Country Jukebox Jury LPs: Morgan Wade, Valerie June, Sara Watkins and Not Our First Goat Rodeo

March 28, 2021

Morgan Wade – Reckless

From Virginia, Morgan overcame addiction to make her debut LP Reckless. The record is produced by Sadler Vaden, who is a guitarist in Jason Isbell’s band The 400 Unit, and Paul Ebersold, who won a Rock Gospel Album Grammy back in 2004 and is best known for working with corporate rockers 3 Doors Down.

Side A opens with Wilder Days, which sounds like The Wallflowers, and Side B with Last Cigarette. Along with the tremendous title track, both are irresistible pop nuggets which I call ‘Bob Harris Country’: chunky basslines, melodic guitars and a punchy melody. I’m a sucker for melody-driven rock with lots of hooks in the guitar part.

I love the production and arrangement of Matches and Metaphors, which sounds a little like Elle King, and the wedding song Other Side, which has the sort of grit that Ashley McBryde delivers in her songs: ‘You’ve seen the parts of me the world says I should hide’. With different production, Don’t Cry could be Hole-like grunge or Avril Lavigne pop-rock, but it’s catchy like the best songs of both those acts.

Kalie Shorr mixes country confessional and rock attitude but Morgan’s voice is one I like better. She is vulnerable on triple-time song Mend (‘I hope you can mend me’) and on Take Me Away (‘I wanna feel something’). Ernest Hemingway gets a namecheck on closing acoustic ballad Met You, which opens with her ‘numb from a cocktail of pills’ and has her reminiscing on happier times.

When she pleads for her beloved to return, asking him how that ‘northern air’ is on the song of the same name, she adds the detail of the red stain on the ‘white dress that I bought to impress you that night I confessed my truth’. There’s a lot of subtext in the song that will emerge in a live setting too. I’ll be there.

Valerie June – The Moon and Stars: Prescriptions for Dreamers

I saw the long-haired genre-hopper Valerie June perform on the open stage at Latitude one year to an appreciative crowd. Valerie is Americana and will win awards in that category in future, though I am sure she is more concerned about getting her music to as many ears as possible.

I was surprised at how understated the tracks on this album were. Both Colors and Stardust Scattering remind me of Deep Forest’s new age track Sweet Lullaby: drums are soft, the production creates a sonic bed for the horns to emerge. Valerie’s voice wraps around Carla Thomas’s on Call Me A Fool where, like The Highwomen, a unison vocal makes the lines punchier.

Elsewhere, Valerie is at the top of her range on the gentle Fallin’, swoons in the middle of Two Roads, is joined by percussion and many voices on the sweet final minutes of Within You and sings an appropriate sunny melody on Smile. I love the strings added to Why The Bright Stars Glow, which I hope she can replicate in the live sphere.

The album ends with 90 seconds of birdsong and pipes, sending the listener off to dreamland with a goodnight kiss. Valerie will win many more fans, more dreamers, with this album.

Stuart Duncan, Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer and Chris Thile – Not Our First Goat Rodeo

Yo-Yo Ma is a well-known bluegrass cellist(!!) who teams up with fiddler Stuart Duncan, mandolin player Chris Thile and bassist Edgar Meyer on Not Our First Goat Rodeo, which has been nestling inside the bluegrass albums for nine months. It defies categorisation: there are a lot of pentatonic melodies from cello and bass on Your Coffee Is A Disaster; Voila! is great fun thanks to its jaunty melody; and I like the just-right wrongness of the portamento sliding on Every Note a Pearl.

There is some traditional folk on here. Stuart takes the lead on Waltz Whitman and there’s a Nickel Creek flavour to The Trappings. We Were Animals is a vocal-driven tune where Chris’s mandolin marries with Ma’s cello. The virtuosity is the selling point of the album but there’s plenty of melody and harmony to keep the casual listener interested.

Sara Watkins – Under The Pepper Tree

Like bandmate and old mate Chris Thile, Sara Watkins is not defined by the bluegrass music she grew up creating. She opens Under The Pepper Tree with a cover of Pure Imagination, with some glorious tremolando violin at the beginning, which segues seamlessly into The Second Star to the Right, from off of Peter Pan.

