Granger Smith has had a lengthy journey so far in Country music. He released his debut album ‘Waiting on Forever’ in 1999 and he spent more than a decade working hard on the independent Texas Country scene before achieving his breakthrough in 2015 with the chart-topping hit ‘Backroad Song’. That song was included on his 2016 album ‘Remington’, his first for Wheelhouse Records. In 2019 Smith experienced a devastating personal loss when his son River drowned at the family home so understandably working on music took a back seat for a little while. Smith today releases his first collection of new music since that tragedy in the shape of ‘Country Things, Vol. 1’.
‘Country Things, Vol. 1’ features 8 songs including current single ‘That’s Why I Love Dirt Roads’, which is climbing the Country Airplay chart in the US. Opening track ‘Country Things’ is one of two songs on the album that’s co-penned by a member of Florida Georgia Line. Brian Kelley had a hand in writing it and the song is a mid-tempo meditation on the comforts of country living. There’s something warm about the melody and the lyrics that feels comforting to the listener, and it’s a strong start for the album.
Keeping the tempo mid, Smith mixes a little R&B into second track ‘Hate You Like I Love You’, which steps into a slightly more generic sound. The song could be recorded by many of the male artists clogging up the Country airwaves and it’s missing that more personal stamp that the opening track had. Smith pulls things back on ‘I Kill Spiders’, a touching tribute to fatherhood and undoubtedly influenced by the loss of River. In the hands of any other artist the song could have come across a little cheesy but I actually found myself welling up a little.
‘That’s Why I Love Dirt Roads’ is next up and it’s no surprise the song is picking up steam. It ticks all the boxes that Country fans love and it’s got a soaring chorus that speaks to a simpler way of life. Is it groundbreaking? Not particularly but it’s a damn catchy tune. ‘Mexico’ brings in processed beats for the album’s most throwaway track. Lyrically it’s nothing new and sonically we’ve heard this hundreds of times over the past few years.
The traditional Country rhythms return on ‘Chevys, Hemis, Yotas & Fords’ and the album gets back on track once again. It’s not the deepest song lyrically but the Southern Gothic feel it has is interesting and it stands out from the other songs included here. The album’s finest moment comes on ‘Heroes’. The song is everything that makes Country music so great. Smith sings about the unsung heroes in society from the hard-working single mother to the people on the frontline. In this time of uncertainty, it hits hard and it’s pretty emotional.
‘Country & Ya Know It’ (feat. Earl Dibbles Jr.) brings the album to a close. Co-written by Florida Georgia Line’s Tyler Hubbard the song samples ‘If You’re Happy and You Know It’ and honestly, I’m not sure how I feel about it. While it’s good to hear a little from Smith’s alter-ego Earl Dibbles Jr, the song isn’t the strongest on offer in this collection.
‘Country Things, Vol. 1’ is a bit of a mixed bag but there’s enough here to warrant a listen. When Smith is on form, he’s very good and that’s evidenced on songs like ‘Heroes’ and ‘I Kill Spiders’. When he veers into the more generic sound that’s dominating radio, he loses the essence of what makes him special. It’ll be interesting to see what ‘Country Things, Vol. 2’ brings when that arrives.
Track list: 1. Country Things 2. Hate You Like I Love You 3. I Kill Spiders 4. That’s Why I Love Dirt Roads 5. Mexico 6. Chevys, Hemis, Yotas & Fords 7. Heroes 8. Country & Ya Know It (feat. Earl Dibbles Jr.) Record label: Wheelhouse Records Release date: 25th September 2020