Fusion country is a term I’ve used for years to describe successfully fusing country music with another genre or genres of music. It’s a fascinating sub-genre that I at one point tried to make an entire blog about. Pulling off fusion country is not easy and requires a knowledge and grasp of multiple genres. And it’s not a well liked sub-genre because you have the likes of Jason Aldean, Florida Georgia Line, Thomas Rhett and hick hop doing it all wrong. I won’t even get into all the issues of it, as it deserves a whole other post. But basically thanks to the likes of these artists, fusion country doesn’t really even get a chance due to the negative associations around it.
Enter new country artist Willie Jones, who is taking on fusion country. I’ve been following Jones for a couple years (since my Fusion Country project), although I didn’t realize I had known him even longer, as I remember when he tried out on X-Factor singing Josh Turner’s “Your Man.” So my familiarity of Jones ran deeper than I realized. His first couple singles intrigued me enough that I’ve been quietly waiting for a full project. And after listening to his debut album Right Now, I can say he he not only meets my expectations and hopes, but surpasses them too. This album is full of great country music, both fun and deep lyricism, and is a refreshing example of fusion country done right.
“Country Soul” is a great introduction to both the album and Jones himself. Jones immediately tells the listener who he is and what genre he is: he’s country, but he’s also hip hop, rock, R&B and soul because they all make up him and his music. It’s extremely catchy and easy to sing-along with. I especially enjoy the verse where he shouts out an artist from each genre he enjoys. As someone who is constantly listening to and dipping in and out of multiple genres, I can immediately connect with the sentiment of the song.
The breezy “Back Porch” celebrates the small pleasure of kicking back and relaxing on the porch. It’s a fun track and I appreciate it because I enjoy just sitting outside and doing nothing in the summer too. In a world where everybody is glued to their phones and having to be doing something, it’s nice to do just “nothing” by sitting outside. Jones’ lead single “Bachelorettes on Broadway” was his first track to gain significant attention and I can understand why. The beat is incredibly bouncy and catches your ear with the heavy, thumping drum machine and quick guitar strums. The topic is not as interesting unfortunately, even though I will say Jones does a good job of describing the groups of bachelorette parties all around Nashville.
“Down for It” is basically Jones’ take on boyfriend country, as the song is about a man vowing to always be there for his woman. It’s not a bad take, but it’s definitely held back from the repetitiveness of the lyrics. In between the repetitive lyrics there are a few heartfelt gems and I wish these were more emphasized in the chorus. One thing I will say that I noticed right away about Jones and the songwriters he uses on this album is the usual faces that write all the songs you hear on country radio aren’t to be found, so the lyrics aren’t the same cliché words and phrases employed. That is a big plus. But I hope on the next album there aren’t any songs like this that fall into the same cliché ideas of those same old songwriters, as Jones proves many times on this album he and his songwriters don’t need to play the same old game to stand out and make great music.
“American Dream” more than proves this, as it’s an instant standout. Jones explains that he grew up listening to all the patriotic country songs we all have heard in country music. But none directly spoke to his experience as a black man living in America, so he rectifies this with this song. He excellently explains and shows his complicated relationship as being a proud American in a country that routinely punishes black folks through continual systemic racism ingrained throughout society. The bridge and spoken word are particularly powerful moments that blow me away. The music video for this song gives even greater context and better illustrates Jones’ great storytelling and message. If country music was truly free and equal, this would be a hit.
The album’s title track is a great contrast to the more serious moments on the album, as the song reminds you of the importance of taking a break and enjoying the company of good friends and a cold drink. There’s always work to be done, but it’s always good to have a mental health break to balance out the stresses of life. Because we all need a moment to just put the world on pause and enjoy the moment in front of us. Also the “Bombay and lemonade” hook is incredibly catchy. Regardless of your own feelings on this album, the hooks on this are undeniably great.
Speaking of Jones’ knack for hooks, “Trainwreck” is the best example of this. The song is fueled by a twangy, upbeat banjo riff and drum machines, giving it a happy feel. But the lyrics are quite sad, as Jones exclaims bewilderment and jadedness after getting his heart unexpectedly broken. One of the things I’m really impressed by with the songwriting is something subtle: referencing checking his ex’s Instagram after the breakup. So many country heartbreak songs (especially traditional) still pretend it’s 1850 and everybody rides their horse down to the honky tonk and cries into their beer. It’s so inaccurate and dated, even if you want to argue it fits the aesthetic of what one expects in a country song. But what Jones describes in this song for the aftermath of a breakup is much more accurate and modern. It baffles me at times how so many modern country lyrics fail to reflect the here and now.
“Drank Too Much” is about a man finding enough courage in the bottom of several bottles of alcohol to get the woman he thought was out of his league. While promoting over-consumption of alcohol isn’t cool, on the other hand it has a good message of not being afraid to take a chance. And sometimes you need a little encouragement to find that voice, so I can appreciate this.
The album closes really strong with two songs Jones wrote solely himself and both are great. “Whole Lotta Love” may be a bit corny to some ears, but this is the type of cheesy love song I can get behind. The song’s emphasis on the importance of having a big heart and commitment over expensive things and money is the kind of songwriting I’m a sucker for. Not to mention once again Jones’ songwriting does a fantastic job including modern references familiar to young listeners that many in the genre are unable and unaware of to incorporate in their songs. He has a clear finger on the pulse and culture of the moment, so it comes off as genuine when he references Gucci (take note of this, Zac Brown).
“Actions” is about asking for someone in the relationship to back up their words and go beyond just telling someone you love them. It’s a simple, but deep message that goes beyond just a relationship. While it’s easy to tell someone you support them, it’s more important that you show it through action. And I couldn’t think of a better closing message for the listener when listening to this album.
Right Now is a really good debut from Willie Jones and while certainly not a perfect album, it without a doubt shows he’s a great and highly talented artist that belongs in country music. His ability to fuse together country with multiple genres and styles should not be taken lightly and with time he’s only going to get better. If you like a little hip hop, soul or rock with your country, Willie Jones and Right Now are well worth your time.