While I’m not usually a fan of what I’d call the ‘American style’ of contemporary country music – more stylised than the typical singer-songwriter output, with song structures and vocal styles that seem to vary little between songs, albums or artists – every now and again I will listen to it. Sometimes even willingly. Because this style of country music is reliable and comfortable – and entertaining and enjoyable. It’s the comfort food of country music, and there’s no denying that millions of people like their musical food comfy, so there is clearly something of value in it. It’s all a matter of taste, obviously – I like music with a little more edge and bite, and sometimes it seems as though these ‘produced’ albums don’t have it.
There aren’t many Australian country music performers in this style, but the most obvious example I can point to is Keith Urban. Keith mixes songs from his own pen with those written by others whom he is smart enough to recognise write songs that suit him and which only enhance his repertoire. There are many people who would think that Keith sounds overproduced and a bit same-samey. But there’s no denying he’s consistent and talented and very, very good at what he does. He also has that little extra something that keeps us all coming back for more – it’s something in his voice, in the way he can deliver a song. Being able to interpret a song so that you don’t trample on it – to get out of the song’s way and be its servant rather than its overlord – is a hugely underrated skill and also says a lot about a performer and how much they respect the actual writing of a song.
Keith Urban was the performer who most came to mind when I listened to Paul Cowderoy’s debut album Now. Cowderoy – a finalist in the 2011 Australian Independent Country Music Awards, the 2011 Australian Country Music People’s Choice Awards and the Channel C Country Music Awards for Best New Talent – does not have a voice like Keith’s but he does know how to deliver a song: clearly, to the heart of the listener, and he has that certain something in his voice that made me want to listen to the album over and over. The collection of songs on the album – some written by him, some by others – is solid rather than being remarkable but we go back to that comfort food analogy again: I’d rather listen to this album again than other albums that may have that edge to them but which just aren’t as satisfying.
As this is a debut album, we can presume that Cowderoy still has his training wheels on as a performer and songwriter, and this is a confident start for someone at that stage. It will be very interesting to see what he does next.
Now, Paul Cowderoy (WJO) – available now on CD and iTunes.