Try and think back to 17th January 2020, if you can. Not much has happened since, after all….

I know what I was doing that Friday night. I was in the Institute venue in Birmingham. I was on a bit of a blag. I’d had the sort of email people that own music websites love from someone we’d never heard of before: “Hi Andy,” it had started, and by the finish I’d got a couple of review tickets for Chase Rice and Brett Eldredge a couple of weeks later.

The latter I knew. The former? Not so much. Everyone knew Chase Rice by the end, mind you. He’d announced himself, for sure with polish and skill (the same could be said for Eldredge too).

Former college football star, racetrack pit crew, reality tv, he’d done a lot even before he turned his hand to country and knocked that out of the park too – he counts his streams in the billions and that might not bring him riches, but the sell out tours with Kane Brown and Jason Aldean plus stadiums with Kenny Chesney and Garth Brooks aren’t to be sniffed at.

Look at those names again. Aldean, Brown, Chesney in particular (Brooks is his own man) and you’ve got him pegged up to a point. They’ve all got the “hit” sound and there was that about his early stuff too.

“I Hate Cowboys & All Dogs Go To Hell” has a flavour of it, and this is a really superb country record, but the title of the album alone is enough to tell you that things are a little different this time around.

For one thing Rice writes or co-writes all of these, and there’s a reflection about it (as evidenced perhaps by honouring his late father on the album cover) that hasn’t been there before and is a long way away from the “buddies on the bank with a fishing pole” type thing you might have thought.

For another, there’s a change in the sound. It’s darker, more Americana tinged. Just after halfway through this comes “Oklahoma” (featuring the Reed Southall Band) and it’s a seven and a half minute epic that is different to anything he’s ever done before.

It’s the best thing here (by some distance actually) but where this scores higher than other Rice records is the quality of the songs is better all round.

He eases you in with a banjo driven slice of pop “Walk That Easy”, you know the drill, you’ve heard it before, its well done, mind you and if “All Dogs Go To Hell” is likewise familiar, the fact it deliberately plays with the formula is a signpost that this is new and its different.

“Way Down Yonder” is more southern rock and you can imagine it on the latest HBO blockbuster without too much trouble. “Key West And Colorado” is your break up song and its got mega hit all over it, “Bench Seat” is beautiful. Written from the perspective of a dog as it surveys the changes in the family. I am telling you right now, its better than “Old Shep” and if you don’t feel warmth to it, you have no soul.

“Life Part Of Livin’” (another that he is a Rice solo contribution) addresses the loss of his dad, Daniel directly, while “Bad Day To Be A Cold Beer” lightens the mood, and Brothers Osborne are covering this, I am calling it now.

The growing sense of maturity about this is underlined by “I Walk Alone”, “Sorry Mama” takes you to the honky-tonk and it’s a lot of fun, “If I Were Rock N Roll” is the type of thing that Cadillac Three used to do. He’s unapologetic too, “if I was rock n roll, I’d be a middle finger in your face” (its actually a song about getting a girl back, but the twist is exquisite).

Boy Named Banjo appear on the slide drenched anthem “Goodnight Nancy” and if it ends with the other half of the title, then lord help the cowboy who took Chase’s girl.

 That might have happened, it might not. It doesn’t matter of course, but “I Hate Cowboys And All Dogs Go To Hell” feels more personal than before – its better too, as it is the sound of an artist striving to grow and for the most part succeeding.

Rating 8/10

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