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Customer Review

22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not quite the prodigal return, but a welcome return all the same., September 18, 2012
This review is from: Hillbilly Jedi (Audio CD)
Honestly, it is hard for me to rate this record: on one hand, Big & Rich are my favorite musical act of all time. On the other, the reality that this album is not as good as the duo's previous releases is painfully obvious. But don't let that skeptical remark fool you: if you like Big & Rich -- as in, more of their songs than "Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)" -- then you will probably like "Hillbilly Jedi." If you were never that fond of Big & Rich, nothing here will change your mind. This is one of those slightly formulaic records ("formulaic" meaning in terms of the artist(s) in question) that everyone will have a different opinion of.

It has been a long wait, but Big Kenny and John Rich are back. Judging from a pre-release listen to the opening track "Born Again," I was expecting this effort to be a welcome return to form for the duo after the overly mainstream sound of "Between Raising Hell and Amazing Grace" in 2007 (not that I disliked the album, it just didn't take any risks). I was partly right, but it depends on which "form" one is thinking of. B&R's patented Country/rock/hick hop sound is back and Cowboy Troy is even thrown in for good measure, but the weird humor of "Horse of a Different Color" and "Comin' to Your City" is again absent. You might think otherwise based on the rather silly title of the record, but with the exception of "M-E-D-L-E-Y of the Hillbilly Jedi", nothing here is much more adventurous than what you would hear on modern country radio, some odd flourishes notwithstanding. It's too bad that the rest of the album isn't like the closing track; that one would fit in nicely on any of the duo's previous works. While I miss the "weird" take on the material (as it was the main trait that made the duo stand out in Nashville), I have always loved the rocking sound that B&R put out as well. "Born Again" even features a guest appearance by Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora, who also co-wrote the song with Kenny and Rich.

This album is by no means "bad" but one can't help but feel that they were playing it safe. Despite the outlandish art and title of the album, the contents are largely predictable. Even then, I enjoyed each and every song on the record, save for "Last Words" (quite possibly the most boring B&R song to date) and "Get Your Game On" (their most moronic song to date, but without any of that self-aware humor that made other such songs work). "Born Again" is one of my new favorite songs of the year and "Party Like Cowboyz" is a fun rocker, while "Cheat On You" is heartwrenching -- the B&R sound is there, it's just lacking the same spark of freshness and zeal from several years ago. Call the actual stars 3 &1/2: aside from a few standouts, "Hillbilly Jedi" just isn't all that memorable and that is ultimately the biggest problem with the album.

As a first, the boys bring in an outside producer in the form of Dann Huff, who handles all of the production duties this time around (Kenny and John both co-produced their previous three outings). This little change up boosts the energy a bit but is otherwise unnoticeable on the lesser tracks. One great thing about Big & Rich that hardly gets any credit is their diverse approach to their music, and it's in full force here. That doesn't necessarily save the record from some mediocre tracks or a lack of personality, but it's still nice nonetheless. There is straight country, rock and hip hop all on the same record here; silly songs and serious ones too. If you are not familiar with Big & Rich, listen to samples before you buy (or better yet, go for one of their first two albums). Their music is not for everyone, but if you like it you'll probably have a good time. The one caveat I would tell the first-time listener to keep in mind is that the duo's records tend to be uneven tonally due to the nature of individual songs, which applies here as well.

To sum it up, "Hillbilly Jedi" is a fairly modest Big & Rich record. The sound is there but the personality really isn't, making the album a well-made but average effort for the duo. This record is more akin to one cut by a duo in a bit of a creative rut; one whose act is thinning, not returning after a five year break. I hold their music to a higher standard that this record doesn't quite reach. Complaints aside, if you like Big & Rich give "Hillbilly Jedi" a spin. The music is clear and crisp and once you hear Kenny's preacher-esque rambling exit your speakers, you'll be whisked back to the good ole days of "Save a Horse" and "Comin' to Your City," if only briefly.

Great to have you back guys, but try harder next time!

