Country Jukebox Jury LPs: Paul Cauthen and Drew Cooper

May 31, 2022

Paul Cauthen – Country As F—

The title track, which opens Paul’s 33-minute third album which comes out on the Thirty Tigers label, should prepare you for Paul’s album. I almost don’t want to spoil the surprise, but it’s a song which packs in some nonsense syllables (‘hotdog, dangnabbit, holly golly!’) and the line ‘real cowboys don’t rock with Kenny Chesney’. It’s driven by a guitar lick and Paul’s enormous vocals, which sound like the soil of Tyler, Texas. His biography notes that his grandparents knew Hank Williams and Buddy Holly, so he has to uphold the tradition of those hillbilly heroes.

Paul’s main co-writer is Aaron Raitiere, who helps him on five tracks here. Caught Me at a Good Time has Paul boasting of his ‘good mood, badass attitude’ over a riff in the key of G. Country Clubbin’ apes the production style of The Black Keys and has a biting lyric where we are made to imagine country stars at the country club! The song is full of lines like ‘rednecks on the tennis court’ and ‘first class, elbow rubbin’.

Cut A Rug, meanwhile, is a glam rock stomp which personifies Paul’s two feet which want to dance the night away doing ‘tango, twist & shout [and] the cha-cha’; the groove is infectious and I love the way the acoustic guitar chugs away in the chorus. Similarly, on the equally addictive Champagne & A Limo, the narrator doesn’t even know why he’s showing up at an awards show but will turn up nonetheless. A track where he boasts about how much wealth he has accrued (‘F— You Money’) is a bit of harmless fun which will sound great live. Paul’s June 2022 tour includes stops in St Louis, Memphis, Omaha and Des Moines, Iowa, where he has added a second night! The west coast beckons in July.

Kendell Marvell was in the room for Paul’s current single High Heels, where the singer invites his belle to join him on a fun night out, ‘turnin’ them heads, knockin’ them dead’. The third writer on that track is Beau Bedford, of cult favourites The Texas Gentlemen whose last album I loved.

Rather brilliantly, Till The Day I Die has a dub reggae riddim over which Paul sings of ‘two strangers locking eyes’. Roll On Over, conversely, takes Harry Nilsson or Warren Zevon as inspiration, with a melodic chorus sung with passion and spirit and at times a Bruce Springsteen impression. The album’s closing track Country Coming Down is a top-tapper that ends the album on a singalong and a high note. I hope he gets over to the UK soon, as Brothers Osborne fans would dig his stuff.

Paul’s next trick will be producing the new album for Sunny Sweeney, which is out this summer.

Drew Cooper – This Life

The opening 30 seconds of the song Vaya Con Dios, which opens this album, are perfect: the count-in of ‘uno, dos, tres, cuatro’, a smooth guitar part and a mix of major and minor keys. Trumpets join in for the chorus, where the band sounds like they are playing a Mexican cantina, as if The Hold Steady have hung out at the Tex-Mex border. Drew’s tenor voice dominates the mix, with drums pounding away in the background, as he suitably recalls stumbling into a bar. I also love how he sometimes misses the notes that go with the songtitle and he bends down to the phrase, lurching out of the bar and heading out. It’s a fine way to start the album.

The big radio single was Madeline, where Drew is ‘begging, please don’t leave…what’s a boy to do’. Conversely, on New Heart, we go from the celebratory (‘I found you, you found me, I was broken, barely alive’) to the despair of the title. Lodi, sung heartily from the back of Drew’s throat, is a power ballad where he goes off on tour ‘searching for a pot of gold but things got bad’. A series of one-night stands leaves him in Lodi, a nowhere town.

Like Paul Cauthen, Drew knows his country heritage, as shown by his cover of Angel From Montgomery where a slide guitar helps him convey the narrator’s tale which has become a country standard. There’s a lot of Prine on Darker and Darker, where Drew asks his beloved to ‘close your eyes and take my hand’.

Every Note is a brilliant sex jam with a retro feel thanks to the piano and guitar lines, and Drew makes an impressive soul singer as he praises ‘love in motion, rhythm and rhyme’. Whiskey and Smoke, meanwhile, uses some guitar effects to create a swirling mood to match the lyric.

The title track is another slow burner where Drew goes right to the bottom of his range to reflect the sorrows he has experienced. It is a mighty vocal performance which adds gravitas and poise to an act who is a credit to the Red Dirt scene.

Danni Nicholls, 229 Great Portland Street, May 27 2022

May 31, 2022

At the end of a brilliant 80 minutes where she tore through jazzy tunes, Randy Newman, toe-tapping roots music and much more besides, Danni Nicholls from Bedford dedicated her encore performance of Tennessee Waltz to her nan. That’s why performers strive to write songs, learn to interpret others and try to make a mark on the world through song.

Danni’s family – brother, auntie and cousins – had made the trip to Central London to see their Danielle hold a crowd rapt for well over an hour. Having been nominated three times for UK Americana awards, Danni is acclaimed among her peers and deserves all the success she enjoys. The tour for her third album The Melted Morning, of which this was the penultimate of a month’s worth of dates, was due to take place in 2020. Holding her white guitar named Penny, Danni and the two musicians who flanked her – Mark on sideways and upright bass, Sam on guitar and fiddle – played plenty of tracks from the album.

They opened with the three-chord campfire singalong Frozen, closely followed by the album’s first track Wild as the Water, which included solid harmonies. The stately Hear Your Voice, which gave the tour its title, was also in the set, albeit without the backing choir and organ which makes it the centrepiece of the new album. It’ll get an airing in Wisconsin when she heads over in August for a festival to play alongside over 100 acts including Gabe Lee, Lizzie No, Dave Hause and The Black Feathers, who will be travelling over from Wales.

Danni is a tremendously accomplished performer, singing in a pure vocal tone and reminding herself to ‘stay in the moment’ rather than overthink or worry. She was both confident and vulnerable, a killer combination for a performer, which made the crowd empathise with the songs she was singing.

Her AMA-UK-nominated second album Mockingbird Lane was also well represented. Danni introduced the title track with a cheery ‘Time for a breakup song!’ Where The Blue Train Goes also had a warm, major-key feel and showed Danni’s musicality, while Sam’s solos were drenched in reverb and created the space over which the vocals could glide.

I especially loved Back To Memphis and Look Up At The Moon. The former is an arms-aloft singalong which got a literal thumbs-up from gig promoter Ray Jones; the latter is a chanson-type jazz tune (‘if you’re lonely, look up at the moon’) reminding the listener of Dream A Little Dream. It was included in the set because Sam could take the guitar part Danni has not yet mastered.

