Album Review: Todd Grebe & Cold Country – Citizen
Todd Grebe and Cold Country are a traditional country band that write new songs that sound old fashioned. Fans of roots country music will love this album. From the whimsical, even comical lyrics to the twangy electric guitars, this is great work. There are no bad songs on Citizen, an album clearly written for the country lover in all of us.
“Criminal Style” gets things going with discussion of Adam and Eve and Thelma and Louise. Seriously it’s clever and hilarious. But stylistically it is the kind of song you’d expect to hear in a honky tonk. From laughing to toe tapping, this is a great song to start off the album.
The steel guitar on “Box of Wine” steals the show. The vocals are great and the lyrics are darkly humorous. It’s (obviously) about a wine drunkard. But the song has such a light hearted feeling to it, you get the sense she’s a giggly, fun drunk. It’s surely a tried-and-true country song.
“Luckiest Man Here on Earth” reminds me of the old country tracks on Brad Paisley’s albums. You know the ones – where you wish he’d just give up on the commercial country stuff and make this kind of music. The fiddles are solid, the writing is genuine, and it all comes together for a sound you might expect to have been written in the 60s. Grebe’s lead vocal on this one puts me in mind of Rayland Baxter. In fact, they probably should hang out.
Title track “Citizen” has a rambler’s vibe to it. It’s a nicely-articulated cultural criticism. It’s about entitlement and materialist culture. “They say freedom isn’t free but I’m pretty sure it ain’t costin’ me.” It’s a song that highlights the way people desire for material goods, but don’t really think of things like personal sacrifice. It is, frankly, an unexpected powerful punch in the middle of an otherwise fun-loving album.
“Brown Hair” is probably my favorite. More folk than country, it’s a sweetly finger-picked track about seeking after love. The sense of narrative is beautiful. “I’m still stuck there looking at her brown hair like it’s the last time…” The song really reminds me melodically like something off of the Alabama discography. Bring in some ringers for four part harmony and it would sound like it was right off of Randy Owen’s album.
If you don’t like the opening fiddles on “Living a Lie,” you don’t like country music. Even the vocal has a lonesome, crackly quality to it. There’s an obvious relationship between the blues and country music, heard in spades here. “You never wanted to know and I never offered to tell. Living a lie is a hard way to live and my lies have outrun my life.” Whew. Now that’s country music. And the steel guitar is exceptional again. This is a professional job, for sure.
I hope you brought your dancing shoes for “Nothing Left to Lose.” To be honest, at first glance I thought maybe it was a reference to the classic “Me and Bobby McGee,” you know… “freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.” It’s pretty close to that ethos. But more than anything, it’s a great song to dance to. It has a silly feeling to it like it could be a Roger Miller tune.
“Let’s Make Love for Christmas” is on the silly side of things as well. It’s pretty predictable but it’s really fun, too. The upbeat swing along with the fancy fiddles make it really work. The following “Here’s Wishing to You” is a very different song. About the only commonality is the great fiddle work. But it sounds great, too. The lyrics are about wishing someone good luck who is pregnant, seemingly with another man’s baby. It’s complex emotionally, wrapped up in a cool country track.
The final track “You’ll Never Find Me” has horns. Yep, horns. They’re pretty good horns, too. But the song is one in which Grebe’s vocals really have a cutting precision. It’s one of the most negative songs on the album, giving an indictment of a love gone awry. The song has a great emotional space for Grebe’s writing style. Although I prefer the stripped down instrumentation of other tracks, this is some of the best songwriting on the album.
All told, this is an enjoyable album. It has tracks you’ll enjoy for dancing, others for laughing, but it works really well. It’s a nice traditional country album that will put listeners more in mind of 60s country music than the “roots” country we sometimes feature. Fans of Robert Ellis and Rayland Baxter would be wise to pick this one up and give it a spin.