Country Jukebox Jury EPs: Matt Stell and Walker County

Matt Stell – One of Us EP

As is Matt Stell’s custom, he has put out an EP rather than an album, following a short set of songs in. Following his acoustic co-headline shows with Elvie Shane in the UK last year, Matt will be on the main stage at Country2Country this year so has been given a vote of confidence from the Country Music Association.

Five of these six tracks were produced by Matt with Jimmie Allen’s mate Ash Bowers, and Matt’s songs are sonically similar to those of Jimmie. They include Man Made and One of Us. The former is a love song to the female sex that namechecks Da Vinci and pivots around the hook ‘if a man made anything it’s cos a woman made that man’, while the latter is a sort of rewrite of Ed Sheeran’s Castle on the Hill, as kids grow up to be singers or parents, or prove there is ‘no settle-down in him’. There’s even a death in the second verse which I suppose has a true story behind it.

This One’s Gonna Hurt, like Man Made, is an outside write from, among others, Hardy and Tyler Hubbard. It’s a catchy if bog-standard drinking song enlivened by the truism that hangovers hurt more when you’re older. I actually looked to see if there was a song called A Little Bit Older, a Little Budweiser and there is. Well done to Randy Houser.

Shut The Truck Up is a bog-standard heartbreak song set to the old familiar vi-IV-I-V chord progression which is enlivened by its title. Randy Montana helped Matt out on Roots In This Ground, an anthemic if bog-standard song about being from the country which will fit well next to That Ain’t Me No More in his live set.

Somewhere Over The Radio panders to the country stations who have given Matt some number one hits. The song is a great confection, even if it tallies with my theory that we’re running out of songs. The lyric and chorus melody alludes to rainbows and yellow brick roads, and makes Music City today’s Oz. I wonder who the wicked witch of Music Row is…

Walker County – No Smoke and Mirrors EP

The sisters Ivy and Sophie Walker have put out 10 singles since 2018, among them the three-chord marvel Bits & Pieces. At long last they have an EP in the world.

As teasers we heard the gentle Mirror Mirror, a Maddie & Taeish song for girls who aren’t confident about their looks, and You and Jesus, written by the great Aaron Raitiere and Greylan James, who adds vocals too. It really is essential that God is kept in country, given His presence in rural life, and the song toes the line between love and Lord.

Between Boyfriends is a chirpy, Maddie & Taeish tune which will really hit the 18-34 demographic. I like the delivery of lines like ‘half-past buzzed when you walked in’, which most listeners would call ‘sassy’ or ‘unapologetic’. I wouldn’t disagree. Yours Tonight, meanwhile, is a ballad which reminds me of Ward Thomas or, well, see above: ‘I said last time was the last time but here we are again’ sets up a chorus which most listeners would call ‘Adele’. Kudos to producer AJ Pruis, who ensures the arrangement stays out of the way.

Stoned was written with Ashley Monroe, and you can tell just by the chord progression and gentle vocal delivery. It’s one of those ‘love is a drug’ songs but it’s musically interesting and very hooky. It bodes well for a full-length project and, indeed, any UK visits the girls may make in 2023 and beyond.

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