If you take your country music traditional, but still want some drive and hooks to get the heart pumping and have a good time to—and especially if like it when your country comes with a Western and cowboy flavor—Chancey Williams is serving up just what you want straight out of Wyoming with his latest record 3rd Street.
A true rodeo cowboy who’s competed as a saddle bronc rider for years, Chancey Williams holds the unique distinction of being the only guy since Chris LeDoux to both ride and perform in the biggest rodeo competition of them all—Cheyenne’s Frontier Days. Chancey brings his real-world experiences to both lively songs and sentimental ballads that show off a sincere passion for country and Western while satiating a range of emotions for the audience. Think Aaron Watson, but perhaps a bit more on the narrow path of country music sonically.
Chancey Williams is what popular country music should sound like in 2020. It’s appeal is easy and its audience is wide, but it’s substantial enough to not feel like a guilty pleasure. Perhaps 3rd Street crosses a little too much into the commercial side of country with radio ready songs like “Tonight Were Drinkin'” or “Let It Go.” But there’s also just too many good ol’ cowboy songs like “Wyoming Wind,” “Meet Me in Montana,” and the opening song “The World Needs More Cowboys” to discount what Chancey Williams is doing here, which is taking Western themes, and making them accessible to a wide audience.
Pairing with Chancey for this record is producer and songwriter Trent Willmon who is known for writing songs for guys like Cody Johnson, Mo Pitney, and Eric Church, and was also raised on a ranch just like Chancey. They put together a record that went curiously under-the-radar in 2020 just as Chancey Williams signed with the big touring outfit WME, and was planning to make a major career leap this year until COVID put the crimp in those plans. Nonetheless, the effort in this studio album wasn’t lost.
Chancey Williams is backed by the Younger Brothers Band, which also includes one sister, and arguably Chancey’s Ace in the Hole when it comes to recording in the studio, or taking the stage. Fiddle player Brooke Latka is an award-winning Western musician who not only duets with Williams on one of the album’s best songs, “Meet Me in Montana,” she also offers some of the best instrumentals of the effort.
The lead guitar licks on 3rd Street are on fire, and are one of the record’s best attributes. But they also leap well into the arena rock realm in a couple of spots. It’s the flourishes of steel guitar and Brooke Latka’s fiddle that help ground this album in country and Western roots. Similarly, the writing of “College” featuring Kevin Fowler is a little silly, but coyly sentimental, and “Outlaw” may be a little too “we don’t like your kind around here” for some audiences. But these are balanced out by the more meaningful songs of the record like “Wyoming Wind” and “More Than Most.”
Country music is not a bad retirement plan for those aging rodeo stars who are tired of the aches and pains in the morning, but are used to the rigors of having to travel out on the road to earn their daily bread, and are addicted to entertaining people for a living. Chancey Williams isn’t the first, and hopefully won’t be the last. But he’s the one of the top at the moment that’s assembling big crowds and strong streaming numbers, and helping to put the Western back into country.
1 1/2 Guns Up (7.5/10)
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