Among the boundless sea of YouTube cover artists, Alex Melton is hardly raising the tide much on his own. That is to say, pop-punk covers of non-pop-punk songs (and vice versa) is an idea that’s become practically synonymous with the whole act of reworking songs online by itself. On top of that, there’s an inescapable novelty factor to him releasing a proper album while so many similar artists never will. His own individual angle of ‘uniqueness’ seems to be covering various scene megahits as country songs, so why not parlay that into a full album, especially when you’ve got Pure Noise at your back? In case you couldn’t tell, Southern Charm proudly standing by its own gimmick as what it lives and dies on is enough to give pause. One half consists of pop-punk and emo songs in a country style, while the other is the opposite way around, remaking some of country’s biggest ever hits as pop-punk tracks, in a gambit that’s obviously stuck in an infinite push-pull between loving and hating its hometown.
It’s not the sort of album that brings more to the table beyond said gimmick, especially when Melton squeezes as much from it as humanly possible. As an album, it feels less like exploring Melton’s various oeuvres as an artist, and more like an attempt to fill each zone of his pop-punk / country scatter plot as efficiently as possible. These could exist as individual YouTube covers without being packaged together and would be just far; arguably more so, in fact, as a swift hit of novelty that isn’t really necessary across an entire album. And then you circle back to the fact that there isn’t a drop of ingenuity throughout, and it’s a body of work comprised entirely of fitting these songs around broad genre strokes and well-established beats on each musical side (he even puts on the relevant accents as appropriate), but also appreciate that that’s all kind of the point, and it’s where the fun of it all primarily comes from.
That might be as strong as any feelings towards Southern Charm get, but it’s not negligible by any means. Melton is clearly proficient at both a pop-punk and country style, and the weightless, freewheeling quality winds up rather infectious. It’s more prevalent when veering towards pop-punk, in the big-hearted stabs at earnestness lent to versions of Tim McGraw’s Something Like That and Luke Bryan’s Play It Again, and a slyer, wrier smirk across Body Like A Back Road to fittingly pave over the stiffness of Sam Hunt’s original. Of course, it doesn’t always land, like with a generally forgettable pop-rock take on The Chicks’ Cowboy Take Me Away, or the easycore chugs shoved into Friends In Low Places—y’know, just as Garth Brooks would’ve wanted…
As for a pop-punk and emo covers, they’re generally more even-keeled. They’ve got the benefit of being taken from deeper in the scene’s pool; some of them aren’t the most iconic, but credit should go to how they’re deliberately chosen to fit the country style, and to be tastefully pulled off at that. Outside of Stick To Yours Guns’ Married To The Noise that’s re-envisioned as a sizzling country-rocker, the pool largely encompasses songs that fit a more gentle, mid-paced but still suitably polished country bent. Thus, there’s cleaner slide guitar and more solemn presentations across covers of The Story So Far’s Quicksand and The Amity Affliction’s Soak Me In Bleach; jauntier guitar skips for State Champs’ Secrets; and some really lovely vocal harmonies and wistful atmosphere on Can’t Swim’s Stranger and Four Year Strong’s Seventeen. If there’s one thing to unequivocally praise, it’s that Melton’s country impulses definitely lean towards a more appealing, organic side helmed by production from Tom Denney (known for his work with A Day To Remember) to ensure the modern rock polish remains intact.
Grouped together, it’s all very listenable and easy to digest, largely through the low-stakes-by-design feel it emits, and also how Melton owns that well enough. He’s definitely in his natural wheelhouses with every decision made, almost to the point that this can feel like a vanity project, but without a lot of the negative stigma attached. Rather, it’s maybe a deeper drilling into his musical profile; particularly on the rock side, these aren’t the song choices with implicit virality sewn into their DNA, instead more indicative of an artist looking to extend his roots and try some things for himself. How much that stands on its own on a covers album tied to such a rigid concept is a further discussion in itself, though there’s enough charisma on display to swerve that for now and appreciate the fun. It’s flimsy, sure, but it gets to where it wants to with a lot of ease.
For fans of: State Champs, Jarrod Alonge, Luke Bryan
‘Southern Charm’ by Alex Melton is released on 27th January on Pure Noise Records.
Words by Luke Nuttall