Stoney Creek Records
Release Date: June 25th 2021
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
- Get Country (feat. LOCASH)
- Home Sweet Hometown (feat. LANCO)
- Flavor (feat. Pitbull, Vikina & teamwork)
- Somebody (feat. BRELAND & Lathan Warlick)
- Pray (feat. Little Big Town & Monica)
- Boy Gets A Truck (feat. Keith Urban)
- Livin’ Man (feat. Neon Union)
- Tequila Talkin’ (feat. Lindsay Ell & teamwork)
- Forever (feat. Babyface)
- Good Times Roll (feat. Nelly)
- Drunk & I Miss You (feat. Mickey Guyton)
- Made For These (feat. Tim McGraw)
- Freedom Was A Highway (feat. Brad Paisley)
- Why Things Happen (feat. Darius Rucker & Charley Pride)
- When This Is Over (feat. Tauren Wells, Rita Wilson & The Oak Ridge Boys)
- This Is Us (feat. Noah Cyrus)
I think by now you could probably call me a country fan. It was around two and a half years ago when Carrie Underwood’s Cry Pretty released, and I listened to that entirely, and reviewed the album, when I realised that the artists who are deep and vulnerable and have something worthwhile and inspirational to say, aren’t limited to Christian artists at all. Fast forward until now, and I’ve listened to so much country music. Probably not a lot though if you’re a ‘true’ country fan… but enough for my standards at least. And it’s enough for me to declare that quite possibly some country artists are even more honest and vulnerable than Christian artists. Or maybe I should say artists who record music for CCM and worship… because an artist can be Christian but still recording music for the mainstream, and that’s another discussion all together. God has turned my definition of what He uses on its head, as I am gladly dismantling my preconceptions of music and putting them all back together again. This involves me spending a lot of time listening to country music- the genre I now find the most interesting out of all of the ‘mainstream’ genres.
And with me reviewing Gabby Barrett’s Goldmine, Kelsea Ballerini’s kelsea, Lindsay Ell’s heart theory, Lauren Alaina’s Getting Good EP and Getting Over Him EP, Tim McGraw’s Here On Earth, Russell Dickerson’s Southern Symphony, Carly Pearce’s self titled sophomore album and 29, Florida Georgia Line’s Life Rolls On, Cassadee Pope’s Rise & Shine, Chris Stapleton’s Starting Over, Lady A’s What A Song Can Do: Chapter One, Thomas Rhett’s Country Again: Side A, Caylee Hammack’s If It Wasn’t For You and Maren Morris’ GIRL, as well as blogging about many, many country artists in Jon’s and my blog series of influential artists (all within the span of 2-3 years!); the evidence is clear. I’m a fan of country music, and now there’s no shame in me saying that. Sadly, I didn’t get to review Keith Urban’s The Speed Of Now (which Jon jumped at reviewing!); while I’ve also dived deep into artists like Martina McBride, Faith Hill, Lady A, Rascal Flatts and Shania Twain through Jon’s blogs last year. However there is one album that I’d like to briefly discuss with you all, that I have found to be quite compelling, inspiring and just downright enjoyable over the past few days. And it is this- Jimmie Allen’s Bettie James, which released in July 2020, and again this week with the Gold Edition of the album (9 new songs added to the existing 7, making a track list of 16!).
I love when different artists do music together. A lot of people collaborate on writing a song, and bring in two or three people to write it. Just like with writing, it’s even better when there is more than one person singing it…Growing up, my dad loved country music and my mom loved Christian music, and I loved R&B and rock and hip-hop. I remember being a kid and saying, ‘I want to do something with Charley Pride and I want to do something with Darius Rucker.’ My dad introduced me to Charley Pride’s music, and we loved Brad Paisley and Tim McGraw so I wanted to do a song with them. My grandmother loved the Oak Ridge Boys, and of course, ‘Elvira’ [an Oak Ridge Boys song].
When I write songs, I put out music that is special to me. It’s self-therapy. I don’t write a song and say, ‘I just want a song that’s going to be successful on radio and make a bunch of money.’ That’s not my motivation. My motivation is to write a song I love, that means something to me, and hopefully someone else likes it. That’s how I approach everything I do creatively.
