Country Jukebox Jury LPs: Muscadine Bloodline and Brit Taylor

Muscadine Bloodline – Teenage Dixie

Independent country music has had a good few years. Zach Bryan is outselling everyone except Morgan Wallen and Luke Combs, while Tyler Childers is so popular he can play two dates in front of 1000 people each night at Islington’s gorgeous Assembly Hall. Grady Smith, a huge supporter of both Bryan and Childers, has not hidden his love of the duo Muscadine Bloodline, interviewing them on his channel in this 78-minute interview.

Gary and Charlie are from Mobile, Alabama, the home state of Jason Isbell, the indiest don daddy of the scene. The pair initially signed a deal with Luke Laird’s Creative Nation label but backed out of it to go independent. This third album follows the nine-track 2022 release Dispatch to 16th Avenue, which included the excellent Dyin’ For a Livin’.

Six of the album’s 15 tracks have been trailed over the last few months. Teenage Dixie, the album opener, hits all the barroom rock’n’roll beats: harmonica, 4/4 beat, chugging from the guitar and a pair of protagonists who had a romance long ago. The sex jam Me On You was released as far back as July 2022, and has a vocal that reminds me of Kenny Foster trying to wrap his tongue around Garth’s twistiest lyrics.

Other pre-release tracks include Evinrudin’, a chugger about fishing; Cryin’ In a GMC (ie a General Motors vehicle), which is another barroom-friendly jam with a host of characters and the line ‘laundry list of did-you-wrongs’; Made Her That Way, where the narrator blames himself for pushing an ex away; and Inconvenience Store (great title), which sounds like what happens when Chris Stapleton goes robbin’.

The other nine tracks build on that sextet. Pocketful of 90’s Country rollicks along with plenty of appreciation for ‘the solid country gold’ including lesser heard stars of the era like Mark Chesnutt and Sammy Kershaw; just when I was wondering when the girls would appear, the third chorus runs through five of the best of them in a new key! Let us not forget Deana, Reba, Shania, ‘Dixie Chicks’ (sic) and Martina. This song will go down well at festivals, especially if any of the old guard are on the bill to join in, and it seems less cliched and more fun than what Luke Combs is doing.

The second half of the album contains the tracks that haven’t been previewed and the pair saved the best for now. Devil Died in Dixie is the song that will pull neophytes in: it’s a sequel to the Charlie Daniels song about the fiddling devil, telling us what he did next and using the original as a template. More of this sort of thing, I say, rather than straight rewriting or rattling off of old songs. I can only imagine how electrifying this song will be live.

Life Itself is almost a pop song, with a suitably pop lyric (‘I love you more than life itself’). Named After Natives has the hook ‘all I want is all of you tonight’ and is one of those songs where the narrator wants to drive to a secluded spot (a bridge, in this case) and smooch. Elsewhere, his lady is so beautiful that she even surpasses Azalea Blooms, and the guitar outro complements the mood of the song overall.

Good to Drive musically takes its lead from Stapleton, the narrator making himself available if his addressee needs a friend. The closing pair of Knife To A Gunfight (‘round here respect is earned’) and Shootout in Saraland are bluesy and suitably menacing, while Old Man Gillich introduces Dixieland gangsters to the impressive lyrics sheet.

Major labels would throw money at Muscadine Bloodline, but the duo is sticking to its indie guns. All power to them. This is a magnificent piece of work.

Brit Taylor – Kentucky Blue

The Country Music People cover story with Brit Taylor had me at ‘runs her own cleaning business’. After a divorce and a flight from a job as a Music Row staff songwriter, Brit recorded her second album in three days with two of the best in town: David Ferguson and Sturgill Simpson.

Inspired by Patty Loveless, this is an album that can sit comfortably with Reba and Miranda, and indeed with Carly Pearce, who’s doing the same thing as Brit but with millions of dollars to help her out.

Tender opener Cabin in the Woods and the title track both ooze class. If You Don’t Wanna Love Me (‘this bird’s gotta fly!’) starts with the hook and gallops onward, while Love’s Never Been That Good To Me begins ‘the needle drops, the record spins’ and sounds like a modern standard. It’s lush and extraordinary and worth the price of admission. For A Night, with a sophisticated chorus full of strings that you just don’t get on radio any more, is even better. I almost gave it an ovation to match the lift I felt inside.

There’s fiddle on Ain’t a Hard Livin’ (‘when I’m lovin’ on you’) and Rich Little Girls (‘clink clink, they drink champagne’). Brit couches her scorn for Nashville’s hen party scene on No Cowboys in an arrangement which has the same sort of rich production that Sturgill had on his concept album about an outlaw. Here, however, the ‘desperadoes…have hung up their saddles’ and are nowhere to be seen.

Best We Can Do (‘these old blues can be so hard to shake’) is a lesson in love from a woman who got lucky the second time around. But one question remains: how bad is the music industry doing in 2023 that a first-class writer like Brit Taylor can only do it part-time?

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