Country Jukebox Jury: Luke Flear and Simeon Hammond Dallas

August 15, 2022

Luke Flear – Looks Country To Me

This August brings projects from two acts who have done more than just put out a track or two, going for an EP or LP.

Luke Flear’s 12-track debut announces this Leeds-born singer who has moved across to country. Like Hunter Hayes before him, Luke plays drums and guitar on the album. He has definitely studied the modern sound of his fellow Lukes, Bryan and Combs.

The opening pair, the title track and Alive, set the album’s mood with flecks of banjo and solid choruses. Luke’s voice is given light reverb throughout. It is clear without being punchy, akin to that of Sam Palladio (Gunnar from Nashville). Tassels and Flares (great title) has another catchy chorus and could have gone on twice its length, while November Night is a toe-tapper with some stuttering vocals that mimic the euphoria of new love. I love the rhyme of ‘blushing/shushing’!

Luke has, as country music’s mission statement affirms, put his life in a song, as on Young, a pretty ditty where he says he is ‘still chasing dreams’. He also knows his way around a slow song, as on the gentle lament sung from a motel room, I Left My Heart At Home, and the anthem for drinking one’s cares away, Today Ain’t The Day (‘dance with the devil in the glass’). Red Vodka appears on the album in two versions, justifying its status as the album’s serious song. Piano chords underscore a sombre lyric full of cigarettes in ashtrays and an inability to ‘let go of you’.

Cross The Line, which namechecks songs by Keith Urban and George Jones, skips along jauntily over three familiar chords as Luke tries to convince a lady to go with him; indeed, These 3 Chords (which actually has four!) has him wishing to sing ‘a song that hasn’t been sung’. As per the final track, Luke has Something To Say, and hits some fine falsetto which he may seek to employ more on future projects.

Simeon Hammond Dallas – Make It Romantic EP

Often spotted busking on the South Bank of the Thames, Simeon Hammond Dallas is one of the rising stars of roots music in the UK and plays The Long Road festival this August. She also goes out on the road opening for Lady Nade in October, with a London date at Cecil Sharp House on the 12th.

The five-track EP includes A Hundred Lovers, a song which is full of character and melodic heft with a vocal that reminds me of all those women from the 1990s like Jewel or Sarah McLachlan. This is music you can’t put in a genre box.

The Blues is a Game has a freewheeling arrangement over which Simeon’s tremulous vocal sits. It’s a hell of a way to start the project, boasting of being ‘a good, good woman with a good, good heart’.

Betting On You begins ‘I fell in love with two dozen white boys…I’m just a chick in some bar’, probably in her home of Camden Town. The acoustic guitar pattern perfectly sets the lyric, which is sung with gusto and vulnerability. There is more of the former than the latter on Fucking Her, a set of accusations made over a great band arrangement.

The EP’s magnificent title track is a relief to hear after the anger of the previous track. The vocal performance is a match for the best voices on the UK scene. Kezia Gill, Jade Helliwell, Elles Bailey and Yola are now her peers and Simeon will earn plenty more fans this year. At least she isn’t competing with the South Bank for people’s attention!

Country Jukebox Jury LPs: Ronnie Dunn and CJ Solar

August 11, 2022

Ronnie Dunn – 100 Proof Neon

I don’t suppose Ronnie cares if only the loyal faithful hear this album, his fourth of original material, which he himself produced. He no longer bothers country radio and he doesn’t need to write anything new. After all, he is making plans for his 70th birthday next year.

The copyrights on Boot Scootin’ Boogie, Hard Workin’ Man, Neon Moon and My Next Broken Heart must ensure he need never work again but, once you’re a songwriter and performer, the itch never ends. Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney are on tour at 80, while Willie Nelson will be 90 next year, making one half of Brooks & Dunn a young whippersnapper.

In 2020 he put out a 24-track set of covers called Re-Dunn, while his old buddy Kix Brooks has now gone a decade without putting out an album, content to host the American Country Countdown. One of the most commercial voices of the post-Garth era, Ronnie was paired with Kix as a sort of Music Row version of Hall & Oates. The pair are touring this summer, heading to Durant, Oklahoma, Brandon, Mississippi and Springfield, Illinois this August, having played the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville in June. They remain a big draw and, like Garth or Reba or Alan Jackson, play to three generations of fans as a legacy act.

The album opens with Broken Neon Hearts, a funky song set in a bar where lonely souls drink and a band plays loud, which is followed by Honky Tonk Town. As well as a lovely cowbell in the chorus and a fine key change, it features vocals from young Jake Worthington. Ronnie’s voice soars to a falsetto on the hopeful If Love Ever Comes My Way Again, where ‘neon lights’ once again appear in the lyric.

Later on we get Honky Tonk Skin, which rather belabours the point but still sounds great with its thunking backbeat and good-time lyric which shows Ronnie’s pride in being ‘raised on Hag songs, baptised in neon’ and ‘comfortable in my honky tonk skin’. The song’s texture is further improved by the backing vocals which provide a nice bed on which the lead voice sits; there’s a nice nod to Honky Tonk Woman too. We remain on the dancefloor for Two Steppers, Waltzes, and Shuffles that namechecks Johnny Cash and another Rolling Stones tune.

The Triston Marez song Where The Neon Lies (‘where the jukebox plays and the heart don’t break’), on which Ronnie guested, gets the solo treatment to bring it to any ears that haven’t yet heard the song. The guy knows a good song when he hears it, and his take on heartbreak ballad The Blade is the equal of Ashley Monroe’s original version. Parker McCollum appears on Road to Abilene, where both narrators mourn a lost love over pedal steel heartache. I love the description of the sky as ‘bloodshot’.

Lee Thomas Miller and Bob DiPiero bring their A game to Good Bartender, the album’s closing track which begins: ‘Happy Hour was a big letdown’. Resistance is futile as you try not to sing along to the woahs. Shawn Camp (who wrote Two Pina Coladas) and his mate Terry McBride (who wrote Play Something Country) were in the room for She’s Why I Drink Whiskey (‘I can’t drown her memory, I can’t move on’); with its snare rimshots and ‘empty glasses’, and the ‘girl done left me’ lyric, it is country in its purest form. The mighty Dean Dillon co-wrote Somethin’ I Can’t Have, which is slathered in fiddle and heartbreak.

This album reminds me of Bruce Springsteen, who has made album after album in the last 20 years, each with panache and charm. The Rising, released 20 years ago, was full of tunes driven by Max Weinberg’s drums and lyrics about togetherness. 100 Proof Neon has that same quality; any song Ronnie decides to play from this album will not drive people to the bar as they wait for those big tunes.

CJ Solar – The Future’s Neon

Ronnie isn’t the only man inspired by Broadway’s honky-tonks. CJ Solar is a songwriter of some repute who co-wrote a great song called Blue Bandana which was a minor hit for Jerrod Niemann. He also has plaques and money from his number one radio smashes Some Girls for Jameson Rodgers and Up Down for Florida Georgia Line.

CJ often puts out songs which get a little bit of radio pla, such as American Girls and Airplane, without becoming widely popular. After EPs in 2017 and 2020, CJ releases his first album on his Raining Bacon imprint, with nine tracks clocking in at half an hour. He appears on the cover with a trademark hat, shoulder-length hair and beard.

The lead single All I Can Think About Lately is driven by a two-chord loop and a chorus with a wish to get high with his beloved. Conversely, More Than She Loves Me was written with Jon Pardi’s pal Bart Butler and shares the heartstring-tugging feel of some of Pardi’s ballads, even as CJ’s girl leaves him for Texas. Jesus & A Woman looks to Whiskey and You for inspiration (‘one will drive you drinking, one will save you for yourself’) and will be a writers’ round tune for many years.

Coming Around, written with Michael Hardy (who is hot right now), echoes Scotty McCreery’s Damn Strait. CJ hears a song on the radio that makes his ex’s memory come back around. There’s a nice reference to November Rain by Guns N’ Roses and the song is sticky.

If you’ve written thousands of songs, you need a new way to say something familiar. Oddly, CJ wants his beloved to show him a Little Less Mercy and, it seems, chastise him once in a while. Over some slide guitar and heavy drumwork he admits that ‘I know how bad I can be’. The grooves continue on both Drunk Dancing and Long Nights, anthems to partying which seem made for Lower Broadway.

The album’s title track unites honky-tonk thrills and forgetting about an ex, sung with clarity and power without overwhelming the listener. The closing waltz Hungover Enough takes a sober look at the previous eight tracks: CJ sings ‘Don’t know why I keep doing this to myself’ over piano chords and a sonic wash of pedal steel. It’s very country and very good.

Country Jukebox Jury: Dylan Scott – Livin’ My Best Life

August 8, 2022

Do you want to make your own commercial country album? Let me show you how.

First off, you need a bloke. Seventeen of every 20 acts that are concocted for mass consumption are blokes. Why not try a former jingle singer from Louisiana whose voice was heard between songs, ads and Bob Kingsley’s script on the Country Top 40? Give him a haircut and hey presto, your star is ready for launch.

Dylan topped that chart with a song called My Girl, which saw him purr, belt and rap in different places. Eighteen other blokes could have put the song out, but Dylan was now in the marketplace. He brought that woman who lost it at a Chewbacca mask out on stage with him, giving him the common touch. Now casual country fans know who this guy is.

Six years after his debut, a second must follow in order to push him to headliner status. Since 2016, Dylan has fathered two kids and has taken three songs into the Top 40: Nothing To Do Town made virtue of the glory in small town life; Nobody praised his fidelity to his wife in a Brett Young/ Dan + Shay way; and New Truck is so similar in tenor to 7500 OBO by Tim McGraw that it’s like when Dreamworks ripped off a Disney movie 20 years ago.

That last track and the driving song Static – ‘making dollars makes good sense’ is a line which is much better than the KABLAM of the drums in the chorus – were both written by four of the hottest writers on Music Row: Ashley Gorley, Ben Johnson, Hardy and Hunter Phelps. These men know what commercial country sounds like, and Dylan is one of those 18 blokes who can sing the song with passion and vim. Others include Thomas Rhett, Michael Ray, Darius Rucker, Cole Swindell, Lee Brice, Jon Pardi, Scotty McCreery, Kane Brown, Jake Owen, Justin Moore, Jackson Dean, Chris Young, Thomas Rhett, Riley Green, Mitchell Tenpenny, Ernest and Tyler Hubbard.

Mitchell Tenpenny and Ernest (who is hot right now) wrote the excellent Leave Her Alone, a message to a girl’s old flame who left Dylan to swoop in and find her. The ‘too big to fail’ writer Morgan Wallen was one of four who put a song called Amen To That (‘praising the Lord for giving me that woman I’ve been praying for’) on the shelf. The song has three chords and hyperkinetic modern production which will get it on the radio. It also gives its title to Dylan’s tour in the fall.

T-Hub is trying to launch a solo career himself, given the hiatus of Florida Georgia Line, and he’s writing loads of tracks that others can use. In fact, the one Dylan has picked (or which was picked for Dylan) gives the album its title: ‘Pour a drink, YOLO!’ sets the tenor for the album’s catchiest pop song (Thomas Rhett is involved) which is charming and will distract people for three minutes at a time.

In Our Blood is a more ethereal song featuring vocals from Jimmie Allen. ‘We all got hearts and we all feel pain’ unites every human whatever their skin pigmentation. It’s a cool songwriting exercise, with reference to ‘the man on the cross’. There is an awful lot of ‘Sunday morning’ in the lyrics across the album, pitching Dylan Scott as an artist true to his roots. When he’s not getting an amen, he’s with his girl or remembering when he wasn’t with her. He’s not the type to go on a drinking bender then get caught on video saying something that would get him dropped, or at least suspended, from his label, before having a number one album for 15 months.

To his credit, eight of the 16 songs are Dylan Scott compositions that touch on today’s country music matters. Boy I Was Back Then is the token reminiscin’ song that takes the listener back to the time before he met his wife when cops and ‘daddies’ didn’t like Dylan. Good Times Go By Too Fast (‘live it up while we can’) and Killin’ Some Time (‘making the most of what the good Lord gave me’) are the token reminders to focus on the present. Lay Down With You is the token song that starts with a 5am alarm for work and ends in bed with the woman who has been in his thoughts all day.

Can’t Have Mine (Find You A Girl) is an acoustic-driven song about places (the bar, the church) you can find a girl just like Dylan did. Was anybody asking to take Dylan’s wife away from him?! Ain’t Much Left of Me is a waltz that lists all the country stuff he can live without (guns, his home town, trucks) but he sure can’t live without his woman. He rhymes ‘smile’ with ‘side’, which is the weakest rhyme I have ever heard in a country song. And what happens if a bear attacks his woman and Dylan doesn’t have his shotgun?!