The audience requested Danni’s early track Hey There, Sunshine and she played it happily for the encore. As well as the take on Tennessee Waltz, there was a Randy Newman cover of an underrated drinker’s waltz called Guilty. The extraordinary new song Little Fictions is being bedded into Danni’s set, its double key change making it the most complex arrangement of the evening. The title track of her debut album A Little Redemption closed her set proper, with its ‘little more’ lyrical hook and humming sections reminding the audience that Danni has been this good for a decade. It was a delight to catch her at long last.

Country Jukebox Jury LP – Chris Janson: All In

May 27, 2022

Commercial country tends to like particular voices, certain timbres which sound great coming out of your local radio station. With Keys To The Country, the opening song of the fourth Chris Janson album, I realise he is essentially Blake Shelton’s replacement on radio. This album is the type that Blake has been making for 20 years and which provided a template for country which is designed to be enjoyed by fans of country music. The system works.

Chris, should you need reminding, plugged away for years before Buy Me A Boat become a surprise hit off the back of Bobby Bones, one of the radio guys, playing it off his own steam. Chris has become a member of, and regular performer at, the Grand Ole Opry, tootling on a harmonica and giving audiences good vibes and singing the song Good Vibes. His setlist includes Fix A Drink and Waitin on 5 (‘startin’ on six’), which stalled at 42 on radio after the success of a love song called Done.

The album’s title track has a pounding kickdrum which soundtracks how Chris is ‘a little bit’ this, ‘a little bit’ that and it’s nothing I’ve not heard before, especially because he was ‘all in…fallin’ from the minute that I saw you’. Love Don’t Sleep ticks off rural signposts but ‘when it comes to you baby, ain’t enough hours in the night’, while You Never Did is a Janson 100%-er (with music and lyrics by Chris) where he thanks his wife for persevering with him, with a catch in his voice and a fiddle backing him up.

George Strait could have turned all these songs into hits (You Never Did is so much an homage that Dean Dillon might have a claim for providing the vibe in a Blurred Lines kind of way). So could Kenny Chesney or our friend Blake, because uptempo love songs will always have a place in country. I hope one of those love songs gets a push to radio, given the inevitable trad revival that followed a decade of ‘hey baby girl, get in my truck’.

Conversely You, Me & The River is a murder ballad written by and featuring Eric Church, who joins Chris and his harmonica by the ‘Mississippi mud’. Travis Tritt, meanwhile, may have agreed to feature on (harmonica solo ahoy) Things You Can’t Live Without – take a wild guess what they are given your knowledge of commercial country music from 1927 onwards – because of the patriotic tone of Flag On The Wall. That song sounds like an Eric Church composition (and it is) down to the way Chris phrases the words about troops, meth, bibles, God, Jesus, guns and how This Land Is your Land is a ‘crock of shit’. Someone tell Eric and Chris that Woody Guthrie wrote that song as a satirical response to God Bless America.

There’s a song about momma called Bye Mom, which is basically Even Though I’m Leaving by Luke Combs, and one about fishing. The Reel Bass Pro is in the same key as Buy Me A Boat and is the second song this year to mention the brand after Thomas Rhett’s Bass Pro Hat. Johnny Morris also gets a namecheck for ‘providing fishing poles’ which you can get at I really think Bass Pro have paid for some sponsorship, as if albums are radio stations now and need sponsorship to drive sales. Maybe I’m being too cynical…

There is a reason why Chris hasn’t crossed over to global audiences: his songs are so damned American. ‘There’s a trophy in the trophy case’ is the opening line of Small Town Big Time, which has the album’s best riff and which could have been a hit for 12 guys (Justin Moore, Craig Morgan, Craig Campbell, people not called Craig) in about 2008. As if to underline his Americanness, the album ends with My American World, which ticks off the same things you can’t live without just in case listeners didn’t think Chris loved his country enough. In on the joke, the chorus ends ‘I really really REALLY REALLY love my American world’. We get the point. In fact, we got it 40 minutes previously.

Rhett Akins and the Peach Pickers, who famously hit paydirt with Boys Round Here, have moved on to Janson. The trio gift him Halfway To Crazy on which Rhett also shows up. Again, it is odd for Chris, a man who used to drink but who stopped when he met his wife, to sing so much about getting drinks and having a party by the creek, but he’s got to make Warner Bros back their advance, so he’ll say yes to anything.

We Did It Anyway starts in a hayfield with banjos twanging and drums pounding, before Chris moves to a ‘southern rock’n’roll show’. It’s a slice of small town life that anybody in Nashville could sell to anybody in the American south. Ditto Cold Beer Truth and Here and Gone (co-written with Casey Beathard), two slices of country philosophy sung in the same tenor as Blake.

I never complain that country music is too country because we’ll miss this sort of thing when it’s gone. Scotty McCreery is doing similar things to Chris Janson but he’s able to play the UK thanks to the brand recognition from American Idol and because he’s an indie artist not tied to the major system and an Opry contract to fulfil. I wish Chris well, because he seems to be having such fun doing a job he loves.

Disclaimer: This piece has been amended since publication. Chris Janson has never been a ‘recovering alcoholic’ as the original version of this piece stated. He instead said that he quit drinking when he met his wife and his sobriety did not result from any dependence on alcohol.

Jess and the Bandits and Harriet Rose, Pizza Express Holborn, May 25 2022

May 26, 2022

‘Mama’s night out!!’ cried the effervescent Jess Clemmons, who hoped her two infants were sleeping back at the hotel while she and her Bandits tore through an hour of terrific country-inflected popular songs to a welcoming crowd.

Before Jess, Harriet Rose and her band warmed the audience up with 45 minutes of fine tunes. A Northern lass who has broken from Small Town Chains – as per her set closer which ran into Folsom Prison Blues – Harriet’s pure voice and fine strumming sounded great. Her songs reminded me of those of Miranda Lambert, most obviously the one where she sung about moving out of her family home.

She’s yet to put out a physical release, but Harriet has plenty to make an album or EP. There were ballads with wire-brushed drums which suited the venue’s café-like nature, but there were also two uptempo tunes on which Harriet proved she could rock out too. In a certain light, she looks ten years older than she is, which I’ve not really seen with any other performer. The variety of her set will hold her in good stead, and I’ll catch her at Buckle and Boots next Saturday afternoon. One to watch.

Jess and her pickup band were on great form: Luke Thomas on guitar, Eddy Smith on keys and bassist Zoe Parr, the night’s big discovery who was visibly enjoying her performance. She also plays the flute, making her a gun for hire. The band’s short tour began up in Pitlochry and they worked their way down the UK to London via Glasgow, Manchester and Birmingham. Matt Spracklen, MC-ing the evening, noted that he played one of Jess’s songs on his first radio show on Country Hits back in 2019, which reminded me in turn that UK radio has supported Jess for years.

