Jimmie Allen burst onto the country scene back in 2018 with his hit single Best Shot, which topped the Billboard country charts – along with follow-up Make Me Want To and his debut album Mercury Lane. Since then he’s been winning over fans on both sides of the Atlantic, with appearances at C2C: Country to Country and Country Music Week endearing him to UK audiences. After the success of his 2020 seven-track EP ‘Bettie James’ – named in honour of his late dad and grandmother – now he’s back with the deluxe Gold Edition, featuring nine new collaborations.
The album kicks off with the new tracks, beginning with Get Country, which sees Jimmie teaming up with duo LOCASH. Whilst the lush, rich string intro might initially throw you off, the Florida Georgia Line-influenced drums and banjo soon kick in, along with call outs, whoops and hollers. Jimmie’s soulful vocals work well with the band and there’s plenty of swagger and energy on this opening number (as well as a bit of fiddle and a great guitar riff). It’s a song you’ll hear playing all summer and a great way to start the record.
One thing which struck me throughout the record was the sheer variety of styles that Jimmie draws on. Perhaps the most obvious departures from his country sound are the two tracks with teamwork., which have a strong Latin feel. Flavor, which also features a rap from Pitbull and heavy brass influences on the chorus that remind me of I Like It Like That, is a sultry, flirtatious duet between Jimmie and Vikina, whilst Tequila Talkin’ sees Jimmie and Lindsay Ell take on the roles of a recently broken-up couple who can’t quite let each other go. The poppy, bouncy rhythm contrasts with the song’s bittersweet lyrics and Jimmie and Lindsay’s vocals provide a nice balance to each other – I could definitely see this one as a potential single in future.
Elsewhere, there’s classic rock vibes on the nostalgic, twangy Home Sweet Hometown with LANCO, which is packed full of details (including references to black Mustangs and the ‘same lady’ at the Quick Stop) and features a soaring chorus and huge note from Jimmie at the end. Boy Gets A Truck – a song which Jimmie covered on his debut album and which here sees him working with Keith Urban, who originally recorded the track – has a driving, layered melody as well as a back-and-forth vocal approach that could sound amazing live, and the laid-back Livin’ Man sees Jimmie team up with Neon Union to reflect on days gone by and getting through hard times with vivid imagery of snow days and family battling against the odds. Jimmie also shows off his romantic side on the two new R’n’B-influenced tracks. Somebody, a yearning collaboration with Breland and Lathan Warlick, features rap elements and is a great showcase for new Black talent in country, whilst the delicate, stripped-back Forever sees Jimmie team up with Babyface and show off some impressive high notes and stunning harmonies.
For me the standout track amongst the new songs is Pray, which features Monica and Little Big Town. It’s a piano-led, heavy number with a sparse feel that puts the emphasis on Jimmie and Monica’s vocals. The imagery throughout of plane turbulence and hospital waiting rooms is stark, and the gospel influences add to the song’s anthemic feel as Jimmie sings about his loss of faith and finding it again in dark times. Overall it’s an incredibly powerful song with a real sense of rawness and honesty, and ends up being a very emotional moment.
Whilst I’m not normally a huge fan of artists tacking on previously released EPs to new records, the seven previously released songs from ‘Bettie James’ feel at home alongside the new tracks. I’ve discussed those more in depth in my previous review, but the standouts for me include Good Times Roll (a Nelly collaboration that includes cheeky Country Grammar references and has a real sense of fun), the passionate ballad Drunk And I Miss You with Mickey Guyton, and current single Freedom Was A Highway, an Eagles-esque number which sees Jimmie performing alongside Brad Paisley. The moving Why Things Happen, meanwhile, has taken on an extra poignancy since the death of Charley Pride last year and echoes back to Somebody in a sense of ‘passing the torch’ to the next generation of Black country musicians.
Overall ‘Bettie James Gold Edition’ has taken Jimmie Allen’s music to a new level and shown the range in his sound as well as his skill as a vocalist. Whilst there are certainly some departures from his country origins that might not necessarily please everyone, he’s shown an ability to adapt to different styles by drawing on such a huge variety of collaborators for across genres and working with legends alongside rising stars. He’s developing hugely as an artist by creating an approach that’s unique to him, and personally I’m really intrigued to see where he’ll go with this in the future.
Track listing: 1. Get Country (with LOCASH) 2. Home Sweet Hometown (with LANCO) 3. Flavor (with Pitbull, teamwork. and Vikina) 4. Somebody (with Breland and Lathan Warlick) 5. Pray (with Monica and Little Big Town) 6. Boy Gets A Truck (with Keith Urban) 7. Livin’ Man (with Neon Union) 8. Tequila Talkin’ (with Lindsay Ell and teamwork.) 9. Forever (with Babyface) 10. Good Times Roll (with Nelly) 11. Drunk And I Miss You (with Mickey Guyton) 12. Made For These (with Tim McGraw) 13. Freedom Was A Highway (with Brad Paisley) 14. Why Things Happen (with Darius Rucker and Charley Pride) 15. When This Is Over (with Tauren Wells, Rita Wilson and The Oak Ridge Boys) 16. This Is Us (with Noah Cyrus) Record label: BMG / BBR Music Group / Stoney Creek Records Release date: 25th June 2021