An act pigeonholed as Americana are the Memphis-based rock band Lucero. Album number ten comes out with distribution by Thirty Tigers, which is always a great sign.
The album’s opening seconds include some sonic wizardry, an A major palm-stopped chord and the vocal melody sitting on top of the note. Have You Lost Your Way doesn’t explode but stays in the same place, setting the album’s tone.
Ben Nichols writes the songs and his stated goal with this album is to hark back to 80s FM radio but make it modern. Lyrically it’s inspired by his toddler, with whom he has spent a lot of time in the last few years since he and his band can’t play these songs in clubs and arenas. Outrun The Moon is representative of this aim: there are elements of Band of Horses, Steve Earle and Tom Petty, heartland rock with lots of movement in the lyric (‘she’s running through the moonlight’). There’s a great section where the drums play constant quavers that really matches the song’s title and shows a good grasp of matching lyric and melody.
Pull Me Close Don’t Let Go is a lullaby so simple and direct even a child could understand it, with a pulsating arrangement from the band. The tender title track is about love and stuff: ‘You found a way for me to find my way to you’ is as simple as declarations of love get.
Both All My Life and Good As Gone sound like modern rock. On the latter there are synths, a rumbling bass and a thrilling chorus about how ‘good as gone ain’t good enough’. Coffin Nails includes the words ‘banshee’, ‘ounce’ and ‘Ides of March’ and evokes a Western, outlaw mood as Ben seeks to ‘weigh my deeds on my father’s scales’. A City On Fire, meanwhile, comes off like a Metallica ballad covered by a Memphis bar band: ‘In a city built on a tinderbox, a spark becomes a flame.’
Ben’s voice growls on The Match (‘that knocks down your wall’) which seems very metaphorical. The lyrics contain plenty of animals – a white deer, a dog, ‘wolves outside your kitchen’ – but also a witch and ‘a beautiful girl in a white gown’. Back In Ohio is the album’s most direct song: ‘Sailing to redemption but they’ll miss you back home in Oooooooo-hio’ reminds me of Jason Isbell’s recent music but the guitar riff sounds like The Hold Steady, another bar band who can play clubs and arenas. There is a saxophone solo which can only remind the listener of The Big Man, Clarence Clemons, and the leader of the best bar band in the world: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.
Rock out to When You Found Me but meditate to it in equal measure.
I am positive that is how many reviews of Logan’s work have begun. As with plenty of country musicians, he comes from noble stock: Billy Mize, who died in 2017 aged 88, headed over from Kansas to Bakersfield and became a TV star. It propelled him to the charts with songs of his own and writing for other including Dean Martin. He also charted with a cover of Take It Easy by The Eagles.
Logan is Billy’s great-nephew. He spent the 2010s building a following and releasing his debut album in 2017. He made it to Bush Hall in October 2019 for Country Music Week, but his voice almost didn’t as he’d had to cancel one of the UK shows. At the time he was best known on UK country radio for his cover of the Chainsmokers song Something Just Like This, which finds its way onto his second album as a sort of encore. It follows 10 compositions which showcase a quality voice that will sound excellent on country radio, should he want to pursue that avenue.
Still That Kid has been previewed in recent months by several singles. Donovan Woods, a pre-eminent Canadian songwriter, duets on his composition Grew Apart, and at the end of the album Alexandra Kay hops on another version. It’s one of the album’s tunes about breaking up with someone, with a chorus full of familiar reasons why it didn’t work out that will resonate with listeners who went through similar things in their life.
Two Peach Pickers, Dallas Davidson and Ben Hayslip, offer Get Em Together, which is a jaunty song which breaks up the ballads. Clare Dunn is the girl, Logan is the guy, and the pair bring A and B together (groove and record, red wine and whiskey to get ‘tailgate tipsy’, the ‘want to’ and ‘the time’) in the way that Brothers Osborne wanted to bring together ‘the all’ and ‘the night’. It’s Nashville Writers Room by Numbers – enough with Johnny and June!! – though there’s a cute four-bar guitar solo and it’s replayable.