There were so many familiar songs in the set, including the fierce pair of party starters My Name Is Trouble and Ready Set (‘ready set rock, ready set roll’), which prompted someone in the front row of seating to drink on each recital of the line ‘ready set drink’. Kiss You Now, Kings of Summer and You Can’t Stop Me all sounded terrific, with Jess performing the tracks with facial expression and hand movements. There was no finer example of her skill than White Lies (‘black coffee’), probably her best song, and two songs about bullets – The Bullet and Bulletproof – made a pretty pair.

Two albums and an EP were available at the merch table and it is stunning how many great songs are on them that Jess has written. The next EP will include a song called Emotional Baggage, with pictures of motherhood which were so vivid that one could see a treatment for a music video. It’ll be a smash to rival the video of Nitty Gritty, which preached happiness and comfort in one’s skin and is still a timely message.

Two well-chosen covers added a cherry onto the night’s cake. Wichita Lineman is a tough song to sing because every line leads to a tough chord change (songwriter Jimmy Webb is performing it in London this week too), while Mama Told Me Not To Come set the Randy Newman classic to a honkytonk rhythm. Credit goes to Musical Director Luke, who peppered the songs with short, sharp solos.

It was a pleasure to be reacquainted with Jess Clemmons, who was one of the best performers I encountered when I fell for country in the mid-2010s. Now back in the States full-time, she will visit the UK (her inverted commas ‘home’) for tours and festivals. Maybe she’ll get the kids on backing vocals one day!

Country Jukebox Jury LPs: The Wilder Blue and Red Clay Strays

May 25, 2022

The Wilder Blue (self-titled album)

If ever a band screamed Bob Harris, it’s The Wilder Blue, who got the seal of approval at the end of March when Bob chose to play all six minutes of the self-titled album’s centrepiece. The Ol’ Guitar Picker is a narrative song set to a loping groove that could have been written in 1973 and introduced on the Old Grey Whistle Test by a twentysomething Whispering Bob. There’s even a long fade and in 2022 the long fade is almost extinct!! ‘There’s only one rule in music: if it sounds good, then it is’ is basically the Bob Harris credo.

The quintet used to be called Hill Country but have chosen a smarter name. They go direct to the consumer, asking their fans to subscribe to their music via their Hideout at

The opening chorus of the album’s opening track Picket Fences recalls Alabama’s multi-part harmonies. There’s banjo pickin’, live drum thwackin’ and ‘piece of heaven’ in the lyric. It’s a smart way to invite the listener into the sound of the album, which continues on Wave Dancer, a song with a melody that seems to have been carved from stone.

Feelin’ The Miles leans towards Fleetwood Mac’s West Coast rock sound and is a smart choice of single. Written and sung by bandleader Zane Williams, there is a proper structure with a definitive middle eight that has all the things I like in country music: instrumentation, chords, harmonies and a strong melody.

As for lyrical inspiration, gorgeous reminiscin’ song The Birds of Youth includes words and phrases like ‘each yellow squash I picked’, ‘puffing on his pipe’, ‘cicadas’, ‘crank’, ‘sticky’ and the melancholy ‘pictures are fading’, plus a reference to TV channel Nick@Nite. Build Your Wings is a piece of life advice to learn as you go and to remember the lows, and Okie Soldier is a hymn for home from far away: ‘I turned 21 with my hands around my gun…choking on the dust and sand of a harsh and foreign land.’

Shadows and Moonlight has a train beat, a dual solo from guitar and banjo and a mysterious lyric where something untoward happens to our protagonist. ‘Memories come alive at midnight’ is the message. Meanwhile, The Kingsnake and the Rattler (come on!!!) sounds like a fable by Aesop narrated by Charlie Daniels, and album closer The Ghost of Lincoln brings back the banjo and the layers of harmony. There are hummingbirds, disco balls and a chorus you would have been disappointed not to have followed the quiet verse.

The Conversation, which sounds like a Jackson Browne homage, has all of these plus a phenomenal opening line: ‘The Head said to the heart, “What are you thinking?!”’ If you like music from California in summer 1971, as I do, you will love this album, which is one of my favourites of the year so far.

Red Clay Strays – The Moment of Truth

As with The Wilder Blue, Red Clay Strays raised the funds to record this album via their fans who were attracted by the eclecticism of the quartet from Mobile, Alabama. Jason Isbell is the best known musician from that state, making connections one fan at a time, and RCS are in that vein.

With a rumble of bass, the album begins with a blues-rock tune called Stone’s Throw. Drums and guitar join in and it has a pleasingly retro sound which owes much to the boys who imitated black music in the 1960s. Moment of Truth is almost a blues version of Dark Side of the Moon: a riff that reminds me of Money is set to the same tempo as Comfortably Numb, with delayed guitar chords and high backing vocals over a drum part heavy on cymbals. Don’t Care starts off with a similar vibe before rocking out in the coda, though the lyric ‘I live my life and I don’t care if I die’ is rather defeatist, I think.

The echoes of old rock and soul recur over the album. Do Me Wrong has the feel of Stand By Me with the lyrics doing the opposite to that song (‘all you ever do is do me wrong’); Wondering Why unsurprisingly given the band are from Alabama reminds me of the music that came out of Muscle Shoals, with a lyric showing how opposites attract (he’s a bit ‘blue collar, low dollar’ and she’s a bit ‘private school’). I also like the silky guitar lines on Sunshine even though our narrator admits to being ‘unfaithful’.

She’s No Good, conversely, is a cautionary tale set to a toe-tapping beat, while both Ghosts and Forgive (‘it hurts so much living with regret’) possess a great structure and a smattering of licks. On the gentle waltz called Heavy Heart (‘is breaking me’), I realise that the vocal reminds me of folk act Devendra Banhart or a less expressive Paolo Nutini, who both have voices that flap their wings.

There’s even a politically charged track. Killers experiments with a walkie-talkie exchange and a narrator ‘born on the sidewalk’ who was drafted in what I suppose is the Vietnam War which ‘seemed like a joke’. The album ends with Doin’ Time, sung from a penitentiary. It’s authentically bluesy and points to a great live band who are playing dates across America in plenty of states, including Texas and Nashville, where they will help to cure some hangovers at CMA Fest at 11am on the Sunday!

Country Jukebox Jury LP: 49 Winchester – Fortune Favours The Bold

May 25, 2022

First of all, great album title, which proves the band at least have a grasp of Latin (the phrase was first used by Roman soldiers) and the human condition.

