Country Jukebox Jury LPs: Chase Bryant and Parker McCollum

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.

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