As audacious and confrontational as anything to come out of Nashville in ages, the Farm’s debut, The Farm Inc., plays so fast and loose with country-music signifiers that it raises questions of why the trio chose to play with them at all. For much of the album, it’s as if Nick Hoffman, Damien Horne, Krista Marie, and producer Danny Myrick had been listening to Big & Rich’s “Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)” and thinking to themselves, “No, that’s too subtle.” That mindset leads to a few moments of truly inventive production that cross-pollinates genres in meaningful, progressive ways, but most of the album is a mess without any sense of purpose or direction.
The Farm’s songwriting is woefully deficient: They have nothing substantial to say, nor do they bring any novelty to their threadbare ideas, so it’s all trucks and John Deeres and beer and dirt roads that, fittingly enough, lead nowhere. The minor hit single “Home Sweet Home” is yet another reiteration of country radio’s exhausting urban-versus-rural schism, while “Fresh Off the Farm,” “Farm Party,” and “Nowhere Road” all make use of the same set of interchangeable images to the extent that entire verses could be swapped among them without any loss whatsoever to their barely there narratives. The set’s ballads fare even worse, with the overwrought arena rock of “That 100 Miles” recalling Daughtry at their schmaltziest and “Be Grateful” squandering a well-intentioned sentiment on a didactic sermon straight out of Martina McBride’s hymnal full of social ills.
Because the songs are so uniformly poor, it’s up to the Farm’s performances and Myrick’s production to salvage the album. Of the band’s three principals, only Horne consistently carries his lead vocal duties with any kind of authority. Hoffman’s constipated delivery of the rap-adjacent verses on “Farm Party” borders on embarrassing, while Marie’s voice is so wispy that she’s overpowered by even the stripped-down, minimalist arrangement of “Every Time I Fall.” While they’ll never be mistaken for Little Big Town, the Farm sounds better when they’re singing together, with some intricate vocal harmonies on “Sweet Sweet Sunshine” and the smooth, samba-inspired “Walkin’.”
Myrick, for his part, doesn’t bother with niceties of self-editing. While there’s something to be said for the creativity and the fearlessness that he and the Farm show over the course of the album, there’s also something to be said for simple good taste and discretion. Since Myrick and the Farm exercise neither, the album is full of flourishes like the pointless fake harmonica that punctuates “Little Boat,” making the song nearly unlistenable. “Home Sweet Home” kicks off with a fiddle riff that could have made for a fantastic, unconventional rhythm track, but it ends up buried too deeply beneath thundering Southern-rock power chords to have any kind of impact. Likewise, “Train I’m On” starts off as a slinky minor-key number before promptly going all Blueshammer.
“Farm Party” is far more effective, as Myrick actually lets both the country and hip-hop elements breathe rather than smothering them beneath rote hard-rock riffs. The Latin rhythms of “Walkin’” are an unexpected addition to the band’s repertoire, and they bring a deceptively casual vibe to the song’s kiss-off narrative. Granted, they also result in a track that would make more sense on an adult contemporary playlist alongside an act like Maroon 5 than in between Brad Paisley and the Band Perry on country radio, but The Farm Inc. doesn’t give the impression that the Farm has put too much thought into such formalities as genre tags.