Country Jukebox Jury LPs – Nashville’s Nice Guys: Mac McAnally, Eric Paslay and Mo Pitney

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

Mac McAnally – Once In A Lifetime

Mac McAnally, the musician’s musician, released Once in a Lifetime, his sixteenth and first album of original material in five years. His real name is Lyman Corbitt McAnally Jr – Lyman, son of Lyman – and I first saw him at Country2Country, not knowing anything about the man who wrote Back Where I Came From and a friend of Jimmy Buffett. He calls himself Nobody but he is somebody to me.

Changing Channels is an old Jimmy Buffett song first released in 1989, which was written by Jimmy and Mac. It opens with a line about basket cases! I’d never heard it before but Parrotheads (fans of Jimmy) will love it. Just Right is a Buffett-by-numbers song that sounds like 90 degrees in the shade, with a light reggae beat, a whistling outro and lots of stuff about islands, ‘good times’ and everything that has made Jimmy Buffett a millionaire several times over. I imagine Mac earns a good living too.

If you like country music, and want to waste away 40 minutes in Margaritaville, this album is for you. But Mac can do soft too: Just Like It Matters is a waltz which is full of pedal steel and heartache, as Mac tells of a girl leaving him. Thrown in for good measure is a cover of John Lennon’s song Norwegian Wood, complete with mystical drones, and the flight of fancy First Sign of Trouble, about the perils of doing anything when you’re singing about doing nothing.

Check out Mac’s live set done under quarantine in June where he premiered several songs from Once In A Lifetime including the chuggy Almost All Good, which Kenny Chesney could turn into a number one. ‘We’re just trying to wear that First Amendment out!’ is a fun line.

The 12 tracks include Once in a Lifetime, which features Drake White, who has been poorly these past few years. Good Guys Win is a Chesney title-in-waiting too, with a song set to a smooth rhythm and rhyming ‘disillusion’ and ‘turn on the news’ before changing key. It’s perfect on a 90-degree day. Brand New Broken Heart – fiddle, mandolin, a cracking middle eight and a Mumford-y guitar part – is divine.

The album closes with The Better Part of Living, a credo in which Mac tells of the lessons he has learned. I’m glad I came across him a few years ago. It’s not too late to fall for Mac McAnally. Once in a Lifetime is his new, 5/5 album, out on Mailboat Records!

Mo Pitney – Ain’t Lookin Back

Mo Pitney is an apostle of George Strait. Ain’t Lookin Back is a good title of his second album, which comes out five years after Behind This Guitar, an album of traditional country songs expertly sung. Boy and a Girl Thing should have been a number one but the trend in 2015 was, as you know, unfavourable to traditional music. The time is ripe, as Jon Pardi and Josh Turner would agree, to bring it back and Mo is well placed to find a huge audience.

Listening through to the album it sounds brilliant, with tender production from Jim Moose Brown and warmth in every syllable. ‘I didn’t come here to be famous’ is the album’s opening line, setting out Mo’s stall with a song in which he says ‘God said I’ll make me a music man’. Jamey Johnson, another music man who shuns fame and fortune, is a guest vocalist on a song Mo co-wrote.

I love the poppy pair of Ain’t Bad for a Good Ol Boy and Local Honey, as well as the Old Dominion-written Plain and Simple, which is a lovely gift to their fellow top songwriter. Other legends contribute to others such as the funky love song Right Now With You (Paul Overstreet) and Boy Gets The Girl (Tim ‘Live Like You Were Dying’ Nichols), which takes the idea of a romcom and runs with it. The title track of Ain’t Lookin Back sounds like the long road on which Mo is on – bring back road songs in country music, I say!

The album’s closing track, Jonas, is a Dean Dillon co-write. It’s a spiritual song about Jesus that needs to be heard to be appreciated. It ends a mature album which should not be ignored. 5/5

Eric Paslay – Nice Guy

Eric Paslay is a Nice Guy, according to his LP. Chris Stapleton is also a nice guy and a multimillionaire thanks to his status as songwriter’s songwriter who broke out as an artist. Eric has written loads of hits for the likes of Love & Theft, Jake Owen, Eli Young Band and Lady A but his own career has, until this week, numbered a studio LP which came out in FEBRUARY 2014 and a live album.

After an EP earlier this year, Nice Guy emerges with eight new tracks which follow his cover of Pill In Ibiza, single Heartbeat Higher and two great tunes Boat in a Bottle and On This Side of Heaven, which is really tremendous and a tearjerker. I also love Endless Summer Dream, which takes the feel of Even If It Breaks Your Heart.

Off the Edge of the Summer opens with the line ‘whispering wishes into wine bottles’ so if you like your song well written, Eric is your man. Co-writers include Kristian Bush (Just Once, which is middle of the dirt road and could be a Tim McGraw tune), Craig Wiseman (who is also a nice guy and helped Eric write the groovy title track), Caitlyn Smith (who also provides gorgeous uncredited harmonies on Under Your Spell) and the great Rodney Clawson on the equally great acoustic ballad Fingertips. This one is a father’s lullaby to his child and deserves to be heard.

Wild and Young picks up the soft acoustic tempo of Fingertips – remember when albums used to be sequenced?? – and is a first dance song where Eric compliments his beloved for staying young even as time passes. It’s gorgeous and immaculately produced by Eric himself. Likewise album closer Woman Like Her (‘is good for a man’) which is another Tim McGraw sort of tune with a singalong middle section. Eric knows his stuff and I love this album – 4/5 – but next time don’t take SIX YEARS. Please.

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