Considering Jaret Reddick always seems to be doing something, taking a solo detour to make a country album isn’t all that shocking. Bowling For Soup mightn’t immediately be the band that comes to mind for this sort of manouevre—they’re hardly Hot Water Music as far as punk goes—but it’s not disagreeable either, given how Reddick’s own sense of humour lends itself well to a country format where good-natured corniness has more of a place. Plus, there’s a clear appreciation of the sound stemming from his oft-celebrated Texan roots, to automatically sidestep the rather abysmal track record this sort of expansion from a more old-fashioned, pseudo-novelty pop-rock base can yield (proceed with utmost caution if you’re tempted to check out Uncle Ezra Ray). And so, under his solo moniker of Jaret Ray Reddick—an embrace of his full name? A means of fostering parallels with Billy Ray Cyrus? Both?—comes Just Woke Up, which couldn’t stick closer to the remit of ‘Bowling For Soup frontman makes a country album’ if it tried. That is to say, it’s all fairly light, pleasant and down-the-middle, the only notable deviations being the occasional cameos from friends that aren’t too impactful, and reworkings of Bowling For Soup’s Ohio (Come Back To Texas) and The Bitch Song. The latter doesn’t translate as cleanly, but the former is actually a really solid nexus between Reddick’s two musical pastures, where there’s a youth and glint accompanied by a perfectly serviceable and legitimate stab at country. The lighter disposability that can otherwise hamper Bowling For Soup’s material isn’t as great a hindrance here, in leaning on a poppier side of the neotraditional sound on Songs About Texas or You And Beer that leave room for the steel guitars and fiddles to slide through and breathe. Maybe Reddick himself doesn’t have the most compatible voice for something this retrained, and this is decidedly lighter and clearer than some of the Texan country he’s looking to ingratiate himself within, but it’s surprisingly tasteful nonetheless, if a bit scrubbed of individual flavour.
It’s not really a fair criticism to level on what’s basically a side-project, but the middle-of-the-road nature of Just Woke Up does keep it a distance from country that’s willing to experiment more or go a bit grander. To an extent, that can be chalked up to what Reddick is comfortable with—illustrated by Natalie and how clumsily it tries to toe the line between a country rollick and bluesy muscle—and that’s hardly worthy of too much critique when he so cleanly fits into the mould he’s made for himself. As previously mentioned, the dad humour that colours Doggonit! and My Truck Up And Left Me couldn’t be deeper in his wheelhouse, and infinitely more preferable than musicians of a similar age pretending to be peacocking frat bros. It’s nice to see the more heartfelt counterpoint to that too, in One Of The Good Ones and Royal Family that are older by design, and fit how generally warm and pleasant this all is. It’s in the same ballpark of where Bowling For Soup albums fall nowadays actually, comfortable and happy in their own skin, and not looking to catch up or overtake anyone, as much as just enjoy the ride. It doesn’t make for the most grippingly dramatic listen—something which kneecaps the longevity of the album by a considerable amount, honestly—but it’s never unlikable, and Reddick clearly has an affinity for this sound that he plays to well throughout. It’s just a nice detour that’s fully aware of that status and owns it rather well, and Reddick’s country fondness carries the same approachable, affable demeanour that’s given him such a rock-solid career for decades.
For fans of: Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, Luke Combs
‘Just Woke Up’ by Jaret Reddick is released on 11th March on Brando Records.
Words by Luke Nuttall