Before the release of the Virginia band’s fourth album, which they will support on the road opening for rockin’ country act Whiskey Myers (whose festival they also play in the fall), I fell for the singles that trailed it: Damn Darlin’ sets a barroom narrative (‘Nashville, you have broken my heart’) to a gentle tune, while the harmonies on Annabel are exquisite to show how much the narrator needs to ‘make it through this hell’ with a lady by his side.

The album’s biggest impact track (or ‘single’ as they were called in the old days) was Russell County Line, a proper country song where vocalist Isaac Gibson is nostalgic for his Virgina home where he’s left his heart. The squealing guitar solo is perfectly placed in what will become a career song, joining fan favourites Everlasting Lover, So Damn Sweet and Hays, Kansas in their setlist.

Man’s Best Friend sets to organ and guitar a tale of Jesus and Jim Beam, which both affect the body and soul. I guess Isaac has chosen the latter, as evidenced by Neon, an anthem for the barfly: when a fella in a small town ‘ain’t got no option…ain’t got much time for no fun’, men like Isaac’s narrator will always find ‘a place to call home’ at the bar. Last Call follows, a honkytonker where the barman’s call is just ‘a cue for me to go get my next round’. The piano solo is worth the cover charge alone!

The production on the album is crisp and clear, like a Jason Isbell record. All I Need is driven by a crazy lick that Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers fans would love. It is a celebration of life on the road (‘we ain’t got no hits but we sell a few tickets’) with some well-placed cowbell clanging away. I call this type of music Bob Harris Country, because Bob is a sucker for this sort of thing.

Hillbilly Daydream is a sequence of small-town imagery set to a bluesy riff; you can hear the heartache on Second Chance, where my favourite type of guitar sound drives the narrative; the album’s title track, meanwhile, is a carpe diem song about getting off the sofa and getting in gear. It has a magnificent country-rock arrangement with lines about Chevrolets, Friday 13th and being ‘high on the hog’.

I think 49 Winchester don’t need to be reminded about getting up and out. They’ve got a busy summer ahead of them in the States, with bookings at the Botanical Garden in Boise, Idaho and Rhythm & Roots in Bristol, Tennessee. They’ll keep on converting fans one at a time, and I imagine this fourth album will cement their brand for long-time fans.

The Shires, London Palladium, May 24 2022

May 25, 2022

Ten years ago, Ben Earle and Crissie Rhodes connected on Facebook. At the final show of the tour to promote their last two releases, that connection was still evident. It is a joy to see two people enjoying what they make a living from, and for a massive crowd to be supporting them.

Before an impressive 90-minute set full of hits, two support acts warmed up the three levels of the fine venue. Kezia Gill has just broken into the top bracket of UK country acts, although she calls herself a singer/songwriter these days. Her set showcased her personality and voice, and she showed no nerves at all as the songs she has played hundreds of times reverberated around the famous Palladium.

Her late father would have been enormously proud to see his daughter perform Local Man’s Star, the song dedicated to him in which Kezia wiggled her hips like Elvis. The ballad I’m Here stilled the crowd, while tempo tunes Thirties and Country Song were a great introduction to a crowd who had somehow never heard of her before.

After her set, she said that 30,000 people would have seen her on this tour; even if she converts just one percent of that number to fans, that’s 300 new followers who might join the Friday Night Crew who have supported her in recent years. Set closer and fan favourite Whiskey Drinkin’ Woman was electric even though she was armed with an acoustic guitar. What a way to end a five-week stint opening for The Shires.

Kezia was joined by Eric Paslay, a guy who has been in Nashville for two decades and has visited the UK seven times to play songs he gifted to Music Row’s biggest acts. Keith Urban is about to go number one with a song for the ‘drifters’ and ‘dreamers’ called Wild Hearts, while Love & Theft had a smash with Angel Eyes, about which Eric said a water tower is only romantic with names spraypainted on it. Jake Owen got lucky, with the song that became country radio’s most-played song of the 2010s: Barefoot Blue Jean Night was inspired by a U2 show in New York City, which prompted Eric to give us a verse of I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.

A master of songwriting, Eric knows a great song when he hears it, and he transformed Levitating by Dua Lipa into a four-chord campfire singalong. His own almost-hits Song About A Girl and She Don’t Love You, a ballad intended for George Strait which would have been a career song for anyone else, were magnificent. At one stage Eric launched into some crowd work, asking various members of the audience where they came from; three of them said Essex! He was so impressed by the word-perfect spectator in the third row that he chucked him a t-shirt; ‘that’s not a towel!’ he smirked when he unfurled the item with his face on it.

Ben Earle is the world’s biggest Eric Paslay fan, which explained the invitation which he extended to Eric back in 2020 when this tour was meant to take place to support the fourth Shires album Good Years. The set opened with that album’s big hit Lightning Strikes, which was followed by My Universe and Friday Night, the singalong smashes from their first two albums.

With the release of album five, the pair have settled into their status as King and Queen of the UK scene, taking the Lady A formula and bringing it fully to UK audiences after their US label was shuttered. A Bar Without You, written with Paslay, sounded great, as did Cut Me Loose, Wild Hearts (not the Keith Urban song) and the sensational Plot Twist with its wonderfully mellow diminished fourth chord. One can also understand why the underwhelming I See Stars was chosen as a single, because Crissie told the crowd to light up the Palladium with their phones in a great setpiece.

Good Years provided the Lady A-indebted About Last Night, which opened with a perfect a cappella harmony, while four songs from their debut album anchored the set: Black and White, State Lines, All Over Again and, in the encore, I Just Wanna Love You, which is the band’s most-streamed hit. Backed by an impressive four-piece band behind them, the sound mix was brilliant and one could hear every vocal and guitar lick.

It was astonishing to realise how many songs the band did NOT play: there was no room on this tour for On The Day I Die, Beats To Your Rhythm, Sleepwalk, Echo, Stay The Night (written by Ed Sheeran), Brave or their take on Islands in the Stream. What a catalogue the duo have.

On a reprise of their recent acoustic tour, Crissie took the spotlight for Daddy’s Little Girl, before revealing that there are two little humans growing inside her. Crissie led the applause for Ben’s songwriting while Ben marvelled at his fellow performer’s ability to get through that song because ‘she goes to some other place’. Her vocals were stunning all evening.

