Country Jukebox Jury LPs: The Wandering Hearts and Jade Bird

The Wandering Hearts LP

The Wandering Hearts have given us about half of their second record, which is self-titled, over the past year. I love Dreams, a timeless and wistful song written by their mate Marty Stuart and his wife Connie Smith, while recent single On Our Way pushes on in an Arcade Fire manner. Dolores (the album’s centrepiece) is saturated in the trio’s harmonies, Gold has a great chanted chorus and Over Your Body (written when Tim was still part of the group) has AJ delivering a laconic vocal about breaking chains and deadweights over a very Radio 2-friendly track.

The rollout of the album has been delayed by the virus so it arrives at a time when blissful harmonies should be New Normal-proof. They will tour in May 2022 with dates that include Shepherd’s Bush Empire, but are promoting the album with an extensive two-month trek to places like Tunbridge Wells, Cottingham and the lovely Summerhall venue in Edinburgh.

One notable thing from the album’s credits is the variety of producers on call. Some of them have four of them plus the band themselves – does any song need seven producers? It’s clear that the trio have been working for many months to get their second release right. No longer on Decca, who must have funded a lot of the recording, their album has come out through Cooking Vinyl, a commendable indie label who also release Billy Bragg, Del Amitri, Kerri Watt, Lissie, Ron Sexsmith, Will Young and Suzanne Vega. 

The great Fiona Bevan helps craft the anthemic Build a Fire, which is precision-engineered for big fields – The Long Road, Country2Country and even Glastonbury may enlist their services in 2022 – and is a song about fidelity. It even starts off with a guncrack sound! Acoustic number I Feel It Too will slot alongside Burning Bridges as a showstopper at their gigs, a love song of great craft which compares companionship to eagles flying.

Never Too Late (‘to dream…to stop…to dance’ and so on) brings out the Englishness of AJ’s voice thanks to some round vowels, while the harmonies flutter to encourage the listener to carpe the diem. The charming Stardust is another philosophical track with middle of the dirt road production, verging on a Eurovision entry thanks to its universal themes. AJ wrote and takes lead on the meditative and appropriately dreamy Tell Me When I Wake Up (‘Are we gonna make it?’), which reminds me of Kurt Cobain’s softer songs without the self-laceration. The album ends with a Lullaby that sends the listener off into dreamland, where the music of The Wandering Hearts lives and breathes.

Jade Bird – Different Kind of Light

Like The Wandering Hearts, Jade Bird has found a home in Americana. Her second album is Produced by Dave Cobb – a genre in itself – which must mean real drums, real emotion and real rock’n’roll. You get that on Open Up The Heavens and 1994, where on both Jade sounds a bit like Cerys Matthews, and the whole album is less Americana than Wolf Alicesque indie-rock. See in particular I’m Getting Lost.

Jade’s debut album, also marketed as Americana, was full of tunes with hooks, and there are plenty on Honeymoon and Punchline. BBC 6Music go mad for this type of woozy rock music, and likewise the acoustic folk of the title track will appeal to fans of Phoebe Bridgers. Trick Mirror takes its title from the Jia Tolentino book which Jade must be a fan of, and I am won over by the arrangement and the poppy chords. Ditto pleasant acoustic guitar-led pop songs Prototype and Now Is The Time, and the soft and mysterious acoustic ballad Red White and Blue which doesn’t mention the title until the very end of the song.

As for Headstart, the most immediate song on here, it’s worthy of all 6m Spotify streams and it’s a fine way into a collection of superb tracks with the Dave Cobb touch.

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