Country Jukebox Jury LP: Brian Kelley – Sunshine State of Mind

Imagine you’re sipping a margarita in a tiki bar on a beach in Maui. Your soundtrack is 50 minutes of sun-soaked country featuring the four tracks from the EP which came out earlier this year. My favourite was Beach Cowboy (‘yippee-yo kai-yay it’s your boy BK’), though I appreciated the marriage of beach and the Lord on Sunday Service in the Sand and the addictive Made by the Water, about love and stuff. I concluded that BK was pitching to the same people who bought Luke Bryan and Jake Owen’s material with music that is perfectly timed for vacation season.

Only three tracks are anything over three minutes long, so BK knows how to do this sort of thing with variations on a theme. (Hey, if classical composers can do it, why can’t Mr BK?) There is also unity in the writers as BK’s team of Corey Crowder, Blake Redferrin, Canaan Smith and Jake Rose are the main songwriters.

Opener Boat Names has BK contemplating putting his beloved’s name on a ’45-footer’, with the boat’s colour picked by the lady herself. I also love the picture painted by the opening verse of Songs For You, which breaks into a singalong chorus that Kenny Chesney could have had a smash hit with. Don’t Take Much celebrates seven years with the lady, now mother to his child, and BK concludes that the simple things in life make it worth living. (He doesn’t mention all the money or indeed the perils of the deadly virus that hit the world in 2020.)

Many of the tracks on the collection, perhaps on purpose, blend into the background: Sunburnt, Barefoot and In Love is one, Highway on the Water another, Party on the Beach (a campfire jam where ‘everything’s chill’) a third. All three are aurally pleasant, sung with light vibrato and set to inoffensive guitars with hints of fiddle. Say The Word invites the lady to ‘catch a flight to an island’ and sounds like a summer breeze, which is good ‘programmatic music’ where the lyrics match the tune and vice versa.

Then we have stuff you do on the sand and the water. When you Fish All Day (‘love all night’), it’s ‘maritime meditation’; Boat Ride sounds like its lyric (‘wild hair in your eyes, deep ocean blue’) while Horses on the Beach (‘run wild and free’) is a lot of fun and contains a uke-flavoured solo.

By Boat was written with the superstar pair of Jimmy Robbins and Nicolle Galyon: ‘I’ve seen God in the middle of June painting sunsets’ is a lovely line and it’s the most philosophical song. When BK dies, he’ll get to heaven by boat. Conversely, Real Good Day is positivity turned up to 100, which is at odds with everything going on in the world. It is bizarre to hear BK singing the sort of thing that FGL have been doing for ten years and it’s a relief to the ears not to hear Tyler’s vocal tag (‘YEAH BABY’) every three minutes. BK, by the way, is the Florida part of FGL and boasts about his home state on the album closer Florida Boy Forever.

If you want to forget about the death and destruction caused by automation, viruses and recessions, put on this album, or trim it to 12 tracks because we don’t need 17 versions of the same song. Maybe it’ll sound better in 2022, but perhaps we’re not yet ready for a ‘back to the beach’ album.

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