Brother Sean, with some clippety-clop strumming, and Chris on the mandolin pop up on Blue Shadows on the Trail, taken from The Three Amigos, which might as well be a Nickel Creek encore. Her voice flutters throughout When You Wish Upon A Star (written in 1939, lest we forget) and Edelweiss is turned into a lullaby featuring future Nickel Creek member, Sara’s daughter.

Mary Poppins inspires the presence of Stay Awake, a literal lullaby, and she bestows a mother’s love on an acoustic version of You’ll Never Walk Alone. At her producer’s suggestion, she ends with lullaby Good Night, a song for Ringo on the self-titled 1968 album by The Beatles. Her take on Moon River, one of the greatest popular songs ever written, is terrific too.

Every song on this collection has a strong melody. At what age, I wonder, do kids who grow up on lullabies start writing to rhythm not to melody? Maybe it’s when they discover girls and the mating rhythm of the backbeat.

I adore Sara’s own Joni Mitchell-ish lullaby Night Singing, with the chorus of ‘I love you’ sticking in the memory. Good old Taylor Goldsmith is on Blanket for a Sail, the Harry Nilsson song, and the waltz La La Lu from Lady and the Tramp is sung to a pizzicato accompaniment where she might be strumming the violin with her thumb. I’d never heard the country song Tumbling Tumbleweeds, on which Sara recruits her friends from trio I’m With Her (including Aoife O’Donovan who appears on the Goat Rodeo album above) and some lush piano.  

This is a wonderful set of songs that deserve to be heard. I wonder if Sara will do the sort of ‘mother and baby’ event that cinemas put on, or kid-targeted opera companies.

Country Jukebox Jury LP: Carrie Underwood – My Savior

March 28, 2021

Barely six months after My Gift, Carrie Underwood follows a festive album with the gospel album which she has spent 15 years waiting to make. There was no doubt that once she’d done all the usual girl-singer stuff – woman scorned, woman in love, woman taking a Louisville Slugger to both headlights – she was going to get to sing to My Savior on an album of 13 tracks. She’ll play them on Facebook on Easter Sunday, with donations to Save The Children, at 11am Nashville time which is 5pm British Summer Time.

Softly and Tenderly, Blessed Assurance and Just As I Am are all tender, acoustic ballads that sound like Temporary Home. Carrie’s voice quivers, mostly over solo piano or strings, in awe of the Lord. We get hymns galore about the Holy Trinity: Great Is Thy Faithfulness is a duet with the Carrie Underwood of gospel, CeCe Winans; I Surrender All (‘to Him I freely give’) goes out to the Lord, Carrie’s biggest fan.

The Old Rugged Cross (‘the emblem of suffering and shame’) make the release topical, since the album will be played by thousands over Easter Week 2021. With acoustic guitar and some gentle backing vocals, this is the type of gospel-pop Whitney Houston may have moved to once she got too old for r’n’b.

One thing that Carrie and David Garcia (or the people funding this release, Capitol Records Nashville) must have known is that we don’t need the church all the way through. Thus Nothing but the Blood of Jesus and Because He Lives are given Mumford beats and guitars (played by the great Mac McAnally), Victory in Jesus is presented as an old country shuffle, and both O How I Love Jesus and How Great Thou Art, in the middle of the album, put echo on Carrie’s voice. The latter has a key change and is the best track on the album. I predict a viral hit for that one, perhaps even a top 10 smash. Ditto Amazing Grace, where guitar, voice and Buddy Greene’s harmonica intersect and then a kids’ choir of wretches join in for the last chorus.

Carrie literally takes us to church with her once-in-a-generation voice. The production, which glows throughout, is sometimes more drum-heavy than, say, a Reba McEntire or Alan Jackson gospel album was in the 1990s, since pop production has moved into the 21st Century. This is a proper digital era album, in the style of Josh Groban.

Perhaps Amy Grant is the main influence here, and she can’t go on forever.

