Country Jukebox Jury LP: Sean Stemaly – Product of a Small Town

He dresses like Morgan Wallen. He shares a producer, Joey Moi, with Morgan Wallen, and a label, Big Loud, with Morgan Wallen.

Big Loud have, despite everything, had the act with the biggest album in country music for 45 weeks out of the last 50 or so. Dangerous: The Double Album is closing in on the record held by Luke Combs and Shania Twain of 50 weeks at the top. There is a market for blue-collar country music sung by hot, sexy guys over power chords.

Sean Stemaly is a songwriter who released his first single If This Truck Could Talk back in 2017. What could be more rural than a guy singing about his old truck, something Tim McGraw also realised on his song 7500 OBO? He’s out on tour with Dustin Lynch this spring, warming up a crowd who shovel down this sort of thing to kick back to and unwind with.

The title track kicks off the album and within ten seconds we know where we are. There’s a shoutout to the ‘southern drawl crowd’ then the patented Joey Moi stacked guitar line familiar from all those Florida Georgia Line smashes. Sean sings of muddy waters, Mason jars, ‘ride or die’ buddies, a neon moon, ‘heaven on dirt’ and that is country bingo.

Several tracks date back to pre-pandemic times. Hardy was involved in Back on a Backroad, which contains all of Hardy’s tricks that make a song so catchy it hurts, including the tongue-twisting line ‘put this two-tone, two-ton, too clean Chevy to work’. Indeed, we first heard WD-40 4WD on the Hardy Hixtape last year. Sean, Justin Moore and Jimmie Allen all hop on board to sing about country stuff. Tick them off on the bingo card as you go, while marvelling at the skill of the songwriters (none of whom are singing on the song) in putting in acronyms and abbreviations, spelling out ‘S-T-R-A-I-T’ at one point.

Last Night All Day is an outside write on which Sean takes the role of a guy replaying his one-night stand in his mind, while Georgia is one of those Frankenstein songs that tours the USA in country songtitles while settling on Georgia. Given that Aldean is from that state, I reckon he passed on this song because it was too similar to another song about Georgia that he was recording for what Grady Smith smartly calls the latest three minutes of ‘his two-hour track’ that he recorded several years ago.

When Sean opens for DL, we will have one singer praising Carolina and the other hymning the one he’s got on his mind. As Far As I Know, meanwhile, is an outside write which co-writer Jameson Rodgers might have passed on. It’s yet another song about ‘buddies and cold beer’ and a sweet local girl, and all the rural elements of a small town and the county lines. At this stage of the game it doesn’t matter which Southern boy sings a song like this, it’s still product that is definitely and defiantly country.

Then there’s pure product placement. Z71, to ingenus like me, is a package offered to Chevy drivers; all the song Z71 does it describe such a package and such a car. At least Aldean was ‘ready to ride’ on Take A Little Ride, which even its writer Rodney Clawson called a commercial. Conversely If Heaven Had A Weekend is a midtempo tune in triple time where Sean wishes he could hang out with his departed loved ones. It’s a thinker, co-written by Sean himself, which is very Writers Round-y. You can’t have deep without shallow in modern country music.

The cadence of smooth song Can’t Be Me is similar to that of Morgan Wallen, as if Joey Moi’s formula extends to the delivery of a melody. We get blue jeans, leather boots, ball caps, ‘vinyls of Cash and Keith’ and sweet tea in a rural chorus where Sean sings of his country credentials. It’s a formula and it works a treat.

Then come the sex jams. Hello, You Up is exactly what you think it is, with a woozy guitar effect to underscore the horny mood of a guy who is just one call away. Come Back to Bed, which is by far Sean’s most popular song, closes the album. It quotes the ‘if I said I need your body would you hold it against me’ chat-up line and sounds like Burnin It Down by Aldean or Strip It Down by Luke Bryan. Ditto Speaking My Language, which contrasts Sean’s grammar with a girl who ‘said isn’t’ but now has ‘a touch of twang’. It even sounds ‘a little dangerous’, which reminds me that I must go back and listen to that Morgan Wallen album…

Ernest helped Kentucky-born Sean write Love Me Like Kentucky where, yes, ‘her lips taste just like Bourbon’. Sean’s vocal reminds me of James Taylor and it’s very appealing. Comeback Town has hit written all over it, thanks to Ashley Gorley, Ernest and Jesse Frasure putting it on the shelf for Joe Country Boy to pluck off it and stick it on his album full of rural songs. The verses open up to a wide-open head-nodder of a chorus which invites the listener to never forget where they came from after they have been to ‘see the city lights’. Props to the writers for getting the title of Kaw-Liga by Hank Williams, recorded in 1952, in a country song in 2022. If they write a hundred of these songs a year, you need a little variety.

Like Dustin Lynch and Morgan Wallen before him, Sean Stemaly is a Music Row product hoping to make his label money by singing country songs to country people. It’s business disguised as art, but Music Row has been doing this for decades. If Sean doesn’t get drunk and use naughty words, he’ll have a good career. If he does, it seems, he’ll still have a good career.

Such is country music in 2022, the same as it ever was.

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