Country Music Week Digital 2020 – Part Two

Saturday night offered Kip Moore, a rockstar in country clothing, who was joined by his band the Slow Hearts in Grimey’s record store in Nashville. On his own Kip tends to ramble, as he did in his CMA Songwriters set a few years ago, but his voice is electric and he has thousands of fans in the UK.

In a shirt which showed off his biceps – he knows his audience – Kip played with his band surrounding him close, just in front of a rack of vinyl. Janie Blu, Sweet Virginia, Wild World and Fire and Flame sounded excellent with three acoustic guitars, a double bass and a muted snare drum. It will make me return to his excellent album Wild World. I was one of 1000 people to watch the set as it was premiered.

If you are after more rock, you should catch the video of The Cadillac Three‘s contribution to CMW Digital. The band are Big Machine’s ‘big rock band’ and are led by super songwriter Jaren Johnston. They sat down with the lady who produces their own Big Machine Radio show for a chat which was aimed at a UK crowd.

TC3 opened with a giggle at their English accents, dislike of black pudding and love of a full English breakfast. The trio recalled their gigs at the Camden Barfly and in Manchester, and how Jaren got a tattoo of a Saltire, a Scottish flag, in Glasgow!

There was then a live performance played from the Country2Country show of three songs including their chantalong anthem The South, Slide and Peace Love & Dixie which was more rock than country and very energetic and loud. The trio were due to play on the Friday of C2C at the O2 in Greenwich, opening up for Eric Church, but the lockdown was announced on the Thursday. Next year, perhaps?

We love TC3 over here, and I particularly love the new album Tabasco & Sweet Tea, which is 11 slabs of Southern Funk. British fans apparently call them ‘MENTAL!’ and ‘LEGEND’. Go watch the video to see them tackle British slang – oh those hilarious Brits with their ‘palaver’ and ‘aubergines’ and ‘spotted dick’!!! TC3 are inviting fans to watch a concert which launches their new album this Tuesday (27th) at 6pm GMT, with access to a stream costing £15 for UK fans. (US fans get one on the same evening.)

Tyler Rich, Payton Smith and Danielle Bradbery are all signed to Big Machine too and all appeal to a young demographic (ie under 30s). Tyler talked about watching footie in a British pub and the atmosphere – ‘it felt so much like home’ – and wrote the song Feels Like Home about it. He also played his big lovey-dovey hit The Difference.

Danielle played her new single Never Have I Ever, one which ‘manifested’ her new relationship, as well as the lovely Sway and recent reminiscin’ song Girls In My Hometown. Her voice, which won her The Voice, sounds great and she has a fine set of songs and a great set of fans in the UK.

I can tell why Big Machine are trying to push Payton and why he is due his first UK visit very soon. He has a boyband-fresh voice, long flowing locks and a love of John Mayer that comes through in his guitar playing. Sat in a recording studio beside a mixing desk, he played three tunes including What It Meant To Lose You and the hyperkinetic streaming hit Like I Knew You Would.

He slowed it down with Daddy’s Boots when he made his debut at the Grand Ole Opry in February this year, aged 20; it’s his life in a song which namechecks his birthplace of Louisiana. There’s a lot of Eric Church and Keith Urban in him and, if his career is managed carefully, he could be the biggest star in country music in five years’ time, certainly as big as Chris Young, with whom he would have toured in 2020.

As well as looking at Song and Album of the Year before 2020 is out, I’ll put together a UK Country Top 40 of the year. I am aided in my task by Tim Prottey-Jones. He put together a two-hour A to Z of British country on his Homegrown show which went out on Wednesday evening. Usually he gets an hour so this is a welcome and chunky look at UK country that rounds up some of the top acts he has been rotating in recent months. Expect many of the following to feature in my Top 40 in December.

C is for Robbie Cavanagh, D is full-time busker Simeon Hammond Dallas, E is for Emma & Jolie, G for Gasoline & Matches, J for Tim’s pal Jake Morrell, K for Kezia Gill, M for Joe Martin, N for Nathan Carter with an Oirish cover of the folk song Games People Play, O is for both O&O and Laura Oakes (who have duetted together), Q for Gary Quinn, R for Remember Monday, S for The Shires and Tim’s musical theatre pal Steve Balsamo, U for Tim’s UK Country Collective, V for Vicki Manser, X was for Deeanne Dexeter (well done!), Y for Yola and Z for Zoee.

If we’re looking at UK country Blockbusters, I’d like to pick A, T and W please, Bob. A is for The Adelaides, who posted a little documentary onto their Facebook page on Wednesday. The Adelaides Bounce Back centres on their performance two weeks ago at Nash Nights UK in front of a paying crowd at Under The Bridge in West London. It’s their first gig in front of people since March. Since then they have had a tour and a Nashville trip cancelled and put out a fun video to their smash Seven Billion. To earn money they have worked in care homes or fish’n’chip shops, doing some relaxed livestreams when they could meet up in person.

