Country Jukebox Jury EPs/Mini-LPs – Cassadee Pope, RaeLynn and Rascal Flatts

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

Cassadee Pope – Rise and Shine

She says it’s an EP but it’s an eight-track mini-album on which Cassadee has writing credits for every track. An independent artist not beholden to commercial pressures, she has chosen to present all of them with just acoustic instruments.

Rise and Shine, the title track, is indicative of the project even if it makes me smile because it references a Kylie Jenner catchphrase. Let Me Go is a tender and glorious breakup plea. Reminiscin song Hoodie is poppier and an interesting premise: Cassadee wants to return an ex’s old hoodie, in the knowledge that he will think it’s an excuse to see him. ‘It’s funny how it took me back to us’. It’s very relatable. Counting on the Weather is a fine pop song with a lot of Taylor Swift influences. Ditto Hangover, which compares a new guy to a car crash and an alcoholic binge.

Sand Paper is another great country songtitle, as Cassadee melodiously refuses to be changed. Built This House, written with the power duo Forest Glen Whitehead and Kelly Archer, is predictably great even if it’s a similar song in theme to The Bones by Maren Morris.

California Dreaming is a duet with her new beau, the great Sam Palladio, the only country star to make it in Nashville having come from Cornwall (via Kent). His recent film role was in Catherine the Great, the TV series with Helen Mirren. The pair’s harmonies work brilliantly on a song about Cassadee trying to forget about her ex. Cassadee’s voice, as you would expect from the winner of The Voice, needs no autotune and sounds pure and fragile. She sells the song well and I think the project is a success. There’ll be something for you here. 4/5, come back to the UK when you can, Cassadee!

RaeLynn – Baytown

This begins with Keep Up and ends with Bra Off, two songs that are chock full of personality and position the Voice finalist as an artist rather than a singer. I have loved both songs since I first heard them at Country2Country, having expected a set full of ballads like Love Triangle, her radio smash. Rather than deliver a full album, RaeLynn’s EP misses the fan favourites Rowdy, Queens Don’t and Tailgate (which I love) in favour of a six-track limit.

Me About Me previewed the EP. I admire the vibe of a song co-written by the magnificent Bob DePiero and has RaeLynn pleading for a boy to let her open up about her life, though there is a fab YOU GO GIRL twist at the end. Fake Girl Town, meanwhile, is one of those ballads women in country do so well. ‘There’s gotta be some real girls’ is RaeLynn’s plea over some soft guitar. Kudos for writing a song where a girl looks for girl friends, perfect for Galentine’s Day!

Brett James co-wrote Judgin To Jesus, on which RaeLynn raps verses and mentions Cardi B and whose chorus is anthemic and singalong. Emily Weisband helped her on the enormously fun Bra Off, which compares a breakup to breasts being free. Still Smokin made me smile from the opening piano riff; it’s a song about a summer fling, ‘one hell of a Saturday’. RaeLynn wrote it with Jason Derulo’s producer JJJJ-JR Rotem.

I only mention the co-writers to show the quality in the room while Racheal Lynn Davis aka RaeLynn put across what she wanted to say. This is a fine collection from a lady who opened for Maren Morris in her 2019 tour of the UK. She’s better than Maren as a singer and close to her as a songwriter. 5/5

Rascal Flatts – How They Remember You

Can seven tracks be called an EP?

We all know Rascal Flatts and their handsome lead singer Gary Le Vox from such anthems as Life is a Highway (actually a cover), What Hurts The Most and Bless The Broken Road, some of their 17 number ones. Their last album was a hodgepodge and that is the word used in a piece about this EP on SoundsLikeNashville.com. A brilliant cover of Through The Years, the interesting Quick Fast In a Hurry with Rachel Wammack and the middle of the dirt road title track (which is very American) were all released before the EP proper.

Feel It in the Morning opens with beer, bourbon and wine with Gary Le Vox essentially willing his friend to be hungover, to party so hard and be coursing with so much adrenaline that sleep is impossible. The musical backing, however, is so dull, so middle of the dirt road, it’s almost offensive. This is what Dan + Shay are using as a template to make millions of dollars.

Looking Back, a Thomas Rhett song in all but name as he wrote it, is anodyne and dull. Warmer, which at least has a key change, is a desperate plea by Gary to learn what his beloved thinks – ‘tell me if I’m getting warmer’ – and makes me think of a review yesterday in The Times in which Ronan Keating is so dull he makes Cliff Richard look edgy. This makes Ronan Keating like Cliff Richard. But then again I am not the target market.

Slip Away namechecks ‘Corona and a lime’ – just change the name of the beer!! – in a dull song about wanting to get on ‘anything that floats’ in a pool. It sounds like Dan + Shay, which is not a criticism. It’s at least enough to make my head nod. ‘Sip away before it slips away’ is a fun lyric.

It’s better than this sometimes plodding farewell. 3/5 but there’s a readymade replacement (clue: one of them is called Dan).

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