Country Jukebox Jury LP: Lainey Wilson – Bell Bottom Country

There is one thing that sticks out from this second album from Lainey Wilson, who is set to come to the UK in March for Country2Country opening for Thomas Rhett. She sings every line on it.

In an era when every act needs a collaboration or a synergy with another artist, Lainey goes it alone on this collection of 13 originals and a very well-chosen cover. It is so refreshing to hear an obvious artist, one who has also had commercial success on country radio with songs like Things A Man Oughta Know. If Miranda wants to take a few years looking after the pups, Lainey will take her slot.

And yes, there are ‘slots’ in 2022 for female acts on radio. Look at this week’s chart: in the Top 20 Ingrid Andress (on a Sam Hunt duet) and Gabby Barrett are the only women there. Priscilla Block, Kelsea Ballerini and Carly Pearce will be Top 20 soon, as will Lainey with the lead single from the album Heart Like A Truck, which kicks off the second side of this album in track position eight.

In fact, Lainey is on two songs getting rotation, the other being future Song of the Year Wait in the Truck with Hardy. It’s smart for Lainey, from Louisiana, to team up with the guy from Philadelphia, Mississippi; game recognises game, as the kids say. Lainey writes the 13 original compositions on the album, throwing in a cover of Linda Perry’s song What’s Up (where she says hey yay yay, what’s going on).

It begins with Hillbilly Hippie, a party starter which will be a perfect opener to her live show. It puts Lainey in the Miranda/Eric Church mould, sticking to live instrumentation (including massed backing vocals) and familiar vocal stylings. Keith Whitley and The Rolling Stones both get a namecheck, as does Willie Nelson; ‘Willied up’ is a surefire t-shirt slogan.

Grease, written with Jessi Alexander, will also make any set. Lainey and her fella, who has ‘earned that farmer’s tan’, are ‘cookin’ with grease’ and she’s ‘beggin’ like an old hound dog’. Whatever can she want?? Atta Girl is a song full of melancholy, consoling the heartbroken woman whom Lainey addresses that she has a ‘damn good heart and some big dreams up ahead’. It’s a new spin on how a guy and a girl have different coping mechanisms, that a woman shouldn’t be engulfed by sadness, which makes the title (and its instrumental middle section) so uplifting.

Road Runner is a troubadour’s song (‘grab your boots and head for the highway’) with a melodic chorus. Watermelon Moonshine, which has a proper middle eight, is a midtempo tune perfect for a mellow moment, as Lainey recalls her first time and conjures up some terrific sense impressions with the help of A-Listers Josh Kear and Jordan Schmidt.

Two tracks were written with Nicolette Hayford, who has helped Ashley McBryde find her own outlaw sound: Weak End (great title) is a heartbreak song befitting its title and can be paired with the Lady A song It Ain’t Pretty on a typical Spotify playlist; This One’s Gonna Cost Me is another funky tune with a massive chorus that seems to point towards a hangover, romantic or alcoholic, Lainey won’t regret.

Lainey’s own team includes Dallas Wilson (who co-writes five tracks) and Trannie Anderson (in the room for four of them). This pair will, like Lainey, await some life-changing PRS cheques from Heart Like A Truck, but Live Off – written with a fourth body in the room, Adam Doleac – may follow it on to the radio. It’s a charming list of rural signifiers (work, music, romance) with a banjo layered underneath.

Wallflowers and Wild Horses is one of those country songs about meeting your maker, full of great imagery (‘barefooted, bareback…four-fifths of reckless and one-fifth of Jack’) and a smart arrangement which verges on bluegrass. Me, You and Jesus and Hold My Halo (another great title) are the token religious or spiritual songs on the album, placed beside one another on Side A (tracks six and seven). ‘The man upstairs’ makes an appearance on the former slow burner, while the latter is another one for the popular compilation Now That’s What I Call Lower Broadway on a Saturday Night.

The Lord also gets a mention on These Boots (Daddy’s Song), a toe-tapper which underlines that Lainey isn’t a Southern gal singing pop music but an on-brand Nashville star who has been nominated for two CMA Awards. Female Vocalist and Album might be out of her reach for now, but she’s a shoo-in for New Artist of the Year. She’s a great get for C2C 2023, in spite of what the naysayers are naysaying about the main stage players.

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