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. He's a mellow Southern California troubadour, digging the slow pace because he likes to ride behind the beat and soak up the sun. All the deliberate tunes and Outlaw's natural sense of reserve mean Tenderheart can either work as effective mood music -- it'd be good for a lazy morning or afternoon -- or it can be leaned into, whereupon it starts to reveal its secrets. Outlaw does indeed possess a warm heart underneath his kindly veneer, but he also has an eye for telling little details and can favor a wry turn of phrase, attributes that elevate both his love and story-songs. Such strengths are apparent only upon a close listen. Once the sweetly hazy vibe dissipates, the songs reveal their sturdy structures, and they're the reason why Tenderheart rewards repeated listens.
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine