Country Jukebox Jury – Sarah Louise and Poppy Fardell

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.

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