Unlike the Cole Swindell album, which had one woman in the credits, Dylan’s has a total of THREE women contributing to the songs. Kelsey Hart was with Tommy Cecil on Hell Out Of Me, one of those songs where the narrator says all the things he was (‘rough around the edges…a dead end road’) before a heavenly angel took the hell away from him.

Emily Landis (who wrote The Good Ones for Gabby Barrett) and Claire Douglas, daughter of Tom, wrote Tough, which is one of those songs which teaches a listener by proxy how to treat a girl. It begins with Dylan counselling his kid to fish, drink, drive, throw and all those other American rural things. His kid’s future wife, and Dylan’s future daughter-in-law, ‘will mess you up’ and will keep him in his place and make him go weak. It’s another writers’ round song that could have been a hit for any of the 18 singers listed above.

Look, the whole point of commercial country is that it exists to make money. It’s not Thinkpiece Country; it is product around which to sell a star and give them something to sing on tour, on TV spots and on 6am radio appearances that are necessary to shift product in an age when money is made out on the road.

It’s the Tim McGraw model, which is apt because Curb Records (to which Dylan is signed) used McGraw as a cash cow. The landscape has changed and Dylan will never be McGraw, but the model remains because it keeps making money, even if we’ve heard every tune before, sung by the same sort of voice.

Ka-Ching…with Twang – Girl Singers in 2022

August 1, 2022

The title of this piece is horrifically sexist, but country music really did refer to ladies who appeared onstage as girl singers. Never mind the latter-day reputations of Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton or Emmylou Harris as artists in the Joni Mitchell mould; not that Joni was ever a ‘girl singer’.

We’ve already had a memoir from Brandi Carlile and there’s one on the way from Margo Price, plus a podcast looking at every aspect of Dolly, one of the key country music performers of the commercial era along with Hank Williams, Ray Charles and Garth Brooks.

Amanda Shires – Take It Like A Man

Amanda Shires, the fiddle player whose husband Jason Isbell might also be bracketed with the figures in that last paragraph, formed The Highwomen along with Carlile, Natalie Hemby and Maren Morris.

Natalie helps Amanda on this album’s closing ballad Everything Has Its Time, a song which encapsulates the mood of the collection. A reminiscin’ song which seems to have moonlight in its chords, Amanda sings how ‘it’s easier to stay inside, you’re too tired to go anywhere’ when you have hit that comfortable point in a relationship.

The ten self-written songs are produced by, and sometimes written with, Lawrence Rothman. Lawrence is a non-binary Jewish songwriter from St Louis who also put out an album of poetry last year, and I’ll be getting into the past material soon.

How’s this for a writers room on Don’t Be Alarmed, a song in the little-used 12/8 time signature: Amanda and husband Jason, plus Liz Rose (who helped Taylor Swift back when she needed to write country songs) and Ruston Kelly, a songwriter who will forever be Kacey Musgraves’ first husband. It’s a very adult song that will hit home with plenty of listeners. It might even be Amanda’s career song, her very own Cover Me Up and a nice little earner for the family business (the album is released on the indie label ATO).

The big impact track is the one which leads off the album, Hawk For The Dove. ‘You can call me serious trouble’, Amanda sings over reverbed guitars and tom-tom drums, asking to ‘feel something again’. Her vocal reminds me of Martha Wainwright or Morgan Wade (who is hot right now), while her narration is in the tradition of women who want to be loved and possessed. It takes two-and-a-half minutes for Amanda’s pentatonic fiddle part to come in, which is suitably impassioned.

The title track, one for Now That’s What I Call Thinkpiece Country, follows it. Light organ and a steady beat ground a track in which Amanda’s narrator throws her voice like Dolores from the Cranberries or (more likely) Dolly Parton, to match the ‘quivering’ she undergoes. There is a fine instrumental passage where guitar and violin battle. Someone will snap this up for a TV soundtrack for one of those dramas.

Empty Cups has a twinkling piano opening which is at odds with the extreme vulnerability and the heartbreak in the lyric: ‘the sound of silence rings in every room…a rainbow of tears’ and a well-placed swear word. It reminds me of some of the tunes by UK writer Hannah White (who will incidentally be out with Ricky Ross in the autumn), as does the gloomy Fault Lines, although the piano part makes me think of Schubert’s Winterreise.

Here He Comes perks things up a bit, as if Amanda knows she has started the album with a lot of doom, and Bad Behavior has a charming vocal hook to reflect the lyric (‘so what if I do?’). For all that, Stupid Love (‘can I say that I caught you?’) has a retro Muscle Shoals feel (which is code for horn stabs and organ lines) and a fine structure. Lonely At Night is a proper song in the vein of Carole King or Dan Tashian, with an expansive arrangement and melody.

It says much about me that I was more attracted to the second, happier side of the album than the morose first. Which will you prefer?

Nicolle Galyon – firstborn

Nicolle Galyon also has a husband, songwriter Rodney Clawson, as well as a stepson, Brad, in the industry. Along with Natalie Hemby, Nicolle is a mother hen figure in town who has worked with young pups like Kelsea Ballerini and RaeLynn. She got her start with It Ain’t Pretty, a remarkable ballad made famous by Lady A, and she won awards for Tequila, the heartbreak song by Dan + Shay, and Automatic, the Miranda Lambert reminiscin’ song she wrote with Natalie.

Nicolle set up the Big Loud imprint Songs & Daughters in 2019, using her experience to shift further into the back rooms of Music City, guiding the careers of Tiera Kennedy and Hailey Whitters. She does perform herself, as I saw at the Thursday night C2C opening performance in 2018. Her fragile voice and mellow piano chords stuck out against the power of Luke Combs, Kip Moore, Brett James and even Natalie, who performed a wonderful version of the Labrinth track Jealous which I will never forget.

Until summer 2022, we’ve not had a Nicolle Galyon album but, moved to do so by imaginary grandkids googling her, firstborn (whose title and tracks are expressed in the lower case but I’ll use sentence case) is that debut album, released on her birthday. So what will those future grandkids learn of Grandma Nicolle, who had songs on something called the radio back in the days of President Trump who they learned about at school?

She is a Winner, according to the album’s opening track that could only have been written with Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne. Winner was the town in South Dakota that she was born in, though she lost her dad at three but ‘what good is being a winner if all you’re doing’s keeping score?’ The second verse talks about body issues and the horrors of Music Row, which will still be prevalent in 50 years’ time. Her ‘greatest victory’ today is being a mum.

Five Year Plan was written by Nicolle and Rodney. It namechecks Ford, their son who may give birth to those grandchildren! Husband adds harmonies to a chorus that tells the story of their marriage: the line ‘being a singer got knocked off the top of my list’ emphasises that matrimony cannot run alongside a career. ’Thirty seconds into my 15 minutes’ is a very good line. This will be a writers’ round song.

Nicolle also wrote a pair of songs which have been recorded by others and which she includes on her own set. Consequences was written with Amy Wadge and Camila Cabello, who recorded it for her debut solo album in 2018 and gave voice to how ‘loving you had consequences’. The advice song Boy was written with Jon Nite and plucked off the shelf by Lee Brice. Rodney adds his harmonies again.

History may show there are fewer better songwriters of the era than Hillary Lindsey, so Nicolle’s grandkids will hear some of grandma’s work with auntie Hillary. Boy Crazy, also written with Kelsea Ballerini, is a gender examination on how only girls are called names even if boys are unmarried or carrying more weight around their middle. The song has been arranged with synthetic strings and harmonies which possibly come from both co-writers.

Contemporary issues surface on Self Care, a song which will appeal to young girls unsure about their appearance (‘I think I like me’ is a t-shirt slogan). Younger Woman is a song about age being nothing but a number and how growing up is about maturity, while Tendencies ups the tempo in a song about Nicolle’s foibles, namechecking her daughter Charlie who may well inherit some of her mum’s particularities.

Pop writer Sasha Sloan was in the room for three songs. Sunflower addresses Nicolle’s younger self and her insecurities. It opens with images of unworn high heels ‘cos I’ve been taller than the boys since I was a sophomore’. In lyric and production it sounds like Kacey or Kelsea in its sparse instrumentation. I spotted that word ‘superpower’ in the chorus, which turns someone’s differences or perceived weaknesses into strengths. Disneyworld includes words like ‘self-sufficient’ and ‘common sense’ in a kind of love song to Rodney, who is ‘patient with my mum’, she says.

Death Bed was written with Sloan and the album’s producer Jimmy Robbins, who seems to have been listening to Billie Eilish and has created similar soundscapes. Never mind her grandchildren, whose parents are ‘one hell of a legacy’; a listener in 2022 will find lots of comfort in this album. I hope Nicolle can bring the kids over to the UK soon to perform the album, perhaps opening for Kelsea or Miranda.

Country Jukebox Jury: Laura Evans and Brooke Eden

July 28, 2022

Laura Evans – State of Mind

I was very impressed by a song called Heartstrings, released in 2019 from a Welsh woman with a remarkable voice. Laura Evans has collected some recent songs, not including Heartstrings, on an 11-track set which emerged in July 2022.

State of Mind includes plenty of those songs. Solo, a song full of frustration and independence, slinks along with some handclaps and is a contender for Now That’s What I Call Hen Party. There’s also the punchy pair Gone and Drag Me Back In (‘grab me by the heart’), the poppy Good At Getting Over You (which reminded me of I Will Survive without the disco stomp) and Mess of Me, which was written with the great Jenn Bostic. ‘I can’t undo the mess you made of me’ is the best hook on an album full of them.

The two songs released to gear people up for the album were the opening track I’m Alright and third track Fire With Fire. Both songs smoulder like the sort of Carrie Underwood songs to which they are a homage, since Laura shares Carrie’s confidence and brilliant delivery.

Fool, written with Twinnie, is a breakup song with the same feel as Girl Crush, perhaps on purpose, with only a guitar supporting Laura’s poised, controlled vocal. The title track (‘we were high on love locked in a state of mind’) is a brilliant driving song with a wide open chorus, and will sound brilliant on radio, even if it is tinged with regret.

It runs nicely into Let You Down Easy, a breakup song with some gorgeous chords, a light gospel touch and an interpolation of The Rose by Bette Midler.

Free closes the album in the way that a barrister sums up his defence, bringing together musical and lyrical themes from the album. ‘Head held high, find your own dreams in the neon sky’ is a fine chorus and Laura’s music will affect plenty of folk who hear it. Catch Laura at the British Country Music Festival in September.

Brooke Eden – Choosing You EP

Nashville is changing, ever so incrementally, into a place where any artist can be free to be themselves regardless of gender, race or sexuality. It might not mean commercial success but it will enable artistic satisfaction.

When Brooke Eden came to C2C one year playing the part of country-pop princess, nobody knew she would one day marry a woman and be free to express her sexuality, as well she should. Attitude and Gay Times have introduced her to readers, who ought to shower her with love. Following the magnificent songs No Shade, Sunroof and Got No Choice, we get five new songs produced by Jesse Frasure, who brings his commercial touch to the EP.

I imagine Brooke is fed up of her voice being compared to that of Lauren Alaina, but it’s true. Knock and Left You For Me are both me-first pop songs which will appeal to young people unsure of their place in the world. Comeback Love is 100% Yaas Queen, with Brooke shooing away an ex via a funky riff.

The A-List pair of Lindsay Rimes (best known for working with The Shires) and Connie Harrington (I Drive Your Truck) helped Brooke write Heartless. That song could be delivered as a piano ballad but Frasure slathers it in production and Brooke strings out the song’s title when it appears at the end of the chorus. Heartless actually compares her current love to her former ‘heartless’ state, which ties in well with the unabashed love song Off The Ground which closes the EP.

She is lucky to have the woman who causes her to be ‘levitating’. With luck, she’ll be back over in 2023 to win over a whole new set of fans.

Ka-Ching…With Twang: Thinkpiece Country, with Ty Herndon and Tami Neilson

July 16, 2022

The two albums under discussion came out the same day as Lizzo released Special. I coined a genre for it. Thinkpiece Pop is music that is more about its creator than about the notes and words, which will prompt criticism that is more to do with its creator than any of the music itself. I think Ty and Tami have released two Thinkpiece Country albums.

Ty Herndon – Jacob

All I knew about Ty Herndon before listening to Jacob was that he came out as gay in 2014 and that there’s an annual concert for Love and Acceptance which I get emails about and which Ty organises. He told People Magazine that his addiction to crystal meth recently returned, bringing with it an attempt by Ty to end his life. As with Chase Bryant’s album from 2021, knowledge of the artist informs what we hear on record.

Ty’s first hit was in the Garth era, when he was signed to Nashville’s branch of Epic Records. Three number ones included What Mattered Most, Living In A Moment and It Must Be Love, while his other evergreens include I Want My Goodbye Back and Hands of a Working Man. Country songs, all of them, in the Garth’n’George Strait tradition.

He has brought backup on this, his first non-holiday or covers album for six years. Terri Clark, another openly gay singer, is a brilliant choice of duet partner on Dents on a Chevy, a song with an enormous backbeat and a lyric about love and stuff which fits in the ‘A goes with B’ trend. Wendy Moten, fresh from her Voice final appearance, adds some adlibs on Say It For You, a breakup ballad which is a combination between tango and salsa.

Shelley Fairchild joins him on Landslide, co-written by Morgan Myles, on which Ty begs to be held ‘not like you’re just lonely’. Lean In, a duet with Jamie Floyd (who is female), sounds like one of those Tim & Faith or Garth & Trisha duets where they both want each other’s love and touch.

Emily West wrote and appears on a ballad called Fighting For You, which begins with a line about ‘ghosts standing in my closet’. It’s a sort of coming-out song, because the narrator is ‘tired of fighting’ to be the person he needs to be. Shelley Fairchild was in the room herself for album closer Damn Good Feeling, a strong song with a good groove and lots of confidence from Ty’s vocal.

Happily for Ty, country music sounds like 1996 again, so album opener Till You Get There will fit with what’s on the radio today. It’s his life in a song, full of philosophy about keeping on. Ditto Standing In The Whiskey, a chantalong with a country arrangement and a lyric about being a different man than he used to be. Sleeping With A Stranger has an orchestra and a guitar wail in the opening 30 seconds, putting me in mind again of Garth, except for the fact that Ty sings about being kept ‘in a cage’ and the stranger of the title is a man.

The big song on the album is God or the Gun, which reminds me of the Rodney Atkins song If You’re Going Through Hell (‘keep on going’) and will similarly affect listeners in their thousands. The conclusion is that ‘nothing is bigger than love’. On Hallelujah, a song of devotion where there are ‘church bells singing’, I’m not sure whether it’s carnal or divine.

As with recent albums by Joe Nichols and Tanya Tucker, Ty Herndon proves that those stars of yesteryear aren’t going away. They might even get some new fans from these new projects, though I can already see the thinkpieces demand more country music by openly gay acts.

Tami Neilson – Kingmaker

Talking of Thinkpiece Country, an academic wrote the liner notes to this album. Dr Jada Watson is constantly bigging up country stars who aren’t blokes in hats. I was moved to ask her if she’d ever stop, and I don’t think I’ll live to see the day, given that only 3 of every 20 acts played on the radio are women. The rise of streaming can only help acts like Tami Neilson.

She’s an outspoken Canadian-born adopted Kiwi who has been in the business for years, starting out touring with her family. Spurred on by the reckoning of predatory men in the New Zealand music industry, this is an album with a statement to make. King of Country Music (‘Eve is picking apples, Adam’s blaming her’) asks whether a woman can be heir to the throne, with added banjo. Tami drops the name Kitty Wells, one of those acts she opened for in Canada, and tells the listener she played Opryland as a teenager too.

The title track which opens the album has reverberating guitars and vocals, a string section and an acerbic lyric. Baby You’re A Gun evokes the frontier in its impeccable production and melody, while Green Peaches has a fine shuffle and a tale that someone like Margo Price (another Thinkpiece Country act) can tell so well.

Careless Woman, which will be a live highlight and has a proper music video, has handclaps and a four-note riff to introduce a vocal delivered with abandon and character that makes its message clear in under two minutes. There’s also a retro chorus complete with a shushing sound on Mama’s Talkin’, a song which in the same couplet includes the words caveman, dinosaur and timeline.

Tami’s two kids contribute vocals to The Grudge, where Tami’s voice takes on the timbre of Rhiannon Giddens’ and on which she chants ‘choose pride over love’. The 89-year-old outlaw Willie Nelson does his thing on the breakup waltz Beyond The Stars. Similarly alluring is I Can Forget (‘Your memory takes me by surprise’), where Tami shows off her vibrato over yet more strings.

The album ends with the chantalong Ain’t My Job. ‘Keep your flowers! Take a cold shower!’ coos Tami over a swampy groove. It’s to Tami’s credit that the songs are musically as well as lyrically interesting, and this album deserves a wide audience as much for how it sounds as for Tami’s words. As with Ty Herndon’s album, thinkpieces will be good, but songs are always better.

Morgan Evans, London Lafayette, July 14

July 15, 2022

A lady called Hannah, already giddy with wine, was stood next to me in the new venue underneath Universal Records’ UK base in Kings Cross. She had never been to a country show before, so had no idea what to expect.

Someone had told her that opening act Twinnie had played Porsche on Hollyoaks. Tracks from her new four-track EP got an airing: Welcome To The Club opened the set with a bang, One Heart (‘it only takes one heart to break two) and Somebody or Somebody now rivals Better When I’m Drunk as a set highlight. As well as a brand new ballad written with Lucie Silvas to rival Superhero, there were some fine solos by Rich which made Twinnie whip her hair back and forth. Arms swayed, voices warmed up and Twinnie knew her role as an opening act (‘You’ve not come to see me!’ she said).

Fun fact, with which I won’t bore Hannah: Ben Johnson has produced Twinnie’s EP and co-written much of Morgan’s latest project Country and the Coast. It’s being released in two parts. The second one will surely include All Right Here, which Morgan performed solo and which sounded like an instant smash.

The first part of the project included the magical driving song Love Is Real, where Morgan adopted the rather hackneyed trick of dividing the crowd into two and making them compete for noise. His new single Country Outta My Girl is a fine distillation of his sound, which reflects well on Kelsea. I love the line ‘She’ll “Bless Your Heart” when she’s mad’!

Like Ryan Hurd, Morgan has a wife (Kelsea Ballerini) who is better known than he is. Morgan told me that he wasn’t even the best songwriter in his kitchen, but he can certainly match Kelsea for showmanship. That girl, who has just announced that her fourth album is to be called Subject To Change, features in absentia.

Morgan played his wedding song I Do and his ballad Dance With Me. He also told a story about his American Dream Truck (‘we sold the house and kept the truck!’). Morgan was able to thank the crowd for supporting his debut smash Kiss Somebody and give some background to Hooked, a song cut by Dylan Scott which spun off an idea to write a response song to Kelsea’s Peter Pan. That’s one for Hannah to catch up on.

Morgan was warming up for two arena dates in support of Brad Paisley, the London show ‘a good cure for jetlag!’ He first came over to the UK at the request of Gary Quinn in 2017, accompanied by his trusty loop pedal, playing songs which would end up on his debut album Things That We Drink To. He now had three musicians backing him up, including guitarist Gideon and a frizzy-haired bassist who was visibly impressed by the crowd’s knowledge of Morgan’s music.

The 80-minute set was full of contemporary country classics and Hannah whooped and hollered in the right places. The title track of his first album is a tribute to his old manager, and he interpolated the coda of Coldplay’s Fix You into the song, which he performed at the piano. Elsewhere he celebrated George Harrison with a take on Here Comes The Sun, fresh from holding up the traffic on Abbey Road.

His set opened with Young Again, a song full of wordless woahs, while set closer Day Drunk was accompanied by solos from each bandmember that stretched the track out. New song Sing Along Drink Along was written for small crowds like ours, and Hannah must have been impressed at the skill of Morgan as both a writer and a showman. His well-deserved encore was Diamonds, a standalone track from 2019 that I’d missed completely when it came out. Hannah loved it and will begin her journey of country discovery which may take her away from the house music to which she usually dances.

Brad Paisley has once again chosen a fine opening act to his UK shows. Morgan will surely return to the UK in 2023, if the grip’n’grin queue was any indication.

Ka-Ching…With Twang – Black Roots, a Radio Four series

July 12, 2022

Rhiannon Giddens is fast becoming the voice of country music scholarship. A banjo player whose work in Carolina Chocolate Drops did for bluegrass what Jack White did for the blues, as a solo act she has released four albums of roots music, two with her partner Francesco Turrisi with whom she lives in Ireland. BBC Radio 4 commissioned this three-part series in which Rhiannon tells the stories of black musicians who seem to have been lost in the mists of time, perhaps on purpose.

Bluegrass, conventional wisdom goes, was pioneered by Bill Monroe, Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatt. Recent stars include Molly Tuttle, Ketch Secor of Old Crow Medicine Show and Billy Strings but, as in every cultural item from movies to TV to literature to actors, we must view bluegrass through the prism of the 2010 Equality Act and right historical wrongs.

BBC Radio 3 typically does this type of music programme well, using a skilled musician to tell a story, but Radio 4 seems to obey the edict to put on air more minority voices not usually represented in the past 100 years of the Home Service. It’s a welcome correction, and if it means more Rhiannon Giddens, whose version of She’s Got You is the definitive version, so much the better.

Within two minutes of the first episode, we get Rhiannon stating her race – ‘as a mixed race person’ and later ‘the only black face in a jam session’ and ‘an outsider in a white folk culture’ – just in case nobody knows about her performance and scholarship. ‘There is no Black South and White South,’ she argues, and square dancing is ‘uniformly white’ too, even though in 1900 there was a common songbook for people of all creeds.

Fusionism, mixing white and black performers and cultures, was the order of the day. Then, at the turn of the century, came the ‘white backlash’ which drove out the black folk, thanks to the fear of mixed relationships.

We hear about two fiddlers from North Carolina in the show. Frank Johnson was born a slave whose talent was passed on to future generations. He died as a renowned player in a post-abolition era. Rhiannon’s own teacher Joe Thompson was 86 when she met him as ‘one of the last living links’ to the bluegrass fiddlers of the 1600s, which included Johnson. These chaps would play on plantations and make folk dance until the sun came up, and Rhiannon earns her fee by giving us the old ‘barking puppy’ rhythm.

The second episode asks ‘How has the banjo been whitewashed?’ We hear the famous Foggy Mountain Breakdown, one of many tunes which commercialised the genre and led people to think it had lots of Caucasians as pioneers. This started with minstrelsy, which is a whole other kettle of fish.

Our tour guide heads to Kentucky where she tells us about Arnold Shultz, who died in 1931 and was an influence on Bill Monroe, the self-proclaimed shaper of the genre. ‘I wish I could be a banjo player, not a black female banjo player,’ says Rhiannon, reminding us of the point of this series. ‘You don’t have to carry a torch for a whole entire race!’ But that’s what is being thrust upon her, just as the many women in country must represent half of humanity.

On their recent brilliant album, Old Crow Medicine Show included a hymn to harmonica player DeFord Bailey, the first black performer to be an Opry member and the only one there in his lifetime. (Charley Pride wasn’t invited until 1993, a decade after DeFord died.) DeFord (pronounced ‘Dee-Ford’, by the way) gets the acclaim in the final episode of the series, which begins with words from Frankie Station, the Black Country Music Association’s founder.

Frankie reminds that listener that, even in 1996, there was opposition to black acts. ‘I was just tired of Nashville,’ she says, ‘looking at a big party through a glass window.’ Rhiannon ‘did not always feel welcome because of the colour of my skin…It was always a white town.’

Likewise, although she loved the Southern entertainment offered on the stereotypical Hee Haw, it left out the racial tensions and, yep, erased and whitewashed black musicians like DeFord. His family, who were farmhands on a white farm, furnished him with a harmonica to console him while he was in quarantine with polio, being the 1900s and with no vaccine available. We hear him speaking incomprehensibly, like Shane MacGowan, before Rhiannon’s fellow Chocolate Drop Dom Flemons goes behind the curtain to show us how DeFord sounded like a train and invented blues harmonica with a single blue note.

In fact, DeFord was given a break by WSM, the radio station which aired the Opry radio show that booked him every Saturday night for 15 years until he was fired for insubordination relating to politics between radio and publisher. It was nothing to do with him being ‘lazy’, as one source inaccurately alleged. By the 1940s, race records and hillbilly records were being marketed to different audiences, which meant that white performers were preferred for country record labels. ‘There was little room allowed,’ Rhiannon says, ‘for black hillbilly musicians’. What was Elvis Presley, I would add, than a Tupelo truck driver dressed as a bluesman?

If someone isn’t working on a screenplay about DeFord Bailey, who lived in a time of segregation and is compared by one academic to Jimi Hendrix or Prince, I’ll write one. He died 40 years ago this month and it is to the credit of the interviewees in the third show, especially his biographer and friend who is audibly overcome with emotion, that he is remembered.

