The UK Country Festive 50 2022

December 16, 2022

You can listen to this chart in two parts.

Part One counts down 50 to 26 and includes a chat with Ags Connolly.

Part Two takes us from 25 to number 1 and includes a chat with Jof Owen from Legends of Country.

50 Reya Jayne – You Want Me

49 Laura Oakes – How Big Is Your World (acoustic)

48 Ags Connolly (with Kenny Foster) – Auld Lang Syne

47 Joe Martin – High Gravity

46 Preston D Barnes – Still Believe In Crazy Love

45 True Strays – Juice

44 Motel Sundown – Brake Lights

43 Harleymoon Kemp – He Ain’t You

42 Jack & Tim – Little House Big Love

41 Poppy Fardell – Background Picture

40 Chris Andreucci – Strangers In A Bar

39 Katy Hurt – The Kiss

38 Robbie Cavanagh – Godsend

37 Emma Moore – Husbands or Kids

36 The Rising – When You Were Mine

35 Stevie O’Connor – That Dog Can Hunt

34 Alan Finlan – Cowboy Truth

33 Robert Vincent – Pigs on the Wing

32 Brooke Law – Not For Love

31 Georgia Nevada – Sin on a Shoestring

30 Emilia Quinn – Child

29 Louise Parker – Littel Bit Drnk

28 Adele & Andy – When I Look At You

27 Jess Thristan – Worse Than Me

26 Eddy Smith & the 507 – Love Sick

25 Laura Evans – Fire With Fire

24 Tim Prottey-Jones – Drinking for 3

23 Wildwood Kin – Beauty In Your Brokenness

22 Eric & Jensen – Beer Brave

21 Essex County – You In Tennessee

20 Hannah White and the Nordic Connection – Car Crash

19 Gasoline & Matches – Never Have I Ever

18 Lady Nade – Willing

17 The Outlaw Orchestra – Come Together

16 Matt Owens – Drinking by the River

15 William The Conqueror – Tend to the Thorns

14 Legends of Country – Single Again

13 Lauren Housley – Stay Awake to Dream

12 Two Ways Home – Polaroid Kids

11 Gary Quinn – He’s My Dad

10 Twinnie – Bad Bad Bitch

9 Jade Helliwell – Woman I Am

8 Morganway – Back to Zero

7 Elles Bailey – The Game

6 The Wandering Hearts – Instead of You

5 Ferris & Sylvester – She’s A Rainbow

4 Ward Thomas – Justice & Mercy

3 Kezia Gill – Like I Did Before

2 The Shires – Easy On Me

1 Yola – Dancing Away In Tears

Hear all 50 tracks in full in this Spotify playlist.

Ka-Ching with Twang – Jarrod Morris

December 15, 2022

I Didn’t Think About Rain by Jarrod Morris is one of my favourite songs of the last few years. Driven by blasts of harmonica and an unusual chord progression, it’s a man’s attempt to reckon with the end of a relationship via metaphor: houses in the valleys, a bad ending to a good movie, storms and cloudbursts. I stumbled into it while researching Red Dirt music, something I’ve spent two years doing for my Arc Radio show In The Red Dirt. A million people have streamed the song on Spotify, and I am sure all of them know that Jarrod Morris makes horseshoes for money and music for fun.

His Running on Change set, his second album, collects seven self-penned songs. An Acoustic Covers EP offers five interpretations. The covers first, which are a mixed bunch of melodies: The Middle by Jimmy Eat World, with some delicious double-stopped fiddle in the middle; Learn To Fly by Foo Fighters, with a reworked middle section; Another Day In Paradise, which stops abruptly to emphasise Phil Collins’ original point; and Forever and For Always, which cashes in on the return of Shania Twain and reminds the listener that great artists have great songs.

The most popular of the covers is the Rihanna song Desperado, which Jarrod transforms from a femme fatale-type pop song into a prairie folk acoustic number with light natural reverb on his vocal, which stays within a comfortable range and will appeal to fans of Kenny Foster.

