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Music Review - 'Western' by James Hyland (dm)

James HylandWestern  (Click to watch the video)

15 June 2020

 

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James Hyland’s ambition with his new record is as big as the Montana sky. Throughout the 19 songs on “Western,” the singer/songwriter is attempting to give a richly detailed portrait of how the West was really won; providing listeners with a dynamic and enjoyable tour of American history. Referencing everything from the theft of Native land, the exploitation of Chinese railroad workers, and women’s suffrage, “Western” is one of the best history lessons a country and rock music fan is likely to find.

 

Hyland is an adept lyrical storyteller, using his gifts to describe the details of historical injustice, and pay tribute to the courage of people who had to fight to build their own home – in the personal and national sense. His songs feature the accompaniment of a tight and talented band with standout players bringing sonic and heartfelt power to Hyland’s story-songs. Warren Hood’s fiddle evokes the best of American country and bluegrass, while Johnny Moeller’s guitar puts one in the mind of Neil Young.

 

As one would expect, the music varies according to subject matter, but sometimes with a delightfully surprising results. “Swing it Your Way” swings with verve and whimsy as its duet singers demand the right to vote for women. The next song, “White Men in the Hills,” gives a dark country-rock depiction of the destruction of indigenous tribes and land.

 

Love songs, and more traditional country fare, provide occasional breaks from the historical sweep, and while there isn’t a bad song on the album, one cannot help but wonder if “Western” would benefit from more curation. Running at 19 songs, some of the more memorable songs fade into their surroundings.

 

Given Hyland’s gifts as a songwriter, it is easy to understand why he included so many songs, but the album does run the risk of falling underneath its own weight.

 

When it stands, it stands at great height – giving glimpse into the fascinating chronicle of struggle, protest, labor, and violence that constructed the fable of the American West. Hyland aims high, and like a mythic lawman of the Great Frontier, usually hits his target.

  

 David Masciotra

 

 

David Masciotra (www.davidmasciotra.com) is the author of four books, including Barack Obama: Invisible Man (Eyewear Publishing, 2017) and Mellencamp: American Troubadour (University Press of Kentucky, 2015).

To read all of David's reviews, click here 

  

 

 


 

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