The third song on “Heart On Ice” is called “I Ain’t Country.” On it, Jon Langston is joined by Travis Denning, and its chorus lists things you can say about them: “Redneck,” “beer-drinking country-singing SOB,” and a “red clay kid.”
Then the one thing you can’t say: “You damn sure can’t say I ain’t country.”
If you still need assistance in understanding what kind of record Langston’s debut full-length is, let’s revisit the first two tracks: “Heart On Ice” sees him drowning his sorrows in the nearest hostelry, and “Beer In Bar” is about finding love in one.
This is modern country 101, and it knows it, but my goodness, it does it well.
From Georgia down to his boots, Langston has been planning this record for a decade, and unlike many of his peers, he writes the songs. Eleven of the 14 are from his pen, and thus you assume his heart.
Working with renowned producers Jody Stevens, Brad Wagner, and Jacob Rice has ensured that tracks like “Whiskey Does” sound like a million dollars (and that’s what they’re aiming to make you imagine). Langston’s voice is one of the most authentic you’ll find. Deep, rich, and weather-worn, it means “Where’s That Girl” and others have red dirt hewn in their veins.
And that’s the best thing about this album, actually. On “….Girl,” he looks on as she moves on. Moving away isn’t on the agenda here. There’s too much past in Georgia, too much history, like the girl on “Never Left Me” and the others on the pop classic “Dirt Roads And Diamonds.”
One of the standout tracks here is the ballad “Grandaddy’s Watch.” “It’s more than a timepiece on my arm,” he offers. “It’s a symbol of the man I want to be,” and so is this record, you imagine. It is a personal manifesto of the values that Langston and others hold dear.
“A Day In The 90s” is the summer anthem, leaving behind the Honky-Tonk, and off we go to the beach.
I’ve mused before about why this type of music resonates as much with middle England as it does with middle America. The reason surely lies in “Ain’t No Country”; it’s the idyll. It’s the “wish you were here?” The simple life, the “mama’s Pecan pie” he sings about; it might be real, it might not, but it doesn’t matter. It sells a dream.
“Better Off” finds its pop groove, while “If You Leave Atlanta” underlines the fact that this Good Ol’ Boy isn’t tempted by the big city. You can keep the bright lights. He’s not that boy. That’s why “….Ice” works. He’s got the same dreams you have – and he’s got a Bon Jovi guitar solo.
It ends with two ballads, but they have different tones. “Wrong Side Of The Bottle” muses on the life that’s lived in the bar, while the absolutely lovely “May Magnolia” is shot through with such an infectious groove that you can’t resist it.
It deals with spring, the green shoots, rebirth, the circle of life, if you will, and that’s how you view country too. It keeps reinventing itself and producing new artists. And if originality isn’t high on the list here, then no matter because in Jon Langston, a star is born, and “Heart On Ice” is one of the best albums of its type this year.