Country Jukebox Jury LPs: Caitlyn Smith and Eric Paslay

Caitlyn Smith – High

She’s a songwriter’s songwriter and a mum of two whom I saw in the film It All Begins with a Song writing with Bob DePiero in a candlelit writers room. Ed Sheeran was a fan of her album Starfire. Garth Brooks recorded her song Tacoma. Meghan Trainor is a friend and collaborator.

Caitlyn Smith’s Country2Country performance on the Big Entrance Stage was full of bouncing around, as she delighted in promoting this mini-album. It opens with the effervescent title track, which was written with (and perhaps for, given the melodic shape) Miley Cyrus. Caitlyn’s music comes out on the Monument Records imprint (which has done well with Walker Hayes in the last year) and the man in charge, Shane McAnally, and songwriter’s songwriter Lori McKenna were in the room for Dreamin’s Free, which puts a new spin on not having much money. ‘I can be your muse if you wanna be van Gogh’ is a great line, as you would expect from three crafters of modern popular song. Catch the quadruple rhyme of bees/knees/weeds/trees and marvel.

The sex jam Good As Us has a gorgeous groove over which Caitlyn’s voice floats, singing about fidelity and how ‘everything else disappears’. The next single is Downtown Baby, a poppy tune which crams Kristofferson, Dylan and John Wayne into the opening stanza and ‘Kpop karaoke’ in the second one before opening up with a fine chorus.

In a fair world, Caitlyn she would be the equivalent of Chris Stapleton; his fans will find much to enjoy in the arrangement of Nothing Against You and Maybe In Another Life. Both were part of her set and were met with applause; the former has another fine chorus and blissful middle eight. The second has a ‘purple moon’ overlooking a dreaming Caitlyn who despairs of the images she conjures while she sleeps. It’s a vocalist’s song as well as a songwriter’s song, and I hope it finds its audience. If Fancy Like can get to number three in America, then so can this one.

The final track of the mini-album, I Don’t Like The World Without You, is another slow, meditative song, tenderly fingerpicked and with a vocal that reminds me of Miranda Lambert. It’s also nice to hear some lush diminished chords which prove that Caitlyn is a master of the art. Please listen.

Eric Paslay – Even If It Breaks Your Barefoot Friday Night

Eric Paslay is back in the UK soon to support The Shires in their long-delayed acoustic tour. As a treat, he has re-recorded nine of his compositions to remind fans why he’s one of the best writers on Music Row.

Eric can do slow and steady, as on She Don’t Love You, which was intended for George Strait. He can do poppy and fun, as on High Class, which he turns into an acoustic jam by removing all the whizzy production, and the eternal Barefoot Blue Jean Night, where he refers to ‘my buddy Jake’ as a thankyou for Jake Owen making it one of the century’s biggest country songs. ‘Never gonna grow up, never gonna slow down’ is a bumper sticker of a chorus, and the woahs are very amenable to a Shires audience also used to singalongs.

Eric probably has a good investment portfolio if he has put his money in the right places thanks to his number one hits which recall the heartland rock of Tom Petty. Petty even gets a namecheck in Eric’s version of Rascal Flatts song Rewind, which is moved down a couple of keys to suit Eric’s voice. He also reclaims ownership of Even If It Breaks Your Heart (Eli Young Band) and Angel Eyes (Love and Theft), which were both jazzed up with contemporary production when they went to radio.

If anyone missed Eric’s solo album from 2016, they have a new version of Song About A Girl on this collection, which also includes a fine version of Friday Night, another song he recorded for that album which was cut by Lady A. The elegant song The Driver became the title track of a solo album by Charles Kelley and Eric’s voice suits the chantalong chorus of ‘easy come, easy go’.

He will be a great warm-up act for The Shires this spring. He flies in after Easter for 25 dates which climax on May 24 at the London Palladium. Don’t get to the venue late.

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