Only two other black guys are Country Music Hall of Fame members, though. It is a time for ‘reckoning and reconciliation’, so the sins of the past can be atoned thanks to champions like Rhiannon Giddens.

Black Roots can be listened to on BBC Sounds.

Country Jukebox Jury LPs: Bros. Landreth and Orville Peck

July 8, 2022

Bros Landreth – Come Morning

July 1 was Canada Day, presumably to ensure Canadians get to celebrate in the same period of the year as the Americans mark their Independence. Canadian country music is its own world, with some crossover acts including Anne Murray, Terri Clark, Lindsay Ell and that woman who wasn’t much impressed. 

Bros Landreth are two brothers from Canada, David and Joey, who bumped into Bob Harris in Nashville and handed him a CD. Bob loved it and started playing them, ensuring them a UK audience. They’ll be back this September to tour their third album – with nine UK dates including, impressively, Shepherd’s Bush Empire – to crowds who love their folky country music.

The album was self-produced with longterm buddy Murray Pulver who has since worked with UK acts including Katy Hurt and The Jackson Line. I’m sure I’m not the first writer to make the Paul Young or Ron Sexsmith comparisons but that is what I hear throughout the album. The brothers call it ‘heart-on-your-sleeve songwriting’.

The six-minute Drive All Night is a wistful reminiscin’ song with some funky keyboards. It would definitely fall under my invented genre Bob Harris Country, which welcomes music with harmonies, expert production and a mood that makes the song segue from or into music of any genre at all. This is boundless music.

It is full of empathy which the arrangements reflect: there’s some steel guitar on Shame (‘pride came before the fall’), some wire-brushed drums on You Don’t Know Me and the addition of harmonies from Leith Ross on the stoical and magnificent Don’t Feel Like Crying.

Corduroy, beyond its title, is also a great song which is indebted to 70s soul and has a marvellous final minute of guitar’n’organ bliss. The title track sounds like a lullaby that Ron Sexsmith could knock up on a half-hour walk after dinner, while the brothers even get away with calling the final and wryly comic track Back To Thee (‘take mine eyes, I don’t need them to see/ the most beautiful one splits my rent with me’).

Testament to their calibre is that Luke Combs’ producer Jonathan Singleton was in the room to write a pair of tracks: the fluttering ballad What In The World (‘would I do without you’) and After The Rain, a pretty melody which reflects the optimism that the world will be different and there will be dancing and fun after the struggle. The final minute is one of the best on record all year. I won’t spoil the thrill. Just listen.

Orville Peck – Bronco

Testament to Orville’s calibre is the presence of Jay Joyce on production for his third project. Jay has carved the sound of Eric Church and Ashley McBryde, which puts Orville in esteemed company. His third project, following the album Pony and the six-track mini-album Show Pony, is released on the famous Sub Pop label, which is now a subsidiary of Columbia Records.

Indeed, he released the album in three tranches of five tracks this spring and is out on tour this summer in Australia and his present home of Canada. Orville is the openly gay singer who grew up in South Africa who wears a tasselled facemask when he performs, with a voice that echoes through the ages like a cross between fellow Canadian Colter Wall and Johnny Cash. He has spoken of wanting to be a ‘David Bowie of country’, using his training in performance.

Trample Out The Days actually reminds me a little bit of Cher. Orville has already covered songs by Lady Gaga and kd lang, and I can hear any of those acts covering the torch ballad Let Me Drown, the album’s big bit of catharsis with a string section which Columbia Records must have greenlit. Orville has admitted to being depressed before he worked on Bronco, which he used as therapy.

There is no sign of the sadness in the musical aspect of Outta Time, which quotes Elvis Presley’s A Little Less Conversation and is driven by a great groove which reflects the line in the chorus about ‘heading down the PCH’, the Pacific Coast Highway in California. Elvis and Phil Spector seem to be influences on the grandiose C’mon Baby Cry, while the electrifying trio Lafayette, Any Turn and the album’s title track are driven by rockabilly drums.

Joyce’s production brings out the outlaw spirit of songs like Hexie Mountains – where the reverb on Orville’s voice is a literal echo of the rocks – Iris Rose (which has dustings of horn) and the smart Kalahari Down. That last song sets a Western tune in Africa, opening with a few bars of reverbed harmonica and including the strings again. Blush is a sun-drenched chugger set in London with the opening line ‘Red sky in morning, still thinking of courtin’ you’. I forgot that Orville was singing about men, and his career will be fascinating to watch, not just for the reasons of a man singing about a man in country music.

Closing track All I Can Say was co-written with Bria Salmena, who takes the first verse and chorus: ‘All I can say is goodbye’ was obvious from the start of the song as the lyric, which closes the album with the same tenor that came before it. It’s a winning formula.

Country Jukebox Jury LPs: Joshua Hedley and Ian Noe

July 7, 2022

Joshua Hedley – Neon Blue

He calls himself Mr Jukebox because he has hundreds of tunes at his disposal for a gig on Lower Broadway. Following up the 2018 album of that title, Joshua releases a 12-track set which recalls the mighty country music of the 1990s. He does it in a less obvious manner than Cole Swindell, who will have a number one by shamelessly nicking Heads Carolina Tails California for his own gains.

Josha, meanwhile, is ‘working like a dog, sweating like a hog’ but he’s Broke Again on the album’s opening track. It has fiddle, a stuttering hook and a drumbeat which was all the rage in 1994, when Joe Diffie, Brooks & Dunn and the rest were topping the charts without nicking old songs to do so.

Country & Western underlines that the genre is ‘about real life: drinking, cheating, loving…I cry alone to a steel guitar’, with a wah-wah cry from that instrument, while a twangin’ guitar opens Old Heartbroke Blues (‘there’s a cowgirl on the loose’). Free (One Heart) reminds me of Joe Nichols, who also stuck to traditional sounds on his last album, as Joshua advertises himself for a new owner. It even fades out like songs in 1994 did and this gently ends the first ‘side’ of the album.

That side also includes Down To My Last Lie, an authentic country song which paints Joshua as a schmuck with lots of keening in his voice, and The Last Thing In The World. That song opens in a honkytonk, an environment where Joshua has made a living, as he calls for an end to the parade of broken-hearted punters.

The title track opens the second ‘side’ with a tale that stays in the honkytonk, with ‘Friday night loving’ making his heart turn Neon Blue. This is also the mood of Wonder If You Wonder. There follows a proud Bury Me With My Boots On, then a pair of magnificently gorgeous tunes.

One is about a couple celebrating their ruby wedding anniversary that gives lie to the saying that love cannot be Found In A Bar. The other is a waltz called Let’s Make A Memory which is about 100% George Strait. The album ends with the philosophical River In The Rain, which also fades out.

Credit goes to Joshua’s producers Jordan Lehning and Skylar Wilson, plus co-writers Carson Chamberlain (who has also worked with Billy Currington), Wyatt McCubbin and Zach Top. The album is a beautiful homage to an era that is back in fashion only because Nashville thinks it can make money by selling it again. Joshua cares more for heritage than money, although a generous tip would be welcome.

Ian Noe – River Fools & Mountain Saints

Underrated? Cult songwriter? Ian Noe (real first name Joey) seems to be among the ranks of certain roots performers who are acclaimed within the scene but not known beyond it. Dave Cobb produced his 2019 debut album, having worked with Ian’s fellow Kentuckian Chris Stapleton, while Ian opened for John Prine on one of his final tours.

This second album – distributed by Thirty Tigers who also brought John’s records out – opens with a few bars of groove and guitar which introduce the song Pine Grove (Madhouse). Ian’s vocals sound adenoidal but direct, giving us a view of life in middle America.

The tunes keep coming, each with nagging melodies, vivid lyrics and arrangements that go long on traditional instruments. Tom Barrett, about a murderer, was ‘waiting for a better time to tell her he’d be gone’, an opening line which hooks the listener like a great storyteller does. Ditto Burning Down The Prairie (‘Daddy’s on the rampage’), which kicks into an electric wigout halfway through. The title Appalachia Haze might well be a nod to Hendrix’s Purple one, but there are no electric guitar fireworks to be here.

River Fool is a John Prine-ish character song about a guy prone to strumming Creedence Clearwater Revival while he wastes the days away. The Appalachian harmonies are as appealing as the mandolin and acoustic guitar which drive the rhythm of the song.

This is proper singer/songwriter stuff, music which would work with just a mouth and a guitar but on record can be surrounded by excellent arrangements. From the jaunty Strip Job Blues 1984 to the image-heavy toe-tappers POW Blues and Mountain Saint, Ian knows how to write a folk song. Road May Flood, which segues into It’s A Heartache, is a lovely closing duo; the latter has a string section, which helps the album and Ian drift off on the breeze.

For slower songs, try the rolling guitar of Ballad of a Retired Man, the apt Lonesome As It Gets, and One More Night, where Ian gently finger-picks his guitar while brooding about those who voyage on the sea. There is a muted horn solo in the middle of that last song which I hope Ian can repeat on the road so audiences obtain the full experience.

He comes to End of the Road festival and a pair of UK dates in early September.

Country Jukebox Jury LPs: Ray Fulcher and Aaron Raitiere

July 6, 2022

Ray Fulcher – Spray Painted Line

Ray is the most successful songwriter you’ve never heard of. A kid from a small town in Georgia, he met a fellow Eric Church fan, Luke Combs, back in 2014 and by 2018 had success as part of Luke’s crew. Ray was in the room for Even Though I’m Leaving, a song Luke will still be playing in 2050, and his second number one When It Rains It Pours.

Four years after that song hit number one, Ray puts out his hour-long debut full-length release, following a 2019 EP, on Black River. As with Luke’s third album, it is produced by Jonathan Singleton, who is hot right now. Similar to how Cole Swindell isn’t a patch on Luke Bryan, Ray’s voice lacks the character of Luke Combs’ but the songs are contemporary and appealing and will ensure he has success out on the road promoting this album. He’ll be supporting the great Craig Morgan this autumn.

Sellin’ Cars is the artist’s statement of intent: Ray’s job as a songwriter ‘sure beats the hell’ out of a sales job. Bucket List Beers had Combs in the room. It’s a song about marking big moments in your life with alcohol and should be heard on a beer commercial. Beer also pops up in the punchline of Hearts To Break (‘and I got beers to drink’), which has a radio-friendly chorus.

All Gas No Brakes opens the set with a declaration of love, while the magnificent love song After The Rain (‘loving you is like a blue sky after the rain’) slows things down to prove Ray can do balladry too. Life Changing Money has a wistful tone appropriate to a reminiscin’ lyric about buying a ring for his beloved, and Compliment is a fine country song in every respect: drive, melody, production, guitar solo and a great lyric where Ray is ‘set in my ways’.

Eric Church and Jon Stone from American Young gave Ray The Battle of Betty’s Love. It sounds like a Chief song, with a spacious melody and a lyric about a football game and homecoming queens, as well as a pun on Gettysburg in the title. Football also appears in Damn If It Didn’t Hurt, one of many vignettes in a song where Ray tells us that what doesn’t kill him makes him stronger. Sorry, Heart is a great idea well executed and a perfect writers’ round song.

Girl In It was the song that got the big push and I wonder if any big acts like Tim McGraw had it on hold. The other big Ray Fulcher song is actually an outside write: the first verse of Love Ya Son, Go Dawgs takes the form of a voicemail from a dad to his son, which is drenched in pathos and smalltown life: the weather, selling a car, the departure of the preacher and the success of the local football team. It’ll make dads and their sons hug one another, and I wish there were more of this type of song in country today.

Without his beloved, it’d be like the Wild West without John Wayne, as the track with that name lists a whole load of things, including ‘Merle without that Bakersfield sound’, that do not lack that crucial ingredient. Merle isn’t the only musician namechecked on the album, which also gives props to Travis Tritt (a more sedate version of When It Rains It Pours called So Far So Bad), Bruce Springsteen (Way Out), Tom Petty (Anything Like You Dance) and Willie Nelson on vinyl on If You Like Your Boys Like That (‘then you’re gonna love me’).

That last song paints Ray as a good old country boy, which is one of the themes of this album. We don’t need 17 tracks but, having waited a decade for this moment, I won’t begrudge Ray the chance to showcase the full extent of his talent. The car dealership’s loss is country music’s gain. Let’s hope he can get over to the UK for C2C next year.

Aaron Raitiere – Single Wide Dreamer

Like Ray, Kentucky-born Aaron has had his name in the brackets of songs on major releases. Tall Guys, on the recent Maren Morris album, did not have a fan in the similarly short Dave Cobb, for whose Low Country Sound label Aaron is a staff writer; Greg Kurstin, who produced the song, is extremely tall so it found favour with him.

