When Cody Jinks’ 2016 album, I’m Not The Devil made a splash in the country music industry that his previous albums hadn’t before, it was no surprise to see Jinks’ name getting passed around a fair bit more beyond just the indie country and Texas country circuits.
After signing with Rounder Records (the first time he’s worked with a record label), it seems like he’s looking to ride that wave even further with his new album, Lifers.
If anything, Lifers prove that he should leave his “fuck Nashville,” faux-outlaw comments to a lesser artist who actually needs the marketing, because his music speaks for itself.
Call it a hunch, but when we revisit Lifers five or ten years down the road in the context of Jinks’ discography, this will be the album that gets overlooked or viewed as a dark horse candidate for one’s favorite album of his. Yet listen after listen with Lifers has me convinced that Jinks took chances with this album that pay off nicely.
The most noticeable difference between this and past Jinks works is that the production is much fuller. “Holy Water” kicks things off right away with some rougher guitars, organs and surprisingly heavy drums before later introducing a background choir toward its end. Really, it’s just more exciting to hear some of the variety that takes place when it comes to the element of this album.
The first half really seems to hone in on the rougher elements of it all too, with “Must Be The Whiskey” and the title track both adopting blues elements in their piano and guitar lines mixed with the organ. “Desert Wind” continues this trend by being one of the best modern Western influenced songs there is, with a dusty darkness and clock-ticking-esque percussion that recalls the best of Marty Robbins.
Even for as straightforward as “Stranger” is, the added echoed effects (mostly noticeable in the steel guitar) provide a nice touch, and “7th Floor” is an entire surprise of sorts with its hard-edged funky soul atmosphere. Again, Jinks’ choice to incorporate a background choir was an unexpected but really nice touch.
And of course, long time Jinks fans will find plenty to love with the simple, thoughtful “Somewhere Between I Love You and I’m Leavin’ ” and other lighter ’90s inspired cuts like “Big Last Name” and “Can’t Quit Enough” (the latter of which featuring some nice saloon piano).
Vocally, Jinks continues to excel with his passion over pure power, with “7th Floor” being an intensely good example of this. Even on something that’s got a worn-out theme such as “Must Be The Whiskey,” Jinks is good at conveying the actual mystery and pain that comes with not knowing why he’s slipping the way he is.
Of course, him questioning himself is something that’s always been loved about him. His writing is introspective and thoughtful, and while there’s not as many places on this album to showcase that as there are on other albums, there’s still some stunning moments. “Stranger,” a Billy Don Burns cut, fits right in with Jinks’ other repotoire. “Somewhere … ” finds him turning the concept of the life on the road song (the line “here with you or out there tearing down some road” seems to suggest it at least) into something a lot more meaningful. The big theme of this album is that often, Jinks doesn’t know the answers to his problems and yet he wants like hell to find them. There’s contradictory lyrics here for a reason such as wanting her and needing her while also not knowing if there’s anything left between them.
The greatest example of this struggle though takes place on “Head Case,” a revealing look at his mindset and how once again, he’s not quite sure what to do with his life or his music. At least he finds peace with his quest to never stop asking questions, because the day you stop is the day you really die.
As mentioned before though, another noticeable thing about Lifers is that there are many straightforward tracks here as well that can be hit or miss. Upon first listen “Must Be The Whiskey” seems like an odd cut with Jinks’ rushed delivery and uninteresting theme, but between his aforementioned delivery and gripping production, it turns into a highlight after a couple more listens. “Holy Water” just may be a more interesting version of Eric Church’s “Desperate Man” with Jinks once again (surprise, surprise) trying to find answers to his questions.
On the other hand, while the production of the title track is incredibly interesting, the clichéd lyrical structure can scream as pandering, and “Big Last Name” seems utterly pointless as a whole with a hook that doesn’t amount to much. While labeled as a fan favorite too, “Colorado” to my ears just comes across as a little drier than the other songs for not providing enough details and getting a tad repetitive after awhile.
Still, at 11 tracks, this is one of Jinks’ tightest collections of music to date, and while it’s also a bit of a departure from the simpler outlaw era sound of 2016’s I’m Not The Devil, I’d go to bat to say that Lifers just may be the more well-rounded collection as a whole. Jinks is poised to break through with this album and has all his cards on the table to do so. I hope he does.
Thumbs up! (8/10)
Producers: Arthur Penhallow Jr., Joshua Thompson
Album highlights: “Head Case,” “Desert Wind,” “Stranger,” “7th Floor,” “Must Be The Whiskey,” “Somewhere Between I Love You and I’m Leavin’ “