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
Tenille Townes – The Lemonade Stand
The process of taking a new artist to market, as the business saying goes, can be long and arduous. Tenille Townes moved from Canada to Nashville and has been biding her time in recent years. Jersey on the Wall was our introduction to her folk-country stylings – Lori McKenna, Gretchen Peters and Mary Chapin Carpenter are all influences – but I loved White Horse and Somebody’s Daughter, both urgent tracks with smart lyrics.
Earlier this year we heard half of the album, including the above singles as well as a cover of Keith Urban’s Stupid Boy and original compositions I Kept The Roses and Holding Out For The One. The latter opens the album with fun rhythms and production, mixing live drums and loops, as Tenille sings about love and stuff in a sing-song manner. I Kept The Roses, meanwhile, reminds me of Jessie Buckley’s Wild Rose of the 2019 film. Carry tissues and put your heart over your sleeve.
Ahead of the release of the full album, Tenille spoke to the team at Destination Country, who remembered her UK debut at Country Music Week 2019. She is a natural interviewee and raconteur who like all Canadian entertainers is grateful for her platform. Seriously: Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Gordon Lightfoot, Leonard Cohen, Alanis Morrissette and Lindsey Ell. In comedy, the likes of Martin Short, Jim Carrey, Mike Myers, Colin Mochrie from Whose Line, Rick Moranis, Norm MacDonald, Dan Aykroyd and of course Lorne Michaels. The late pair of Phil Hartman, voice of Lionel Hutz, and John Candy, were also Canadians. Canada: punching above their weight.
We now hear the other half to make the whole album which is another Jay Joyce masterpiece. In terms of classic contemporary country, Jay and Dave Cobb are the sonic architects. Jay takes charge of The Lemonade Stand, which is named after a line in the chorus of SD. This isn’t Caylee Hammack/Dixie Chicks type music, but Tenille is a singer/songwriter in the Canadian tradition.
Her list of co-writers is impressive: Daniel Tashian, Luke Laird and Barry Dean on Somebody’s Daughter, Keelan Donovan – who guests on the terrific love song The Way You Look Tonight – and Sacha Skarbek, who co-wrote Wrecking Ball among many other pop classics and writes Find You here. That song, Where You Are and the welcoming Come As You Are – which Tenille played live for the Destination Country interview – are all close to the sort of pop-country we do in Britain. They are very fluffy and very catchy and prove why Tenille is such a star over here already.
Tenille can also do tender and serious. When I Meet My Maker picks up themes of Jersey On The Wall, with a tender lyric about angels and choirs and questions. Josh Kear, still counting the Need You Now money, helps Tenille write The Most Beautiful Things, which closes the album. It’s the sort of song Kelsea Ballerini would sing to be hashtag-serious; a series of images which serve to criticise people ‘Why do we close our eyes when we pray, cry, kiss?’ We don’t see beautiful things, but feel them. Then we get wind chimes. What a massive song. This is a brilliant, brilliant album, full of light and shade. No wonder she famously drove with her parents as a teenager to Nashville. This album has been a decade in the making and her next one will be even better. 5/5, eh!!
Caylee Hammack – If It Wasn’t For You
Caylee Hammack’s anticipated debut If It Wasn’t For You has been years in the making. I heard her song Family Tree about 18 months ago, which is very poppy but full of personal touches and lyrics like ‘pot luck lunch’, Tupperware and ‘high school high’. I like the idea that nothing’s gonna shake her family tree and I patiently waited, and waited, for the next thing she did.
Eventually in 2020 she hit big with Small Town Hypocrite, after the song Preciatcha. The rollout to the album has whetted my appetite for the full album, which means I’ve heard the magnificent Redhead, a fine set opener, and the elegant Forged in the Fire. Album opener Just Friends has also been knocking around for a while with its kickass tone and wild ending.
Not on the album is her duet with Alan Jackson, Lord I Hope This Day Is Good, as there is no room for it. Small Town Hypocrite, solo acoustic track Gold (recorded as if it’s a demo) and Looking for a Lighter are softer songs on the album, the latter with the audible sonic fingerprint of the best in the business, Hillary Lindsey. Just Like You and King Size Bed are country songs at their heart, with strong melodies. Fans of Miranda will love Just Like You, on which Caylee plays tomboy, and Sister, which is a downhome country song about family and stuff. The production on the likes of King Sized Bed and Preciatcha may be poppy but these songs would work at the Song Suffragettes night just with Caylee on an acoustic guitar.
The album ends with New Level of Life, a moving on and being strong song that summarises Caylee’s gifts for melody, production and vocal performance. This track and several others contain the S-word, so if you don’t like bad language listen to this album anyway and deal with it.
I wasn’t too fussed by Mean Something, a collaboration with Ashley McBryde and Tenille Townes that is obviously a record company move. In terms of those three acts, Tenille has the best voice, Ashley the best production and Caylee the best chance of being a household name. I hope people do hear her in the next few years, or else she’ll be stuck at Lauren Alaina level: always the bridesmaid.
Please note that Caylee co-produced this album, which is a sign of a confident artist who wants to be in control of her material. Unlike the next album I’m to discuss, If It Wasn’t For You is a country album, not a pop album (you may respectfully disagree). I think she’s the heir to Dolly and Reba, though it’s up to us to make her the star she deserves to be. 4/5