Country Jukebox Jury EPs: Bexar and Jackson Michelson

Bexar – Pronounced Bear

What a strange thing to do: put a silent X in the middle of a word and tell fans how to pronounce your name. I was immediately put off. It was Andrea Williams who joked that Nashville is known as a ten-year town because if you look at the pop charts from ten years ago you will find out what country sounds like ten years hence. I am reminded of this with the Mumford sound of Bexar’s tunes, which veer towards ‘stadium folk’ thanks to the production wizardry of Ross Copperman, who is a keen student of UK music having grown up wanting to be Noel Gallagher.

This is most obvious on Again, where there are even some HEYs after a chorus which is driven by a kick-drum on the crotchet beats (a Mumford trick). So is One Day, a singalong campfire jam which eschews a life in a suit and tie for life together ‘in the promised land’. So is Mexico, which opens up to a fine syncopated chorus which namechecks Cancun and reminisces about ‘a motel room’.

So is Key To Life, which adds some folky riffs to soundtrack lessons in how to enjoy life with ‘the simple things like you and me…just driving round turning that key to life’. It’s a terrific driving song. Be Good To Her is advice to a guy who must ‘treat her right’ and was written by Femke Weidema (co-writer of Jade Helliwell’s new song Smoke) and Liz Rose, co-writer of many of Taylor Swift’s early tunes. Carry You Home, meanwhile, is blah but at least it isn’t set to a Mumford beat.

I believe after Mumford & Sons came Gangnam Style, so if you see Dan + Shay or Thomas Rhett going K-Pop, then that’s why.

Jackson Michelson – Back To That Summer EP

Jackson has been over to the UK several times building a fanbase over here. The six tracks include the irresistible pop song Tip Jar, in which he keeps the memory of an ex alive by getting a bar band to play the songs they used to dance to all night long. I love the quick musical reference to Tom Petty’s song Mary Jane’s Last Dance.

The contemporary production tricks are across this EP, which is full of strong melodies. The chorus of reminscin’ song Back To That Summer could grace any number of albums by any number of artists who are all Jackson’s contemporaries (Thomas Rhett, Ryan Hurd, Brett Young, Russell Dickerson). Amplifier has a funky riff and fast-paced, half-spoken lyrics which big up a lady who ‘turns me on and keeps me up all night’. It does seem a bit passe to call a girl ‘fire’ and it’s not country at all but it’s sticky.

Elsewhere on the EP, there’s the country-pop-by-numbers Love High (‘and I don’t ever wanna come down’), the smooth vocals and fingersnap percussion of Call Me No One, which sounds like a one-man boyband and the streaming smash Stay Over, which hits all the beats of country-pop in 2021 exhibited by the likes of fellow Curb signing Filmore. We’ve got rap-sung verses, chord loops and interaction between a guy and a girl.

The song was co-produced by Jim Ed Norman who is best known as head of A&R then president of Warner Nashville. He honed the careers of Randy Travis, Dwight Yoakam and Faith Hill. He’s now CEO of Curb, who put Jackson’s music out, so this is a man who knows what sounds hip and trendy and Jackson’s EP certainly is. It’s product and enters a market saturated with this sort of thing. It also suggests that Jackson has as much personality as Michael Ray, ie very little.

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