Three songs feature as acoustic and studio versions are: album opener The One You Know, a breakup song which will provide comfort to people in similar positions; the fist-puncher Open Book (‘my stories always seem too perfect’); and When You’re Coming Down, which is driven by a three-chord loop and Jarrod’s wish to plough his own furrow and ‘ride my pony till the cows come home’. There is a long outro, which is nice to hear among tight streaming-friendly songs.

Western Tears is a literal interpretation of ‘there’s a tear in my beer’ told through a conversation between Jarrod and his wretched interlocutor. The chorus packs a punch too.

Truth Like A Lie has a memorable line in the chorus about ‘drinking like a fish, smoking like a train’ while Jarrod’s narrator tries to better himself so he can keep hold of his beloved, even if he doesn’t believe a word of what he says. The music is in a happy major key, which only serves to emphasise his message. Far less melancholy is the come-on If You Ever Wonder Why, which has a funky and alluring rhythm to soundtrack Jarrod’s invitation to ‘give me a try’. The saxophone solo may come across as pastiche, as does the slightly self-effacing lyric, but it does its job effectively.

Jarrod Morris seems to be making Red Dirt music on his own terms, which is actually an oxymoron. Every Red Dirt star makes music on their own terms.

Country Jukebox Jury LP: Mallory Johnson – Surprise Party

December 14, 2022

A stellar review in the magazine Country Music People alerted me to Surprise Party, the debut album from Mallory Johnson. ‘I’m having trouble paying my rent’ begins the chorus of opening track Goin’ Broke, which is in the Brandy Clark wheelhouse and has a lovely reverb guitar part running through it. Brandy would approve of the line ‘call me the bargain connoisseur’.

Mallory is a Canadian from a town called Conception Bay in Newfoundland. She made the move to Nashville, much like compatriot Tenille Townes, and in 2021 put on a showcase of fellow Canucks like Victoria Banks and Madeline Merlo. Carolyn Dawn Johnson, who co-wrote Goin’ Broke, was also there, as was Tenille Arts, who was in the room for Drunk Mind Sober Heart, an acoustic ballad which chastises a booty caller. Tenille Arts, by the way, is due in the UK in February 2023 to entertain her UK fanbase.

Married is a fantastic tune which will chime with anyone who wants the power of ceremony without the responsibility of having a relationship with a loved one, to ‘change my name for just one night’. Hungover (‘I’m leaning on the bathroom sink’) is taken at a pace which will suit people with real hangovers, while the toe-tapper When I’m Blue is a songwriting exercise involving colours: white dresses, red wine, yellow roses, being green with jealousy.

Not Your Heart is a ballad where Mallory takes control of a romantic situation with the devastating kiss-off: ‘I’m your shoulder, not your heart’. Stick Around is a warm love song with that familiar country-soul feel, well-placed diminished chords and a slinky guitar line. Party Dress is tons of fun too, rhyming ‘fabric/magic’ in the chorus and embodying that line from Love is the Drug by Roxy Music: ‘Dim the lights, you can guess the rest…’

Where The Good Things Are begins the album’s second side with a dropped-tuned guitar and a series of images that ‘sound nice but…ain’t what I’m looking for’. It’s yet another song about being content with one’s lot in life, which seemingly every act has to sing whether they are Canadian, British or Nashvillian.

Sugarcoat It and the title track were written with the duo Twin Kennedy. The former is a vignette, a four-minute movie of a break-up (‘icing on the cake won’t cover up the taste’ is a smart line) and the latter a similarly downbeat take on Someone Like You. The album ends with a solo acoustic ‘worktape’ version of Wise Woman, a song which Mallory released alongside Twin Kennedy in 2021. It imparts advice from someone who knows that age brings perspective.

Mallory, a wise head on young shoulders, is a fine addition to the coterie of country Canucks.

