Album Review: Luke Grimes’ ‘Pain Pills or Pews’ EP
October 21, 2023
UPDATED: October 21, 2023

Album Release Date: October 20, 2023

Label: Universal Music Group Nashville

Can Luke Grimes Fill the Boots of His Cowboy Persona?

There are two things I know, the world isn’t always fair, and Luke Grimes is just too damn handsome to be singing about heartbreak and sorrow. However, he proves otherwise with his unexpected debut EP, Pain Pills or Pews. The EP, produced by the mythical Dave Cobb, comes in at 24 minutes with 8 solid tracks. Grimes, renowned for his role as Kayce Dutton in Yellowstone, not only embodies a cowboy on screen but also moonlights as an emerging country artist. Ahead of the EP’s release, Western AF shared a video of Grimes performing his debut single, No Horse to Ride, which later claimed the seventh spot on the Country Sales chart and gained recognition on the hit show Yellowstone.

Unfortunately, when someone like Luke Grimes ventures into music, especially country music, my initial reaction is skepticism. It’s an easily marketable position, and with his looks and cowboy persona, along with Yellowstone’s backing, he could have become an overnight novelty act. I mean, hook a man up with Tyler Hubbard and you have yourself an instant top-40 chart-topper.

The main point being, with the avenues and resources available to him, the path he’s chosen to take is remarkable. With only 1.5 million monthly listeners on Spotify and 23K on Youtube, this puts him in the ballgame with artists like Drayton Farley and Charles Wesley Godwin. It’s refreshing to see him taking a grassroots approach and allowing his music to spread organically. He’s chosen to perform in bars and rodeos, getting down and dirty on the live circuit.

Grimes embodies authenticity in his appearance and voice, perfectly complementing the genre. His slightly high-pitched, nasally voice, combined with his Ohio accent, lends a genuine feel to his music. Grimes’ writing certainly draws heavily from singer/songwriter influence. He leans on the “3 chords and the truth” approach, which resonates effectively. This approach relies on quality lyrics to provide a solid foundation. While his lyrics may not necessarily be profound, and he’s not dying on the tracks like John Moreland, they remain well-crafted and genuinely impressive.

Pain Pills or Pews kicks off with No Horse to Ride. The song sets the standard for the rest of the EP with a simple acoustic guitar and the iconic pedal steel following suit. No Horse to Ride uses varying metaphors to express the absence of Grimes’ significant other. Her absence is compared to a “cowboy with no horse to ride.” I assume she’s the horse in the metaphor…

Hold On is a collaboration with the acclaimed Irish singer/songwriter Foy Vance, offering a well-written and catchy contemporary tune that touches on the fear of commitment and being tied down. Grimes closes his chorus with:

“Maybe I should change my name and run, run, run

So I don’t have to hold on

Hold on, Hold on”

Upon reflection, maybe it’s about the same “horse lady” from No Horse to Ride.

Ghost of Who We Were Is a somber and sad tale of love gone wrong. Grimes gives us a taste of his vulnerable side, with the seemingly forced “softer” side of his vocal range. Where Its Blue, more or less, could be considered part 2 to Ghost of Who We Were.  The 2 songs are arranged in identical ways with essentially the same subject matter.

Burn offers a refreshing departure from the norm, treading the line between “modern” country music in both tone and lyrics. It echoes elements of Morgan Wallen’s style, though veering away from the less appealing aspects of everything he does. The song grasps at themes of heartbreak, seeking solace in a bottle of whiskey, anticipating hurt from a presumed romantic interest (likely the “horse girl”), and yet embracing the experience with the poignant line, “light me up and let me burn.”

Playin On the Tracks stands out as a highlight on the EP with its groovy, slick melody and a harmonious chorus. Notably, I initially thought it resembled a Brent Cobb song, and a quick Google search confirmed that it’s indeed co-written by Brent Cobb. The dynamic arrangement, which unmistakably bears Cobb’s signature, immediately captures your attention.

My favorite track on the EP is Oh Ohio, arguably the most cleverly written of Grimes’ songs. It serves as both a love letter and a breakup letter to Ohio, exuding sincerity, believability, and resonates with my own memories of my hometown. You can feel Grimes’ longing and irritability for his stomping ground, Ohio has moved on and left him behind like he was never there. The song’s tagline is brilliantly crafted, sending chills down my spine when I heard it:

“When you’re forgetting me, crucify my memory

Just know I’ll bleed, Ohio-Oh-oh, Ohio”

Aint Dead Yet is a playful love song with rhythmic clapping, wailing harmonica, and cheesy lyrics. There’s not much more to add. I get it. It’s changing up the tone and showing range. It’s fine.

Final Thoughts

In my opinion, Pain Pills or Pews almost camouflages itself as a homegrown indie album. It’s small and quiet in all the right ways. Dave Cobb’s production expertise, combined with Grime’s vision, delivers a smartly produced record that remains unpretentious. It provides a straightforward, stripped-down country music experience. Luke Grimes, though an actor by trade, surprisingly impresses as one of the genre’s most promising newcomers with his raw vocals, solid lyrics, and ranch-hand likeability. If he decides to pivot from the big screen, he’s already built a noteworthy presence in roots music.

So, can Luke Grimes fill the boots of his cowboy persona, or is it Kayce Dutton who must fill the boots of Luke Grimes?

Favorite Tracks: Oh Ohio, Burn

RootsnRevelry Grade:                           

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