Don Woods - '90 Proof'

Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.

In this afternoon’s edition of the Independent Spotlight, we shine our gaze on Don Woods Jr., a Texas-based country artist who released a record entitled ‘90 Proof’ last year. The performer has been lauded as one of the potential torchbearers for a new generation of his genre, with critics drawing parallels between Woods and George Jones, Waylon Jennings, and the like. Does Woods’ newest album stand tall amidst that praise? Let’s delve deep into the ten song collection and find out!

‘Whiskey Melody’ opens the album with Woods’ most celebrated song, given the single landed him Entertainer of the Year and Song of the Year at the Nashville Universe Awards when it came out. Now, the song does check off pretty much every stereotype box a cynical critic may levy against modern country music. There really isn’t a verse that doesn’t muse about various drinks, and Woods sings a whole lot about driving down country roads in trucks.

For that reason, I’d be careful classifying Woods alongside the likes of Waylon Jennings. Jennings was outlaw country with very obvious roots in classic folk and Americana sounds. Woods aligns more with contemporary country artists that infuse quite a bit of pop influence into their sounds. I’d probably draw a parallel to someone like Zac Brown before I would an outlaw or traditional country artist. ‘More Than Dallas,’ for example, is essentially a ballad injected with pop and classic rock influence.

With that distinction made, I don’t think it’s a bad thing at all that Woods aligns in that territory. His music is well produced and well performed, and tunes like ‘Good Song and a Sunset’ are pleasant gems in this collection. There isn’t a song in ‘90 Proof’ that’s invasive or ill-placed. (Perhaps with one exception we'll explore shortly.) I love that a bizarre recollection of a one night stand, ‘Lipstick on a Cigarette,’ is immediately followed by an exploration of heartbreak, ‘The Grand Tour.' (The latter of which is one of the album’s best songs.)

If there’s one song that’s the weak link in the album’s chain, however, it is ‘Some Summer.’ Singing about string bikinis and rubbing sunscreen on women isn’t particularly sexy, and there are parts of ‘Some Summer’ that come off more as uncomfortable than anything else. The faux pas is immediately recovered with the especially endearing ‘If It Wasn’t for the Radio,’ though, and it actually marks one of the highlights of the album.

The trio of songs that end ‘90 Proof’ are strong excursions through the sound that Woods established throughout the record. The nostalgic ‘Red Car Green Light’ is a solid song, but it’s followed by the strongest effort of the ten, ‘The Ride.’ Woods is a good vocalist with an impressive amount of range and ‘The Ride’ takes incredible advantage of that. Furthermore, it’s the most lyrically fascinating effort of the bunch. If there’s one song to listen to first on this record, it’s either ‘Whiskey Melody’ or ‘The Ride.’

The finale, ‘Over You,’ is as one might expect, a melancholy song about the departure of a relationship. Uniquely, there’s actually a sense of finality to the last song on the album, making it a rather good closer to ‘90 Proof.’ Instrumentally, it also houses some of the best performances and electric guitar riffing. I’d even argue the final four songs of ‘90 Proof’ are its very strongest. (Though ‘The Grand Tour’ is fantastic as well.)

There are a few misses on ‘90 Proof,’ but by and large, it’s an enjoyable and well produced, performed, and written indie country record. It incorporates heavy helpings of pop and rock influence, aligning it more closely with contemporary counterparts in the genre rather than traditional parallels, but that’s perfectly fine. Songs like ‘Some Summer’ are immediately outweighed by infinitely superior endeavors the likes of ‘The Ride’ and ‘If It Wasn’t for the Radio.’

Give the record a spin if you’re a country fan. It’ll likely have something to suit your fancy, as Woods does explore quite a few variations on his style of country throughout the collection.

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