Morganway’s debut self-titled LP

October 15, 2019

This piece appears in the Autumn 2019 edition of the Country Way of Life magazine. Ask for a copy here. The magazine includes album reviews, features on country festivals and a debate on the TV show Nashville.

In March 2018, a man named Gary Lafferty filmed the Country on the Clyde performance of Let Me Go by Morganway from the balcony of the venue. The song sounded a bit like Fleetwood Mac trying to be an indie band and was sung by SJ Mortimer, who is married to the band’s guitarist Kieran and sister-in-law to the main songwriter Callum, whose surname is Morgan. Nicole Terry, a maker and player of violins, was borrowed from SJ and the Flying Pigs, where Kieran also played guitar.

In the video Morganway’s third original member, Matt Brocklehurst, plays keyboards in his fingerless gloves while SJ sings effortlessly and in harmony with Callum. Kieran is allowed eight bars to play guitar over the top of, with a bottleneck slide which was quietly received by a crowd who probably didn’t know what they were seeing and were politely appreciating some great country-rock.

There is something about that performance, which has a total of 548 views as I write, that enraptured me 18 months ago. Possibly it was the cohesion of all the parts or the fact that they looked like a band with a vision. Other people had called them country; the band themselves preferred Norfolkana, a mix of UK rock and US country music.

1 Morganway.png

I had a long chat with Callum Morgan in person in 2017 and then by phone in 2018, and saw his band in various showcases in London across 2018, enjoying talking Watford FC with their former bassist Rory Hill. The Morgan twins know their heritage, talking effusively about Tom Petty and Fleetwood Mac. I also spoke to SJ backstage after a London gig in 2019 and learned she was a big fan of Queen and classic rock, which may explain her tendency to break into a rocker’s wail.

At Buckle & Boots 2018 I picked up a copy of a live album called Driving to the City, which included many songs which would end up on Morganway’s debut full-length album. Released after much anticipation on August 2 2019, it followed two EPs which built on the folk-country-rock soup I had fallen in love with. The 11 tracks showcase every side of the band and the album can be divided into two halves: Side A with five tracks and Side B with six.

Side A begins with the moody My Love Ain’t Gonna Save You, an old favourite written by Callum Morgan with Yve Mary B, their former singer, which has had 106,000 listeners on Spotify in its original form. The ‘my love, my love’ chant runs through the song, whose opening line is fab: ‘I was alone when I left my home/ Staring ahead at the great unknown’. It’s a philosophical love song: ‘Do you believe in love when it’s unkind?’ and ‘Love’s not real till it tears you’ are the mark of a good lyricist. The protagonist consoles himself (‘I told myself play it cool…’) and sets up a lush final 40 seconds. Across the album, the production by George Nicholson (who is credited as a co-writer on many tracks) is brilliant, with Ed Bullinger’s drums governing the tempo and Kieran’s guitar meshing well with the new addition of Nicole’s fiddle.

Let Me Go is track two and sounds just as good as it did in Glasgow in March 2018. ‘I will love you so if you let me go’ is one hell of a lyric, and SJ goes on to sing about wanting to ‘learn to fly’. The guitar and fiddle get a showcase and it’s a proper band track, much like Hurricane, which is track seven on the album and second on Side B. The line ‘Hit me like an avalanche’ is sung solo by SJ in a spine-chilling moment where you believe that she wants to be hit pretty hard. Equally avalanche-sounding is Kieran’s squealing lead solo in the track’s final minute, which gives way to a coda sung solo by SJ over the fading instruments. Live, this track is astonishing; on record, no less so.

Hurricane is a reliable set closer and also benefits from being a tight 4:00 banger, cut down from the five- or six-minute version that they can play live, a version of which is available on Youtube. I remember catching them in Canary Wharf in a posh ballroom in early 2018 when they played You Can Only Die Once, a chugging rock track in the brooding key of F minor which comes in at track three of Side A and may be the surprise breakout smash. It’s such a melodic track, again produced immaculately, and Callum’s acoustic works well with Kieran’s electric guitar washes. The third verse is almost whispered then crescendos with a quicker vocal delivery and intensity. It’s a confident song that is sensibly placed after the equally terrific Let Me Go. You can’t only listen once…

Side B kicks off with live favourite London Life (‘Some are trapped, some are free, some spend their life wanting to believe/ They’re the man they wanna be’), then Hurricane and Frozen In Our Time, which was a teaser track for the album that showcases SJ’s vocals, among the best in the UK country scene. The final vocalisations are gorgeous and tie in with the abstract nature of the lyric.

