Bradley Gaskin EP
In this age of digital downloading, the extended play (EP) album is making a comeback as a way for artists bubbling under to receive a showcase before the release of a full-length record. Columbia Nashville artist Bradley Gaskin is the latest to receive this treatment.
Gaskin first became prominent in 2011 when the neotraditional “Mr. Bartender” established him, and his Travis Tritt-like vocal ability, as a promising new voice to hold up the traditions of country music.
Even though “Mr. Bartender” is stone cold country down to the fiddle and steel guitar, it stopped short of adding a fresh perspective to the lore of drinking songs. The story of a man drowning his sorrows in the stiffest drink at a bar has been done countless times before. But that only slightly dampened it from sounding fresh and almost revelatory. “Mr. Bartender” reached a chart peak of #32, a small miracle for traditional country music.
Decidedly more upbeat and radio friendly, second single “Diamonds Make Babies” seems like a better fit to launch Gaskin as a radio star. The slick production, somewhat mundane lyrical content, and writing credits from Jim Beavers, Lee Thomas Miller, and Chris Stapleton nicely position it for heavy rotation status.
Problem is, the song centers around the idea that becoming a parent starts with an engagement ring, a pleasing idea to religious traditionalists that becomes trite and unimaginative when turned into a piece of music. No amount of country instrumentation or twangy vocals can elevate this; either by Gaskin or Dierks Bentley who has a version on his latest album Home.
In addition to the singles, Bradley Gaskin EP offers two other glimpses into the artist. “I’m All About It” is a George Strait-like vanilla flavored ditty that manages to say nothing at all and take three minutes saying it. It fails on the account that it tries too hard to be country by employing a laundry list of overwrought cliches (beer, trucks, mud, buddies, lakes/rivers) that erase any authenticity and sincerity from the intent behind what he’s singing.
In a shocking turnaround moment of actual good taste, the album closes on a high note, with a song that delivers as interesting a lyric as its title. “Satan Knew My Grandma Well” was originally done by The Grascals, (as “Satan and Grandma” on 2010’a The Famous Lefty Flynn’s) and both versions are very similar. Gaskins’s vocal brings a decidedly country element to the song and the story of a woman’s relationship with the patron saint of Hell, a metaphor for temptation, conjures up some great images despite a thin lyric sheet.
Overall Bradley Gaskin EP finds an artist with an obvious affinity for tractional country music making needless concessions in an effort to fit in with the current marketplace. The arraignments for “Diamonds Make Babies” and “I’m All About It” scream country, but they cheapen the overall listening experience with their obvious pandering.
And for someone with an above average to nearly remarkable voice, he shouldn’t be trying this hard to prove himself. His immense talent puts him in a class above most major label artists and this EP should’ve reflected that.
In essence he’s better than the chosen material. “Mr. Bartender” introduced an artist acting as a clear alternative to the country/pop and country/rock of late; someone not afraid to return the steel guitar to its rightful prominence. But until he finds stronger and more impactful material, he’s a long way from a 21st century Randy Travis.