It seems that Music Row has hit upon a new strategy, which I have referred to as a buffet. Just as nobody would have the fish, the chicken, the soup, the salad and the blancmange, so the major labels do not presume someone would listen (at least in one go) to 26 tracks and over 150 minutes of music.
This album was due to come out in February, with 20 tracks. It was pushed back to the end of April with six added tracks. Does anyone need 26 tracks by an act who is establishing himself in the country music crowd? It would appear that the delay in release is due to politics.
Arista Nashville, a Sony imprint which held Old Dominion, Carrie Underwood and Brad Paisley on its roster, has been dissolved. Carrie has been on Capitol for a while now, but free agent Brad signed with Universal. Old Dominion moved to Columbia, as has Megan Moroney who puts out her debut album next week. Nate Smith is now stablemates with Kane Brown and Chris Young on RCA. I don’t mind if your eyes skipped over this paragraph, because nobody normal cares about record company machinations.
Have you seen posters advertising Luke Combs’ new album on the underground this month? They are a direct result of a huge international effort to capitalise on Luke Combs the brand, the artist and the man who helps export country music abroad. I wonder if there was a boardroom meeting where Luke was told: ‘In October 2023 you will play two dates at the O2 Arena in London.’
To end up with those gigs in front of over 30,000 people, he needed to have hits, get on TV, get onto big stages and win Entertainer of the Year twice at the CMA Awards. It’s all part of the plan. I am sure it’s helpful for Nate Smith that he enters the market at a time when a stocky bloke with a beard from North Carolina is the biggest non-Wallen star in the genre.
Universal Music, which ultimately supports Nate as a touring and recording artist (in that order), is taking a thought-out gamble on any act. A military kid, Nate grew up in Paradise, California, a town which was wiped out by forest fires just before Nate started to give music a go and ‘write songs that inspire hope’ as he told Pip from EF Country in 2022. One of them was One Of These Days, written on a guitar which replaced the one which was lost in the fire.
He’d already come to Nashville and beaten a retreat, but Americans love a tale with a good second act and Nate returned to Music City, touring with Brett Eldredge and Morgan Evans. This year he’s out with Thomas Rhett and Cole Swindell to try and get some of their fans. Many existing Smithites came to him via TikTok, where a big bloke with a big voice will keep eyeballs lingering and might convince people to go and stream the song or buy a gig ticket.
As with other mammoth releases at the moment, considering Nate Smith’s project as an album is futile. Ultimately and unfortunately, he reminds me of Brett Young or Dylan Scott: anonymous and malleable. As with Wallen’s album, I’ll suggest playlists where fans can slot all 26 tracks. You may recognise some of the playlists from that Wallen piece.
If I Could Stop Loving You: ‘Breakups Make Me Miserable’
Alright Alright Alright: ‘Movie Quote Country’
One Good Girl: ‘Small Town Checklist’
Back At It Again: ‘Breakups Make Me Miserable’
You Ain’t Been In Love: ‘Country Wedding Song’
Better Boy: ‘A Country Way of Life, by Hardy’
You Only Want Me When You’re Drunk: ‘Don’t Mess Me Around’
Bad Memory: ‘Breakups Make Me Miserable’ (although admittedly this one has the narrator complaining that he is miserable because his ex is unable to remember the truth)
Oil Spot: ‘Cruising Down The Freeway To Get Over a Break-Up’
Wreckage: ‘Country Wedding Song’ (a weird one where our narrator is almost trying to push his beloved away because he’s so ‘damaged but damn you saw the good’)
LFG: ‘Country Music and Alcohol’ (the title suggests a swear word, and I like the line ‘put the GPS on BFE’)
Whiskey On You: ‘vi-V-IV-I Chord Progression’ (it shares the same progression as Thomas Rhett’s Get Me Some of That and two songs by Dustin Lynch: Stars Like Confetti and Thinkin Bout You)
You Shouldn’t Have To: ‘My Lady is an Angel’
Sleeve: ‘Dirt Rock’ (like the title track to Wallen’s album, it sounds like a freeway drive and also fades out in a way 99.99% of songs released nowadays fail to do)
I Found You: ‘Country Wedding Song’
Backseat: ‘Reminiscin’ (a little too close to Lee Brice for comfort, though)
Name Storms After: ‘Meet-Cute’ (good title though)
Raised Up: ‘Hallelujah, Amen’
Under My Skin: ‘Country Sex Jam’ (a funky Chris Stapleton-type tune, which also references tattoos)
I Don’t Wanna Go To Heaven: ‘My Lady is an Angel’ (again, this time with a more Christian rock piano arrangement and the great line ‘the Pearly Gates are our front porch’)
The last six tracks are only available on the deluxe edition of the album, which seems completely redundant when the album and the deluxe album are both released on the same day. Perhaps the CD was manufactured before the last six could be added, so let’s treat these six tracks as a separate EP, like when Luke Combs tacked songs onto his first two albums.
World On Fire: ‘Country Sex Jam’ (this one has massive drums, massive guitars and massive wails from Nate’s narrator)
I Don’t Miss You: ‘Breakups Make Me Miserable’ (you see, Nate does miss the girl but he’s put it the whole thing in the negative, which I call ‘alpha-privative country’ after something I learned at school, like how you put ‘an’ in front of ‘aerobic’ for ‘anaerobic respiration’ which is without oxygen)
Good By Now: ‘Ashley Gorley Was In The Room (she said goodbye, so you’d think he’d be good by now)
What An Angel Ain’t: ‘Breakups Make Me Miserable’ (oh come on, change the record)
Dear Heart: I don’t even need to tell you which playlist this goes into, do I? Written with the great Emily Weisband, maybe it can go into the ‘I-V-vi-IV’ playlist because it uses that common chord progression
Love Is Blind: ‘Country Wedding Song’ (basically the same song as Wreckage)
There you go. Now it’s your choice if you want chips or beans, fish or chicken.