Also present and correct were Nashville Grey Skies, a song about wanting to ‘build our own Nashville’, and Tonight, whose woah-filled chorus welcomed the duo back onstage for a three-song encore which included A Thousand Hallelujahs, which the pair had debuted on Bob Harris’s country show when a skipping CD caused them to perform it acoustically live on air. They were great back in 2015, and they are now accomplished live performers who are equally adept in Hyde Park, the Palladium or in an intimate acoustic setting.

Crissie noted how the pair will need a creche for their next tour. What lucky kids they are, growing up with one of Britain’s treasured duos for parents. Plus uncle Eric over in Nashville!

Country Jukebox Jury – Sarah Darling and Stephanie Quayle

May 22, 2022

Sarah Darling – Darling EP

Sarah Darling loves the UK so much she married a Brit, which has forged a connection in turn with British country fans. An assured performer, her songs have marvellous melodies to which she does justice.

She has rolled out five tracks in recent months which have been collected on a five-track EP. Waves sounds like its title, with washes of piano and an undulating melody about love and ‘the ocean between us’. The vocal and the arrangement are both gorgeous.

The final song is Get To Me, the ‘focal track’ which is driven by a funky guitar part and a radio-friendly chorus. As with the Miranda Lambert album, it makes me think of Sheryl Crow. Sarah wrote the song with her producers Cameron Jaymes and the great Emily Shackleton, who is best known for working with Carly Pearce and Lauren Alaina. Indeed, Carly and Emily co-wrote Song Still Gets Me with Gordie Sampson, another one of those songs where a song on the radio prompts a bout of reminiscin’.

Pretender has her leaving California over a sun-soaked track with some reverbing guitars and a fluttering melody, while Hungover has her lamenting ‘we’re out of time…I wish we were closer, I need some closure’. I can hear Lady A singing the hook. In fact, Sarah would make a great opener for the trio, if the chance arises.

Stephanie Quayle (mini-album)

Stephanie is another Yank who is also well known in Britain. Tim Prottey-Jones released a great duet with her called Until I Do, while her song Drinking With Dolly is a favourite among those in the know.

Her new, self-titled mini-album delivers eight songs, many gifted to her by A-list writers. The closing track Light My Way was written by Brett James, Chris DeStefano and Caitlyn Smith, which is an impressive trio. The song’s narrator is ‘letting go of hold on and holding on to letting go’, using experience to guide her future, with the light of the title coming from the bridges she burns. This is an impressive chorus from guys who have written thousands of songs and are paid to come up with new ways to put words to music.

Wild Frontier has been the biggest hit by the numbers, perhaps because Maren Morris, Ross Copperman and Shane McAnally wrote it: the metaphor is two lovers who don’t have to ‘rein the other in, there ain’t no fences way out here’. That song fits with another track, Lone Ranger, written by Stephanie and set to a great arrangement that really pops.

Similarly, The Kitchen is a thinker where a huge backbeat anchors a lyric about a place where prayers are said and ‘family traditions’ are ‘intertwined’. I also like the squealing solo which comes in just in case people have been softened by a great tune.

Hang My Hat has her look back on how she was ‘running’ to avoid being ‘fenced in’ until she met her ‘cool drink of water’ on whose heart she can hang her hat. It’s a wonderful country-pop tune with sensitive production, which is perfect for the imagined demographic. Stephanie wants to learn everything about her new beau By Heart in a song of that title which sounds a bit like Dan + Shay sung by Mackenzie Porter.

The wedding song We Buy Gold leapt out at me when I first heard it. The world changes all the time, sure, but people still get married and buy engraved rings for one another. I Want The World For You sets up a song full of smiles, sunshine, hope and peace. It’s the sort of song the Nashville cast would sing and it’s nice and gentle, like much of this mini-album.

Ka-Ching…With Twang – Jason Aldean: Macon/ Georgia

May 22, 2022

When I was younger, I did not like country music. Why would I? I was a teenager listening to immaculately produced pop and rock, painstakingly put together by Max Martin, Timbaland and The Neptunes. These tunes were sonically and rhythmically interesting and so, whenever I heard country music, I couldn’t connect with it in the same way, if at all.

At 27 years of age, I wandered into a shop in Greenwich playing a combination of Keith Urban, Kenny Chesney and Brad Paisley, three acts who were enormous in the early 2000s when Max, Tim and Pharrell & Chad were soundtracking the charts. By rights I should love the rocking country music the shop was blaring: all three acts use massive guitars in their music, their writing is often witty and they are generous to female performers. I went home, tuned into country radio and heard twang-voiced pop acts like Thomas Rhett, Brett Eldredge and (thanks for reading 150 words before I got to him) Jason Aldean.

Aldean will always be known to most people as the guy who was on stage in Las Vegas in 2017 when a killer opened fire at the Route 91 Harvest festival. He may also be known as a man whose wife wore a t-shirt outlining her political views. But can the casual pop music fan, given that over 20 have been country number ones which chart in the Hot 100, really name any of his songs?

Ten of the hits sung live by Aldean are included alongside 20 new ones on a two-disc set released in two batches over the course of six months. The ones those pop fans are meant to know include a cover of Amarillo Sky, which was first written by Big & Rich and recorded by McBride and the Ride, the Brantley Gilbert song My Kinda Party and the Florida Georgia Lina co-write Burnin’ It Down. Then there’s Johnny Cash (written by John Rich among others), Big Green Tractor (a David Lee Murphy composition about sex), the disguised Chevy commercial Take A Little Ride, She’s Country, Rearview Town, Blame It On You and the ballad Any Ol’ Barstool, which is still my favourite Aldean hit.

We hear Jason gurn and grunt his way through these songs in Vegas, St Louis, Knoxville, Dallas, LA and Nashville. I suppose the best way to experience Aldean is with speakers cranked up to 11. He’s been doing this for over 15 years and has seldom been off the radio because his music sounds like car, trucks and beer commercials. He is a product who is a reliable unit-shifter for Broken Bow Records but I wonder if he has run out of road.

It occurred to me that Aldean’s songs are meant to be listened to either on a highway going 80mph, or while doing some form of arable labour in a cornfield. By this point, album ten, Aldean will not gain any more fans. People know by now what he sounds like: guitars crunch, vocals snarl, solos come in exactly when you expect them to. So what about the content of the songs: what is he saying?

There are breakup songs aplenty. They include After You, a fine song which opens the Macon disc and is followed by Over You Again, which borrows its feel from The Boys of Summer and is almost a self-conscious joke. Aldean is ‘getting over you again’, just like he did on all his old songs about getting over some girl.

Trouble With A Heartbreak is a typical Aldean track that goes to radio, with fine production and a narrator driving off into a ‘rearview sunset’, a song about driving best experienced while driving. The State I’m In is basically Everywhere But On by Matt Stell, where wanderin’ Aldean can’t shake the memory of an ex, while Midnight And Missin’ You is driven by a three-chord riff but is otherwise dull.