We start in the dressing room as they discuss the harmonies of Head & Heart. The girls soundcheck and talk about being ‘excited but nervous’ in case the gig had to be pulled under government orders. There’s a very Spinal Tappy line from the drummer about being ‘further away but also closer’ to the girls. The barrier is set a long way back to be extra safe and the girls stride onto stage in personalised masks.

The band are unguarded, opening up to the camera and showcasing a side of themselves which fans might not see when they are performing. There’s a little bit of politics at the end: music is not a hobby for The Adelaides, who have been promising an album for years now. The footage of them performing Reckless and a boisterous Good Love, as well as their covers of Miss Me More and Nothing Breaks Like a Heart, is marvellous and very well edited together, with the trademarked three-part vocals silencing the room. Kudos to the camera team as well as the performers and venue.

The Bounce Back documentary can be viewed through the band’s Facebook account.

W is for Ward Thomas. After Tim’s show, I tuned into the twins’ 20-minute session on Facebook in association with Chris Country. Having heard them a fortnight ago play three gorgeous tunes for Bob Harris’ Radio 2 show, I knew what to expect. After some faff setting up the phone, they played Cartwheels, new tunes Someday and Don’t Be A Stranger and their cover of Landslide. Their voices were in fine fettle and I am sure they drove people to stream their new album; by the way, Invitation landed at an impressive 29 on the album charts, though that may rise as the band continue to promote the album into 2021.

T is for Twinnie who has been very active this week on Instagram. You can still catch the Tea With Twinnie videos, which were broadcast live at 3pm every day: she had Lainey Wilson on Monday, a proselytising Jimmie Allen and the irrepressible Lauren Alaina on Tuesday, Andrew Farriss on Wednesday, Lindsay Ell on Thursday, the great Lucie Silvas on Friday and Willie Jones on Saturday.

On Sunday she was spotted on terrestrial TV, guesting on Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch in the morning. As a former Hollyoaks actress, I expect she talked about the Chester soap’s Silver Jubilee – did you know it started in 1995?? – as well as the release of the acoustic version of her debut album Hollywood Gypsy.

On Thursday, before Bob Harris’ Country Show, I tuned in to watch Brent Cobb who had sent over a five-song set for Destination Country which promoted his brand new album Keep Em On They Toes. Anyone professing ignorance to Brent’s talent will have been blown away and will head straight to the album after hearing new tunes played solo on an acoustic in front of an organ with plants upon it.

Soapbox remains my favourite though I also like Shut Up and Sing and This Side of the River (more songs should mention catfish). Brent also told the story about a gig in Manchester which was cancelled due to a power cut: ‘We drank a bunch of beer and got to know each other.’ He finished with the song Digging Holes.

On Sunday, Kyle Daniel did much the same thing, introducing himself to curious fans over here. He was due to pop over to the UK for Country2Country this March but his plans were scuppered. He had, however, come over last year for Country Music Week, opening for Brandy Clark and playing a showcase. A year on, Kyle posted a 25-minute set from his home in East Nashville which you can watch on his Facebook page ‘kyledaniel.music’.

That Somebody Ain’t Me is a brutal leavin’ song sung expertly, while Hollerin Hills cranked up the pace with a slide guitar that gave the song a Stapleton feel. As he would have done had he been over in the UK, Kyle previewed some tunes he was about to record in Muscle Shoals, Alabama: Running From Me was a typically rootsy tune about not drinking away your problems, which sounds like a Stapleton lyric; Wild, Free & Easy was a smooth reminiscin’ song about how ‘you can’t rewind the moment’; and Following The Rain makes the most of the ‘dark cloud’ over Kyle’s head as he tries to swerve the ‘hurricane’. I loved the swampy feel of Everybody’s Talking (‘Words ain’t worth a dime’) which worked well with the trio of guitars and voices.

Kyle’s set was one of the highlights of Country Music Week Digital 2020. Above all he shows the depth of the talent pool in town; if he were British he would be selling millions of records, while in Nashville he’s just another future superstar wondering when his day will come. He’ll be supporting The Cadillac Three for the American show to launch the trio’s album on Tuesday 27 October.

Willie Jones, who also took over Country Hits Radio on Saturday afternoon, played a short set for UK fans via his Facebook account. He had been due to play some big aftershow parties at C2C 2020 before he had to fly home. UK fans have heard sessions on Bob Harris Country, though, and in July he played for 20 fun-packed minutes for a Destination Country show. He reprised the set, live from Shreveport, Louisiana, with four soulful country songs with familiar chord progressions.

Windows Down is a I-V-VI-IV tune with a singalong post-chorus, while Back Porch is a VI-IV-I-V tune about chilling out (Willie shook an egg shaker). His vocals have the smoothness of Aloe Blacc or John Legend, but he has the hiphop cadences and ad-libs of a Drake. Despite being poor he has a Whole Lotta Love – ‘Look at yourself in the mirror and tell yourself you gotta whole lotta love!’ he encouraged his audience – while the groovy Down For It is a IV-I-V-VI tune whose vocals were partly lost because the guitar was very loud.

UK fans will lap this up and Willie’s slow climb will be rewarded in 2021, for sure.

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