Country Jukebox Jury LPs: Logan Mize, Olivia Lane and The County Affair

Logan Mize – Welcome to Prairieville

This is a cohesive collection of music indebted to American sounds (rock, Christian, pop) sung with conviction. George Strait Songs (‘by heart’) is a good place for this album to start, as Logan constructs a sort of Country Minecraft town called Prairieville. The backbeat is enormously thwacky and the vocal is smooth like that of Lee Brice or Mo Pitney. Jesus is mentioned in the chorus too.

The title track starts depressingly, with ‘for sale signs on just about everything’ but it’s ‘a pretty drive’. Logan is always pulled back in by the small town, and the music helps its cause, evoking rural America. ‘Some of the dust gets in your soul’ is a line that is as tremendous as the pedal steel solo is sweet. I can imagine George Strait having a number one with this in 1997.

River Road has one of my favourite sounds, a chugging electric-and-acoustic guitar overlaid rhythm that evokes Bob Harris Country (another one of my made-up genres). Logan reminisces about catching baseballs with Dad, rainstorms and hanging out, and I love how he draws the listener in with direct questions about their best memories. Follow Your Heart (‘right back to me’) is another well-produced chugger, as are the singalong pair of If You Get Lucky and We Ain’t Broke, the latter thanks to a groove which rides the cowbell!

I can’t believe there hasn’t yet been a song called Wine at the Church, Beer at the Bar but here it is. It’s a fun touch to start with the melody played on the organ, while every facet of rural life is spun through in the song, set to a looping riff. The organ comes back for the solo!

I Need Mike seems to be about friendship (‘the kind of guy that don’t laugh at your dreams’) which leads inexorably to the final verse about Mike’s passing. Tell The Truth is another thinker, with reference to someone ‘shining down’ on him. I Still Miss You has some heartland rock guitar and fine production, while Logan sings of being ‘too small town for big shows’. Gentle album closer It’s About Time starts philosophically, helped by a Mumford beat and an upwardly mobile chorus. It’s a record to cherish.

Olivia Lane – Heart Change

Olivia has rolled out a lot of this album in the modern style, with plenty of impact tracks released over a period of months. The songs are a result of a lot of introspection and therapy. I’ve been impressed with them, and her smooth vocal tone which is somewhere in between Jana Kramer and Carly Pearce. It’s less country than Adult Contemporary, aimed at grown-ups.

Olivia tells herself to stop living in her head and start ‘living instead’ on the track of that name. Nothing Changes is a series of challenges to her and to the listener, a sort of diary entry with the page left open, while I Let The Devil In is a spiritual conversation about how ‘misery loves company’ and has a very open arrangement with lots of echo on the vocal.

Woman At The Well skips along, with Olivia ‘drinking red wine all alone’ and lamenting her fate, ‘wondering how someone could love me when I can’t love myself’. Lauren Alaina has tackled these feelings on her last album, which makes this very topical. The title track preaches that ‘there’s a fine line between passion and hate’ and how it’s easier said than done to change yourself, which is ‘where the real fix comes’. It is one of several tracks which refer to ‘grace’ on the album, and the music is graceful overall, with lots of piano tinkling.

It’s a surprise to hear some poppy production on Sweet Sister (‘you got a good man’) and Why Don’t We, which reminds me of Suzanne Vega with the vocals right up front and lyrics about dancing too close ‘though we both know it’s a slippery slope’. Olivia wants the new friend to dive into love with her, and this will do very well in her live sets. It seems things have gone well, because the track Boy’s Still Got It follows along, with Olivia appreciating ‘his nonchalant air…he walks the walk, talks the talk’. It’s a wedding song supreme. Lois Lane, meanwhile, is a fun title because it’s the name of Olivia’s grandma who ‘found a Superman…in an Air Force uniform’.

The album ends with Break, a plea to be open with your emotions, to be ‘ready to change’. The album as a whole is full of emotion-driven pop songs, which in some ways can be classed as ‘country music’. I hope Olivia Lane finds her audience.

The County Affair – Off The Grid

How’s this for a tale, which I am sure is quoted in every review of the album Off The Grid: in the 1970s Tony and Kevin were The Rambling Boys, following Kevin’s dad, who was in a show band called The Moonshiners, onto the stage. The pair crossed paths in the States and played to crowds in Houston, Texas, before going West to San Francisco. They forsook music careers for the corporate lifestyle (a wise decision) with jobs in marketing and advertising, the latter with Quorn in quite a senior role.

Yet Kevin kept writing lyrics for Tony to write the music to, like a globetrotting Elton’n’Bernie, and in 2021 the pair have put together an album of rocking country music, using all that experience for half a century ago. I loved Nashville Storm Warning when I heard it earlier in the year; it’s another one of those songs which compare women to meteorological phenomena (with sound effects), driven by a lovely riff.

Off The Grid is similarly rockin’, a young man’s tale of living ‘nice and simple’ with a pretty solo in the middle, while Every Ghost (‘has a story’) is a great lyric which includes the line ‘cardboard cold life’ sung with a simple melody set to a chugging beat. It sounds like The Waterboys, another Celtic country-rock act.

There’s reminiscin’ on Beach (‘You said I had two left feet, better than one!’ is a nice punchline) and despair on Bourbon Breakfast, which is a hell of a title. The Seaview Inn is shot through with melancholy, with a wake taking place in the second verse and irony in the title because ‘there’s no views’ from the bar.

Often the melodies stick rigidly to the chord progressions, which means you can predict a lot of the shapes, as on Lying Next To Me (‘the truth’s all plain to see’) and The Waitress, where we see ‘cocky’ musicians through the eyes of the title character. The track which gives the duo its name opens with the line ‘Eight-track still played some old Johnny Cash’. There’s a nifty spoken word verse that sums up the ‘story of the county affair’, which is a sort of Ode to Billie Joe, full of mystery.

The album is full of accordion, which sounds great on that title track and on Playing Poker (‘I know I’ll bet again’), which is a proper roots-rock tune. It’s also sprinkled on top of Baby, a mournful tune, and is granted a welcome solo on album closer Go Tell Your Father, a proper Irish diaspora tune about leaving home or staying there. It ends on an interrupted cadence, which is the most musically fascinating thing on an album where the lyrics and music are in perfect harmony.

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