I think I first heard In A Dream (Coming Home) – Side A, track four – in their set at Camden’s Monarch at the end of July 2019. It’s driven by a shuffle from Ed’s drums and has a folk-pop feel. The lyrics include the line: ‘So many people but you’re still alone/ The more you understand, the less you really know’. Callum is barely 30 years old and he’s already cracked the meaning of life, or he’s familiar with Greek philosophy.

Side B has a tough task in finding three tracks to follow Hurricane. On the heartland rocker New Way (track eight), Callum sings over a rotating four-chord jam about how his ‘defences are down’. Track nine is Daylight Rising: Matt’s piano sets the mood for the first few moments before SJ softly sings over a gentle groove about ‘the coldest winter’ and breaking tides. It’s another song co-written by Yve Mary B, whose folk stylings are still present in the band; she is now a solo artist but deserves mention for her lyrical contributions to tracks like Let Me Go, Frozen In Our Time and Hurricane.

Matt gets a writing credit on track ten (Side B, track five). I See People starts with a Springsteen-style chord progression, then Callum sings expertly over Nicole’s fiddle of ‘a girl from years ago/ Pain was all she’d ever known’. The chorus includes an unexpected ‘hey!’ which contrasts with the lyric in the third verse. ‘Love was the sweetest kind of suffering’ again shows emotional depth (perhaps Matt, the band’s Quiet One, contributed this line) and the song will be a staple of the band’s live set as they go into 2020 to promote the album around the country.

Morganway support CC Smugglers on several dates in the autumn, while their friendship with Kenny Foster may lead to a joint-tour somewhere along the way. If I speak it into existence, maybe it’ll happen; anyhow, the album was mastered by the same chap who mastered Kenny’s latest album and both acts will be at Millport Festival.

When I heard the band play I Want No Other Love, the closing track on the album, I felt it could double as a set opener. SJ and Nicole sing before the rest of the band come in chanting ‘tonight, night night night’ before the middle of the song sees them break into the line ‘there is no other love’. The fact that the last third of the song doesn’t explode in the way Fix You by Coldplay does is testament to the understated nature of the band, who may well become your favourite soon.

The album is sophisticated and varied, a product of its influences without being a copy of Tom Petty, Fleetwood Mac or anyone else. Adding a fiddle to the mix has pushed the band on, while Ed’s drumming is flawless throughout, with no flourishes or fills beyond keeping the tempo (I hope this comes across as a compliment!). The Morgan twins are driven to succeed and, with SJ as vocalist, have a collection that both stands out and is outstanding.

Having joined the journey in 2017, I cannot wait to see what album two will be like. In the meantime I will keep rotating both sides of album one, a modern classic.

Morganway can be bought and streamed via listnin.co/morganway and through morganway.co.uk


The UK Country Top 40 Chart Countdown: Fortnight Commencing October 14 2019

October 15, 2019

Bubbling Under: The Outside Chancers – Absent Friends

40 NEW Gareth Nugent – Your Man

39 Stuart Landon – Taking It Back

38 RE-ENTRY Backwoods Creek – Coulda Been You

37 Hannah White and the Nordic Connection – My Father

36 Simon James ft Sam Coe – Oh Honey

35 Jade Helliwell – Put It On You

34 Kevin McGuire – TNIY

33 Hannah Paris and Josh Gleaves – Crazy For You

32 RE-ENTRY Sasha McVeigh – Rock Bottom

31 NEW Worry Dolls – The River

30 Joey Clarkson – Sort Yourself Out

29 Jess Thristan – Time of our Lives

28 The Wandering Hearts – Jealous

27 Izzie Walsh – Clouded Mind

26 Megan O’Neill – Lonely Weekend

25 Binky – Drug In My Head

24 Katy Hurt – Unfinished Business

23 Danny McMahon – Boys Cry Too

22 Kezia Gill – I’m Here

21 The Fatherline – Before The Trend Set In

20 NEW Ags Connolly – Say It Out Loud

19 Lucy Blu – Row Your Own

18 Gary Quinn – Bumpin Into You

17 Jake Morrell – Freewheelin

16 Holloway Road – Lightning

15 Remember Monday – Find My Way

14 Morganway – Let Me Go

13 Ward Thomas – One More Goodbye

12 Two Ways Home – Speed of Anything

11 Ferris & Sylvester – I Dare You

10 Yola – Love All Night (Work All Day)

9 The Blue Highways – He Worked

8 The Luck – Vertigo

7 Curse of Lono – Valentine

6 Robert Vincent – Lady

5 Foreign Affairs – Faded

4 Jess and the Bandits – Love Don’t Give a Damn

3 The Adelaides – Good Love

2 Twinnie – Social Babies

1 Wildwood Kin – Time Has Come

The playlist with all songs in full: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/6HVF5xDxWo8vsXb2Yr2Y7n?si=pacmF3uVR_eascWt9kX2gA


