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 evening’s edition of the Independent Spotlight, we shine our gaze onto a rising country rocker in the independent scene hailing from Corpus Christi, Texas. Jake Ward, accompanied by his band, have released ‘Love Don’t Live Here,’ a remarkably ambitious ten track effort that explores Ward’s potential as a relevant Americana country rock artist. Let’s dig right into the man’s debut studio effort.
Independent debut efforts have a history with being questionably produced and rather shoddy. Also, indie country is currently riddled with stereotypical performances and cliches. The incredibly refreshing reality of Ward’s debut is his defiant stand against both those tropes. ‘Love Don’t Live Here Anymore’ is a sharply produced, well-executed, romp through rootsy country that melds beautifully with contemporary rock influences.
Technically, if you want to trace Ward’s recent releases, you’d follow that line back to ‘Hit The Road,’ his first radio single and first regional hit. It’s an impressive number, one that hasn’t been included on ‘Love Don’t Live Here.’ Instead, the album opens with the fiery title track, a tune that makes a bold statement right out of the gate. Like a bull in a china shop, Ward bombards his way through those aforementioned cliches with brute force, which is absolutely fantastic. The Jake Ward Band has blended the perfect harmony of traditional Americana strings/instrumental pieces and bluesy, bar-chord rock and roll. ‘Love Don’t Live Here’ is a resounding success on all counts, starting the album out on a particularly high note.
‘Out The Door’ is a song that’s an absolute treat on a quality sound system. This tightly performed rocker is accentuated wonderfully on a truly solid audio set-up. The production is nothing short of elegant, which took me aback at first - the mix is well-organized and nothing in it is compromised by something else. More so, the sparse usage of panning separates the instrumentation with tact. Translated into laymen terms: don’t listen to ‘Out The Door’ with one earbud in.
Now, on the opening efforts. Ward exhibits himself as a fine frontman - one that can rock two genres simultaneously. Nothing in those songs is exceptionally notable lyrically, however, and one could argue ‘Love Don’t Live Here’ doesn’t have near the depth lyrically it does instrumentally. ‘Sleepless Nights’ is the first quality excursion of Ward’s lyrical prowess. Yes, he does have prowess. This heartache-ballad brings down the walls around Ward’s humanity, which is always a welcome addition to any artist’s work. You can’t just write songs that are catchy; you need to write songs that you’ve lived... otherwise your sound is artificial. ‘Sleepless Nights’ feels honest and authentic.
The bluegrass-tinged ‘Drive’ offers an even deeper look into a fleshed out Americana sound on ‘Love Don’t Live Here.’ It’s a catchy tune, perhaps even making it a nice little highlight of the first half of the album. That half is concluded with the scorching ‘Slow Down.’ Now, the song is actually a slow brewing piece, never quite climaxing into anything climactic. It feels easy-riding and effortless, exhibited powerfully by carefree lyrics and guitar rumblings. Give the Eagles a Texan country twang, you may have something akin to ‘Slow Down.’
‘Ignorant Bliss’ is fulfilling compositionally, offering one of the starkly different productions on the record. I love the country string pieces and steel guitar sprinkled throughout. The song is more of an anthemic piece than anything, honestly. That means it’ll always be best served loud on a car stereo with the windows down in the summer or at the actual concert. ‘Mr. Tonight’ is very similar in that sense, really taking the rodeo to you with a party-influenced number.
‘Take My Hand’ is being promoted as one of the singles on the record, which is interesting since it’s buried so deep in the set list. That said, it does immediately stand out from the rest of the album. The album actually seems somewhat conceptual when you hit this song, because you feel a full-circle rebirth from the Ward you were introduced to on ‘Sleepless Nights.’ ‘Take My Hand’ is far more hopeful, building with Phil Spector-esque walls of sound. The song subsides and ignites several times, really creating a rollercoaster of a tune. Lyrically, it’s a love ballad about an opportunistic beginning to a relationship - nothing new, but endearing nonetheless.
The underdog highlight of the latter half of ‘Love Don’t Live Here’ is ‘See It All.’ The song embraces a beautiful level of traditionalism, as if it's a contemporary piece ready for the Grand Ole Opry. The plodding, meandering nature of the piece is absolutely stunning. Again, the song continues Ward’s emotional rebirth as a lover - He’s come full circle from the drunken, heartbroken soul to a persona akin to Aladdin flying Princess Jasmine around to ‘I Will Show You The World.’
‘I can’t take one more night being alone,’ Ward declares, which is definitely a drastic departure from his sleepless nights half a dozen songs ago. I love the sense of finality ‘One More Night’ provides on this album. While upbeat and rocking, the former half of the collection is a lyrical downer. (Which is fine. In fact, ‘Sleepless Nights’ remains the lyrical high point of the whole album.) The latter half, which eclipses on ‘Take My Hand’ returns Ward to a place we’re all more than happy to welcome him back to.
‘Love Don’t Live Here’ is one of the best independent country rock records I’ve reviewed this year. I’ll be honest - I get a whole bunch of these artists, and my praise is hard-earned. (Very hard.) With the Jake Ward Band, however, I have nothing but admiration and excitement about their sound. The band is everything I want modern country rock to be, something that definitely isn’t personified by many popular artists in the genre right now. This album is a breath of fresh air; check it out below.