Country Jukebox Jury LP: Russell Dickerson – Southern Symphony

This album has ten tracks on it and lasts just over 30 minutes. This is notable in itself: Morgan Wallen’s second album is a double that will have 30 tracks on it; Luke Combs put out five tracks before and six tracks after a 12-track second album which has hovered in the top five for a year.

Whereas Morgan and Luke are major-label priorities, Russell Dickerson is on Triple Tigers, a very respected indie label which has boosted the career of Scotty McCreery since he was spat out of the majors game. Scotty came over to London in October 2019 and is due to return for 2021; Russell wowed UK crowds at Nashville Meets London in Canary Wharf in 2017 and did the same at Country2Country, where he played tracks from his debut album Yours.

When I caught him on tour, it was clear to me that Russell was occupying the same domain as the likes of Sam Hunt and Thomas Rhett. His mashup of his own MGNO with pop classics like Girls Just Want To Have Fun and I Wanna Dance With Somebody make him a pop act in country clothing, which makes him perfect for a UK market which likes its country only lightly twanging.

A darling of country radio, Russell launched his second album Southern Symphony with a song of devotion called Love You Like I Used To in which he sings of how he loves his lady even more than he used to. You know how 10,000 Hours was a huge song by Dan + Shay? It’s that sort of thing, but the magic production skills of Dann Huff gives this song a huge cut-through on radio among other soppy men called Chris, Dustin or Brett.

It follows three other chart-topping declarations of love: Yours, Blue Tacoma and Every Little Thing. The woman he is singing about is his wife, who also acts as his art director, but is vague enough to appeal to any couple listening.

The other three teaser tracks from the album include the two-chord opening track Never Get Old (‘whiskey, wine and gold’ but also love), poppy newlywed song Home Sweet (‘it’s more than just bricks and stone’) and party song It’s About Time, which includes added Florida Georgia Line and a fun ‘baptist choir’ stab.

Jon Nite helps out on All Yours All Night: ‘You know exactly what we’re gonna do!’ purrs Russell of his Friday night plans of fidelity and wine. The market wants songs about men loving on their ladies and at least this is sonically and lyrically interesting. Russell’s voice is delicious too and he really sells the song. 

Both Home Sweet and Forever for a Little While were written with Charles Kelley of Lady A; Russell even adds an ‘ooh’ to the start of the latter song which is a reminiscin’ song about mixtapes and bandanas and the sweetness of summer lovin’.

Waiting For You describes his girl as the missing piece but the song sounds like a One Direction album track, especially with the backing vocals in the chorus and the gentle piano riff. I am surprised by what sounds like a saxophone before the final chorus which redeems the song slightly, but it’s Nashville’s version of pop music, like Dan + Shay or Thomas Rhett.

Honey, meanwhile, is immediately interesting: over some crickets, the opening lyric is sung in a low growl before mention of a ‘Tupelo golden’ girl. Come To Jesus is middle of the dirt road music detailing how any devilish tendencies Russell has are opposed by his ‘hands up high Hallelujah’.

In conversation with Dan Wharton for Your Life in a Song, Russell talked about the quick writing session for the title track, a reminiscin’ song about Tennessee of the sort that Thomas Rhett likes to write. ‘Where I come from’, we are told, people drink sweet tea, listen to ‘Garth Brooks on a CD’, treat your mama with respect and include fiddle solos in songs. It’s the album’s centrepiece and a lot deeper than anything on the first album.

He’s more than just a pretty face, our Russell. Will Morgan Wallen’s album be three times as good because it has three times as many tracks? We shall see. 4/5

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