The UK Country Top 40 Chart Countdown: Fortnight Commencing September 30 2019

October 2, 2019

Bubbling Under: Gareth Nugent – Your Man

40 Laura Oakes – The Middle

39 Stuart Landon – Taking It Back

38 Joey Clarkson – Sort Yourself Out

37 Clara Bond – Crown

36 Hannah White and the Nordic Connection – My Father

35 Simon James ft Sam Coe – Oh Honey

34 Curse of Lono – Valentine

33 Robert Vincent – Lady

32 Holly Rose Webber – Heartbreaker

31 The Wandering Hearts – Jealous

30 Jade Helliwell – Put It On You

29 Kevin McGuire – TNIY

28 Ward Thomas – One More Goodbye

27 O&O – Tears in the Rain

26 Gasoline & Matches – Tequila’s a Healer

25 The Adelaides – Good Love

24 Binky – Drug In My Head

23 Izzie Walsh – Clouded Mind

22 The Fatherline – Before The Trend Set In

21 Megan O’Neill – Lonely Weekend

20 Foreign Affairs – Faded

19 Katy Hurt – Unfinished Business

18 Jess Thristan – Time of our Lives

17 Hannah Paris and Josh Gleaves – Crazy For You

16 Jake Morrell – Freewheelin

15 Kezia Gill – I’m Here

14 The Blue Highways – He Worked

13 Lucy Blu – Row Your Own

12 Jess and the Bandits – Don’t Let Me Take You Home

11 Holloway Road – Lightning

10 Gary Quinn – Bumpin Into You

9 Remember Monday – Drive

8 Morganway – Let Me Go

7 Danny McMahon – Boys Cry Too

6 Two Ways Home – Speed of Anything

5 Ferris & Sylvester – I Dare You

4 The Luck – Vertigo

3 Twinnie – Social Babies

2 Wildwood Kin – Time Has Come

1 Yola – Love All Night (Work All Day)

The playlist with all songs in full: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/6HVF5xDxWo8vsXb2Yr2Y7n?si=pacmF3uVR_eascWt9kX2gA

Hear an hour-long audio version of this Chart at mixcloud.com/blastocast from Sunday October 6. You can also hear past Charts at that address.


The UK Country Top 40 Chart Countdown: Fortnight Commencing September 16 2019

September 21, 2019

Bubbling Under: Hannah White and the Nordic Connection – My Father

40 Stuart Landon – Taking It Back

39 Holloway Road – Lightning

38 Curse of Lono – Valentine

37 Foreign Affairs – Faded

36 Robert Vincent – Lady

35 Jess and the Bandits – Don’t Let Me Take You Home

34 Joey Clarkson – Sort Yourself Out

33 Gasoline & Matches – Tequila’s a Healer

32 Clara Bond – Crown

31 Holly Rose Webber – Heartbreaker

30 Liv Austen – Detour

29 Binky – Drug In My Head

28 Jessie Buckley – Glasgow (No Place Like Home)

27 Izzie Walsh – Clouded Mind

26 Jade Helliwell – Put It On You

25 Jess Thristan – Time of our Lives

24 Katy Hurt – Unfinished Business

23 The Rising – Endless Summer

22 Hannah Paris and Josh Gleaves – Crazy For You

21 O&O – Tears in the Rain

20 Wildwood Kin – Beauty in Your Brokenness

19 Gary Quinn – Bumpin Into You

18 Remember Monday – Drive

17 The Fatherline – Before The Trend Set In

16 Megan O’Neill – Lonely Weekend

15 Two Ways Home – Speed of Anything

14 Morganway – Let Me Go

13 Kevin McGuire – T.N.I.Y.

12 Laura Oakes – The Middle

11 Kezia Gill – I’m Here

10 The Blue Highways – He Worked

9 The Luck – Ready To Run

8 Jake Morrell – Freewheelin’

7 Danny McMahon – Boys Cry Too

6 Ferris & Sylvester – I Dare You

5 Catherine McGrath – Wild

4 The Adelaides – Good Love

3 Ward Thomas – One More Goodbye

2 Twinnie – Social Babies

1 Yola – Love All Night (Work All Day)

The playlist with all songs in full: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/6HVF5xDxWo8vsXb2Yr2Y7n?si=pacmF3uVR_eascWt9kX2gA

