Country Jukebox Jury LPs – Hot Country Knights, The Texas Gentlemen and Joshua Ray Walker

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

Hot Country Knights – The K is Silent

Before Dierks Bentley plays his usual set, he comes out with his live band, all in wigs and facial hair, and sings a string of songs that pastiche 90s country music. With the recent death of Joe Diffie, and the irrelevance of Toby Keith, there is a gap for funny country music and there is nothing funnier than a major label giving Dierks Bentley a record deal for his side project.

The K is Silent comprises ten tracks over 36 minutes that try to give the listener a good time. Album opener Hot Country Knights begins by spelling out the band’s name and Dierks’ familiar voice prepares the listener for a ‘good time…everybody’s cutting loose with their jeans on tight’. There’s a passage full of key changes that goes nowhere, proving that the joke is musical as well as lyrical. It sounds like 1995 and it’s wonderful to see a major label support Dierks in bringing some joy to the country world.

If you don’t like the opener you will hate the enforced jollity of this album but it’s the perfect one that idiots will say ‘we all need right now’. Comedy is necessary all the time, not just in a pandemic.

We knew many of the songs before the album’s release: the energetic Pick Her Up with Travis Tritt, which has a false ending; the single entendre of You Make It Hard with the underrated Terri Clark, which has pedal steel, a key change and a proper middle eight; and weepie Asphalt, with the lyric ‘I woke up at the crack of dawn and left a note by her bed’ and layers of whistling for the final chorus.

Moose Knuckle Shuffle is a line-dance song that will surely do well on TikTok: ‘Put your hands in your pants and you hike ‘em up high’ is a fun lyric and the song is driven by cowbell. Expect the dance to feature in UK parties for a good while once normality resumes.

Of the new tracks, Mull It Over is a heartache song which Midland would be proud of. Check out the key change! Ditto the awesomely titled Kings of Neon, which is driven by the album’s best riff and chorus. Wrangler Danger is a cautionary tale set in Whiskey Row, which happens to be Dierks Bentley’s Nashville bar (product placement!!) and is about a ‘heartbreak kind’ of girl. There’s a joke in the middle eight about how to spell trouble; I won’t spoil the punchline in case you find it funny.

Then It Rained (‘It stopped for a little while’) is a story song about a man in a bar who hears George Strait. If it sounds a bit like The Thunder Rolls, it’s intentional; I expect Garth has waived his songwriting credits out of respect for the Knights, and I also expect it was a fun song to write. The song ends with a B major chord but it’s in B minor! Verse one recalls how the man’s wife was away and it rained; verse two is set in a honkytonk where he bought some wine and it rained; verse three has the man finding loose change in the sofa, which is stained; verse four features the man apologising to his wife for being late for dinner. The joke is that the rain is just the weather, in no way significant at all except to emphasise loneliness or disgust at the man’s situation.

Closing track The USA Begins With US is recorded live, with Dierks shouting ‘Let’s do this!’ before yelling like Kenny Chesney about playing ‘all 48 states’. It’s an anthem in the key of Toby Keith and Joe Diffie, with the ‘crowd’ cheering ‘USA! USA!’ and the chorus not allowed to come in until Dierks has finished proselytising. It actually sounds like a Jimmy Fallon skit where he impersonates Blake Shelton or someone. Over a recorder solo, we hear the great Presidential speeches, including Nixon’s ‘I am not a crook’, Clinton’s ‘I did not have sexual relations’ and George W Bush’s ‘Fool me once’. Again, this sounded like fun for Dierks and company. Like Midland’s repertoire, this is music to laugh at and then marvel at its composition. The joke is that it’s really not a joke! 4/5

The Texas Gentlemen – Floor It!!!

The Texas Gentlemen are beloved by those in the know including British-based duo O&O. The album is Floor It!!! and begins with a rich brass instrumental called Veal Cutlass that sounds like The Titanic crashing into an iceberg. Bare Maximum is another phenomenal track, full of riffs, funk and soul and the album continues in that vein.

We finally hear some lyrics on track three, Ain’t Nothin New, which has a classic West Coast feel. This is a band who have studied the greats – Elton John, The Band, Nilsson, Eagles – and I am all in for it. You can tell that the band have played with Kris Kristofferson, who probably has stories about all of those acts and more.

The track Easy Street is followed by one called Hard Road. There’s a song called Skyway Streetcar, which is as awesome as it sounds. She Won’t ends in a wigout jam that sounds like fun. Charlie’s House is almost a Steely Dan collaboration with Jackson Browne. The title track, Floor It, is eight minutes that summarises a great, great album. Please take an hour to discover your new favourite band. O&O were right. 5/5

Joshua Ray Walker – Glad You Made It

Rolling Stone Country called Joshua Ray Walker ‘a baby-faced 6XL guitar hero with a Dwight Yoakam voice’. Glad You Made It is a quick follow-up to his debut Wish You Were Here. It’s also a quick album: 10 tracks, 31 minutes.

Joshua Ray Walker is a Texan singer who throws in all the country vocal tics of the old singers like Hank Williams and Roger Miller. Opening track Voices, with a tambourine on the backbeat, adds pedal steel and a voice that you could find in a church. You’d be forgiven for missing that he’s singing about driving his truck into a lake while leaving a bottle of alcohol in his hand. True Love picks up the pace but is nonetheless sad since it’s ‘meant to fade’.

You know you’re in country music from the album’s first bar: Loving County begins with some yodelling; Play You A Song is a hoedown, with some quick picking; One Trick Pony is a honky-tonker that fans of UK troubadour Ags Connolly will love. (In fact I would love a JRW and Ags double bill.) Cupboard begins with him examining cans and turns into a meditation on time. The lyric is direct and the drums are pulsating. In Boat Show Girl he quotes the inscription on the Statue of Liberty while talking about the titular characters: ‘Take this beauty home…just like every boat show girl wishes that you would.’ Ooh.

As it stands Joshua is due in Europe in December. I’ll do my best to catch him and you should as well. 5/5 for the big-hearted guy.

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