Country Jukebox Jury LP: Canaan Smith – High Country Sound

The pop-rock pair of Brett Beavers and Jimmy Robbins produced Canaan’s debut album Bronco, from 2015, which featured such hits as Hole In The Bottle and Love You Like That. It served the radio, with lots of bombast and muscle to make it a comfortable fit with all the other blokes on radio at the time. Since then, Canaan has put out six songs including Beer Drinkin Weather and Like You That Way (‘Miranda Lambert crazy’, remember that one?). I don’t know if he put his foot down or read the market, but this is a very contemporary collection of songs which will sound good in between Combs, Pardi and Hardy.

Canaan writes and produces all 12 tracks. We’ve heard half of High Country Sound over the last year or so: the excellent thumping hoedown of Mason Jars & Fireflies, the triple-time breakup jam Colder Than You, the homespun Sweet Virginia (which is a tribute in part to his daughter Virginia) and reminiscin’ song Cabin in the Woods, refuge of the check-shirted mountain man and a place where Canaan had a ball round the fire singing ‘old John Denver’. There is a fiddle solo.

The first couplet of the album includes Canaan remembering a ‘hometown area code’ and the chorus mentions ‘daddy’, beer, heartbreak, red dirt on my boots, gospel truth and roots. It’s basically Dirt by Florida Georgia Line (which is okay as the album comes out on the duo’s Tree Vibez imprint), but with some oddly clear production, with fiddle poking underneath a steady drumbeat.

There’s an early reference to the ‘Blue Ridge Mountains’ of Virginia, which makes this a personal track as well as a generic one that can address fans across the South. American Dream is another fiddle-flecked Mumford stomp about love and stuff, complete with a ‘glass of wine’ which is prevalent in a lot of today’s country music. It’s not beer drinkin’ weather any more…

Catch Me If You Can is an FGL and Canaan co-write featuring Brent Cobb, ‘bootleggin rebels’ on the run from the po-po. There’s yet more fiddle and Brent’s vocal is very Hardyish. On Still, Canaan invites his girl – it is very funny that the song begins with the word girl – to go camping in a holler, ‘turn off the phone’ and find a little bit of ‘heaven on Earth’ where the Whippoorwill wakes them. Gosh it is so nice to hear this sort of thing on a country record that isn’t by Luke Bryan and Canaan sells it very well.

Compared to that Like I Ain’t Missin’ You is banal: drinking to get over an ex in a bar listening to George Strait on the jukebox. Fiddle and pedal steel join in, and I can imagine King George giving this a go. George appears again on the final track, Losin Sleep Over A Girl, where we smell the ‘sunflower perfume’ Canaan smelt on a third date to his show. It seems to be his life in a song: ‘We were buying dishes, hanging pictures, setting up forever’ and then by the third verse it’s Canaan’s turn to feed his daughter. I don’t think he’s chasing a trend: I think this is the album Canaan wanted to put into the world as an artist.

Commentator Billy Dukes likes to review albums in one word. High Country Sound is: Grown-up.

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