 

 


The UK Country Top 40 Chart Countdown: Fortnight Commencing September 2 2019

September 6, 2019

Bubbling Under: Simon James – Oh Honey (ft Sam Coe)

40 Elles Bailey – Deeper

39 The Fatherline – Before The Trend Set In

38 Holloway Road – Lightning

37 NEW The Rising – Endless Summer

36 NEW Stuart Landon – Taking It Back

35 Holly Rose Webber – Heartbreaker

34 Curse of Lono – Valentine

33 Foreign Affairs – Faded

32 Robert Vincent – Lady

31 The Southern Companion – Cigarette Row (Five O Clock Freedom)

30 O&O – Tears in the Rain

29 Gasoline & Matches – Tequila’s a Healer

28 Jessie Buckley – Glasgow (No Place Like Home)

27 Clara Bond – Crown

26 Sasha McVeigh – Rock Bottom

25 Izzie Walsh – Clouded Mind

24 Danny McMahon – Boys Cry Too

23 Hannah Paris – Never Bring Me Down

22 Katy Hurt – Unfinished Business

21 Gary Quinn – Bumpin Into You

20 Remember Monday – Drive

19 Jade Helliwell – Put It On You

18 Liv Austen – Detour

17 Megan O’Neill – Lonely Weekend

16 Jake Morrell – Freewheelin

15 Jess Thristan – Time of our Lives

14 Two Ways Home – Speed of Anything

13 Wildwood Kin – Beauty in Your Brokenness

12 The Luck – Ready To Run

11 Laura Oakes – The Middle

10 The Blue Highways – He Worked

9 Yola – Love All Night (Work All Day)

8 Kevin McGuire – TNIY

7 Kezia Gill – I’m Here

6 The Adelaides – Good Love

5 Ferris & Sylvester – I Dare You

4 Morganway – Let Me Go

3 Catherine McGrath – Wild

2 Ward Thomas – One More Goodbye

1 Twinnie – Social Babies

The playlist with all songs in full: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/6HVF5xDxWo8vsXb2Yr2Y7n?si=pacmF3uVR_eascWt9kX2gA

 

 


Kaching…with Twang: Maren In the Middle

August 26, 2019

This piece was originally published in the Summer 2019 edition of the Country Way of Life magazine. The Autumn 2019 edition is out in September

Did you know that women in country music used to be referred to as ‘girl-singers’? It was like they were a novelty act, the odd ones on The X Factor, a turn for five minutes before the men sung about trucks and beer again.

One of my favourite Simpsons episodes, and maybe one of yours too, is Colonel Homer, written by Matt Groening, the showrunner and bringer of joy to billions. Spurned by Marge for being a twit, Homer hears a singing waitress onstage at the Beer ‘n’ Brawl (‘Hey you, let’s fight!’ ‘Them’s fightin’ words’) named Lurleen Lumpkin. She is voiced by Beverly D’Angelo, who was Patsy Cline in the movie Coal Miner’s Daughter (more later) singing about how ‘your wife don’t understand you but I do’. Homer affirms every line of the song; you see the plates fall out of his eyes in a brilliant bit of animation that fully gets to the nub of country music. Three chords and truth.

Lurleen records her song onto a CD, which gets sent to the local radio station. When it is played, we see Moe crying, prisoners stop rioting and Krusty the Clown being nice to Sideshow Mel. Jealous of Homer’s relationship with Lurleen – on picking up the phone to her, Homer says: ‘I think I can come over! Let me ask my wife’ – Marge doesn’t realise that initially Homer is helping Lurleen for the love of her music.

‘No man has ever been this nice to me without, you know…wanting something in return’ is an awesome line from Lurleen. More follow in the song Finally Bagged Me a Homer, with Marge looking on as Lurleen records a song about her love for Homer. Then in a trailer she sings a ‘song’ that is a come-on to Homer (‘will you bunk with me tonight?’). The episode finishes with a parody of one of those old-time variety shows with various hillbilly acts, and in the dressing room Lurleen kisses Homer on the lips. Lurleen is head over heels for Homer, but Homer is loyal to Marge and they all live happy ever after.

