UK Country Top 40 Chart Countdown – Autumn/Fall 2021

August 30, 2021

Artists in bold can be heard in conversation with Jonny on the audio version of the chart at

Hear every song in full in a Spotify playlist here.

40 Stevie O’Connor – Chaos

39 Poppy Fardell – Drive

38 Shannon Hynes – Hide

37 Hannah White and the Nordic Connection – Pay Me a Compliment

36 Holloway Road – About Town

35 Jess Thristan – Woman Up

34 Alan Finlan – Passenger Seat

33 Taynee Lord & The Crookes – I Don’t Want Flowers

32 Laura Evans – Good At Getting Over You

31 Sam Coe – Newton’s Cradle

30 The Outlaw Orchestra – Rattlesnake Sour

29 Emma & Jolie – How Do I Choose (with Josh Kerr)

28 Lisa Wright – The Idea of You

27 Deeanne Dexeter – Blind Eye

26 Wildwood Kin – Dakota

25 Una Healy – Song of the Summer (with Tebey)

24 Rae Sam – Feel This Good 

23 Eddy Smith & the 507 – Strangers (Since I’ve Been Loving You)

22 Elles Bailey – Love is Gonna Win

21 Kevin McGuire – Seeing Things

20 Robbie Cavanagh – Feeding Time

19 Demi Marriner – Because Of Her

18 Backwoods Creek – Momma’s Prayers (with Drew Dixon)

17 Emma Moore – Husbands or Kids

16 Joe Martin – Take Me Home Tonight

15 Ward Thomas – Don’t Be A Stranger

14 Megan O’Neill – Ireland

13 Kerri Watt – Band of Gold

12 Jake Morrell – Sunkissed

11 Morganway – My Love Ain’t Gonna Save You

10 Twinnie – Chasing

9 Gasoline & Matches – Never Have I Ever

8 Lauren Housley – This Ain’t The Life

7 Tim Prottey-Jones – Fire

6 Jade Helliwell – If I were you

5 Kezia Gill – All of Me

4 Gary Quinn – Catch Me

3 The Shires – On The Day I Die (with Jimmie Allen)

2 The Wandering Hearts – Dreams

1 Yola – Starlight

Country Jukebox Jury LPs: The Wolfe Brothers and Parmalee

August 20, 2021

The Wolfe Brothers – Kids on Cassette

The Global Country Artist at the International CMA Awards will be won by one of Sweden’s Jill Johnson, Canada’s Brett Kissel, the Shires from the UK or…The Wolfe Brothers.

The duo’s new album Kids on Cassette was reviewed kindly by James Daykin at Lyric Magazine. The brothers found an audience on the Australian version of the Got Talent brand and have been a fixture over there for a decade, consistently placing albums in the Top 20 and winning CMAA (Australian CMAs) Awards in 2019. Australia’s country scene is enormous and they host Country2Country these days as well, with the McClymonts and Adam Eckersley on par with visiting Americans like Tim McGraw and Kelsea Ballerini.

As with the UK, Nashville has forged a link with Australia through collaborative songwriting. LOCASH appear on the groovy summer jam Startin Something and experienced songwriter Lindsay Rimes, who made the move from Australia to Nashville, can be found in the credits of the energetic single No Brakes and euphoric album closer Time To Be Alive.

There’s plenty to like on the first side, from the bouncy chorus of Anybody Ever, with touches of falsetto, to the perky line ‘I like a lot, you like a little…We can meet in the middle’ of the feelgood tune Something Good’s Gonna Happen and the party song Down Time, where verses full of hard work give way to hard partying (‘some gettin’ loud time…pour some fuel on the fire’) and the wah-wah wigout is epic at the end. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel but this would be a perfect set opener.

The second side of the album includes gorgeous melodies on Soundtrack To An Endless Summer and ‘home ain’t’ Home Without You, the universalist Small Town Song (co-written with INXS chap Andrew Farriss) and the carpe diem tune What You Make It. If you’re keeping count, that’s two ‘carpe diem’ tunes. The Wolfe Brothers should seize their moment with a poppy album that is informed by country radio in the USA.

Parmalee – For You

Like Old Dominion, Parmalee are a pop/rock act based in Nashville and are thus considered country. They are best known for their mid-2010s hits Close Your Eyes and Carolina, which were both plodding, and their last album from 2017 saw the likes of Craig Wiseman, Ross Copperman and Tom Douglas in the credits. Here they return to songs written as a band, perhaps worked up in the studio.

The album has two moods: I love you, and I used to love you. Opener Only You sounds like five Ed Sheeran songs squished together, right up to lines like ‘only you can know my scars’. Just The Way is the same song but with added Blanco Brown; it sounds like country radio and justifiably hit the top there as well as hitting number 31 on the Hot 100.

The album continues in its aggressively marketed vein. It’s broad-brush country with very little nuance. There’s Backroad Girl (‘I’m just a hometown boy looking for a backroad girl…diamonds and pearls’) and Greatest Hits, which lists various qualities in the form of music (she’s a bit Motown, a bit rock and a bit country) and introduces Parmalee fans to the poppy rapper Fitz, who sounds like Flo Rida. I’ll Take The Chevy is a rewrite of I’ll Name The Dogs that is shameless in its intention and includes a verse all about mathematics, which proves this album is about counting money.

Inevitably, there are songs where singer Matt Thomas boasts of his fidelity just as Thomas Rhett, Luke Combs, Morgan Evans, Brett Young and so many other singers have made money boasting about. Take your pick from I Do, I See You (which sounds like a vision board), the lighter-than-air Better With You (‘You put the full up in the moon’), Take My Name (‘and make it yours’) and Alone Like That (‘That boy must have been crazy’).

Every song has an Instagram sheen and, just as inevitably, there are down moments too. Matt is regretful on Miss You Now and Forget You (‘hearts break every time love gets broke’), which features expressive, poppy vocals from Avery Anna wailing about ‘stupid mistakes’. The middle eight is strong. I also love the excellent title track (‘Everybody singing along to the song I wrote for you’) but I had to wade through 12 other tracks to get to it. I haven’t been so annoyed by an album since Chris Lane’s lazy effort, which like this album was full of chord loops, declarations of love and aggressive targeting of the 25-44 demographic.

Good luck to the guys but Luke Combs does this sort of thing far better and less blandly.

Country Jukebox Jury LPs: Chris Young and Billy Currington

August 20, 2021

Chris Young – Famous Friends

Chris is one of those B-listers who are always on the radio but never seem to break through to popular consciousness because they aren’t on primetime TV shows or swear on camera. Chris won Nashville Star in 2006 thanks to his rich, textured voice and has had hits for 15 years, sometimes wearing a cowboy hat but in the last few years not. I came on board thanks to I’m Comin Over, though I remain lukewarm about many of his radio singles.

