Sinner is not a debut country album from Lewis. He’s moved into the country arena before. And while some of what he’s put out has been decent, other has been more along the lines of one of the very artists his recent comments criticized: Luke Bryan.
So, where does Sinner fall within his output? Does his music backup his words? Or is this just another Steven Tyler “country” album?
The album begins with the title track, a duet with Willie Nelson. The song very much sets the tone for the album as a whole in both mood and theme. It’s a song where the title very much tells the story. The song relies on something not present in a lot of mainstream country music: subtlety. Rather than elaborating on specific sins or shortcomings, the singers simply declare themselves sinners asking for forgiveness. It’s a tactic which helps make the song more relatable.
“That Ain’t Country” is a song that has gained some attention. It’s a protest song about the current state of country music in the mainstream. Here, Lewis chooses to veer away from the subtle route and be much more direct. It’s definitely a song that works, and the instrumentation and production back up Lewis’ status as a singer intent on making real country music.
Lewis then covers Chris Stapleton’s “Whiskey and You.” This song seems to turning into a country standard: Tim McGraw has recorded it, Jason Eady recorded it, Chris Stapleton recorded his own version on his critically acclaimed album, and now Lewis. Lewis does a damn good job with the song, too. It’s definitely one of the highlights of the album, even if it is difficult to compare anything to Stapleton’s original.
“Northern Redneck” is a stumbling block on the album. It’s as clichéd of a song as you can get. Not only that, but the song feels completely out of place. It doesn’t fit with the rest of the album and feels like it was just thrown into the middle of the album without any rhyme or reason. While most of the rest of the songs show some sort of introspection or at least seem to be about something, “Northern Redneck” just feels like it’s there for no other reason besides to have an extra track on the album.
After stumbling though, Lewis recovers quickly with “Mama.” Songs about mama are a huge tradition in country music (just ask David Allen Coe). The song continues with the themes of sin and redemption and is a heartfelt ballad. It’s a definite standout on the album.
These themes of sin and redemption continue on “Sunday Every Saturday Night.” It doesn’t sound like that from the start of the song. At first it sounds like it’s going to just be a drunk-in-a-bar-song, but quickly turns into something more. It’s a throwback to old-time drinking songs where people drank to forget problems and their flaws.
“Lost and Lonely” continues to reflect on the flaws and wrongs the singer has done and begging his wife to continue to love him despite these flaws. It’s not the most memorable song on the album, but it’s another strong offering.
“Story of My Life,” “Stuck in These Shoes” and “I Lost It All” all end up focusing on similar themes, and end up making Sinner feel very much like a concept album (more on that in a few). The album closes with “Travelin’ Soldier,” a cover of a Bruce Robison song, sung mainly by Lewis’ daughter Zoe with Lewis providing background vocals.
Now, back to my comment about the sense that this is very much a concept album. If that’s what Lewis was going for, he mainly succeeded. It’s a strong album and is very much country. I would definitely argue that the album should have cut out “Northern Redneck,” which is the triangular wheel on the album. The album could also have probably benefited from a bit more variety, but overall, Lewis put out a solid country album.