Album Review – Theo Lawrence’s “Chérie”

It seems like it’s the bane of all the best music of this age to be placed at arm’s length from the people who would be most opportune to enjoy it. But it’s those that dig and search for something out of the ordinary to outright extraordinary that are often rewarded favorably for their efforts, and that is certainly the case for those who get their hands on the new album Chérie by country crooner Theo Lawrence.

Featuring 12 exquisitely-written original classic country songs, Chérie was recorded just outside of Austin, TX at the Fort Horton Studios by producer Billy Horton, best known recently for producing all of those great Charley Crockett albums. Similar to other Austin productions, steel guitarist Dave Biller is employed to steep new songs in the vintage sounds of country with exquisite results.

Listening through Chérie, you’re floored this isn’t some rediscovered recording from an ancient country crooner from back in 1962 whose acetates accidentally ended up being shelved in some warehouse and forgotten. Not just the styling, but the references in the lyricism are something set 60 years in the past, perhaps depreciating them to some modern audiences, but coming across as sweet music to the ears of classic country fans.

But that is not even the most confounding and unexpected aspect of these recordings. The man responsible for all of this country music greatness, Theo Lawrence, isn’t even indigenous to the United States. Theo and his band hail from Bordeaux, France. Aside from the little dash above the ‘e’ of the proper name that comprises the album title, you could be convinced that Mr. Lawrence and his band hailed from south Alabama, and were born in the mid 1930’s.

The sounds of this album are exquisite, bolstered by Billy Horton’s deeply experienced work with this kind of material. But the magic is completely born from the voice of Theo Lawrence, and the songs he has crafted to compliment it. The command and insight Lawrence brings to his songcraft is nothing short of astounding for any composer, especially one not from the United States. So often when it comes to European country artists, even when they get the words right, something is just a little “off,” like in the use of idiom.

In the case of Theo Lawrence, he dives into telling stories and presenting characters with surprising confidence and depth. It’s the specificity of the details found in the opening song “California Poppy” that make it work. “The Universe Is Winding Down” is a perfect example of the world-ending heartbreak only the best country songs convey. “Keechie & Bowie” is the classic story of a young couple on the run, and “Kitty Cat Clock” is a clinic on how to take a piece of kitsch, and create a country song around it.

This album is not just knowledgeable and respectful to the American perspective and experience, it is steeped in it. Perhaps it’s true when they say the best way to describe something is seeing it from the outside looking in. But Theo Lawrence also brings an acumen with language to pull it off so well. The insight from Theo Lawrence here is pretty incredible.

Though Chérie is mostly country, Lawrence also adds a dash of ’50s Sun Records-era rock n’ roll in the mix that is respectful to the era of the album, and helps expand its appeal to all throwback and vintage audiences. Rockabilly fans will also get a kick out of this album for sure.

The love of true country music knows no borders, and can speak to people universally, even across oceans, language and cultural barriers, and generations. You never know who will be possessed by the passion to carry the music forward into the future, or who will be graced with the undeniable talent to do it. What’s absolutely certain after a run through Chérie is that Theo Lawrence is blessed with both of these.


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