Tumbling Down

Nashvillains

Independent release, 2022

http://www.nashvillainsband.com

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 04/01/2022

Nashville is an interesting place. There are the folks trying to make it as performers and the folks trying to make it as songwriters, and while plenty of the town’s performers write their own material—often with help and co-writes from the songwriting crowd—it’s less common for established professional songwriters to cross over into recording their own material.

Adding to the novelty, Nashvillains doesn’t represent one songwriter crossing over, but three, with scene veterans Brett Boyett, Troy Johnson and Scott Lindsey teaming up to form a sort of songwriters’ supergroup. Individually, the trio has written and composed for films (Forever My Girl), TV (Friday Night Lights, Everybody Loves Raymond) and major artists such as The Chicks, Keith Urban, Cassadee Pope, James Taylor, and Drake Bell.

This self-titled debut album finds the trio teaming up to co-write all nine tracks, with Johnson singing lead vocals, Lindsey and Boyett handling harmonies, and Boyett producing. As one might expect, there are plenty of familiar country elements to these songs—longing, alcohol, and more than a touch of fire and brimstone, to name a few—but in this album’s best moments the Nashvillains sidestep the path more frequently taken and try something a little different.

They start from a base—the three men’s voices—that is pure country, deep and urgent with a bit of a growl to them as well as a hearty helping of twang. As a born and bred California suburbanite I’ll admit I sometimes wonder how much of that semi-mandatory country twang is a natural product of people’s speech patterns, and how much is a good actor inhabiting a role, but in the end it doesn’t really matter.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

What matters is that these guys are pros who know exactly how to design and construct a song like opener “Devil Don’t Sleep,” an appealingly dusty and foreboding scene-setter. The airy opening bit might have some Bob Seger in its bones, but when they bring in banjo and mandolin it becomes a definitively country tune about standing at the crossroads facing down your demons. The “fear of damnation” theme carries over to “Standing In The Fire,” the second track and first real experiment. All seems to be going to plan until the mid-song break, which is rapped by guest Big Smo. It’s a choice that only feels odd for a moment, until you realize it works surprisingly well in the context of this dark and stormy tune.

The title track offers an atmospheric arrangement featuring acoustic guitars, keys and handclaps over a dense bed of percussion, with subtle keyboard elements giving it a flow that enhances this impressionistic, at times downright artful cry of despair. The next two tunes offer both pros and cons. “Baby Keeps Killing Me” is a solid country-blues number that leans to the blues side of that equation, and “Bonita” delivers a taste of the Southwest with Spanish-inflected acoustic guitar and Mariachi horns on the break. The two songs’ unfortunate common ground is use of the “devil woman” trope that presents the narrator as a helpless victim under the spell of his deceitful lover’s feminine wiles.

“There To Catch Me” follows, a ballad with a surprising amount of synth, representing another push at the “country” envelope. It’s a nice interlude before we get to the dark, anguished, heavy “Love Is Pain,” yet another “my fiendish woman done me wrong” tune. After that rather arena-rock-ish thumper they veer hard back to their country roots with “Chickasaw Bayou,” singing about “the dogs getting caught in the kudzu” and how “they ain’t takin’ me alive.” It’s a good one with some nice fingerpicked acoustic guitar on the verses—the lyric just feels a little on the nose in places. Closer “Don’t Let Me Hang” is a highlight, a dark, haunted ballad with something of a late Johnny Cash feel to it.

At nine tracks and 33 minutes, Nashvillains’ debut creates room for these three craftsmen to stretch their wings and sing their own songs while feeding off of one another’s enthusiasm. Not all of these songs worked for me, but overall Tumbling Down delivers a hearty meal of heartfelt tunes full of craft and often-surprising range.

Rating: B

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