Ray Charles covering Frank Snow’s “I’m Moving On,” was one thing, but the concept of working on an album of country music during the period of racial segregation was not met fondly with Atlantic; they’d rather he stuck to pop-orientated RnB. But, a swift move to ABC in 1961 and “Modern Sounds In Country & Western Music,” promptly became the most radical album of American music, twisting ethnic barricades amid the Civil Rights Movement. Ray Charles began with this genre, his hillbilly roots the only method to get noticed in Georgia, but ask him what he adored about country music and he’d reply, “it’s the stories.”
What the greatest American singer/songwriters, like Springsteen and Dylan owe to anecdotes weaved into country is paramount. With this in mind I was keen to hear what stories a band called “The Stories” from our own West Country would tell on their new EP, “Short Stories,” released this week.
Perhaps their name not as apt as I considered though, as there isn’t such a strong concentration of narrative in these tracks, no emotional roller-coasters of Johnny Cash, and not really the melancholic but astute intertwined chronicle of Tammy Wynette’s “Ode to Billy-Joe,” for example. The second tune of the EP, “Never Walk Away,” prime, where the rather washy metaphor, “I need you like a flower needs the sun,” is scarcely the helm of innovative song-writing.
That said, lyrically it’s far beyond Achy Breaky Heart and the plethora of line-dancing anthems which bleed all authenticity from the roots of country music, from its native land. In fact, like Stevie Nicks with twang, I’ve got time for The Stories as it sticks to the country formula with rhythms to appease pop.
So, there is, however, five feel-good country-inspired pop songs with instant appeal and something immensely uplifting about their sound. No raw edge, just joyful immaculate riffs and amiable vocals that will not only appease country fans, but with cross-over pop sounds akin to Sheryl Crow and the panache of Shania Twain at a barn dance, I reckon this has a much wider appeal. The opening and subsequent tune, “What if,” and “Never Walk Away” being prime examples.
The theme of “What If” kind of reminds me of Stevie Wonder’s “As,” take elements malfunctioning, the sun sinking into the ocean, stars not shining at night, then proclaim “none of it matters as long as you love me.” It unfastens the group’s kingpin, their wonderfully composed vocal harmonies. Whereas the second song in concentrates on the group’s female vocalist, Teri Souter as she takes the lead, continuing with romantic prose.
Third tune, “He’ll Drive Me Crazy,” becomes less quixotic and, with wit borders pop with a catchy Shania Twain-fashioned slant on the unattractiveness of a well behaved man.
“Ghost on my Trail,” next, the most astutely written and expressed. Like a true country classic it’s the most beautifully crafted on the EP. I’m unsure which male member takes the duet with Teri, David Griffin or Jason Allen, but their strong Segar-like vocals traditionalises the Nashville sound with a heart-warming, sentimentalised country formula.
This is equally followed by the gorgeously executed finale, “Roses Outside My Door.” The writing upgrades as the EP progresses, and I’ve taken a leap of faith; The Stories may’ve questioned my preconceived inkling that their debut EP would herald the traditional killer narrative of Guthrie or Wynette, but it rolls with conventional country in such a catchy and likeable fashion, there’s nothing here to dislike.
I’d certainly recommend booking these guys and gals for your barn dance, country music club or any gathering where some good ol’ boys will be drinking whisky and rye. In fact, that’s how I heard about them; they’re performing for the Devizes Country Music Club at the Conservative Club on the 2nd February. Yeah I know, ages away, that’s why you need to check out the EP, or attend Fairfest Music Festival in Fairford on 18th August, where they’ll also play.