Third Picker Rhett Akins was in the room for I Ain’t Gotta Grow Up. There are two versions of this song, one with rising starlet Willie Jones, so you can choose your own adventure. The song itself will go down well live: Logan wants a ‘good time all night’ and continue a party even after closing time. The sonic bed is very contemporary – Russell Dickerson and Filmore do this sort of thing too – and Willie’s fun verse builds on Logan’s original version. In fact, Logan and Willie could be a good package if they were to come to the UK when the time should arise.
Who Didn’t is a gift from three of the best: Nicolle Galyon, Ashley Gorley and Jimmy Robbins. It frames a list of universal country things: driving around, set up fireworks on July 4, attending to the lawn, ‘cold beer kissin’ and so forth. It’s radio-friendly and good fun, as you’d expect from those three A-List writers. Well done to Logan and his team for picking this one off the shelf. Ditto Hometown, which has a great line about being ‘like a steel guitar in a disco song’ to compare life in a new city to the ‘barefoot stomping ground’ of a hometown, with all the country things surrounding it.
As a songwriter on the Nashville-based Big Yellow Dog music publisher, which houses the likes of Meghan Trainor, Tenille Townes and Daniel Tashian, Logan is aware of the need to take songs off the peg, rather than create a bespoke composition. Thus some of the best technicians in town have cuts on the album.
Randy Montana, growing in reputation by the month, offers Practice Swing, a slice of melancholy about learning to live and love (‘first base first love’ is a good line) and soldier on through all the failures. I wish the baseball metaphor had been extended further, but perhaps that was lost in the edit. Gone Goes On and On is another pick-me-up song. Co-written by the great Josh Kear, who ten years on is still counting the Need You Now money, the bouncy backbeat is at odds with the message of the song: ‘It takes eight hours getting through the first night’ after a breakup.
Along with Davidson, Chris DeStefano offers Slow, which is a three-chord loop (I-III-IV) overlaid with an excellent lyric about love and life and stuff. ‘Do your best, be a friend…Have a drink, take a shot/ Save a little, spend a lot’ is sound advice to live a country way of life, and it is framed as advice from a fellow passenger on a red-eye flight. It’ll be a song to wave your arms in the air to when Logan plays live, and as with the rest of the album it is great to hear organic drums rather than programmed digital ones.
Logan has, in a very old-fashioned way, become a vessel for the work of others on this album. Of 11 tunes, only two are Mize compositions: American Livin’, which kicks off the album, namechecks John Cougar Mellencamp and ticks off a series of small-town vignettes over a middle of the dirt road groove; and the jaunty acoustic ballad Prettiest Girl in the World, where the protagonist needs assurances that she looks pretty. Vulnerability of the female is very topical in country music and I am sure the 18-34 demographic will go wild for this song, and for the rest of the album.
January 22 sees new releases from two black artists, which I am afraid is relevant as there is one fewer county star in the world after last month’s passing of Charley Pride.
Darius Rucker built a rock career before crossing over – as is his wont because he is from South Carolina – to country. He became an Opry member in 2012 and has performed there regularly, including with his golfing buddy Luke Bryan in 2020. Darius’ next album, his sixth solo album, is due imminently after he took a sabbatical to record an album and tour with his old band Hootie and the Blowfish. Yes Nashville needs to show black faces to the world but for the last decade Darius has been THE black face. Let us hope Willie Jones and Tebey follow Jimmie and Darius into public consciousness.
Tebey – The Good Ones
Tebey’s eight-track album follows his impressive hit Denim on Denim which came from his 2018 EP Love A Girl. Check out the funky Wreck Me and the ace That’s Gonna Get You Kissed for an introduction to his work.
Tebey has been going for a decade, debuting All About Us in 2011 and following it up with a duet with fellow Canadian country heartthrobs Emerson Drive on a cover of Avicii’s Wake Me Up in 2014. This featured on his album Two from that year and his Old School EP of 2016, and since then Tebey has gained more and more fans, including me and many others in the UK.