Country Jukebox Jury LP: Megan O’Neill – Getting Comfortable With Uncertainty

March 21, 2021

Megan O’Neill topped this season’s UK Country Top 40 thanks to tracks which have been dripped to fans during the last year or so. Megan is set to tour the UK and Ireland in October, trotting around the UK and playing King Tuts in Glasgow, Birmingham Glee Club and The Lexington in London (if it remains open after a very challenging year).

I caught her live when she launched her last album Ghost of You back in 2018, and I’ve also seen her entertain tourists and lunch-eaters in London Bridge. She told BBC Radio Ulster that her personal life overtook her musical life and, given that she couldn’t control what she couldn’t control, she leaned into it. ‘This acceptance that life is always going to change’ dominates the subject matter of the album. She also played her cover of Time in a Bottle on the RTE discussion show, the Irish equivalent of the Jonathan Ross or Graham Norton show. It takes its place as a sort of bonus track on this concept album about place, love and doubt.

I first heard Megan play Rootless (‘I’m running out of seasons to grow/ There must be a demon, I know’) at the British Country Music Festival 18 months ago. The song outlined her decision to move back to Ireland, having lived in Nashville and London; her life in a song. As I’ve written before, her song Ireland is her career song, the one that will finish every set she ever performs, an ode to the land she fell in love with only after leaving. That song contrasts with the piano-led London City: ‘You kept me crazy, you kept me blind…I won’t shed a tear for you’, on the one hand, and ‘you taught me how to be myself’ on the other.

I loved Head Under Water, where Megan wishes ‘the ground would open up, swallow me whole’ instead of making a choice in a relationship, and Devil You Know, written with the great Jake Morrell. Megan’s old pal Ben Earle co-writes Strangers Before We Met, which opens with a set of tableaux – trains, cafes, bypassers, back-to-back in a bar – with a cello providing an ostinato. The chorus contains the words ‘I don’t know’, which pop up throughout the album which, lest we forget, is titled Getting Comfortable with Uncertainty.

Two songs are co-written with Kaity Rae: you can tell Sometimes I Learn is a Rae composition as it’s full of melancholy and melody (‘maybe I just gotta wait my turn’) with a xylophone used on the chorus; the poppy chorus of Break Hearts is at odds with the content of the lyric, where she and Joe Dunwell are infatuated with one another but are ‘afraid’ of ruining a friendship. I like the image of both of them having the other as a lockscreen photo, and the middle eight of a repeated line: ‘Would it be worth it?’

At that London gig, she played with duo The Dunwells, who produce the album and write several tracks including brooding, meditative opener Should’ve Known Better, where she takes responsibility and seeks to ‘be honest with myself’. Hitting the top of her range, she really pulls us in. Likewise on Underrated, her cry of ‘I’m not afraid to go it alone’ will chime with a lot of listeners.

The album ends, before Time in a Bottle, with Winter Sun, a majestic love song with some strings and many Megans harmonising around her lead vocal and piano. It sounds like Enya and it’s a rare moment of certainty on an album of doubt. Ireland have a superstar in Megan O’Neill, whose independent spirit is shining through on this album. I can’t wait to see her in the autumn.

Country Jukebox Jury EPs: Callista Clark, Joey Hendricks and Tiera

March 21, 2021

Callista Clark – Real To Me

On Big Machine, it’s the latest female teenager with a pop-country style and a great voice. Callista Clark’s song It’s Cause I Am, by a teenager for teenagers, was played by Bob Harris. I sang along by the end of it, and it’s a good introduction to the project Real To Me, the first EP from Callista. She already has 92,000 followers and over 1m likes on TikTok, which is where she will make fans over 2021. If you like Kelsea Ballerini, you’ll love Big Machine’s version of it. The producer is Nathan Chapman, mastermind behind the early Lady A sound.

The title track is a triple time tune with my second least favourite phrase after ‘mama said’: ‘they say’. Ugh, I really don’t like that phrase. The song is pretty (‘blue still feels blue’, ‘rain is still rain’) and there’s a lot of melancholy in the track, which does contain a fab diminished chord. Carly Pearce does this thing better but Callista joins Alana Springsteen as a young lady to watch.

