From the unlikely enclave of small town New York State, and the even more unlikely origination point of Scott Borchetta’s Big Machine Records, here comes this surprise EP from upstart country artist Brock Gonyea that will deliver you and your country-loving heart smack dab into 1950’s country music bliss, warming your cockles about the prospects for the future of the country genre.
Push all of your presuppositions aside, this dude’s got it, and in spades, from the natural warble to his voice, to knowing how to write to his style and strengths, to the unflappable resolve to make country music his way no matter who is in his ear. Sure, it’s a small sample size at this point, but it’s surely enough to get you to stop down and pay attention.
Growing up in a musical family where both his great grandfather and grandfather were music makers, and the songs of Hank Williams, Webb Pierce, and Lefty Frizzell were what was on in the household, classic country was stamped into Brock Gonyea’s very DNA. “I was never really around mainstream music,” he says. “I wasn’t touched by today’s artists. That older style vibrato is what was current to me, because that was what was around our home.”
Around home is the Adirondack region of New York where the 25-year-old still lived and worked helping his 71-year-old father with his cord wood business up until recently. A chance cover of “Hello Walls” Brock posted on Facebook after a girl left him ended up going viral and falling into the hands of rock guitarist and producer Brynn Arens, who eventually passed some of Brock’s stuff to Big Machine.
Soon Brock was sitting in Scott Borchetta’s office in Nashville, playing Hank Williams songs as well as his originals, and booking studio time with the legendary steel guitarist Paul Franklin, bassist Glenn Worf, Tom Bukovac on guitar, and other top-notch musicians bringing Where My Heart Is to life.
“Lovin’ You” sounds like some lost track from the Hank Williams catalog. “My World Turns to Silver” and “Pretending It’s Me” could just as easily be Lefty Frizzell songs. And when it comes to the opening song “All Night Long,” it sound like something lifted from the Webb Pierce catalog because it actually is. Written by Webb with Mel Tillis, the currently out-of-print song was discovered in the Sony/Tree vaults, and Brock Gonya breathes life into it here decades later.
Initially recorded with lots of separation in the signals and overdubs to get a slick and polished result, they eventually went back into the studio to cut this EP all live to get that warm and vintage feel for the songs, warts and all. Despite lacking the spit polish, the record captures Brock Gonyea’s confident vocals and surprising range, along with the warble that is his signature, and makes him so suited for classic country. Add Paul Franklin’s steel guitar on top of it, and it’s rendered delectable.
Though some may worry that Big Machine might sour this apple, remember the label also has worked with Alex Williams, and recently Ray Wylie Hubbard. Brock Gonyea is just their most recent wild card, and he’s now managed by the same manager as Dolly Parton (Danny Nozell), who hopefully knows how to handle unwieldy Nashville major labels.
It’s still early into this thing and much is still to be determined. But Brock Gonyea definitely has it, and classic country fans have another young performer to follow and root for.
1 3/4 Guns Up (8/10)
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