Lead-off single “Georgia Clay” is one of those misty-eyed nostalgia songs about how everything was so much fun when you were younger. This kind of song has been done before, but I’ve always been a sucker for songs like this — even more so when they’re done well, which this one is. The next two songs are equally mainstream and familiar, yet just a little different. On “A Real Good Try,” he pleads his lover not to give up on him while he tries to figure out who he is. “Gone Like That” twists around and ends up subverting the “I want more than a one night stand” kind of songs; as his first foray into country-style songwriting, it’s evident that he knew what he was doing from the get-go.
Lee Brice gets his name on the album for “Baby Blue Eyes,” a simple yet effective ode to the woman he loves. Despite a fairly lightweight chorus of “there’s somethin’ ’bout, there’s somethin’ ’bout, there’s somethin’ ’bout her baby blue eyes,” its verses come across as sincere and not cloying — little details like how she gets nervous when she kisses, but isn’t shy, are nice personal touches that make the song seem more real.
From the “did you spell that wrong?” department is “Naleigh Moon.” Written about his 2-year-old daughter Naleigh, it’s equally tender and heartfelt, matching Josh’s soulful voice to a soft, acoustic production and inspired yet identifiable lyrics about the love between father and daughter (“I couldn’t see past me until I saw you” — simple yet effective). It might be a little too slow and soft for a single, but it’s still a standout track on the album.
And don’t let the fuzzy opening of “Two Cups of Coffee” fool you; it’s a pleasant, Wurlitzer-heavy song about lost love built around the kind of wordplay that has been country’s bread and butter for ages (“I got too much of me and not enough of you”). It’s followed by another beverage-related song and only the second uptempo, “Rainin’ Whiskey.” It’s modern and retro at the same time, celebrating a good time with an unusual yet fun concept: yep, raining whiskey. No one said that fun songs had to be logical.
“Great Idea” continues the more upbeat second half and the reminiscence set by the title track, but here, the reminiscence is twisted around to ask the question, “is this a good memory or a great idea?” Then there’s “Ain’t Lettin’ Go,” another upbeat track, uses its quick tempo and heavier production to contrast the subtle come-back plea quite effectively. This track would be an excellent single choice.
A bluesy waltz drives “Learning You,” pushing it past its awkward hook of “you’re gonna love me learning you” and straight into its otherwise-fine verses. Instead of the questionnaire-type questions that sometimes drag this kind of song down, or the specific “do you x?” questions found in Blake Shelton’s fine “Who Are You When I’m Not Looking,” the narrator of this song wants to know the answer to more offbeat questions like “how many kisses before you get tipsy on me?” The album closes with “Don’t You Go,” a “stay here and love me a little while longer” kind of song, akin to a much more downbeat version of Jason Aldean and Kelly Clarkson’s “Don’t You Wanna Stay” or Josh Gracin’s “Brass Bed.” Despite a somewhat gratuitous string section and otherwise bombastic production, it still stays true to the rest of the album.
Georgia Clay is an excellent first entry into country music. Although its sound isn’t overtly “country,” it’s an extremely well-written album from start to finish. There’s not a bad song on the album and, although it’s mostly down-tempo, it never feels like it’s dragging. Josh has an impressively soulful set of pipes, and he knows how to use them. Even with Lady Antebellum riding high, there’s plenty of room for another Kelley sibling on the charts, and Georgia Clay is the first (and most convincing) argument there.
Album Review: “Backwoods“
Single Review: “Georgia Clay“
Video: “Georgia Clay“
Lyrics: “Georgia Clay“