The biggest names in Nashville at least give him some proper songs. Ernest K Smith and Craig Wiseman put Holy Water on the shelf and Aldean plucked it off. Michael Ray has also put out a song of that title recently, one with a narrative about preachers and sin, and this song is pretty good too, with Aldean stopping by at a bar to see a ‘preacher’s daughter’ he used to know. It’s the best break-up song here.

Aldean’s brand is also about drinkin’ so we’ve got a few of those: That’s What Tequila Does (‘top shelf Cuervo’ etc); Story For Another Glass, which uses very familiar chords and words (deer, Hank, hell, beer, neon and that’s country bingo); This Bar Don’t Work Anymore, where it sounds like a real drummer is thwacking the snare and which sounds like a single but won’t be; and Whiskey Me Away, on which more shortly. All of them would have been written as a result of a pitch sheet which prompts writers rooms to work on ‘songs about drinking for Jason Aldean’s new album’. Easy, knock it off in an hour, guys, and we’ll take the rest of the afternoon off.

Aldean’s brand is aimed squarely at people who live in small towns, so we have Small Town Small, a plea to ‘keep the red dirt roads red dirt…keep the blue on your collar’ and other hymns to ‘y’all keepin’ small town small’. That song credits eight writers including Michael Ray and Brantley Gilbert, which is far too many cooks for a song so banal; maybe Michael and Brantley (who is essentially Jason Aldean with tattoos) were going to feature on the song.

Morgan Wallen passed The Sad Songs and the aforementioned Whiskey Me Away on to Aldean. The former may not have made Dangerous, an album which has been at number one since it came out at the beginning of 2021, because there were enough sad songs on that album. On this one, Aldean/Wallen compliments the ‘looker’ who hasn’t heard the songs about ‘the rock bottom…the messes I’ve made’. Odd that a song that seems personal to Wallen is given to Aldean, who is happily married to a wife who, as noted above, is the subject of an odd fascination from some sections of the press.

Whiskey Me Away, meanwhile, has been chosen to open the Georgia Disc, with Aldean/Wallen wanting to hear Alabama on the jukebox to soundtrack a ‘hangover I wanna wake up to’. The disc’s new tracks end with the celebratory Your Mama, which rhymes ‘Georgia’ with ‘gorgeous’ and was co-written by Tyler Hubbard, whose solo career is coming whether we like it or not (I am in the ‘not’ camp).

FGL will always be bracketed in my mind with Aldean because they rode the trend of masculine country, telling sugar-shakin’ girls to hop in the truck and head to the riverbank. Many of those songs were written by Rhett Akins, who is one of two writers on Rock And Roll Cowboy: ‘another town, another show, another hotel room, “when you coming home”.

The final track on the Macon set, a bland retread of familiar tropes called Watching You Love Me, was written by Lee Thomas Miller, Neil Thrasher (the other writer of Rock And Roll Cowboy) and Wendell Mobley. Their names are so common in the credits to Aldean songs that by this point they could get away with combining bits of old songs they have written for Aldean and call it a new song. Hey, it’s a living.

Michael Tyler co-wrote Ain’t Enough Cowboy, which should have been kept off the album because it clashes with hat-wearing, Georgia-accented Aldean’s brand. There’s also ugly autotune, and I bet this will be a single. Perhaps to enjoy a nice cheque, Gordie Sampson, Barry Dean and Hillary Lindsey gave Aldean My Weakness, which will definitely be a single. It’s a love song with plenty of imagery: hurricanes, cigarettes, sunrise, temptation and, as with so many tracks on the collection, whiskey.

There’s a cover of the Bryan Adams 40-year-old hit Heaven which reminds me that Tom Petty once called country music ‘bad rock with a fiddle’. You can actually see the muscles and pistons in Aldean’s music, and that includes the big ballad If I Didn’t Love You, featuring Carrie Underwood, which followed 25 other Aldean smashes to the number one spot. One of those was a duet with Miranda Lambert.

Lydia Vaughan was in the room for that song and a few others – she’s also behind Carrie’s brilliant new song Crazy Angels – so at least there’s some women in this most masculine of acts. The argument goes that women fell out of favour on radio after 9/11, whereupon Chesney, Paisley and Aldean made hay. Given that only Carrie and Miranda were at one stage the only solo women with hit-making qualities for a time between Taylor Swift and Maren Morris, this is stark.

North Carolina native John Morgan launched his career this year while representing his home state in the American Song Contest, which was won by a girl from Oklahoma with blue hair. Morgan is opening for Aldean on his summer jaunt and his name appears in the credits of several of Macon, Georgia’s new songs. They include If I Didn’t Love You, Over You Again, That’s What Tequila Does, This Bar Don’t Work Anymore, Trouble with a Heartbreak, The State I’m In, Midnight and Missing You and God Made Airplanes. I hope his royalty cheque buys him a house.

That final track was written with Jessi Alexander and the Warren Brothers, which means the chorus will get through quality control and which has a brilliant melody and a reference to ‘New York minute’. There is no mention of the ozone layer in this song, unsurprisingly.

Ultimately, there’s a fine 12-track album amongst the 20 new tracks – which you can hear here – but bigger is better and the label have given us a buffet, including a live album which nobody asked for. Like Morgan Wallen in 2021 and Zach Bryan in 2022 (34 songs?!?), Aldean is giving his fans quantity, not quality. Aldean’s fans deserve better.

Country Jukebox Jury LP – Miranda Lambert: Palomino

May 21, 2022

The comedian Alex Horne once described Britney Spears’ difficult days as a ‘mental safari’. I was reminded of this when Miranda Lambert told Bob Harris that the concept for this album, her ninth, was a trip to 36 different places.

I think Miranda is one of the most important country artists of the last 50 years. The sales figures and many awards speak for themselves, but she has been allowed to do things her way in her own time. Her career includes: three albums as one-third of the Pistol Annies with her mates Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley; a high-profile marriage to Blake Shelton who wrote the excellent song Over You, which would be a career song for many artists but was just another smash for the former Mrs Shelton; and a series of massive international tours including dates at the O2 Arena.

Palomino is one of the most interesting albums released by Music City in recent years. As Tim and Luke and Brad and Keith and Blake – the stars whom Miranda has rubbed shoulders with on radio in her career – offer new music to their core fanbase with diminishing returns, Miranda seems to get more popular and better with age: the fine wine of country music.

