Although August bid us adieu once more and everyone has started to get their sweaters out of the cupboard, country music is still in full festival swing! With plenty of exciting tours just kicking off as well, we're going to be kept warm and content with all the exciting events happening in our beloved genre right into the colder months.
So it's no surprise then that September isn't easing up on the album cycle either - prepare yourselves for another mountain of exciting record releases that are coming out today.
With no shortage of momentous releases, Holler's staff pick of the week comes in the form of Stephen Wilson Jr.'s Søn of Dad - a weighty double-sided debut from one of Big Loud's most exciting new signings.
Alongside the man himself, we have two highly-anticipated albums from a couple of country heavyweights - Brothers Osborne, with their self-titled fourth studio record, and Dan + Shay, who return with their new project, 'Bigger Houses'.
On more of the Americana front, we also have new releases from Buffalo Nichols, Margo Cilker and Viv & Riley to delve into.
Finally, we have a record that's been 10 years in the making - the debut album from Jon Langston.
As it always seems to be these days folks, it's a busy one - let's delve in.
Søn of Dad may be Stephen Wilson Jr.’s debut album, but do not be led into thinking that he’s some prodigious upstart.
The truth is, like the album, Wilson Jr. sits somewhere indefinable, both musically and symbolically. His mix of grunge, energetic rock and string king country music weaves amongst the dark and the light that he draws out of most of his subjects.
Raised in the pentecostal church and still something of a believer himself (‘devil’ is deliberately written in lower case), Wilson Jr. shows his cards as a practical dealer in symbology.
Wilson Jr. has created a sound that is both on trend and entirely unique. The Book of Ecclesiastes says that “there is an appointed time for everything”. This is Stephen Wilson Jr’s time.
Rating: 8.5 / 10
Review By: Holly Smith
Fusing his dark, raspy vocals and finger-picking guitar with hip hop rhythms, synths and samples, Buffalo Nichols’ uniquely experimental The Fatalist challenges us to reconsider how we define blues music.
"Which aspects of 'the Blues' are essential?”, Nichols questions. “Is it a melody? A certain vocabulary? Delivery? Instrumentation? And most importantly: who gets to decide?” Throughout the album’s eight tracks, he endeavours to find out.
At times, it’s a rather dramatic process. The lead single, a cover of Blind Willie Johnson’s ‘You’re Gonna Need Somebody on Your Bond’, is laden with 808 beats and chopped-up Charley Patton samples, culminating in an intense electronic melding of past and present.
Though the production (Nichols’ own) is rich, many of the tracks feel claustrophobic in their layering, thereby making the album’s highlights moments at which Nichols’ sentiments feel most calm, notably in the bookending songs.
An avant-garde work, The Fatalist might not be for everyone, but allows Buffalo Nichols to effectively express his DIY-spirited, modern-day blues, no holds barred.
Rating: 6 / 10
Review By: Ciara Bains
Margo Cilker’s songs have always felt like perfect travelling companions. Full of child-like wonder for the world, they’re the kind of songs you carry around with you in your heart, to remind you that the world isn’t always such a bad place. There’s a warm, comforting nostalgia to them, like a soft shoulder to fall asleep on or a hug that won’t let you go.
On Valley of Heart’s Delight, the child-like wonder of her debut, Pohorylle, comes with a world-weariness that didn’t seem to be there before. When these songs pull you in and squeeze you tight, it feels like it’s because they need that hug more than you.
Flicking through her family scrapbooks, Cilker weighs up the stories she finds against the life she’s lived. She begins to wonder about the turnings she didn’t take, leading to the lives she hasn't lead.
Like Theodore Roethke writing a Lonely Planet guide to the secret highways of America, Valley of Heart’s Delight is a lovely, sad and beautifully poetic record that you’ll want to take with you everywhere you go. Just in case.
Rating: 7.5 / 10
Review By: Jof Owen
Venturing away from the high-octane stadium rock and bluesy rockabilly of Skeletons, Brothers Osborne embrace a positively sexed-up southern funk sound on their self-titled fourth studio album; tuning up the pristine production that wouldn't be missed on Day + Shay's new record, while reaching for release and reverie across pop-country lifters.
It delivers mixed results. 'Might As Well Be Me' and 'Goodbye's Kickin' In' are delightful examples of when the Bros find the perfect balance of pop sensibility and experimentalism within their means - the latter in particular a smoking little heater that lingers like a parting kiss from a stranger you've just met at Dee's.
The downside is when the duo attempt to force feed us something ostensibly profound and sonically friendly. 'Nobody's Nobody' - albeit the most popular single from the record so far - is an elementary observation that no one person is better than the other. It's a fair-enough point to make, but it's made over such an unmemorable, vanilla track that it feels laboured despite it's tranquil delivery.
Brothers Osborne are seemingly at a crossroads in their career - whether this is the album to set them on a path of longevity remains to be seen.
Rating: 5.5 / 10
Review By: Ross Jones
On the new album from Boyfriend Country’s prime flag-bearers, Dan + Shay’s glossy, faultless harmonies glide across a simple narrative, taking the listener from the visceral despair of heartbreak to the vibrant, wide-eyed euphoria of falling - and staying - in love.
It’s an entertaining project that at times feels predictable, with the topical threads and sonic texture woven from the same material as 2021’s Good Things.
Dan + Shay’s talents shine most lustrously when they strip it all back, like on the title-track’s charming reflection on the American Dream, or when they explore a looser, more playful style on ‘We Should Get Married’.
However, with the sparser, rawer direction modern country is heading in, Dan + Shay’s tight, heavily produced sound and sleek, burnished vocals are at risk of being left behind.
Rating: 5 / 10
Review By: Maxim Mower
Jon Langston first arrived on the scene in 2013, with fans clamoring for a full-length debut ever since. A decade later, this 14-song collection would have been better received ten years ago, as opposed to in 2023.
Dripping with all of the familiar elements of the generic, bro-country era that permeated the 2010s, Heart On Ice is inundated with songs about beer, trucks, the exhausted romanticizing of 90s country and being proudly southern, almost ad nauseam.
At times sounding like a Great Value version of HARDY, Heart On Ice fails to move the needle or offer much in the way of meaning. Though there are a few exceptions – the heartfelt ‘Granddaddy’s Watch,’ sultry ‘Better Off’ and a tribute to his daughter on ‘May Magnolia’ – the results feel lackluster for such a seasoned artist.
Langston calls Heart on Ice a concept record. After listening through, it feels more like a cheap rehashing of a decade-old era of country music.
Review By: Lydia Farthing
Here at Holler, we’re big summertime people. We prefer them later in the year though, when the weather is more mild and you can actually enjoy the day, rather than melting 10-paces from your front door. Viv & Riley’s new record Imaginary People is perfect for this time of year.
Album opener ‘Kygers Hill’ immediately exhibits the album's tinges of shoegaze that's woven throughout its indie foundations. It’s the perfect entry point to the more experimental album from the pair, while still remaining true to the Appalachian roots at the heart of their sound.
‘The General’ and ‘Is It All Over’ possess that same effervescent dusting, carrying and honoring our pasts while using the experience to guide our next steps forward. No matter how much we might cling to where we are, sometimes we need to uproot and take a leap of faith, to open ourselves up to new experiences and ideas in order to grow and blossom.
Imaginary People is glimmery and hopeful, romantic and introspective. It makes the perfect pairing to a warm beach day during the off-season, when you can truly bask in and admire it’s glory.
Rating: 7 / 10
Review By: Laura Ord
For more information and dates of all country albums being released in 2023, see below: