This weekend sees the Country to Country juggernaut roll into town as this year’s C2C Festival comes to the O2 Arena in London.
Stars like Miranda Lambert, Carrie Underwood and Eric Church will entertain Country music fans from all over the country over the course of three days. This event gets bigger every year and demand for the tickets always outstrips supply. I was lucky enough to get tickets last year as I wanted to see Florida Georgia Line and Luke Bryan and the fact they were on the same night meant I had to get tickets despite the expense. Given the huge demand it’s hard to understand why country music is a genre that never dents the charts in this country and if a singer goes down the country route on a talent show they severely hamper their chances of progression. C2C though gives the fans a chance to redress the imbalance and they turn out in droves to see all the acts. The wonderful thing about C2C is the pop up stages all around the arena during the weekend and they play host to over fifty acts representing every aspect of the genre.
I was given two albums by artists that will be playing this weekend and I’d love to share my thoughts with you, but first I must come clean as a fan of Country music; it was the first music my Dad played to me when I was little and has been a constant love ever since. I was a regular visitor with my Dad to the Silk Cut Country Music Festival that used to grace Wembley Arena in the eighties and saw such greats as Marty Robbins, Kris Kristofferson, Mel Tillis, Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette and Johnny Cash..so now you know I’m a little biased! These two albums highlight the reason I love Country music in that there are so many styles within the genre that it really does have something for all music fans.
Honey Ryder are a UK band and ‘Born In A Bottle’ is their third studio album. It is a very slick album from the first listen and it comes as no surprise that there is a veritable who’s who in country music song writing royalty among the co-writes. Tom Douglas, Rivers Rutherford and Blair Daly have written for everyone from Lady Antebellum to Taylor Swift, from Keith Urban to Brad Paisley so really cover all the bases. Throw into the mix the legendary Country producer Paul Worley (Dixie Chicks and Lady Antebellum) and the results have to be good, and they are.
The album starts in punchy style with the title track and from there on Honey Ryder strike a good mix between ballads and up tempo songs. The sing-a-long, ‘Drink With Me’, has a great hook and feels like a song you’ve always known, amusingly referencing Fleetwood Mac and Basement Jaxx instead of Country singers. This highlights the crossover feel of this album for me and the touching ballads and faster songs all feel like they could dent not only Country playlists but Pop ones too. The influence of writers that have written for Taylor Swift and Kelly Clarkson is strong here. The song ‘Little Feet’ is a song that will pluck at the heart strings of anyone with children, and when lead singer Lindsay O’Mahony asks, ” Will I be good enough for you” you will almost want to shout at the CD “Yes”. I would recommend this album for fans of The Shires and it is yet more evidence that UK bands are starting to make real in-roads to Country music and that recording in Nashville has really paid dividends.
Rackhouse Pilfer hail from Sligo and this second album sits firmly in the Bluegrass Americana end of Country music. Resplendent with mandolin, fiddle, slide guitar and banjo this high octane six-piece band impressively showcase their musical skill as they move through some real toe-tappers. In the faster tracks of this album it’s hard not to want to dance. However, it’s when things slow down that the class of the band shines through with real warmth and sincerity and during tracks like, ‘Fallen Leaves’, and, ‘Calico Sky’, both written by fiddler Flachra Cunningham, there is a real profundity that perfectly balances the album’s faster numbers like the excellent, ‘Another Dirty Joke’, and the album finale, ‘I’ll Find A Way’. Fans of Zac Brown and early Mumfords will love this album.
Rackhouse Pilfer have changed their style since their debut album, ‘Back To The Country’, and have moved the vocals to the fore. This in no way takes away from the impressive musicianship of the band and by sharing vocals among the band there is a real freshness to the offering. The infectious faster songs will stay in your head and demand a good feeling and the heartfelt slower songs will make you think. This album is a definite grower and has already become a firm personal favourite. I love the fact this album is self-penned and that fact seems to make this album the more focused of the two I listened to. It has real personality and is unashamedly folk music at its core.
Both albums are very polished and highlight very different styles within the genre of Country music but both have much to recommend them. I spent time with both albums to see if they stuck with you and I’m happy to say they did. Both albums develop with repeated listening and I would recommend trying to see both at the C2C. It’s possible to see some great bands performing at the pop up stages around the Arena and the stages which include Town Square, the Big Entrance Stage and The Saloon are all free to attend. Performances at The Brooklyn Bowl, the IndigO2 and the BBC Radio Country Stage are accessible with a £10 festival wristband available from the O2 Box Office, subject to capacity, but still represent great value for the standard of talent on show here. Try to catch these two bands live, it’s important to support live music, and if not check them out online and support Country music in the UK . I will be attending the CMA Songwriters series that kicks off proceedings for the festival with Charles Esten, Lori McKenna, Ashley Monroe, Charlie Worsham and Shane Mcanally; I will review later this week.