Her main collaborators are Natalie Hemby, Luke Dick and producer Frank Liddell, while the songwriting team of Jack Ingram and Jon Randall was highlighted on the understated Marfa Tapes album from 2021. Jon and Luke co-produce Palomino with Miranda, who at this point knows how she wants to sound.

Because of the Marfa Tapes, fans know three of the songs on Palomino, which have been fleshed out, though not by much: In His Arms and Waxahatchie both has some extra depth in the production but the same melodies are delivered with identical panache and longing; meanwhile, Geraldene (‘g-g-g-Geraldene’) transfers the acoustic chug to a clear electric sound with some cowbell.

We also have the radio single If I Was A Cowboy (‘I’d be the queen’), the sort of track Kacey Musgraves used to make in 2014 and which suits both Miranda’s voice and the record label’s demand for a fluffy commercial country track. Points for the use of ‘huckleberry’ in the second verse.

Actin’ Up is a sensational way to open the album: a really brilliant vocal, lyrical dexterity (‘hotter than wasabi’), a stuttering hook (‘M-m-m-m-I’m actin’ up), a marvellous groove, a reverb-filled guitar line, namechecks for Tiger Woods and Billy Bob’s Texas. It’s got it all, and it’s followed by Scenes, a typical Dick/Hemby/Lambert composition with plenty of pictures painted by the lyrics.

Miranda is the heir to what the Dixie Chicks were doing in the late 90/early 00s and her brand of country-rock has travelled the world. Miranda’s travellin’ aspect is present on the mellow Tourist: I love the organic instrumentation which provides a gorgeous bed to the lyric about Miranda having ‘a stranger in my soul who loves a good goodbye and big hello…nowhere feels like home’. It’s the Pursuit of Happiness that makes her restless, according to the bouncy track of that title.

Mick Jagger put out the song Wandering Spirit in 1993 and Miranda includes it on this collection as it resonates with the theme. Get those hands a-clappin’! The B-52’s are soon to retire, so Miranda has got the trio while she could get them on Music City Queen, about a real vessel which was the ‘belle of Biloxi’. Fred Schneider adds some ad libs to a second verse which notes that the entertainers on the ship imitates both Dolly Parton and Jerry Lee Lewis, and there’s both a rock’n’roll piano section and a slide guitar bit. It’s a magical song full of character and musicality.

So is Strange, a gritty state-of-the-nation song which was rolled out in Miranda’s C2C set and fits in perfectly with tunes from recent albums. The chugging nature of this song reminds me of Sheryl Crow, who will emerge as a key influence on popular music this millennium. I’ll Be Lovin’ You has a similar feel, with double-tracked vocals and harmonies fluttering around a lyric where Miranda pledges to remember her beloved wherever she roams. The album’s big ballad is That’s What Makes the Jukebox Play, where the narrator scans the bar and describes the characters who need the bar to be filled with songs to ‘lean on’.

A lot of these songs create an itch that needs scratching, be it a production choice, lyric or melody. When Bob Harris played Country Money for the first time anywhere in the world, I played it again instantly, hooked as I was by the rhyme scheme, guitar lick, the line ‘bad mother clucker’ and the album’s best chorus. It is the best representation of a sound Miranda has honed over 20 years. Props to Aaron Ratiere who was in the room for this fine tune and has an album of his own out now.

Carousel is a soft song about the circus that is almost a sequel to Miranda’s manic song Two Rings Shy. ‘Every show must end’ sighs the narrator, who ‘only misses Harlem when she sings the carousel’. Even if the song sounds a lot like A Million Dreams from The Greatest Showman, it finishes the album on a mellow note.

It is an album without flaws.

Country Jukebox Jury LP – Jelly Roll: Ballads of the Broken

May 21, 2022

This album came out last September and for whatever reason I didn’t get around to listening to the singer/songwriter/rapper’s record, his first to be sung through rather than rapped. Jelly Roll aka former drug dealer and convict Jason DeFord sold out the Ryman Auditorium in his home city. As per the title of his major-label debut, he makes music for ‘the lost causes and the ones that have been through something’.

Having started in hiphop, he was enthused by Craig Morgan’s song Almost Home and is making a push to country radio as a ‘country Post Malone’. That’s the moniker given to him by label president Jon Loba says; he even has the face tattoos (Jelly Roll, not Loba!). Given that he’s put out over 25 albums or mixtapes, including three in 2020 alone, Jelly Roll has plenty of music to wheel out for new fans. The label must have been encouraged by his large existing fanbase.

He already has thousands of them, given that a version of his song Save Me has over 100m Youtube views and 53m Spotify streams. ‘I spent so long living in hell’ is the key lyric in a song where Jelly Roll bares his soul. That above quotation comes from his debut at the Opry in an emotional set where he recalled going to jail and making ‘bad decisions’.

Son of a Sinner had a phenomenal first week on country radio, with the backing of Broken Bow Records. Enough people bought, streamed or download it to make him a Top 50 recording artist and it hit number 32 on the Hot Country Airplay chart. ‘I’m on the radio!!’ was the title of a video from the beginning of the year. The song is also available on a demo form as the album closer.

It isn’t just about the music with Jelly Roll, who gets his nickname from his portly figure and who tells it like it is. Using his Youtube channel, he runs his career like the Kardashians do, if I can make the comparison: he takes fans into the gym and to a store to get fitted for a suit for the Opry performance which he calls ‘the most special night of my life’.  

The other big hit from this album, his first on Broken Bow, hit the US Rock charts. Album opener Dead Man Walking is a rock song with a sticky chorus, enormous guitars, digital drum chatter and lyrics about ‘Russian roulette…I don’t have many chances yet’. His voice would fit on rock radio next to the genre’s big stars like twentyonepilots and Imagine Dragons.

The triple-time Backslide appropriately has the vocals slipping all over the note via autotune. It is hard to ignore the fact that production, vocal and lyric (‘backslide, I’m sliding back to you’) are the sort of thing Morgan Wallen has made a killing with. The acoustic-led Sober tries to add some levity to a very gloomy lyric: ‘I don’t like the person that’s inside of me’. His ‘soul is haunted’ on Empty House, tormented as he is by his past.

Over You is an example of the monogenre: music that’s a little bit rock, a little bit hiphop and full of banal lyrics (‘that’s just the way it is’). It opens with Jelly Roll taking a second painkiller, washed down with beer, to get over an ex, while there are drugs present in the chorus too. The theme continues on Hollow (‘I’m not capable of love…I cried myself to sleep’) and Even Angels Cry (‘I can’t see straight…the past I’m running from won’t set me free’).

