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

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.

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