Famous Friends is his seventh album, eighth if you include the Christmas one, and the title track is an enormous Billboard Hot 100 hit, a number 21 which makes it his most successful of 16 Hot 100 smashes.  Chris can do tempo tracks like album opener Raised On Country, the first track ever played on what used to be called Country Hits Radio, probably because it mentions both ‘props to the radio’ and several country stars, all male. I love the brilliant party song One of Those Nights and the Luke Combs pastiche Hold My Beer Watch This. I was also impressed with his sweet emotional ballad Drowning, which shows Serious Chris singing about friendship and loss: ‘Missing you comes in waves’ is a super line, but the production rather ruins a song that would work better as a naked piano ballad.

Similar production choices are made on Rescue Me, a ballad of vulnerability that we’ll see a lot of in the coming years as men drop the bravado and start singing about their feelings. For money. Chris, however, cannot Break Like You Do, getting drunk after a break-up while his ex has moved on. Chris’s vocal is full of sentiment and he really sells the vocal and makes it his own. He’s going to Boot Camp!

Cross Every Line, again ruined by lashings of production, is a gift from Hillary Lindsey and David Garcia while Ashley Gorley was in the room for the far better wedding song Love Looks Good On You (‘You’ve taken it up one more notch’). Best Seat in the House sounds like a radio single with those multi-tracked guitars and Chris wanging on about going to a show, sitting in the bleachers but (of course) he has the headliner in his eyes next to him! Why waste money going to the show in the first place then, eh?

There are three algorithm-friendly collaborations: Kane Brown is on the title track, Lauren Alaina offers her voice to heartbreak song Town Ain’t Big Enough (‘for both of us’, written with the great Shay Mooney) and Chris’ upcoming tourmate Mitchell Tenpenny is on At The End of the Bar. The song is basically a theme tune to a Cheers reboot that has yet to be commissioned, a song that bigs up the humble local bar ‘where it all starts’. Mitchell competes in tone but not quality with Chris, and I am sure they will have fun out on the road where this song will pop.

‘You can look for answers at the bottom of a glass’ or drink and ‘forget why you came’ while a band plays Brand New Man and Time Marches On (again with the 90s country references, as if it’s a giant record company ploy to direct people to their legacy recordings – hmmm). Album closer Tonight We’re Dancing is also a song of fidelity and love and stuff, namechecking You Look So Good In Love by George Strait.

Everyone’s coming to hear the classics and Chris has plenty of them. Maybe one or two more will join that class of song from this set, but it’s product that reminds people that Chris Young exists and he’s coming to a town near you to purr through 20 songs about love.

Billy Currington – Intuition

Like Chris Young, I think Billy Currington, who has got into some scrapes with the law, is a B-lister too. He was one of the post-Garth hunks (see also Joe Nichols) who came up in the 2000s with excellent songs like Good Directions and Must Be Doing Something Right. Luke Bryan stole a lot of his audience, I think, and he’s now on American Idol while Billy’s career is in the doldrums.

Billy’s new surprise-release album, his first in six years since the bro-tastic Summer Forever, is called Intuition and he’s written it with producer Rob Persaud who was born in London and got his start writing hits for Blue and Josh Groban. Interestingly, his publisher is the great pop Svengali Dr Luke. Goodness knows how the new stuff will fit alongside the country hits.

It is interesting to hear how similar in tone Thomas Rhett’s voice is to Billy, seeing as TR has replaced him on country radio. TR is an apt comparison for the poppy production of Lead Me (‘through the darkness’) and the programmed percussion of the single Complicated and octave-split vocals of Words. Billy’s voice hits every note and the production is sensitive to his voice, as on the tender Déjà Vu and the breakup song Moon & Back. The sex jam Get Close which rhymes ‘synergy/chemistry’ will be a live favourite if Billy goes out on the road, as will the irresistible Confess which bounces along merrily.

None of the tracks on this album can be found on Billy Currington’s official Youtube channel. Odd.

Country Jukebox Jury LPs: Chase Bryant and Parker McCollum

August 20, 2021

Chase Bryant – Upbringing

What a fine debut album this is, from the title track to the long outro of High, Drunk and Heartbroke, before which Chase allows himself a knowing chuckle. He could play the album top to bottom in his live show.

Having Jon Randall as producer was a shrewd choice; Jon has had his share of being high, drunk and heartbroke. He gifts Chase his composition Drunk In My Car, perhaps in solidarity with the artist: ‘My favourite bar is in a Chevrolet…There’s a shotgun seat’ if anyone else wants to drink. The production is understated without being mawkish or doomy, in the way that Randall’s song Whiskey Lullaby is like. It’s an old-fashioned toe-tapper sung by a protagonist who seems to have accepted his lot.

The first side of the album is full of songs about moving on. Breakup song Think About That is expertly sung, near the top of Chase’s range, while there’s a nice beat to Somewhere in a Bar. Jessi Alexander, Randall’s wife, adds harmonises on the tender Even Now (‘are we even now?’).

Cold Beer impressed me when it was released a few months ago as one of five impact tracks which previewed the album. It’s bar-band rock’n’roll which reminds me of AC/DC, perhaps on purpose, but with the pop sensibilities of a songwriter who was in a lot of rooms with people who knew how to write a country song that made money.

The album’s second side is full of love songs, such as the sequence of Selfish and Paradise, which blend into each other expertly, perhaps because they were written by the trio of Cary Barlowe, Will Weatherly and Chase himself. I also like the thrusting Red Light (‘I kissed a girl at a red light’) and the more sombre In The First Place, where Chase lists all the things he put before his ex whom he ‘never loved’, so he is ‘drunk on regret’. The fact that he didn’t write it doesn’t mean he can’t communicate those feelings.

I cannot emphasise enough how good it is to hear Chase produce an album that is so at odds with his early radio-friendly unit shifters. It’s wretched that it took a suicide attempt to make but Chase will gain many new fans if the label promotes it properly. I would pair him with Brothers Osborne in a double bill so he can show off his guitar work.

Parker McCollum – Gold Chain Cowboy

Jon Randall has also produced the debut major-label album by Parker, a Texan who is being positioned as the Gold Chain Cowboy, a guy comfortable in both urban and rural environments. Hey, it worked for George Strait and Garth and Shania and Dixie Chicks and Taylor Swift and Thomas Rhett…

It’ll be interesting to see if any other Texan acts try for success in Nashville, as there are plenty whose sound will impress the 35-54 demographic. Triston Marez and Kylie Frey are my tips, but some may have similar problems to Cody Johnson, who was deemed ‘too rodeo for radio’. Indeed, Randy Rogers co-writes plenty of the album, including opener Wait Outside, which has the same forward thrust as his own radio hits: ‘Hey pretty angel’ is Parker’s opening to a song of fidelity: ‘I’ll love you in heaven/ I’ll just have to wait outside’ is a new spin on loving someone forever.