I like the episode because it may be kids’ first exposure to country music, and it is sung by a ‘girl-singer’. From the third season of the show, it had its premiere in 1991, when Garth Brooks, George Strait and Alabama were the top live draws. That year’s big number hits included She’s In Love with the Boy by Trisha Yearwood and Liza Jane by Vince Gill.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the names rolled off the tongues of the TV announcers: Emmylou Harris, Loretta Lynn and her sister Crystal Gayle, Barbara Mandrell, Reba McEntire, Anne Murray (whose song You Needed Me was a hit for Boyzone in 1999), Kathy Mattea, Patty Loveless, The Judds (mother Naomi and daughter Wynonna), Janie Fricke, Roseanne Cash and, the greatest of them all, Dolly Parton.

By the 1990s the Canadian Eileen Edwards, as Shania Twain, raised the hem lines and showed a bit of leg. Her precision-engineered country music appealed to music consumers the world over. 20 years after Come On Over hit big – released in 1997 it took until 1999 to explode – Shania is still the commercial high point in women in country not named Dolly; I Will Always Love You trumps You’re Still The One.

Let’s look at a typical chart which saw Shania omnipresent with one of 11 singles from Come On Over. Love Gets Me Every Time hit the top of the Airplay chart in November 1997. In the same top 20 were Trisha Yearwood duetting with Garth Brooks, Deana Carter, Chely Wright (who came out as lesbian in 2010 and married her wife in 2011), Reba McEntire, Pam Tillis, The Kinleys, Wynonna and Martina McBride. Waiting in the wings are the likes of Mindy McCready, LeAnn Rimes, Lila McCann and Lari White, duetting with Travis Tritt.

Eight different women were awarded the CMA Award for Female Vocalist in the 1990s: Kathy Mattea, Tanya Tucker, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Pam Tillis, Alison Krauss, Patty Loveless, Trisha Yearwood and Martina McBride. Shania Twain lost to Martina in 1999 but consoled herself by winning Entertainer of the Year.

This century, only four women have won that prize: three of them make up the Dixie Chicks, who became pariahs in 2003, were thrown out of country music and swept the board, middle fingers in the air, at the 2007 GRAMMY Awards. Only eight records released in 2006 sold more copies than Taking the Long Way, which featured the Song and Record of the Year, Not Ready to Make Nice.

By that time Taylor Swift, a young girl from Pennsylvania, had moved to Nashville and had put out her first single, named after Faith Hill’s husband Tim McGraw. By 2009 she was Entertainer of the Year, an award she regained in 2011, just as she was about to put out her album Red and mark her transition to the pop side of things. Her seventh album is due imminently.

In 2007 Taylor Swift had won the CMA Award for New Artist of the Year. Carrie Underwood won it in 2006, Kacey Musgraves in 2013 and Maren Morris in 2016; interestingly, Kacey’s Golden Hour won at the GRAMMYs and CMAs in 2018 but she was not Female Vocalist of the Year. Carrie Underwood was, winning it for a fifth time.

Miranda Lambert has won it seven times, following in the footsteps of Gretchen Wilson, who came out of nowhere with her redneck woman persona and disappeared just as quickly. No longer were women just there to dangle microphone cords and look pretty; they encouraged crowds to give a big ‘HELL YEAH!’ in what amounts to the same ladette culture that swept Britain in the 1990s.

Then came, among others, Cruise, Body Like a Back Road, Beautiful Crazy and Old Town Road, and one week in 2018 there was not one woman in the Country Airplay top 20.

Which brings us to Maren Morris. GIRL was released in March 2019. I listened to it for an entire afternoon on the day it came out and concluded that it was an album of two halves. The best tracks are feelgood pop songs like The Feels, Shade and Flavor, following the success of The Middle, a song which had been shopped around for a year and found its way to Maren. Hero, released in summer 2016, was a worldwide success; I was in London when she played My Church at the CMA Songwriters night over Country2Country weekend and fell in love with it. She followed it up with 80s Mercedes and Rich, two big songs from Hero, and had her radio number one with I Could Use a Love Song.

Maren married songwriter Ryan Hurd in 2017 and the two have a loyal following on social media. Ditto Kelsea Ballerini and her husband, songwriter Morgan Evans, who married the same year. After big hits from her teen-pop first album The First Time – Dibs, Love Me Like You Mean It and Peter Pan were all number ones on country radio – Kelsea returned with the sort of blah sonic template that doesn’t stand out and doesn’t offend. After Legends and I Hate Love Songs, her big hit Miss Me More clambered into the top three the week that only she and Maren were in the top 20.

When it topped the airplay chart, Runaway June had cracked the top 20 with the peppy Buy My Own Drinks, co-written with the prolific pair of Hillary Lindsay (Girl Crush) and Josh Kear (Need You Now). Carrie Underwood’s summer smash Southbound, performed at both the ACM and CMT Awards, is rising, while the phenomenal sound of Family Tree by Caylee Hammack is gaining traction. Miranda Lambert, recently married to a law enforcement officer, is off the charts but popped up at CMA Fest playing some new tunes from her next project.

