After an earlier foray into the realm of what he calls “folk pop” on his 2012 debut album I Like it that Way, singer/songwriter Corey Hager of West Virginia has taken Alan Jackson’s classic advice and gone country.
Hager’s upcoming release Wanna Be Country features eight new tracks ranging from uptempo party country like “Moonshine” to what I call a new country subgenre of ‘man ballads’ such as “Like Catchin’ a Fish.” The album is expected to be out in mid to late January.
Lead-off track “I’m On It” is energetic with a fresh, slick production, channeling the sound of pop-country singers who have made it to the big-time with a similar style in the past.
Standard “countrier-than-thou” fare of “Jacked Up Trucks” and “Country Boy” are not that memorable, without strong hooks and some awkward lyrical phrasing. All songs on the album are written by Hager himself except “Jacked Up Trucks,” which was co-written with Rico Dean.
“I’m just a country boy from a holler in a mountain/ And I’m just a yell away,” Hager sings, going on to recap his journey to country salvation in the standard but likable song “Drive a Truck” where he explains how a country girl made him “want to drive a truck/ Go up in the mountains and sling back mud.” He gets clever and shows songwriting promise with the zinger: “I’ve always been a little bit of country/ But with you I want to go all the way.”
Although with solid instrumental backing and enthusiastic vocals, Hager struggles at times to find strong lyrical hooks and repeats some words, but he pulls through the awkward sections with the straightforwardness of the songs. He shines on “Moonshine,” a Luke Bryan-style hard-drinking-party song par excellence. that drops terms like “shorty,” and some hick hop verses and has a solid hook: “Underneath the sky and into the night/ Nothing shows you off better than moonshine.”
“Catching Up With You” is a pretty standard number about relighting an old flame that drags on a bit, while “Like Catchin’ a Fish” is an enjoyable man ballad in the style of Brad Paisley’s “Fishing Song,” with a humorous touch that asks why meeting the right woman can’t be like fishing.
“I’m gunna open a can of worms and I’m gunna bait a hook/ Get one I can hang on the wall/ And doing something that anyone could/ I don’t know about that and toss it on back/ That one’s a good one, it can break your cast/ If I keep on sitting they’ll keep on hittin’/ And there ain’t nothin’ wrong with that/ There’s many a fish in the sea/ But to the one that catches my heart/ You have to hook, line and sinker me.”
While Hager still has a ways to go before writing the kind of hits that put country in the top charts across America and the world, he shows the energy, dedication and humour that could get him there in the future. As he sings on “Like Catchin’ a Fish”:
“I like testin’ the water with a good time that’s off the hook/ Fishin’ sometimes is a tough job/ But if you’re willing to tackle it…”