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
Tucker Beathard – King
Tucker’s dad Casey is a writers room legend who has written lots of songs by Eric Church as well as No Shoes No Shirt No Problem, which gives its name to Kenny Chesney’s fanbase, No Shoes Nation. Tucker’s grandpa was the GM of the NFL and his brother CJ is a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers.
Notable in the context of this album is Clayton Beathard, who was stabbed outside a Nashville bar four days before Christmas 2019. Tucker, who is only 25, has the potential to make art from this tragedy and has done so. As I mentioned the other week, the album ends with a father and son writing about the song I Ain’t Without You, one of many lighters-aloft anthems on an album that is in the lineage of Eric Church and other rocking country acts.
Indeed, One Upper, written with Eric Church’s guy Jeff Hyde, and You On, written with dad and Eric Church’s other guy Luke Dick, are evidence of this. The former is set in a bar, where Tucker meets a guy who lives a better life aside from Tucker’s baby who is ‘right on the money, top of the top’. It made me smile and want to book Tucker as a support act for The Chief.
You On, meanwhile, sees him want to ‘turn all this missing you to a smile on your face’. It ought to be called turn you on but I am sure this would offend somebody. I love the guitar line and you might too. The album begins with some pop-punky guitars and a rock drum pattern on Better Than Me whose chorus explodes into life.
It is followed by the rock ballad You Would Think, written with the great Canadian country act Donovan Woods and dad Casey. It’s a country song because the chorus goes ‘you would think you would think of me’ after all the things Tucker thinks of in the verses. A fun drinking game would be to drink on every think but please don’t: you will go to hospital.
The ballad Faithful and the almost college rock of Only are both written with another child of country royalty. Marla Cannon-Goodman is the daughter of Willy Nelson and Kenny Chesney’s producer Buddy Cannon.
Paper Town is another song driven by a massive riff that reminds me a little of Everybody Wants To Rule The World. The chorus is colossal and sounds like a song Bradley Cooper would sing in A Star Is Born, near the start. Find Me Here, Broke Down opens with Tucker full of regret, hungover in a hotel bed. He could have decorated this song with enormous guitars but, in a smart production move he goes all Dave Matthews and keeps it acoustic and ‘broke down’. I love the detail about using the Bible as a coaster. This sounds like a song Bradley Cooper would sing in A Star Is Born, near the end.
Other fine tracks include 20/10 TN, a series of phone calls to a lady who seems to have abandoned him, and kiss-off song Miss You Now. They respectively sound like Old Dominion and Jason Aldean, so fans of those acts will enjoy King. Too Drunk (‘too drunk to drive me crazy!’) is almost a Nirvana pastiche. Nirvana, let it be known, disbanded before Tucker was born.
Above all this is a record Tucker wanted to make; a record, not a group of songs flung together. He’s not a major label puppet (in fact that major label album is not on Spotify). I think there’s enough here to stand up to repeated listening and I hope Tucker gets to play live, either solo or with a band. 4/5
Jonathan Terrell – Westward
Jonathan Terrell, known as JT, is going Westward for a rocking country album that opens with the one-two punch of Never Makes A Sound and Good Again. He’s ditched the quiet acoustics of his older material and, possibly inspired by Ruston Kelly’s work, has turned up the amps. There’s a great chat with the Austin Chronicle where JT reveals he had scrapped an entire album, has a chest tattoo of the words Heartache Tycoon, lost his brother to suicide and decided to enter the ‘young man’s game’ of rock music.
The album contains Mark from the band Midland, as well as a string quartet and organ from Gregg Rolie, best known as the singer of Santana and Journey. Many of the songs are suitably cinematic: Star Child has an added spoken word section and JT sighing ‘Tell me what you want’; Something I Do opens with a few bars of harmonica; and on Raining In Dallas he JT moans in despair towards the end of the song.
Even the title of the song Lemon Cigarettes and Pink Champagne, a David Ramirez co-write which is happily backed up by a tune where the word ‘coattails’ leaps out, evokes a movie. I found I could happily listen to more than 10 tracks, many of which are tight and taut and are almost too short, such as uptempo kiss-off The Last Time where, in true Texan style, he calls himself an ‘old fool’, and These Days, which pulverises the listener with its opening riff and JT’s growling vocal delivery. Album closer Cowboy Band is a wonderful waltz which Bob Harris would play on his show.
If like Bob and I you love bands who rock in a rootsy way, like Dawes, The Band or Reckless Kelly, this is a great album for you which hits the sweet spot between melancholy and forward thrust. 4/5
Ruston Kelly – Shape & Destroy
Ruston Kelly inspired a GRAMMY Album of the Year. Kacey Musgraves’ Golden Hour was all about how happy she was in love. For reasons known to them, the pair announced a separation in early July, meaning this is no divorce album. Indeed, Ruston sent Kacey a birthday message (fun fact: the pair were born exactly one year apart).
I first heard him thanks to his breakthrough LP Dying Star, which contains Mockingbird, one of the great songs of recent years. Shape & Destroy, which runs at a crisp 41 minutes, was previewed by five songs in the modern manner. Rubber adds some digital drums to a song that includes the words ‘suitcase’, ‘cathedral’, ‘mansion’ and namechecks Agatha Christie and Voltaire. It’s a soft singalong with strong melodic heft and includes the line ‘Can I bounce back or just lay flat?’ Brave is another soft, acoustic number where Ruston meditates on how he will be remembered. Radio Cloud opens with the line ‘call me a misfit’ and has a bulletproof chorus that shows he can write pop songs if he wants to.
We’ve also heard Pressure (‘I hate to be dramatic but I think these days I might crack’). He is a vulnerable songwriter who doubts happiness when he sees it. The stadium-sized Under The Sun, meanwhile, looks at ‘brighter days still to come’ that takes the themes of Kacey’s song Rainbow.
Album opener In The Blue opens with some urgent acoustic guitar and a lyric about having ‘rainbows in my mouth’. Alive sees Ruston ‘looking through a telescope, not a cloud in the sky’ because he is in love. What an interesting decision to leave a love song on the album. Mid-Morning Lament, with its pedal steel, is a sublime meditation.
Closest Thing is a gorgeous two-minute wedding song that compares love to flying and falling. Clean and Jubilee are toe-tappers, the latter driven by an ascending melody in the verse that mimics Ruston climbing a mountain. The album ends with the vignette Hallelujah Anyway, where a choir of Rustons, as on Brave, look towards the end of his life. This is an excellent album with top production values and a mix of happy and sad, to quote a Kacey Musgraves songtitle. 4/5