Well, lets get this out of the way first. Yes, Sam Outlaw is his real name. Sam decided to carry his mother's maiden name to honor her after she passed away. Now, with a name like that, I'm sure you were expecting some hard-charging country rock that dripping with blood, sweat, and beer. Well, you couldn't be farther from the truth. Sam Outlaw hails from Southern California and has a sound that is much more Gram Parsons than Waylon Jennings. His smooth delivery and laid back sound makes Angeleno a beautifully arranged album that is among the best in 2015.
Where do we even begin? This is one of those albums that really doesn't have a weak spot. The first two tracks are still standouts for modern country, but they aren't really my favorites on the album. However, "Who Do You Think You Are" and "Keep It Interesting" set the stage for the type of sound you will hear throughout the album. This album has to be considered a throwback in the truest sense of the word. The music is drenched in steel guitar on nearly every track, and features a lot of mid-tempo numbers that you can easily dance to. Songs like "Love Her For A While" put you in mind of John Denver or James Taylor, while songs like "Keep A Close Eye On Me (one of my favorites) sounds like Don Williams, and "Hole Down In My Heart" brings the energy of the early days of rock and roll. All these influences combine to make a really unique listening experience. "Angeleno" makes you think of a modern day western sung by Glen Campbell with its soaring strings, with lyrics that tell a story and conjure up images of the rodeo. The only song that really seems a little hokey is "Jesus Take The Wheel (And Drive Me To A Bar)". It isn't the best lyrically, but the music sounds like classic honky-tonk goodness.
Just having those classic sounds is only half the battle. You need some killer lyrics to go with those sounds, and Sam delivers on more than one occasion. My favorite of the bunch is "Country Love Song", a tale of a lover who is far away from the object of his affection and is trying to send a country love song. It is simple and sweet, and the melody is fantastic. This song should be a monster hit on country radio if there was any justice in the world. "Ghost Town" deals with the memories of a love gone wrong and also invokes some great imagery throughout the song. "It Might Kill Me" is the age old cliche "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger" but with a slight twist. The song features some of the best classic arrangements on the album. The best lyrics on the album come from "I'm Not Jealous". The song deals with a woman who is running around and he pleading for her to stop, but not because he is jealous, because he is embarrassed for her. What a great concept. "you're trying to solve a problem that cheating never solved" stands out as a great line. If I didn't know any better, I'd swear this was a cover of some clever Tammy Wynette song from the 70's. The arrangement puts you right back in that era.
Angeleno is a time capsule of an album with its variety of sounds and lyrics. Sam Outlaw has done a heck of a job in creating an album that has a very unique sound that can stop you in your tracks. He has immediately shot close to the top of artists to keep an eye on. If you enjoy the smooth, classic country from the likes of Gram Parsons, John Denver, Glen Campbell, or Don Williams, Angeleno is something you have to hear. This guy is going to be a star. He has the look, the sound, and the voice to make waves in country music. Sam Outlaw may catch your attention with his name, but he will keep it with his talent.
Standout Tracks: "Country Love Song", "I'm Not Jealous", "It Might Kill Me", "Keep A Close Eye On Me", "Angeleno", "Love Her For A While"
"It Might Kill Me"
"Love Her For A While"
"Country Love Song"