It’s a Saturday afternoon in the height of summer, and your restless soul needs a cold one or six. A friend tells you of a party nearby and you head on over: the host is Chris Janson, and he’s about to perform his new album, Everybody, released this September on Warner Bros. Records. There are whispers about a certain song running through the crowd.
Music booms and people hang out on tailgates and lawn chairs. Solo red cups pile high on top of a cocktail-stacked bar. Inflatable flamingos dot the pool. Vests and aviators and snapbacks on almost everybody, everywhere. Your first beer goes down so well, you grab another.
Chris, trademark harmonica holder around his neck, tunes up his guitar and launches into the festival-pleasing, Who’s your Farmer. An urban cowboy in plaid, denim, boots and a ‘ball cap, walks past, raising his cup to the beat. He looks like the sound; Luke Bryan. Your friend tells you Janson has opened for Bryan and McGraw a couple of times, and you see the comparable energy.
The title track, Everybody, plays next and you study Chris in more detail; the six –foot-something bearded musician, with a Brad Paisley lyricism, gives off a Kris Kristofferson charm. The eponymous track was reportedly written after watching the Kardashian reality show. Lyrics like, ’everybody wants to be in the picture/nobody wants to take it’ move Chris along the spectrum of bro’ country towards a country maturity.
Name On It and Eyes for Nobody are songs that you wander off to; you know the ballads keep the party going but you’ve reached a cross roads – go home or stay? Then Chris reaches for a bottle of his preferred Mountain Dew refreshment, before livening the party with Fix a Drink, which has been playing all summer long, since its release in Spring. It deservedly hit a top ten spot on Country Airplay. When you hear him sing, ‘the world’s in the toilet/and the market’s in the tank/well I can’t fix that but I can fix a drink’ you decide to hang out a while longer.
For Out There, whose juxtaposing of, ‘my playlist plays Waylon and Wiz’ could be a country-rap cliché, but on Janson it works; he’s James Corden – the guy everyone wants to hang with. You join a breakaway group while your friend is at the bar, creating cocktails. As the sun disappears you borrow a hooded sweater and listen to people enthuse about Missouri-born, Nashville-based Janson. He’s a hard-working singer-songwriter, with seven years’ service in Broadway’s Honky Tonks. There are more than a few of his covers of classic storytelling songs, including Piano Man and Boy Named Sue, available online. He released his first album, Buy Me a Boat in 2015, which brought well-earned big-name recognition: he’s written for Hank Williams Jr. as well as McGraw, Justin Moore, Randy Houser and Frankie Ballard. The title track of the album was a number five hit in August 2015 and has been played at countless festivals.
Janson also plays piano, as well as his trusty harmonica and guitar, and you feel that simply not enough country songs consider the keys. Granted, it’s not a portable instrument, but Lady Antebellum fared well with their piano-infused Need You Now in 2011. And you remember spending a good time in the nineties absorbed with Garth CDs, including The Red Strokes with the memorable white piano and red paint, which scored an ACM Video of the Year award in 1995.
After A Little Bit of Both and Our World, songs which keep the album going, Chris settles down to play Bein’ a Dad and the group quietens as echoes of the family man in his performance nail parenting in a three minute song: ‘I guess we’ll get our old lives back/ but I ain’t looking forward to that’.
The light-hearted Paisley-inspired lyrics are back, on When You Like Me, as Janson sings of the joys of make-up sex, and a pre-ordained path on Redneck Life, ‘What you see is what you get/and what you get is what you see/I’ll take a Mountain Dew over a silver spoon/any ole day of the week’.
Finally, the song everybody is talking about is played – Drunk Girl. An ear-focusing piano ballad suspends the party, and you listen to the story unfold of many people on many weekends just like tonight, and what should happen when a guy takes a drunk girl home: ‘let her sleep all alone…leave the lights on walk out and lock the door/that’s how she knows the difference between a boy and a man’. You instantly want to hear it again, and hope it’s released as a single. Soon.
The album is complete and, with the key tracks of Everybody and Drunk Girl, heralds Janson’s longevity as a singer-songwriter; a multi-instrumentalist with lightning bolt lyricism.
As the party ends, you pick up your friend from the bar and take her back home, before she has to ‘pick up her life she threw on the floor’.
I’m sure it won’t be too long before the UK is able to enjoy Janson’s high-octane harmonica infused performances. Just remember to bring enough Mountain Dew, Chris.