Jess and the Bandits: Carols by Candlelight, The Camden Club, December 11 2022

December 12, 2022

‘We don’t have white Christmases in Houston!’ sang Jess Clemmons near the end of a magnificent 75 minutes of Sunday night entertainment. Outside the snow was falling in North London while Jess promoted her Christmas releases, including 2020’s My Country Christmas, with secular and religious songs plus a smattering of non-festive tunes.

This was the sixth of an eight-date trot around Britain. A crack rhythm section, Zoe on bass and Robert on drums, kept the beat while the frontline trio of Luke Thomas on acoustic guitar and Eddy Smith on keyboard matched Jess’s vocals. There were delightful solos from Luke and Eddy on, respectively, Love Like That and Smoke and Mirrors, which was particularly enlivened by the organ setting on Eddy’s keyboard. To use a Louis Walsh cliché, Jess made Wichita Lineman her own and is definitely through to the live finals(!)

With vestigial candles dotted around the front of the stage, Jess and the band(its) treated Christmas songs with a mix of reverence (three-part harmonies on O Holy Night, I’ll Be Home For Christmas and What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve) and irreverence: set opener Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree, Sleigh Ride and a buoyant Let It Snow. Wrapped in Red by Jess’s fellow Texan Kelly Clarkson was a set highlight which makes one think that Underneath The Tree shouldn’t be the only Clarkson Christmas standard. Luke, contrary to what he said, did not murder his vocal parts.

His fiancée (and vocal coach?) Jade Helliwell and Tim Prottey-Jones (plus young son) watched on, while Poppy Fardell ‘floated’ onstage for a smart cameo on a cover of Thomas Rhett’s jaunty Christmas in the Country. Poppy had opened the evening with a smattering of songs from her just-released album Back on My Feet (reviewed here). The opening pair of Beer Budget and Double Denim were blessed with the presence of co-writer ‘Sue McMillan At The Back’, while Poppy namechecked Jess Thristan and Liv Austen who were in the room for Good Girl and All Over Again. Little Girl, a song that shows Poppy can do deep as well as frothy, followed Emilia Quinn’s Child in being addressed to an unborn progeny.

Jess was in her usual hostess mood, even dealing with a tipsy member of the audience by declaring him a ‘British Texan’ unafraid to be loud and unruly. She talked of the difficulties of potty training and sang her recent single which called her kids Emotional Baggage which she’d never want to give up. She also advised fellow mums to download an app which lets Santa call kids and ask if they have been naughty or nice, making it an educational show as well as an entertaining one.

The payment for such parenting tips? ‘Mama’s gotta buy some Christmas presents!’ Jess admitted, pushing fans to the merch table to buy one or more CDs but, alas, not Christmas tree ornaments which had sold out by the time she reached London. With luck she’ll replenish the stock for her UK tour next year: biannual visits in spring/summer and Christmas will be something to look forward to, as will a new album.

My Country Christmas is available to stream and download now.

Country Jukebox Jury – Sarah Louise and Poppy Fardell

December 12, 2022

Sarah Louise – The Now EP

Charting at number 12 in the recent UK Country Top 40 Bubbling Further Under Chart, Sarah Louise has collected five tracks written this year into an EP. The title track opens with ‘mistakes that we’ve made, the chances we take’, making it a philosophical song that can be hummed and chanted en masse. ‘Look to the future and let it go’ sings a woman who has a teenage daughter who has a fine maternal guide.

My Beating Heart has an anthemic quality to it, suitably given its title. ‘What do I do with all this emotion?’ cries the narrator, who can only manage some ‘woahs’ with words impossible. Purple Flowers is a piano ballad written for a couple’s wedding, with the title coming from a gift on the second date. I hope people pick up on this song up as it’s one of the year’s best.

