, the equality and security of effort just makes it okay and not great, unless that equality is what you are looking for.
The 80s influence is palpable on Gold Chain Cowboy, but not really the country 80s. "Falling Apart" sounds like it could be a loverboy cut, and the only true country song is the last track on the record, "Never Loved You At All". This is a mainstream rock-country album that surprisingly matches its cover-to-cover approach. Songs like “To Be Loved By You” and “Heart Like Mine” could be good country songs, but have the same pretty consistent musical style as the rest of the album. There is little seasoning or variety here.
“Drinkin & # 39;” is more of a country style and deserves praise for being probably one of the best songs on the set. But it's still in the same likeness and consistency as the rest of Gold Chain Cowboy. It's also inconclusive if you have that one Parker McCollum song on that album, like "Meet You in the Middle" and "I Can't Breathe" from earlier in his career that helped put him on bringing up the radar of so many fans, and finally the major labels.
But what also coincides with Gold Chain Cowboy is the quality of the writing, the strength of the choruses, and the distinctive pull these songs find within their main demographics. He doesn't really stink here either. If you're looking for some strong character creation or uncovering depth in an otherwise plain language that points to Chris Knight or some of your other favorite country songwriters, then no, this record is going to run you down. But as a pragmatic record by a Texas-based artist on a popular country label, it becomes an above-average scorecard.
Parker McCollum is just a kind of puzzle. Its suppleness and attractiveness make it easy for some to discard his music before even licking it. For those who have migrated from the mainstream, its songs and melodies just have so much more meaning and weight than what they're used to, and it's appeal pulls them in.
In the end, the naysayers and the proponents are likely both right, and both are wrong to some extent. For the package Parker McCollum comes in, he delivers more than you'd expect, but for some, less than they'd like. And this is where Gold Chain Cowboy rests – in a margin better than most in the mainstream, but still mild compared to many others. But ultimately, it could be the bridge that Parker McCollum presents between the two that makes his career and sound so crucial.
– – – – – – – – – – –