He was also in the room for Dallas, a song with a bellowable chorus, a country-rock organ solo in the middle, harmonies from Danielle Bradbery and a rudimentary I-V-VI-IV chord progression that unites the song with plenty of ballads of the past. Parker’s talent is to convey emotion through his voice, which knows when to hold back and when to explode.

Pretty Heart makes an appearance, as befits a number one smash based on three familiar chords, as do the three impact tracks: the Green Day-inflected ballad/soliloquy Rest of My Life; the Lee Thomas Miller co-write Drinkin’, where Parker is reasoning with himself that his beloved has moved onto someone else; and the sensational To Be Loved By You (‘What in the hell does a man have to do!’), written with TR’s dad Rhett Akins.

Young songwriter Miranda Lambert co-wrote the driving rock’n’roller Falling Apart which picks up the common Texan theme of the lovesick fool: ‘Everything I touch becomes a mess…You were falling in love and I was falling apart.’ Why Indiana is similarly chugging and deals with similar themes, expressed with the simple line ‘I know it’s over and you don’t love me anymore’. If Parker’s going down, he’s going down swinging, laughing ‘just to keep from crying’.

Brian Kelley continues his winning streak, co-writing album closer Never Loved You At All, a series of regrets that form a story of a ruined relationship. As for Heart Like Mine, it is self-consciously Texan with its heavy backbeat, reverberating guitar solo and a lyric full of melancholy: ‘I’m good at getting lost but I’m bad at getting found’ is his credo as he lays bare his heart when recalling a lost love who will be a memory.

There’s an audience for this, and I hope Parker makes back his advance, having done the legwork as an independent artist building a fanbase. This is the future of country music.

Country Jukebox Jury LPs: Mike and the Moonpies & Sam Williams

August 20, 2021

Mike and the Moonpies – One To Grow On

I wish I hadn’t read the review from Saving Country Music before I heard this album: ‘The single greatest band in country music at the moment has just released one of the single greatest records you will hear in country music in the last few years.’ Trigger calls them ‘a true blue honky-tonk band for the everyman’ and gives the album an almost unprecedented 10/10. Surely it can’t be that good, can it?

I adored You Look Good In Neon, from their last album Cheap Silver and Solid Country Gold, with strings from the London Symphony Orchestra and a great grasp of musicality. The follow-up has everything I like: melody, melancholy, the guitar sound that moves my innards, superlative vocals, fab harmonies and lots of words about love and stuff. The whole thing hangs together thematically. The opening Garthtastic track, Paycheck To Paycheck (‘one quarter at a time’), whetted the appetite of fans for the project and is a fine summation of it.

As Trigger says, this is a set of songs for blue-collared working men: Growing Pains has a train beat and a lyric full of ‘bills I plan to pay’ and the perils of being a breadwinner; Rainy Day advises the listener to ‘take pride in a farmer’s tan’ and ‘keep the wolves away’, set to a toe-tapping arrangement with plenty of pedal steel; ‘the wheels turn to dust and steel turns to rust’ on the assonant chorus of Whose Side You’re On.

Mike strikes ‘black gold’ and, on Brother, sings a triple-time melody where he’s in search of his brother, ‘riding South to Old Mexico…We just struck oil and daddy passed on…He dug his whole life till he dug his own grave’. Burn Out is a songwriting exercise, where dynamite and cigarette filters are present along with some fiery guitar work.

Love comes on The Vein, a hell of a groove that reminds me of British group The Southern Companion. The chorus contains the bait-and-switch ‘You play me till I’m broken, run the needle through the vein’, not the record which later in the song ‘skips but the song’s the same’. Southern rock at its finest.

The heartache comes on Hour on the Hour – where sad songs come on the radio and Mike drives ‘in silence, scared to death to touch the dial’ in case a song reminds him of an ex – and Social Drinkers, where Mike reminisces on the ‘old winos’ he used to see at bars in his younger days.

This really is my kind of music. It could be yours too.

Sam Williams – Glasshouse Children

Sam Williams is part of the dynasty which includes grandpa Hank Sr, father Hank Jr and sister Holly. He announced himself to a TV audience when he performed his song Can’t Fool Your Own Blood, co-written with Mary Gauthier, in the bare halls of his grandpa’s old house. His voice, which namechecks the ‘lost highway’ and sings of how ‘you can lie to a liar’ but not to your own family, reverberated naturally off the walls and he stared right into the camera, as I would imagine Hank Sr would have done if he had been a TV star rather than the king of the late 1940s radio era.

Glasshouse Children is Sam’s first album on a major label. He launched it in tandem with the Country Music Hall of Fame in a concert which you can view on the website (this week Ray Charles became the third black performer to be added to the Hall). The album opens with a string section – that’s what being on Mercury Records can do for you – and Sam sings the title track, written with Ronnie Bowman and the ubiquitous Dan Auerbach. He starts as he means to go on, and there’s sonic uniformity to an album full of deep, emotional songs.

Incredibly, two songs have come out this month called 10-4. Jordan Rowe had one and Sam has one, written with the underrated Daniel Tashian. It’s radio-friendly, with punchy production and great delivery from Sam, who’s going ‘down, down to the river’ to find a waterfall. Ditto Wild Girl (‘tap into the crazy underneath your wings’), produced by and written with the great Jaren Johnston, who can do bluesy country-rock about girls who are like tornados in his sleep. We have also heard reminiscin’ song Kids, which was gifted to Sam from three outside writers. Keith Urban pops up to add a patented solo.

The blockbuster moment is the introduction of Dolly Parton’s harmonies to the song Happy All The Time, a philosophical tune about how money should be able to buy happiness but it doesn’t. Brandy Clark helped Sam with the midtempo heartbreak song Shuteye, where ‘the Sandman and I always fight…whenever I shuteye I shatter on the inside’. I also like the gentle groove of Hopeless Romanticism (‘is f—ing narcissim’), written with Justin Parker who wrote Video Games with Lana del Rey, and album closer The World: Alone, on which Sam laments not being by the side of a lady in Barcelona or Amsterdam, even thinking of hooking up with ‘the nearest girl’ instead. What a sad narrator, who sounds downtrodden and unhappy thanks to the minor key guitar riffs that pepper the song.

Sam will see the world with this album and I hope he comes to London.

Country Jukebox Jury LPs: Sean McConnell and Ryan Kinder

August 20, 2021

Sean McConnell – A Horrible Beautiful Dream

Some artists are timeless whenever they come to market. Vince Gill, Dolly Parton or Rodney Crowell all perform songs that may change with the whims to recorded sound, but why would any of those artists use a drum loop or draft in Nelly?

