I must say I was more than skeptical when I heard a few years back that Steven Tyler was going country. After all, he had bona fide rock and roll cred from being the lead singer of Aerosmith.
There is no mistaking Aerosmith for a country band by any stretch, even if once upon a time, they did record a B-side with Willie Nelson. The bad boys of Boston have gone through a few different styles, rock, blues and a pop edge at times, which was too syrupy for some tastes, including mine. But they've always been a real strong live band with Tyler the obvious larger than life focal point.
And he has not abandoned his personality, at least on the CD jacket. In fact, he looks like vintage Tyler with multi-colored hair, a bunch of rings, lots of chest showing, etc. You get the idea. He's not from Nashville exactly, even though he has spent considerable time there over the past few years.
While some are hung up on image and style, what ultimately is most important are the sounds emanating from the silver platter (or computer if listening online).
And on that score, Tyler succeeds more often than not on his 15-song release. Make no mistake about it. This is not an Aerosmith album masquerading under Tyler's name. A few songs doubtlessly could have been recorded by Aerosmith and not that far away from the band's typical sound.
But Tyler also makes it clear that he is doing his own thing here (don't worry, he's slated to return to Aerosmith for a South America tour at the end of September). While you would never mistake this for a bona fide dyed-in-the-wool country disc, Tyler liberally uses mandolin, fiddle and acoustic guitar. Yes, there's some electric axe swinging going on, but that's not the predominant sound here.
Tyler's vocals are a match for the music as well. Often, he keeps a low-key approach to the songs, on such "It Ain't Easy, "What Am I Doin' Right" or the opening "My Own Worst Enemy." Tyler has always been an excellent singer, and he proves himself once again.
T Bone Burnett produced most of the 15 songs with Tyler co-producing. While Burnett tends towards a more rootsy sound (great idea to add accordion), here's hoping he didn't add drum programming, which creeps into the music. Unfortunately, that's been happening on "country" releases more and more, and the manufactured sound doesn't add to listening pleasure.
This is not a perfect album. Some of the lyrics are not particularly stellar. A few songs (surprisingly, it's the singles) are pedestrian and sound like they were thrown on the album to gain airplay.
There are no guarantees how Tyler will fare on the commercial front, of course. But he has conceived and delivered music that works more often than not and is far better than I would have expected. After all, it's not easy going from your main gig and do something that stretches you out musically.
Whether Tyler or his music will be accepted is debatable, but at this stage of his career, he's done what he wants to do, and it's pretty darn good.