Have you ever been frustrated by something because it was one flaw away from being perfect, but said flaw was large enough and so grating that it singlehandedly ruined the experience? If you never have, I recommend checking out Hickory by Don Gallardo. It’s a solid country album that would be considered an instant classic if it wasn’t for one thing: the vocals. I can’t stand ‘em. It dropped my opinion (represented in a numerical value) of this album from a 9 to a 5. And it’s such a goddamn shame too, because everything else about this album is pure “Diamonds & Gold.”
First up is the song writing. It’s simple yet effective, and is geared towards listeners who don’t want any fancy bells and whistles in their songs. It’s mostly straightforward, following the common verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus variety. Nothing groundbreaking, but still executed very, very well. A lot of that can be credited to the arragements of the songs. Peppered throughout the album, you’ll find tastefully distributed elements like the rag-time piano in “Ophelia, We Cry,” the subtle harmonica in “Carousel,” and the beautiful backing vocals in “Banks Of The Mississippi.”
This should all come as no surprise to those who’ve read the credits for the album. It was produced by David Pinkston, who also produced such notable acts as Linda Ronstadt and Marshall Tucker Band. The cleanliness of the recordings and the sheer knowledge of the musical placement tells you more about the man’s musical talents than any words I could write about him. It’s a shame the vocal melodies don’t do the rest of the work justice.
My biggest beef with Don’s vocal chops is that he doesn’t have any. Outside of two tracks, “Banks Of The Mississippi,” and “Will We Ever Get it Right,” he doesn’t really stray outside of an octave or two. And even worse, there is no passion in his voice. “Midnight Sounds” sounds like The Boss would have written it, except everything The Boss sings is dripping, oozing, spewing emotion. For a country album that sings about the sad side of life all too often, Don doesn’t sound sad. He sounds like he’s reporting on the weather.
Then there is the problem with him being flat multiple times, ON EVERY SONG! I don’t mind if the voice is not the most steady thing in the universe, ala The Hives, but he ain’t them. Being flat, coupled with the complete lack of emotion, drags the whole album down for me.
My final critique is with the lyrics themselves. Now, I know country music has never been known for having “winning the Nobel Prize of Literature” type of lyrics, but these could be akin to Dr. Seuss. “It seems I always think about those things I shouldn’t think about, I guess I always think about too much.” These lyrics come from the song “Diamonds & Gold” and make little to no sense, especially when the chorus tells you, “Some days are diamonds, some are gold.” So, what I discern from that is that no matter what, everyday is awesome and will make you feel rich?
Anyway, I tried, dear reader, to like this album, but just couldn’t. I implore you to give the album a listen and tell me if I’m right, or just being a jerk. As always, I await your answers in the comments section below.
Written by Aaron Deck
*edited by Kate Erickson