Sean McConnell has written hits for Little Big Town (Wine Beer Whiskey) and Brett Young (Mercy) but made an impression on me with the first impact track from his album A Horrible Beautiful Dream. He called himself, or the character he was playing, the ‘black sheep…I bring up the back of the entourage’, the 13th Apostle. Musically and sonically I was won over: the acoustic instruments and warm vocal reminded me of Ryan Adams before his wickedness was unmasked, or Ruston Kelly, who is a nicer human being.

Other impact tracks followed: the triple-time I Built You Up (‘to be what I need’) where Sean coaxes the vocals like Damien Rice, the gospel-tinged song of devotion Leave The Light On (‘My love’s like the sun’) and the wise Price of Love (‘Nothing good comes for free, you gotta pay your dues’). The lyric ‘All I know for sure is nothing anymore’ makes Sean a narrator who has made peace with his mistakes. He can also counsel someone to focus on the moment and not ‘spend your life getting somewhere’ (Getting Somewhere); I like the line in the chorus about keeping ‘your hands on the 10 and the 2, keep your eye on the ball and follow through’. It may be from parent to child or friend to friend; it also has the word ‘prayer’ in the chorus. Country needs to bring God back.

I’m a sucker for melodic guitar-led music, and I loved the song The Wonder Years. It’s a head-nodder and a thinker: ‘Everything resurrects into something new’ is the mark of a true writer and the imagery (‘Queen of Ellis Island’) is superb. The internalised horrors of What The Hell Is Wrong With Me are set to a jaunty major-key tune, much like all the great pop songs (Dancing on My Own by Robyn, for example). ‘I’m a burden! I’m a basket case!’ could be set to soft piano but Sean chooses to put euphoric organ to it.

The slow song As The Curtain Came Down includes a harmonica solo recorded so as to include the room’s natural echo, while Dan Tyminski and Audra Mae provide harmonies on a song about an old timer reminiscin’ about all the great things about being on the road. The word ‘Epiphone’ colours the song enormously, as does the stark last verse set in a green room. As for the album closer Remember You’re Here, Sean accompanies himself and chooses to set his voice amid crickets, ‘lost inside the fear’ and intoning the album’s title.

As well as real drums and a small choir on the album, there are also real strings which gives it a warm, lived-in sound. Natalie Hemby adds her alto to the feather-soft Waiting To Be Moved, which namechecks Moses and Galileo and talks about dreams and ‘sweet redemption’. Similar pathos is all over Used To Think I Knew, where Sean sings how ‘the weight of the world was a burden I tried to bear’.

This is grown-up music which fits alongside Little Big Town, who would do well to take Sean out on the road with them.

Ryan Kinder – Room To Dream

This album should push Ryan to everyone’s ears. I saw him support Ashley McBryde in 2018 and was blown away by his bluesy voice and guitar playing. He also played the Hyde Park stage. If Stapleton retires to spend more time with his money and kids, Ryan can easily step in. He’s also been writing with Tim Prottey-Jones so we may see the pair of them tour.

As with Parker McCollum’s album, it arrives with half of it known to keen-eared fans. The punchy Blame was tremendous live and is just as emphatic on record. For such a bluesy voice, it’s a shame that the production is so processed but that’s what makes money. Opener Something is a meditation on being between friends and lovers, as is Friends (‘don’t look at friends the way you’re looking at me right now’).

Tangled Up is a slow-dance where Ryan hits some falsetto notes in the chorus, there’s ‘nothing plain about Jane’ on the poppy track that reaches for Jason Mraz (written with Ross Copperman and Josh Osborne) and the title track is a smooth, singalong driving song where the vocal is pushed very high in the mix.

I almost pumped my fist in the air listening to Southbound, which shows that Ryan is a great student of Southern Rock thanks to a crunching solo passage in the middle and a clapalong breakdown. Want comes across like Rag’N’Bone Man thanks to the gravel in Ryan’s voice, while Nothing But Time is a smart closing ballad that allows Ryan to show off his long notes. Incredibly it dates back to 2015, proving that country musicians have to be patient before the world at large can hear songs which any executive can smell money in.

The market is ready for Ryan Kinder and it’s nice that he is writing songs with UK artists. Let’s have him back here soon.

Country Jukebox Jury LPs: The Wandering Hearts and Jade Bird

August 20, 2021

The Wandering Hearts LP

The Wandering Hearts have given us about half of their second record, which is self-titled, over the past year. I love Dreams, a timeless and wistful song written by their mate Marty Stuart and his wife Connie Smith, while recent single On Our Way pushes on in an Arcade Fire manner. Dolores (the album’s centrepiece) is saturated in the trio’s harmonies, Gold has a great chanted chorus and Over Your Body (written when Tim was still part of the group) has AJ delivering a laconic vocal about breaking chains and deadweights over a very Radio 2-friendly track.

The rollout of the album has been delayed by the virus so it arrives at a time when blissful harmonies should be New Normal-proof. They will tour in May 2022 with dates that include Shepherd’s Bush Empire, but are promoting the album with an extensive two-month trek to places like Tunbridge Wells, Cottingham and the lovely Summerhall venue in Edinburgh.

One notable thing from the album’s credits is the variety of producers on call. Some of them have four of them plus the band themselves – does any song need seven producers? It’s clear that the trio have been working for many months to get their second release right. No longer on Decca, who must have funded a lot of the recording, their album has come out through Cooking Vinyl, a commendable indie label who also release Billy Bragg, Del Amitri, Kerri Watt, Lissie, Ron Sexsmith, Will Young and Suzanne Vega. 

The great Fiona Bevan helps craft the anthemic Build a Fire, which is precision-engineered for big fields – The Long Road, Country2Country and even Glastonbury may enlist their services in 2022 – and is a song about fidelity. It even starts off with a guncrack sound! Acoustic number I Feel It Too will slot alongside Burning Bridges as a showstopper at their gigs, a love song of great craft which compares companionship to eagles flying.

Never Too Late (‘to dream…to stop…to dance’ and so on) brings out the Englishness of AJ’s voice thanks to some round vowels, while the harmonies flutter to encourage the listener to carpe the diem. The charming Stardust is another philosophical track with middle of the dirt road production, verging on a Eurovision entry thanks to its universal themes. AJ wrote and takes lead on the meditative and appropriately dreamy Tell Me When I Wake Up (‘Are we gonna make it?’), which reminds me of Kurt Cobain’s softer songs without the self-laceration. The album ends with a Lullaby that sends the listener off into dreamland, where the music of The Wandering Hearts lives and breathes.