My favorite songs:
"Born Again"
"Party Like Cowboyz"
"Rock The Boat"
"M-E-D-L-E-Y of the Hillbilly Jedi"
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Showing 1-8 of 8 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Sep 28, 2012 10:07:42 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Sep 28, 2012 10:08:44 PM PDT
Matt Benecke says:
I definitely respect your opinion about the album but have to respectfully disagree about a few points that you raise. What you see as a creative rut, I view as being an evolution or song writing maturation for the duo. They started out writing fun, irreverant country tunes but, in light of their respective personal experiences, I can understand why they'd be more inclined to write about loftier things (like they do on "That's Why I Pray.")

You mention their sense of humor or how funny their music is. Both are certainly aspects of their music that I enjoy but they're not the sole reasons that I listen to Big & Rich. For me, it's the synergy that they create between those light-hearted moments and other, more complex emotional ones (juxtaposing "Love Train" and "Saved" as one example). I figure that a band like Tenacious D is enjoyed solely because of the humorous styling of their lyrics; Big & Rich, at least in my eyes, represent a solid pair of musicians with a knack for writing enjoyable, well-crafted songs.

The biggest gripe that I have with your review though stems from your condemnation of the band for not being adventurous enough and your referencing of their previous album as being "overly mainstream sound." To me, Big & Rich represent a band that bucks the trends of a number of musical styles while purposely working to avoid any sort of genrefication. They don't (again, in my eyes) seek to push the envelope in any sense. If anything, I would bet that they would cite their number one purpose in writing their music as being simply to make people happy. This, in turn, leads me to the gripe about the "overly mainstream sound." What does that even mean? That the songs bore massive popular appeal--more so, perhaps, than previous efforts? If so, then what's wrong with that? Particularly if the point of their music is to provide their listeners with enjoyable songs? I personally found that to be a remarkably highbrow position to take towards a band whose very existence is grounded in as low-brow a foundation as one will find in music today. Ultimately, I say that if it sounds good, then listen to it and if it doesn't, then listen to something else.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 29, 2012 7:54:03 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 7, 2014 3:13:00 PM PDT
Matt Benecke: Hmm. You're right, I was a bit hard on the album but you have to understand: I have been waiting on it since May. In fact, out of all the albums, movies, video games etc. coming out this year, I was most excited to hear Big & Rich again. Sadly, there's just nothing on this album that reminds me of their earlier work. Given that you are familiar with the duo, I assume that you've listened to the entirety of "Horse of a Different Color." Well, on that album there were such hooks as rapping sections in the middle of country songs (unheard of in 2004), little hidden tracks that were placed on the end of longer ones (such as on the end of "Kick My Ass" when Kenny starts singing "shoot me Daddy, I'm Superman") random sound effects and even a heartfelt spoken message at the end. On "Comin to Your City," there was "The Freak Parade," which speaks for itself, and "Filthy Rich" which starts out with a random sounding "advertisement" from the duo. There is little of this self-aware humor on either "Between Raising Hell and Amazing Grace" or "Hillbilly Jedi."

But here is where I have to respectfully disagree with YOU. Listen to "Rollin' (The Ballad of Big & Rich)" one more time and give it a thought before responding. That song, if anything, is a statement: they are introducing themselves and saying "we do music our way," hence why Kenny says they are there for "music without prejudice" and also why there is a rapping section in the middle. The intent is to get a point across; they WERE attempting to push the envelope. The placed any genre they wanted into a blender with country and rock to make a song with a sound THEY liked. The intent was always to kick dirt into the eyes of musical conventions. So, naturally, when they start making radio-friendly albums (individual songs is fine, but whole albums?) it kind of bugs me.

Now, don't misunderstand me, that style is not the only thing I like about them. It's just one of the main aspects of their act that stood out to me when they first stormed onto the scene. I LOVE Big & Rich and I even get mad when my local country station doesn't play them. I just feel like they've lost touch with one of the things I grew to like them for. That said, I still like "Between Raising Hell and Amazing Grace" and also "Hillbilly Jedi," just not as much as their first two albums. Oh, and they didn't write "That's Why I Pray." It was written by Danelle Leverett, Blair Daily and Sarah Buxton. Aside from this, what "experiences" are you talking about? I actively scour the internet looking for anything Big & Rich related (because I AM a huge fan) but I haven't heard much of anything about their personal lives in a while.

