Sam Outlaw's name may possess a swagger but his music simmers. Nowhere is the divide more apparent than on his second album, 2017's Tenderheart. Produced by Outlaw and Martin Pradler, Tenderheart is so gentle it sometimes threatens to drift away on a summer breeze, but it often gets pulled back to earth with a bit of twang or a hint of rhythm. The loudest, liveliest song is "Trouble," the only track here that could be said to actually rock, but Outlaw threads a bit of this spirit into some of his midtempo numbers, such as the excellent "Two Broken Hearts" and the lightly skipping two-step "All My Life." Ultimately, Outlaw isn't about kicking up dust or raising a ruckus.
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.
Many of the accolades attributed to Sam Outlaw's 2015 debut Angeleno focused on the production work and playing of Ry Cooder and his son on the album. It wasn't a bad record either, setting up Outlaw with an early if not substantial boost and the impetus to chart his own path on the follow-up Tenderheart. The songs featured on Tenderheart follow unconnected stories that reflect on chance encounters and missed opportunities that frequent life, at times too relaxed in the quiet atmosphere that sparse instrumentation provides across many tracks.
It never hurts to have friends in high places, especially when recording your debut. California singer/songwriter Sam Outlaw scored a major advantage when guitarist Ry Cooder and his percussion playing son Joachim co-produced and played on 2015's Angeleno. While that release wasn't a huge hit, it did give Outlaw much needed visibility and a modicum of recognition he might not have gotten in a field crowded with talented newcomers.