A few weeks ago, I used Dylan Scott as an example of how to create a commercial country album. I’m now going to explain the Cookie Cutter approach to commercial country music using Kameron Marlowe’s 16-track album.
Poor Kameron has done nothing wrong, by the way, and he can definitely sell emotion through his voice. It is not his fault that Luke Combs has added a second date at the O2 Arena to his world tour next year, meaning 30,000 people are believed to be keen on seeing him perform. It is our fault, really, that he has made a traditional-leaning album which tries to recapture the spirit of a Luke Combs album.
Giving You Up first came out in June 2019. A 100%-er with music and lyrics by Kameron, it takes four familiar chords and a boring beat to underscore a song about telling an ex to get the hell away from him. It will appeal to the 18-34 streaming demographic who have lapped up Combs and Wallen in recent years. There is a danger that Music Row are flooding the market with Combsalikes and Wallengangers, but such is the way of Nashville.
Burn Em All, with its enormous guitars, also makes it over from his 2020 EP (though there’s no place for a brilliant standalone single Tequila Talking). Girl On Fire smoulders as Kameron sings of lost love, while he laments the inevitable on Does It Have To Be Over. ‘There ain’t nothing like a girl saying goodbye’ is the hook on Saying Goodbye, which is filler, while there Ain’t Enough Whiskey to help him get over a break-up.
The title track begins the album because it needs to underline how Kameron is a country artist. Cowboys are creatures of rural America, and everybody used to be a child: hence this reminiscin’ song where Clint Eastwood and John Wayne are namechecked and the chorus amps up thanks to Kameron singing from his throat. It’s followed by Country Boy’s Prayer, where Kameron throws his voice in a Combsian manner and allows me to resurrect country bingo: Charlie Daniels, church on Sunday, back roads, Bridgestone tyres, ‘the family farm’, soldiers, Grandpa and tractors are all here.
There is the usual share of A-Listers getting cuts to keep their publishers happy. Casey Beathard was there for the swampy blues of Money Ain’t $hit and Country Boy’s Prayer, while his son Tucker was in the room for Over Now, a peace offering from Kameron after an argument with his lady. The ballad Steady Heart (‘we go together like a gravel road and AM radio’) was written with Jessi Alexander and Craig Wiseman popped the jubilant Long Way Down on his Big Loud shelf.
Tyler Farr, of all people, is a secret weapon here. A man who took an Old Dominion song called A Guy Walks Into A Bar to the top of the charts in the mid-2010s is present on several tracks on this album, which at 59 minutes is far, far too long. They include the catchy This Old Town, where a fiddle answers Kameron’s voice in the chorus.
There are a pair of tracks written with the Warren Brothers, who always seem to be there whatever fork in the road commercial country music takes; they wrote Red Solo Cup, Lights Come On, Drink To That All Night, Felt Good on my Lips and Highway Don’t Care, which are all distinctive songs and all number one smashes. Can Kameron get to the top with Fool Me Again, a meditative tune where Kameron mourns a lost love with whiskey and Keith Whitley, who is fast becoming the new Waylon, a go-to country star to be namechecked.
The Warrens also helped Kameron write Granny’s Got A Garden, which is dedicated to G’maw Jan and reminds me of plenty of Tim McGraw’s catalogue. There’s even some whistling, which is lovely to hear in tandem with a mandolin.
Runnin’ Out On You is the showstopper on the album, a writer’s round-type confessional which Kameron didn’t write but gives a great reading of. Good voices will always rise to the top in Music City, and whenever they get there they will have to play the game. At least ‘the game’ in 2022 is making the sort of country that has pedal steel, fiddle and depth, but all I can hear is share prices staying high by giving people what they want.