Stoney Creek Records
Release Date: July 10th 2020
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
- 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 a couple of 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. Two years down the track, 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, Carly Pearce’s self titled sophomore album, Cassadee Pope’s Rise & Shine, Caylee Hammack’s If It Wasn’t For You and Maren Morris’ GIRL, as well as blogging about Maren Morris, Lauren Alaina, Hunter Hayes, Jana Kramer, Kelsea Ballerini, Thomas Rhett and Lindsay Ell all within the last year and a half (with more and more country artists to be discussed and blogged about in the future!); the evidence is clear. I’m a fan of country music, and now there’s no shame in me saying that. While Tim McGraw and Keith Urban have new/upcoming albums that we plan to review sometime in the future; 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 this year.
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. Yet knowing that this project is a collaborative project that features all of the musical heroes and contemporaries that Jimmie has bee 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 makes this EP 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 is 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 its 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!
The rest of the EP showcases unexpected collaborations that just seems to work, as I’m presented with a cohesive batch of songs that celebrate life, love and happiness. “Good Times Roll” is a pop song through and through and features rapper Nelly, and is just a fun, boppy, danceable track about living life in the moment and not letting it pass you by, while “Drunk And I Miss You” is a haunting, poignant and vulnerable piano ballad featuring Mickey Guyton on guest vocals, and a duet that has Jimmie and Mickey declaring that their personas in the song miss each other even though they’re exes- reminding us all that only time heals wounds, and that it’s natural to miss someone even though you’re not in love with them anymore (similar in theme to Lindsay Ell’s “I Don’t Love You”. “Made For These” with Tim McGraw, with the relatable theme of hard times that we go through making us stronger and allowing ourselves to be more resilient for future adversity; is as radio friendly and poppy as they sound, and with vague lyrics and the repetition of ‘these’ and ‘those’, we are met with maybe objectively the weakest song on the album. Yet there’s still something about this track that pulls at me, and maybe it’s the heart and passion of these two vocalists. But one thing is for sure- Jimmie still shines on even the weakest track, and by this effort, you just know that he’s going to be a star in the making!
“Freedom Was A Highway” is a stirring duet with Brad Paisley, about Jimmie’s longing to go back to when days were simpler and less complicated, and back to the time when ‘…the town was the whole world, and love was the girl next door, soundtrack was a song in the dark, I miss those days when our dreams were there for chasin’, but time was better wasted, we were summer young and livin’ for a Friday, and freedom was a highway…’– essentially a joyful ode and homage to his childhood days; while the penultimate song on the EP is the heartwarming duet with Darius Rucker and Charley Pride, titled “Why Things Happen”. It’s a prayer to God, asking Him why do bad things happen to good people. Though it’s admirable and commendable even, the voices sadly don’t work together well, and the lyrics and the themes of questioning God aren’t taken far enough in my opinion, they aren’t that specific enough, as we ask God why. However that’s my only nitpick, and if this track gets people talking about God and the bigger issues of life, then by all means, I’m all for it. Yet it is the lead single and EP ender “This Is Us”, with Noah Cyrus (Miley’s sister) which pulls at my heart and my emotions the most. As Jimmie and Noah eloquently sing in harmony and sing an honest and emotional love-story type of ballad, we are glimpsed to the kind of perfect love that we are all chasing, the love you feel for someone that is just right. And while many of us are single and are wondering when that kind of love will find us, this track subtly nudges us in the direction of God (at least I think it does!) and reminds us all that perfect love is the love that God has for each one of us.
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.
Jimmie Allen isn’t a household name- not just yet. But I hope through this EP 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 couple of tracks that aren’t fleshed out as much as I would have liked (“Why Things Happen”, “Made For These”), 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 (like the relentless rainy weather as I type this review!), why don’t you put on Bettie James and start singing along? I guarantee it, it’ll bring a smile to your face!
3 songs to listen to: Freedom Was A Highway, When This Is Over, This Is Us
RIYL: Lindsay Ell, Kelsea Ballerini, Blake Shelton, Royal Tailor, Steven Curtis Chapman, Thomas Rhett