Country Jukebox Jury LP: Mallory Johnson – Surprise Party

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.

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