'Too Much Is Never Enough' is the first full-length album from country musician AJ Hobbs. However, he is no newcomer and is yet another journeyman musician who plied his trade for many years before giving up his day job to pursue the dream.
AJ put his first band together in 2013 and after opening for Shooter Jennings, he was not only asked back but also started to forge a productive, working relationship with Shooter's bassist Ted Russell Kamp.
Prior to this record, AJ had released two EP's, the second co-produced by Kamp.
AJ Hobbs sound has been described as something that 'brings the spirit and storytelling of the great country outlaws and melds it with a sweet soulful sound inspired by Texas music, R&B and gospel'. He calls this style and stew of music 'Outlaw Soul'.
'Too Much Is Never Enough' was recorded variously at Bedrock Recording Studio, Station House Studios and The Den, mixed by Eric Rennaker, mastered by Pete Lyman and co-produce by Ted Russell Kamp and AJ Hobbs himself.
The twelve tracks comprise of ten originals, including two co-writes and covers of Ted Russell Kamp's 'A Whole Lot of You and Me' and the Merle Haggard tune, 'The Bottle Let Me Down'.
On the album, Hobbs supplies lead guitar, vocals, and Kamp bass, whilst other musicians are something of a 'who's who' from the top brass of country music players and far too many to mention by name here. Clearly AJ Hobbs is well connected!
Opening and title track 'To Much Is Never Enough' comes driving in, all boogie-woogie rhythm and classic bar room swagger as the lyrics tumble out. AJ has a strong, almost archetypal country voice that is more Sturgill Simpson than Chris Stapleton to my ears. The band playing here really is outstanding as well; full of lovely little fills, trills and runs while never missing a beat. In and out at just over two minutes thirty seconds, this is the way to grab the listener's attention.
'Life Without You' is a slower, more reflective number whilst 'The Loser' is another defiant statement of intent charting AJ's decision to give up the 'day job' and pursue a musical life on the road.
Up next is Merle Haggard's 'The Bottle Let Me Down' and features yet another great ensemble performance with almost 'The Band' type moments when AJ's vocal sounded distinctly Levon Holmes like. Great stuff indeed.
'Daddy Loved The Lord' is touted as the lead track and understandably so. A strong 'first person' story from AJ spanning Jesus, the Devil and his father in under three minutes fifty which is no mean feat in itself. Fine backing vocals lend an almost gospel feel to the chorus and the rounding up couplet of 'Daddy loved the Lord just a little bit more than he loved my mamma and me' is just classic country.
Another much-referenced song is 'Shit Just Got Real' that made an appearance on one of his earlier EP's and is reworked here. I particularly like the electric guitar solo in the middle, really gritty, discordant and overdriven, more rock than country but a pedal steel then cleverly ushers back into the verse and familiar terrain.
Moving towards the latter stages of the album the Ted Kamp song, 'A Whole Lot Of You And Me' makes an appearance. It shuffles in sweetly on an acoustic strum, fiddle and restrained drums and features probably AJ's most reflective vocal on the album, showing a subtler side of his voice to great effect.
The record ends with 'Tomorrow I'll Be Hurtin' and is a great way of signing out. This track also comes in with an acoustic rhythm and tight drums and straddles themes of loss, hope and defiance and boasts another great couplet, 'So help me if you can and put something in my jar, tomorrow I'll be hurting, tonight I'll be a star'.
This is a very good album where AJ Hobbs really takes the opportunity to set out his musical stall for all to see. His sound cleverly captures a contemporary twist on the country traditions where he never strays far from the ubiquitous themes of drinking, travelling, loss and redemption, yet never sounds anything less than current and relevant.
Add in some great original songs, inspired covers, a country voice to die for and stellar playing by everyone involved, all recorded to perfection and you have an object lesson in how to make a debut album.
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