Having written Country Money for Miranda’s record Palomino, Aaron has recorded a toe-tappin’ version of For The Birds, a fine track from The Weight of These Wings which was mostly written at 7.30am staring out the window trying to wake up. He also wrote Look What I Found and I’ll Never Love Again for Lady Gaga to sing on A Star Is Born. As well as holding a degree from Cornell University, Aaron also paints, so maybe Lady Gaga has a Raitiere on her wall.

Aaron will be over in the UK this October supporting Tenille Townes in her jaunt to the UK. He told Your Life In A Song that he wants to make people feel good with his music. Guided by the album’s producer Anderson East – a former boyfriend of Miranda’s – Aaron brought in Foy Vance and Bob Weir from the Grateful Dead to help Aaron, proof that the network is strong in town. It’s out on the Dinner Time imprint and there is much food for thought on the album.

The title track tells of a country-sounding guy who is a fan of Johnny and Merle but lives ‘in a double wide world’. I love the speak-singing Aaron employs, as well as language like ‘bona fide’ and ‘high falutin’. The character of that song smokes, as does the one on Everybody Else, which sounds like a campfire singalong and includes a guy playing acoustic guitar which is awfully meta.

The chirpy and philosophical Cold Soup would work well in a DJ set next to 10cc’s Life is a Minestrone. At Least We Didn’t Have Any Kids is a carefree song where Aaron is free of regrets, while Can’t Rain All The Time is a major-key that looks on the bright side of life despite how ‘the beetles got the apples and the worms got the corn’. You’re Crazy, a list of ways of calling someone less than sane, was written with songwriter’s songwriter Erin Enderlin and reminds me of Charlie Worsham’s funnier songs.

Elsewhere, in a more morose tenor, Dear Darlin’ has Aaron ‘cussing you in cursive’ while doing a Conway Twitty impression. He’s also ‘cussin’ on Worst I Ever Had, which has a singalong section to hammer home Aaron’s pain. Tell Me Something True, co-written with Ashley Monroe, is an acoustic lament where Aaron begs his beloved to stick the knife in ‘even if it hurts’. Your Daddy Hates Me is a son-in-law’s lament which will land well with some of his audience.

Time Will Fly, a Hemby/McAnally/Raitiere co-write about life and stuff, closes the album and it is to Aaron’s credit that he can be bracketed with these hitmakers.

Ka-Ching…With Twang – Contemporary Bluegrass from Molly Tuttle and Old Crow Medicine Show

July 5, 2022

Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway – Crooked Tree

Molly Tuttle is a leading figure in contemporary bluegrass, a world which was discussed in Emma John’s wonderful travelogue Wayfaring Stranger. Bob Harris is a fan of Molly’s and has been playing her music for the past few years, probably because it recalls the mighty Alison Krauss.

If you judge a person by the company she keeps, Molly is a superstar. The album is produced by dobro wizard Jerry Douglas and is packed with guests from the bluegrass firmament. If anything, this is a sort of bluegrass version of what DJ Khaled does, except Molly doesn’t yell her name before her guest takes a verse.

Ketch Secor of Old Crow Medicine Show joined Molly to write eight of the album’s 13 tracks. His band feature on the delightful Big Backyard, which contrasts the country girls and the city guys out in Hollywood or New York but ‘come rain or shine, it’s the same big sky’. Flatland Girl features Margo Price, who helps Molly sing about how ‘a farmer’s day is never done’. It is gorgeous and, like much of the album, soaked in fiddle.

Speaking of strings(!!), Billy Strings accompanies his bluegrass mate on the bluesy Dooley’s Farm, which has a nice kicker at the end. The mood is evoked by the Blue Ridge Mountains and the slow, woozy musical accompaniment.

The title track is a fable of nature, in which Molly comes down on the side of the crooked tree that can’t easily be turned into ‘toothpicks and 20-dollar bills’ at the mill. As if to exaggerate the crookedness, Molly changes the number of beats in the bars where the titular tree is mentioned. It reminds me a little bit of The Lorax, Dr Seuss’s environmental parable, and I reckon it’ll become a bluegrass standard. She personifies nature in The River Knows, which ‘cries’ when love goes awry, while Grass Valley is a place where Molly was ‘standing round jamming’ with her dad as a kid.

Nashville Mess Around is lightly critical of Music City (‘we’ve had our boom and there’s no room!’) but it’s a heap of fun thanks to the yodelling. Castilleja is a proper bluegrass band song: the instrumentalists take solos and Molly sings of love and stuff in the desert. Technically, melodically and narratively, it is perfect and worthy of the audience that Alison Krauss and, indeed, Sierra Hull and Gillian Welch get.

Those two woman also join in the fun: Sierra’s mandolin helps Molly go Over The Line – the line being the US-Mexico border – while Gillian is sat Side Saddle on the feminist bluegrass song (‘I just wanna ride bow-legged like a boy’). Dan Tyminski, who has worked with Alison Krauss and was the real voice coming out of George Clooney in O Brother Where Art Thou, adds harmonies to the melancholy waltz San Francisco Blues, which recalls the state of Molly’s birth.

This is a wonderful album, full of nature, empathy and musicianship. Worse still for us old folk, Molly is 29. Go listen while she’s ascending the bluegrass ladder.

Old Crow Medicine Show – Paint This Town

OCMS, meanwhile, are much more than bluegrass now. They are led by Ketch Secor, who added verses to an old chorus by Bob Dylan about rocking him like a wagon wheel and made both of their accountants very happy. They also performed Bob’s first ‘Nashville album’ Blonde on Blonde in its entirety in 2017 and you must listen to the set recorded at the Country Music Hall of Fame to appreciate the musicianship and songwriting of an album that contributed to the birth of rock music (as opposed to rock’n’roll).

OCMS are at this point as beloved as The Mavericks, The Oak Ridge Boys and Zac Brown Band. We expect showmanship, musicianship and all the other ships and the quality control is extraordinary. While hunky guys and pretty girls get played on the radio and shift units to a predetermined audience, OCMS will outlast all of them and attract an audience who care about Music with a capital M. ’23 years…and we’re still strumming…harder!’ was their note to fans upon the release of the album.

Paint This Town is produced by Matt Ross-Spang, who rose to become Chief Engineer at Sun Studio Memphis before setting up his own studio. He’s helped craft the sonics of records by Jason Isbell, Lori McKenna, The Mountain Goats, Margo Price and John Prine, so our ears are in safe hands. I imagine lots of people will listen to the album on hi-fidelity audio and it seems a shame to stream it in low quality via Spotify.

They were meant to play at Country2Country 2020 but the virus scuppered their chances of bringing their good-time music to Greenwich. OCMS have added the guitar-playing wizard Charlie Worsham to their band too, which is a match made in bluegrass heaven. The accelerator is pressed right down to the floor on the tracks Bombs Away (‘I don’t mind if I lose my mind!’), Painkiller (‘mama won’t you ease my mind!’ – make your mind up, Ketch!!) and Used To Be A Mountain, which rotates between soft and hyperactive sections.

Reasons To Run is a gorgeous song where Ketch is ‘running out of reasons’ to escape the ghost towns. Spot the nasal delivery of a line near the end of the song which is pure Dylan, as is the structure and delivery on New Mississippi Flag, which is almost a tribute to the type of song on Blonde on Blonde. Honey Chile is rich in harmonies like the best music by the band who backed Bob on the Blonde on Blonde tour, which became The Band.

There’s an appropriately gospely, New Orleans boogie-woogie feel to Lord Willing and the Creek Don’t Rise, and Ketch becomes a Pentecostal preacher on the unhinged John Brown’s Dream, which will be enormous fun to perform live. As will Hillbilly Boy, a story song about a fiddler with a chorus featuring the line ‘pass that jug of wine and let it shine, shine, shine!’ Songs like these are amazing to hear in an era of processed drums and reconstituted disco beats. Just as The White Stripes rescued the Delta Blues from academic study, so Ketch and his crew are bringing bluegrass to the masses.

The band’s recent setlist includes neither John Brown’s Dream nor Hillbilly Boy, though they do play Gloryland, where Ketch looks upon a ‘ruined nation’ to the accompaniment of a stately arrangement in direct opposition to those feelgood tunes elsewhere on the album. It is even more stark given recent events in the USA.

The most poignant song on the album is DeFord Rides Again, which tells the story of the 4’9” DeFord Bailey, the famous harmonica player whose career was rather ruined by the racism of the American South. Kudos to the band’s blower Cory Younts, who takes the solo and honks throughout this tribute to a man whose memory the band, who are Opry regulars just as DeFord had been. The outro of the song includes a few bars of DeFord blowing, on a record in 2022.

Heritage is vital to the survival of country music and Old Crow Medicine Show, Opry members since 2013, are one of the best at offering it.

Ka-Ching…With Twang – Legendary Outlaws

July 3, 2022

If country radio is a young man’s game, there is no age limit for outlaws. If you add up the ages of these three men, you get 231. In ascending order, Steve Earle is 67, Ray Wylie Hubbard is 75 and Willie Nelson will turn 90 next year.

Fans of outlaw country can grab a ticket for February 2023’s Outlaw Country Cruise, which stops off in Mexico and the Bahamas and has booked acts such as Vandoliers, Mike and the Moonpies, Lucinda Williams, The Mavericks…and Ray Wylie Hubbard and Steve Earle. Willie is helming another Farm Aid event this September, with Neil Young, John Mellencamp, Margo Price and Dave Matthews already confirmed.

Willie Nelson – A Beautiful Life

Willie put out his 98th album this April on the day he turned 89. As with his recent albums, his producer Buddy Cannon sends him songs to sing over, but Buddy has put a call out for other writers.

The opening love song I’ll Love You Till The Day I Die was what I hope is the first of many co-writes between Rodney Crowell and Chris Stapleton, and I expect Chris will record a version of it one day. The excellent title track (‘If I ever get old, I’ll still love the road’) was written by Shawn Camp, who both produced Guy Clark’s late albums and co-wrote Two Pina Coladas, which hopefully bought him a house.

It is one of several tracks on which Mickey Raphael adds flecks of harmonica; he’s a sort of country version of Stevie Wonder because you always know it’s Mickey when he blows on a Willie Nelson song. They include album closer Leave You With A Smile, a song to a partner from a man determined to improve on how he treats his woman. The message sounds even more tender coming from the mouth of a man who has been in the business since the 1950s.

Shawn also wrote We’re Not Happy (Till You’re Not Happy), a song about the strains of gambling (‘Here comes Moneybags again’) with a brief reference to Willie’s beloved marijuana. I Don’t Go To Funerals is another humorous song, in the tenor of Still Not Dead or I’m My Own Grandpa, although the second verse checking off Willie’s old friends (Waylon, Patsy Cline, Freddy Powers) is poignant.

As you would expect, a lot of songs about looking in the rear view mirror: My Heart Was A Dancer, troubadour anthem Me And My Partner, the sombre Dreamin’ Again, Dusty Bottles (‘pour a finer glass of wine…and wisdom only comes with time’) and Live Every Day, which encourages the listener to ‘pick up the phone’ to an old friend and to do as you would be done by.

Buddy Cannon’s production is extraordinary throughout the album, particularly Energy Follows Thought with its long accordion chords and the tender Don’t Touch Me There (‘that’s where my heart is’). There’s also a cover of Tower of Song (‘I ache in the places where I used to play’), the Leonard Cohen song in which he addresses Hank Williams while stating ‘I was born with the gift of a golden voice’. Willie also includes a gorgeous cover of the Lennon/McCartney number With A Little Help From My Friends, with a lot of help from Mickey’s harmonica.

Willie Nelson, who wrote some country standards that will be sung in a century’s time, should be remembered just as those three men are. At this stage of Willie’s career, it’s all legacy consolidation. Those 90th birthday celebrations next year will be something special.

Steve Earle – Jerry Jeff

At a mere 67 years old, Steve has been in rock’n’roll for half a century now. He’s already buried his son Justin Townes, whose songs Steve covered on the second of his trilogy of albums. The first was dedicated to Guy Clark and the third is in honour of Jerry Jeff Walker, the doyen of Red Dirt music who settled in Austin and became the mayor of the scene.

Jerry Jeff wrote a song about a man who’ll dance for you called Mr Bojangles, which Robbie Williams recorded for his swing album in the spirit of Sammy Davis Jr. Steve, who has of course included his take on it, was keen to remind the world that Jerry Jeff wrote more than just that tune, so we have nine other compositions.

