Do you like alt-country, yodeling and a cynical sense of humour? Then Nick Shoulders is the country artist for you. Here you’ll find impressive song writing, captivating storytelling, emotive and moving atmosphere and much more. The two elements that really seal the deal for me though are Nick’s silky-smooth voice (including his incredible yodeling skills) and the band’s guitar work, which is definitely country but takes plenty of influence from the blues and surf rock. Even if you aren’t a fan of the genre, I still recommend giving it a listen as it has a lot to offer to any enjoyer of music.
Artist: Nick Shoulders
Album: All Bad
Label: Gar Hole Records
Release Date: September 8th 2023
Location: Fayetteville, Arkansas
Written by James Sweetlove
Do you like alt-country, yodeling and a cynical sense of humour? Then Nick Shoulders is the country artist for you. This is a man that self-identifies as a ‘honkabilly’, a term that I had never heard prior to discovering his music and one that according to Urban Dictionary means “Someone who is a cross between a hillbilly and a honky. Usually with one poor white parent and one parent from a hilly state.”
While I am country fan I tend to gravitate towards alt/gothic/outlaw country and vehemently avoid what I call “pickup truck country”. So, if you’re one of those people who thinks “all country music sucks” simply because you’ve never put any effort into listening to anything other than radio pop country, then this is a great place to begin you journey into the amazing world you have yet to discover. Here you’ll find impressive song writing, captivating storytelling, emotive and moving atmosphere and much more.
While the album takes a somewhat traditional approach to country music as its base there’s something in its underlying essence, innovative influences, lyrical content, and its delivery that makes it feel fresh, innovative, and exciting. The release spans everything from, as the Bandcamp puts it “jangling Cajun waltzes to surf-rock infused bluesy ballads”. The variety of the music is indicative of the wildly varied and fascinating life of Nick Shoulders that spans everything from a youth spent around the Ozarks’ Southern gospel music, to a period drumming in Arkansas’s punk scene and time in its heavy metal scene. This was followed by a return to classic country music, living out of a van and playing street corners in New Orleans.
The two elements that seal the deal for me are Nick’s silky-smooth voice that almost comes across as crooning but has a more bluesy melancholy undertone. What really helps him to stand apart from other similar artists is his yodeling ability, the man is on another level. While you’ll find segments with dedicated yodeling, it’s the subtle little flourishes of it that he works into lines of songs. The other element that I love is guitar work, which is definitely country but takes plenty of influence from the blues and surf rock. It makes for a very interesting listen and adds some nice variety into the mix.
While I enjoyed the full album there were of course a couple of standout tracks. Going in order of release, the album’s title All Bad is the first must-listen track on the album. It has a catchy rhythm and tone and some great vocal work and lyrics. Honestly the man knows how to write lyrics:
Amongst the cypress and quartz I roamed
I learned to wince at the church bell’s toll
Preferred katydids and thunder’s roll
It never felt all bad
Wanted for nothin with a bad luck streak
I turned a rock over in every creek
Whistled strong because my body was weak
I didn’t feel all bad
Can’t complain, cuz who would listen?
You wouldn’t envy my position
Engineered imploding or the way that she goes Only my eyes will glistenNick Shoulders – All Bad
Won’t Fence Us In is another classic and while being less than three minutes long really sticks with the listener. It has a sad beauty to it and something about it that just keeps you coming back and again, more fantastic lyrics:
There once was land endless land
Under starry skies above
But they fenced it in
Now its interstates and interchanges
Monocrop and truckstops
‘Cause the fenced it in
I wish that every golf course became a WMA
And every politician knew the rent that we paid
Just to drink ourselves to death
And go to jobs that we hate Oh to be fenced inNick Shoulders – Won’t Fence Us In
Lastly, Whooped If You Will takes home my aware for best track on the album. I’m not the only one that thinks so either, with it being the lead single and having its own music video (watch below). The song features what is by far the most impressive yodeling on the album, as well as being unreasonably catchy. You’ll have the chorus stuck in your head for weeks after hearing the track.
Overall, this is a phenomenal release and sites comfortably as my top country album of 2023 to date. Even if you aren’t a fan of the genre, I still recommend giving it a listen as it has a lot to offer to any enjoyer of music. Nick Shoulders is a name to watch going forward, its not every day that someone pays homage to a genre’s roots and innovates it so much at the same time.
Listen to the full album
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