Country Jukebox Jury LP: Tebey and Willie Jones

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.

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