Back in 2010, Josh Thompson was introduced to country music audiences with his debut, "Way Out Here," which blended rock music with traditional country elements to create a sound as comfortable in a honky tonk as on the radio waves. Guys like Jamey Johnson and Eric Church were taking a similar sound to the charts. But as is common in the fickle world of country record labels, Thompson's follow-up became a label casualty, something talked about, but never heard.
In 2014, Thompson returned with the support of Toby Keith's Show Dog label, releasing 10 upbeat songs about drinking and partying. Most notable on this third release was the absence of the tender moments heard on the debut, such as the superb "Sinner" and bitter break up tune, "I Won't Go Crazy." In the four years since his debut, bro country had introduced hip hop beats to mainstream country and with the notable exception of Church, rock and country had separated. Thompson recently regained control of his music and has released part of his lost sophomore recording.
The first half of the album released makes sense as a middle point between the two full lengths. There are moments of rocking country, such as "Same Ol Plain Ol Me," which is reminiscent of his early track, "Blame it on Waylon," with a twangy Telecaster and a strong bass line. In fact, the guitar is a strong presence on the album, similar to the placement on Brad Paisley albums, although Thompson has more of an outlaw image than the clean-cut guitar slinger. The smooth "Change" has a soulful tone, as he reflects on life and death, while "Gotta Go to Heaven" bridges the gap between gospel and modern country music. Closer "Livin' Like Hank" has a guest appearance from Justin Moore and is the sole track that sounds like it fits with his recent output. It's an upbeat and uninspired song that we've heard in various forms from Moore and Dierks Bentley and others multiple times over the past decade and the obvious weak spot.
As a whole, this is a fitting follow-up to Thompson's debut. The songs are interesting, and the change in tempo adds a variation that wasn't obvious on his last release. While the decision to release the album in two pieces is strange, this half suggests that this album deserves to have been released in full years ago.