In recent months he has released several songs which are collected on this album. Shotgun Rider opens on the road – ‘top down dream…heaven in the headlights’ – with a silky melody and top notch production with a sprinkle of banjo over some familiar chords. It’s a winner. Happened on a Saturday Night is a list of fun things to do on the weekend – drinking, loving, partying – set to a jubilant chorus with some digital programmed drums. The Good Ones is a reminiscin’ song – you can tell it’s set in the past because we get ‘your tape deck’ – which sees Tebey reach the top of his range singing about ‘tears in the rain’ and remembering the happiest memories with Quebecoise singer Marie-Mai taking the second verse and playing the role of the girl.
Song of the Summer sounds like a Keith Urban song and brings together ideas from all three songs: lost love, ‘that shotgun smile’ and melancholy with added banjo. Good Jeans is a happy song about a girl who wears them ‘like a model’ in her ‘faded out painted-ons’. Tebey wants to be in her pocket and can’t wait to repeat the chorus. It’s good fun, as is See You Around, which has a tropical vibe that fits with the globetrotting Tebey does in the song. I like the Mexico/Texaco rhyme and the groove that sounds very contemporary.
Bad For Me is a familiar theme: a woman is ‘the craving that I can’t resist’. The chorus is astonishing and will sound brilliant in a live environment. Tebey played Buckle & Boots’ digital event last year and was due to come over to the UK for Country2Country. After Denim on Denim made UK country radio playlists, I would push for this one to liven up radio stations this year. Resistance is futile.
The album ends with Doing It Again, a sweet poppy love song full of the clichés of country songs of this type but sung with elegance and with lots of soul. Tebey has done a great job here representing Canada. It is only a shame that he has decided to leave Twitter, ‘a breeding ground for hate, misinformation and general negativity’. I’ll have to tell him via Instagram how much I admire his new album The Good Ones, which comes and goes in under 25 minutes but made me replay two tracks instantly.
Willie Jones – Right Now
Willie Jones got his start on TV as a contestant on The American X Factor back in 2012, singing Your Man by Josh Turner and sounding like a man from Louisiana. He had been due to release his debut album back in 2019, with Rolling Stone running a supportive feature to try and group him with Lil Nas X. ‘We just chasing the vibe,’ said Willie, who knows his audience are on streaming services and not on radio.
We already know Bachelorettes on Broadway, which I thought was too on the nose for me (ie it’s a song for hen parties invading Nashville), and Whole Lotta Love, which I liked a whole lotta more. When I caught Willie’s performance last year for Country Music Week I grooved along to Back Porch and Trainwreck (‘ever since you left’). Both were two peas in a musical pod, set to simple chord patterns and sung with soul and verve. I think he played Down For It as well, which was written by eight people and is a simple song about wanting to hang out with someone.
All four of those tracks make it to Right Now, Willie’s debut album which after a lengthy delay finally reaches our ears. The first song is called Country Soul, which showcases ‘Little Willie from around the way/ Shreveport, Louisiana born and raised’. Humorously he brings up genre immediately: what kind of music does he make? He makes them all, so get ready to ‘lose control’ with a mix of Tim McGraw, Aerosmith and TI. This is gentle and fun and immediately connects with a listener. Like Breland, vibe or mood takes precedence over genre. You can’t separate hillbilly music and black music when black and white folk all listen to Drake, The Beatles and Luke Combs.
American Dream is the centrepiece of the album. Willie tells a young black man to remember his roots and how it is a ‘different’ kind of relationship when you are black. There are references to the death of black men and sportsmen taking the knee, while a spoken section in the middle of the song makes clear the ‘chequered past’. It’s another song by a black artist which highlights the experience as a black American. Jimmie Allen has a few, as does Mickey Guyton.
The second half of the album includes Trainwreck and Whole Lotta Love, as well as Right Now, a song for drinking ‘Bombay and lemonade’ and forgetting about systemic racism and the social justice struggles which have just been mentioned. It’s a wise idea to follow political commentary with something fluffier. Likewise, Drank Too Much, where whiskey helps Willie hook up with a lady. The presence of digital drum programming makes this closer to Drake than Tim McGraw, or rather to Florida Georgia Line or Sam Hunt. Funnily enough, Sam has a song called Drinking Too Much.
