Modern country music is awash in pop melodies and overblown arrangements that all too often drain the emotion and vitality from a genre whose history is littered with complex experiences and rural revelations. But there are musicians who understand these long-standing musical genealogies and can interpret them in their own words and movements. And so Chattanooga singer-songwriter Jay Terrell takes these various bucolic rhythms and uses them to express his personal narratives and their accompanying emotional impulses.
But where other country-minded artists aren’t able to balance the pop tendencies inherent in their work, Terrell harnesses these ecstatic motions that filter through his music and unleashes them within a coherent and intricate musical lattice. The twang is still very much present, but it’s buffered by a bright, effervescent pop accent. Like the greatest country artists (Garth Brooks, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson), he understands that there must be room for maneuverability within the genre to allow for change and unusual ideas that can manifest themselves in an unexpected approach to these familiar sounds.
On his recent single, “Than I Do Right Now,” he brings together these creative influences, pop wonder and country rumination, and creates a song that speaks to the years and experiences held within each genre. The orchestration is subtle but evocative, a detailed backdrop that emphasizes the dramatic sentiments that Terrell explores in the song. And that’s where he stands well above his pastoral musical peers—he utilizes specific sentiment rather than broad sentimentality.
The piano and acoustic guitar mesh perfectly, building an emotional foundation through which he expresses a cavernous emotional weight. This is country music that eschews the bland platitudes that so many current country artists rely on. There’s a Southern tint to his words and music, as if he is drawing sounds directly from the earth under his feet. Pop motions and country nostalgia mingle and rebound off one another in a flood of elaborate rhythms and fierce emotionality. This is what country music should sound like.
Joshua Pickard covers local and national music, film and other aspects of pop culture. You can contact him on Facebook, Twitter or by email. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.