Once again, an artist from the mysterious, nebulous world of independently-signed artists has found his way to my desk for review. This time around, I'm looking at Steven Padilla, an Alabaman who, according to cmchatlive.com, calls his album Good at Goodbye "a great mix between traditional and modern country." The album most certainly lives up to that promise, as its themes are easily identifiable as country — broken hearts, good times in the woods/down backroads/wherever, bad boys set right by good women, etc. — set apart by a modern, edgy production and solid, mostly sharp lyrics.
The album kicks off with a trio of good ol' boy songs. Lead track "Peaches & Pines" has a Jay Joyce-esque swampiness to it, with its low-strung acoustic guitar, tight percussion, and tempo changes bringing to mind Eric Church's "Creepin'." The lyric is at the same time an ode to his Southern upbringing and faith, and while it never really seems to settle in either direction, it still has enough interesting lines and melodic merit to keep it afloat. "Country Side of Mine" is a charming tale of city girl meets country boy in the first verse, with the male stating clearly that she's wasting her time if she doesn't like his truck or boots. The song takes an interesting twist in the second verse, as he gives the same message to Nashville record execs who try to reshape his singing image into something he's not. If predictable, the song's message is at least honest, and stated plainly without feeling confrontational.
"Fishin'" is another simple story about meeting a nice girl and, well, fishin' with her. It hits a lot of the common "bro-country" tropes — hot girl, truck, tailgate, beer, you know the drill — but it gets beyond them and into a few glimpses of real-world struggles that are cast aside (pardon the pun) by just going out and fishing with a girl. (It's also probably the only time since Mark McGuinn's short-lived heyday that a song has had both a banjo and a drum machine in it. And the inclusion of the Andy Griffifh Show whistling at the end is a nice touch.) Speaking of good-time recreations, "Get You Alone" has a guy inviting a woman wearied by her job a chance to get out on some old dirt road. It wears its well-worn theme well, helped greatly by its smooth, steel-heavy production. Similar "7 Minutes" is an offer of not much more than fish and beer-related good times, although I don't quite understand what the hook "7 minutes on ice" is referring to. (Is this some sex metaphor I'm not familiar with?)
But the album's not all about good times. The thumping drums and ragged time signature of "Good at Goodbye" give more sonic creativity to an already solidly-written tale of post-breakup sadness. Such themes are getting increasingly rare in the country field, so it's great to hear a solidly-written one ("It'll never get better if you don't try" is a particularly strong and meaningful line) with "modern" touches, especially the payoff guitar solo at the end. Similarly, "She Won't Be Lonely" has the man looking back at his relationship, taking away from it that "a girl like her, she won't be lonely." The song's somber tone reflects his loneliness well enough, too. "No Time to Think" is about a woman who has all the material possessions one could ask for, but feels held back by the mundanity of it all and wants to pursue her dreams. This interesting character sketch is probably one of the best songs on the album simply because of its unique theme.
"This Woman in My Life" is a tale of a man who's lived a rough life, but is set on the right patch by the perfect woman. Yet again, it's a familiar theme, but it's told in credible fashion and given a slight twist with a marriage proposal for that same woman: "I don't wanna take this trip unless you're gonna go." Similarly, he's looking back on "life and all the stupid things [he's] done" in "Forgiveness," where he prays for a little help in straightening out the right from the wrong. The jump from that to his statement that it's okay if you don't like his music is a bit jarring, but every bit as sincere. Closing off the album is another ode to — no, not a good woman, but the big guy. The Man Upstairs™. God. I've said it before: the religious-themed songs ending so many male artists' albums lately are a fine touch, as they always work. Good at Goodbye is an incredibly solid album that blends the old and the new. While no individual song is a total knockout, it boasts a remarkable consistency that makes for a pretty darn good listen. A few lyrically dip their toes into what some may consider "bro-country" but they never dive in headfirst, thanks in part to the constantly intriguing production and Padilla's unpretentious voice. It's the production that brings to mind a less brash version of Eric Church, while the song selection and smooth baritone singing recall the better songs on Dustin Lynch's debut or most recent Joe Nichols cuts. Here's hoping that Padilla is one of those rare indie acts that moves out from under the radar in years to come.