As a country music fan, it’s easy for me to tell when an artist keeps the same producer for multiple albums. George Strait relies on his longtime producing partner Tony Brown to help create his catalog while Carrie Underwood has always stuck with Mark Bright to help her through her early albums. However, when an artist is looking to expand their sound or deliver an album outside their comfort zone they usually turn to one guy, Jay Joyce.
Jay Joyce is responsible for elevating the quality of music, and subsequently the careers, of some of today’s biggest artists including Eric Church, Little Big Town, Thomas Rhett, Keith Urban, Carrie Underwood, Brothers Osborne, and most recently, Brandy Clark. What I enjoy about the tracks and albums he’s produced is that he manages to push his artists outside of their comfort zones. His ability to add subtle nuances to tracks is uncanny and he has an incredible way of pushing the boundaries of country music while remaining true to its roots.
As part of the My Favorite Producers series, here are a few of my favorite tracks that Jay Joyce has produced.
“Sober,” Little Big Town
“Sober” was the fourth single off LBT’s Tornado album, which also happened to be the first album Joyce produced for the group. What made this entire album, and song, special is how he is able to create sounds that work well with each lead singer’s personality. On “Sober,” the love song is filled with sweet and whimsical sounds that perfectly match that of Kimberly Schlapman’s sweet persona. This album gave the group its huge breakthrough it needed to reach the next level of country music stardom.
“Hungover and Hard Up,” Eric Church
Eric Church’s third album, Chief, not only solidified him as one of mainstream country’s outsiders but it also propelled him to the superstar status he now holds. The two albums prior to this album kept him inside the lines that other male artists were painting at the time. When Chief was released, it was during the rise of the “bro-country” movement that is still dominating radio and it was the breath of fresh air country music desperately needed. “Hungover and Hard Up” is just one example of the album’s many stellar tracks that feature a catchy, unique melody paired with thought-provoking lyrics and subtle vocal performances. In a catalog of just five albums, this is clearly a standout from Eric Church.
“Make Me Wanna,” Thomas Rhett
“Make Me Wanna” is one of the handful of tracks Joyce produced for Thomas Rhett’s debut album, It Goes Like This. What makes this track special is the groovy, 70’s vibe Joyce was able to achieve. Using unique sounds and creative blends of standard country music instruments, Jay Joyce is able to create a track that is easy to dance to even for the rhythmic challenged individuals. In an era where ‘bro-country’ consisted of nearly the same melodies, “Make Me Wanna” was an instant standout.
“Dirty Laundry,” Carrie Underwood
When I first heard that Jay Joyce would be joining Mark Bright as a producer on Carrie Underwood’s latest album, Storyteller, I instantly knew the result was going to be stellar. What I didn’t know was just how stellar it would be. “Dirty Laundry” is one of six songs Joyce produced on the album and is easily a standout from the entire album. On this song, Underwood tackles an interesting production that oozes a modern twang and smacks you in the face with the defiant revenge story that features a woman scorned putting her cheating ex on blast for the neighborhood to see. If this isn’t a single, then her record label would fail in releasing Storyteller‘s finest material.
“Greener Pastures,” Brothers Osborne
If you’re looking for something with an old timey twist on modern country music, look no further than the debut album from Brothers Osborne, Pawn Shop. There are a handful of tracks on this album that could be standouts including this insanely clever ode to pot. “Greener Pastures” is a well-written, country ditty that allows the duo’s wicked sense of humor to shine through with pure brilliance. Jay Joyce’s decision to mix traditional country elements with the duo’s southern rock vocals is a theme that can be found throughout the entire album, and he manages to do it extremely well. If they manage to stay with Joyce, Brothers Osborne can be an artistic force to be reckoned with.
“Like a Wrecking Ball,” Eric Church
Country music is filled with thousands upon thousands of love songs, but none are as clever and sensual as “Like a Wrecking Ball” from Eric Church’s The Outsiders album. What makes this song one of Church’s best is the subdued production that creates a romantic, sexual atmosphere. Combine that production with Church’s velvety smooth vocal performance and you’ve got yourself a song that can be considered the country version of “Let’s Get it On.” Jay Joyce’s choice to keep the production simple and subtle shows just how versatile he is as a producer and why he’s one of today’s best.
“Girl Crush,” Little Big Town
“Girl Crush” is not only the best song off Little Big Town’s Pain Killer album, but it is easily the best song in Jay Joyce’s production catalog. A breathtaking story of heartache, jealousy, and longing is the foundation for this stunningly beautiful ballad. With provocatively bold lyrics from Hillary Lindsey, Liz Rose, and Lori McKenna as the song’s base, the decision to keep the production extremely simple turned out to be a brilliant one on Joyce’s part. The simple piano and electric guitar accompaniment helps keep the flawless, emotional vocal performance of Karen Fairchild as the song’s focal point and allows her raw emotion to shine through. In a catalog filled with country, rock, and pop songs, “Girl Crush” will go down as Jay Joyce’s signature creation.