Before the pandemic upended the working lives of working musicians, Queensland singer-songwriter Will Day spent a lot of his time on the road, playing shows in various pockets of Australia. He’s played shows of all sizes, in country towns and on festival stages. It’s that experience entertaining all sorts of crowds – figuring out what works and what doesn’t, how to subtly adjust your performance to adapt to your environment, understanding how to pace a show to keep the audience engaged – that forms the bedrock of his new album, Countrified.
The structure of this album is that of a set list that has been carefully planned to provide highs and lows in mood and tempo, keeping the listener guessing and, ultimately, satisfied that they’ve had quite a time of it. The album starts with a rocking mission statement in the form of the title track, then goes into ‘Bro’s’, which features Troy Kemp and Col Finley and is a party song, for lack of a better term. They’re a great pair of tunes for catching the listener’s attention, so that Day can then take them into material that is more heartfelt, and of a more storytelling bent, occasionally putting in another rocking song so there’s that undulation of mood.
The third track is ‘Simple Then’, a fantastic country-pop duet performed with Brooke Schubert; it introduces themes of romance, and of looking to the past, that appear elsewhere on the album. It will be no surprise to anyone who’s heard the tenth track, ‘Dear Dad’ – which was a popular single release – to learn it’s the most affecting on the album, although the wistfulness to be heard in Day’s voice on ‘Simple Then’ gives it a resonance that increases its meaning, and Day also uses his voice to great effect in ‘Rare Piece of Earth’. In fact, as fun as songs like ‘Countrified’ are, it’s in these slower, quieter songs that Day is at his strongest, perhaps because he’s at his most vulnerable. Anyone who gets up on stage night after night has to be prepared to offer themselves up to the song and to the listener if they have any chance of connecting with either, and these are the songs that show just how good he is at doing that.
There are a couple of drinkin’ songs – as befits an album with this title – and Day ends Countrified on a tear with ‘Chasin’ Gators’, sending the listener out on the same upbeat note they arrived on and also, cleverly, in a mood to go back to the beginning and start all over again. That’s partly due to the art of structuring the album the way he has but also because there are stories inside Countrified that are worth listening to several times so you can hear their details, and also hear the care that Day has put into bringing them to life.