Friday was definitely THE day for new music with some of the biggest records of the year being released on both sides of the pond. Yes, Ashley Monroe brought out her latest record Sparrow whilst Country Rockers Brothers Osborne brought out their second studio album. UK Country Pioneers The Shires also released their third studio album. Read on to find out what we thought of all three records which all offer a different flavour of Country music.
I’ve always been a big fan of Ashley Monroe, her previous albums have given us some great songs featuring classic country songwriting and honest storytelling lyrics. I was excited to hear what she’d do with this latest release and who she’d collaborate with. Her first single off the record the provocative Hands On You co-written with the great Jon Randall was not my favourite song released this year but received acclaim from fans and industry professionals alike. The song gave us insight into the instrumentation and production of the rest of the record as we hear strings in the latter stages of the track and they play a huge part throughout the rest of the record as Ashley takes influence from the more traditional sounding artists. Lyrically she bares her heart and soul on this record as she reflects on past events throughout her life.
In the opening track Orphan, Ashley makes observations about the World, the first verse being particularly powerful as she ponders “How does a sparrow know more than I? When it’s mother is gone it learns how to fly” and in the chorus she talks about her own experiences “Nobody told me what I should do, when the World starts to rumble and shake under you.” There are a number of notable co-writers on this record such as Waylon Payne and Nicolle Galyon. One of my favourite songs off the record is track 6 Wild Love, there are some great melodies in the pre-chorus and the production and arrangement of the strings is particularly interesting. Throughout the record Ashley’s vocals are flawless, smooth and sweet as honey. There is a mix of ballads such as This Heaven and upbeat numbers like She Wakes Me Up (Rescue Me) which has a slightly different vibe to the rest of the record which was produced by Dave Cobb. In the standout track Daddy I Told You Monroe teams up with fellow Pistol Annie Angaleena Presley and Josh O’Keefe as she tells her Dad who died when she was younger about how far she’s come and what is changing in life. The album concludes with Keys to the Kingdom one of my favourites on the record. The album is quite different from her Grammy nominated album The Blade which is one of my favourite records of all time but I really like the honesty of this record and the production is really unique.
The Shires are another band that I have followed and loved since the first time I heard them which was quite a few years ago now. Their previous two albums have seen the progression and evolution of the band who were pioneers of Country music in the UK. I was eager to see how their third album reflected their growth and new influences - they have spent a lot of time in Nashville in the build up to this latest record. Of course they have always been leaning more towards the pop side of Country but with some of the collaborators on this record I felt it may have a bit of everything. Co-writers include Jeff Cohen who wrote a lot of their last record and who has had hits with Sugarland and The Band Perry, Liz Rose who of course was instrumental in Taylor Swifts early success in Country music but there is also a track on there written by Ed Sheeran. The Shires PR and Marketing team have had lots of fun with pre-release of the record with their “Stetsons on statues” campaign across London so what does Accidentally On Purpose have to offer and does it stand up with some of the Country records coming out of the states right now?
The album opens with The Hard Way which is driven by acoustic guitars and has a nice slide guitar part running underneath the chorus which steps up quite a lot from the verses. This is followed by Echo and you can certainly hear the typical Shires sound with woahs and a chorus you can sing along to, however I would also say there is a feel of Taylor Swift in this - Red or 1989 era. The record uses a lot of programmed drums but then there are quite a lot of records coming out of Nashville that do too but it does ring a more pop finish to the production. The first single off this record Guilty is next and it’s been doing quite well having been playlisted on BBC Radio 2. Sleepwalk sees a softer side to the duo, the ballad promises “I’m going to love you till I die, till the stars fall from the sky.” The title track of the album has some Country instrumentation, and some great melodies, I really like the chorus in particular. This is followed by the track written by Ed Sheeran Stay The Night. This is a great track as you can hear Ed’s influence but it fits so perfectly with the rest of the record and The Shires sound. The effective use of backing vocals really adds to the chorus. Ahead of the Storm offers a slightly alternative sound we haven’t heard from the duo whilst piano ballad Speechless is reminiscent of Brave. I’m sure songs such as River Of Love will go over well with a live audience particularly at festivals as there is plenty of opportunities for crowd participation. My favourite track is Strangers, I love the concept and the production and instrumentation. The penultimate track World Without You has some great lyrics particularly in the chorus coupled with some great melodies. The closing track Loving You Too Long is a beautiful ballad, their vocals throughout are strong but are more prominent on this track due to the space of the production and you can hear their voices gel well together in the chorus. Overall you can hear how the duo have evolved in the past couple of years but their trademark traits of big, catchy chorus’ you can sing along to still appears throughout the record.
The final album released on Friday that we are looking at is very different once again and it comes from Brothers Osborne the Country rockers who recently won two ACM Awards for Vocal duo of the year and music video of the year for it aint my fault. Their first album Pawn Shop is now certified Gold in the United States and after their performance at C2C last year the band have become a favourite amongst the UK audiences and this is reflected in their sold out tour in May. For this album the Brothers and producer Jay Joyce headed off to a beach house in the town of Port Saint Joe in the state of Florida, hence the album’s title Port Saint Joe. It features two singles that have been performing well in the States, Shoot Me Straight and Drank Like Hank. This side of Country isn’t usually my go to choice but the first album was good and I was keen to listen to their second album.
The record begins with Slow Your Roll, and this sets up the rest of the album well with it’s roots feel to it. This is followed by the lead single off the record, the unusually long Shoot Me Straight in which we hear T. J. Osborne’s deep voice and John Osborne’s incredible guitar playing. On I Don’t Remember Me (Before You) co-written by Shane McAnally and Matt Dragstrem we hear a different side to the duo, it has a great concept, lyrics and melody it wouldn’t be out of place at the top of the Hot Country Songs chart, I think they missed a trick not leading with this as a single. The tempo drops again for Weed, Whiskey and Willie and I love the mandolin intro of Tequila Again, T. J.’s vocals really suit this song. Pushing Up Daisies is one of my favourites off the new record, it’s a lovely ballad and I like the double meaning of “We ain’t getting out of this love alive.” Drank Like Hank is a number you can hear being played in a Honky Tonk it’s upbeat, it has great guitar riffs which answer the vocal melodies in the chorus and in general it’s just a great feel good song. The album concludes with While You Still Can. This is a great Country song and it has some lovely lyrics and echoes such a nice sentiment about fixing things while you still can and making the most of your time. This is a really great record, as I said, not usually something I would gravitate towards but there are some standout tracks, and despite leaning towards the rock and roots side of Country there is something for everyone.