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

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.

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