Country Jukebox Jury LPs: Jameson Rodgers and Laine Hardy

Jameson Rodgers – Bet You’re From A Small Town

How about this for planning: Scotty McCreery’s song You Time and Jameson Rodgers’ duet with Luke Combs, Cold Beer Calling My Name (they are both River House artists) are this month among the most played songs on country radio. Not coincidentally, both acts are this month putting out new albums.

Jameson’s song Some Girls came out in 2018, was a number one in 2020 and is being followed by a full-length album which contains Some Girls. The album itself follows two EPs, both of which contained Some Girls. Jameson, who didn’t write Some Girls, is in the Cole Swindell tradition of acts who write songs, sing them, have a bit of a toothy smile and are from the South. I am sure he’ll gain many fans but he’ll never be a superstar in the Luke Combs/ Thomas Rhett level.

As well as his two big singles, tracks that migrate from those EPs to the album include Good Dogs (‘don’t live long enough’), Missing One (a very good chorus and a live favourite) and Desert. When the EP came out in April, I noted that Desert was ‘a piece of country philosophy that every new artist writes which here notes that “the cold and the rain and the pain don’t last forever” and you need the lows to appreciate the highs’.

The track Girls That Smoke (‘they’ll burn you down to ashes man it ain’t no joke!’) dates from a 2016 EP and has been re-recorded (in the key of E) and with slightly softer drums. The six repackaged tracks makes this a sort of album that says, This guy has been around for ages but now he’s got a lot of money behind him. Is there any need for a Jameson Rodgers album, other than to say he’s got an album out?

The new tracks which originate on the album kick off with One Day, a heartland rock chugger full of Eric Church-like self-reflection. I could have done without ‘one day I’m gonna die’ in the chorus, but the song is redeemed by the superlative guitar solo-ing at the end of the song. There’s a nice namecheck for Merle Haggard, who ‘woulda wrote songs about you’, on a soft ballad which lingers on an ex. It’s odd to put such a tender song as the album’s second track, so early on the tracklisting but I bet this is deliberate, much as Luke Combs put Lonely One as the third track on his debut album.

Girl with the Broken Heart (‘Go set them selfies on fire…drink that wine you’re gonna be fine’) chugs along effectively, while Close to Anything has a chorus as massive as the guitars but it’s pretty lightweight. It is followed by the far better five-minute title track, another one indebted to The Chief, Eric Church, with rural signifiers including pick-up trucks, ‘hauling hay’ at a summer job’, clear skies where you can ‘see every star’ and the ‘muddy river’ which is the site of baptism. It’s a winner and shows how much an influence Eric, the outlaw of mainstream country music, has been on contemporary country.

Bars Back Home is another homage, complete with some gentle mandolin and a namecheck for Black Water, the excellent Doobie Brothers tune, as is Bringing It Back, with the dropped guitar tuning and tender vocals which tell a story of trying to win a girl by putting the fire back in her eyes. The production from relative newcomer Jake Mitchell and Deana Carter’s producer Chris Farren is gorgeous, on this track and throughout the new songs.

Porch With A View reminds me of Florida Georgia Line’s ballads, and it’s an effective love song which pivots around the line ‘arm wrapped around you’. You Won’t, which sounded great on Bob Harris Country last week, has a triple-time swing beat and a mournful lyric which prove that Jameson can write a great tune. It’s up to him, and the audience, whether he’ll be a Luke Bryan A-Lister or a Cole Swindell B-Lister.

Laine Hardy – Here’s To Anyone

Laine wrote only two of the songs so this is an old-fashioned corporate country album, which makes perfect sense because we’re nearing the end of the Idol era. Laine won American Idol in 2019, the series in which Laci Kaye Booth made the last five. From Louisiana, Laine made his Opry debut to promote the album and was impressive in a corporate kind of way. He didn’t seem overawed by the occasion, probably because of all the TV work he did on Idol, and looks delightful and marketable.

He performed the three-chord opening track Authentic, which was written by Jessi Alexander, Matt Jenkins and David Lee Murphy; For A Girl is another fine melody from the Mobley-Thrasher team who have given Jason Aldean so many hits – indeed, the album is produced by Michael Knox, who helped pioneer the muscular country of Aldean – while Comin Down sounds like a sex jam Aldean would put on hold. There’s wire-brushed drums on the pretty Tiny Town (‘what I wouldn’t give right now to be back’).

Here’s To Anyone is a poppy three-chord drinkin song with a mighty chorus and lots of Southern signifiers – fishing, eating, riding, ‘George Jones and Cash’ – sung with gusto. I also love the descending riff that runs through Memorize You, which is basically I Don’t Know About You by Chris Lane but a lot, lot better. Laura Veltz’s smooth grasp of melody adds to the bouncy One of Those, which Laine co-wrote, while Brett Beavers adds his own country sentiments to Ground I Grew Up On, which sounds like ten Blake Shelton album tracks rolled into one.

Busbee, Andrew Dorff and Jon Nite wrote California Won’t (of those three only Nite is alive today). It’s like an ultimatum: California may be full of ‘velvet ropes’ and the Hollywood Walk of Fame ‘but I’ll hold you close’. As with all Jon Nite tunes, there’s a lot of melancholy in the melody. The funky Other LA picks up on a similar theme, the same one that Lainey Wilson sings about on her track LA, contrasting ‘Hollywood noise’ and the ‘good ole boy’. Laine, however, sounds functional and without the personality of a Luke Combs or Luke Bryan, who would destroy this song.

Ditto Let There Be Country, which closes the album like a fireworks display with its rural signifiers. Get the Country Bingo cards out: live bands with a tip jar, trucks, back road, John Deere tractor, cold beer, Friday night, neon lights, bonfires, shotgun seats, jeans, dancing, Bass Pro caps, apple pie and BINGO! It’s one of those list songs set to three familiar chords and I am sure every writer in Nashville has written this song. Doesn’t make it any less country, which is what Laine Hardy is being marketed as. I wish him well!

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