Review Summary: A rollicking Country Western album of (almost) epic proportions.
Kyle Nix’s solo debut can sound hollow, which isn’t a word that you would want applied to a 17-track, concept-esque album inspired by the works of Ennio Morricone. There’s no mistaking that Lightning on the Mountain and Other Short Stories
was made to be epic, thus sidestepping the criticism (often unfairly) given to many country releases. It’s hard to be bored listening to this foot-stomping, fiddle driven romp of country Western music, but it also rarely evokes the emotions or sense of adventure that it is meant to create. It’s fun, it’s livey, it’s got some really great lyrics, but it’s just short of the height of epicness that it strives towards.
Nix is the longtime fiddle player and backup vocalist for The Turnpike Troubadours, famed Red Dirt country band that is currently on hiatus due to the well-being of frontman Evan Felker. While on this indefinite hiatus, Nix decided to explore his solo career, and his backing band is composed of none other than the rest of The Turnpike Troubadours. Nix is undoubtedly front and center of the experience, with the album being driven by his impeccable fiddle playing and tight story crafting. The concept that Nix was striving for is most clear on the title track. The song is the story of a classic outlaw shoot-em-up with a modern twist that highlights many of the strengths of the album. Layers of country stylings pile in with Nix’s fiddle being the star and lyrics that are as vivid as they are fun condense a full Spaghetti Western the track into a rollicking three-minute-romp. Not a second is wasted in the song - It’s incredibly tight while still being incredibly detailed for a modern country song.
Unfortunately, the title track also highlights the largest weakness of the album. Kyle Nix is undoubtedly a great songwriter and emotive fiddle player, but a strong vocalist he is not. The title track and album as a whole could serve with a much more gruff and dynamic voice, which is where the hollow feeling comes into play. It’s difficult to buy into any of the rough and tumble country stories when the vocals just don’t seem as invested in the story that they’re telling. All of the individual pieces are there for Lightning on the Mountain and Other Short Stories
to be a masterpiece, but it is fairly difficult to buy into or become invested in any of the stories. Nix sounds like a distant narrator describing wild street racing or a lost Southern love or a man who drinks himself to death because he’s in love with a woman who’s “trouble” as opposed to being a person in the thick of these stories. Nix is an absolutely brilliant storywriter, with many of the songs being lyrical throwbacks to classic outlaw country, but Lightning on the Mountain and Other Short Stories
does not portray him as a competent storyteller, which makes his music suffer.
With this in mind, it’s probably not surprising that the most successful songs are the ones that are Nix telling his own stories, meaning he is truly personally invested. After the instrumental opener, “Manifesto” comes rolling in as possibly the highlight of the whole album. It describes Nix’s grandfather’s and father’s service in World War Two and Vietnam, respectively, while Nix is concerned that his legacy won’t matter as much: “All I do is bow bluegrass & blues/I hope you like it some
”. When there’s real personal investment in the lyrics is where Nix shines. It allows him to both show off his story writing and hone his storytelling. “Lonesome for You (Widower, Pt.1)” another highlight in this vein. The bonafide ballad of the album sees Nix and the band scaling back and slowing down, with Nix’s vocals being the main star and showing that there is potential leading man material. Not only does he show off a range not displayed in the rest of the album, it also shows off an emotional attachment to his lyrics.
Lightning on the Mountain and Other Short Stories
is a difficult album to consume, as it is an incredibly fun listen and fills a gap that has been missing in country music for quite some time. When focusing on it, however, it is clear that the potential for so much more exists. A very entertaining album was made, but everything from the lyrics to the production shows that Nix and his supporting band meant to make something much, much more than entertaining - The album just doesn’t hit those marks. However, if Nix can get his delivery to match the rest of the execution on the album, he could become the clear face of modern day face of this country Western style, a face that is sorely needed.