Monday, January 17, 2011

Josh Kelley, "Georgia Clay"/ Joanna Smith, "Georgia Mud"

Though these two nostalgia-themed country songs share many similarities, the artists behind them have been following markedly different career paths.  Newcomer Joanna Smith previously took an unsuccessful stab at the country charts with the gimmicky novelty tune "Gettin' Married," which saw its weak chart run finish almost as soon as it started.  Josh Kelley's current claims to fame are (1) Being the older brother of Lady A's Charles Kelley (2) Being Mr. Katherine Heigl (3) The Top 10 Adult Contemporary hits "Amazing" and "Only You" from 2003 and 2005, respectively.  After his pop career fizzled out, his brother's country band became a platinum-selling success, and now here comes big brother Josh to stake his claim in country territory.  Coincidence?  You be the judge.

Forgive me if I'm over-reaching here, but "Georgia Clay" sounds like it's trying way too hard to sound like everything else on country radio.  Since Josh is another immigrant from the pop market, "Georgia Clay" includes a few steel guitar fills and pickup truck references so as not to throw any curves at the country fan base.  Sadly, "Georgia Clay" is weighed down by uninteresting lyrics that sound just like every other nostalgic country tune.  An additional problem is that when you sing about Georgia clay stuck on the wheels of a pickup truck, those lyrics call for a much more raw and earthy sound than what we hear on this record.  This is one case where clean and polished pop-rock production just doesn't work at all.  The single's biggest shortcoming is that it offers no insight into what qualities and talents Josh brings to country music besides a capable singing voice and the requisite movie star good looks.

Joanna's "Georgia Mud" doesn't exactly boast groundbreaking lyrics, but they're solid enough to tell the story effectively.  We see here that Joanna actually has much more singing talent than her debut single led us to believe.  Her delivery of "Gettin' Married" was shrill and unwieldy, but her performance of "Georgia Mud" is nothing short of charming - rich, and layered with shades of emotion.  The light mandolin-laced ballad has a nice breezy laid-back vibe, and Joanna just eases into it gracefully.  She gives the song enough energy to avoid sounding boring, but not so much as to be overwhelming.  Even if one raised a quizzical brow at Joanna's debut single, "Georgia Mud" effectively arouses our curiosity as to what else this gal has up her sleeve.

Obviously, we don't expect new artists to start cranking out classics as soon as they get their start in country music, but a good debut single will highlight an artist's strengths to give a positive introduction to the new voice.  "Georgia Mud" displays charisma, personality, and strong interpretive abilities, while "Georgia Clay" just sounds like it's trying fit in.  In the cases of these two artists, a good introduction "Georgia Clay" isn't, and "Gettin' Married" wasn't, but "Georgia Mud" is.  Final verdict:  I'll take Joanna's "Mud," but I'll pass on Josh's "Clay."

(Scores are given on a scale of 1-to-10)