Now just like me going into Carly Pearce’s sophomore album with no expectations and no knowledge of who she was and her story; the same was the same when I dove deep into Bettie James last year. Yet knowing that this project is a collaborative project that features all of the musical heroes and contemporaries that Jimmie has been inspired by and blessed by over the years, and also knowing now that Bettie James was also inspired by his late grandmother and his late father who passed away in 2014 and 2019 respectively; well that made the EP at the time all the more poignant, emotional, vulnerable and hard hitting. Even though some of the guest vocalist combinations are weird (like on “When This Is Over”!), there’s no denying the passion and the heart behind the music, and it’s more than evident that Jimmie wears his heart on his sleeve. While Jimmie released a debut album in 2018 titled Mercury Lane, it would be nice to listen to the debut before this one (which is what I did!), just to get a taste of what Jimmie is about in his music. But it’s by no means necessary. Bettie James is a joint effort collaborative experience that doesn’t feel like a Jimmie Allen album, doesn’t feel like Mercury Lane; in the same way that Chris Tomlin & Friends doesn’t sound like a Chris Tomlin album – and from the first note of “Good Times Roll” to the last line of “This Is Us”, I can say that this was one of the few EP’s from this year, that has captured my attention from start to finish.
I first heard Jimmie Allen when Youtube recommended an audio slide on the home page one day. It was “When This Is Over”, with Tauren Wells, Rita Wilson and the Oak Ridge Boys. I think Tauren Wells tweeted about it too, and since I follow him on social media, obviously I found out about the song and I was intrigued. And I was pleasantly surprised with what I heard. Obviously a smash up with CCM legend Tauren Wells, Rita Wilson (who’s not that well known to me except for being Tom Hanks’ wife… sorry to say!) and country legends The Oak Ridge Boys is ambitious, yet the message of the song is never lost in the track. Sure the track hardly feels like country, yet it is the lyrics that bring the home run and make this song special, regardless of what ‘genre’ it feels like it’s supposed to be. With Jimmie, Tauren, Rita and The Oak Ridge Boys relaying to us that it’s in times like these (during COVID-19), where we can and should be more self-reflective and dwelling more about our future and whether we’ve got our relationships with others right and solid (and that’s what I reckon ‘the bottom line’ is as mentioned in the song!); one could say that the lyrics are slightly on the vague side. And I won’t lie- they are a bit. But I can’t help but love the arrangement of this song and the message of living life with no regrets and taking the time and effort for the relationships that really matter; and I hope that you all love “When This Is Over” too! Yet you guys didn’t come to read a rehash of my review of Bettie James. If you want to, you can read the review right here. No, let me bypass these 7 tracks and instead speak about these 9 new songs. Sound like a plan?
I’ve been wanting to do a collaborations project for a while, as a tribute to my grandmother, who died in 2014, and my dad, who died in 2019. I wanted to get some of their favorite artists and some of mine on the EP, and start to leave a trailway to legacy through my music. It was important to me to get Darius Rucker and Charley Pride on there, because those are two guys I’ve looked up to musically for so many years. You know, being black and looking like me, and [the three of us] being in genres where you don’t see too many black people. Darius was in Hootie & the Blowfish, and now he’s one of the biggest country stars out there. And Charley Pride was the first big black country artist. Then you know, my grandmother’s favorite band was the Oak Ridge Boys, and Brad Paisley was one of my dad’s favorite artists, and he’s one of my favorites. And I’m a huge fan of everyone else, from Tim McGraw to Nelly to Noah Cyrus, to Rita Wilson, Tauren Wells and Mickey Guyton.