In reply to an earlier post on May 18, 2013 1:25:25 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 18, 2013 1:27:44 PM PDT
Derrick Wood says:
I appreciate your input on the matter of humor. But I must say, I do like them for their offbeat humor. That is what I like most about them and without that, I just don't get into them much. That is why I feel that Comin to Your City was easily their best work. It really struck a chord with me lyrically. I was amazed at the bizarre blends of style and sounds on that CD. It blew me away.

If they lack that humor on this one, then I will pick and chose the few songs I will buy. I appreciate the original review and this follow up. Thanks

In reply to an earlier post on May 18, 2013 10:37:02 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 7, 2014 3:12:39 PM PDT
Derrick Wood: I love that sense of humor as well and it is more or less absent from all of the songs except for "M-e-d-l-e-y of the Hillbilly Jedi." I appreciate you taking the time to comment on my review and if you're looking for that humor in more of their work outside of this particular album, try "Big & Rich's Super Galactic Fan Pak." It's an EP they released in 2004 with only about five tracks, but they're all busting at the seams with their quirky style. It also comes with a DVD which features behind the scenes footage of the duo, which is always a plus.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 4, 2014 8:40:36 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 4, 2014 8:41:13 AM PST
Terry K. says:
SV--just read your review and I totally agree with you on all counts. I haven't returned to their new cd since I first got it. Sadly,it sounds a bit stale/bland by comparison to the first three. They had a tough road to hoe reuniting for this one,granted. But they fell a bit short,and it sounds quite 'forced' in most spots. Like-here's some more 'Big n'Rich' style stuff from us. Too bad,but they DID have one huge task even equalling past efforts. That said, I like 3-5 tracks on this. The rest just seems...tired. T

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 7, 2014 3:12:17 PM PDT
T. G Krysinski: I'd agree with the assessment that this album feels tired. What stinks is that we'll likely never get another album like the duo's debut or even "Comin' to Your City." Back then, they'd both been in bands and were failed solo artists. They quite literally had nothing to lose by throwing the kitchen sink into the mix. However, a few million records and thousands of dollars later, they've finally tasted success and I don't think they'll ever take chances like that again. I suppose we'll see as time wears on, assuming they don't take any more breaks and continue to put out a steady string of subsequent albums. Number five is coming on September 23, 2014 and is called "Gravity" if you hadn't yet heard of it. We'll see how that record turns out when it gets here.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 7, 2014 3:33:07 PM PDT
Terry K. says:
SV-- i've yanked HJ out of my collection recently for a few re-spins. Surprisedly-- I dig it a bit more now than back when it arrived. could be the itch for a new (upcoming) cd by them. And I do like the lead single--IF they insert it this time,that is. They should have included 'Fake ID' last time out. That said- HJ teams with 'party rock' songs anyway,so no huge loss there. hope the new cd is great,but I DID come around to liking most of HJ after giving it a better chance. Only one or two clunkers for me now ( Ones you mentioned-Last Words & Get Your Game On--meh.). Cheers, T

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 16, 2014 10:53:54 PM PDT
T. G Krysinski - In all fairness to "Fake ID", that single was issued a year and a half before "Hillbilly Jedi" dropped in stores. While I'm with you in wishing that it was on the album, it's understandable that it wasn't. It was included on the soundtrack to the "Footloose" remake and that's what it was made for. It's equally likely that the duo couldn't include it even if they wanted to due to rights issues or maybe they just didn't want to. It certainly would have given HJ a bit of a boost and I'd certainly take it over "Last Words" or "Get Your Game On", but it is what it is. It was probably an artistic decision; the same reason AC/DC's "Big Gun" from the "Last Action Hero" soundtrack in 1993 wasn't included in their 1995 album "Ballbreaker."
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