Hearing Whole Lotta Love reminds me of Niko Moon’s recent smash Good Time, both in mood and production. The melody is enticing and the delivery is stupendous. The album finishes with two more versions of Down For It, featuring the aforementioned TI, but they follow a ballad called Actions, a song about realising that sometimes leaving a relationship is better than constantly arguing.
Willie’s debut album is a full representation of his personality and sound, and is a welcome entry into a market which has less soulful acts who are gaining more plaudits. There is no reason to think that Jordan Davis, who is also from Shreveport, will have a rival (or tour support) in future months.
It was in January 2018 that Devin released his debut album Dark Horse. It included songs written with the likes of Luke Laird, the Warren Brothers, Barry Dean, Laura Veltz and David Hodges. His brother Jacob worked on two of them including the smash radio hit All On Me, which brought John Mayer onto country radio. Unfortunately the follow-up single, the similarly soft Asking for a Friend, tanked at radio. They ought to have gone for Dip, a song about getting rowdy after an open mic night, or Second To Last. Ultimately the album was a bit too ‘open mic’, in that there were smart songs performed with pathos that didn’t necessarily grab the radio programmer’s attention.
It was produced by Jay Joyce, which makes Devin a member of the Joyce crew alongside Eric Church, Miranda Lambert, Ashley McBryde, Brandy Clark and Brothers Osborne. All of these acts are on the rockier end of country’s spectrum and this showed with Devin’s work. After all, he was formerly as a bassist in a death metal band called (wait for it) Shadow of the Colossus. He has since toured with Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, so he may have picked up some tips on how to break into the mainstream. He also wrote God’s Country for Blake Shelton, one of the best songs of the last few years.
As is the way of a record label, rather than a full album we have an Extended Play called The Pink Slip. Three of the tracks are instant, for me at least, with the other three needing a bit more work to enjoy. As with Sam Hunt and Keith Urban, only some of it is obviously country but a Nashville songwriter is surrounded by music, be it hillbilly or black.
The three songs which hadn’t been previewed in the EP’s rollout are a mixed bag. Who’s Gonna Hold Ya moves well away from country in its production, with an off-beat rhythm driving a quick song about romance. Whatever Forever Is announces itself with a digital loop and some chords on a piano, on top of which Devin talks of love and stuff. I would prefer it in an acoustic version as there’s a lovely song underneath all the digital effects. Dan + Shay, however, do this thing better and just as melodically.
I will be replaying Not on my Watch throughout the next week. It’s perky, with some skittering drums and some digital banjo. Production rules here but there’s plenty of melody on a song about ‘coming back a little stronger’. It’s invigorating and percussive ‘Nashville pop’ music with plenty of personality. There’s also a guitar solo too. It sounds like a Devin Dawson song, ultimately, which is the best compliment one can give.
We have had a few weeks to digest a third of the EP. I Got a Truck is a credo, as Devin lists all the things he got, over the top of a rootsy shuffle. It’s a grower with a very good middle eight and an extended solo in the last minute which lifts the song beyond the banal and into Keith Urban territory. It helps that it’s in the same key as Keith’s ubersmash Somebody Like You.
Range Rover is a wry pop song about an ex who was too hands-on. Lee Greenwood and Keith Whitley both have cameos, but this is a groove-based song featuring one of the riffs of last year. I must have played it ten times in a row after I first heard it.
Released on Thursday January 7, He Loved Her is driven by some smooth guitar and is sung with a vocal somewhere between Brad Paisley and John Mayer. It’s a song about a ‘small town simple man’ who ‘had a dog’ and ‘drank a beer’, the type that Devin wants to emulate. Because the video stars Devin’s grandparents, it seems like the way he wants to be remembered is just like the way his grandpa will be. I like the line in the second verse about the ‘half-price stones’ that should not be erected. Dirt, shirts, prayers and football also feature, so it’s a little checklisty but it does its job and Tim McGraw could have had a smash with this. It’s definitely country.
More will follow as Devin pushes his new project but, as with Dark Horse, I am on board.
