Country Jukebox Jury LPs: American Young and Dave Hause 

American Young – AY II

Jon and Kristy of American Young are frequent visitors to the UK, playing high up the bill on Buckle & Boots in 2019. UK-based guitarist Luke Thomas often sports headwear with their AY logo on it and, sensibly, their new, second album is called AY II.

Album opener Happy Again, which begins with the song’s chorus, was the lead single. Ed Sheeran would be proud of the melody, and indeed several of those on this album. The song is echoed by Gonna Be You, a love song by numbers with very familiar chords and lush production from the band themselves.

Much of the album sounds like the sort of Adult Contemporary country that Big Machine crank out. Jon’s lead vocal on Some Girl (the album’s best song) is sympathetic, and I love how he’s worked on the top of his range, where some of the verse sits. The melody of Whiskey Don’t Work skips along in triplets to match the ‘heartbreak hell’ of the lyric, while the thinky Die Another Day asks ‘what if tonight is all we get?’ over a bland arrangement that many would call mature. The chorus, stuck on one note, is probably a metaphor for the lyric.

There’s not much reinvention of the wheel, however, on Let You Down, where the couple plead fidelity to one another even though they both have flaws and struggles. I prefer their cover of Seminole Wind, written by John Anderson, which opens with some rollicking fiddle.

A-Lister Rodney Clawson was in the room for two tracks. The groovy and gentle Say It To Me Sober has a melody which masks a lyric full of melancholy, how Kristy wants Jon to not only want her as a bootie call. Falling Star is a similarly placid love song, albeit one which doesn’t leave much of a footprint even after you have heard it three or four times.

The duo’s buddy Lee Brice helped write funky album closer Country Girls. It’s a very contemporary song which rattles off a Shane McAnally-esque list of country stuff (‘Miss-iss-iss-iss-iss-iss-ippi Mud Pie!!’) while Kristy says she isn’t ‘automatic, need a stick shift’. This, as well as the woah-tastic Soundtrack of Your Life, will be an instant live favourite.

Dave Hause – Blood Harmony

Dave is due in the UK in February as part of an extensive European jaunt. In 2019, he did something that also happened to my own dad: he fathered twins. His brother and musical collaborator Tim became an uncle and the pair of them, together with producer Will Hoge, have produced ten new tunes which will appeal to fans of 90s alternative rock music.

Northstar (‘My sweet little babies, you came and saved me’) is a rootsy opening track with some fabulous diminished chords and a tight arrangement; The 400 Unit guitarist Sadler Vaden chugs away. The twins bookend the album, with closing track Little Wings including plenty of paternal advice: ‘I don’t know what I’m doing but I know what I’ve got’ is a great lyric, all the better because uncle Tim has helped out in its composition. The tunes put me in mind of Laura Veirs’ work, especially the twinkling glockenspiel on Northstar, but sung by Rob Thomas from Matchbox 20.

Leave It In That Dream is a melancholic song with another great arrangement where Dave talks about being trapped in a cabin in his dream. Hanalei, meanwhile, is an acoustic chugger that reminds me of Del Amitri and a request by Dave to stay in Hawaii, much like a track on Old Dominion’s recent album strangely.

Indeed, Surfboard has the feel of the Old Dominion song Make It Sweet but the lyrics are more morose, as ‘the rent got hard to pay’ and Dave feeling like he’ll ‘drown in these waves’. Adam Duritz of Counting Crows must be an influence, especially with the prominent mandolin in this track, and across the album as a whole. Reminiscin’ song Sandy Sheets has that Will Hoge feel of forward momentum from the arrangement, with precise vocals and a strong melody on a song that looks back on ‘when it was easy’ and a lovely lyric ‘champagne taste but the budget was beer’. The line in the chorus namechecking Gin Blossoms’ ‘Hey Jealousy on repeat’ gives the game away; this is for fans of melodic rock that ruled radio in 1994.

Plagiarist (‘make a dollar off a stolen dime’) also has that country-rock guitar and will be a punch-the-air favourite at Dave’s gigs with its ‘hold tight to me!’ pre-chorus. Snowglobe moves from soft verses to a power-chord chorus, while Carry The Lantern is a singalong rock song with some rich major chords. Gary (‘I knew a Gary in school’) is just as thrusting, in a song which emphasises the off-beat and includes the line ‘kids say the damnedest things’.

Join me in the Islington crowd in February!

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