Somewhere In The Middle, by Cody Jinks Cody Jinks—that name, it’s made for country music. Texas-bred Jinks looks and sounds the part, too: massive, mountain man beard, 10-gallon pulled low over the eyes, and a deep, Waylon Jenning’s inspired baritone that comes out either bourbon smooth, or low and rough, like a long, rutted gravel road. Lyrically, Jinks covers the kind of territory that only a voice like his could: sin, redemption, regret, hard luck and bad choices, counterbalanced with sincere love songs that traverse the territory of the heart and soul with a soft, gentle tread.
Jinks has an interesting history, which he often addresses in his songs (the whole of his catalog has an auto-biographical quality). While he dwells in traditional territory now, far from Nashville and closer to his predecessors like Cash, Jennings and Haggard, he made his bones in a thrash metal band called Unchecked Aggression as lead singer and guitar player. The difference is striking. That deep, low-voiced delivery and his often minor-chord guitar combine, among other musical elements, to deliver something that is off-kilter in the most pleasing way, yet still rough and raw and full of gut feeling . Outlaw magazine (I love that title!), described Jinks’ music as “ majestic and ethereal while remaining somehow bareknuckle.” That’s an apt descriptor for Jinks’ take on traditional country—it’s a feeling, bone-deep, rather than a sound, a sense that pervades the whole of the aural landscape it creates. Jinks, along with his band The Tone Deaf Hippies, work in a rare panorama of mood and impression, dark, brooding, yet suffused with a honky-tonk balladeer’s sense of looking up from the bottom and still seeing the good.
“Somewhere in the Middle” comes from the 2010 self-released Less Wise (Jinks is homegrown and grass roots: he started out releasing his own music and making a name the old fashioned way: grinding it out on the road and making fans one by one). His 2016 I'm Not the Devil reached number 4 on the country charts, which is something that strikes me as one more telling note about Jinks’ homegrown appeal. The song itself—that’s why we’re here, right?—is a classic barroom ballad, a lilting waltz set to a backdrop of fiddle, steel guitar and Jinks’ beautiful slow rolling, low timbre drawl. Jinks is a phenomenal narrative writer and he tells stories populated by lost, down and out souls. He works in the tradition of a storyteller who takes autobiography and mixes it with traditional story elements to create a deep history of knowing insight and universality of theme for ghost chasers, big dreamers and lost, yet hopeful wanderers. Great narrative writers who play guitar and sing are often compared to Springsteen or Dylan, and I know that kind of comparison often draws a telling sigh that means, OK, here we go again, another wannabe…But, that’s the lament of the undereducated and the unappreciative: when it comes to telling tales of characters that leap off the page (or, the turntable in our case), there’s no better way to hear their stories than set to music. Cody Jinks’ is a natural when it comes to creating a visual biography. “Somewhere in the Middle” is a song that dwells somewhere between regret and satisfaction at one’s station in life, and how arriving at the place, in this case, the middle, depends a lot on what happens in a life where nothing is certain. Jink’s narrator tells us about the places he’s drifted and he’s learned from living a wanderer’s life. More importantly, the speaker seems to have found himself by getting lost, and in the people he’s met along he way:
I’ve known a lot of real good men, grad school or no school
I've called em' my friends
I'm somewhere in the middle and that's just fine.
No, I don't give a damn how much money you make
If your last shirt has pockets, take all you can take
I'm Well, I'm goin' out with nothin' like I came in
That refrain, “I’m somewhere in the middle, and that’s just fine”, says it all: Jinks’ character has built a life from what he’s learned. And while being in the middle is fine, he also knows
Treatin' saints and sinners right
Is a good thing to do all the time
You never know who you're talkin' to
But always know who's watching you
Keep your feet movin' straight down the line
So, in the middle, somewhere else, wherever, if Jink’s brilliant brand of country teaches you anything it’s this: keep your eyes, and ears, open and keep your feet moving—there’s a lot of world out there, lot of people, too, and all of them have something to offer if you stay on the road long enough to find out.
As a side note, in January, Jinks released his brilliant take on the Pink Floyd classic, “Wish You Were Here” as a single. Seek this song out—it’s a perfect example of how Jinks does country: classic style tinged with a purely original touch to create what amounts to wholly original and perfectly familiar. That’s enough adverbs for one day…my ‘l’ and ‘y’ keys need a break…but sometimes, great music gets me all effusive…