It’s odd to have a 10-song project from Aaron Watson, whose previous three have exceeded 15. The tight 31-minute ‘hit ‘em and quit’ approach is possibly meant to leave us wanting more, and Aaron has said that no sooner had this album leapt into world than his band are in the studio following it up.
The independent Texan artist who got out of Nashville only to have country radio fall for Outta Style knows what makes a hit. Now under no pressure to have one, he seems to be enjoying the same sort of career as Miranda Lambert or Brad Paisley: with nothing left to prove, he can enjoy himself.
Fans of Aaron know exactly what to expect: Texas music in all its forms. By the title alone, you can guess you will be served some very American, and very country, tunes, although it comes off like a checklist where he must tick off football, rock’n’roll, the military and cowboys while talking about love and stuff.
The album’s first ten seconds include a twanging guitar riff and a fiddle desperate to join in. That track, Silverado Saturday Night, is a smoochy song which hangs on the line ‘they don’t call it a truck bed for nothing!’ It’s a perfect opening track, which segues into Boots, which he ‘can’t keep on the ground’ on account of dancing with his beloved. It’s a rootsy three-chord tune that is instantly memorable and replayable.
Ditto Whisper My Name, another song dedicated to Aaron’s wife, his number one fan, which will find favour with married and loved-up couples among his fanbase, as well as on Texas country radio. The production is enormous and it’ll be another live favourite.
Out Of My Misery has Aaron begging his beloved not to ‘kick me when I’m down’. The chorus is strong and there are some delicious harmonies. Stay is sung with rapid-fire lyrics over some heartland rock chugging. Although its verse melody and message is very similar to Silverado Saturday Night’s, I am won over by a great chorus and the ‘NASCAR late nights’ in the second verse.
Having mentioned cars, Touchdown Town is all about gridiron. Guitars chug along hymning the ‘roar of the crowd’ at a Friday night football game. I like the middle eight, which mentions ‘trophies in the attic’ and makes the point that being a country performer mimics those days in pads and helmets.
Dog-lovers will adore Best Friend, a waltz about how ‘a dog will never break your heart’. In verse two, Aaron goes on a wild goose chase to find his friend only to end up at home seeing her wagging her tail on the swings! It’s very country, like Long Live Cowboys: ‘The world keeps changing, he won’t budge an inch!’ The great Chris LeDoux, to whom Garth Brooks owes most of his act, gets a namecheck over some chugging guitars, as does Guy Clark when Aaron sings of desperadoes waiting on trains.
The title track, in light of the recent riots, is a bit of wishful thinking. Aaron reckons Americans are united on many things, including arguing about politics, hanging out with grandparents and watching sport. Aaron sounds bombastic, quoting The Star-Spangled Banner and ‘In God We Trust’ on the penny. Phil Vassar’s song of the same name does this patriotic nationalism better, but Aaron’s version isn’t bad. But what is America in the post-Trump era of QAnon?
Album closer Dog Tags is another euphoric and American tune about how ‘heroes don’t wear capes’ but instead sport the titular tags which denote military service. It’s almost a power ballad sung for those who protect the red, white and blue, three colours which sum up this project.
There are three or four tracks that will make Aaron’s Best Of (Boots, Best Friend, Silverado Saturday Night, possibly Dog Tags). Rather than comparing him to Brad Paisley, maybe Ron Sexsmith or Bruce Springsteen are more apt comparisons. Like those two, we know what Aaron does and we like it. There aren’t any complaints in what he does, which is why American Soul is a lovely release.
A record label today must recoup their outlay and, hopefully, make an immense profit so they can continue as a going concern (if a big conglomerate isn’t underwriting any pre-tax losses). That’s why a record executive hires A&R guys to keep their ears to the ground or, in today’s case, to the digital streaming platforms. Thus can an artist slide into people’s ears with something that sounds a lot like Elvis, The Beatles, Madonna, Whitney Houston, Oasis, Arctic Monkeys and Max Martin’s school of pop.
I call this genre Algorythm’n’Blues.
