Country Jukebox Jury LPs: Ray Fulcher and Aaron Raitiere

Ray Fulcher – Spray Painted Line

Ray is the most successful songwriter you’ve never heard of. A kid from a small town in Georgia, he met a fellow Eric Church fan, Luke Combs, back in 2014 and by 2018 had success as part of Luke’s crew. Ray was in the room for Even Though I’m Leaving, a song Luke will still be playing in 2050, and his second number one When It Rains It Pours.

Four years after that song hit number one, Ray puts out his hour-long debut full-length release, following a 2019 EP, on Black River. As with Luke’s third album, it is produced by Jonathan Singleton, who is hot right now. Similar to how Cole Swindell isn’t a patch on Luke Bryan, Ray’s voice lacks the character of Luke Combs’ but the songs are contemporary and appealing and will ensure he has success out on the road promoting this album. He’ll be supporting the great Craig Morgan this autumn.

Sellin’ Cars is the artist’s statement of intent: Ray’s job as a songwriter ‘sure beats the hell’ out of a sales job. Bucket List Beers had Combs in the room. It’s a song about marking big moments in your life with alcohol and should be heard on a beer commercial. Beer also pops up in the punchline of Hearts To Break (‘and I got beers to drink’), which has a radio-friendly chorus.

All Gas No Brakes opens the set with a declaration of love, while the magnificent love song After The Rain (‘loving you is like a blue sky after the rain’) slows things down to prove Ray can do balladry too. Life Changing Money has a wistful tone appropriate to a reminiscin’ lyric about buying a ring for his beloved, and Compliment is a fine country song in every respect: drive, melody, production, guitar solo and a great lyric where Ray is ‘set in my ways’.

Eric Church and Jon Stone from American Young gave Ray The Battle of Betty’s Love. It sounds like a Chief song, with a spacious melody and a lyric about a football game and homecoming queens, as well as a pun on Gettysburg in the title. Football also appears in Damn If It Didn’t Hurt, one of many vignettes in a song where Ray tells us that what doesn’t kill him makes him stronger. Sorry, Heart is a great idea well executed and a perfect writers’ round song.

Girl In It was the song that got the big push and I wonder if any big acts like Tim McGraw had it on hold. The other big Ray Fulcher song is actually an outside write: the first verse of Love Ya Son, Go Dawgs takes the form of a voicemail from a dad to his son, which is drenched in pathos and smalltown life: the weather, selling a car, the departure of the preacher and the success of the local football team. It’ll make dads and their sons hug one another, and I wish there were more of this type of song in country today.

Without his beloved, it’d be like the Wild West without John Wayne, as the track with that name lists a whole load of things, including ‘Merle without that Bakersfield sound’, that do not lack that crucial ingredient. Merle isn’t the only musician namechecked on the album, which also gives props to Travis Tritt (a more sedate version of When It Rains It Pours called So Far So Bad), Bruce Springsteen (Way Out), Tom Petty (Anything Like You Dance) and Willie Nelson on vinyl on If You Like Your Boys Like That (‘then you’re gonna love me’).

That last song paints Ray as a good old country boy, which is one of the themes of this album. We don’t need 17 tracks but, having waited a decade for this moment, I won’t begrudge Ray the chance to showcase the full extent of his talent. The car dealership’s loss is country music’s gain. Let’s hope he can get over to the UK for C2C next year.

Aaron Raitiere – Single Wide Dreamer

Like Ray, Kentucky-born Aaron has had his name in the brackets of songs on major releases. Tall Guys, on the recent Maren Morris album, did not have a fan in the similarly short Dave Cobb, for whose Low Country Sound label Aaron is a staff writer; Greg Kurstin, who produced the song, is extremely tall so it found favour with him.

Having written Country Money for Miranda’s record Palomino, Aaron has recorded a toe-tappin’ version of For The Birds, a fine track from The Weight of These Wings which was mostly written at 7.30am staring out the window trying to wake up. He also wrote Look What I Found and I’ll Never Love Again for Lady Gaga to sing on A Star Is Born. As well as holding a degree from Cornell University, Aaron also paints, so maybe Lady Gaga has a Raitiere on her wall.

Aaron will be over in the UK this October supporting Tenille Townes in her jaunt to the UK. He told Your Life In A Song that he wants to make people feel good with his music. Guided by the album’s producer Anderson East – a former boyfriend of Miranda’s – Aaron brought in Foy Vance and Bob Weir from the Grateful Dead to help Aaron, proof that the network is strong in town. It’s out on the Dinner Time imprint and there is much food for thought on the album.

The title track tells of a country-sounding guy who is a fan of Johnny and Merle but lives ‘in a double wide world’. I love the speak-singing Aaron employs, as well as language like ‘bona fide’ and ‘high falutin’. The character of that song smokes, as does the one on Everybody Else, which sounds like a campfire singalong and includes a guy playing acoustic guitar which is awfully meta.

The chirpy and philosophical Cold Soup would work well in a DJ set next to 10cc’s Life is a Minestrone. At Least We Didn’t Have Any Kids is a carefree song where Aaron is free of regrets, while Can’t Rain All The Time is a major-key that looks on the bright side of life despite how ‘the beetles got the apples and the worms got the corn’. You’re Crazy, a list of ways of calling someone less than sane, was written with songwriter’s songwriter Erin Enderlin and reminds me of Charlie Worsham’s funnier songs.

Elsewhere, in a more morose tenor, Dear Darlin’ has Aaron ‘cussing you in cursive’ while doing a Conway Twitty impression. He’s also ‘cussin’ on Worst I Ever Had, which has a singalong section to hammer home Aaron’s pain. Tell Me Something True, co-written with Ashley Monroe, is an acoustic lament where Aaron begs his beloved to stick the knife in ‘even if it hurts’. Your Daddy Hates Me is a son-in-law’s lament which will land well with some of his audience.

Time Will Fly, a Hemby/McAnally/Raitiere co-write about life and stuff, closes the album and it is to Aaron’s credit that he can be bracketed with these hitmakers.

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