Country Jukebox Jury EPs: Travis Denning and Charlie Worsham

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.

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