This album, released by Republic Records in association with Morgan’s Nashville-based label Big Loud, sounds like an algorithm. Put Ed Sheeran, Drake and Luke Combs in the mix and whizz it up. Package it in a bemulleted bloke who last year appeared on Saturday Night Live lampooning his own Covidiocy. Market it to the 18-35 demographic, as had been done with Sam Hunt, Thomas Rhett and Luke Combs, and watch the money roll in.
The sequencing doesn’t matter because nobody who listens to this album (bar about one in every 200) will work their way through 30 tunes in one go, or even in two groups of 15. Luke Combs delivered 23 tracks in three instalments, but Morgan is following the Chris Brown approach, who in 2017 put out a triple-disc set of 45 songs.
Morgan’s first album was radio friendly, full of anthemic pop including lead single The Way I Talk, Florida Georgia Line tagteam bro anthem Up Down, the biggest song on the radio 2019 Whiskey Glasses and the woozy Chasin’ You. I imagine songs on this album will soundtrack many TikTok videos and that’s where some of this album is aimed: accompanying moments in people’s lives. We already saw that with the enormous success of 7 Summers, where non-country listeners were introduced to Morgan.
As a product, Dangerous is very of its time. In 1968, The Beatles put out a four-sided vinyl album which included Blackbird, Helter Skelter and Revolution #9. In 1991, Michael Jackson’s Dangerous was about 20 minutes too long and went right to the edge of the compact disc, but nonetheless gave us Black or White and Remember The Time, both with blockbuster videos attached to turn them into events.
The album has taken a back seat in the digital era, thanks to the unbundling of tracks which mean people can just find the singles. Even Garth Brooks made fans wait over two years for his Fun album when three decades ago he was able to go up against The Beatles in the charts. He lost heavily but at least he could try.
In 2019, Old Town Road broke the record for longest-running Hot 100 number one. Country was megabucks again and Luke Combs had quickly become the most marketable star of the genre in a decade. Luke and Chris Stapleton have barely been off the album charts in six years, which is testament to their status as ‘gateways’ for country newbies. Perhaps Morgan is another gateway and he sounds and looks the part.
After all that, what does the album sound like? It sounds like a Joey Moi production, as the man who left his sonic fingerprints over Nickelback and Florida Georgia Line takes another large amount of money to make something the market wants to hear and the labels want to sell. A few tracks crank up the guitars to 12 but mostly there is clear separation or smart layering of tracks, with the trademark multivocal Moi effect present on plenty of tracks.
Sand in my Boots opens the album. Morgan sings about where he’s from and a girl tries to match his accent. We get ‘flipflops’, ‘dodging potholes in my sunburnt Silverado’, ‘heartbroke desperado’ and stars in the sky. It sounds like a song Luke Combs would take to number one across the world. There are organic instruments, Morgan’s voice is really high up in the mix and the melody is really strong. It sounds like the future of country music, appealing to folk beyond the South of America and, in fact, beyond America itself.
Wasted On You has Morgan sing how ‘I dropped the ball’ and introduces some digital cymbals to a tale of heartache. Ben Burgess co-wrote Whiskey Glasses and, as a thank you, he appears as a featured vocalist on Outlaw which portrays the lady as someone who shoots a ‘bad’ man with a ‘bang bang’.
Chris Stapleton pops up on Only Thing That’s Gone to ensure the algorithm will pick up this song which can be dragged into a Roots playlist. Over a dropped-D guitar line, the pair harmonise with a request for a drink which ‘ain’t the only thing that’s gone’. As many reviewers will note, Morgan more than holds his own as a singer with the Great Stapleton.
That duet segues into a studio version of Cover Me Up. Millions have viewed various videos online or heard Morgan play this near the end of his concerts. It told country fans that he respects the craft, much like Stapleton. Assisted by a pedal steel guitar solo, this is a Proper Song about sobriety which will earn its writer Jason Isbell a great deal of money in mechanical royalties (and, with luck, even more new fans).
There follow the two biggest teasers for the album: reminiscin’ tune 7 Summers, which has already had a life on TikTok and enjoyed success on the Hot 100, peaking at six; and bittersweet More Than My Hometown, where ‘our mamas are best friends’ and love feels like when ‘the bass hits the hook’. The first side demonstrates that Morgan knows that Tennessee is home but that themes of finding love and self-pity of heartbreak are universal. Republic/Big Loud know this as well.