Jade Bird – Different Kind of Light

Like The Wandering Hearts, Jade Bird has found a home in Americana. Her second album is Produced by Dave Cobb – a genre in itself – which must mean real drums, real emotion and real rock’n’roll. You get that on Open Up The Heavens and 1994, where on both Jade sounds a bit like Cerys Matthews, and the whole album is less Americana than Wolf Alicesque indie-rock. See in particular I’m Getting Lost.

Jade’s debut album, also marketed as Americana, was full of tunes with hooks, and there are plenty on Honeymoon and Punchline. BBC 6Music go mad for this type of woozy rock music, and likewise the acoustic folk of the title track will appeal to fans of Phoebe Bridgers. Trick Mirror takes its title from the Jia Tolentino book which Jade must be a fan of, and I am won over by the arrangement and the poppy chords. Ditto pleasant acoustic guitar-led pop songs Prototype and Now Is The Time, and the soft and mysterious acoustic ballad Red White and Blue which doesn’t mention the title until the very end of the song.

As for Headstart, the most immediate song on here, it’s worthy of all 6m Spotify streams and it’s a fine way into a collection of superb tracks with the Dave Cobb touch.

Country Jukebox Jury LP: Dan + Shay – Good Things

August 20, 2021

Is there anything ‘country’ on this album, either production, lyric or imagery? What classifies this as a country project other than the fact they live and work in Nashville. Did you know Shay Mooney was a rapper signed to T-Pain’s label? The man will do anything for some money and since 2014 he’s been singing in basically a boyband with the attractive Dan Smyers.

Over three albums Daniel and Seamus, as I call them, have clearly been targeted as much to pop audiences as country ones; their smash with Justin Bieber, who is also managed by Scooter Braun, was on a NOW compilation, while their recent tunes I Should Probably Go To Bed, Glad You Exist and Lying are all pop-inflected and are only country because the pair live in Nashville. The opening track that gives the album its name is poppy too.

It’s time for them to leave country behind, as Taylor Swift did before them and as Kelsea Ballerini should do. Kelsea’s last album contained a pop song called A Country Song and a hoedown called Hole in the Bottle.

With a different arrangement Let Me Get Over Her could be a sad country song but with orchestra (budget!!) and falling chords, it’s Bette Midler or Celine Dion. It must be a knowing joke that one of the seven songs added to the previous four is called One Direction, which uses the word ‘accentuating’ in the second line and mentions ‘freckles’ too. Shay sings over acoustic guitar before the chorus cranks up; it’s a combination of Sheeran and Mumford and it sounds like an end credits song at the end of a Netflix teen movie. Or money, as it’s also known.

Two pop writers are in the album credits: Shawn Mendes was in the room for the beach-ready Body Language and there will probably be a collaborative version out soon. Julia Michaels was there for hooky piano ballad Give In To You and Irresponsible (‘to be this close after midnight’).

The production by Dan and Scott Hendricks, who masterminded Blake Shelton’s sound, is aimed at the 25-44 demographic of couples in love, the people who swooned at Speechless and 10,000 Hours. You, with a backing choir, and Steal My Love are hooky and effective and sound like Rascal Flatts, who have aged out of country music and are in any case too Christian. Dan + Shay are perfect for communicating feelings of desire for other human beings, a note that is well sung but repetitive. Stereogum’s reviewer correctly compared the duo to Christian music with ‘worship leader energy’.

At least the songs are over quickly, with little flab and a desire to get to the end as soon as possible. This is not a country album but it’s being marketed at country fans, who deserve something less like pop music and more like country music. But money doesn’t talk, it yells. Enjoy your mansions.

Country Jukebox Jury LP: Yola – Stand For Myself

August 20, 2021

Yola has received acclaim from both the UK and US Americana awards. I imagine Stand For Myself will walk the 2022 awards, although Brandi Carlile and Natalie Hemby will offer stiff competition. Both, coincidentally, appear on the record. Brandi sings on Be My Friend – written with Ruby Amanfu – and If I Had To Do It All Again and Now You’re Here had Hemby in the room.

The vocal on that last song is spellbinding, a song of passion and tenderness, with Dan’s guitar working its magic whenever Yola isn’t singing. It’ll prompt her fans to cuddle their loved one. Like A Photograph comes a close second in the vocal performance stakes; before Yola takes on the role of Sister Rosetta in the new Elvis Presley biopic with Tom Hanks as Colonel Tom Parker, make sure you get in there before the masses.

I recommend a track-by-track guide to the album by Yola herself which she conducted with Stereogum. Yola talked about how she used to be a doormat but now stands up for herself. She performed the title track of her album Stand For Myself (another Hemby co-write) on The Late Show. There was one phrase near the end of the song where she seemed uninhibited, throwing herself into the performance and using every word against her as a strength. Dan Auerbach believes in her talent, signing her to his Easy Eye Sound label, and late-night music bookers love her too.

This album could have come out in 1975 or 1995; it’s timeless, influenced by the likes of Mary J Blige and Annie Lennox and full of ad-libs. Diamond-Studded Shoes is a political tune which took Theresa May’s footwear as inspiration and Aaron Lee Tasjan is a fine co-writer here. Liz Rose, best known for being Taylor Swift’s early collaborator, was in the room for Break The Bough, a farewell to her late mother and Yola’s Barbadian heritage and the Windrush generation. On a country album no less!!

As for Whatever You Want, I played it again instantly because it’s the best thing on the album: a rollicking pop song which sounds effortless and classic, as if written by a Graham Nash or Neil Young. There are also handclaps. Yola performed this even before her first record came out so she’s had it in her locker. What else is in there?!

In the UK, we sent her off by not listening closely enough, probably because there wasn’t a place to put a black Dolly Parton acolyte who sounds like Mavis Staples but grew up in Bristol and was the uncredited voice in the middle of Blind Faith, a huge dance track. We’re idiots. Yola is a megastar and this album puts her heart, soul and mind into music.

It will take an exceptional album to knock this off the perch as my favourite of 2021.

Country Jukebox Jury EPs: Jordan Rowe and Kolby Cooper

August 13, 2021

Jordan Rowe – Bad Case of the Good Ole Boy

Jordan is introduced to market as an ‘If you like Morgan Wallen and Luke Combs, you’ll love this’ with an eight-track album. It opens with two bars of fiddle and Jordan intoning the EP’s title Bad Case of the Good Ole Boy. He drives a truck, goes fishing and sounds like a good ole boy with his clear, syncopated vocals and real drums surrounding them.

Can’t In A Car begins with a spoken verse which recalls Blake Shelton’s best work and, as if knowing people would get the reference, mentions the ‘boys round here’: ‘One you go truck you never go back’ is a t-shirt slogan. The Warren brothers were on hand to help Jordan write The Good Ones Do, a list of situations where not every girl/mama/friend comes up to scratch. The chorus is superb, as is the one on I Didn’t Sleep Last Night, where the hook comes from the fiddle. It is so refreshing (even if it feels like a trend) to hear fiddle on mainstream country releases.

