Angelino, Sam Outlaw's shimmering debut record, rode a well-worn path but felt exciting for all of its familiarity. Somewhere between the L.A. singer-songwriter's thin, sweet voice, his crack band (including guitar hero Ry Cooder) and his dreamy melodies, Outlaw found a richly old fashioned sound to explore. For many country fans (especially those with an ear for the early 1970s southern California sound) it was a hell of a first shot. Indeed, it was among my favourite country records of 2015.
Now, two years later, Outlaw (his mother's maiden name, for real!) is back for more. A sensitive, decidedly mellow affair, the aptly titled Tenderheart doubles down on the welcome SoCal sound but comes up a bit short of its predecessor in the songwriting department. Though boasting some excellent material (especially the terrific "Bottomless Mimosas" and the hushed "Look at You Now"), some melodies feel overly familiar (especially on the by-the-numbers workout "All My Life" and the anonymous country pop of "Say It To Me" and "Trouble"), and at times, Outlaw's fondness for sentimental mid-tempo ballads veers dangerously close to schmaltz.
The accumulation of these sugary notes over the course of 45 minutes can feel somewhat sticky. This a good album, and everyone loves a bit of syrup — but you have to know when to draw the line. (Six Shooter)