Another Proper Song is Quittin’ Time. Eric Church and Luke Laird must have finished it and thought a young whippersnapper could do with it instead. Morgan is that cub, who does a nifty impression of Eric singing of thinking, drinking and how ‘rhyme has a reason’. It’s a country song which concludes the double album but will be plucked out for playlists.
Somebody’s Problem is a song which allows very little room to breathe, constantly pushing forward and, in an Ed Sheeran style, self-censoring (‘eff it up’). The melody is terrific and the chorus has some marvellous chords over softly plucked nylon strings. 865 is the area code for Knoxville, Tennessee, and gives its name to a song in which Morgan attempts to drink to forget his beloved but he can’t forget the phone number, which forms most of the chorus. This song is perfect for a playlist of phone numbers in songs.
On the other hand, More Surprised Than Me (co-written by Niko Moon, Burgess and veteran Lee Thomas Miller) is another song that alights upon Morgan’s accent, in a song whose chorus lays bare the premise of the song: Morgan is amazed (indeed ‘surprised’) that his lady has chosen him. This song is perfect for a playlist of ‘I’m a lucky sod’ songs.
Blame It On Me is yet another song that mentions Morgan’s drawl – we get it, we got it from his debut single! – but it sounds like what Nashville reckon pop music is: a wash of guitar over a processed beat and a digital lick, with layers of vocals singing about being from the South. It’s filler and co-writer Ashley Gorley knows it. Today, you would call it ‘skippable’. Ditto the song Warning, which is poodle rock transplanted to Nashville’s Broadway, and Neon Eyes, a singalong Middle of the Dirt Road tune about dancing, possibly in a bar at Nashville’s Broadway.
This album is labelled country so there must be country songs. Co-written by Wallen with his fellow Big Loud songwriter Ernest K Smith, Wonderin’ bout the Wind would have fitted in well on his first album: there’s smooth production and big drums, but it also has the sort of melancholy melody that makes it interesting and a lyric in touch with the elements. Country A$$ Shit (note the dollar signs) employs some twang and a bellowable chorus to underscore Morgan’s desire to hang out with his buddies. Luke Combs does this sort of thing better, but the algorithm will throw up Morgan, who will forever be in Luke’s shadow.
Whatcha Think of Country Now is a gift from Devin Dawson and Dallas Davidson, a good friend of Luke Bryan. Country has moved on from Luke shaking his tush, and indeed Florida Georgia Line yelling at ladies from car windows. Putting Luke and FGL into an algorithm gets this song, in which Morgan takes his lady ‘riding on the farm…fishing in the dark’. The rhyme ‘old Willie/ hillbilly’ is smart and the song is fun. It sounds like city girls visiting Nashville for a bachelorette party, which may have been the brief.
Dallas co-wrote Silverado For Sale, with Luke’s other mate Ben Hayslip (which is Peach Pickers bingo!!). The song is identical to the recent Tim McGraw song 7500 OBO, Thomas Rhett’s That Old Truck or Jason Aldean’s If My Truck Could Talk. Maybe the algorithm will throw those up when someone searches for ‘country songs about vehicles’. That isn’t to deny that the song is great, with a Middle of the Dirt Road groove.
Luke Bryan could well have recorded Me On Whiskey, one of many songs which mention a jukebox – spot them all and win a free shot of JD! A rewrite of Luke’s Strip It Down with even more foreplay and containing the same number of chords (two), a lady in a red dress and Morgan, probably with his cut-off denim shirt, get ‘tipsy in the neon light’ and probably end up making love.
Whiskey’d My Way is a song Jon Pardi could have cut, with its soft shuffle and talk of ‘rock bottom’. The fact that Thomas Rhett wrote it impressed me, and I imagine TR’s forthcoming fifth album will sound sonically and lyrically very similar to much of Dangerous. Your Bartender is another Rhett composition, a co-write with dad Rhett Akins who, even though he is in his fifties, still knows what the kids like to hear. The song is full of the poppy elements of a TR song, with a second verse about beds, bibles and dreams, and I won’t spoil the killer line of the chorus. It’s a nice gift from TR to MW, the former being too cute and in love with his wife to act as a bartender and sell the song as well as Morgan does.
