Here’s another supersize release, with 18 cuts, from an underappreciated Wyoming-born talent who follows up his debut album Coyote Cry. God is the first word on the album, while ‘stallions’ appear a few lines later on the suitably titled From the Horse’s Mouth, plus ‘there’s bullshit all around’. What a way for Ian Munsick to set out his stall.
Across the next hour, we get well primed country music. Cody Johnson, who like Ian is on Warner Nashville, adds his clear voice to Long Live Cowgirls, who are ‘fast and wild’ like a Mustang or a freight train. It sounds like what Music Row wants country to sound like in an ideal world: harmonies, fiddle, waltz-time and pedal steel. There’s even a Chris LeDoux reference just like Garth used to make. Ian is out on tour with Chris’s son Ned this year, which is lovely.
The title track is a story song about just such a cowgirl but Ian’s narrator has a ‘better chance…of finding a white buffalo’ than getting her back. After the chorus he cries like a wolfhound, which I am sure he will encourage audience members to join him on. Big songs in the live set will include River Run, which sounds like a smash, especially in the clever way it unites ‘her and the river’. There’s some mandolin in the mix but the hillbilly harmonies help the catchiness of the hook.
More Than Me is a wedding song which sounds like all the other wedding songs, including the references to hanging the moon and ‘amazing grace’, while Little Man will appeal to parents who ‘ain’t got much’. Ranch Hand, which is a tribute to the good old boys who work on the farm with a pedal steel solo, and the kiss-off Barn Burner (written with a guy called Driver Williams!!) sound like two titles from the album’s mood board (or boardroom meeting). Something happens about three minutes into the latter track which will please any traditional country fan, though I’m not going to spoil the surprise.
Two big names come on board to give Ian some trad cred. Vince Gill appears on a song the pair wrote called Field of Dreams, whose chorus has the word ‘cottonwood’ in it and sounds like the Oklahoma plains Vince grew up on. Closing track Indian Paintbrush had friend of the Indians Marty Stuart in the room, which can’t help remind a country fan of The Red Strokes by Garth. Marty’s guitar solo underscores the lament in the lyric: ‘What used to seem so sacred now don’t matter all that much.’
Horses & Weed (‘that’s all I need till the day that I die’) is a decent credo by which to live a country way of life, and the arrangement is lush and full of unexpected chords. The understated Bluegrass links Bill Monroe and Earl Scruggs with getting stoned, with Ian singing the title of the song in Keith Urbanesque falsetto. Handclaps kick in after two lazy verses, and it’s so much better when there’s sonic variation within a song rather than singing over a consistent, unwavering loop.
Dobro and fiddle introduce Arrowhead, one of those songs about knowing where you’re going that someone like Brad Paisley does so well, although Ian seems to be autotuning his vocals or at least putting some production over it; hey, Wallen does it and he’s got the number one song and album in America. Would Wallen record a song called Cowshit in the Morning, though?
That one is a Luke Laird co-write which can be summarised as ‘I’d rather eat dirt than put up with yours’. Neon Brightside ticks off all the familiar things in a heartbreak honkytonk song, lyrically and sonically, as Ian’s narrator tries to ‘find the good in her goodbye’. Dig is a plea to a beloved who won’t let Ian get any closer with the lyrical hook ‘your love’s a gift and I ain’t afraid to dig’.
Blazin’ and Missin’ Her Play (both with no G!!) may suffer from being among the last four tracks on an 18-track album. The former is one of those country songs where a guy professes amazement about his girl falling out of the blue clear sky, here with ‘guns blazin’, while the latter is a chugging tune about regret which Randy Montana in the room. Despite its title, it is not about being otherwise engaged during a school drama performance; instead, our narrator lets the ‘missing her’ play on the radio as he drives away ruing another break-up.
As with Big Loud and Wallen, Warner is banking on the money-making 10% of acts (Luke Combs) funding the other 90% (Munsick, Johnson). This is a really good hour of contemporary country music which looks more to Combs than to Wallen. I hope it doesn’t get lost in the crowd amid repeat plays for both those A-Listers this year.