Heartbreak Song had a hell of a room: Liz Rose, Chris DeStefano and Emily Shackleton, who must have had 50 number ones between them, write a pop song about pop songs (my favourite genre) that drive Callista insane about a breakup. It’s so nice to hear an early Swift-type guitar-driven pop song, sung well, and inspiring other teenagers to do the same. Callista even has the Swiftian glint in her eyes on the cover of the EP. It’s almost a way for Scott Borchetta to produce the same product in a younger model. Shameless, but will make him some money.

Change My Mind (‘you ain’t gotta change my heart, boy’) is a groovy tune about courtship that reminds me of Maren Morris’ first album. Don’t Need It Anymore is like Hillary Scott singing a Taylor Swift song, with Kelsea on harmonies; the song itself is about moving on and being strong and asking her man to keep her broken heart. It’s teenpop fodder and it could be a huge hit on TikTok.

Joey Hendricks – Between The Clouds

Joey announces himself as having the gentle roughness, or the rough gentleness, of Matt Stell, Tebey or Ryan Hurd. 

Yours or Mine is cute and very contemporary, with a woozy sonic bed underscoring a meet-cute lyric. Hollywood ticks off some cities – ‘New York City’s got nothin’ on your eyes’ – which pale in comparison with Joey’s beloved. It also has the same swooping hook as Brett Young’s Like I Love You. The hook is so good it’s used as the bridge too.

Top Drawer is a reminiscin’ song full of imagery (Zippo lighters and cigarettes, fake IDs and a ‘brown paper bag’) which reminds me of Luke Combs’ Refrigerator Door. Going Home, with an acoustic guitar, is about the passage of time, as Joey notices the changes in his old hometown, where he left his old flame behind. On that song, Joey calls himself a ‘rolling stone’ and repeats his claim on Drifter, where he is caught between settling down and being ‘long gone’. I believe him, but the bluesy solo on that track is the only indication that his music matches his lyrics. One to see live when the time comes.

Tiera – Tiera

Tiera interests me greatly. Not many black songwriters inveigled their way into the Song Suffragettes movement which Kalie Shorr began in 2014 and celebrates its seventh birthday next weekend. I still think Candi Carpenter is the superstar from that crew, which welcomed Maren Morris and Kelsea Ballerini before they had hits, and Tiera may be next with a self-titled five-track EP. She appeared on the cable show Real Country, where she was mentored by Shania Twain, and has released the EP independently via Nicolle Galyon’s Songs & Daughters publishers.

Tiera told Holler Country that she isn’t ‘a slow song type of person’, and nor am I. Laid Back is the closest thing to it, as befits a song about watching scary movies, drinking wine and putting ‘Johnny Cash on’ while relaxing on the couch with her beau. It has one wonderful C-minor chord in the chorus (if anyone listening writes songs, stick a Diminished 5th into the chorus).

Shut It Down (‘if you keep it up, we’re gonna shut it down’) is a funky pop song where Tiera is ‘breaking all the weekend rules’ with her beau. I replayed it twice. Found It In You is also funky, and humorously for me includes the ‘mama said’ lyric. The beau makes her ‘promiscuous, wild’ and this is a three-chord song of love and affection, delivered with a great tone. It’s like Maren Morris with extra polish. Likewise Not Your Girl, where she lays down the rules for her beau because she won’t ‘switch it up for you’. I like the crunchy solo in the middle of it, though I wish the chorus had more melodic variation first time round.

We’ve heard Miles, featuring Breland, who boasts that he is ‘fuel efficient’, which I missed on first listen. That song is not a one-off; this is one of the strongest collections of songs I have heard in months, probably rivalling Carly Pearce for EP of the year.

Country Jukebox Jury LP: Loretta Lynn – Still Woman Enough

March 21, 2021

At 88 years old. and after overcoming many health issues that have forced her off the road, Loretta Lynn returns with a record produced by her daughter Patsy and John Cash’s son John.

His grandpa AP Carter made the song Keep On The Sunny Side a standard in the 1920s. Loretta’s version sounds breezy and bluegrassy here, while she is punchy and obdurate in the treatment of Where No One Stands Alone and I’ll Be All Smiles Tonight. Hank Williams’ evergreen anthem I Saw The Light (‘Praise the Lord!’) pops up too, as does the trad. arr. I Don’t Feel At Home Anymore, where steel guitar is the dominant instrument.

