Midland are time travelers. Comprised of musicians and songwriters Mark Wystrach, Jess Carson and Cameron Duddy, the Texas trio meld the giddy-up of the 1980s with the bright neons of classic '90s line-dancing. From the outset, they had a style and charm all their own, both indebted to the past and progressively pushing the needle forward.
The group first released a self-titled EP in 2016 and later expanded the project to a full-length a year later. As their debut single, "Drinkin' Problem" set a high bar as the anchor to their 2017 Big Machine debut LP, On the Rocks. It became a Top 5 hit on Country Airplay and set everything in motion.
With such overnight success, there's bound to be controversy. Midland sparked a debate over authenticity in country music. If the album cover didn't tip you off, Midland went heavy on aesthetic ? their admiration for Nudie suits, harkening back to the country and western fashion in the 1950s, on full display. Whether someone's upbringing contributes to one's authenticity in terms of making real country music is neither here nor there. As with this little group from Texas, the music speaks for itself.
Five years since their debut, Midland continues delivering on vintage-framed country music. Their second long-player, 2019's Let It Roll, built upon their 2017 release, and 2021's The Sonic Ranch featured a proclivity for rootsier fare. Unsurprisingly, nailing down the band's finest songs wasn't easy. Here are Midland's career-best songs so far.
10. "Will This Life Be As Grand"
The Sonic Ranch soundtracks a CMT documentary detailing the band's early days. "Will This Life Be as Grand" crunches with rustic textures, giving Wystrach full permission to take up space. "You can't find me in a small town," he sings. Its airiness is intoxicating and soothing.
9. "Mr. Lonely"
The trio leads their second LP with a track sure to get their dancin' feet moving. "Mr. Lonely" melts the blues away with its rumbling Friday night frenzy, pulsing with an '80s hoedown glow. The single didn't quite fare as well on radio, but that doesn't detract from the musical showmanship.
8. "Make a Little"
The second On the Rocks single, "Make a Little" takes a page out of the Dwight Yoakam textbook of dance floor boot-scootin'. A provocative lyrical reference to Alabama's "Dixieland Delight" is a real treat, as well. Chart-wise, it didn't quite strike the same chord as "Drinkin' Problem," topping out just inside the Top 20 at radio.
7. "Take Her Off Your Hands"
Amidst the pandemic, Midland went with a five-track EP in 2021 called The Last Resort. "Take Her Off Your Hands" gently spins across a smoky bar, the dance-floor coated in lonely hearts and tears. It's a welcome change of pace and invites the listener into Wystrach's seemingly impenetrable sadness. Unrequited love is the pits.
6. "Drinkin' Problem"
The trio's debut single swirls with the magic of classic '90s country, namely borrowing elements from Brooks & Dunn and Clint Black. "Drinkin' Problem" soared through the airwaves, becoming a Top 5 radio hit and reaching platinum status. As the lead-in to their first record, 2017's On the Rocks, the lonesome bartopper demonstrated they not only had the chops to compete in a modern market but cherished country music's rich heritage.
5. "This Town"
"This Town" dazzles with piano and organ and feels an appropriate way to bookend The Sonic Ranch. Such a musical blanket contrasts against the deeply-pained lyrics about heartbreak and the suffocating notion of the city limits sign. "I can only see the cracks in the paint," weeps Wystrach.
4. "Altitude Adjustment"
This deep cut from On the Rocks delivers an encouraging message with a smirk. "Altitude Adjustment" references John Denver and features a sparkling piano line. "Cold mountain air and good clean loving," rings the chorus. Sometimes, all you need in life is a perspective shift to remind you what is really important.
3. "Fool's Luck"
Guitar jangles through the song's spacious structure. Wystrach's voice reverberates as though he's sending up "Fool's Luck" as a confessional at Sunday church. Working through teenage tragedy, Wystrach seeks absolution and emerges all the better for it. It's simply a stunning moment.
2. "Fast Hearts and Slow Towns"
The title alone evokes the sleepiness of small town America. "Fast Hearts and Slow Towns" wistfully chronicles years gone by, rose-tinted with youth's blissful naivety and the burnt edges of time. "That was the end of our innocence," muses Wystrach. Found on Let It Roll, it's the kind of deep cut that captures the band's full potential.
1. "Texas is the Last Stop"
The band flips the old adage "home is where the heart is" not to talk about a physical structure, or even a plot of land, but rather their love for Texas. "Texas is the Last Top," from The Sonic Ranch, chugs along like a locomotive, fueled with pinches of red dirt and twang.
READ MORE: Ernest Tubb Record Shop: Artists Respond to the Imminent Loss of a Traditional Country Music Haven
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