Country Jukebox Jury LP and EP: Brett Young and Walker Hayes

Brett Young – Weekends Look a Little Different These Days

The title is so called because Brett is now a father, which makes this Dad Country. Thomas Rhett is on the same label so is this the same product, targeted at the same demographic of 35-54-year-old women with kids and husbands?

Lady is a smash hit with 50m Spotify plays from people who gravitate towards a guy who turned 40 in March and became a father to a little lady who will grow up to be as great as her mum, Brett’s wife. Written with Ross Copperman and Jon Nite, this is Adult Contemporary/ Dad Country that has clogged up country radio for years because soccer moms, of a similar age to Brett’s wife, go wild for it. Brett sounds vulnerable (‘I don’t know exactly what I’m doing’) and full of warmth towards his newborn. It sounds like a commercial.

The title track begins this short eight-track album which is too long for an EP. Brett has gotten out of the bar and into the bedroom, no longer ‘staying up late and sleeping all day long’. It sounds so anodyne, so milquetoast; perhaps he’s made a mistake leaving the rowdiness behind because contentment seems so boring!! I don’t believe Brett stayed up late in any case, unless he was playing an 11pm open mic slot.

Queen of MOR Amy Wadge (last heard on a duet with Michael Ball) co-writes This, a song about couples who bicker and fight but are nonetheless in love. Leave Me Alone (‘the break in break-up’) is a pleasant toe-tapping request from Brett to his beloved to go, walk out that door.

Put Ashley Gorley, Jimmy Robbins and Jon Nite in a room with Brett and you get three great tunes. Dear Me is another AC Country ballad that harks back to a time when Brett was younger and more foolish, a barfly getting over an ex who actually gets together with him! It’s one of those ‘letters to my younger self’ that again prove Brett is soft and vulnerable. It is the distillation of that genre of country music, which doesn’t make it a bad song at all. The album closer You Didn’t is a triple-time ballad in which Brett croons about how ‘I fell in love and you didn’t’. Unrequited love in a country song is a good angle and the arrangement is sensitive. I hope people hear this and get behind it.

You Got Away With It is the third tune with those A-Listers commissioned to write Brett a hit. It’s hard to dislike, an immaculately structured tune that sounds great turned up loud. It’s a pop song, not a country song, which makes me wonder if anything on this project is country. Not Yet followed, which sounds like country radio: an ‘it’s getting dark but we should still snog’ lyric is set to tap-tapping percussion and a middle of the dirt road sonic bed. Hey, the market gets what the market wants but nobody will play this in three years. This is country music that people who don’t know what country music is think country music is, be it Carrie, Taylor, Dan + Shay and Gabby Barrett. There’ll always be someone willing to watch it. He’ll be out with fellow pop/country musicians Ryan Hurd, Maddie & Tae and Filmore in the autumn.

Walker Hayes – Country Stuff EP

I really don’t like the title track to Walker Hayes’ Country Stuff EP. Grady Smith planted a seed that he may be being ironic.

Walker is 41 and has six children. He’s signed to Monument, which is run by Shane McAnally (who gets a namecheck you can barely hear in the opening seconds of this EP). One feature of this album is to namecheck an old country song: Fishing in the Dark, Dixieland Delight and When You Say Nothing At All all appear in the first three tracks, which are all not to my taste.

He has access to some fine helpers on a six-song EP. Lori McKenna co-writes Briefcase with Walker: it’s a personal song about the example set by parents to their children (so far, so Lori). The tempo is extraordinarily quick and I wish it were slower so that we could ponder the words; as it is, the song feels rushed, like much of this EP. The classic song referenced here is the father-son ballad Cat’s in the Cradle, so at least there is some thematic unity to the six tracks.

Fancy Like is a hymn to a girl who is ‘bangin’ (again, Walker is 41) and together they are like a date at Appleby’s. (Is he being sponsored?) This is a two-chord jam that’s catchy but fluffy. Make You Cry still gets on my nerves. Walker likes it when tears fill his beloved’s eyes, such as when he asked to marry her. I Hope You Miss Me has an irresistible chorus and is a tremendous kiss-off to a girl who goes out West, leaving Walker behind. ‘If it’s a city of angels you should fit right in’ is such a great lyric and there is no surprise at all that McAnally is in the credits.

Carly Pearce is on hand to finesse the tender daydream of What If We Did (‘love is unconditional’). There are some fine close harmonies and a great groove although the song is quite slight and revolves around a two-chord loop.

So to Walker Hayes ‘Country Stuff’ is love, family, farewells and old country tunes. Other people do this stuff better, but Walker is so sexy and handsome (and he has six children) that it won’t matter.

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