After rising to fame on America’s X Factor over a decade ago, only now is Willie Jones releasing Something To Dance To, his major label debut.
There’s a well-worn kind of graduation for country musicians: the number of half empty, disinterested honky tonks played; broken down buses caught; guitar strings snapped; whiskeys shot; nerves tested, and tips played for all come together to form one’s own begrudging tale of the American dream and what often becomes the nightmare of realising it.
It may seem at odds with the lure of ‘overnight’ success that reality TV shows can promise – turn up with nothing but your voice and a story to tell, get discovered, make it big and don’t look back – but as American dreams go there’s perhaps no greater manifestation. Maybe that’s why, long after they became a kiss of death rather than a career-maker on this side of the pond, US reality shows continue to produce a steady line of successful musical artists, with bands such as Chapel Hart hitting the big time on America’s Got Talent only last year. In fact, their alumnus is so strong (see: Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson and Miranda Lambert, amongst others) that new shows are still being launched, with the release of Kacey Musgraves and Reese Witherspoon’s My Kind of Country on Apple TV.
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Willie Jones has a different story to tell. Eleven years after appearing on the X Factor USA he finally makes his major label album debut, proving that the instant exposure of reality TV doesn’t always mean instant success, and there’s still time to play for tips even after you’ve played to the nation’s screens.
His new album, Something To Dance To, is true to its title. At eleven tracks and just over half an hour long, this is an album that is determined to celebrate its creator’s victory in finally cracking it.
Where the album’s predecessor, 2021’s Right Now, had very specific conversations about his experience as a black man in America, here he weaves his culture into the fabric of the music more casually, though with no less pride. See, for example, Lil Vibes, with its incorporation of afrobeats.
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With such a variety of influences, including R&B and soul, this album won’t delight country purists, though they may be pleased to see a Hank Williams sample on ‘Slow Cookin’’. ‘I Can’t Complain’ documents Willie’s approach to life: the rent may be due, the Dow Jones may be down, but life remains a ride to be experienced with joy. We have to wait until track ten for things to slow down on what is perhaps standout cut, ‘Let’s Be A Love Song’, with its smooth strings.
What’s missing is some of the specificity, substance and songwriting showcased on ‘Right Now’; there’s nothing on here that matches up to it, nothing much to sink your teeth into. It’s a shame, given that the short run time and tracklist allows room for greater flex of his skills, and the album suffers for it. That said, this album may not be a game-changer, but Willie Jones is right: it’s certainly something to dance to.