Many songs are new takes on some of Loretta’s catalogue, such as her first hit Honky Tonk Girl (from 1960!) and I Wanna Be Free, a song that hit the charts 50 years ago when the great Owen Bradley poured treacle and ‘aaah’s from male backing singers over it. I recommend listening to 40-year-old Loretta next to the veteran Loretta, especially as there is some hyperactive banjo in the mix in 2021.

There’s a brief mandolin solo on Old Kentucky Home (‘it’s summer and everyone’s gay…the birds, they make music all day’); the banjo-and-vocal Coal Miner’s Daughter is recited rather than sung (I forgot Loretta was one of eight children). My Love is a love song on which Loretta’s voice is extraordinary and tender.

There’s a reason Loretta was named the first CMA Female Vocalist of the Year in 1967, which she regained in 1972 and 1973. She was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1988 and gained a Kennedy Center Honor during George W Bush’s presidency in 2003.

Not many 88-year-olds can write new music that sounds contemporary; perhaps only Willie Nelson comes close. The opening track Is such a tune, as she proclaims she ‘wasn’t raised to give up’. The little-known Oklahoman pair of Reba McEntire and Carrie Underwood tell their tales too, which is testament to the reverence the pair feel for a trailblazer who, I think even more than Dolly Parton, kicked down the door for the girl-singer.

Two more girl singers appear on the album. Tanya Tucker adds harmonies and solo lines to album closer You Ain’t Woman Enough, which was originally released when Tanya was seven in 1966. Brandi Carlile, who is Tanya’s main collaborator these days, is another in the tradition of Loretta Lynn, as is Margo Price, who appears on One’s On The Way, an ode to motherhood written by Shel Silverstein and a hit for Loretta 50 years ago. The tune is given the sort of treatment Loretta’s songs used to get: fiddle, steel, oom-chacka drum beat, punchy spoken word section.

Margo would have been a superstar in any other era but she sticks out on country radio; thankfully satellite radio can play Loretta, Tanya and Margo back to back and create the chain through the ages.

Country Jukebox Jury LP: Raul Malo – Quarantunes, Volume 1

March 21, 2021

Raul Malo has posted weekly Quarantunes onto The Mavericks’ Youtube channel. Even more astonishingly, he had surgery at the end of 2019 so moved from convalescence to quarantine. Such are the benefits of being on your own label, Mono Mundo, that Raul can control his output and so a two-disc collection of 30 cover versions now appear on streaming services too. Perhaps Gary Barlow will do the same with his Crooner Sessions.

Raul has help from Band of Heathens and his trusty Mellotron, which provides the basic drum track and old-timey accompaniment over which Raul plays and sings. On Disc One alone, I recommend the opening pair Love and Spanish Eyes, with Raul wrapping his pipes around some classic songwriting. See also Forever and Ever, a languid melody that Raul sings as if he’s on a soundtrack of a black-and-white movie (thanks to the mood of the Mellotron). Tom Waits’ Jersey Girl, John Prine’s I Just Want to Dance With You and the waltz Santa Lucia, complete with a chuckle from Raul, are gorgeous. The non-anglophone pair of Hey Gumbaree (I know it as Eh Cumpari) and Besame Mucho are good fun too.

Then come some standards: Those Were The Days and The Sound of Silence, with the melody taken on both occasions by a forlorn electric guitar; All of Me, where the vocal is stunning; My Way, which is better than most interpretations; and, rounding off the set, a solo version of A Change is Gonna Come.

Under socially distanced conditions, his band join him on tracks on Disc Two including Here Comes The Sun, Ventura Highway by America and the band’s classic Back In Your Arms Again, a live highlight. And who knew Sweet Caroline sounded brilliant as a soft country shuffle?

The version of Rockin’ In The Free World came too late for the CD but it’s there on Youtube, with Raul playing with his sons Max and Dino. They’re lucky to have such a talented and cool dad, who proves himself one of America’s underrated interpreters of popular song.