Most of the latter song’s second verse is delivered in a coruscating rap, which will point people towards his earlier albums. I would have liked more light and shade, as shown on the Willie-referencing Mobile Home, but perhaps that’s for the next album. Ultimately this is an indie album with big budget production.

Jelly Roll’s real influence will be as a man with so many demons who finds catharsis in performing these songs in front of a paying audience every night. He will surely inspire people in that crowd to put their own pain into song.

Country Jukebox Jury LP – Midland: Greetings From…The Last Resort

May 21, 2022

Five of the 12 tracks on Midland’s third studio album came out on an EP last year. You can read what I thought of them here. I was particularly charmed by ‘sweet little waltz’ Sunrise Tells The Story, which is the best track on the full album.

The seven new tracks were trailed by the collaboration with Jon Pardi, their fellow traditionalist. Why the title Long Neck Way To Go hasn’t been thought up before Ashley Gorley and Rhett Akins did is a mystery; perhaps it’s been in a list of possible titles for years. The track is everything you want from such a team up: Pardi adds grit, Midland add harmonies and the guys want the tab kept open. I guess that drinkin’ problem is still there.

Given that Midland are on Big Machine, it’s no surprise that the Akins family wandered into the writers room. Grandpa Rhett was also there on the rifftastic Paycheck to Paycheck (‘I’d have a mansion in Malibu and you’d call me Post Malone’ if life were different), while his son Thomas Rhett provides another of his elegant melodies on Bury Me In Blue Jeans. I like the comparison between kings buried ‘with all their things, rubies and diamond rings’ and a cowboy laid to rest ‘with boots up’.

The LP’s title track opens the set, with a punning title that sets the band by the ocean at a resort, ‘running till I run out of shore’. It evokes about 20 songs from before the year 2000 with its guitar sound, chord changes and lyrical theme: ‘The AC’s broke but I got the ocean breeze’ is a lovely opening line, probably one of Shane McAnally’s, whose sonic fingerprints are all over this album.

If I Lived Here (‘I’d be home by now’) is Midland’s version of a barroom utopia set to a jaunty honky-tonk tune with a fun coda and a four-bar pedal steel solo from Paul Franklin. It’s a twist on ‘you don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here’, the familiar call for last orders.

There are a couple of solo writes on the album. Cameron, who directed a Bruno Mars music video, croons the King of Saturday Night, a Brooks & Dunn homage with chunky guitars. Jessie sings and writes Life Ain’t Fair, an Eagles-y tune about people who, for instance, ‘step right up’ and take a chance at a carnival. Aha: life ain’t like a fairground, so it isn’t fair.

Life hasn’t been fair for Midland fans in the UK, who finally get the chance to see the band in May 2022 on their Let’s Try This Again tour. They were due to promote second album Let It Roll in the fall of 2019 but the date was pushed back to spring 2020 and then to September 2021.

At long last, UK fans of a fun live act can sing along to their commercial country tunes which have one foot in the past. They’re still a construct put together to bring traditional music back, but with songs like these, fake is better than real!

Country Jukebox Jury EPs – Alannah McCready and Tim Montana

May 13, 2022

Alannah McCready – Back To Me EP

Here’s some country-pop from a lady who hits current trends. Alannah was born in Minnesota, went to college in Wisconsin but is now based in Music City, having moved away from an intensive career in field hockey.

With a pure vocal tone without much vibrato, she coos lyrics about love and stuff on the fluffy opener Something Like That (‘all I want is a little more conversation’). On the track On My Own, a guitar plonks along while Alannah mourns turning 30: all her friends are getting married but she ‘wasted so much time, put all my dreams aside’ for a man who didn’t love her back. The stacked harmonies add interest to a track which will make the listener empathise with her, with nobody there to dry her tears. Oof.

To counter the sadness, Back To Me is 99% Cowboy Casanova by Carrie Underwood, reversing the narrative and making Alannah the temptress who will lure the object of the song back to her. The chorus contains the line ‘karma’s gonna get ya’ as well as some magnificent guitar hooks that charmed me. Take It Slow has a gentle chug over which the narrator laments going ‘full speed ahead, nowhere fast’, calling for ‘patience to see where this can go’.

Co-writer Will Gittens appears on Can I Call, where Guy and Girl are physically apart and longing to speak to one another. There’s a fiddle line in the chorus to amp up the mawkishness and melancholy, which will chime with many listeners.

Hopefully an album will follow but this is an impressive handful of pop songs.

Tim Montana – Reno EP

Tim Montana, who is from that state, offers a six-pack of country-rock on this EP, where he has worked with some A-List writers and performers and, in Michael Knox, the man behind the Muscular Country sound of Jason Aldean. Tim is out on tour this year with Koe Wetzel and opening for the co-headline tour from Lee Brice and Michael Ray, so he should gain hundreds of new fans.

California Love – yes, THAT California Love – has drums from Matt Sorum, who is Slash’s right-hand man and regular drummer, as well as guitars from Billy Gibbons. Tim appeared with Lee, Michael, Billy and Kid Rock on a pile-up track from Michael’s album last year; here he takes Dr Dre and Tupac’s parts, shouting out the great state of California. I like it, plenty won’t, but it points to a future of country stars looking to hiphop as an influence on their live sets because their fans will chant it back at them.

Tim lands on more comfortable terrain for people scared by Dr Dre who, let us not forget, brought together stars of hiphop for this year’s Superbowl Half Time Show. Adam Sanders, who wrote Ain’t Worth The Whiskey, helps out on American Dream, a four-chord loop with some light whistling over which Tim paints a picture of how ‘we’re all alright…getting by with a Busch Lite’.

Real Good People features Colbie Caillat, who was last heard in the band Gone West which disbanded after her marriage dissolved too; the song is about keeping on keeping on, as Tim and Colbie ally themselves with the ‘hard livin’ folk’ who will probably show up to see Tim perform with Lee Brice and Michael Ray.

Jeremy Bussey, who wrote Ashley McBryde’s career song Girl Goin’ Nowhere, is between the brackets on Stoned On You, a waltz full of melancholy and regret where Tim’s narrator ‘ain’t found an up’ that doesn’t stop him feeling down.

A Guy Like Me is another one of those self-aggrandising, club-friendly tracks about how the singer is going to raise hell as ‘a fistful of bourbon’. The EP’s title track looks forward to how messed up (not the actual lyric) Tim will get ‘trashed in this casino’ while drinking away a ruined relationship. There is a diminished fifth chord (my favourite chord) in the middle section, where someone honks on a harmonica to underscore his loneliness.

Each of the five originals is pleasant, organic and with great production, lyrics and hooks. Give the Dr Dre cover a chance too, as it might well create the G-Funk Country genre.