Record Of The Week # 49

October 5, 2018

Dillon Carmichael – Hell On An Angel

Dillon Carmichael has a lineage of East Kentucky Country music forbears and, as they say, the apple hasn’t fallen too far from the tree. Now a Nashville resident he’s developed his song writing talents in collaborations. On his debut record he has co-written seven of these 10 compositions. It seems that to go from being a Nashville songwriter to a recording artist is the quality of the voice. It’s here that Carmichael kicks the ball out of the park with a rich and expressive baritone; I immediately thought of Jamey Johnson but Chris Stapleton fans will be drooling.

An atmospheric “Natural Disaster” leads us off – the voice powers through familiar troubles: “Just like an angry volcano, she blew me away”. A slow moving Stapleton arrangement that crosses Country, Southern Rock and the Blues into an Eagles confection is an attractive introduction. One of the singles off the album “It’s Simple” is a ballad drenched in pedal steel and eulogises about an uncomplicated life; you start to sense the old time feel pervading the album. If that wasn’t traditional enough for you then “Country Women” opens with the immortal lines: “I like girls that ain’t afraid of a tractor” and then by line three we get references to Haggard and honky tonks. As a tune, maybe a little Outlaw comes to mind with lively pedal steel and female backing singers giving this a feel good swing. 

The title track, “Hell On An Angel”, is another upbeat stomp and the lyrics tell you of hell raising: “Well I was hell on an angel, that liquor burned like gasoline, I had one foot in the fire the other steppin’ on her wing, Well that temperature was risin’ but I could not feel the heat, Well I was hell on an angel that loved the devil out of me”. Leroy Powell’s guitar playing on the album is immaculate and here we rock out with an Allman Brothers’ lick.

“Dancin Away With Heart” deploys that baritone and it stops you in your track. He puts into song a true story of playing a gig when his ex rolls up with her new beau. Needless to say he’s crushed by her appearance. This is an album highlight. A great melody that could be from the 1980/90s. Again sensational drums (Chris Powell) propels this along with discreet guitar solos and female backing. If this doesn’t make Country radio then nothing will.

Stapleton’s 2015 “Was It 26” was a unique reworking of a Charlie Daniels’ track by Don Sampson. Quite surprisingly, Carmichael’s “What Hank Would Do” misappropriates this arrangement with the distinctive guitar sound. I found this shameless and unoriginal. Dixie Againcloses the album with anthemic twin guitar rock. A slow build with more tales of dissolution and the pursuit of redemption. Lynyrd Skynyrd would be proud to call this their own.

This is mainly authentic and promising Country from a newcomer. Cobb is so sought after that he can pick ‘winners’ and turning his talents to producing this record, at Nashville’s legendary RCA Studio A, is maybe a sign that Carmichael is seen as one for the future. All efforts are behind that voice and we’re taken back a few decades where the melody and vocals have to do the heavy lifting. 

Unlike Tyler Childers who emerged from Kentucky last year to immense goodwill with an exceptional, authentic and original sound then he was still an outsider and singing about contemporary themes. Carmichael despite his tender years seems to have leap frogged this rite of passage phase and the industry has turned out a fully formed, at times, formulaic Nashville offering. 

Early days but I’m encouraged if the Nashville ‘machine’ is producing Country music again.

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