The second half of the album is a continuation of the first, with plenty of country radio catnip such as Rednecks, Red Letters, Red Dirt (‘one life, one bar, one church’) and Still Goin Down. That one is track 16, or the first track of the second disc, and was performed on SNL. It’s a perfect track to lead an album with, a ‘Heeeeere’s Morgan!’, albeit delivered in a gentler manner than it could be. Featuring another chorus about ‘beer on a Friday night’ in a small town, it is one of seven tunes on the album written with or by Michael Hardy, who was set to support Morgan on a set of European dates in May 2020. The venues – Islington Garage, Glasgow SWG3 Warehouse, Manchester Gorilla, Newcastle Academy2 – would have been intimate. Morgan Wallen will never play venues of that size again.
Hardy has a knack for knowing what sounds great, which he demonstrates on his own album A Rock, and his co-compositions run through the second half of the album. Beer Don’t opens with squealing guitars last heard on Hardy’s album and Morgan banging on about how ‘round here the sun goes down slow but the beer don’t’. Livin The Dream is about being a musician on the road, which deserves to be much higher up the album than track 29(!) with the disjunction between appearance and reality (‘There’s a stranger in the mirror’).
Somethin Country sounds like ‘something Hardy’ even down to the vocal inflections. It’s brill. Conway Twitty gets a namecheck, there’s a ‘skimpy/Mississippi’ rhyme and ‘catfish’ in the verses, and in the chorus Morgan encourages his new belle to duck out of the bar with some rapped delivery that reminds every listener of Tyler Hubbard. It’s fun and rowdy, and it should be a crowd favourite. Kudos to Hardy and the chaps for putting ‘back forty’ (the deepest part of a farm) on a commercial country album.
Because it’s a modern country album there is drinking here too. Morgan enjoys rites of passages such as getting drunk, being nice to the bouncer and watching a potential wife ‘walk through the door with some new jerk’ on This Bar. The title track is another Smith/Wallen tune where our protagonist sing-raps lines about ‘stayin’ right here’ but gives way to a middle-eight with some falsetto notes. Sam Hunt’s influence on the current crop has been enormous, and Morgan slides effortlessly into the market Sam created with his album Montevallo, which took five years to follow up. Morgan did it inside three.
Need A Boat sees a woman’s presence on an album built for the bros. (Or rather, to be as reductive as a sales rep: guys want to drink with him, girls want to drink beside him). Hillary Lindsey sprinkles her magic on a honky-tonker which includes barstools, bottles and a desire to go fishing to forget his problems. The melody is strong (Hillary helped Carrie Underwood write smash after smash) and Morgan sells it well. I am sure Morgan can buy whatever boat he wants, to go with that Silverado, such will be the success of Dangerous: The Double Album.
I wonder if the point of presenting a buffet of 30 songs is to allow playlist-makers (ie, the consumer or music fanatic) to design their own Morgan Wallen adventure. (See my 17-track offering below.) Country fans can pick Cover Me Up and all the Hardy tunes; pop fans can opt for 7 Summers, Somebody’s Problem and the ‘Wallen Album Mix’ of the Diplo duet Heartless. Here, the song’s original vocal is underlaid by a more rockin’ arrangement.
I don’t know if ‘the buffet’ will be a trend. Even Dua Lipa limited herself to 11 tracks, albeit with a dance mix following along. Last year Dua Lipa had five hits and ended the year with an expensive streamed concert. Two years ago this week, Lizzo released Juice, an astonishing piece of pop that ushered in the Year of Lizzo.
The rapper/flautist/activist/singer may well emerge with a new album this year but until then this is the Year of Wallen, the Tennessee tyke. After the stupidity of disrespecting quarantine and still having a career, it will be fascinating to see how streaming services, Youtube, radio, labels and, of course, the consumer unite to make Morgan Wallen a superstar.
Several executives have their careers on the line.