The UK Country Top 40 Chart Countdown – Spring 2021

March 12, 2021

Welcome to the Spring 2021 edition of the UK Country Top 40 Chart. It’s a chronicle of the biggest acts in the indigenous country scene, with an objective and subjective feel: objective because some acts have albums out, radio play and huge fanbases; subjective because I like some songs more than others which push the act up the countdown.

I have spotlighted their most recent single release and all 40 are in the UK Country Top 40 Chart playlist on Spotify which you can find via and

It is excellent that it’s easy to fill a Top 40 but I must pass over some acts who this season are outside the countdown. Katy H urt brought out her Unfinished Business EP back in 2019 and we await new music from her. She’s more of a touring musician who will restart her career when the world restarts. Jess Thristan’s recent cover of This Year’s Love was part of an EP of songs with Christian Reindl.

There’s Hannah Paris, who just misses out on a meet-cute tune The Sun Will Come, Kelsey Bovey with her song I Found Me, Charlotte Young and Georgia Nevada who are On The Loose and Harleymoon Kemp who is L-U-C-K-Y. Joey Clarkson is angry at a Cheating Man, and Foreign Affairs want to see us One of These Days. Any other season these tracks would make the 40 but they are all just outside. Ditto Lisa Wright’s return to the music scene with a cover of Anyone by Justin Bieber.

All of those tracks are bubbling under the Top 40 and, after much reorganisation, I now have the Spring 2021 edition of the UK Country Top 40. Into the 40 we go!

40 Laura Evans – Mess of Me

39 The Wandering Hearts – Over Your Body

38 Anna Krantz – Unacceptable

37 Kevin McGuire – Seeing Things

36 Una Healy – Swear It All Again

35 Shannon Hynes – Standing Me Up

34 Hannah White and the Nordic Connection – Pay Me a Compliment

33 The Rising – Ain’t Nobody Got Me Here but Me

32 Emma & Jolie – Cry For You

31 Two Ways Home – Broken Hearts Club

30 Holloway Road – About Town

29 Morganway – My Love Ain’t Gonna Save You

28 Joe Martin – Doesn’t Rain in LA

27 Jeorgia Rose – I Will Still Remember

26 Deeanne Dexeter – 4am

25 Jade Helliwell – Telephone

24 Jake Morrell – Leave the Radio On

23 Elles Bailey – Love is Gonna Win

22 O&O – Dancing on the Floor (Reimagined)

21 Laura Oakes – Better in Blue Jeans (Acoustic)

20 Adele & Andy – Misty Eyes

19 Emma Moore – Husbands or Kids

18 Lauren Housley – What’s Troubling You Child?

17 The Adelaides – Seven Billion

16 Lucy Blu – All This Time

15 Tim Prottey-Jones – Good Life

14 Backwoods Creek – Morphine

13 Robbie Cavanagh – Feeding Time

12 Demi Marriner – Because Of Her

11 Essex County – So Good

10 Twinnie – Type of Girl

9 Kezia Gill – Wings

8 Gary Quinn – Complicated

7 Ferris & Sylvester – I Should Be on a Train

6 Yola – I Don’t Wanna Lie

5 Robert Vincent – This Town

4 Ward Thomas – Don’t Be A Stranger

3 The Shires – Lightning Strikes

2 Kerri Watt – Band of Gold

1 Megan O’Neill – Ireland

Listen to the Top 40 in full here.

Hear an audio version of this chart as part of Country Jukebox Jury.

A Country Way of Life’s Country2Country 2021

March 8, 2021

I’ve decided to put on a festival. Obviously it’s imaginary but come on in!!

Public Stages

The most impressive thing about C2C is that music hits you as soon as you walk in, thanks to the Big Entrance Stage. I would put on some of the most impressive British acts including Robert Vincent, Ferris & Sylvester, The Blue Highways and Laura Oakes. All four of them have superb catalogues and mix blues, rock, pop and country.

I would also put on the sparkly dressed Jade Helliwell, owner of the finest voice in British country, Representing American country would be Kenny Foster, a very nice gentleman who covers country classics and peppers them amongst his own songs about love and loss. Together with him, I’d showcase bluesy Kyle Daniel, energetic Track45, contemporary Mackenzie Porter, suave Alex Hall and Texan horseshoer Jarrod Morris.

