Well damn. Drake Milligan did not win America’s Got Talent. He came in third, and Chapel Hart came in fifth. Apparently they were good enough to compete and make it to the final, but were too good to win. That’s how you know they’re real. All for the better though, because we won’t have to compete with the masses for elbow room at their shows, and run the risk of being called bandwagoners. Their careers received a nice goosing from the opportunity, and now it’s time for the grassroots to pick up where they left off.
The consolation prize for Drake Milligan fans is a good one. It’s an excellent new 14 song album that dropped the day after the AGT finale called Dallas/Fort Worth, and it’s way better and more meaningful then any silly talent competition trophy. Super country and twangy, with good songwriting and that little dash of swagger from Drake’s Elvis influence, it’s everything you were hoping Drake Milligan’s full-length debut album would be.
Drake did take the five superb songs from his 2021 EP and put them on this album too. But they’re so good that you don’t blame him, and with 14 songs total, you don’t feel short changed. And most importantly, the new songs pick up right where the EP left off, with quality writing and Milligan keeping it country. He could have gone pop or contemporized his sound to capitalize off the potential AGT win. Instead, this album doubles down on Drake’s commitment to his country roots, including an authentic Western swing tune called “Goin’ Down Swingin’” featuring Vince Gill. This kid gets it.
He also has a cool factor that can escape some other classic country artists. For those unfamiliar, Drake Milligan starred as Elvis on CMT’s Sun Records series from 2017, was basically an Elvis impersonator from adolescence, and that influence still underpins a lot of his style. With the new Elvis movie out there, Milligan is fitting right into the zeitgeist. He’s been sitting on some of these songs and recordings for years now, but with no clear mandate to release them. Now, everything is aligning.
You hear some of that Elvis panache in “Sounds Like Something I’d Do,” which earned him his spot on America’s Got Talent. You also hear it in the new song “Long Haul,” which features Telecaster great James Burton. But again, the primary influence on this album is country, from the reworking of evergreen themes found in “Hating Everything She Tries On” and “Bad Day to Be a Beer,” to better written songs such as “Hearts Don’t Break Even” and “Don’t Look Down.” Yes, there is a 90s country feel to this, but it also goes a bit deeper, and even earlier in time.
And the musical accompaniment also rises to meet the moment. Dallas/Fort Worth was released on major label BBR, and all resources were brought to bear to flesh these songs out with whatever they called for. Well-produced, there is little or nothing to nitpick here. Though officially this is a double album release—with the two volumes illustrating various influences of classic country—really it’s just all great, and a superb listening experience throughout. And since radio won’t pay any attention to it, it’s pretty important that the rest of us do.
Lucky for us though, Drake Milligan makes our job easy by turning in a record that is everything you want country music in 2022 to be. Completely co-written by Milligan, sung exquisitely in a voice that is both classic and unique, and named after his hometown region, Dallas/Fort Worth gives you lots of reasons to be hopeful for the present and the future of country music, as long as Drake Milligan is involved in it.
1 3/4 Guns Up (8.2/10)
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