Country Jukebox Jury EPs: Jordan Harvey and Colton James

Jordan Harvey – It Is What It Is

Here’s something that wouldn’t have been released ten years ago: the debut EP from a former country boyband member who grew up in Edinburgh. Amazingly, I think I saw Jordan Harvey at a Battle of the Bands back in 2011 as the drummer for indie-rock band OK Social Club. Their song Everybody’s At It would impress fans of The Fratellis.

Jordan is signed to Broken Bow, home of Aldean, Lainey Wilson and Jelly Roll. King Calaway are still a going concern but Jordan decided to break away and go solo. In 2022, we heard his entry to market with two songs: Alabama Girl, which skips along with an off-beat guitar line and an instantly catchy  melody line which emphasises the lyric (‘she likes my accent, I love her drawl’); and I Will, a catchy appeal to a potential belle (‘be the late-night lips you’re kissin’).

Three new songs that complete the EP. Along For The Ride is another one of those songs about driving with music playing and the wind in your hair. The melody bobs along and the chorus is radio-friendly with a great lyric about the driver’s ‘paparazzi Hollywood smile’. Break-up song Overnight sounds enormous, even if its theme is essentially ‘one last booty call’. The song is elevated by Jordan’s smooth half-rapped delivery and hooky tag to the chorus (‘so come over tonight’).

Think About Change begins ‘Never liked white-picket fences’ and is set to the sort of piano chords and drum loop that have anchored radio ballads by Jordan Davis and Dan + Shay. Fans of Parmalee will also enjoy this country-inflected pop, which will surely make its way back to the UK this year.

Colton James – America

Colton James, meanwhile, is an American performer who has opened for Toby Keith and Jason Aldean, which is one of the most sensible bookings you can imagine given this seven-track EP, which has patriotism running through it like whatever the American equivalent of seaside rock candy is.

Toby and Aldean have made squillions with their brand of chest-thumping country music; without being too reductive about this EP, Colton is a few chevrons behind them in their lane. I Miss America opens the set with a crash from the snare and a squeal from a guitar. Colton sings of small towns filled with working men who eat chicken on Sunday at grandma’s with ‘Old Glory waving tall, waving proud’. We are definitely in the Land of the Free, perhaps when it used to be great or at least ‘so much simpler’.

It sounds like that new ChatGPT algorithm has been fed Toby Keith’s catalogue and told to write a new tune based on that data, right down to the vocal tone and vibrato. Ditto Take This Country Back, which complements the opener but also mentions Jesus and Colton’s grandpa (‘he lived hard…back when a man and a woman fell in love for life’). I don’t know why Colton included both of these on the EP as each does the job of the other; he even sings of the American flag and ‘simple days’, so even the vocabulary is the same across both songs.

47 Acre Farm opens with Colton’s father (‘blue collar sweat, red dirt ground’) and praises the wisdom of owning a piece of land and doing country stuff on it. There is an Aldeanish passage of guitar in the middle of it, and both the lyrics and the delivery are direct and impactful.

There is, of course, the anthemic song about going off to war to ‘bleed for the flag to make sure the stripes stay there’ (Brave Men) and the anthemic song about American farmers who ‘scrape to make their last payment’ (American Farmer). There’s one about Colton’s babe – Ring On Her Finger, a lovely vignette with dustings of pedal steel – and another on the things you can’t buy called Richest Man Alive: ‘peace of mind don’t cost a dime’ is a good line.

This EP is the country version of the Pledge of Allegiance, with some hearty vocals and rural themes.

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