Country Jukebox Jury LP: Lainey Wilson – Sayin’ What I’m Thinkin’

Lainey Wilson sounds country. Like Jordan Davies and Willie Jones, she is from Louisiana.  She’s less likely to cross over into pop music, as Faith Hill or Carrie Underwood have done, although with Morgan Wallen having a number one album, everything is possible.

She’s signed to Jason Aldean’s label Broken Bow and this is another Jay Joyce production, so it’ll be rocky and rootsy (roocky?) even before the needle goes onto the record. You can catch her at the Grand Ole Opry on February 20 playing some of the tunes. Every one of the tracks is a Lainey Wilson composition, with the usual mix of top writers helping out.

‘They say I’m where the party is’ opens LA, on which Lainey corrects the assumption that it means Los Angeles; it means Louisiana. There’s more harmonica, talk about small towns and a loop that is impossible to resist. The line ‘Joplin meets Naomi Judd’ may be the best on the album.

The record begins with a bang, a few hard hits of percussion before Neon Diamonds, the song in which Lainey asks a man to be her ‘man in black’ under the proviso that they get ‘hitched on whiskey vows and exchanging drunk “I do”s.’ It’s a country honky-tonker in the Jay Joyce style: the algorithm will throw up Eric Church, Ashley McBryde, Brothers Osborne and Brandy Clark, so if you like any of those acts (all produced by Jay), you will love Lainey.

Sunday Best, which has a proper funky harmonica/spoken-word fading outro, is a funny tale about skipping church because of a hangover (‘I don’t feel like hallelujah’ is a great line) and is full of personality. Like Ashley, Lainey seems to be a drinkin’ and smokin’ country rock chick, as shown on Pipe: Luke Dick, a Miranda Lambert acolyte, helps out on a song which is as rocking as you can imagine for a Luke Dick composition.

Casey Beathard helped write the smart WWDD, which I think was my introduction to Lainey’s work. Since it’s impossible not to love Dolly Parton, this will be a winner and I am sure Dolly, who is Lainey’s ‘go-to compass’, will give this her blessing. Straight Up Sideways is a party song, opening with a proper rock riff and helps its audience ‘take your blue collar off’. As she lists the ways to get drunk (which sounds like a really fun brainstorming session in the writers room), it reminds me of Gretchen Wilson, who doesn’t get the credit she deserves for teaching us that gals can party too.

Lainey can also do soft and slow, as on Dirty Looks, which sounds like a lost Lambert smash. ‘Dirty looks good on you’ is the kicker, and it also seems true to Lainey’s life. Keeping Bars In Business is, as well as being a great title, a proper Nashville song, full of sense impressions and vignettes of people who frequent bars. ‘Someone’s crying and someone’s kissing’ begins a top-drawer chorus which proves Lainey’s writing talent. This will be one of the songs she would play if she played a writers’ round for C2C.

Some songs put Lainey’s life in a song. I like Rolling Stone (‘like a feather in the wind I can be gone’) with a mandolin plucking an A minor chord for the final minute of a mood piece. The album’s title track is one of many which reference a cigarette and there’s a nice bit of self-awareness in the hook: ‘Even I can’t believe I’m sayin’ what I’m thinkin’.

Jonathon Singleton is one of the writers behind current smash Things A Man Oughta Know, a few stanzas of advice in 7/4 time on how to live a country way of life. Small Town, Girl (note the comma) is bluesy and also full of advice, which explodes into a fab chorus warning of the dangers of life in a place where ‘word gets out by word of mouth’. 

Half of the tracks on the album were ones I played immediately after hearing them, such is their quality and attitude. I buy into what Lainey is offering – need I say she sings with passion, conviction and pitch – and I hope thousands more do too.

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