There are two duets here: Who Needs You (‘I do’) has Ashland Craft playing the part of the woman Jordan’s pining for, while top 10 recording artist Lainey Wilson co-wrote the gorgeous Mama Ain’t Jesus (‘but she’s a close second’). I do wonder if the album is calibrated to hit all the country beats – trucks, heartbreak, baseball (as on Had a Ball, which reminds me of Eric Church and Luke Bryan simultaneously), true love, mama – but then why complain when this IS what country music should be.

There is also an orgy, as I call it, as Rhett Akins, Eddie Montgomery and Tracy Lawrence join Jordan on 10-4, which brings some banjo into the intro before Jordan sings a first verse that seems to pun ‘ten (beers) for’ with the police call of the title. It’s good fun and a great way to connect Jordan with the men who were big before the era of the Bro. This is why Morgan Wallen is too big to fail: even if you drop a horrible word, the industry needs you to succeed so the likes of Jordan Rowe can have a career too.

Kolby Cooper is a boy from Anderson County, and thus he has called his new EP that. He’s written all six of the tracks, which he sings with a Luke Combs-like burr, and he comes to the major-label market after impressive numbers from his independent EPs and an album. With Dillon Carmichael also fighting for our attention, the post-Combs breed of hefty blokes with their heart of their sleeves shows no signs of slowing down.

Jacob Davis was in the room for Her Favorite Songs, which is a smart song about how ‘the joke’s on you’ because Kolby’s songs delight the woman but not the man she lives with, who used to tease Kolby and now has to watch his old nemesis be successful.

Good For You is a singalong breakup jam which Kolby co-wrote with Jameson Rodgers. The production is 100% Jason Aldean – apt as he is signed to Broken Bow Records like Jason – and it’s radio-friendly. Ditto Excuses, where ‘deep down we both know the truth is these are just excuses’ for ending a relationship, and Way To Go, where the narrator has ‘bloodshot eyes’ thanks to his drinking.

I like the celebratory groove of This Song Don’t Make No Sense, a song about songwriting where, given the death of a relationship, ‘you plus me just didn’t add up’. The EP’s title track is a hymn to the girl who was ‘put on earth for this old boy to love her’, which does remind me of Luke Combs a lot. He can’t help it.

Country Jukebox Jury EPs: Travis Denning and Charlie Worsham

August 13, 2021

Travis Denning – Dirt Road Down

This EP follows the radio success of After A Few, which took over 15 months to climb to the top of the charts where it shared airtime with Morgan Wallen, Luke Combs, Justin Moore and all those other blokes who sing songs about country stuff. For some reason Travis is still unable to release a full album, probably because his label don’t want to lose on their investment, but the current single ABBY (Anybody But You) is being worked at radio. That song appears in a so-called alternate version from the one on his debut EP Beer’s Better Cold.

Jack and Coke has the same structure and key (C major) as A Guy Walks Into A Bar, except the guy is now called Jack. I think Brad Tursi from Old Dominion should sue, or at least get a credit. Anyhow, Coke is more easy to handle than Jill. The Friday night hoedown Call It Country opens the EP; Morgan Wallen fans will go for this and it is very contemporary and also very loud thanks to the snare thwacks in the chorus. The title track, meanwhile, has Travis driving while reminiscin’ about a breakup, once again (and this has to stop) learning ‘a lot about livin and a little bout love’. It’s Aldeanish, with a map-dot setting and some big, loud guitars.

Grew Up With A Truck and I Went Fishin’ both contain country signifiers. The former is a solo write driven by a Mumford beat and a lyric about independence, freedom and being ‘king of your hometown’. Tim McGraw could have had a hit with it 15 years ago. The latter song is a breakup song where Travis lives out the cliché ‘plenty more fish in the sea’ by actually casting a rod and trying to find fish in the river. Mary ‘had plans that I didn’t fit in’ and so Travis tries to move on. The calibre of songwriting here is excellent, and Travis’ warm voice sells the song brilliantly. I hope more people hear of this left-handed, smooth-voiced singer/songwriter, whose early promise of David Ashley Parker from Powder Springs has been fulfilled.

Charlie Worsham – Sugarcane

Our Charlie has gotten married and had a kid since the release of the terrific The Beginning of Things in 2017 and, significantly, has seen the bro-country movement lose out to a push for traditionalism. Charlie is the equivalent of Vince Gill, a man who will never be cool and always be timeless.

We’d already heard three tracks from the Sugarcane EP: ballad Half Drunk, where he hits a fine falsetto note in the chorus; his statement of affirmation Believe In Love; and Fist Through This Town, a song of self-actualisation where the mild-mannered Mississippian imagines letting ‘the bastard drown’ (not on the radio edit, he doesn’t!).

The three other tracks all build on the work of Charlie’s first two albums, which will become classics when the dust settles on the current era of country music. The title track of the EP is definitely a Jay Joyce production, framing Charlie’s voice like an Eric Church song to match lyrics about ‘every last drop’ of a lady’s honey-sweet kisses. It’s irresistible and the line ‘nothing makes good gooder’ proves that ‘gooder’ is a word after all. Hang On To That opens with the image of a ‘worn and torn and frayed’ Rolling Stones t-shirt which Charlie can’t throw away, which gives way to advice to hold his beloved close.

For The Love is a chugger where Charlie sings of how ‘if I was in it for the fame you’d already know my name’, which is funny. ‘Born to make a loud noise’, this is his statement of intent and a reason he’s a performer. He’s had to play a very long game but one of the nice guys of American music may well become the superstar he’s always planned to be in the next few years.

Country Jukebox Jury EPs: Clare Dunn and Georgia Webster

August 13, 2021

Clare Dunn – In This Kind of Light

Clare Dunn is publicising her EP by talking about the physical assault she suffered at the hands of a driver who had picked her up via the Lyft platform on June 26. He has since been arrested and I wonder if people who read the story will check out the EP. She is best known for her minor radio hit Tuxedo, a poppy song in the Maren Morris vein, which she released when signed to MCA Nashville. She is now signed to an indie, Big Yellow Dog, who also work with Tenille Townes.

The pre-released tunes, which she produced, are Holding Out for a Cowboy and How It Comes Off. The former sees Clare lament city life in her quest for a man, seeking a man who ‘wears a Stetson or a Resistol’ and blue jeans. The arrangement harks back to the classic songwriting of Leon Russell and Carole King and it’s a winning formula. How It Comes Off puts ‘your brother’s friend Janet’ in Clare’s place on a trip that sounds too detailed to be made up: ‘I know you don’t mean to break my heart but that’s how it comes off/ I know sometimes I tend to overthink’. I expect many listeners will wonder what one’s partner gets up to when he (or she) goes away without them. The conflict between fidelity and doubt makes this a really great song that Chris Stapleton could pull off.

