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Mary’s Underground, October 7

Cliches get bad press. Especially from the press. But people love them. And by people I mean the artists who use them and the fans who buy them, yes, but also the labels, the venues, the hire companies, the roadies, the media, the advertising agencies – anyone who makes a living from its fruits.

Take a song Brad Cox, accompanied by his partner and support act, Sammy White, performed towards the end of this show to a reception almost as strong as that afforded his own songs, Riley Green’s I Wish Grandpas Never Died.

Honestly, that’s what it’s called – in case it wasn’t clear, it, and Cox, who hails from Jindabyne, are rooted in modern commercial country music - and as well as eternal grandpas, they wished for coolers that never ran out of cold Bud Light, honkytonks without closing time, and “the first time, seventeen, she was my everything/Kiss in a Chevrolet could happen every day”.

People everywhere in the room were moved, connecting with its sentiments, and well they might given Cox himself – playing mostly solo and seated – had already offered us songs of his own referencing Chevrolets, blue jeans, Cheyenne, a half bottle of whiskey, a tank of fuel and no goddam rules, somewhere he could feel like getting crazy now, Texas, John Deere tractors, and a dog called Bo. Not to mention holding steady at 110 on the highway, summer time songs, a glass or three of “Gentleman Jack”, the first day of drinking season and thanking god for life on the land but asking for a drop or two of rain.

Familiar? Ooh yeah. Even this far from Nashville’s Music Row, if Keith Urban hasn’t come by your window with his tray of radio favourites, then surely his “Hillsong Keith” shadow, Morgan Evans, has. Winning? You betcha. Ask the table next to me who eschewed social distancing regulations to hoot, holler and sing almost every word. Exportable? Ah. There are thousands of generally good looking dudes, with generally attractive voices, singing generally well structured material in hundreds of towns across the US who you might think would have the first call. But then that didn’t stop Evans.

Without his band, it was left to a foot-operated bass drum whomp/stomp and Cox’s appealing, if not distinctive voice to carry the load, and it worked. Better still, his straightforward blokiness brought the roughhewn charm.

Speaking of which, the yarns he told between songs, of his jobs (fencing, ploughing), his misadventures (a tree half crushing the ute he virtually lived in), his extra-curricular interests (beers and bongs may have been mentioned) and his distrust of girly things (home furnishings, shopping) were direct and were real.

Which made it more odd that even in songs about all of them Cox’s lines never once sounded like anything but the by-product of an online country song generator. But hey, you call them cliches, he calls them home. And he’s not home alone.

A version of this review was originally published in the Sydney Morning Herald.


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