Over the past couple years, Brandon Rhyder has transformed himself and evolved into one of the most successful singer/songwriters plying his trade on the Texas highways and beyond.
His initial rebirth was spurred by the success of his superb Walt Wilkins-produced album Conviction. That album displayed all of the best qualities of Rhyder’s music: soul, storytelling, vibrato-rattling vocals and a knowing charm. Rhyder followed up Conviction with a live record and a fine Radney Foster assisted album entitled Every Night that continued on the same arc kick-started by Conviction. Rhyder’s latest album, Head Above Water, finds him teaming with Walt Wilkins again and employing his road band to do the recording. Eschewing hired studio guns and utilizing the talents of his skillful side players proves to be a wise decision. Head Above Water has a bit more verve, life and even darkness in certain spots. The same stellar songwriting we are used to hearing from Rhyder is now backed by a bit of swagger seeping below the sweetness.
The opening track of this collection, “Rock Angel” has already proven to be a winner at Texas radio, yet it doesn’t necessarily convey the overall vibe of the record as I’ve described. The track that I’d nominate for the role of album ambassador would be “You Burn Me”. It kicks off with a raucous intensity and flourishes of slide guitar and soulful keys, only to retreat so that Rhyder’s vocals can charge in with a driving bass and drumline. Lyrics full of a hot relationship in all aspects come quickly as the song builds to a deliriously catchy hook. “It’s the Country That Saves Me” serves as one of the autobiographical tales that we’ve gotten accustomed to Rhyder delivering in such a convincing manner that we feel like he is writing our story instead of his. Rhyder stretches his wings and style to a very throwback soul vibe with “Ultimate Deceiver”. A brooding lyric is sung with music that sounds like a thunderstorm ripping through the most barren stretches of west Texas. Of all the songs on the album, the one Rhyder has been playing the longest at live shows over the past year or so has been “Battery”. The melody of the chorus will crawl inside your brain and refuse to leave. The final track and a surprise track on the end of the record showcase a wider variety of influences than we’ve ever heard on a Brandon Rhyder album as elements of Pink Floyd prog rock, Queen-style ragtime makeovers, and Tom Petty heartland rock intertwine.
In sum, this album finds Rhyder experimenting with new styles and vibes. It leaves one with the pleasant feeling that he still hasn’t made his masterpiece yet…although Head Above Water makes quite a fine statement of its own.
Pick up your copy HERE