Sarah Louise wrote the toe-tapper Rosa Parks Boulevard in Nashville on a recent trip over there. It is a troubadour’s song written in defiance of how ‘everyone I know has been telling me “no”’. The chuckle and whoop (and key change!) elevate the song beyond the many, many songs that have been written about Nashville by UK musicians.

My Grandparents and Me is the singer’s life in a song. Grab tissues, because the song is full of images and vignettes, with love in every syllable and pluck of guitar string. ‘Sandwiches and lemonade’ would make a good songtitle. Sarah Louise, who was nominated alongside Kezia Gill and Jade Helliwell for the BCMA Female Vocalist award, doesn’t need an amateur giving her any tips!

Poppy Fardell – Back on my Feet

Kezia Gill has stepped up to the UK country A List this year. Just below her are a peloton of acts poised to do big things in the current environment. They all write, sing and perform expertly and deserve more than just local attention. One of those performers is Poppy Fardell.

The title of Poppy’s debut album, which was surprise-released like she’s Beyonce, could refer to the long recovery from an operation earlier this year which postponed activity around her music. She was an excellent support act in the spring for Morganway in a London gig, and at the British Country Music she led a singalong of Country Roads while a songwriters round was having technical issues.

Poppy also opened for Jess and the Bandits at their London show in December, which you can read about here, so it was a sort of album launch. Half of the album’s songs have introduced themselves in a live setting and, as of the autumn, on record. Tim Prottey-Jones provides the instrumental tracks over which Poppy sings in a pure, trained voice (she’s also an actress). Tim also provides vocals on Drive, which came out back in 2020 and has a pleasing coat of mandolin and fiddle.

All Over Again, which has a fine structure, opens the album with a singalong bunch of doo-doos and a declaration that, in life and in love, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. It also proves that autobiography can be catchy! Equally hooky is live favourite Double Denim where love ‘shouldn’t work but it does’ and Getaway Car, a pretty come-on with the line: ‘Let’s call it quits, make like The Chicks and take the long way!’

Elsewhere Poppy shouts ‘hell yeah!’ while living ‘champagne life on a Beer Budget’. She is more understated on Hometown Hero, a reminiscin’ song full of pathos which is also a small town ballad and thus hits two country tropes in one tune. There are also two songs with ‘girl’ in the title: Good Girl, written with the predictably solid Jess Thristan, is an air-puncher with the album’s best chorus, while Little Girl is a letter to Poppy’s imagined child with some more sumptuous fiddle.

Dear You is another letter, this time to a beloved. It sounds like a ballad Avril Lavigne would have sung near the start of her career, especially with the rhyme ‘congratulations/manipulation’. The hand of Beth Keeping, an excellent singer/songwriter, is audible. Background Picture ends the album on a high note, with a heavy bass drum stomp perfect for a clapalong that matches a lyric where Poppy moves on in a strong manner (‘Gotta get you out of my system’).

With albums expected from Kezia Gill and Jade Helliwell soon, Poppy has set the bar high for the talented starlets of the UK country movement.

The Country Way of Life Fabulous Fifty of 2022

December 5, 2022

NB Each act is limited to one song as a lead artist (guest appearances are allowed) which must have been first released in 2022

Hear all 50 songs in one handy playlist here.

50 49 Winchester – Annabel. Yearning folk-rock.

49 Dustin Lynch – Party Mode. Simple and effective twangin’ pop.

48 Sean Stemaly – Comeback Town. Brooding production and a fine voice to match it.

47 Maren Morris – What Would This World Do. A career song, expertly sung.

46 Joshua Hedley – Let’s Make a Memory. Mr Jukebox can spin his own shuffle too.

45 Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway – Castilleja. Awards beckon for the dextrous prodigy, keeping bluegrass alive.