When it comes to music I love, I don’t really get wrapped up in boundaries or genres. I thought we were gonna stop with the collaborations with Bettie James, and then I was like man, there’s so much music out there that I love, so many artists that I love, and I just wasn’t done. There’s some Pop, there’s some Rock, there’s some Country, there’s some R&B. I got a chance to work with legends! When I was writing some of the songs, I was trying to picture each moment. I went to each artist to work with them so they could be who they are on the song and bring their greatness to the song – I feel like that’s what makes the songs better. I’m super proud of the body of work of this album and can’t wait for people to hear it
It’s a bit weird for this release to have the newer songs as being tracks 1-9, and the earlier songs as tracks 10-16. Perhaps mixing up the order would make the album feel stronger? Regardless, these new songs that Jimmie has released enhance an already poignant and heart-warming album- and remind us all about the power of collaboration, and why singing with friends always sounds better than singing alone. “Get Country”, with country duo LOCASH, opens proceedings, and has Jimmie and the duo eloquently singing about the good things about being ‘country’- and while this song sounds catchy musically, lyrically it goes over my head… given that I’m not American. Nonetheless, it’s a joyful and cheerful way to start a toe-tapping and infectiously happy album; while “Home Sweet Hometown”, with country group LANCO, dives deep into country roots, and a small hometown that you can’t help but want to immerse yourself in when you listen to this somewhat nostalgic and sentimental track. Can you feel nostalgic and sentimental about a hypothetical American small hometown that you haven’t been to? Because Jimmie and LANCO do that, and do it well. Does this song make me want to explore my own neighbourhood though? Perhaps…
R&B is a the name of the game in “Flavor”, with Pitbull and Vikina earnestly and fervently singing about romantic relationships and promising the other person that they can be the flavour the adds value to their lives; while newcomers BRELAND and Lathan Warlick join Jimmie on “Somebody”, a rap/country/pop fusion that is a highlight on this project, and a reminder that with hard work, determination, and showing up and doing the daily grind, we can indeed be somebody to our friends and family, and we can indeed be a positive influence in the world we live in. “Pray”, a piano led worshipful ballad with gospel artist Monica, and country quartet Little Big Town, speaks about the importance of prayer and that no matter what we believe about Christianity and no matter our theology, we can talk to God wherever we’re at, and seek His help in our lives. As Jimmie, Monica and Little Big Town fervently cry out that ‘…I’ve been losing my religion, I’ve been in and out of faith, what it is and what it isn’t, well it’s not for me to say, we stand in different churches and we call it different names, but in the end we pray…’; we are presented with an honest and vulnerable look at someone who isn’t sure of what they believe, but prays anyway because they’re at the end of their rope… and this song is a reminder that we’re never too far gone to run back to God. A stellar effort and one of the most inspiring collaborations I’ve heard this year.
“Boy Gets A Truck”, with Keith Urban, also has been recorded by Jimmie and Keith previously (separately in Mercury Lane and Ripcord), and speaks about the importance of a boy’s truck with respect to the milestones in that persona’s life (marriage, kids etc). With the song reminding us all that we need to cherish moments of happiness and joy as they come and not to live far off in the future that may or may not happen; this track is so groovy and makes me want to dance- a step up from the mellow version from Mercury Lane… a genius collaboration in my opinion, I reckon! “Livin’ Man”, with up-and-coming country duo Neon Union, speaks about the good times and bad times in life, and chalks up all experiences to ‘…livin’, man…’ (I know, lyrically lazy, but still catchy!); while Jimmie teams up with Lindsay Ell on “Tequila Talkin’”, a pop/country/dance hybrid that speaks about stupid decisions that you have made under the influence, and reminding us all that drinking too much can be a bad thing. It’s a surface level song… but the track subtly encourages us to own our decisions whatever the consequences of them are. The final ‘new track from Jimmie is a piano prominent ballad with Babyface, called “Forever”. With a gospel/R&B/pop feel, Jimmie and Babyface eloquently relay to us that they want to love their significant other forever; and this song reminds us of the fact that relationships take a lifetime to cultivate- for a relationship to be healthy, you need communication and respect and time to listen to the other person. Things that do take forever- and this track does give people something to think about, doesn’t it?
Jimmie Allen isn’t a household name- not just yet. But I hope through this full length album of Bettie James; that people won’t continue to sleep on him and he will finally get the recognition that he deserves. Sure his songs aren’t totally country, but who these days sticks to one genre for their entire career? One may think that Bettie James is a mish-mash, the story of someone still trying to find out his identity, but I for one see a common thread- Jimmie collaborating with friends and musical heroes, and creating honest music that people can relate to. There are a few tracks that aren’t fleshed out as much as I would have liked (“Why Things Happen”, “Made For These”, “Flavor”), but on the whole Bettie James is one of the few shining lights amongst a sea of sameness, and believe you me, an album like this is just what we need during a pandemic that looks like it won’t end any time soon! So if you’re feeling down and miserable, why don’t you put on Bettie James and start singing along? I guarantee it, it’ll bring a smile to your face!
4 songs to listen to: Pray, Tequila Talkin’, When This Is Over, This Is Us
RIYL: Lady A, Kelsea Ballerini, Blake Shelton, Royal Tailor, Steven Curtis Chapman, Thomas Rhett