Country Jukebox Jury LPs: Ingrid Andress and Hollie Rogers

Ingrid Andress – Good Person

Nashville loves to mimic what New York and Los Angeles are doing. When casting around town a few years ago for someone who could play piano and sing ballads like Julia Michaels or Billie Eilish, they alit upon Michigan-born Berklee School of Music graduate Ingrid Andress. Lady Like was a fine song, as was her number one smash More Hearts Than Mine, which has led to a follow-up album which she has co-produced with her key collaborator Sam Ellis.

Sam has worked with Thomas Rhett, Kane Brown and Lady A so he knows how to tread the line between pop and country. Ingrid has found a place on country radio with her Sam Hunt collaboration Wishful Drinking, which is basically a rewrite of Meant To Be. That song is tacked on to the end of the album, which is made up of 12 pop songs which Nashville is selling as country music.

Priscilla Block’s main collaborator Steph Jones co-wrote the title track, which opens the album. We hear Ingrid harmonising with herself in a manner that has been all over LA and NYC pop for the last few years. ‘I pray for the ones that I love every night’ lays bare a narrator who is struggling with morality, much the same as Cody Johnson was on the title track of his album Human. Lose the harmoniser and add some pedal steel and this is country music.

Other songs can soundtrack people in love, as pop music has done for decades. ‘I love that we forgive but hate that we forget’ is a good lyric on Talk, where the harmoniser returns. How Honest Do You Want Me To Be (yep, the harmoniser is here too) begins with Ingrid singing about ‘drinking too much’ and threatening to say how she really feels. Falling For You looks to the future, hoping that love doesn’t fade like colours on a t-shirt, while All The Love is anchored by a pretty melody and another acoustic guitar loop.

Shane McAnally was in the room for two songs, one of which may well be the song of the year. Yearbook, which I’m led to believe is about Ingrid’s parents, flips the familiar motif outlined in songs like Luke Combs’ Refrigerator Door or Pictures by Lady A to tell the tale of a couple who are still together despite only being ‘on the same page’ back when they were teenagers. It’s a proper country song that only Nashville writers’ rooms (and, indeed, the superlative Shane McAnally) can tell.

Blue is the other McAnally co-write, packed full of imagery that riff on the titular colour. Ingrid adds some light keyboard to the track, which she will surely dedicate to blue-eyed crowd members. Shane’s fellow A-Lister Jesse Frasure was there for the smart Seeing Someone Else (‘you’re seeing who I used to be’), one of those pop-country tunes driven by an acoustic guitar part and a snarling narrator who unfurls her story in a hurry. In fact, it sounds like a Julia Michaels song, which is handy as the pop writer was with Ingrid and Sam for Feel Like This, a pure, unabashed love song with a lyric that skips in part. It would work on pop radio.

Liz Rose helped Ingrid tell the story of No Choice, a grown-up torch song about falling out of love. ‘A ship without an anchor’s gonna float away’ is another great lyric, and the narrator is full of self-doubt. The twist in the chorus – ‘I left you because you left me no choice’ – is pure Nashville, while the dusting of staccato strings is very LA. As for the character in the vocal and her sigh before the final chorus, it’s Broadway.

Is it country music? It is if Ingrid says it is. Lady A tread the same line and it makes sense that Laura Veltz, who wrote the pair of Lady A tunes What I’m Leaving For and What If I Never Get Over You with Sam, was drafted in for the triple-time tune Pain, which includes some keening pedal steel to underscore a great lyric and vocal, as Ingrid drags some syllables out for multiple beats.

On Things That Haven’t Happened Yet, Ingrid mentions her age. It’s 29, the same age Carly Pearce was on her recent album. It’s boring to compare female acts but it is an obvious comparison to note that Carly is going down the country-pop path while Ingrid is doing pop-country, if you see what I mean. There is room for both kinds of music in Nashville, and Keith Urban fans will be warmed up with a set from Ingrid before their guitar hero wanders on to play his rocking country music.

Country-adjacent, we should call it. 

Hollie Rogers – Criminal Heart

So is Hollie Rogers, one of the smart bookings at the recent British Country Music Festival, which I reviewed here.

During one of her two performances, she caught her hand and drew blood, such was her enthusiasm. She was previewing songs from this album, which is an example of British country thanks to its storytelling.

Hollie has Kezia Gill’s gift for pop melodies and a voice like that of Elles Bailey or, in places, of Tracy Chapman. British country will receive her warmly, as it welcomes more folk from Cornwall (Bailey Tomkinson is a key figure down there). Indeed The Coast Road is a gorgeous song in honour of her home county, ‘not a care, not a thought, just the view’. There’s also a version where she sings the chorus in Cornish which is worth tracking down.

The title track is a brilliant way to begin the album, with its immaculate pop chorus and a fine vocal. At TBCMF, Hollie also performed the funky blues number Strange, which eventually made the point that her husband loves her a lot. She played the tracks Love and Sinner as well, the former counselling that ‘love ain’t always ribbons and gold’ and the latter a lightly jazzy tune of a femme fatale.

Bring Me Some Peace and Girl on a Mission are the type of Adult Contemporary country song that Gary Quinn writes: on the former, therapy and reminiscin’ are high on Hollie’s agenda but ‘still I’m incomplete’; the latter has a string section to underscore a lyric full of determination and heart (‘I believe in us’). One Last Time can also be bracketed in the AC Country genre, with the arrangement matching a lyric which mentions ‘putting out the fire’ and a plaintive plea: ‘Don’t turn me down or fade me out’.

Youth is the album’s seven-minute centrepiece, full of open-throated vocals and a message to seize the day. The final two minutes are full of vocalisations and guitar wigouts, and it ends the album’s first side in a very anthemic manner. Guest vocalist Jamie Lawson appears on the melancholic track Love and Distance, which kicks off the second side.

The Man You Had To Be, assisted by a resonant cello part, and her tribute to London called City of Colour both show Hollie to be a fine songwriter who is respected within the music industry. She needs commercial success as well, whether as a UK country act or as a singer/songwriter whose music crosses any boundary.

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