If you tune into any country station in the United States, you’ll hear older songs from the likes of Keith Urban and Carrie Underwood (“Before He Cheats” is a singular favorite of mine that seems to be on repeat). You’ll also listen to pop infused songs from Sam Hunt and Luke Bryan, who always seems to fit something about “huntin’, fishin’, and lovin’ everyday.” So, where does that leave the Eli Young Band amongst these diverse groups? Well, right smack dab in the middle of it all. They’ve given it a go, since their inception at the University of North Texas, with songs on the charts like “Drunk Last Night” and “Crazy Girl.”
The band’s recent release, Fingerprints, is a deviation from their recent flirtation with pop in “Honey, I’m Good.” In this collaboration with Andy Grammer, they put their mark on the popular song by creating a duet that showed off their experimentation outside of their norm. It seems as if this was simply a phase, as they are true to their roots in this expose of classic Eli Young Band.
Prior to the album’s release, three singles were pulled, the first of them being “Saltwater Gospel.” A lot of weight is put on this song, as it not only gave fans a tease and preview into this work, but it also introduces the whole album, being the beginning track. Its position as a hook is perfect. The originality and free flowing vibe encompasses it completely, and it jolted me of any presumptions I had about what I expected to hear – lyrically, especially. Although short and brief, it surely delivers in a way that is creative and thought provoking. Too often the country that is popular has little to no deep meaning or just well written. This is down-to-earth and delivers a positive message without the cheesiness or dramatics.
Another upbeat tune is “A Heart Needs A Break” which depicts the yearning of love in a way that is passionate and vocally strong. Guitar, though prominent in virtually every song, is especially spectacular here as well as “Old Songs.” Though they are opposites in tempo and feel, they both excel and are similar in instrumentals. This second song has a more traditional, more bluesy-country aspect, very apropos when you take into consideration the title. The harmonica wheezing in and out of the background adds a grittiness and realness that only this band can achieve successfully.
The slower, even more heartfelt songs are plentiful. However, the most important is “Skin & Bones,” another love song that somehow differentiates itself with a message that takes the song into another dimension. The narration is front and center as a man professes how close to his partner he is, how she is “in my skin and bones.”
The overall theme of Fingerprints is vulnerability. Every song has a deepness that reaches a place of universal pain, love, and worship. Everyone can find something to relate to, which is difficult for bands to achieve – the ability to reach out to listeners and pull them in and to feel the music. I would be remiss if I didn’t say this was one of my favorite country albums of the year so far.