Following a string of self-released albums that culminated in 2016's I'm Not the Devil making a surprise number four appearance on Billboard's Country Albums chart, Texas singer/songwriter Cody Jinks makes his label debut with the brooding, existentially concerned Lifers. A former hardcore singer who, through years of tenacious gigging and writing, established himself as a classic country outlaw on the fringes of the business, Jinks' success has been hard-won and, given the independent spirit of his music, it's somehow fitting that a label deal didn't enter the picture until he was already six albums in. With Lifers, released in 2018 by Rounder Records, the Fort Worth native offers a slightly amplified version of his earthy, honest, and frequently dark-toned country style. Like fellow high-achieving mainstream country outsiders Chris Stapleton and Jason Isbell, Jinks' appeal lies not in the trucks-flags-jeans tropes of moneyed Nashville song machines, but in his salt-of the-earth feel and willingness to embrace the minor-key darkness that is more likely the reality of much of his audience. From the brooding lead single "Must Be the Whiskey" to the acoustic, cello-adorned "Head Case," he examines life's messier and more desperate moments, offering reassurance in a very human way. The title track, a heartfelt anthem of sorts for those weary and unsung souls deeply devoted to what may well be a dying trade or personal ambition, also feels like a nod to Jinks' own perseverance, putting out album after album and gigging endlessly with little recognition or reward until now. As straight-shooting as it is, Lifers isn't all gloom and existential woe; songs like "Big Last Name" and "Can't Quit Enough" are freewheeling honky tonk rockers with a pleasing blue-collar appeal and fun vibe. Newfound success and new label or not, Lifers is another rock-solid release in Jinks' remarkably consistent career.
by Timothy Monger