Country Jukebox Jury LPs: Lauren Alaina and Scotty McCreery

Simon Cowell’s X Factor has just come to an end but it’s redundant in an era of TikTok fame and influencer culture. In the 2000s it pulled millions upon millions of viewers and formats aired in countries like Afghanistan. Back in 2011, two teenage country singers came up in the same season and have had to bide their time and ride some rough waters.

Lauren Alaina – Sitting Pretty on Top of the World

Lauren’s third album has been preceded by two EPs and a lot of heartache including a broken engagement. As the opening track notes, It Was Me, not her ex-fiance, who needed the break. One of the best voices in all of American music, we first heard Lauren as a teenager thrust into the spotlight. She has grown into a performer to more than match Carrie Underwood – Lauren has a personality, Carrie is bland – and a fine Georgia accent.

I expect she has had a lot of editorial control over her album, which contains plenty of songs which have appeared on those two EPs. The album’s second side begins with the brilliant single Getting Over Him, which pairs Lauren with Jon Pardi and is a deserved smash even if it’s a rewrite of Home Alone Tonight by Luke Bryan and Karen from Little Big Town. If The World Was A Small Town still sounds to me like a Carrie Underwood song thanks to her writers David Garcia and Josh Miller creating a lightly country-sounding background. Ditto Good Ole Boy (‘who didn’t love me that good, ole boy’), a song full of regret with respect for the boy who is ‘back in the saddle’ and drinking in his favourite haunts.

Last year’s EP contained Run and What Do You Think Of (a duet with Lukas Graham), while Getting Good was the title of a 2019 collection and now includes Miss Trisha Yearwood for added oomph. By necessity the production is very poppy, which rather clashes with Trisha’s superb pipes, and the song should stand on its own merit. The same kind of tenor is displayed on Change My Mind, where Lauren begs her heart to break down the barriers preventing her from falling in love again. The vocal is exquisite.

Lauren puts her life in songs like I’m Not Sad Anymore which, by the first chorus, you can tell is a Love Junkies collaboration thanks to the emotional heft of Liz Rose, Hillary Lindsey and Lori McKenna. It’s one of three on the album: on Same Story, Different Saturday Night, there is tenderness from the narrator who paints the scene of a bar full of ‘neon hearts poured out over ice’, while Written In The Bar is a three-minute romantic comedy fuelled by tequila and ‘numbers-on-Friday-night napkins’.

I am sure Lauren brought some of her life to You Ain’t A Cowboy, which opens with a lyric comparing the Wild West and a ‘Podunk Town’ and namechecks George Strait. Alternatively, the kiss-off When The Party’s Over is not a cover of the Billie Eilish song, though I reckon Lauren could cover it in her shows, but a tempo tune with a great bouncing melody but ‘if you don’t call me when you’re sober I’m not picking up when the party’s over’! Yaaaas queen.

Lauren is spending the autumn promoting the album as well as a book and a movie appearance, and it wouldn’t surprise me to hear Goodbye Street in a TV movie. It’s full of imagery (picket fences, headlights, windowpanes) and a soaring melody over a plucked acoustic guitar.

On Top of the World, the song which gives the album its title, was written with pop writer Sasha Sloan who was behind the song Never Be The Same for Camila Cabello. Her grasp of melody helps Lauren tell her breakup tale in a triple-time tune which contrasts ‘life of the party’ with ‘hitting rock bottom…I’d rather be faking than drinking alone’. It’s a modern country song that will be in her set even when she settles down with the right man some day.

Then we’ll hear more love songs from her, rather than brilliant self-love songs, which this album is full of.

Scotty McCreery – Same Truck

Scotty’s last album was his first as an independent artist. It was propelled by Five More Minutes, a weepie that got all the way to number one and proved he was more than a talent show champ, here today, gone tomorrow.

As he displays on the title and lead track, which is a song of universal brotherhood, his songs are in the Brad Paisley or Bill Anderson vein. It Matters To Her, written with Brad’s collaborator Lee Thomas Miller and the ubiquitous Rhett Akins, is a punchy love song in which Scotty seems to be advising listeners to ‘put her first every single time’. Ashley Gorley seems contracted to appear in the credits of every album made on Music Row. He co-wrote the funky Small Town Girl with the super ‘track guy’ Zach Crowell, best known for his work with Sam Hunt. The chorus is effortlessly catchy and itchy, and the hook is double-tracked with electric and acoustic guitars.

I also love Why You Gotta Be Like That, where Scotty and his unnamed belle (Gabi, a nurse, whose name rhymes with ‘capisce’), get all frisky before a night out. Blake Shelton or Luke Bryan would have had a huge hit with this in 2014, as this lovely country music never goes out of style and makes the woman look good.

Two tunes were written with Scotty’s producer Frank Rogers, best known for discovering Brad Paisley. Home is a reminiscin song full of happy memories of hanging with the boys at the bar that are at odds with his mature, domestic life, while The Waiter, which ends the record’s first side, is a rewrite of Brad’s Waiting on a Woman.

It’s a piano ballad set in a restaurant where an old gent is ‘talking to heaven’ where his former wife lives. It’s a three-minute movie which screams Emotional Album Track and Concert Weepie. Scotty’s narrator, the waiter, leaves him to his ritual: ‘He ain’t missed a date with her since 1959’. I expected a pay-off in the third verse and it’s testament to the writing and the production that we care so much about this widow. It’ll make you tell your loved ones you love them.

Similar pathos comes from the proud hometown anthem Carolina To Me, which will join Five More Minutes and wedding song This Is It in Scotty’s setlist for decades to come. It’s a country song which, as is often the case, describes how home is where the heart is. His descriptions of Carolina pines on Tobacco Road, Andy Griffith’s fun TV character from the olden days, wild horses on the beach and grandpa fishing on the river are evocative, as is the picked guitar and pedal steel which create a mood that country music has trademarked.

The album ends with the smouldering love song That Kind of Fire (‘every kiss is like a spark’) and How Ya Doin Up There, which contains the best vocal performance on the album and will work well as a solo acoustic number. It’s a musical prayer to the Lord and Scotty mentions how ‘faith has disappeared’. God is due a comeback in country music and Scotty’s deep voice should help.

Two outside writes also make the album. Damn Strait, which sounds like a Blake Shelton classic, is one of those songs which tie together songtitles and call it a song in a genre known as Frankenstein Country. At least there’s a point to it, like Shut Up Kenny by Walker Hayes, where the singer’s tunes don’t give the heartbroke guy a break. The production recalls that of George’s classic tunes, with loads of pedal steel. Meanwhile It’ll Grow On Ya is about the difference between blacktops roads and red-dirt country towns, with plenty of rural signifiers: kudzu vines, chatting to strangers, tractors, two-lane roads, ‘they don’t take credit cards’. It’s sort of an invitation to the dance in a song: ‘This ain’t the place to stop if you’re just passing through’ is a good way to sell rural life and the music fits around it.

Why Scotty was banging on about Southern Belles in the bro era, his record company only knows. This is a young man confident in his art and in himself. We love him in the UK and he’ll get plenty of applause at C2C 2022, third on the bill on the Darius Rucker day. Runaway June and Brett Young complete a very girl-friendly line-up which comes to London on the Saturday.

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