And, of course, Holloway Road, one of the most fun bands on the circuit.

Tent Stage

The Indigo2 venue is used during the daytime to prepare folk for the main event but it can also act as a main event in itself. I caught Adam Hambrick showcase some of his songs – How Not To, Rockin All Night Long, Somebody Else Will, lost classic Country Stars – to an appreciative crowd, so he would play the Tent.

In the absence of the Town Square Stage, which is now held in a tent outside the O2 main complex and where vendors sell boots and whiskey, I would ensure some top acts entertain the crowd. Brittney Spencer’s soulful country, Tebey’s poppier style, Jimmie Allen’s rocking tunes and ballads and the indomitable Morganway would certainly play this venue, as would Phil Vassar, who would show up and ask the crowd which one of his many, many hits he should play.

In a very masculine US market, country in the UK is predominantly performed by women which means American acts like Abby Anderson, Kassi Ashton, RaeLynn and the superlative Hailey Whitters all have fans this side of the Atlantic Ocean. To balance them out, I would put on the party-starting Filmore and the underrated Charlie Worsham, who is now attached to Old Crow Medicine Show.

Main Stage

The big swingers will entertain thousands across the weekend. Returning heroes Eric Church and Darius Rucker, who were both due to headline C2C 2020, can mix slow and quick songs, as can Luke Bryan who has a decade’s worth of hits and, since this is a festival of the mind, won’t be tied down by American Idol.

In support would be three hot, sexy guys with good catalogues: Brett Young, Dustin Lynch (DL) and Thomas Rhett (TR), who are ‘automatics’ on country radio. The UK’s love of rockin’ country would be satiated by Brothers Osborne and Lindsay Ell, while Caylee Hammack and Twinnie would both put on showcases of their personalities and music. Cam and Brad Paisley, a pair perhaps more beloved to the East of the Atlantic than to the West of it, would round off the roster.

Then everyone would drunkenly stumble home, unless they hit the afterparties!

Listen to ‘highlights’ of the Country Way of Life festival on The Pulse Hospital Radio at 7pm on March 12.

A 36-song playlist with music from all the acts who play during ‘the weekend’ can be found here:

Country Jukebox Jury LP: Brad Cox – My Mind’s Projection

March 5, 2021

Brad Cox – My Mind’s Projection

This album came out towards the end of last year, so I come to praise it belatedly. Brad is an Australian who is huge over there (and huge everywhere, he’s a burly bloke) but, having opened for Jon Pardi and Brett Eldredge, he’s got a foot in Nashville.

I love the album’s single Give Me Tonight, a rocker which reminded me of Semisonic and namechecks John Denver. After Brad meets a girl at a bar in verse one, he bellows the chorus and in verse two pieces together last night, ending in a ‘handwritten letter’. Drinking Season was also rolled out a few months before the album’s release. It’s a chugging rocker where Brad is drinking by the lake. I love the animated video where various animals are chugging beer or lazing on the grass. Backwoods Creek, I’d love to hear a cover of it.

Album opener Hold Me Back is a perfect set opener too, the type that Jason Aldean cranks out once a year so he can now fill an entire set with ‘You ready to party?’ music. The devil appears, as does a very rude word which can be abbreviated MF, and in verse two there’s ‘blood on my face’. The title track has a similar mood and a cameo from the devil before a Memphis-type horn section come in to soundtrack Brad ‘chasing trouble’. I can see why Brad wanted to name the album after this track.

I suppose he couldn’t call it Caught in a Noose by a Stranger, after the LP’s penultimate, eight-minute song, complete with muted trumpet outro. ‘Honest’ Brad is trapped by a femme fatale stabbing him in the back, possibly represented by the meandering solo in the middle of the song. There’s a lot of Stapleton in the arrangement and this would be the centrepiece of his live set.

On Remedy, a crash of drums brings Adam Eckersley in to sympathise with Brad, who can’t stop thinking of his beloved and ‘running up hills backwards’ while a guitar weeps in the background. Adam has visited the UK to play Buckle and Boots and I hope Brad gets to come over when events allow him to.