Her last album was in 2016, the double-LP The Weight of These Wings, which begat radio hits Vice, We Should Be Friends and the modern standard Tin Man. Kacey Musgraves purposefully ignored radio, sending Butterflies and Space Cowboy to streaming services to preview Golden Hour, a remarkable album which is stamped, like Miranda’s album, with her personality. No other artist could have made either The Weight of these Wings or Golden Hour than Miranda and Kacey respectively. In their slipstream come the likes of Kassi Ashton, Ingrid Andress and Abby Anderson, confident performers with great songs building a career slowly, the old-fashioned way, just like the two Texans.

Interestingly, Kelsea Ballerini was rejected by everyone in town before finding a home with Black River, an independent label. Maren was a songwriter who had performed in her teenage years and the time was right to put out her debut album in 2016, which she toured worldwide in 2018 with Niall Horan from One Direction as a guest vocalist. As of June 2019, My Church has been streamed 74m million times on Spotify. The Middle has 700m. This makes Maren a big kinda deal.

As in pop, there seem to be two camps if you are a female performer: play the game or make your own rules. On Girl, Maren does both at the same time.

Those playing the game in today’s country music business include Carly Pearce, signed to Big Machine and rising on radio with Closer To You. Later in 2019 Carly, who got her start singing as Dolly Parton at Dollywood, will marry singer Michael Ray. Tenille Townes, whose song Somebody’s Daughter is climbing the Airplay chart, sang with Dierks Bentley at CMA Fest and looks set to have a phenomenal few years after patiently building a Canadian fanbase.

Lauren Alaina – who like Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert came through a TV talent show, in her case American Idol – took five years to follow up her debut album with a mature second record, Road Less Traveled. She will spend most of July in the UK on tour. Lauren’s new single, Ladies in the 90s, namechecks Britney Spears, Faith Hill, Alanis Morrissette, TLC and Dixie Chicks, an example of the genre of music which goes back to the past and just quotes old songs. Thus we hear ‘Cowboy take me away’ next to ‘hit me one more time’. It’s a smart song written with Amy Wadge, writer of the monster tune Thinking Out Loud by Ed Sheeran and a couple of songs on TR’s album (see the essay earlier in the magazine).

Then there are those who resolutely stick to their guns, Music City be damned. The Pistol Annies are made up of Miranda Lambert and her good friends Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley, both mothers of young children but hugely respected for their songwriting. Margo Price, who has just become a mother to a third child (one passed away a fortnight after being born), performed in concert while nine months pregnant, and her song This Town Gets Around (‘it’s not who you know, it’s who you blow’) is a succinct version of her view of town. Jack White signed her to his Third Man label and she has friends on the Americana and roots scene.

On her second album, as on her first, Maren has writing credits on every track. Carrie and Miranda also contribute to the writing and production of their work, and I hope those who do not know that now do. Co-writers on Girl include Greg Kurstin (who wrote Hello with Adele), the duo Julian Bunetta and John Ryan (who are TR’s regular ‘pop’ guys) and Busbee (who co-wrote My Church and 80s Mercedes). Jon Randall, who helped Miranda Lambert write Tin Man, joins Maren and Natalie Hemby, Miranda Lambert’s go-to co-writer, on RSVP. Ryan Hurd, aka Mr Maren Morris, contributes to All My Favorite People and Great Ones.

There are two main writers on Girl: Laura Veltz, who helped Maren write Rich, and Jimmy Robbins, who is one of the great writers of the era and appears in the documentary It All Begins with a Song. Four songs are credited to Morris/Robbins/Veltz: The Feels, which is infectious; The Bones, which is a smash hit in waiting and a live favourite; A Song For Everything, which is more or less I Could Use Another Love Song redux; and Flavor, on which Maren sings the much-quoted line: ‘Shut up and sing, well hell no I won’t!’ It’s a great pop song and will be in her live set for years to come.

Carrie, meanwhile, has duetted with pop acts like Ludacris, while Kelsea gave her vocals to a song by The Chainsmokers. Maren, on a song credited to Zedd, Maren Morris & Gray (a production duo), had one of the smashes of 2018 with The Middle, which is kept back to the encore of her live show. During the main body of the set, she interpolateds Halo by Beyonce into her song Second Wind. She finishes with the four-punch of The Bones, RSVP, Rich and My Church, then encores with another Hemby co-write, Shade.

