Whilst all music has its regional roots, no genre of popular music is quite as connected to its geographical origins as country music. After all, it’s in the name, but as a result, country music’s promotional spotlight is nearly always pointed towards American artists, whether they lean towards the sleek structures of the Nashville sound or the rougher tones of rockabilly-inspired outlaw country.
As such, however, although there exist small country scenes across the Atlantic in the UK and Ireland, the artists that make the rounds within these country hotspots are seldom met with the same exposure as their American counterparts. Undoubtedly, there is something to be said about the lacking web presence of country music and the impact that this has on how easy it is to hear of up-and-coming UK country acts, but even still, solid grassroots promotion, routine festival appearances and good old-fashioned word of mouth can do wonders for aspiring country artists and, in this regard, rising singer-songwriter Steve Young has been putting in the work. Following the unveiling of a debut, crowd-funded solo album, Troubadour, released last year, Young has been working the UK country circuit, frequenting festivals and appearing on the airwaves, which has led him to the launch of his newest, second and exclusively physical EP, The Great North Road.
As has been established on his output up until this point, The Great North Road sees Young play towards a pop-orientated country style, throughout in which faint whiffs of English folk can be heard in his dulcet vocal melodies. Case in point, after the opening track, Inhale, heralds in Young’s light touch across the rest of the album, through a brief instrumental of daintily flickering cascades of bright piano, meandering bass embellishments and surges of coruscating guitar, the first full song on the EP, Trembling Heart, emphasises the singer’s dynamic scope by setting his wistful, British croons against a ravishing soundscape of fluttering fiddle incidentals and lingering swoops of pedal steel guitar. The build-up of this serene instrumental backdrop leads the listener naturally towards the gratifying release that arrives as Young’s soaring, hook-heavy vocals break out during the track’s refrain, whilst the triplet beat switch towards the latter half of the chorus marks one of the most emotionally potent moments of the songsmith’s solo career thus far. Although fortified with the same strong melodic body as Trembling Heart, the succeeding song, Hard Times In A Beautiful Place, assumes the structure of a conventional, piano-driven country ballad, whilst being punctuated with some arresting accents and ornamented with some wispy, almost gospel-inspired backing vocals that infuse the piece with some endearing harmonic tones. The EP’s title track is injected with some of the smoky flavours of Country & Western, courtesy of the grumbles of guitar and heavenly flitters of harmonica that introduce the song, whilst the crisp and clear English lilt of Young’s pristine vocal lines anchor the track in the same light tones of the rest of the EP. With Beautiful Tonight buttressing Young’s flair for heartfelt balladry, whilst incorporating some striking rhythmic switch-ups, and with The Greatest Love Song (Of All Time) meshing brief bursts of climbing melodies within a yearning country serenade, the singer-songwriter’s salient strength over the course of The Great North Road is his ability to work exceptionally powerful melodic tones into his definitive brand of euphonious English country music.
If his previous solo work had not done so already, this new EP from Steve Young surely shows signs of the singer carving out a singular voice for himself within the UK’s contemporary country music landscape.