Country Jukebox Jury EPs: Tyler Braden and Randall King

Tyler Braden – Neon Grave

What links the following acts: Laci Kaye Booth, Cassadee Pope, Brooke Eden, Bailey Bryan, Drake White, LANCO, Noah Schnacky and Abby Anderson? All of them have played Country2Country while they were signed to a major label who has since released them from their deal.

It is remarkable how country music churns through talent. Development deals lead to EPs, local and international touring and a gruelling experience for the artist with early alarm calls for appearances on a weeks-long trot around America’s radio station. When their music doesn’t sell, for whatever reason, the act gets dropped. Charlie Worsham, who is coming over to the UK in spring to open for Ward Thomas, should be an A List star, but was bruised by the experience of touring with Sam Hunt, who went on before him and rendered Charlie little more than an undercard.

Tyler Braden and Randall King are both signed to Warner Nashville and are coming over to make footprints in the UK at Country2Country 2023. They join the likes of Ashley Cooke, MacKenzie Porter and Drake Milligan; like Tyler, they all have a marketing plan that takes in international audiences, and with luck UK crowds will become fans and spread the word, if they haven’t heard their music already. My other top tips are 49 Winchester, Catie Offerman and Pillbox Patti aka Nicolette Hayford.

Warner Music are launching Tyler Braden onto the world with an EP produced by Randy Montana, who is in the Luke Combs camp. What makes Warner so sure he can succeed, based on this initial collection? Because his voice is a mix of Combs and Brett Young, and it is surrounded by contemporary arrangements with everyday themes targeted at a young demographic.

Neon Grave is a brooding look at an ideal afterlife sung with the same growl adopted in the post-Stapleton era of Combs and Wallen. Joe Diffie and the ‘Good Lord’ both get a mention. Choose Me’s gentle groove matches the narrator’s hopeful romantic begging of the narrator. Wrong Right Now is the type of sex jam Jason Aldean has been churning out for two decades, but that doesn’t make it any less powerful. Middle Man is yet another song about how a dead loved one would marvel at the changes in the world, as well as the importance of prayer. It’s almost Christian music.

There are two versions of Try Losing One, one featuring Syndey from Echosmith. The song first came out on a 2021 EP, so it already has traction as a solo performance. The ascending melody in the chorus, sung over some piano crotchets, makes it sound like a song perfect for Voice contestants. Cellos join for verse two and, in the duet version, the vocalists blend pleasingly.

I am sure Tyler will win some new fans at C2C. It’s up to his label how long they keep him before he, like the acts in the opening paragraph, is tossed back to open mics and life hustling as an independent artist. Surely this isn’t sustainable, except for the fresh crop of acts that turn up in town every month hoping to be the next Tyler Braden.

Randall King – Small Town BS

As for Randall King, he has picked the right moment to sign with Warner.

After Elvie Shane pulled out of C2C on doctor’s orders, Randall King has been kicked up to the Spotlight Stage on Saturday. I wonder if he’ll play his version of I’ll Fly Away, which he dedicates to his late sister Leanna, whose name is also on his suit. He’ll be playing the Opry on the Wednesday after the festival, having made his debut there exactly a year before on an extraordinarily emotional evening. Fun fact: his dad’s name is Randy!

For those who will have arrived late and missed his performances across the O2 during the day, they will see the spirit of Red Dirt country, as approved by Garth Brooks, so long as they haven’t nipped to the loo or joined a queue for an overpriced pint of alcohol. He’ll also be in Garth’s hometown of Stillwater, Oklahoma in April, so a trip to London is a chance for him to promote his album Shot Glass and his recent EP. In fact, he’s over here on business as it’s a two-week trip to press the flesh and perhaps see some sights.

Small Town BS came out last November and built on Randall’s brand of neo-traditional brilliance. It is hard not to think of Garth when you hear him sing about ‘stepping in small town bullshit’, with the same Garthian cadence to his voice. She’s Gonna Kill Me is delivered with a triplet-y swing and a smirk: ‘She’s a broken record, I’m a needle that skips’. John Osborne helped him write Honkytonk Side of Me, a supremely melodic song of Southern identity that sounds like a TV theme.

There’s a pair of sad songs. In The Picture has Randall lamenting how ‘you can fit that much pretty in a three-by-three…but she ain’t in the picture anymore’. Without her, ‘it’s all Down Hell from here’. The melodies, the arrangements and the tenor of Randall’s delivery are a match for those of Alan Jackson, an obvious influence. It would be lovely if Randall King got to headline C2C this decade, and thanks to Warner Nashville’s money he will be back over here any time he wants to return.

The Texas pipeline shows no signs of running dry: Parker, Cody, now Randall King.

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