How country is Courtney Granger’s Beneath Still Waters? It’s so country that playing it turns paved roads to dusty gravel, loafers into a pair of well-worn Justin boots and billboards into flickering neon signs. It’s so country that if played 10 times straight, Keith Urban’s tour bus gets a flat. Repeated listens lead to hopping on the back of a Cub Cadet and heading to the corner store to pick up a sixer of the cheapest brew, just like the Possum. It’s so country that, unless mistaken in a bin bound for the Saturday old school country show, it won’t be getting radio play on mainstream country radio.
From the first slow thump of the stand-up bass and the tap-tap of the snare rim on “Don’t Put Her Down, You Helped Put Her There,” it’s clear this is a love affair with classic smoky barroom county. The writing credits read like selections off a great honky-tonk jukebox with an emphasis on the lonesome and heartbroken songs. Granger’s lineage — the nephew of the great Dewey Balfa and a member of Balfa Toujours — only acts to further the pain-equals-inspiration equation. Throughout, Granger honors the late George Jones by covering numerous songs the Possum made famous. Almost all are of the heartbreak variety. This record either drowns your sorrows or gives them a run for their money.
Sometimes Granger is the second coming of Jones, other times he sounds a bit like Jones ever so slightly mixed with a deeper Lester Flatt. Always effortless and legit and solid country, his voice begs the question: how does it come out of Granger, the skinny kid with the fiddle? Granger doesn’t go down the obvious Jones path — “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” “She Thinks I Still Care,” etc. — but resurrects lots of his almost-as-popular classics. His takes on Jones’ material, such as “Mr. Fool,” “Back in My Baby’s Arms Again” and the title track are so right on the money they easily pass for remastered retakes. He also re-imagines tracks by country stars like Waylon Jennings, Vern Gosdin, Mel Street, Keith Whitley, Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard (not to mention “My New Year Starts Now” by Dirk Powell, which passes as a classic without raising any alarms). No matter the style — the high lonesome of Dickens and Gerrard or the outlaw country of Jennings — here they are tuned to Jones’ frequency.
This record will do well locally on classic country stations and with fans. It will also receive high praise from like-minded publications near and far. But, it won’t burn up the chart the way Jones did. That’s not because of a lack of quality, because it has that tenfold. Instead, after all, it is too country for the country charts. And that is the saddest part of the whole record.