Country Jukebox Jury LPs: Chris Young and Billy Currington

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.

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