44 Raleigh Keegan – Paris Wheel. Piano-driven picaresque love song.

43 American Aquarium – Built To Last. There’s a soft core within BJ Barham’s hard exterior.

42 Aaron Raitiere – Can’t Rain All The Time. An optimistic singalong from a master craftsman.

41 Scotty McCreery – Damn Strait. The best of the many songs on country radio that quote other songs from country radio.

40 Wade Bowen – Knowing Me Like I Do. An effortlessly Texan break-up ballad.

39 Flatland Cavalry & Ashley Monroe – Parallel. Grown-up love song with affecting harmonies.

38 Ronnie Dunn – Broken Neon Hearts. Typical honky-tonker elevated by a terrific vocal.

37 Jaret Ray Reddick ft. Frank Turner – Drunk As It Takes. Sombre transatlantic collaboration for Bowling For Soup bloke’s 50th birthday.

36 Willie Nelson – I’ll Love You Till The Day I Die. The result of Crowell, Stapleton and one of country’s finest voices.

35 Erin Kinsey – Hate This Hometown. Melodic way of saying ‘always remember where you did your raisin’.

34 Steve Moakler – Pack It Up. An ode to moving house full of pathos.

33 Nate Smith – Whiskey On You. Wallenish wide-open country, set to four familiar chords

32 Ashley McBryde and friends – When Will I Be Loved. A singalong cover.

31 Kelsea Ballerini – The Little Things. Pop and country married perfectly.

30 Hailey Whitters – Everything She Ain’t. Catchy and melodic from Dixie Musgraves.

29 Jillian Jacqueline – Sure. Career song with love in every note and syllable.

28 Lainey Wilson – Heart Like A Truck. Builds up to one long held note.

27 Jon Pardi – Reverse Cowgirl. A misleading title, which makes the break-up all the more solemn.

26 Luke Combs – The Kind of Love We Make. Stadium-ready slow burning love song.

25 Kassi Ashton – Dates In Pickup Trucks. Hooky and sweet.

24 Pat Green – Build You A Bar. Chat-up line packed with imagery.

23 Sunny Sweeney – Easy As Hello. A very adult kiss-off.

22 Casey Donahew – Built Different. A no-nonsense heir to Steve Earle.

21 Everette – Gonna Be A Problem. A fine duo in the Eric Church tradition.

20 Nashvillains – Chickasaw Bayou. Swampy and lyrically astute work song.

19 Randy Rogers Band – Nothing But Love Songs. Country-rock tinged with sadness.

18 Mike Ryan – Longcut. Smart title, effortless vocal.

17 Caleb Caudle – I Don’t Fit In. A song for people who stand out from the crowd.

16 The Wilder Blue – The Birds of Youth. Superlative reminiscin’ song full of rural tableaux.

15 CJ Solar – All I Can Think About Lately. Love is the drug and he needs to score.

14 Thomas Rhett – Bass Pro Hat. Product placement never sounded so wonderful.

13 Paul Cauthen – Country Clubbin’. Swampy and with a sense of humour.

12 Eli Young Band – Love Talking. Sweet come-on with a smart lyric.

11 Ernest – What It’s Come To. Three chords and the truth.

10 Maddie & Tae – Grown Man Cry. Very on-brand, immaculately produced.

9 Madeline Edwards – Heart You Can’t Break. Stapleton-approved star, electric slide-worthy tune.

8 Gabe Lee – Never Rained Again. An extremely good love song.

7 Old Crow Medicine Show – Gloryland. Their own genre, with a Springsteen feel.

6 Jesse Daniel – Lookin’ Back. An arrangement to match the melancholy lyric.

5 A Thousand Horses – Broken Heartland. Pulsating Southern rock.

4 Will Hoge – John Prine’s Cadillac. A fine tribute to the late songwriter.

3 Miranda Lambert – Country Money. Bad mother clucker!!!

2 Kenny Foster – Said To Somebody. Carpe diem, country style

1 Carrie Underwood – Velvet Heartbreak. Effortlessly well sung, smart metaphor

Hear every song in full in this Spotify playlist.