Steve seems to have picked up a habit of growling after every line, which becomes grating, but the spirit is there on the immaculate set opener Gettin’ By, which would sound great in the sort of Austin saloon that Jerry Jeff made his own. Likewise Gypsy Songman and the wry I Makes Money (Money Don’t Make Me).

Charlie Dunn introduces listeners to a figure of the Austin scene ‘with a smile and a leathery face’, which is apt as he made boots for the famous, a kind of Nudie Cohen of the Texas scene. Hill Country Rain has the barroom groove of a Bruce Springsteen tune, again unsurprising as Steve modelled his breakthrough on Bruce.

The more tender tracks include Little Bird, which sounds like a Steve Earle song with its gentle melody, and Jerry Jeff’s songs about his dad, My Old Man and Wheel. On the latter he describes helping his dad in the field, which Steve arranges expertly. The album concludes with Old Road, where Steve sings a cappella and accompanies himself on harmonica, letting Jerry Jeff’s words reverberate with the listener so they don’t forget a great American artist whose spirit lives in Steve Earle.

Ray Wylie Hubbard – Co-Starring Too

Born in Oklahoma but a resident of Texas as a child, Ray wrote the Jerry Jeff Walker song Up Against The Wall, Redneck Mother and helped Eric Church on his Rolling Stones pastiche Desperate Man. Having already released a 2020 collection with mates including Pam Tillis, Ronnie Dunn, Ashley McBryde and The Cadillac Three, he’s repeated the trick, recording that Chief tune with The Band of Heathens as an album closer that turns it into a swamp blues tune.

Before it, we have ten other Ray-written tunes. Handily for this piece, both Willie Nelson and Steve Earle are among the guests. Willie joins him on the elegiac Stone Blind Horses, which means Ray has to find the harmony with Willie’s wandering vocal lines. Steve is on Hellbent For Leather, where the pair leave LA to go to Oklahoma, tired of life in California.

Fancy Boys is a satire on Nashville’s desire for hunks, a far cry from the original outlaw Hank Williams. There’s also a lyrical nod to the final line of Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues. Lzzy Hale from Halestorm adds some pizzazz on Naturally Wild, set in a club in Austin and driven by a fine riff. The solo is appropriately blistering. Groove, meanwhile, lists old songs by Mavis Staples, Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye and Al Green while emphasising the ‘soulful groove’ running through them all.

Ray pays homage to today’s Red Dirt scene by recruiting Wade Bowen, Randy Rogers and Cody Canada on the groovetastic Even If My Wheels Fall Off, written with Wade and with resolute determination in the message ‘I ain’t slowin’ down’. Sticking with the great state, Texas Wild Side is another rifftastic song that namechecks Jerry Jeff Walker and Billy Joe Shaver who ‘always tell the truth’.

Only A Fool brings the Lord and the 19th Amendment into the song to underline the message that ‘only a fool a’disrespect a woman’. Supporting that credo, Wynonna appears on the song Pretty Reckless (Ray loves a woman who ‘wears a bullet on her necklace’) along with Bob Dylan’s guitar player Charlie Sexton.

Another groove-based rock’n’roll song Ride Or Die recruits Heart’s Ann Wilson, Ringo Starr (who turns 82 this month), guitar wizard Steve Lukather and Ray’s son Lucas. It is a measure of the respect shown to Ray that he can once again gather a galaxy of stars to record versions of some of his copyrights.

Country Jukebox Jury: Jillian Jacqueline and Kylie Morgan

July 3, 2022

Jillian Jacqueline – Honestly

There are so many women in Nashville who pop up every year with fine music but who seem to exist in a sort of purgatory: too good to go indie, not worthy enough for big stages for some reason to do with ROI and marketing.

Ingrid Andress at least had a number one with More Hearts Than Mine, and Callista Clark has taken her time putting in sessions to write songs for a debut album which Big Machine are making a priority release this autumn. Or how about Cam, who since Burning House has been vocal about how women are getting a raw deal on country radio?

Cam, like Caitlyn Smith and Elle King, are working mums now, as is Jillian Jacqueline. She put out her debut album in two parts, Side A (2017) and Side B (2018), via Big Loud. God Bless This Mess and Reasons gained her plenty of fans, including Bobby Bones who spoke to her for his Bobbycast in June. Even a Keith Urban collaboration failed to dent the chart so Jillian was dropped.

She married Bryan Brown, brother of Nashville A-List writer/producer Tofer who worked on that debut album. Both brothers jointly produce Honestly, and Jillian laid down some of the vocals while holding her and Bryan’s baby.

As with the new Brett Eldredge album, Jillian mixes lightly jazzy pop like When It Rains and confessional singer/songwriter material. She still has pals in town including Charlie Worsham and TJ Osborne: Charlie adds a harmonic vocal line to opening track The Ocean, a song where Jillian puts her life in a song and edges her way towards you, the ocean; TJ is her duet partner on the triple-time Better With A Broken Heart, one of those songs where A matches with B.

The album features some big names between the brackets who helped Jillian write this album, which is released independent of any label in town. Trevor from Old Dominion was there on the gorgeous mandolin-flecked Bandwagon, which aptly sounds like a driving song. Daniel Tashian, best known for his work on Golden Hour by Kacey Musgraves, was there for Hummingbird, which has some fluttering harmonies and a deeply personal lyric which begins: ‘I hate to be alone but I’d rather be alone when I’m not alone…’ Oddly, new mum Maren Morris wrote a lullaby called Hummingbird on her new album, but Jillian centres her narrative on herself.

Lori McKenna, who co-wrote God Bless This Mess and, oddly, Maren’s Hummingbird, returns on Sure, which sounds like a career song. The hook ‘I’m sure about you’ makes this a wonderful wedding song with some piano accompaniment and both warmth and vulnerability in her vocal. It sounds like a hit in any other universe except this one. The Nashville treasure Shane McAnally adds his magic to a song about the first fumblings of love called Magic. ‘Was it magic or just nostalgic?’ Jillian asks herself while a gentle swirl of sound surrounds her.

Elsewhere, her voice soars right to the top of her range on both Iconic (great title) and the finger-picked majesty of Compliment (‘I should be glad that we’re talking at all’). Hurt Somebody Else, with the album’s best chorus, was written with Justin Parker, who is best known for writing Video Games with Lana Del Rey. The piano ballad Honeymoon closes the album with more philosophy. It seems to quote the title of Charlie Worsham’s last album (‘why we love the beginnings of things’).

Jillian told Your Life In A Song that she has been listening to ‘timeless classic’ albums. This is echoed in a technically excellent album. Without Big Loud backing her, I hope she can find the financial backing to come to the UK to perform.

Kylie Morgan – P.S.

Here’s a seven-song project, which Kylie calls an EP but could easily be a mini-album, from Kylie. She has already opened for Brett Eldredge, Dan + Shay, Maren Morris and Jason Derulo. Her debut EP Love, Kylie came out in 2021. It included Break Things and I Only Date Cowboys, tracks which she was due to play at Country2Country in 2020 but went home having played a showcase. That EP got lost in the pandemic shuffle and I am positive she will make it over to C2C in March to impress UK audiences with songs from her catalogue.

Her voice has a little gravel in it, similar to that of Elle King or Morgan Wade, with the melodic grasp of RaeLynn or Tenille Townes. The production is bona fide pop thanks to the man with money in his ears, Shane McAnally, who also has an eye on the spreadsheets and knows where to target Kylie. It’s all Gucci on the song Gucci, which will appeal to the 25-34 demographic who might strike a pose to a clip of the song on TikTok.

The country king of that app is Walker Hayes, who co-wrote and sings backing vocals on Country Anyway. Despite mentioning Miranda Lambert and Tootsie’s lounge, a hangout for songwriters who are down on their luck, is a pop song in the form of a conversation with Kylie’s mama about Nashville. It rhymes ‘awesome’ with Boston, Austin and Charleston.

Kylie’s music is a clash between the rural and the urban, the country and the pop. Love Like We’re Drunk is a song that I can hear hen parties bellow on Lower Broadway in Nashville, while Independent With You is a more domestic come-on. Over A Redneck nicks the ‘red-red-redneck’ hook from Boys Round Here and surrounds it with a magnificently produced pop song.

If He Wanted To He Would is a lovely bit of sisterly advice, while the great Nash Overstreet from Hot Chelle Rae helped her write Mean Girls, which seems like a teen version of Girl Goin’ Nowhere by Ashley McBryde. It is a shame she couldn’t shoehorn the name Gretchen Wieners into the song.

Kylie is making the music Jillian used to make, and that is the circle of life in country music.

The UK Country Top 40 Bubbling Under Chart: Summer 2022

July 1, 2022

The Bubbling Under Chart lists the 40 acts who didn’t quite make it into the Top 40 proper this summer. You can hear me talk to the artists whose names are in bold on the audio version of this countdown, which you can find divided into the following sections.

Hear every song in full at this playlist.

40 Lisa T – What Am I Missin’?

39 Kelsey Bovey – Vinyl

38 Kirwan – Cool

37 Charlotte Young – Four Hours, Four Years

36 Rosey Cale – Secrets

35 Katee Kross – Bumblebee

34 Between The Vines – All In

33 Fargo Railroad Company – Barroom Band

32 Reya Jayne – Man Like You

31 Lisa Wright – Ready Now

30 Noble Jacks – Last of the Wild

29 Hannah Paris – Only You

28 Matt Owens – Beer For The Horses

27 Emily Faye – When It Comes To Leaving

26 Chris Mossop – Candle In You Still Burns

25 Lauren Housley – We’re Not Backing Down

24 Adele & Andy –When I Look At You

23 Shaun Samonini – Nowhere Fast

22 Rae Sam – Feel This Good

21 Adam Brucass – That Guy

20 Jack & Tim – Little House, Big Love

19 Lucy Blu – Surrender 

18 Roisin O’Hagan – Road From Nevada

17 Izzie Walsh – Jimmy

16 Meg McPartlin – Mama Watch Me Dance

15 Fine Lines – Del Rio

14 The Jackson Line – Up In Flames

13 Poppy Fardell – Better Start

12 Shannon Hynes – Woman’s Scorn

11 William The Conqueror – Cold Ontario

10 Jake Morrell – This House, live acoustic version

9 Eric & Jensen – Party Strong

8 Allie Marie Hunter – Hair of the Dog

7 Joe Martin – Take Me Home Tonight

6 Laura Oakes – How Big Is Your World, acoustic version

5 Louise Parker – Tequila Sunset

4 Tennessee Twin – Rewind.

3 Gasoline & Matches – Never Have I Ever

2 Backwoods Creek – Mama’s Prayers

1 Essex County – Next To Me

Once again, you can hear every track in full in this playlist.

Country Jukebox Jury: Raleigh Keegan, Alan Fletcher and American Aquarium

July 1, 2022

Raleigh Keegan – A Tale of 7 Cities

What a great hook for a collection of songs, which adds an eighth, the smartly titled piano ballad Where My Home Is.

Cold Day In Tucson (‘you’re too far gone for a love song’) is perfect Radio 2 fodder with an inapposite bouncy arrangement and a passionate vocal. Likewise Lonely Night in LA (‘Hollywood ain’t so good’), with its Laurel Canyon grooves, and Miss Me Memphis. That song starts with a keyboard vamp and harmonica and namechecks for Beale Street and Graceland. 

Paris Wheel, meanwhile, picks up the pace and takes us to the boulevard and the museums. The chorus is terrific, and there is another fine instrumental section with piano, guitar and jazz fiddle inveigling their way into the mix.

How’s The View In New York City is just lush. It opens with some a cappella stems which lead to a classic songwriter-sounding verse and, in the instrumental section, some suspended chords played by a string section. The lyrics see Raleigh asking what his beloved had for breakfast – as if they do it differently in the big city – and if she misses him.

We return to the country with Send My Love To Lexington, co-written by Semisonic’s Dan Wilson. Dobro at the start of the song introduces a place that Raleigh ‘might have left but it never left me’. New To Nashville is a songwriter’s story of ‘paying dues’ and waiting for proper furniture in a city of ‘a thousand hungry heartbreaks’. I can’t wait to see where Raleigh goes next, geographically and musically.

Alan Fletcher – Dispatches

Dr Karl Kennedy has always had a sideline in music. In fact, his band The Waiting Room were booked back in 2006 to play Edinburgh’s student union because they could guarantee an audience for the guy off of Neighbours, a student staple. Now the TV show is on the home straight, Alan Fletcher can go full-time with his tunes.

For his latest EP, and the forthcoming album which will be the first under his own name, Alan has gone country, with four originals and a cover of Fish and Whistle written by the late John Prine. Appropriately for a man whose job in a TV soap is about to end, one verse is about being ‘fired for being scared of bees’.

