Campfire Tales: C2C Country To Country special
With the C2C: Country To Country Festival happening this weekend (7th/8th March) the majority of the major US artists playing The O2 will be bringing their latest records with them - a good while after their US release for most. If you’re an importer then you’ll likely already know what most of these sound like, but for everyone else here's a quick guide.
First up though is a new one - and a record that is getting its UK release before going Stateside - the debut release from Brit-country leading lights The Shires. After multiple delays, a steady flow of singles, plenty of BBC Radio 2 airplay, and a headline tour or two the record buying public finally get to have Brave in their hands. And there's a huge amount to like as Ben Earle and Crissie Rhodes bring a really British flavour to their all-conquering country pop sound. They’ve a wit in their words; the lyrics on ‘Nashville Grey Skies’ and ‘Made In England’ paint a lovingly crafted picture of their home country with talk of rainy days, G & T, milky tea and village greens. The duo can craft love songs just as well: ‘State Lines’ and ‘I Just Wanna Love You’ are touching, whilst they show a rarely heard harder edge on ‘Jekyll and Hyde’. It’s difficult to see how the meeting of Nashville and Bedfordshire could have been done any better.
Another duo with a record out to support their C2C appearance is Florida Georgia Line and in many ways they’re the opposite of their British counterparts. Where The Shires leave you feeling contented, Florida’s Brian Kelly and Georgia’s Tyler Hubbard - see what they’ve done there - leave a slightly trashy feel. Anything Goes is the very definition of a modern country record. Lead single ‘Dirt’ felt like a step forward for the duo, an ode to youth and memories, but subsequently the record feels very much like a pop party and leans on every modern stereotype of the genre: smoking drugs on ‘Sun Daze’; the lazy lyrics of ‘Smile’ (“Got on my smell good / Got a bottle of feel good / Shining my wheels good / You're looking real good”); the repetition of ‘Bumpin’ The Night’. Frustratingly there is the odd spark in here; Kelly and Hubbard have the voices and ability, and can choose a good melody, but the content is depressingly similar. More a case of could do better than must.
From duos to singers, and trying to make the biggest splash ahead of his first ever show in the UK is Jason Aldean, maybe the biggest fish in the country music pond these days. Alongside his latest record his entire back catalogue is getting an official UK release, but we’re going to talk Old Boots, New Dirt, released in the US last Autumn. Whilst the Georgian singer is seen as part of the yin to traditional country music’s yang and his music has been slowly dialling down the country, there’s still plenty to like. Lead single ‘Burn It Down’ is more ballad than Aldean’s usual fare and goes someway to showing how he does things, while the stadium-ready rock of ‘Show You Off’ and ‘Just Gettin’ Started’ are more representative of his direction now. There are reminders of his earlier material: ‘Tryin’ To Love Me’ and ‘Too Fast’ the most obvious; ‘Sweet Little Somethin’’ is some kind of mix of the two worlds, frantic banjo meets electronic sounds and heavy production. It might not be country as you know it but it’s effective, entertaining, and brings a contemporary feel to a genre that has felt stuck in the past at times.
On the bro-country topic, dropping the generic titled ‘Beer Money’ and ‘Somethin Bout A Truck’ early on does Kip Moore a disservice and hides a quicker wit than the song titles and baseball cap might lead you to think. To find the US release date for Moore's record you’d have to go all the way back to 2012. Humphead Records bring an expanded version to the UK with an additional seven tracks, offering new songs and soundcheck versions. At times it feels like the original tracklisting for Up All Night has been turned backwards; it’s best tracks are saved for last with 'Hey Pretty Girl' (another song less bro-country than its title suggests), the rootsy humourous 'Reckless (Still Growing Up)', and melodic title track. The C2C audience can expect all these tracks plus from from Moore's incoming second record.
Another mega-star to come out of the Georgia country music scene is Luke Bryan. Fresh from being announced CMA Entertainer of the Year (the ultimate accolade in Nashville) comes the re-release of 2014’s Crash My Party with an additional bundle of tracks. Anyone with an interest in country will have heard the hits - ‘That’s My Kind Of Night’ or ‘Crash My Party’ - a million times over. Despite the heavy banjo of the former it’s the lyrical content that lets Bryan down (“Gonna sound like a winner / When I lay you down and love you right / Yeah, that’s my kind of night!”) and that lothario theme is a recurrent one. The sentiment of the title track is sweet (“This is a drop everything kind of thing.”) but the effect is hampered by the album-long focus on women and late night booty calls. And when Bryan can hit highs like ‘Drink A Beer’, and to a lesser extent ‘Dirt Road Diary, the potential is obvious. When you’re selling albums in the kind of numbers (double platinum, 2.4million copies sold in the US) that Crash My Party has shifted, why strive for better?
Records from other acts at C2C: Country To Country 2015 that are worth checking out are Brandy Clark’s stunning 2013 record, 12 Stories, a collection of tales told from the point of view of folk living normal lives in the US. Lee Ann Womack returned in 2014 after seven years away with the well received The Way I’m Livin’’, and Brantley Gilbert delivering tracks from his recent concoction of rock/rap/metal/country, Just As I Am, will wake up the festival crowd on Sunday afternoon. British country twins Ward Thomas released their debut, From Where I Stand in 2014 and is a great mix of British sensibilities and outlook with the American sound and feel.
There's also a compilation put together for the festival, C2C Country to Country collects up 20 tracks from acts that have appeared at the festival since its inception in 2013. What it shows is the veritable who's who of country music acts that have appeared in London in the last three years, from the big guns at this year's show to past favourites like Darius Rucker, Little Big Town, Dierks Bentley, Carrie Underwood, Brad Paisley and plenty more. The song choice is strong too ranging from the recent - Rucker's unreleased 'Homegrown Honey', LBT's superb adultery anthem 'Girl Crush', and Lady Antebellum's 'Bartender' - to the not quite so recent - efforts from Paisley, The Band Perry, and Martina McBride.
Outside of the main stages there are the popular pop-up stages with a host of up and coming acts from the US and the UK. Full stage times for the weekend are below. And scroll right to the bottom for our C2C playlist.
Florida Georgia Line - Anything Goes 4/10
Jason Aldean - Old Boots, New Dirt 7/10
Luke Bryan - Crash My Party 6/10
The Shires - Brave 8/10
Kip Moore - Up All Night 8/10
Various - C2C Country to Country 7/10