Mystery looms about in Whiskey Myers’ exposé track, “Tornillo,” of Tornillo as it propels the listener into a vocal-less tale of the trepid Wild West, mourn flooding out of the trumpet in a conquistador-esque manner.
“Tornillo” masterfully crescendos into “John Wayne,” a harmonica-forward rock-gospel-country song featuring wobbly electric guitar and emanates feelings of rodeo stardom. Something about the gritty bad boy vocals coupled with Jeff Hogg’s solid, alive drumming is reminiscent of Nickelback’s “Rockstar” in all the right ways.
“Tornillo” and “John Wayne” preface the entire album’s glory. Harmonica, maestro electric guitar, wavy electro-organ and climactic drum tempo vibrate through the borderline alt-country rock n’ roll.
“Antioch” feeds off the first two tracks, but escapes from the Spanish aesthetic. Its setup is mildly evocative of Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer,” clad with storytelling rock n’ roll prowess and weighted electric guitar. Wail-y, scruffy vocals add to the angst-factor and make the moral of the song, to fake one’s happiness and contentment with the past until it becomes the truth, much more believable.
Independence briefed through smug lyrical narrative reigns a repetitive, thematic motif; I declare “Feet’s” quest to display sheer, unabashed confidence in oneself despite a tumultuous past triumphant. It could be done cockily, and maybe it reads so, but without that “I would jump off a bridge if my friends did, mom” energy, the lyrics would not truly pop. There’s no undertone of potentially faux-elevated egotism, it bleeds through the tracks, but if it was more subliminal, it would not get the point across.
Reminiscent of Junior Kimbrough’s bluesy emotional guitar (which is simultaneously reminiscent of The Black Keys genre-bending alt-rock-blues-hybrid minus the substandard mainstream conversion), Tornillo steers away from Whiskey Myers’ previous twang factor, no chagrin involved. This album did not remain faithful to their notorious vocal brassiness (which was successful in its own right). But the recent broadening of their horizons catapults them into a category with less niche, and in the most non-commercial way possible. They effortlessly shed what was left of the sad-boy roots Firewater was firmly planted in. They have transcended into a genre-less state and have orally and aurally emerged from their cocoon.
Whiskey Myers adapts to the changing needs of their growing fanbase without steering their prior devotees astray. Firewater’s 2011 vocal twang elevated into Texan bad boy harmonica in 2014’s Early Morning Shakes. 2016’s Mud drew some inspiration from gospel and alt-rock like Kings of Leon, instilling a devoted followership with more breadth. 2019’s Whiskey Myers began applying the scruffy muffled vocals Tornillo draws so heavily on and are fine-tuned in songs like “The Wolf.”
Explicit language doesn’t always get the point across in the most fruity, astute way, and Whiskey Myers recognizes this truth-- one lone track, “The Wolf” is marked with the “E” box. Three times, “fucked,” is which is arguably the “baddest” of the words, yet superior in its own premise, is slyly inserted in the lyrics. “Fucked” is strategically placed, spread apart in a tasteful manner, and perfectly aligns with Tornillo’s modestly brash attitude.
The only time I feel like a child does after their scornful parents tell them “I’m not upset, just disappointed” is when a talented band I’ve been following for years drops a horrifically cringe album. Tornillo blew their previous discography out of the water, and that is a descriptive cliché I’m willing to use to emphasize the clever, calculated success of Whiskey Myers’ newest music collection.
Reviewed by Catherine Spohn