Country Jukebox Jury LP: Jimmie Allen – Bettie James (Gold Edition)

Jimmie put out seven tracks in summer 2020 on an EP named Bettie James. Those seven tracks now have nine bedfellows as part of a Gold Edition of the project and, once again, Jimmie ropes in a host of acts because an algorithm probably shows that his listening figures will be greater with an A Lister alongside him.

Freedom Was A Highway has grown on me but I found a lot of the EP safe and boring, especially the Noah Cyrus duet This Is Us, and a lot of it too ‘marketing heavy’, especially Why Things Happen which roped in Darius Rucker and Charley Pride for a track which became very poignant given the film of the murder of George Floyd.

Breland and Lathan Warlick were odd omissions from the first set of songs and both appear on the trap-pop of Somebody, a track which is so beat-driven I can barely make out the words. I got bored halfway through. Neon Union are Andrew and Leo (the latter is black) and their big entry into the mainstream comes as vocal partners with Jimmie on Livin Man, a song about ‘livin, man’ which sounds like 1995 Brooks & Dunn, a proper country song with depth and gravitas.

I was really impressed when Jimmie played his song Pray (or rather a song written by pop songwriter Sean Douglas and Sam Hunt’s good buddy Jesse Frasure) as an exclusive to the Grand Ole Opry and here he uses the talents of Little Big Town and, smartly, r’n’b legend Monica to convey the depth of emotion and seriousness of the universal power of prayer. This is where Jimmie’s career should be going, not pratting around with digital programmed drums.

Ditto Forever, written with the pair of Babyface and Ashley Gorley, men of a thousand hits. This cannot fail: I love the r’n’b chords that open the song and how glorious to hear a 20-second intro in 2021!! Jimmie doesn’t want small talk, crooning about making a moment where the pair first kiss, giving way to the great Babyface for the second verse. It’s a stunning song and production (check out the choir of Babyfaces in the final chorus), which is streets ahead of anything else on the album.

Especially because the lows are so low. Flavor is Latino country, a genre I think we will hear a lot more of in the next few years. Vikina sings the hook, Pitbull does his shtick and LA-based duo teamwork appear on production. How Jimmie got involved is a mystery but I am sure the algorithm will drive new listeners to the rest of this album. Hen parties will go wild for this but does country music really need Pitbull raps?

Slightly better is the hyperactive Tequila Talkin’ where teamwork put together a track over which Jimmie and Lindsay Ell ‘can’t seem to let go’. I prefer Kameron Marlowe’s song with the same title, as I can latch hold of it; the production inhibits my enjoyment of this song. Eight writers are credited on Get Country, a three-chords-and-the-truth duet with LOCASH that chimes with new songs by Blanco Brown and Shy Carter in a similarly catchy manner. Mud, bonfires, cold ones and fishing holes are all present and correct, as is a guitar solo. Forgotten band LANCO join him on Home Sweet Hometown, an evocation of small towns with a sweet Lady A-type chorus that will sound excellent when Jimmie plays it in small towns across the USA as he builds a following.

Boy Gets A Truck was a tune written by Jimmie’s manager Ash Bowers and given to Keith Urban, who returned the favour as Jimmie put it on his debut album Mercury Lane. For no reason at all, Keith pops up to unite the two singers. The vocals are great but the production is plodding. I can make a great 10-track album out of the set, but then an album isn’t what this is.

Bettie James is a selection plate from which anyone can find something, be you an old-school country fan, Grand Ole Opry tourist, guitar student or poptimist. I wish Jimmie would pick a lane!

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