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Music Review - `Western` by James Hyland (dmac)

James Hyland - Western  (click on image to watch video)

 25 February 2020



James Hyland’s Western is a concept album, of sorts, as it details how the transcontinental railroad impacted the American West. It’s a healthy 19 songs long, and clocks in at a full hour and twenty minutes. This sonic girth is comparable to many movie lengths. Therefore, it would not at all be inaccurate to call this an epically cinematic recording. However, the term western can also describe this album’s musical style, as Hyland is pictured on its cover viewed from behind wearing a western-style hat with a short, sharp haircut. Furthermore, Hyland sings these songs with a dry vocal tone, accompanied by distinctly western instrumental elements, including pedal steel, dobro, fiddle, and mandolin. In other words, this project westerns to eleven.

The album fully kicks into gear with “First West Bound Train,” which is nicely colored by pedal steel. It rumbles along nicely, much like the pace of a locomotive.  Hyland narrates this maiden voyage like he’s reading the pages from an engineer’s journal when he sings, “I check my pocket watch/It’s all aboard!” As Hyland describes it, this album’s songs look at history through various individuals’ eyes. In addition to the aforementioned engineer, we view America’s past from a Texas cattleman’s viewpoint and through the lens of a war veteran who became a brothel piano player after his military days. Hyland also explores America’s political/social evolution by describing Utah women, who were the first American women to vote in an election. One would imagine Utah to be one of the last places where women gained the right to vote. This just shows you how surprising American history can sometimes be. 

Although this album’s instrumentation is relatively traditional, “Top Floor” is highlighted by stinging, bluesy electric guitar. Therefore, it’s not an album of songs about the Old West, comprised entirely of Old West-inspired sounds -- even though nothing on this album sounds too much like contemporary music.

The album is a full meal, which means it requires dedication and full attention to fully appreciate it. You can’t play these songs in the background and expect to adequately appreciate it. In the same way, you can’t follow a good movie, while all the while checking Facebook on your phone, this is decidedly attentive-listening music. However, if you listen well, James Hyland will take you back in time with his fascinating musical train ride. 


Music Reviewer - Dan MacIntosh


Dan MacIntosh - Dan MacIntosh has been a professional music journalist for 30 years and his work has regularly appeared in many local and national publications, including Inland Empire Weekly, CCM, CMJ, Paste, Mean Street, Chord, HM, Christian Retailing, Amplifier, Inspirational Giftware, Stereo Subversion, Indie-Music, Soul–Audio,, Country Standard Time and 

To Read All of Dan's Reviews, Click Here







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