Want a slab of whiskey-soaked bad boy country rock? Meet Jacob Bryant
The common image of Nashville, and country music – big Stetsons, sad cowboys, gaudy clothing, songs about achy breaky hearts, half finished bottles of whiskey – has obscured the fact that on the other side of the tracks, country has a far darker heart.
From Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, Woodie Guthrie and Patsy Cline, to Waylon Jennings, Johnnie Cash and Townes Van Zandt, and through to Steve Earle and the tragic death of his son Justin Townes Earle, alcohol, drugs and death have ensured that country music has an altogether bleaker narrative.
Country rock is enjoying a golden period right now. The superb Jason Isbell, Gillian Welch, Drive By Truckers and A Thousand Horses represent the intelligent, lyrically advanced end of the country rock genre, and Cadillac Three, Blackberry Smoke, Robert Jon & The Wreck and The Brothers Osborne are all drawing big crowds for their big bearded, check shirted, good ol’ boy, Southern rock.
And then there’s Jacob Bryant. Brought up in poverty with his mum as a drinking buddy, he had a heart attack at 19 and turned to alcohol and drugs when his mother died. But there was redemption, too. He was too shy to sing but started playing bluegrass on grandparents’ porch at the age of eight. And finally singing in church gave him the confidence to stand up and sing by himself.
His album Practice What I Preach is a full on confessional, a mix of steel string pickery and heartfelt Southern soul. The track Pour Whiskey on My Grave has become an unlikely hit single: a no holds barred, no regrets anthem to living life to the full. And whiskey is core to this album. Within the first three lines of opening track More than One Year whiskey, cocaine and even a bottle of George Dickel have been referenced. The track Don’t Let Me Down, is dedicated to a lover, right? Nope.
“Whiskey you’ve always been my friend, there when I needed you, time and time again”, sings Bryant,” I need you more than ever right now, whiskey don’t let me down…you’re all I’ve got left.”
First line of the next song Tell Me?: “You tell me I drink too much whiskey…”
And on it goes. The bourbon-soaked gravelly vocals and the standard mix of broken hearted heavy drinking loner (More Than One Year, 25 in Jail, Pour Whiskey on My Grave, Wrong Way Home, When I Get On A Roll) and sinner seeking redemption (Sometimes I Pray, Practice What I Preach, Save My Soul, Angels on Earth) won’t set the world on fire. But there’s an honesty in this music. Whiskey as a one true constant rings true. Jacob Bryant is the real deal.
Which side of the country road he’ll end up on is a musical soap opera waiting to happen. I for one am on board and watching with interest.