Last year, a non country music fan stole my Chris Stapleton CD. After months of searching down the back of my own sofa, I heard Tennessee Whiskey playing while sat on hers waiting for dinner. She claims I’d lent her the album but this seems very unlikely. Either way, she was completely converted – to Chris if not to country. It’s no surprise; the Stapleton effect has rippled through genre boundaries, but I wondered what she’d make of other recent country music releases. Thus was born a risky blog idea.
We’re sent a fair bit of new music each month but if you scroll through our archives, you’ll see we don’t actually do album reviews. Since we’re already so enamored with country, it’s never felt worth adding our non-expert gushing to the spectrum of eloquent reviews already out there. And our brutal scathing is reserved for cider-fuelled pub table debates (apologies if you’ve overheard one of these increasingly heated discussions). But, this year, we’re finally venturing into review territory. Sort of. Instead of writing reviews ourselves, each month we’ll be letting (well, making) a different Country Music Virgin friend listen to three albums to give an uncompromised (and uncensored!) outsider verdict. Sorry PR pals, it’s out of our hands…
Our first Country Novice guinea pig is the Chris Stapleton thief. She’s a 37-year-old gospel-singing recruiter from Hertfordshire, currently on maternity leave and due to give birth right about now. When not being force-fed country music, she likes mellow Jazz (Ella Fitzgerald), modern classical (Joshua Bell) and melodic pop (Ed Sheeran and Bruno Mars); so let that and the fabled ‘baby brain’ influence how much her reviews are worth. The first artists to get this risky treatment are Lanco, Meghan Patrick and Walker McGuire.
WHAT IT IS: The EP introducing duo Jordan Walker and Johnny McGuire. In 2017 they gained radio traction with single Til Tomorrow and caught our attention playing a string of sets across London’s inaugural Country Music Week.
TRACKS: 1. Mysteries of the World | 2. Lost | 3. Til Tomorrow | 4. 18 Forever | 5. Best Kinda Bad
COUNTRY NOVICE SAYS: Judging by the cover, this is 100% a country music album in my mind. All the riffs, their accents and harmonies scream country at me too. I loved the first track Mysteries of the World, though I’m not sure how a song about socks disappearing in the drier manages to be so romantic! Lost was really catchy too. Thanks to their vocals and the whole vibe I’d listen to this album of my own free will.
WHAT IT IS: The debut album from the five-piece country rock band fronted by Brandon Lancaster. It includes the 2017 single Greatest Love Story, which topped the Billboard Country Airplay chart in November.
TRACKS: 1. Born to Love You | 2. Long Live Tonight | 3. Pick You Up | 4. Greatest Love Story | 5. We Do | 6. Trouble Maker | 7. Singin’ at the Stars | 8. Win You Over | 9. So Long (I Do) | 10. Middle of the Night | 11. Hallelujah Nights
COUNTRY NOVICE SAYS: I didn’t mind this, but it was quite polished and poppy so less what I’d imagine as real country. It seemed to be a fusion of lots of different musical influences. I was surprised when some ska rhythms popped up during the first track and I could imagine a few of the songs in the mainstream charts. It’d be good radio background music for me although there wasn’t a particular song I’d be rushing to download.
WHAT IT IS: The second solo album from the guitar and banjo playing singer who’s potentially Canada’s answer to Carrie Underwood. She was previously the front woman for bluegrass band Stone Sparrows and has had input from country music giants like Vince Gill.
TRACKS: 1. Country Music Made Me Do It | 2. George Strait | 3. Walls Come Down | 4. The Bad Guy | 5. Small Town | 6. The Buzz | 7. Feel Me Gone | 8. Hardest on My Heart | 9. We Got It All | 10. Case of Beer and a Bed | 11. The Way You Apologize | 12. Underrated
COUNTRY NOVICE SAYS: She’s got a great, big voice and the album delivers everything I’d expect from a top country singer. At times I heard a bit of Dolly Parton twang in her voice. Even though it’s not my chosen genre, the production carries you along with powerful crescendos and the full works musically. I didn’t really ‘get’ the title track, Country Music Made Me Do It and the song George Strait must just be for solid country fans… I guessed he was a well known singer but I’ve never heard of him. I preferred the punchier songs, Small Town and The Buzz.