Country Jukebox Jury – Tyler Rich and Mickey Guyton

Tyler Rich – Two Thousand Miles

Tyler Rich has been building his fanbase steadily. The Difference is his best-known song, a gift to him from Devin Dawson, Devin’s twin Jacob and Rhett Akins.

He has co-written eight of the tracks on his debut album Two Thousand Miles, enlisting some fine writers who have given him some tips. On album highlight Leave Her Wild it’s the superstar pairing of Chris DeStefano and Jon Nite; Lindsay Rimes was in the room for Still Love You (‘When I don’t even like you’), while Lindsay worked with Nite and the late Andrew Dorff on the minor hit 11:11. Brad Tursi of Old Dominion helped Tyler and Lindsay on Rather Be Us.

There are some excellent lines: ‘You’d kill to be the train she wrecks’ on Leave Her Wild, a song about not taming a crazy lady or ‘dull the shine’; if you don’t like the idea of hearing someone sing about a ‘hottie riding shottie’, this isn’t for you. Like Hardy or, more pertinently, Morgan Evans or Chris Lane or Russell Dickerson or Dustin Lynch, the music is aimed at the 18-35 demographic who watch The Bachelor and post pictures on Instagram. The production on the album, especially on The Difference and Real Love, has a hazy sheen on it. The first line of Rather Be Us has Tyler looking at a couple on Instagram. So there.

Adrenaline opens with Tyler downcast, ‘throwin rocks at the Starbucks where she and I met’ but by the chorus is able to kiss lips ‘stronger than medicine’. Tyler wants his new angel to ‘run through my veins’ like adrenaline. It sounds a lot, A LOT like Get Me Some of That by Thomas Rhett. Opening track Feel Like Home namechecks 90s country star David Lee Murphy over some enormous guitars in 12/8 time. A lot of the tracks are driven by the production, much like his Big Machine mate Thomas Rhett. There is a little bit of a Keith Urban twang in his voice (especially on an acoustic version of 11:11 I heard).

It’s a corporate country album and I don’t think Tyler minds about it. Instagram couples need something to dance to and I don’t begrudge Big Machine a need to get profits through selling this music to them. Thomas Rhett does it better and more country, but at least the songs on Two Thousand Miles are palatable, in the way that salad is palatable. I admit I left some of the salad on the plate, ie I skipped a few songs at the second chorus mark.

Take It or Leave It gives the girl an ultimatum: ‘If you want that high we’ll light it/ If you want that slow we’ll ride it’.  I can take or leave this album, which is 3/5 because there is no point criticising it for being marketed at a young audience rather than being full of Ring of Fire. The cover of Billie Jean, should you be interested, is fine but Keith Urban does this sort of thing better. I’ll talk about Keith’s album in two weeks’ time but next week it’ll be the UK Country Top 40!

Mickey Guyton – Bridges EP

At the 2020 Country Radio Seminar Mickey Guyton received a huge ovation for singing a song called What Are You Gonna Tell Her, which is a good indication of which acts will do well this year. She also performed it at the ACMs, which was televised to the public. The song is found on her EP Bridges which positions her as the ‘see, we DO give black women a chance’ artist of 2020. I’m afraid Nashville has sat on their hands about Mickey for too long.

Yet to release an album, Mickey is in her mid-thirties and is yet to break through to mass consciousness in the same way that, I dunno, non-black acts have done. (Gabby Barrett, by the way is still at number one on Airplay with I Hope, and she is half Mickey’s age. Gabby got her start on TV.)

Mickey is expecting her first child early next year which will irritatingly play havoc with the promotion schedules for her next project but she is a keen Instagrammer, where she has 58,000 followers. To that child she will sing the likes of Black Like Me, Heaven Down Here and What Are You Gonna Tell Her, which she debuted in public at the Ryman and also sang at the ACM Awards, with Keith Urban on piano.

‘She thinks life is fair’ draws you in, ‘skin’s just skin’ makes it clear that race in an issue, then the next line is about sexual abuse. The chorus, which Mickey sang with a quavering voice on the verge of tears in the emotional performance, underlines the helplessness of a parent in the face of a world that will ‘let her down’. Informed by Mickey’s struggles in her job, this is surely her career song.

Following Kane Brown and Jimmie Allen, Mickey is the latest star to address race in her music. Black Like Me was a song she was scared to put out but I am glad she did. Over piano accompaniment, and with my favourite chord (a diminished fifth) in the middle eight, Mickey remembers how she ‘did her best to fit in’ when she was a kid in the playground. As an adult it’s the same nonsense, making a mockery of the slogan Land of the Free. ‘It shouldn’t be twice as hard’ for a black person to live their life.

Kudos to her label for putting a political song out into a country landscape which, as I will keep saying, must change or die. Yes we can have Thomases and Lukes, and Kane Brown is in the top three with Cool Again. Indeed, as I mentioned at the top of the show, Wendy Moten is playing the Opry this weekend and she is black.

Heaven Down Here is a plea to God, a character who has all but disappeared from country radio. In a year with thousands of deaths from a pandemic, this is a timely song which will resonate, even if it’s a little vague and general rather than specific. The EP’s title track, which adds a click track to a groovy piano riff and an electrifying chorus, talks about the ‘great divide’ where people are ‘on their knees holding Bibles’. Why can’t we all just get along, Mickey asks, 30 years after Michael Jackson wanted to heal the world. Stop making peace happen.

The EP also includes the charming Rose, where instead of moonshine, sangria, tequila and strawberry wine, Mickey chooses to sing about Rose-e-e-e-e. It’s catchy and perfect for TikTok should anyone be interested. Salt, meanwhile, is another song for the compilation Now That’s What I Call Ladykiller: ‘You think you’re getting sugar but you’re getting salt’. I like the line about being as fake as her extensions. It’s a fun pop song which feels a lot like a lost Carrie Underwood classic. We know why Carrie has sold so many records and Mickey hasn’t. Clue: use your eyes, not your ears.

Notable in this project is that four tracks were produced by Karen Kosowski, who is also from Canada! 5/5 with very little to criticise.

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