Country Jukebox Jury EPs: Gary LeVox and Kylie Morgan

Gary LeVox – One on One EP

Fun fact: the debut album by Rascal Flatts came out in June 2000. Jay DeMarcus was 29, Joe Don Rooney 24 and Gary LeVox 30. The full Rascal Flatts story involves a marketing team, Chely Wright – whose band Jay and Joe Don were part of – Lyric Street Music and middle America accepting what they are given.

The best loved Flatts songs, when I look at Spotify, are What Hurts the Most, Bless the Broken Road, I Like the Sound of That (written by Meghan Trainor and Shay from Dan + Shay) and, by a mile, the song that Pixar used for the movie Cars: Life is a Highway. That was where I first heard of the trio, who had 16 number ones. What Hurts The Most was a monster, a number six US Hot 100 hit and a number one Adult Contemporary song because adults go wild for it.

Because of Gary’s gospel voice, their songs are less about getting it on by a riverbank with a girl with her jeans off, and skewed towards the sort of pap that Lady A sing about: devotion, heartbreak, time passing, coming on over cos they like the sound of that. Diminishing returns and the presence of Dan + Shay, who are effectively the same product, have meant that Rascal Flatts are no longer viable as a radio act and thus a 50-year-old Gary LeVox can bring out his EP.

I don’t need to describe what the EP sounds like, because it sounds like Rascal Flatts just with Jesus instead of baby. Gary’s daughter Brittany LeVox (they don’t call her Brittany the Face) helps out on While I Wait (‘Lord I still praise you’) and Breland helps Gary co-write All I See, which before about 2016 I would say sounded like R Kelly but now I can’t. It just sounds like contemporary gospel music.

We learn that ‘a little love goes a long way’ and a stone in the water can become ‘a tidal wave’ (A Little Love), God’s love is ‘like a song’ (Never Forget, with an enormous choir) and there’s ‘help when there’s trouble’ on The Distance, in which an algorithm should have a credit because it ticks off so many tropes of Christian music. Even in the USA, Christian music is a minority genre but that still means there is money to be made. Big Machine will make a killing and Gary will probably thank the Lord.

Kylie Morgan – Love, Kylie

This EP has the Shane McAnally touch, and the Ben Johnson from Track45 touch too. Over six tracks, Kylie introduces herself to the market with some poppy country tracks.

Kylie wrote Shoulda with her A-List producer/writers. Her voice cuts through the production and is often double-tracked, as on the chorus of the enormous I Only Date Cowboys, where John Wayne and Jesse James are both namechecked. Outdoor Voices is a smart way to tell a listener not to be quiet, and will help build atmosphere at a live gig. ‘When they say don’t we do!’ she sings, and I think Ben Johnson sings backing vocals. He may even have drafted sister KK in to play the fiddle.

Break Things has proven popular thanks to Kylie’s vulnerable vocal, warning someone that she has the capacity to hurt him and break his heart. Cheating On You (‘something has changed, when you say my name’) is a sombre song about how it feels when you and your beloved person are ‘miles apart’, feeling like strangers in a hotel room while at home in bed. Conversely, Mad I Need You has a mix of descending chords and triplet-y delivery to emphasise the nerves Kylie feels when she thinks about her new crush. It sounds like a musical theatre number for a show that doesn’t yet exist. Julia Michaels might well have a rival as the finest young songwriter working in America today.

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