Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz
It's a difficult proposition for a band member to go solo after a longstanding highly successful career and try to forge a musical identity that not only isn't all that similar to what's come before, but is also able to stand on its own as musically viable. And despite some false starts in launching his solo career commercially on the country charts, Steven Tyler has managed to make a statement on both counts.
Tyler, of course, is the lead singer for the hard charging, sometimes blues oriented Aerosmith. (True fact, Aerosmith did once upon a time record a song with Willie Nelson). But you're not going to scratch your head and wonder what the difference is between Tyler flying solo and his band. Yes, there are a few songs among the 15 (the closing and not particularly needed bluesy, soulful take on "Piece of My Heart" comes most readily to mind) that could be recorded by Aerosmith, but this is Tyler without a net.
Maybe some credit ought to go to T Bone Burnett who produced nine of the songs. Tyler makes it clear from the opening "My Own Worst Enemy" that this is indeed a solo effort that is more roots-flavored than anything resembling hard core country. Acoustic guitar and later squeezebox spice the song (slight drum programming don't here and elsewhere). The vocals throughout ("Gypsy Girl") are unvarnished, getting to the heart of the lyrics. No high pitched wailing a la Aerosmith.
In fact, while his country counterparts apparently favor electric sounds, Tyler often reverts to acoustic guitar, fiddle and especially violin in rounding out the sound.
A few songs don't make the cut, particularly the rocking single "Red, White & You," which sounds like it was included with the idea of hitting radio pay dirt. It didn't, and neither was it a song that should have. The funky, horn-infused title track gets silly lyrically with Tyler pining for corn bread at one point. The heavy "Hold On (Won't Let Go)" suffers from Tyler sounding like he was singing into a megaphone and an overdose of programming. "I Make My Own Sunshine" won't make win any awards for lyrics ("everything is wonderful/everything is great"), although the light melody works.
Tyler cut his own version of the Aerosmith megahit about family sexual abuse, "Janie's Got a Gun." This edition is far more subdued than the original with a strummed acoustic guitar starting it off with Tyler's gravelly voice taking over, moving into higher gear, but cello having a prominent role, instead of electric guitar. With covers, why bother to include them if merely replicating the original? Tyler doesn't and deserves credit for tattooing the song with a different sensibility.
On the face of it, Tyler put himself in a tricky position in going solo. He may have been thought too rock for country, and there was no guarantee that Aerosmith fans would be satisfied either. Even if Tyler pleases only himself, he succeeds in making music that stands on its own terms - whether or not his cadre of long-time fans or the country crowd are on board.