Country Jukebox Jury LPs: Paul Cauthen and Drew Cooper

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.

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