Country Jukebox Jury EPs: Midland and Laci Kaye Booth

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.

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