Fool Moon (good title) seems to be the result of How It Comes Off, ‘two fools who can’t seem to say goodbye’. Good Love Bad has Clare dispensing truths to a male friend to ‘take it slow, like an old soul song’, implying that she is free. It’s seductive and alluring thanks to both vocal and production.

Lonely Alone, where growling guitars make it sound like a dive bar, has the line ‘You’re a hot rod I can tell/ But You drive that fast lane well’, as Clare compliments a potential new start. She might decide to ‘kick it with you…but I ain’t lonely cos I’m just alone’. Keep listening until the outro, which made me chuckle.

This fabulous project is united in tone and narrative. I hope people hear it and not just because there’s sympathy for her after the assault.

Georgia Webster – First Goodbye

Georgia Webster will support Ingrid Andress on her forthcoming tour including a few UK dates in January, which is smart because Ingrid is a pop performer whose emotional songs Lady Like and More Hearts Than Mine have won over plenty of fans here. Paul DiGiovanni is on production which means there will be a poppy sound to these five tracks, all aimed at the 16-24 demographic.

Tell Your Mom (‘to stop calling me’) propelled her out of her small town in Massachusetts and into people’s lives through the medium of TikTok. Choosing Nashville over LA and New York means that country radio may well give her a push as they are doing with Priscilla Block, whose boring song is currently in the top 30 there.

Georgia’s voice is very poppy, closer to Halsey than Carrie, as shown on Push & Pull, where Paul’s production is teen-friendly. When TikTok gives you so much visibility and you want to perform your songs to a big audience, it’s foolish just to call Georgia a success because of the platform. Shawn Mendes is a great songwriter who got his start on Vine, while Nick Jonas used the Disney Channel to launch a superlative career. It’s up to Georgia’s label to market her correctly, get her name recognised by parents as well as kids and make tracks that go beyond teen ballad (First Goodbye), uke-and-autotune snark (UGLY) and reminiscin’ (Box of Memories). Admittedly, the image of a ‘picture torn in two’ that Georgia can’t throw away is excellent and one which will get plenty of recognition.

Good luck to her and I hope she makes some fans over here in 2022.

Country Jukebox Jury EPs: Midland and Laci Kaye Booth

August 13, 2021

Midland – The Last Resort

Five tracks follow hot on the bootheels of their Sonic Ranch documentary and accompanying album. Sunrise Tells The Story is a sweet little waltz that I like a lot, with the celestial bodies witnesses to the tryst.

Adios Cowboy is very on brand, opening with some twang and snare rim shots underscoring a mournful lyric: ‘Stepped into the kitchen, that’s when I saw the note’. Brooks & Dunn could have had a hit with this in 1995, which is the very point of Midland, reminding people that the classic sound deserves a place in the market. Well done to Big Machine for gently reintroducing it, and well done to the trio’s unofficial members Josh Osborne and Shane McAnally who produce the EP along with the great Dann Huff. I’m working on a piece on Big Machine as I believe their type of music is separate from what country music should be, and yet linked to it.

As for Midland, heartbreak ballad And Then Some (‘I still miss you’), Two To Two Step and Take Her Off Your Hands had the superstar pair of McAnally and Osborne in the writers room. I think Two To Two Step will be a live favourite thanks to its groove and ‘care for a dance, little lady’ type lyric, while Take Her Off Your Hands’s strong backbeat underscores a scene in a bar where the band observe ‘a fool who don’t know that he’s wasting his chance’ with a beautiful woman by his side. That’s a country trope and it’s a shame that it takes a fake country act – again, one of them lived with broadcaster Fearne Cotton and another directs music videos for Bruno Mars and John Mayer – to bring that side of the genre back into fashion.

Laci Kaye Booth EP

Big Machine already have Callista Clark doing the pop-country Taylor Swift thing so why introduce another new face to market. From Livingstone, Texas, Laci Kaye Booth starred on American Idol and convinced Scott Borchetta to sign her up. Laci’s eight-track project came out this month and the connections make themselves known throughout. Dann Huff produces, for instance, and frames her voice perfectly on opener Used To You, which sounds like Taylor Swift singing a Lady A song, with Laci’s pretty voice telling a relatable story.

We then get inside her head as she sings of seeing Visions (‘house on a hill, pictures on the wall’) and being On The Fence, with her voice fed through an effects machine for the first verse before a rich chorus full of choices to be made. Similarly, Shuffle is about making a decision and (surprise, surprise) it’s about a country playlist and a ‘heart on shuffle’: I really am tired of songs which bring up other songs and you get a point for every one you recognise. Bonus points if you spot an Avril Lavigne song in the second verse. The only redeeming feature is that it’s rare to hear a list of female songtitles…except in Ladies in the 90s by Lauren Alaina. Both songs mention Strawberry Wine, ferchrissakes!! It’s a trend, it’ll come to an end soon.

Jimmy Robbins, Jessi Jo Dillon and Laura Veltz all help Laci write the excellent kiss-off Treasure (‘One man’s trash is another man’s treasure’), which features what I imagine is a Dann Huff solo and a superlative set of chord shifts in the middle eight. I replayed it immediately because it was so hooky. It must be a single. There’s also the tender song If He Would’ve Stayed which sets you up for one thing and I won’t spoil the song’s impact. It’s a showcase for Laci’s voice, which quivers like Tenille Townes, and the production, which harks back to Laci’s beloved Dixie Chicks, is sensational. I replayed it immediately because it was so gorgeous.

Big Machine artist Charles Kelley lends his harmonies to Broken Heart Still Beats, which has Adam Hambrick in the credits. It’s basically a Lady A song, with an emphatic chorus and Laci playing the role of Hillary cooing a song about moving on and being strong. Lady A’s old producer Nathan Chapman was in the room for Heart of Texas, which namechecks Galveston and Amarillo and has lashings of pedal steel and fiddle.

All in all, this is a very strong set of songs for the 16-34 demographic which will hopefully launch Laci as a strong voice this decade. Hey, it worked for Taylor…Expect Laci to support Lady A or Tim McGraw in the next year, and gain hundreds of new fans.

The Best Bit of Buckle and Boots 2021

August 3, 2021

Here are the nominees for the best moment of the fifth live edition of Buckle & Boots…

Emma Moore showed pride in her locks and belting out Caylee Hammack’s Redhead alongside tracks from her own EP The Table.

Jake Morrell sang warm, companiable songs like This House and Englishman, with Poppy Fardell singing harmony vocals and Tim Prottey-Jones keeping the tempo on the drums.

