Country Jukebox Jury LPs – Granger Smith and Justin Moore

Granger Smith – Country Things Vol 1

This is the first part of his tenth LP and the first project since the death of his son at the start of 2019. As with several other acts such as Chase Rice and Maddie and Tae, we’re getting an album in instalments.

There are eight tracks on part one. Set opener Country Things checks off fireflies, polite phrases and the act of dying and going up to heaven. That’s Why I Love Dirt Roads is a catchy hymn to rural life with rivers and painted skies. There are many ways to get by on dirt roads such as Chevys and Hemis and Yotas and Fords: this is music to listen to while cruising around on your truck and it definitely sounds like it, with crunchy guitars and processed drums. Granger’s friend (and comic alter ego) Earl Dibbles Jr is relegated to rapping on the final track Country & Ya Know It, which made me laugh out loud: instead of clapping your hands, the listener raises his beer if he really wants to show it. Tyler Hubbard from Florida Georgia Line is one of five writers on this fun ditty.

Being a Texan, Granger is aware of the proximity to Mexico, where he has never been but ‘laying with you is so damn close’. We’ve got tequila, sunlight and ‘places I’ve never been’. It’s a love song in the way that Hate You Like I Love You is a break-up song by numbers. I Kill Spiders, meanwhile, is in praise of Granger’s role as a dad guiding the way and getting rid of arachnids and Heroes is one of those ‘here’s to the unsung heroes’ songs that every artist will release in the next few years. Eight varied songs which are all sung and produced well that put me right in Texas in country country. 4/5

Justin Moore – Live At The Ryman

Did you know a live album isn’t really live? A lot of parts are re-recorded in a studio. I don’t know if anyone will remember Justin Moore when the dust settles but he can certainly sing songs pleasantly. He is the latest star to release a Live at the Ryman album, after Brothers Osborne. It’s one way of putting together a lot of hits and perhaps sell tickets to a live show in future (hmm). I’ve never fallen in love with Justin but I like the songs he is given to sing in his rich and wonderful voice.

My own favourite is set closer Point At You, from his third album Off The Beaten Path. By his fourth album Kinda Don’t Care he was a singer rather than a songwriter, gifted smash hits like the pairing early in his set: You Look Like I Need A Drink and Somebody Else Will were both big radio smashes thanks to Big Machine putting money marketing a guy with a fine voice and a cowboy hat. He is their ‘country guy’, their Aldean or Luke Bryan.

Happily his recent Late Nights and Longnecks album from last year reverses the trend and gives him writing credits on every track. Because the show was recorded in 2018 no tracks from this album feature, which gives it the air of a contract filler. The crowd gets to sing some of the choruses to give a simulacrum of a live show but they sound muted otherwise.

Then there are the covers and cameos. Chris Janson shouts his way through Country State of Mind, which proves that Justin has listened to Hank Williams II, who is given a namecheck on both the Aldeanish set opener Hank It and wistful driving ballad Flyin Down a Back Road, whose chorus includes drinking, fishing and hayfields. David Lee Murphy helps out on a cover of Waylon Jennings’ I Ain’t Living Long Like This and Nashville legend Ricky Skaggs lets Justin join him (or perhaps was invited to give Justin’s set some kudos) on his own Honey Open That Door.

There is no doubt that Justin is definitely country, judging by his setlist. I Could Kick Your Ass, Hank It, Backwoods and Small Town USA all came from Justin’s debut LP of 2009, while Flyin’ Down a Back Road, Bait A Hook – which ticks off Merle Haggard, Jack Daniels and trucks – and soppy ballad If Heaven Wasn’t So Far Away are found on his second album Outlaws Like Me. He’s not an outlaw, he’s a guy who makes money for Big Machine because Taylor Swift couldn’t reach that demographic.

On two occasions he shouts out to country radio, which allows him to play the Ryman by playing his tunes. Business. 3/5

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