Country Jukebox Jury: Granger Smith – Country Things

I would file Granger in the second tier of country stars, alongside Justin Moore, Chris Janson and Kellie Pickler. All three preach to the south in a poppy, rocking manner and would impress a UK crowd if they were to come over here.

Granger is a Texan who has made inroads into Nashville with songs like If The Boot Fits and Back Road Song. The second of these was produced and written with Frank Rogers, who helped Brad Paisley on a path to success. In fact, as you will see, Granger has a good claim to be the Texan Brad Paisley.

His tenth LP is his 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, fans received an album in instalments, with eight initial tracks being followed by a complete album just in time for Thanksgiving.

The key themes, as befitting the title, are love and life in the country. I called my project A Country Way of Life because country music can be a guide on living well. Granger agrees. Where I Get It From is a slight but fun three-chord chugger which tells stories of grandpa drinking beer and mama praying ‘every night and day’. Buy A Boy A Baseball is a father’s song to other fathers about how to raise a son or daughter which, even if you don’t know the story about his own tragedy, is poignant.

That’s What Love Looks Like encourages listeners to ‘look with our hearts and open up our eyes’ to life’s simpler things. There is a brief line about how ‘the color of skin doesn’t mean a thing’ when love conquers all, coupled with ‘John 3.16’ which is an explicit shout out to the Lord. I don’t want to assume it, since it is Granger’s story to tell, but after losing a loved one I imagine he would make a special effort to find some comfort in every little thing.

Man Made again opens with a banjo over a simple chord loop. Granger sings about things man makes, like ‘the telephone, the radio, footprints on the moon’, in order to get married and make their family proud. The payoff is that ‘a woman made that man’; after all, it was Mona Lisa who inspired the painting and made Da Vinci renowned. We’re in the Men Applaud Woman genre of country music and the middle of the dirt road musical track backs up the lyric. I can see this being a sleeper hit and fan favourite.

Being a Texan, Granger is aware of the proximity to Mexico, where he says he has never been but ‘laying with you is so damn close’. We’ve got tequila and sunlight, two things the country does well, and it’s a love song. 6 String Stories is literally life in a song as ‘all the smiles, all the scars’; verse two documents Granger proposing to his future wife and he loses his dad in the middle eight. Hate You Like I Love You is a break-up song by numbers, similar to the new hit Just About Over You by Priscilla Block.

The set opener Country Things, which I would place in the genre Country Bingo, checks off fireflies, polite phrases like ‘yes sir, no ma’am’ and the act of dying and going up to heaven over fiddle and banjo. Anything Like Me is another hymn to country kids: sunsets, backyards, porches, pretty girls, church on Sundays and being satisfied with your lot. This is delivered with contemporary production and some woahs.

Chevys and Hemis and Yotas and Fords lists the many ways to get by on dirt roads, music to listen to while cruising around on your truck. It definitely sounds like it, with crunchy guitars and processed drums. Ditto radio single That’s Why I Love Dirt Roads, a catchy rocking hymn to rural life with rivers and painted skies. There is also a bonus stripped version with Christian hiphop act Lathan Warlick offering a poignant set of bars about love and loss.

As with many Texan entertainers, Granger can do deep as well as fluffy. I Kill Spiders is in praise of Granger’s role as a dad guiding the way and getting rid of arachnids, while Heroes is one of those ‘here’s to the unsung heroes’ songs that every artist will release in the next few years. He seems genuine rather than pandering here, and serves up a good mix of material.

Granger’s friend (and comic alter ego) Earl Dibbles Jr appears on four tracks. He is relegated to rapping on 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. The power-charged Holler, driven by layers of electric guitar, is a song that they or Jason Aldean would kill for.

Diesel, which documents the working week in a country workplace, is even harder. It’s the hillbilly equivalent of heavy metal with a solo that sounds like a power saw ‘making tree-huggers choke’. As for the vocal, it’s hard to tell where Granger ends and Earl Jr begins, which is rather the point.

Workaholic is sung entirely by Mr Dibbles. He enjoys working hard during the weekend too: working on his tan, working up a sweat on the beach and ‘putting in overtime’ at the creek while he fishes. Comedy and country have a long history together and Granger, or rather his pal Earl Jr, is keeping the flame going. Indeed, whereas Granger has 260,000 people following him on Twitter, Earl Jr has almost 450,000.

Granger knows where he stands, appeasing fans with Earl’s appearances, but it’s his name on the album and he knows country things too. 3/5

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