A purposeful departure from previous work, the core of Radio Company emerges intact.
It’s important to understand my physical and mental state as I was composing this review. Many folks have experienced illness that results in voice changes. Saint Ignatius knows, I sound like I’ve gargled glass over the past several weeks and my voice has sunk to registers only detectable by the U.S. Navy’s ultra-low frequency sensors. And maybe whales.
When feeling peaked (peak-ed, two syllables, as Grandma used to say) the only thing that makes me feel halfway human is music.
In this “music-will-cure-what-ails-you” vein, I’ve been listening to (and singing along with) Keep on Ramblin’, Radio Company’s most recent addition to their catalog, since it dropped on February 24, 2023.
These were my thoughts after listening to the entire album only once:
Exuberant. Definitively country. Departure from Vols 1 and 2 but not as much as you might think after diving into the lyrics and storytelling.
I am exceedingly grateful for the previews of a few of the songs during the preceding few months. As far back as the summer of 2022, Steve Carlson serenaded fans with acoustic versions of “Velvet Sky” and “Sweet Escape”, hinting they might be released on his own solo project. What a tease! Then, the band played the opening track “Right Kind of Trouble” and “Every Light” at their live debut in December.
The band should take the tweet conversation below as the high praise it was meant to be.
Can’t believe the title track on @radiocomusic‘s #keeponramblin has some major Waylon Jennings vibes going on. In fact, if I didn’t know @JensenAckles was singing, I would have thought Waylon was at the mike!
Excellent job! ? ??
— Howlin’ at the ? until you hear me (@ccarmich52) February 24, 2023
Twitter conversation image from February 24, 2023. Credit: author’s timeline
The day after the album dropped onto streaming services, a friend asked, “I know one has to like country a bit, but what do you think?” Not one to shy away from a musical opinion, I raved,
“I love the whole thing! I really like some of the “outlaw country” vibe; there’s some blues aesthetic throughout and you can tell that they made some purposeful choices in regard to key signatures where their voices have optimal blending power.”
The Review Process
Those were my first impressions of this purposely divergent album when it was released. I then paused writing this review for several months for two reasons:
- I needed to completely immerse myself in the music. This meant listening to it non-stop for weeks and interweaving it with previous Radio Company songs. (Can you wear grooves in a Spotify playlist?)
- Steve Carlson was hosting a StageIt in mid-April.
After the music, the next best thing about attending these “practice performances” is Steve talking about the music. (Pro tip: support artists through Patreon and get even more information than I can tell you since I’m technically not allowed to write about what gets said on that platform. Steve fancies himself a pirate, and I’ve no doubt he could make me walk the plank for sharing more, but he’s a seriously nice guy. I might even give him an eye patch from my own collection.)
There are times I listen to these songs and suddenly I am transported to the front-row at the Grand Ol’ Opry. Ghostly echoes of Buck Owens, Chet Atkins, Johnny Gimble, and Waylon Jennings slip in between the pedal steel guitars and fiddles.
The next run-through, tears will be streaming down my cheeks because in “Ain’t No Tellin’”, Jensen asks “Who are you holding onto now” so plaintively. Any answer would surely break his heart (and mine)! When the vinyl arrives, I may not be able to play it for fear of hearing something even more heart-wrenching in the grooves.
Country music has wondrous variety and “Keep On Ramblin’” pulls several styles together effectively thanks to excellent storytelling.
There are a couple of “Tears in your Beers” country songs:
- “You Made Me Blue” reminds me of something you’d find in the jukebox selection of a 1950s diner. It’s right at home next to Patsy Cline or Connie Francis.
- “Ain’t No Tellin’” is a consummate tear-jerker documenting the numerous traits that make us human. Who we are and how we are is continuously changing. Truthfully, there “ain’t no tellin’” who we’re going to be at any given moment.
- “Return to Me” feels stylistically similar to soul artists like Otis Redding, Smokey Robinson, and Sam Cooke. In fact, it might mash up well with Cooke’s “Bring It On Home To Me.” The horn mix is just smooth.
I’m calling this next category “Life Songs.” These tell a story from cradle to grave; in some instances, literally.
- “Every Light” relays the events of a man’s life from birth to death under the watchful eyes of traffic lights. It’s peppy, and I stand by my original statements in December: “…Alison Krauss would be impressed…” and after hundreds of plays, “…this [still] feels like an ode to Dean Winchester.” I’m pretty sure that while Dean’s booze was cheap, the tattoo was not.
- “Velvet Sky” is a Steve Carlson original, inspired by trips to Montana and other picturesque vistas. Bookended by the same two lines, I wonder if the wanderer in the story is regretful or merely resigned.
- The wistful violin in “Sweet Escape” underscores the author’s — presumably a ship’s captain — desire to lead others, to be relied upon. There’s a sense that they know life is short and it’s better to live while you’re alive. After all, someone else could come along and take it all away. In the immortal words of Quigon-Jin, “There’s always a bigger fish.”
For purely selfish reasons, I sincerely hope the band will publish sheet music for this album. If a few of the songs weren’t written on the piano, at the very least, there were terrific piano parts created. The solo in “Forever Ain’t Long” is classic honky-tonk country with a smidgeon of gospel thrown in for good measure. Trills, grace notes, and a few tremolo chords slip smoothly into a mellow pedal steel. Ahhh…
On most Radio Company songs where Steve and Jensen harmonize, Jensen tends to be at a third to a fifth interval higher. In an unusual, but rewarding twist for listeners, “Forever Ain’t Long” has Jensen in the lower register. Throughout the album, the arrangements seem to be written to take advantage of, and specifically showcase, Jensen’s vocal range.
“Forever Ain’t Long”
Upon seeing pictures of the lead singers together with their guitars, I’ve often joked, “What gorgeous instruments. (And the guitars are pretty, too.)” Crafting songs to take advantage of a particular instrument, especially a voice which will tend to lower naturally as it ages, is an often unsung (forgive the pun) skill.
Credit: Radio Company Instagram Sept 4, 2022
Does Keep On Ramblin’ tell a cohesive story from beginning to end? I believe it does. The mosey-ing guitar intro of “Right Kind of Trouble” picks up speed like an old steam engine plunging down a mountainside in the same manner your heart pounds when you’re in love.
As time goes by, perhaps you fall out of love, but you pick yourself up and “Keep On Ramblin’.” You have stories to tell and people who rely on you. Yet you still have to live life to the fullest knowing there may be someone waiting in the wings to take your place.
The Title Track
There is longing and hopefulness that love will come again in “Return to Me”. When love does arrive, it’s a salve to the soul of a “Restless Man,” keeping him grounded. And at the end of a long, well-lived life, you can let go of “all this wretched sin.”
Here’s my Spotify playlist of all three Radio Company albums, with songs interwoven in a specific order.
Written in the Key of J(tm), Radio Company’s third album, Keep on Ramblin’, is supremely satisfying. As I finish writing this, a melancholy fiddle gracefully leads the slow fade-out of “Velvet Sky” and I find myself singing along with no regard for the whales.
Please share your thoughts on Radio Company’s music below!
Read Chris Carmichael’s other SPNFamily music reviews, “A Sunday Session with Steve Carlson” and “Radio Company Live”. You can also find more Supernatural music commentaries, recaps and games at The WFB’s “Music” tag!
If you liked this review and are interested in more information about Radio Company, check out Chris’ review of their first two albums, Volume 1 and Volume 2 on Medium.com.