Country Jukebox Jury: Lee Brice – Hey World

Save The Roses is track five on Lee Brice’s new album. It’s the sound of smart contemporary country today. It sounds like a song Garth Brooks (whose album Fun emerged on the same day as Hey World) would have made one of many of his career songs, sung in the voice of a man whose body lies in church at his own funeral. ‘Save the roses, don’t waste ‘em on me’ is a quite remarkable lyric, perhaps a new twist on ‘smell the roses’ and ‘carpe diem’.  

Listeners who have spent 2020 in mourning for loved ones will be reminded of this lesson. This year Lee has featured on two massive number one smashes: his own song One of Them Girls, a bit of four-chord fluff; and the goodbye song I Hope You’re Happy Now, a gift from Luke Combs in which Lee’s second verse elevated the song and complement Carly Pearce’s voice perfectly.

As album teasers, fans were also able to hear the sultry pair of Do Not Disturb – in which Lee and his beloved book a hotel room and hang a sign on the door – and Soul (‘You’re Mozart in the sheets!’). Lee also pre-released the tender Memory I Don’t Mess With and the song I would retitle Serious Chuggin’: More Beer, with its chant ‘we’re gonna need more beer!’ Half of the album is thus familiar on the day of release, including the title and closing track.

The song Hey World verges on the Disney soundtrack. Its second verse is sung by visually impaired Nigerian-born singer Blessing Offor, who rose to fame on The Voice. ‘Everything I need’s right here at home’ is a handy lyric which will be timely even when the world isn’t forced to stay home.

Lee, who turned 40 last year and has just fathered his third child, is best known for his ballads, including I Don’t Dance and the peerless I Drive Your Truck. His hit song Rumor led the interest in his self-titled album from 2017. Lee deserves to be talked about in the tones used for Tim McGraw, who used to be signed to Curb Records, which houses Lee to this day.

Of the unreleased songs on the album, Don’t Need No Reason is a triple-time Thomas Rhett-type tune in which Lee doesn’t need Valentine’s Day or an excuse to hug, kiss and dance with his beloved. ‘You’re the why!’ is a wonderful lyric. Though there’s lots of production on the studio version, Lee could sell this live with just a voice and guitar.

Likewise Lies, a very American song which starts with TV adverts for ‘some potion, some pill’, moves to drinks at the bar, a girl trying to make a living with her body and a couple who have fallen out of love. The initial chorus is full of putdowns but the final chorus is full of hope, how ‘it’s okay to struggle’. The song will help a lot of people but it’s very American in the way it tells you how to feel. The strings threaten to overpower the song, which again would work in an acoustic setting.

The second verse of Sons and Daughters can be summed up as ‘Think before you tweet’. Over very modern production, Lee sings about boys on tractors and female law enforcement officers. ‘Before you go and hurt someone,’ Lee counsels, remember the person’s family.

Country Knows, with its atmospheric pedal steel and heavily echoed voice, is a formulaic song setting the small-town scene. There’s probably one of these songs on a big release every month – tick off your laundry list of country things – but Lee adds a chorus which says ‘Country knows how I feel’.

For all the mid-tempo tunes, Lee (or Curb Records) knows when to crank it up. The opening track is called Atta Boy (great title) which sets the scene for the album. Over a chugging guitar line, Lee shouts out devoted fathers whose daughters can change a flat tyre, sons who help their mom bring in the groceries and one who is ‘pretty brave for eight’ and comes to someone’s aid on the playground. Unafraid to venture into peril on track one, the second verse is a thankyou to a friend who wouldn’t let a drunk guy drive home and risk his life. ‘We could use a few more like you’ is a good ol line.

Good Ol Boys, meanwhile, marries a hiphop-friendly beat and guitar loop to a lyric about respecting parents, partying on Saturday night and taking it ‘to the limit’. It’s simple but effective and proves that songs for the bros are good in moderation. The song If You continues the mood, with some chunky guitars and an unapologetic narrator who finds different ways to avoid saying the F word.

There are various themes and moods and production styles on this album, which gives it a welcome tonal palate. Lee’s European 2020 tour has been pushed back to summer 2021 and I hope to be there bellowing along, in a socially distanced way. His sensational new album offers well sung compositions which ought to win him a huge audience. 5/5

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