Album Review: Midland’s ‘On the Rocks’

Midland’s debut album, On the Rocks, is a memorable walk back in time. Blending classic country music from the ’70s and ’80s with their own flair, the 13-track release brings to mind popular artists like Gary Stewart, Keith Whitley, Johnny Rodriguez and Johnny Lee. Meanwhile, country legends Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, Waylon Jennings, George Jones and George Strait have indisputably left their mark on the Texas trio, too. As a result, On the Rocks has Midland reinterpreting country sounds from decades prior while putting a distinct spin on their material with memorable musicianship, unique storylines and clever wordplay.

“Lonely For You Only” kicks off the album with throwback guitar parts, mesmerizing pedal steel and frontman Mark Wystrach’s twang-filled vocals. A song that has a man going out every night to drown his sorrows after a breakup, “Lonely For You Only” embodies the classic tear in my beer country archetype and sounds like a song George Strait would record. Additionally, striking harmonies from bass player Cameron Duddy and guitarist Jess Carson beg comparison to the Eagles.

New single “Make A Little” picks up the pace and the spirits. On the song, Midland stress that a night of love making can solve a major problem: “There’s just not enough love in the world / So we should make a little / Then make a little more tonight.”

Traditional country music is well known for songs about cheating and there is no shortage of lamenting over the end of a relationship throughout On the Rocks. Songs like “At Least You Cried” has Midland questioning if an ex ever took them seriously with horn accompaniment giving a mariachi band vibe and recalling acts before them like Johnny Rodriguez. “Did you ever mean it when you said you loved me / Was this all just a game for you?” Wystrach croons.

Meanwhile, songs like the standout “Burn Out” and the clever “Altitude Adjustment” also showcase Midland’s talent as songwriters. The trio penned “Burn Out” with Nashville hit makers Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne, who also produced the album with Dann Huff, where they compare the disintegration of a relationship to a cigarette burning out. “These done me wrong songs hit me so right / I was so on fire for you, it hurts how / Fast a cigarette can burn out,” they sing on the chorus.

Additional album highlights include “Check Cashin’ Country” and “Electric Rodeo,” both of which detail the struggles of life on the road as a country band. “We got miles to cover and places to be / If y’all don’t two-step, then we don’t eat / Sure ain’t out here for the money / This ain’t check cashin’ country,” they assert on “Check Cashin’ Country.” Later, “Electric Rodeo” talks about putting one’s life on hold in hopes to find success in music. The song features soaring guitar and string accompaniment that only furthers the loneliness traveling musicians often endure.

For those questioning where quality country music has gone, Midland is indisputably the answer. Their striking harmonies, traditional country instrumentation and visual storytelling transports listeners to a simpler time with authentic songs that aren’t chasing a trend, and instead, are showcasing an artist’s heart. With their infectious lead single “Drinkin’ Problem” recently topping the charts, traditional country fans can rejoice as Midland is here to stay.