Old song Time Was finally has an arrangement worthy of its composition, which is full of diminished chords and a whistling solo. Alan’s voice comes across like that of Neil Young, though he’s more Bob Dylan on the verbose Spend A Little Time With Me, on which he plans to give up ‘recreational toking’ to appease his beloved. There’s also a neat duet with Alyce Platt on Sorry Is The Word (‘we never find’), a song which Paul Heaton could have written for him and Jacqui Abbott.

The EP’s opening track Meet Me On The Steps of the Bombed Out Church is a Celtic-tinged tune about Liverpool led by plucked banjo and folk fiddle with a pub singalong of a chorus. This is given more verisimilitude by Alan’s weather-worn voice that is coming to London next week. Catch him at the Bedford in Balham on July 4 and/or the Camden Club in Chalk Farm on July 5. Matt Spracklen is one of the support acts.

American Aquarium – Chicamacomico

BJ Barham returns with another record, his tenth of original material, following two sets of covers albums. Having played the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville for the first time, the band are on the road all summer all across America including a return to Music City for AmericanaFest in September. Americana is a good label for BJ’s music – BJ hires new musicians all the time, so it’s effectively a solo project with a band name – and the album has all the ingredients of great American roots music.

Built To Last describes the way old trucks and houses have survived many miles and storms. It opens with the line ‘they don’t build a heart like they used to’ and is the kind of song that defines the genre: organic music finely produced by Brad Cook of Nathaniel Rateliff’s band. The FM radio homage All I Needed is equally celebratory and is a good place to start.

The title track opens the album with an instruction to head down to the river to get clean. Little Things is more domestic as, thanks to his morning coffee and an evening lullaby, BJ is able to ‘see what I was working for’ with a charming arrangement. He’s not a roadhog but ‘a father and a husband who knows his way around a microphone’. Wildfire starts as a love song with some wah-wah guitar in the chorus, seemingly to undercut the tenderness of the lyric (‘watch that spark turn to wildfire’) and warn us of what is to come.

Plenty of songs are meditative and emotional, which is very much BJ’s brand as a now sober fella. Just Close Enough is a domestic argument where the pair of lovers are ‘too far away’. The Hardest Thing (‘I know it’s just my imagination’) and Waking Up The Echoes could be about the same person as The First Year, where BJ is at their graveside (I won’t say who it is).

The Things We Lost Along the Way ruminates on death and ‘the razor-thin line’ between right and wrong; it’s vaguely spiritual and reminds me of when Bruce Springsteen goes acoustic every few albums. I know BJ is bracketed among the great American songwriters and this album does nothing to disprove that case.

Country Jukebox Jury LPs: Carrie Underwood and Hannah White

June 29, 2022

Carrie Underwood – Denim & Rhinestones

What a great title, for a start. We’ve had the song for a few months and it’s not hard to imagine Carrie’s label asking her and her loyal writers – David Garcia, Josh Kear and Hillary Lindsey – to do a country version of Dua Lipa, given that she was playing Vegas as part of the build-up to this album, her ninth, which follows albums themed around Christmas and Easter.

Good though those were – her version of How Great Thou Art might be definitive – this is where she makes her money. As befits Carrie, who took over the Showgirl role of country music from Reba – who took it over from Dolly, who created the role – there’s pop, rock and country here to mop up all kinds of audiences aka key demographics. As with all acts who make their ninth album, there are tweaks to the formula but it’s still vocals + production and an assured familiarity. Carrie, it should always be noted, co-produces her own work.

Ghost Story (‘I’ll be haunting you, you’ll be wanting me’) was the first single and sounds like ten other Carrie songs, notably Something In The Water and Heartbeat. Poor Everybody Else is another Carrie Does Joan Jett moment where, over amps-to-11 guitars, she warns people to ‘watch your man’ because the woman she describes is ‘a wrecking ball looking for a wall to break’.

Crazy Angels, another track on country music’s Now That’s What I Call Bachelorette Party, is good fun and has the same huge guitars present on Undo It and Cowboy Casanova. Hate My Heart brings in a trademark Michael Hardy chorus and crunchy guitars to Carrie’s woe: she wants to be free but there’s an anchor in her chest tying her down to her memories.

Miranda had her Pink Sunglasses, and Carrie has ‘more buzz than pink Champagne’ thanks to her beau with whom she ‘can’t stay sober’. The thumping drum loop will sound great in a busy club, and I wonder if this will get some Reba-type remixes to ensure people go to the bar and order some pink champagne. Wanted Woman is another pro-relationship song (‘Right song on the radio turns you into Romeo’ is a great line) but it’s filler.

Velvet Heartbreak is full of backing vocals from Hillary and a brilliant chorus which will slot into her set nicely. Wind chimes open Faster, a ‘party for two’ which is a pastiche of every slow dance ballad on the radio in 1989, right down to the keyboard, backing vocal stabs and percussion sounds. It is even more Adult Contemporary country than Burn, which brought together Hillary, Liz Rose and Ashley Gorley. That song’s wide-open chorus and lyrics which go for the elements – love fades like a fire ‘keeping me warm but killing me’ – will make it a good pick for a single. It also makes good use of Carrie’s instrument, that million-dollar diaphragm, as she belts out some long notes.

Traditional country fans will love the song she debuted at the Opry, She Don’t Know, where she drafts in the world-class pair of Charlie Worsham on guitar and Stuart Duncan on fiddle. The song is a three-minute movie where one character doesn’t know that Carrie knows what’s going on: ‘The joke’s on her…What she don’t know is she can have him!’ If the Dixie Chicks were still bothering the charts, this is the music they would be making. After ten to fifteen years of blokes who emerged after the ‘cancellation’ of the Chicks, we should have more of this sort of thing.

The album closes with Garden, the God Song on the album full of Dollyesque spirituality that reminds us that however much a crazy angel Carrie is, she’s really the All-American Girl from Oklahoma who is making millions for Universal Music and being the pretty girl representing country music in America, appealing to Red and Blue states. She’s basically the Adele of country music, but with a hockey player for a husband.

Hannah White – About Time

Hannah White is the godmother of the UK country scene. The two branches of The Sound Lounge are packed with fans of roots music night after night; the cosy one on Morden High Street was joined by one in Hannah’s home town of Sutton, which succeeded in its crowdfunding campaign. There are seven patrons including broadcasters Paul Sexton, Baylen Leonard and Bob Harris, as well as musicians Jamie Lawson, Judie Tzuke, Tom Robinson and KT Tunstall. On Friday July 1, Danny George Wilson plays a gig with a host of friends from the Americana scene, while Steve Nieve plays the songs he wrote with his mate Elvis Costello on July 16.

In June, Hannah played Glastonbury and she’s on the road this autumn supporting Ricky Ross as he promotes his memoir. So she’s a girl with connections. Her latest album, following her 2020 collaboration with The Nordic Connections, is a 10-track solo effort which could well play on repeat at The Sound Lounge during the daytime as people drink coffee with oat milk and vegan brownies.

The album opens with You Don’t Want Me Anymore, with a high lonesome vocal saturated in echo. It Will Be Alright is appropriately comforting to both her and her children who learn at school ‘to divide and compete and be cruel’. The song has a fine structure which allows Hannah to stretch her voice, and is one of many on the album that reminds me of Suzanne Vega.

One thing I notice running through the album is the softness of the drums, appropriate for an act who owns a café. It allows Hannah’s voice and lyrics to dominate. Daddy’s Gonna Make Me A Star is a fun little piano-led character song about a girl who grew up wanting to be a showgirl that bears the influence of Randy Newman. I wonder if Hannah can spot the daddy’s girls who want to play a gig at the Sound Lounge!

The arrangements of The Good Stuff, Heavy Light and Bluest Eyes are sublime, with some electric guitar nudging its way in. Hannah’s heart ‘is like a country song’ to match the tender shuffle of Broken Bird, while the arresting opening of album centrepiece Car Crash (‘they want to take my baby’) introduces a song where all Hannah ‘needed was a hand’.

The album ends with a lament called Fourteen Years, in which Hannah forsakes discussing world events in favour of a personal relationship with hit rocky times many years ago. It feels deeply personal and it is brave of Hannah to put her soul into her songs. That is what makes her so beloved by Paul Sexton, Ricky Ross and her legions of fans. It’s an excellent album that makes a case for the coffee shop in the digital era.

Country Jukebox Jury LPs: Aaron Watson and Creed Fisher

June 28, 2022

Aaron Watson – Unwanted Man

The Underdog who took on Music Row on his own terms and won, Aaron Watson puts out a record every 18 months or so that gives the people what they want: Texan country in the tradition of George Strait and his hero Guy Clark. His music is released independently on the Adub label, and the title track was written with Bob DePiero: ‘for once in my life’ he feels wanted and celebrates with a fine guitar solo in the middle of the song.

The rest of the album comprises 10 solo compositions which run through familiar themes from his career. As ever, we’ve got some love songs dedicated to Aaron’s wife and business partner: he calls her ‘my world, my queen, my girl, my everything’ on When I See You; his ‘favour colour on you is when there’s nothing on you’ on the track of that name; he sets the Texas number one hit Crash Landing to a George Harrisonian guitar line and hooky chorus. One In A Million Girl is, by Aaron’s standards, filler, but it’s no surprise that four of the 11 tracks are centred on the woman with whom Aaron was locked down with, and country needs fidelity songs.

Dancing Around The Truth, conversely, is a dance ‘for old time’s sake’ that precedes a break-up, while The Old Man Said is yet another one of those country songs about an old fella passing on wisdom to a youngster. I smirked when Aaron received a golden watch with the words ‘it’s borrowed time’. The once ‘proud and loud’ character Aaron plays in What’s Left Of Me, who can ‘hardly recognise himself’, can take plenty of this advice on board.

We also get two Aaron Doing His Job songs. He gets into a fight because it would make a Heck of a Song, on which Aaron says he is ‘addicted to the dream’ and is ‘following my heart’ through highways and cafes. He is also ‘a fan of the fan in the cheap seats’ on Cheap Seats, where he namechecks Hank Williams and Waylon Jennings while ‘driving with my band and singing songs that I believe’. The second verse is a great description of a musician’s early days playing to tiny crowds. I wonder if that set of fans are still into Aaron’s music all these years later.

Unwanted Man ends with Once In A Life which reminds me of Aaron’s track To Be The Moon in its nods to classic songwriting. I would love to hear Aaron tackle The Great American Songbook, because some of his tunes reach for Gershwin or Rogers & Hart. ‘I found your heart was made for mine’ is an excellent line, which is followed by a rhyme of ‘melancholy/love has done to me’. What, he asks, ‘if once in a life don’t happen twice’. He handles the key changes well, and there are four great bars of fiddle in the middle of the song as well as an extended outro.

All in all, more of the excellent same from our favourite indie-minded cowboy Aaron Watson.

Creed Fisher – Rebel in the South

In the first 30 seconds of Creed’s latest set of credos, we get trucks, beer and sunshine…‘cuz I’m country’. Creed, who lives in New Braunfels, Texas, quotes Hank Williams Jr and sings of pines, mama, the Bible, fishing, boots and that’s country bingo. His audience will lap it up much as they have supported him these past few years through his many and regular albums.

The song Nashville begins with the sound of piano, evoking a typical contemporary country radio smash, but the lyric asks whether Merle Haggard would have been the musician he was without his time in jail and his difficult youth. ‘Bright lights of Nashville ain’t what I want…Rest in peace Music Row’, Creed concludes, instead heading to ‘a hole in the wall’ with whiskey and a jukebox full of George Jones records.

The title track shows similar sentiments with even coarser language. Creed spits out the words ‘bro-country’ and is sad at how Waylon and the aforementioned George wouldn’t fit the current metier. Ditto Rebel in the South in Me, which seems like one scoop of ice cream too many on this album. As for the track where he is Texas as F—, it sounds exactly like you think it does and reflects the lyric in which Creed argues that true country songs are ‘from the heart’.

If you want tunes to soundtrack a throwdown, try the honkytonker A Bar Near San Antone (‘I’m drunk down here in Texas’), Down & Dirty (which quotes the title of a well-known Garth Brooks song) and Earplugs and Beer. That track is a message for the long-suffering husbands out there in that same bar, where we get some mandolin, steel guitar and harmonica which play alongside Creed’s croon.

For something more tender to play at bedtime or, in Wasted Life’s case, to literally come down from a heavy night out, go for I’ll Keep Drinkin’ (‘till your memory’s out of sight’) or I Still Miss You. The latter features the old-style snare-rim backbeat common in country from the urban cowboy era. It begins ‘another empty bottle, another empty bed’ and both are the epitome of Texan music thanks to Creed’s role as a wretched, heartbroken man.

