Country Jukebox Jury: Eli Young Band and Niko Moon

Eli Young Band – Love Talking

Like Old Dominion and Parmalee, Eli Young Band (named after members Mike Eli and James Young) are a rock act on the country charts. Interestingly, with the band now signed to Big Machine, Mike has just signed a songwriting deal there too, so we may see his name on the credits of that label’s big acts in the next few years.

The group are best known for big number one hits written by others: Crazy Girl, Even If It Breaks Your Heart and Love Ain’t were put on the shelf by the likes of Eric Paslay, Shane McAnally and Liz Rose. That is what makes it interesting that Love Talking, the title track of this mini-album which includes that final abovementioned track, was self-penned. It’s a great idea, that it is the emotions which bring the words to the surface (‘never been more sober!’ Mike declares). I love the diminished chord that runs throughout the song.

Mike joined the megawriters behind The Bones, Jimmy Robbins and Laura Veltz, who were in the room for the poppy Lucky For Me. Laura wrote their hit Drunk Last Night and the pop-country formula still sounds terrific, even if its chorus feels like a pastiche of an Old Dominion track.

Worse still is Break Up In A Bar, which combines two titles written by Old Dominion (Break Up With Him and A Guy Walks Into A Bar) to form a completely new song. Written by the super trio of Ashley Gorley, Ben Johnson and Hunter Phelps, it is driven by a Southern rock riff and a steady beat that we’ve heard before but set to a lyric full of goodbyes.

Chances Are has a four-note hook that powers a song about missing you, ‘drinking and thinking about you’. Live With It has a flawless melody and a great lyric, again one that the Old Dominion guys would be proud us, where Mike describes himself, flaws and all, and seeks to be loved after his beloved can ‘try it on for a little bit, see if you like how it fits’. Uncertainty and concern are key to the lyric of Tell Me It Is, a little vignette where Mike’s ‘only antidote’ but he can tell that all is not as it seems.

Before an acoustic version of Love Talking, we hear A Good Thing, a concoction that is lighter than air and functions as background music. High calibre musak, but musak nonetheless, which is more or less Big Machine’s MO in 2022. I am sure Eli Young Band don’t mind, so long as they can play big venues and have a career.

Niko Moon – Coastin’ EP

George Ezra has been called today’s most optimistic popstar, but even his feelgood schtick pales in comparison with what Niko Moon offers. As with his debut album, he offers unalloyed positivity on this five-track EP. At 14 minutes long, Niko Moon offers pleasant distraction with his patented contemporary country sound.

Easy Tonight (‘ain’t it good when it all feels right?’) is bright and breezy. All Niko needs are beers and friends who will help him ‘get there faster if we take it slow’. On the EP’s title track, Jimmy Buffett and Kenny Chesney are appropriately both on the radio while Niko is ‘working on a three-day tan’. He’s on the whiskey on One Drink Away, a party song where he has a ‘little liquid courage’ and wants to chat a girl up.

On All That We Need, Niko reminds us that all we need is one another to have a good time. As with the album, the EP was written with his wife Anna, who must love the upbeat nature of her husband. Back Nine is a songwriting exercise themed around golf: the back nine of the title refers to holes 10 thru 18 and is transferred to mean that Niko is ‘in the back nine of a broken heart’, getting ‘through the woods’ and on the green. It is the first golf-related country song I have ever heard.

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