ACL Review: Midland

Grinning hipster flair with contemporary country appeal

Midland rode into ACL Fest in the wake of a middling industry controversy about whether the fast emerging country stars had paid enough dues to warrant the early success of last month’s debut LP, On the Rocks. Given the adopted Austin trio’s midday set at an overflowing Tito’s tent on Sunday, any protestations of authenticity proved irrelevant.

Photo by Jana Birchum

The core trio of Mark Wystrach, Jess Carson, and Cameron Duddy filled out their live sound as a sextet, including pedal steel, and set the tone by launching road-working anthem “Check Cashing Country.” “This Old Heart” rolled a Yoakam-eque chorus into honky-tonk ripper “At Least You Cried” before “Burn Out” changed paced with a dance-hall turn.

Midland offers up a pure throwback sound, leaning hard into the Eighties and an early-Nineties neo-traditional sound dominated by George Strait. Yet they update the format with grinning hipster flair and a showmanship that understands contemporary country appeal. Even when the band bit into a hard, twanged take on Tom Petty’s “American Girl,” it felt both effortlessly genuine and laid on thick.

Likewise, the brief, harmony-rich round of Alabama’s “Dixieland Delight” worked on both levels.

If Midland seems somewhat at odds between persona and production, it doesn’t discount the quality of their songs. Whether trading verses on “Gator Boys” or Wystrach stretching a salacious growl on “More Than a Fever,” the band hits a sorely needed sweet spot of radio-ready quality country music. Closing with the gunning yelp of “Make a Little” and hit single “Drinkin’ Problem,” Midland demonstrated true superstar potential, and all country fans should be thankful for it.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

Midland, ACL Fest 2017, Mark Wystrach, Jess Carson, Cameron Duddy, Dwight Yoakam, Alabama, George Strait, Tom Petty

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