Touring Girl in 2019 will take her to Radio City Music Hall in New York, Bonnaroo festival in Tennessee, several festivals in Canada and Nebraska State Fair. There follow dates across the USA: Arizona, California, Pennsylvania, Las Vegas, Missouri, Iowa, South Dakota, Florida, Georgia, both Carolinas (North and South), Virginia and Minnesota. The tour will continue into 2020, with a likely stop at Country2Country’s various European legs.

At London’s Royal Albert Hall on the last day of May 2019, Maren was supported by the great RaeLynn who was a contestant on The Voice in 2012 aged 17. Her only album came out in 2017 and included the smash Love Triangle, though her follow-up songs including Tailgate have done well on streaming platforms (6.8m on Spotify as of June 17 2019). Raelynn joined Maren onstage for All My Favorite People, which nicks the melody of the verse of 9 to 5 by Dolly Parton and has Maren’s friends Brothers Osborne on it. ‘We love who we love’ is a reference to Maren’s support of the queer community.

In the 2000s, Shania Twain and Reba both played Las Vegas, as they are able to work a crowd, sing some great songs and employ some backing dancers and pyrotechnics. Carrie and Miranda have done the same, while Kacey wears glowing boots and sparkly dresses. Belles & Gals, a UK-based site which is determined to support the female voice in country music, thought her 2019 set was ‘mesmerising’.

Belles and Gals promotes several UK-based acts like Lucy Grubb and Hannah Paris, who are steeped in country and are following in the footsteps of the likes of Megan O’Neill, Laura Oakes and Liv Austen. All three of these hard-working ladies have toured the UK for more than five years, patiently building a fanbase and waiting for the right moment to burst through. The poppy-country likes of Jade Helliwell, The Adelaides and Twinnie all look set to follow The Shires and Ward Thomas into the sort of ‘Radio 2’ level of country act; Twinnie is opening for Lauren Alaina this July across the UK.

Louise Parker, who is a Belles & Gals artist, told the site that her opinions on women in country would be unprintable. ‘I think it’s quite beautiful to watch other artists as they grow and develop their sound,’ she says. ‘Sometimes this means evolving outside your genre. It’s human to want to be better, to become the best version of yourself. No one should put walls up; segregating artists and genres is just another form of discrimination.’

Indeed, in today’s marketplace, genre is more or less irrelevant. Maren sounds like Maren, a little bit pop and a little bit country – she’s from Texas and lives in Nashville now. Miranda Lambert and Kacey Musgraves? Both from Texas, like the Dixie Chicks and George W Bush. Carrie Underwood is a beauty from Oklahoma while Kassi Ashton’s debut single was named California, Missouri after her home town.

These ladies may be from Lurleen Lumpkin kinda towns but they don’t need a Homer Simpson to push them into consciousness. Why can’t women just meet pop and country in the middle?

Maren Morris’ GIRL is out now. The new single is The Bones.


The Under the Apple Tree Live Show

August 26, 2019

This piece was originally published in the Summer 2019 edition of the Country Way of Life Magazine. The Autumn 2019 edition is out in September

News of Bob Harris’ recent heart problem, which has forced him off air until he’s better, passes the baton to his son Miles, an absolute spit of his dad.

Together with Bob’s wife Trudie, the MD of Whispering Bob Productions as well as director of the UK branch of the Americana Music Association, the 27-year-old Son of Bob is a broadcaster of quality. It’s in the genes.

Along with brother Dylan, who is in A&R and artist management, Miles is in the family business of supporting the best artists and giving them a platform to express themselves. In recent years that has been with the Under The Apple Tree project, using his dad’s home studio to film sessions with bands and artists, many of whom are friends of the family.

The famous studio ‘Under the Apple Tree’

In 2019, after several years putting on stages at Silverstone during Formula 1 week and at Country2Country, Miles and Bob teamed up for a national tour. This was a fine idea executed brilliantly. At each stopping point, a local act opened the show before Ferris & Sylvester brought their fine musical stylings.

Wildwood Kin, with awesome harmonies and emotionally charged songs, headlined the night, playing teasers from their second album and offering covers of the likes of Stevie Wonder’s Higher Ground.

I went to the tour’s closing night in Norwich, where Morganway opened. I’ll talk more about the sextet in the next magazine but they were as terrific as ever and a perfect opener. Also popping up around the country were Loud Mountains (Oxford), Eleanor Nelly (Liverpool), Demi Marriner (Birmingham), Foreign Affairs (Bristol), Worry Dolls and The Blue Highways (London), Roseanne Reid (Glasgow), Callum Pitt (Newcastle), Keto (Nottingham) and Robbie Cavanagh (Manchester).

