In this series, I will present the reviews of big albums reviewed weekly as part of Country Jukebox Jury. You can hear me talk about all types of country – poppy, bluegrass, rock, Texan, Canadian and British – every week at Facebook.com/acountrywayoflife
Florida Georgia Line – 6-Pack
I won’t insult your intelligence by explaining who the band known as FGL are. Their new EP follows Can’t Say I Ain’t Country, album number four for Tyler and Brian. They are husbands, fathers, entrepreneurs with their own whiskey and record label imprint and, of course, the progenitors of the Bro Country movement. Now the trend has moved on, what is their place in the market?
The 6-Pack EP tries to answer that question. Lead single I Love My Country is 100% Short Skirt Weather by Kane Brown, so I can discount that. Notable is the fact that the chorus comes in after 28 seconds, so at least they don’t bore us and get to the chorus.
Beer:30 is a joke. I think Tyler knows it’s a joke: ‘It’s beer (pause) thirty and I’m (pause) thirsty’. His delivery is lower in pitch than usual and this is what country sounds like when it goes all rap. Thomas Rhett did this with Vacation.
Ain’t Worried Bout It is a Peach Pickers song, or at least Ben and Dallas from the collective. This means it’s a down home southern boy tune like Small Town Boy, which is produced with contemporary relevance by Corey Crowder. Trucks and the Lord and Friday night and coolers and ‘my baby’s here’. The chorus rocks and the vocals are sweet. After all those Joey Moi guitars it’s synths and beds for FGL now.
US Stronger is a patriotic anthem that arrives into the marketplace as Joe Biden is preparing his campaign against the President. Without discussing politics, FGL blether on about America. I prefer the Team America anthem but this is a silky smooth song about heroes and getting up when you’re knocked down. How awful that sounds in light of this week’s events [concerning George Floyd’s murder]. US Stronger is what FGL sound like when writing a Shane McAnally song. SEGUE!
Shane worked on Second Guessing, the song that resulted from FGL’s appearance on Songland, the NBC show which is live A&R on TV. On the show you see the original song performance, the reworking and the final product. Griffen Palmer presents a slow acoustic driven song which Shane applauds when the kicker comes in the chorus: ‘I ain’t spent one second guessing’. Shane in fact gets angry at a hook. We know it’s a good song – Griffen also wrote Keith Urban’s new song Polaroid – and the guys from Songland just punch it up.
The reworked version rejigs the opening lines and speeds up the delivery to make it sounds like an FGL song, or an FGL as written by Shane McAnally. It’s a wedding song that is perfect for two men who used to cruise and who now want to dedicate their lives to their wives.
Countryside, meanwhile, is an outside write from three writers who I guess are on FGL’s imprint Tree Vibez. It puts an acoustic guitar loop over an electronic drum loop. ‘Downtown looks a little busy’ so let’s go to the countryside. It sounds like Thomas Rhett. The EP is fine, but Beer:30 is atrocious. What a frustrating act. Beer:30 and Second Guessing cancel each other out. Where on earth do FGL go from here? 3/5, but without Beer:30 it would be a 4.
Kane Brown – Mixtape volume 1
Kane Brown’s seven-track EP Mixtape volume 1 brings together his releases from 2020, including Cool Again, Worldwide Beautiful, Be Like That (with rapper Swae Lee, crooner Khalid and the line ‘I wish I hadn’t met your ass’) and Last Time I Say Sorry, featuring the black Buble, John Legend.
The new songs include the cutesy Worship You, which compares a girl to an angel or deity (thus breaking the second commandment). ‘If you were a religion I don’t know what I’d do…’ I stand by my theory that Christian music and country music are the same product with different nouns.
BFE, meanwhile, is a country chugger with some fiddle – violins are so hot right now!! – as Kane rap-sings like Toby Keith. It’s good fun and it segues into Didn’t Know What Love Was, which opens with some jazzy guitar chords and a Thomas Rhett-style vocal delivery. The chorus is wide open and well produced by Dann Huff, who knows what good music sounds like.
The songs are fine but I can tell Kane Brown is a human algorithm. You like r’n’b ballads, songs about how you love your wife, country hoedowns, anthems for universal brotherhood (Worldwide Beautiful), songs like One Thing Right AND rap-leaning pop? Then come to Kane Brown, an artist without an identity because streaming platforms like streams not artistry. He’s got his fans but I will never forget the fact that this kid who used to pop country covers on Youtube is country music’s token black guy. I’m sure his accountant is happy. 3/5
Jimmie Allen – Bettie James
Jimmie Allen follows up his Mercury Lane album of 2018 with a duets mini-album, which he’s calling Bettie James after his grandma Bettie and dad James, who have both passed on. Interestingly, the EP features Nelly, Mickey Guyton, Charley Pride and Darius Rucker. Spot the connection. (They’re all not white.)
Before discussing those songs, there are three performed with non-black artists. We’ve heard This Is Us, written by Noah Cyrus and Tyler Hubbard among others and featuring Miley on vocals. It’s boring. Made For These is a ballad by numbers about keeping on and being stronger, perhaps informed by Jimmie’s attempts to be a star in a town that doesn’t usually let people of his skin colour be stars. McGraw, meanwhile, does his thing effectively but not as well as Humble and Kind or Live Like You Were Dying. It’s boring.
Freedom Was a Highway, with Brad Paisley, is a reminiscin’ song about the days when ‘time was made for wastin…livin for Friday’. Brad does what he does, singing about fenceposts and hiphop songs (he was a country musician as a teenager so I’m not buying it). He is contractually obliged to play a guitar solo. It’s good but boring.
Incredibly the first voice on the EP doesn’t belong to Jimmie but to Nelly. Opener Good Times Roll is a fun, boring song about nothing in particular over a dull chord cycle and beat that at least sets the scene. It does make me wonder whose EP this is: Jimmie’s, or ‘black people in Nashville’.
Track two is Drunk and I Miss You, with Mickey Guyton. Jimmie’s drunk and he misses Mickey, with Ray LaMontagne on the speakers. Mickey misses Jimmie too, which is nice. Boring.
Why Things Happen is the Big Important Song that proves Nashville as a town are listening to black people (and thus making money). Darius sings the opening couplet, Charley Pride adds a line, then Jimmie comes in with a question. The lyric is vague enough not to be about black people dying but the point is obvious. All lives matter, and black lives should matter as much as white lives. That’s country music and if Nashville doesn’t change the conversation within a year country music will probably be cancelled. It doesn’t help that muppets are putting on gigs and people are becoming infected with Covid from parties on Broadway.
When This Is Over was written by Jon Nite and Laura Veltz and features Tauren Wells, The Oak Ridge Boys and Rita Wilson. Tauren is a new name to me, a successful Christian artist and a Texan worship leader; Rita is a singer in her own right and the wife of Tom Hanks. Rita takes the first chorus and it’s another Big Important Song. Jimmie introduces the Oak Ridge Boys to sing over piano chords for the final chorus. He sounds sad that he has to give way but the voices are stunning. It’s a shame we have to wait 22 minutes to hear this song.
This EP has so little Jimmie Allen on it that it’s not his. I feel sorry for him – he’s obviously caught in some ugly politics and this isn’t what he wants. He wrote several of the tracks here but this isn’t a Jimmie Allen EP – it’s a Nashville EP, an album by algorithm that makes me uncomfortable but also deeply suspicious of what happens next in country music. I feel awkward giving it a review but, for the songs and the production, it’s 3/5 and that’s very generous. Do better next time.
Update: I have been assured by someone close to the project that Jimmie did have editorial control of Bettie James.