Happily, there are three songs of fidelity and family pride. The wedding song Till I Found You gives us Creed the Happy Husband, while Happy Father shows his pride on Daughter of an Outlaw and River Girl: the former is also a way for Creed to boast of his own outlaw credentials (‘daddy’s blood runs through her veins’), while on the latter, days blasting Johnny Cash in the truck ‘just seem so long ago’. Creed’s fans will be cranking up his own music and passing on the lessons of the outlaw and the rebel to their own daughters.

Ka-Ching…With Twang – Luke Combs: Growin’ Up

June 27, 2022

Luke Combs was born in March 1990 in North Carolina, gigging hard in bars while in college and able to hold all the cards when a major label wanted to take him on to release his music. His second album was called What You See Is What You Get. It includes songs about blue collared boys, his wife Nicole (‘some things last forever after all’, ‘some things just go better together’) and a great tune called Refrigerator Door which was full of images and even a Mariachi trumpet. Luke wrote I Hope You’re Happy Now, a number one gifted to Carly Pearce and Lee Brice, and he performed a duet with his hero Eric Church after daring to ask him. He has just become a father to a son, Tex, days before the release of his third album. He’ll be playing two dates in South Carolina in October. He has not yet released a Christmas song.

Ed Sheeran was born in February 1991 in Yorkshire, gigging hard as a teenager and winning an Ivor Novello Award for a song about a homeless woman who was ‘in the Class A team’. His second album included songs about love (‘we found love right where we are’) and seeing other musicians while on tour. Pharrell Williams popped up too. Ed wrote hits for Rita Ora, One Direction and Justin Bieber. On his third album, which he toured solo and for which he could sell out Wembley Stadium in his adopted home town, Ed once again referred to his hero Damien Rice, with whom he has never played. He married and had a baby, then put out his fourth album which comes to Wembley this week. He also had a Christmas number one with his pal, Elton John.

In March 2022, Ed Sheeran walked out during Luke’s headline set to surprise Country2Country attendees for a version of his song Dive. I hope I have made my point.

This third album, like Ed’s monster of all monsters Divide, will be a blockbuster. Luke denied himself a chart record when his second album dismounted his first, This One’s For You, from the top of the country album chart. Morgan Wallen, who surpassed Luke, will finally be ejected this month. Even with his career disrupted by the pandemic, Luke is able to play stadiums. His two studio albums, This One’s For You and What You See Is What You Get, have been supplemented by EPs tacked onto the album’s deluxe versions. Every song Luke puts out whizzes to number one within weeks. He is the closest thing to Garth since Garth, but without the Messiah complex.

Growin’ Up is a 12-track collection that contains familiar beats and rhymes. Reviewing a Luke Combs album in 2022 is like reviewing a Garth Brooks album in 1993. We know we’re going to get rock drums, lyrics about being an ornery boy and lots of songs bigging up a lady. Unlike Garth, Luke doesn’t wear a cowboy hat, but he wears his big heart on big sleeves. So how has the formula been fine-tuned or updated?

Middle of Somewhere, down in track 11, opens with chatter about beer and coffee and Jesus and how ‘we like life that way, sweet and slow and simple’. I don’t know how he keeps getting away with it, pointing out that one man’s nowhere is another’s somewhere. Aldean did this before and added crunching guitars, but Luke sets it to acoustic guitar and a gentle sonic bed that sounds like he’s ploughing a field. Randy Montana, one of the most underrated writers in town, comes good again, along with Jonathan Singleton, who co-produced the album with Luke and Chip Matthews.

The impact tracks were typically Combsian: Doin’ This, written with Drew Parker, was about showing up in your town to gig, based on an interview response that Luke would be onstage if he wasn’t onstage already. It’s an arms-aloft chantalong that mixes Honky Tonk Highway with This One’s For You, and it seems odd that he is singing about the act of singing for a big crowd. Luke is meta.

The ultimate praise for any new act is to write with a legend. Dean Dillon, who was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame a few years ago, adds his magic touch to Tomorrow Me, which will be Luke’s career song if he pushes it right and lets the award shows bestow prizes onto it. It’s so gentle, very country and passionately sung: ‘Maybe we should let yesterday be, cos I gotta live with Tomorrow Me’ is worthy of George Strait, the man who would be nothing without Dean’s writing.

Luke later sings, on Used To Wish I Was, about his dreams of being a baseball player like Chipper Jones (good reference!) but he’s a ‘Carolina good old boy’ who plays guitar and makes loads of money selling small-town values back to small-town boys and girls and exporting it around the world (he doesn’t say that last bit out loud). The song is simple enough both to be sung at a campfire and belted out in a stadium. At Country2Country this year, Luke also slipped in covers of 90s hits I Like It I Love It and It’s A Great Day to Be Alive, proving that he both knows his forebears and wants to continue the lineage.

Better Back When continues the reminiscin’ in a different key; it’s a rewrite of A Long Way, with an added reference to Never Wanted Nothing More, a Kenny Chesney song written by Chris Stapleton. That’s what Luke is: Kenny Stapleton. Indeed, The Kind of Love We Make is a funky, lick-driven jam where our hero sings of ‘burning both ends’ and wanting to get ‘some records turning’. Call Me chugs along prettily, with a great first verse that includes the acronyms SOB and BFE, as Luke plays the wounded animal before delivering the punchline: ‘When you’re 2am buzzing…we both know you’re gonna call me!’

Any Given Friday Night has list-ticker-offer lyrics about trucks, drink, ‘denim and makeup’, the Dairy Queen and map dot towns. I also love the use of the word ‘rando’. The supercharged Ain’t Far From It is a stomper in the vein of 1, 2 Many, Beer Never Broke My Heart and Cold As You. On The Other Line is a summer jam that plays on the fish in the sea metaphor and the ‘caller on another line’ one. It’s smart and will fit well with When It Rains It Pours, which will always be Luke’s killer kiss-off.

I would have loved to have been in the room with Luke and Miranda Lambert as Outrunnin’ Your Memory was written. George Strait appears in the first verse and it’s a very Texan-type tune about trying to put an ex out of your mind. It’ll be a smash, and Miranda gets the second verse all to herself, which is very generous of Luke. Add this to her catalogue of top duets following appearances with Jason Aldean, Carrie Underwood and Keith Urban.

Going Going Gone ends the record, which comes in at a perfect 41 minutes, with a thinker that has a sad punchline I won’t spoil. The fact that the title could lend itself to a party song, a reminiscin’ song or a song about a relationship is testament to Luke’s skill as a writer – and he writes everything on this album, as he always does – and as a performer. He’s a fine exponent of country music that sounds like it was made by a guy from Asheville, North Carolina. He remains the biggest star in the firmament and some of these songs will slot into what is already a Greatest Hits set.

I wonder what his ex-future mother-in-law makes of him now.

Country Jukebox Jury LP: Jimmie Allen – Tulip Drive

June 23, 2022

It is a measure of Nashville’s importance in the music of America that a major-label country album includes appearances from rapper T-Pain, popstar Jennifer Lopez and poppy rapper CeeLo. Jimmie Allen, from Delaware and with an invitation to the Grand Ole Opry to come sooner rather than later, doesn’t care any more about fitting into a box, especially in a genreless climate. There are two types of music anyway: good and not good.

Jimmie’s third album has been preceded by both types: his debut Mercury Lane was good, his second Bettie James, which I just didn’t get and whose every track was a collaboration, was not good. This was in spite of plenty of good tunes such as the gospel track Pray and the Brad Paisley-featuring Freedom Was A Highway, with all two of its chords.

In the modern manner the tracks on his third album are all presented in lower-case form, something borrowed from popstars like Ariana Grande and Billie Eilish. The two main impact tracks to prepare listeners for Tulip Drive were similar to how Ed Sheeran launched his Divide album, where Shape of You was for younger listeners and Castle on the Hill was for their mums and dads.

Down Home (look, it’s just easier if I use standard case for titles) is a tribute to Jimmie’s own late father. As Jimmie listens to Charley Pride and drives his truck, he hopes ‘I’m making you proud’. ‘I bet you’re up there making new friends’ is a lovely first line. He goes through images of his dad fishing, joking and shining a light with his smile and it’s a perfectly pleasant radio single which hits the country beats.

On My Way is a pop song that is intended to remind people of Keith Urban’s collaborations with popstars. As on so many places on Bettie James, the featured act takes the vocal for the first verse and chorus, which goes heavy on the digital production. It’s nothing we haven’t heard before and is an example of the monogenre in action: pop music in 2022 is a clash between acoustic and digital, melody and production. Maybe I’m too old for it.

Pesos’s digital cymbals threaten to overpower Jimmie on the hook and T-Pain and CeeLo on vocals, but it sounds like the trio had fun recording it. The song will do well on Broadway when a DJ slips it into his Saturday night set which soundtracks hen party celebrations. The ladies won’t pay attention to the lyrics, which are surprisingly good.

The other 14 tracks (about four too many) toe this pop/country line so that label Broken Bow Records can make money from fans of both sorts of music. The first verse of the first track, Be Alright, has ‘haters gonna hate’ as a lyric and a chorus which says that sometimes you’re high and sometimes you’re low but you should ‘let it ride’ and perhaps smoke something. Matthew McConaughey will, of course, demand credit for the use of his catchphrase ‘Alright, Alright, Alright’.

Habits & Hearts is a torchlight ballad in the John Legend tradition, stuck on a shelf by three writers including Derrick Southerland (More Hearts Than Mine) and plucked off it by Jimmie. The hook ‘habits are harder than hearts to break’ is brilliant, and I hope this necessary song finds its audience and changes some lives.

It stands out amid lots of filler, including Right Now (‘I need you so bad’) and What I’m Talkin Bout, an outside write from Hardy among others, which includes a lot of whooping and potential whoopee. It’s one of 11 tracks on the album which Jimmie has co-produced.

If you have the patience to get to track 14, Get You A Girl, you will enjoy Jimmie’s advice on how you won’t care about dressing nicely or saving money for a wedding ring until you find a loved one. It’s a country song with pop production and the best example of the line-toeing Jimmie has to do to make a return on investment for Broken Bow.

The other tracks which are more country than pop include Settle On Back, with a pleasant groove and a self-reflective lyric about how Jimmie needs ‘peace of mind’ amid all that touring he is contractually obliged to do. He does it more for the ‘hollers’ than for the ‘dollars’, but it helps to have the money too. Wouldn’t Feel Like Summer includes a verse all about listening to the radio and is appropriately in the same ‘country radio’ pocket that Luke Bryan has been in for the past two albums.

Ashley Gorley and Zach Crowell bring their A-lister expertise to Kissin You, which will certainly be a single (and a TikTok craze) thanks to its easy groove, chantalong chorus and electric guitar lick. Later on, Jimmie is making Love In The Living Room (‘we didn’t make it to the hallway’), another one of those modern country songs where John Mayer is a dominant influence.

It’s odd that this one isn’t a duet, although Broken Hearted drafts in Katie Ohh (who once won $1m on a TV singing show) to ask each other if they would be sad ‘if I walked out of your door tonight’. There is yet another guest on closing track You Won’t Be Alone: Jimmie’s son Aadyn shouting ‘Hey daddy I love you!’ at the start of the song, which is a father’s song about time, life and fatherhood.

Other A-Listers earn their corn on the album. Brad Tursi of Old Dominion seems to pop up everywhere these days, and he’s in the brackets on the skittish sex jam Keep Em Coming. The acoustic ballad Undo is a gift from Breland on which Jimmie sings ‘I don’t love loving you cos love is the hardest thing to undo’. I like the internal rhyme of ‘smell of Chanel’. Jon Nite and Ross Copperman offer Every Time I Say Amen, which has images of tractors and ‘Old Crow Medicine Show t-shirts’ and Saturday Night Live on the TV. I wonder if Dierks Bentley turned it down.

The worry about albums like Tulip Drive is that, by being everything to everyone, it lacks coherence as a product. Rather than picking a (Mercury) lane, Jimmie drives a whacking great machine over every one of them. This is the streaming business model, where people can choose the Pop or Country tunes to put into their own playlists, so there’s little point complaining.

Yet it seems, like instead of acts ‘going electric’ like Bob Dylan or having a ‘Berlin trilogy’ like David Bowie, newer acts are cramming multiple ideas into one album to stop them being dropped. Happily, Jimmie makes more money on the road than he does with recorded music, so he can switch his sets depending on his audience: down home in Delaware he can be a little more country, over in New York he can bring out J-Lo and T-Pain. Everyone wins, especially Broken Bow Records.