Back in the 90s a new sub-genre was named: “Country-Rock”. Sure, it had always been there in the background, waiting to surface, kind of like a bench player who had come up through the youth team ranks and was now ready to be blooded in the first eleven. There were some rather decent luminaries under this handle, with some big hits; songs such as ‘Mr Jones‘ and ‘Hold My Hand‘ even hitting the UK chart and the bridge between great tunes and sometimes heavy rock finally being crossed.
Result? Joy. This music brought a smile to the face; it was feel-good music, but with credibility and swagger. After wielding the axe for Aaron Neville and Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Jamie McLean’s latest incarnation places him firmly with the “Crows” and the “Hooties” of this world, although that by no means makes this release sound dated. There are some straight forward 4/4 rock songs such as ‘Only One‘ and the title track ‘One & Only‘, but more than that, the band mix in some funk-rock of the style made popular by The Spin Doctors (also in the 90s) topped off with a stunning saxophone solo from one of the album’s guest stars, Jeff Coffin, on ‘Let’s Get Out Of Here‘. To keep their country roots firmly in place (note: this album was produced in Nashville. Dunno where it was recorded), the title track also adds in some steel guitar and the stand out track on the album, ‘Virginia‘, includes some beautiful mandolin figures from another guest star, the great Sam Bush. Mixing it up even further, there are also some good acoustic moments (‘Not Today‘ and ‘Everything’s Golden‘) and some nice use of organ. The album moves on with an impressive gospel choir start before moving into a classic country motif, with more mandolin, on ‘Starting Gun‘. So far, so good.
What lets the album down, however, are the occasional irritating lyrics. McLean calls his baby “baby” so often, he really needs to find another word for his, er, well, baby. On ‘Not Today‘, he uses “baby” 3 times in every chorus and “babe” in every chorus on ‘Virginia‘ (although that doesn’t stop it being the best song on the album). McLean also repeats something else a little too often. It seems that people only think about other people, lost loves, etc at night, as in made clear in at least two songs. ‘The One That Got Away‘, as well as being the title of one of the songs, is also mentioned in the song immediately before it. Of the eleven songs on offer, the first five struggle for ideas lyrically. Musically sound, tight, funky and catchy, but they don’t actually say anything meaningful.
This all changes from track six onwards, where real meaning is conveyed, especially on ‘Everything’s Golden‘: “When all of your roses been pulled from the ground/when everything’s broken, you can’t hear a sound… Oh, I tell you this war’s been won/Just take what you’re given and follow the sun.” To add to that – and as if to counter-balance the lyrics at the start of the album – there are some impressive moments. ‘Yesterday’s Champagne‘, for instance, cleverly states, “Yesterday’s champagne, the sparkle ain’t the same.” The album’s closer even resorts to quoting from Dickens: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” It’s hard to decide whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. What is sure is that this is by far the bluesiest track on the album and like most of the others, very catchy. In fact, even if you don’t think you will like this album when you first hear it, you will find yourself humming the tunes and/or singing the choruses for at least a day after the first couple of listens – working their way in unnoticed, kind of like the bug thing that Khan puts in Chekhov’s ear in Star Trek II, only without the blood and the pain, obviously. If you enjoyed that whole 90s rock scene, if you’ve got ‘Mad Season’ by Matchbox 20, if you know that a pocketful of Kryptonite is more than a Superman reference and you’re sure that Baltimore is 20 miles East and it’s raining there, then this is the album for you.
Solid country-rock, but a game of two halves