The third single was heartbreak song Short Lived Love which begins ‘I’m trapped in a hospital room…inside my head’ and continues with despair and woe, as Brad (who wrote the music and lyrics by himself) delivers a wounded vocal from a character who turns to ‘the harshest chemicals’ and tries to ‘disappear’ while the melody line repeats itself into submission.

Wasted Time opens with Brad wanting to ‘numb my pain’ cos ‘it’s happy hour and I’m feeling down’. I also like the mention of Brad’s home state of New South Wales, but it’s a very bleak lyric set to a charming major-key melody because ‘I know I’ll find a way…all she put me through is wasted time’.

The ubiquitous Randy Montana co-writes the wedding song Thought I Knew Love (‘till you loved me’), with rimshots on the backbeat and Brad around a fire ‘with a couple of pals’. There are touches of harmonica too to underscore a list of ways to define love and companionship. I Keep Driving sees him, guitar in tow, throwing out any ‘need for a GPS’ with ‘no destination’ in mind. It’s the album’s poppiest moment.

Brad closes with the elegant I Still Want More, where he wishes to meet the mother and see the hometown of his beloved, and move things along to the soundtrack of trumpets and another crunchy guitar solo. This is an album full of peril and demons, with the odd moment of light and celebration. I would love to know more about Brad and I’m only sorry that I’ve only just got round to listening to the album.

Country Jukebox Jury LP: Ian Munsick – Coyote Cry

March 5, 2021

Born in Wyoming and the son of a fiddle player, Ian moved to Nashville where he found success with the song Horses Are Faster. He calls his music a link between Chris LeDoux and Post Malone.

Long Haul is going to radio after Easter, so expect to hear more of the name Ian Munsick thanks to this song. Over a mix of some finger-picked acoustic, mandolin and slide guitar Ian sings how ‘I ain’t afraid of the slow burn’ and how some things, like love and stuff, take time. It’s a good introduction to Ian’s voice, which is the main ingredient here.

With light touches of production in the vocal, Ian sounds perfect for a Spotify playlist among many blokes in both the country and pop spheres. Sam Hunt may be the immediate contemporary, although he delivers the words in a higher register that really pops, even going to falsetto in places on opening track Solo. That track has banjo and fiddle on it, which locates it in country.

Ditto tracks two and three. Mountain Time (‘400 horses by the reins’) is a love song full of fiddle as Ian heads to the country because ‘I always find my way back to you…woo-hoo!’ It’s catchy too. The Mumfordy I See Country makes the same point with some well-worn markers – mama’s cooking, Dolly Parton, July 4, old dirt roads, front porches, banjos, whiskey – which are popular all the way across America. Perhaps this song appeals to people who will party to this song on Broadway in Nashville at their hen party. Ian told me that it’s a dominant 7th chord in the bridge, which you never hear in country music.  

Might Be Everything is my old school motto in song: Small Things Grow Peacefully. Ian illustrates how a humble beginning ‘might not be anything’ but could be it all. The second verse, predictably, is about love and stuff, with the nice line ‘picked a wildflower bouquet’. Come Home To You sounds like a Justin Bieber or John Legend tune with its triple-time feel. It’s awfully poppy.

The jaunty Humble (‘Ain’t afraid to rumble, a cowboy’s always humble’) namechecks old Chris LeDoux, while Like It Ain’t opens with a jukebox whirring into gear although the excellent production is very 2021. We get digital snaps, staccato guitar and a sonic bed which matches a lyric where Ian asks the lady to ‘be kind’ and tell lies about her new beau. I replayed it immediately.

She Was Right is a very produced song where it’s ‘too late’ for Ian to save the relationship with both digital cymbals and banjo and real fiddle. It’s what country music sounds like today and young audiences will go wild for it; it sounds like filler to me.

The quirky cover of Dreams by Fleetwood Mac is odd to hear from a male perspective, which proves Jon Pardi’s adage that it ain’t always the cowboy that rides away. In fact, Ian would be a perfect opening act for Pardi and everyone knows Dreams and can sing along with Ian’s smooth vocal. One foot in country, one foot in pop: he sees country fans everywhere.