Album Review: Urban Pioneers – ‘Hillbilly Swing Music’

hillbilly swing music

The short version: For my 4th album review of 2018  (and 1st official one of the year), I talk about the latest album from the Urban Pioneers titled Hillbilly Swing Music. In short, this project is a tad lopsided, but the second half ultimately shows some real promise.

  • Favorite tracks: “Kitty’s Favorite Day”, “Flip, Flop, and Fly”, “Run Little Rabbit Run”, “Tortured Orchard”
  • Least favorite track: ”Can’t Make You Love Me Too”

Personal rating: 6/10

The long version: Yes, this is how we should REALLY begin with 2018 – not talking about any other albums from 2017 or even delving into something dark and heavy for the first official review of 2018. No, something light-hearted and fun such as this project shall suffice. Granted, while I have always respected what a band like the Urban Pioneers were always trying to do, I’ve never really found any of their past projects to be all that consistent. However, with their latest album, while I won’t say that this is a great project by any means, it is probably the tightest collection of songs the band has produced thus far.

Honestly, this is the type of project that never leaves with all that much to say. If you enjoy the older stylings of Country music or some Western Swing and Bluegrass music with a little more pep thrown in the mix, you’re likely going to enjoy this band. At its core though, as I said before, it’s a fun project. Lyrically it often is more silly than anything else, and instrumentally it’s almost always on point. Overall it makes for a project that’s accessible and easy to like.

However, this album does take a long time to really “rev up” so to say. In fact, I’d argue that there’s a night and day difference to how good the second half of this album is compared to the first half. The title track makes for a cute opener I suppose, but it just feels like its lacking something. It’s as if they’re proud of being a unique group, but really, is making retro music really all that unique today? Isn’t it what a lot of artists sort of pride themselves on now with the bid for authenticity? It’s not as fun as it could be, and the chorus gets repetitive and wears thin very quickly. Another track like “Throwed Out” tries to be cute with the play on words (“throwed” instead of the correct, “thrown”), but again, it doesn’t offer much nor does it make much of a lick of sense when you get down to it. “Waste My Time” is stuck in this confusing framing where a man pleads with his wife to let him down easy. Now, this could play two ways. The first way (which you expect from this band) would be for this guy to attempt any crazy (but still lighthearted and humorous) approach to make her not leave. Instead, the band opts for the second way which is just to have this guy take the more somber approach of begging her to let him down easy and let him down slowly. Don’t get me wrong, this can work, but even vocally the band just doesn’t feel like they’re as convincing on these sadder tracks. It comes across as one-dimensional and boring.

Of course, there’s no better evidence that the band isn’t equipped to handle melancholy tracks than “Can’t Make You Love Me Too”, a song that just comes across as whiny. He’ll do anything for her but she won’t reciprocate the love. The slower pace makes it feel way too sappy, and again, there’s no emotional nuance to make this exciting or make the listener feel anything.

Now, the second half isn’t without its better cuts. “Why Don’t You Close Your Eyes” is pretty much exactly what I wanted from them with “Waste My Time” with its frantic pace and acknowledgement that “hey, it’s over, so I’ll see you later”. It’s over before you know it, but it works. “Fast Money” would also probably be good if it weren’t for that annoying abrupt ending that sounds like it’s cutting off something else.

That brings us to “Run Little Rabbit Run”. I don’t know what the hell happened at this point, but the band just kicked up a notch in every area at this point. By that I mean the vocal performances, the tempos, the playing. Heck, the only thing that maybe takes a back seat at this point are the lyrics, and really, that’s not a complaint from me when everything else is this rock solid. “Run Little Rabbit Ran” is just this incredibly quick, cute, and fun that even uses the metaphor of a rabbit running to describe how we as humans are just running through life without stopping to appreciate the good things we have. Is it an overused theme? Sure. But do the band find a way to tackle it from a fun and unique perspective? You bet! I don’t know. Something just clicked here.

The momentum even keeps up with “Flip, Flop, and Fly” which has quite the rockabilly feel to it. Heck, it even brings in a kazoo. It’s silly as all heck but honestly, when the band is sporting this much charisma I couldn’t care less. It knows its silly and that’s the point. Even the obligatory pot song on here with “Smoky Mountains” is at least added by a driving narrative about a new man in town who’s cooking up the good stuff, causing everyone in the town to become “happy” (it cures marriages, it cures aches and pains in the body…it does everything!). Plus, the bouncy rhythm is quite appropriate. Again, it’s silly as all heck, but the band is quite adept at handling it in the best possible way. I’d say that’s also what makes “Tortured Orchard” such a fun closer as well. Again, good luck trying to figure out the meaning on a lyrical level, but with its nice acoustic melody and its rollicking rhythm combined with some truly infectious horns, it sends the album off on a high note.

My personal favorite track probably comes in the form of “Kitty’s Favorite Day”, mostly because it actually feels like a true band effort of them just playing off of each and essentially goofing off. They themselves even laugh and mess up the lines sometimes. None of it matters though because for the billionth time now, it works. Of course, just like how the first half of the album has one or two tracks that really stick the landing, the second half only has one song that doesn’t measure up to the rest, and that’s “Texas Wildflower”. It’s one of those tracks that sees the narrator recalling a lost love, but again, the band just isn’t as comfortable or natural taking on songs with more serious meanings. Silly and fun is where they excel.

Saying that the band is skilled at handling sillier, lighter material isn’t meant to be seen as an insult or a statement that they’re not skilled enough to do more. Hell, with the way they’re playing at warp speed on some of these tracks, there’s talent abound on this album. Plus, the art of making fun, silly music that works is a gift, not a curse. Just ask The Royal Hounds. Still, at the end of the day this project is still a tad too lopsided for me to really say I love. The second half easily blows away the first half, but that also goes to show the potential that’s still waiting to be unleashed in this band (despite them being around for a good long while now).

Personal rating: Light to decent 6


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