Tim’s own set was full of well-crafted pop songs like Fire, Good Life (written with Jake), Bite The Bullet and several which have still not been released. He had a full tent and a full heart, and is one of the champions of UK country thanks to his Homegrown show on Chris Country Radio.

Sam Coe, with some young family members in branded tee shirts, stated in her set that ‘If you think it feels like country then it is’. She certainly has some stories to tell and sung them with panache.

Making her B&B debut, Taynee Lord performed in a denim jacket with her first name in sequins on the back, saying that her ace new single I Don’t Want Flowers is based on a true story.

The Shires led an early evening singalong to Dreams and Islands in the Stream while playing some of their best-loved songs, including a song written about their desire to ‘build our own Nashville underneath these grey skies’, at a UK country festival which experienced two days of drizzle. ‘We wish you could see what we see onstage,’ gushed an emotional Ben.

I discovered that Donal of Matt & Donal, who played an array of classic country covers on Saturday evening, was recovering from a bad fall that caused an injury that sounded so severe that it was almost a miracle that he was performing. They played Wagon Wheel, naturally.

The trio Outlaw Orchestra, meanwhile, interpolated both I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) and Cliff Richard’s Devil Woman into their turbocharged set that will probably see them move to the main stage next year.

Jade Helliwell has been trapped in a webcam with her partner Luke Thomas, broadcasting weekly sessions for a year. She emerged as a fully-formed butterfly with white tassels and charm on her headline set on Saturday night, and performed her catalogue with a full band and a receptive crowd.

Jade teamed up with Gary Quinn and Kezia Gill for the weekend’s two supergroup collaborations: Saturday night’s live electric mixtape of contemporary covers of songs under the Honky Tonk Roadshow moniker had them singing tunes by Chris Young, Carrie Underwood, Luke Combs and Brad Paisley, whose The Mona Lisa prompted the famous conga of country fanatics; and Sunday’s acoustic Song Swap. Kezia’s take on Telephone – Jade’s ode to her grandpa – reduced the women next to me to blubbering. Gary interpolated Eye of the Tiger on his version of Kezia’s survivor anthem I’m Here, while festival host Karl Hancock answered guitarist Luke Thomas’s request for some Jaegermeisters at 2 in the afternoon.

Jade is nominated again for bringing out seven or eight of the lasses playing at the festival, including Lucy Blu, SJ Mortimer from Morganway, Sally Morris from Gasoline & Matches, Emilia Quinn, Kezia and Emma Jade, who all sang a final chorus of Maren Morris’ song Girl. All boats rise with the tide, and Jade knows that the UK country movement needs unity (her boyfriend Luke’s dad BJ Thomas is a key part of the British CMAs) and direction. The only way is up!

During the acoustic set, I realised that a Best of UK Country would have to contain tracks by Gary (He Don’t Show Her Anymore), Kezia (Whiskey Drinkin’ Woman) and Jade (Repeat), as well as the usual major-label suspects like Ward Thomas and The Wandering Hearts, who have both played the festival in the last five years.

Laura Evans sang a sweet song about Aberdare alongside her love song Heartstrings and a fierce cover of Chris Stapleton’s Arkansas, accompanied by Eddy Smith and his band, while Rae Sam proved that she can do it live as brilliantly as she can on record, with an impressive set that included her single Wildly Me. I hope both ladies made some new fans on Sunday afternoon, and it was smart programming to put them on back-to-back before an evening of top-notch guitar music sung by blokes.

One of those men, Kevin McGuire, was playing his first live gig with his band for 18 months. Alongside his irresistible singles like Seeing Things and Hottest One Yet, his cover of Escape, by Enrique Iglesias, was inspired. ‘If you feel like leaving, I’m not gonna beg you to stay’ was unmasked as a country lyric.

Alan Finlan looks like he could be a potential Luke Combs on Stars In Their Eyes. He’s another future main stage performer even if he has the tendency to shout rather than sing, but that’s what nerves can do. Emma Jade croaked through the duet Battle of the Bands, wishing she could sing it again, but that’s what perfection can do.

While Recovering Satellites were singing about a Wichita Lineman in the tent, Backwoods Creek were Walking In Memphis on the mainstage. Along with coruscating originals which they are unleashing onto their audience, they have a new bassist in George Price who may be their secret weapon once they decide to give him a bass solo. They’re going from strength to strength, and it was nice to meet some of the partners of the band who were there to support one of the most exciting live bands in Britain.

Morganway were second from the top of the bill on Sunday. They played old pearls like London Life and My Love Ain’t Gonna Save You, a blistering cover of You Oughta Know and future classics like The Man and Come Over. At one stage, singer SJ lost herself in the melody of Hurricane and threatened to explode. An EP and an album will follow and bigger stages beckon.

As for Tebey, the headline act who came over from Nashville and had to quarantine, he looked overjoyed, as a ‘little kid from Canada’, to be headlining a UK festival. He covered Fast Cars and Freedom by Rascal Flatts, Avicii’s Wake Me Up (which he’d recorded with Emerson Drive), the Justin Moore song Somebody Else Will (which he wrote) and Garth Brooks’ Friends In Low Places. He mixed in his own smashes like Denim on Denim and Good Jeans and, threw tee-shirts into the crowd and played a solo version of his new single Song of the Summer, alas without duet partner Una Healy. Maybe in March for Country2Country, or during his planned UK tour in 2022, Una and Tebey will sing together if the world falls into place.

Tebey is keen to build a connection with us and he’s not the only one. Several US acts were missing – Trent Tomlinson, Craig Campbell, Queeva and John Gurney were all KO’ed by Corona – but William Michael Morgan beamed two songs in via video. Along with Alyssa Bonagura, he was the only US performer across the weekend, which made the festival a celebration of UK country. Alyssa did get to belt out Man! I Feel Like A Woman with SJ as part of the closing jam, where various singers sung famous songs accompanied by Backwoods Creek. Special mention goes to a girl called Terri who tore through Sweet Child O Mine and came offstage buzzing with adrenaline. Dreams can come true at Buckle & Boots.

I spoke with several acts across the weekend and you can hear words from Joe Martin, Poppy Fardell, Callum and Matt from Morganway, Alyssa Bonagura and two-thirds of the Outlaw Orchestra when I count down the UK Country Top 40 chart at the end of August. It was also super to see familiar faces interviewing acts, taking their photographs, manning the merchandise table, serving at the bar, being Matt Spracklen (who left Surrey at 4am to spend a day at the farm) or just drinking and celebrating the joy of live music in a field in the North-West of England.

After 18 months of social distancing, social togetherness will be the new trend, even if it involves staggering after one too many beers or straining your vocal cords in an effort to talk politics with Callum from Morganway.

So what’s my favourite moment of the weekend? In the words of Bruce Forsyth, they were ALL my favourite. The award is shared.

Buckle & Boots will return in 2022. For more information head to