Country Jukebox Jury LPs: Pat Green and Bri Bagwell

Pat Green – Miles and Miles of You

Still principally known for hits on the country charts 20 years ago like the GRAMMY-nominated Wave on Wave, Pat Green is now a staunchly independent Texan act who can afford, as here, to take seven years between albums while selling out shows across the state. He turned 50 earlier this year, which puts him in the same age bracket as Keith Urban and Kenny Chesney. His voice comes off more as Lee Brice or Randy Houser, or even Cody Johnson to make it more Texas-specific.

I actually leaned back in my chair in comfort when the opening guitar chords of I’m Going Home emerged. In a thick Texan accent and with some magical diminished chords, Pat sings of trainwrecks, horizons and ‘the day that saves me’. The arrangement is euphoric with a thonking great backbeat anchoring the song.

The title track is more reflective, with ‘endless fields of green’ and rivers setting the scene as Pat drives. It might well be a song in memoriam to somebody close to Pat, or a hometown, but it’s vague enough to stand for anything. Glen Campbell sets Pat reminiscin’ on the album’s closing track Echo, a track which also mixes nature and human contact.

Pat celebrated his half-century this spring and April 5th (his birthday) is full of reminiscences and honky-tonk piano. The gang vocals are great too. Bad Bones (‘hurricane is coming’) is a confident love song led by a swampy guitar part which goes heavy on the wah-wah to match the organ part. I can imagine this running to several minutes in the live sphere and the song fades out tantalisingly! Pat would not have been allowed to do this in 2004, and is all the better for doing so today.

Some of this album has the feel of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, thanks to major-key arrangements and pensive lyrics. If I Don’t Have a Honky Tonk (‘my soul’s been saved!!’) is the current single at Texas radio. It will go down well live when Pat plays such establishments. Build You A Bar sounds like a hit, with a brilliant melody and a lyric that fills in the bar as the verses go along. Abby Anderson, another act who has had her brush with Music City, joins Pat on the singalong All In This Together, where Pat sings of the ‘ecstasy of agony…when the pain is more you can take, that’s when you know you’re alive’. It’ll help plenty of listeners get through trouble in their lives.

This Old Hat takes the familiar motif of describing an object (ekphrasis is the term) to spark off memories and wisdom about life. Steady, a love song which begins ‘her daddy never liked me much’, is another proper songwriter’s tune that would suit any guitar pull. There is fiddle running through the song too.

The risk is that an album like this, which is magnificent, will not find an audience because it lacks a push from the sort of marketing team who helped Pat’s label make money off him in the post-Garth era. As country music remembers that period of history, it should make room for Pat Green. Not that Pat cares if people remember him or not, because he’s got his loyal audience who will go wild for one of the best Red Dirt records of the decade so far.

Bri Bagwell – Corazon y Cabeza

Some radio shows, such as the one on Arc Radio at 4pm on Sundays (repeated 9pm Tuesdays), try to serve up a mix of acts from Texas and Oklahoma. Bri Bagwell is one of those names which always pops up on radio playlists; her new song Trenches kicks off an album with a Spanish title meaning ‘Heart and Head’. It should be noted that a woman called Rachel Loy is the producer of this album.

Hello Highway (‘I wonder why I wander’) is one of those troubadour songs that is natural for someone growing up in Texas to write. Cowboy Cold sounds lush thanks to a fine pedal steel running through the song. Free Man chugs along prettily and Bri adds some verses that a poorer critic than I would call sassy or confident. Texan is a better word, and Bri works in the tradition of her forebears, particularly the peerless Miranda Lambert.

Josefina, about a barmaid and her helicoptering husband, begins with a few bars of Mexican guitar to set the mood. Songs like this are definitely written on Music Row but they’re relegated to album tracks. The Dust (‘wherever we go, vaya conmigo’) is a marvellous waltz that they can only really do in Texas where Latin and American go hand in hand through the sort of windstorms mentioned in the chorus and mimicked by the pedal steel.

Til I Can Let You Go is sung to a wine glass (‘I need you to help me not to think’) and reminds me of Mickey Guyton, whose voice Bri matches here. Mickey could also have written Sarah, a song which hooks the listener from the first line (‘he puts you through hell’). It turns out Bri has experienced the same sort of mistreatment from a guy and tells Sarah that she (and indeed every woman listening) deserves a man who treats her well.

Table Manners, with bass and drums dominant, has the album’s most triumphant chorus, while Happy New Year has a request for rent buried in the second verse. The pedal steel solo smartly interpolates Auld Lang Syne but is at odds with the self-critical lyric.

The album ends with a ballad. Old Together sounds like a stream of consciousness, as if Bri is spilling her soul to her beloved ‘in case we don’t grow old together’. Again the pedal steel works its magic and Bri’s Texas Regional Radio Music Award-winning voice, which I don’t think I’ve praised enough, is clear and high in the mix.

Bri had the 2020 TRRMA Single of the Year and may well win it next year with any of these 11 superlative tunes. A sixth Vocalist of the Year award is more or less guaranteed. Let’s hope more people outside Texas can hear her fifth album and she becomes an international star as well as a star of the Red Dirt firmament.

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