Review: Yelawolf – Trial By Fire

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Most people will never know the difficulty of living in the public eye, and even fewer of us will experience having to endure the aftermath of a center stage public meltdown. But this would explain why Yelawolf has been off the radar for nearly a year following a disastrous string of events during 2016. Reportedly, he’s withstood a perfect storm of personal tragedy, including the passing of a close friend, splitting from his fiance, Fefe Dobson, having to cancel a tour due to his own manic behavior, and ongoing alcohol abuse, all leading to three days in a psyche ward. That 37-year-old Michael Wayne Atha is the embodiment of Trial By Fire is an understatement. An apt name for the third studio album from the Alabama rapper, this collection of 14 genre-bending songs delves deep into his psyche and the world as he views it through his dark and damaged lens. On what he’s called his favorite album, Yelawolf raps to a country-rock-blues blend and invites some great musical heavyweights to help him tell his stories.

Following up 2015’s Love Story album, Trial By Fire was executive produced by Yelawolf and recorded in the House of Blues studio in Nashville months before the Eminem-protege violently announced to a concert crowd, “I can’t do this no more”. But, hopefully, a year of self-care and sobriety has put him in a better state of mind. The title track is an autobiographical song that sets the tone for what’s to come throughout the album and details his arrival into the world back in ‘79. Later in the album “Son Of A Gun” is a follow-up to the “Trial By Fire” track where Yelawolf goes further into his formative years, but from the perspective of never meeting his father, who is said to be Cherokee, and the demons that followed him for being cut from the same cloth. There is a heavy undertone and vibe throughout most of the album, but it’s complemented by its authentic and well-crafted musicianship working with well-trusted collaborators.

In the single “Row Your Boat”, Yelawolf slips in lines about how no one is safe in cities where KKK sheets are still being worn and cops have a tendency to kill without consequence. “Shadows” features Joshua Hedley, who’s signed with Jack White’s label and brings a bonafide Johnny Cash persona to the mix. “Get Mine” features Kid Rock who riffs off of the childhood play song “Engine Engine Number 9” as the song showcases DJ Klever’s scratching skills. “Ride Or Die” is an ode to those who have supported Yelawolf throughout his traumatic journey, the trials of touring, fame, and other struggles. He pours out his gratitude for their support of his ambition and believing in his vision.

“Daylight”, the whisper of whiskey stupors on rainy days and the solace within, is bluesy in a Muddy Waters, hand-clapping, country-living sort of way. “Do For Love” ponders what you would do for love, while “Punk” is a breakneck speed dueling banjo single featuring Blink-182’s Travis Barker and rapper Juicy J. Bones Owens’ smoky tenor complements the somber lyrics of “True To Yourself” as Yelawolf admonishes that you are a fool for someone else if you are not true to yourself. The haunting background vocals and trumpet solo add great depth to the composition. “Sabrina” is the deepest and darkest of all the stories told on this album, or possibly any of his others. Leaving fans wondering if it’s a true and accurate tale from his own life, Yelawolf carefully weaves together the details of a heart-wrenching family tragedy and the feelings he’s left with in the aftermath.

“Violin” is a pensive track that speaks from the voice of many American soldiers who question so much about the tremendous sacrifice they’ve made for their country. “Keeps Me Alive”, featuring Wynonna Judd, is a bookend to the autobiographical song that opens the album and underscores why he’s convinced each trial has actually kept him alive. Given the trials of life that Yelawolf has faced, it’s no wonder that he would finally reach a breaking point. Though he’s been booed and ridiculed at many of his shows, and even killed off his stage name “Yelawolf” for a period preferring to go by his initials, MWA, this Trial By Fire album proves that he really owes it to himself to pull through and keep making good music.

 
Written by Mai Perkins

Originally from Los Angeles, Mai Perkins is living a genuine bona fide love affair with NYC and the music that keeps its spirit moving. While spending the majority of the last decade in Brooklyn, many of her adventures around the globe are documented on her blog: Mai On The Move! www.MaiOnTheMove.com

 
Author’s rating for Trial By Fire

Pop Magazine’s official rating for Trial By Fire

Rating key
MASTERPIECE a must-have
SUPERB for heavy rotation
EXCELLENT a great achievement
VERY GOOD a respectable result
GOOD worth checking out
FAIR an average outcome
WEAK not convincing stuff
BAD an underwhelming effort
VERY BAD quite a waste
FAIL a total failure

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