Ten gigs in the space of 17 days is a big undertaking but there were no signs of exhaustion when I chatted to Archie Sylvester after the final gig of the tour. The duo’s plans include festivals – Isle of Wight and Glastonbury – and work on a new album.

They told Maverick Magazine that a full-length release will follow their Made In Streatham EP: ‘We listen to albums. We have a record player at home. We really value the album setup and we feel like our music is going to fit into that.’

Ferris and Sylvester are one of Britain’s best acts, I think. Their set was astonishing in its range and depth. The singles London’s Blues and Flying Visit were terrific, but it was their stagecraft that impressed me and their connection with the audience.

There is a reason why we are in an era when acts who break through the fourth wall are doing well: Ed Sheeran can play stadiums with songs that can be sung on Grafton Street in Dublin; Lewis Capaldi is essentially a Scottish balladeer who is quite good at interacting with people via social media; Adele and Coldplay both bring intimacy to the masses. So do Ferris and Sylvester, and big things await.

Under The Apple Tree’s MO is to bring music to people’s ears, ‘amazing artists who deserve to be heard by everyone’. Bob Harris had a national and international platform to do so, and he helped break Marc Cohn in the UK by championing Walking On Memphis. He has been a cheerleader for acts as varied as Mary Gauthier, Beth Nielsen Chapman, Ashley McBryde, Kacey Musgraves, Sam Outlaw, Walter Trout and Catherine McGrath. The Wandering Hearts had a session on Bob’s Radio 2 country show before they even put out an album.

Music is so easy to find nowadays that you could drown in it. Champions like Bob and Miles offer a filter: if they like it, you might too. It’s easy for a major label to sign a Lewis Capaldi or a Kacey Musgraves, but it pays to let them grow into the artists they want to be. Foreign Affairs, who are managed by Dylan, are Bristolian brothers who make great acoustic roots music; they will join Curse of Lono and Robert Vincent for a gig put on by Under The Apple Tree at Bush Hall in London on October 25 as part of Country Music Week. Previously they have put on afternoons showcasing acts they love. In 2017 they brought a bill including Robert Vincent, Catherine McGrath, Wildwood Kin and Seth Ennis.

In 2016 I had delighted in attending the Under The Apple Tree stage at Country2Country, where I looked on in awe at the likes of Balsamo Deighton, Laura Oakes and Kimmie Rhodes. All three of those acts are among the hundreds who have recorded sessions for Under The Apple Tree. Their Youtube channel Whispering Bob TV houses most of those sessions and I recommend you set aside some time to plunge in. You may find your next favourite act.

Bob Harris has an award named after him at the UK Americana Music Association awards for emerging artists. In 2019 Curse of Lono won it, following The Wandering Hearts (2018) and Wildwood Kin (2017). Curse of Lono have popped into the studios a couple of times. There is a video of their song Pick Up the Pieces on Youtube, part of the 360th session for the channel. Opening with an acoustic guitar, the song is full of lush harmonies and great instrumentation, including a box organ. It is rootsy, authentic, organic and everything great music ought to be. The band are at The 100 Club the week before they play Bush Hall; they term their music ‘Cinematic Southern Gothic Rock’, which is correct.

As of June 15 2019 there have been 419 sessions for Under The Apple Tree. Morganway have been on twice, with their second visit due to be uploaded soon. In fact, when I reviewed the band’s 2017 EP, I mentioned that Bob Harris would love a band like this; they were on their way to play Hurricane and their version of Dancing In The Dark. You can find their Bruce cover on the Unique Covers playlist on the Youtube channel which also features Laura Oakes’ take on Rocket Man, Ellen & The Escapades doing Dreams by Fleetwood Mac, Sam Outlaw doing White Christmas and Foreign Affairs doing a good job with Tennessee Whiskey. The Adelaides, meanwhile, mash up Jolene and Daddy Lessons, combining Dolly and Beyoncé.

Under The Apple Tree have found the perfect mix of the old and new, traditional and contemporary and serious with fun. The live show was fantastic and managed, when I went, to pack out a mid-sized venue in Norwich on a weeknight. I can’t wait for the next one, or indeed the London show in October.

UnderTheAppleTree.com is the place to find more information, while the Youtube channel is WhisperingBobTV. The Country Show is on Radio 2 on Thursdays at 9pm.

Ferris & Sylvester tour the UK this autumn, as do Wildwood Kin whose self-titled second LP is out on October 4.