Country Jukebox Jury EPs: Ashley Cooke and Mitchell Tenpenny

Ashley Cooke – Already Drank That Beer (Side A)

Ashley Cooke’s album has been produced by Jimmy Robbins, one of the best pop-country producers who typically works with women like Maren Morris. Ashley, who is a woman, has released the first side of her album Already Drank That Beer, which is full of digital drum loops and fine melodies, as on opener Gettin’ Somewhere (with no G). Under is a songwriting exercise where Ashley is ‘under the impression’, drunk ‘under the neon lights’ and ‘underneath the sheets with someone new’ because she ‘can’t get over you’. First Time, Last Night seems to be a catharsis, finally getting over the ex and going to a bar without drowning sorrows, while Never Til Now is a wedding song where Ashley spots someone who could help her reach maturity.

The obligatory duet comes on Good Goodbye, a wonderfully optimistic breakup song where Jimmie Allen croons the bloke’s part. Craig Wiseman gifts Ashley the philosophical Sunday Morning Kinda Saturday Night, where ‘the man upstairs’ gets a mention and makes me think of Jordan Davis’ Church in a Chevy. Already Drank That Beer is a wonderfully tender breakup song written by, among others, the marvellous Jessi Alexander, while Nicolle Galyon is on hand for the four chords and the truth Opposite of Love (‘ain’t saying that you hate me…ain’t kissin on somebody downtown at a bar’) which seems to point perversely to happiness since ‘we ain’t as out of love as we think’.

Her vocal is the same timbre as Kelsea Ballerini’s, which makes a comparison easy. The songs stand up and I hope they find an audience. The rest of the album should be just as fine.

Mitchell Tenpenny – Midtown Diaries EP

Mitchell Tenpenny is nicknamed Bitches because of an early single which backfired on him. Drunk Me, from his 2018 debut album, was his first number one and his breakup song-cum-emotional ransom note Truth About You is clambering up the radio chart alongside his collaboration with Chris Young, At The End of the Bar (which has no place on Mitchell’s EP). Truth About You is one of eight tracks on what he’s calling an EP and I am calling a mini-album. Being a hit songwriter in town he has access to others, such as Brad Tursi, Laura Veltz, Chris DeStefano and Michael Hardy.

Hardy was in the room for the Mumford-stomper To Us It Did, a song about how love seems to bend time and make life a little brighter, and I Can’t Love You Any More (‘than I do right now’) is a declaration of adoration told through the concept of finiteness, with some neat images and lines about ‘milking’ Sundays for all they are worth.

Bucket List is a carpe diem song in which Mitchell promises to ‘cross one off, put two more on it’ and make life better without thinking of the ‘what ifs’. Girl’s Love (‘lips taste like candy’) is similarly lovely, set to a funky lick and real drums that self-consciously mimic John Mayer, a key influence on country music today. The production choices swallow the sentiment of Good Thing, which has Mitchell purring that he’s ‘hot-headed’ while his belle is ‘a rock when the waves come…it’s a good thing you love me’.

Don’t Let Me Let You is middle of the dirt road fodder which rhymes ‘tequila…fever…amnesia’ in the first verse and contains a crunching guitar solo in the middle of Mitchell’s laments about keeping a girl at a distance. That is sensible on She Hates Me Too, a song of companionship as Mitchell consoles a guy who has broken up with the same girl he had done, complete with some Sam Hunt-like syncopated delivery in the verses and some f-words. It’s a neat sentiment and a fine song, and sounds very contemporary.

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