EP Review : James McNair (self-titled)

Review by Peter Coates – www.facebook.com/InsideEdgePhotography

Released – 10 Sept 2021

James McNair is a hit country songwriter from Aiken, South Carolina.  He’s probably one of those names you have never heard, but if you like your country music, then you will have heard a whole heap of his songs.

At age 7 with a Sears catalog electric guitar found in his grandmother’s attic, James learned his first chords. His father, Jim, let him pick through old boxes of records and started him on the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Led Zeppelin, Lynyrd Skynyrd and more. James learned to play along with the songs and developed a deep appreciation for well-crafted lyrics and melodies. 

He moved to Nashville, TN in the spring of 2013 to pursue songwriting full-time despite a promising career in the family golf business. 

James landed his first worldwide publishing deal in the fall of 2015 with Sony-ATV and Tree Vibez Music.  He has co-written over 45 major label cuts with artists like Luke Combs, Kane Brown, Keith Urban, Scotty McCreery, Chris Janson, Morgan Wallen, Florida Georgia Line, Chase Rice, HARDY, The Cadillac Three, Tyler Farr, Chris Lane, and more. In September of 2020 James received his first #1 song with Luke Combs, Lovin’ On You (Topping the charts at #1 for 4 weeks).

He has now released his own EP of half a dozen songs written with the likes of Jaren Johnston (TC3), Eric Paslay and Lindsay Rimes, and featuring The Cadillac Three playing on a couple of tracks, and it is just a wonderful example of a mellow but upbeat country storyteller, with a voice as warm and smooth as honey bourbon, and a fantastic production.  

Find The Matches opens up with a gentle guitar melody, and then the whole band kicks in for the chorus, powerful and spine-tingling with the twin vocal harmonies, and the wonderful backing calls that appear in the second chorus.  The drumming is solid throughout, with some really tidy fills that keep the motor of the track running.  There is a similar feel to the rather different Same Dirt, which features some really atmospheric lap steel guitar, and more glorious lead vocals. 

The drum pattern that opens up Talk About Jesus is very much in the TC3 vein, no surprise as it is Neil Mason himself on the drums, with the whole Cadillac 3 crew in the band for this one, co-written by Jaren Johnston.  The track retains the mellow but up-beat feel, with some delicate meandering guitar lines over the back-beat – this could certainly have been on the recent Sweet Tea & Tabasco record – which incidentally James co-wrote a couple of track on.

The up-beat by laid-back feel rolls on with Thing For Me which has a bunch of the ‘standard’ country music references – “John Deere Green”, “Chevy Trucks”, “Cold Beer Buzz” and “Friday Night Lights”, and that lovely extended tag line, ”I’ve got a thing for the girl that’s got a thing for Me!”

Eric Paslay co-wrote Livin’ Easy with James and Jaren and this has many of the hallmarks of those monster country-soft rock ballads that the likes of Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean produce, but with the delicate touches that characterise all of the tracks on this impressive EP.  There is a strong focus on getting the added dimensions from multi-tracking the lead vocals, and some really clever backing harmonies.

By The Door shuffles in with a bit of a bluegrass skiffle feel to the verses, and that echoing steel guitar sound (at least I think that’s the sound) behind the voices in the chorus.  The drums again feature in an effective way, keeping the beat, and providing some of the linkages between the phrases.

The quality of the songwriting, and the superb voice sets James McNair right up there with the best of the current stars of the country music scene, although maybe there is not enough variety in these six tracks in terms of overall sound and tempo.  The video of Find The Matches below demonstrates just how good James is on guitar and voice alone, so we know he can deliver the songs stripped back without losing the power and intensity.

But, who doesn’t love a big beast of a country rock anthem – I’d love to hear James deliver something with the band cranking out something with a big riff and a few powerchords.  Maybe live some of these can deliver – the voice is certainly big enough!  

Useful Links:

Facebook :  https://www.facebook.com/jamesmcnairmusic

Instagram : https://www.instagram.com/jamesmcnairmusic 

Buy the EP : https://linktr.ee/JamesMcnair

Pic : Annelise Loughead