It should come as no surprise that Leesburg country singer/songwriter Stephen Harrell would invoke the hallowed name of George Strait on the very first song (“My Kinda Girl”) of his debut album, “Times Like These.”
Harrell’s rich baritone owes its sound to the godfather of modern country music, with a nod or two to Dwight Yoakam and even Harrell’s homeboy, red-hot young country star Luke Bryan.
And while his debut may not be as polished as the current music of his forbears, there’s plenty on “Times” to mark him as a true up-and-comer in a region that has become something of a pipeline to Nashville.
Harrell, a CPA, wrote most of the 10 songs on his coming-out with fellow area C&W hopeful Cole Taylor, and the tunes are packed with the images that abound on country radio: pickup trucks, red-hot country girls, fields of crops and sweet tea, lots of sweet tea.
But Harrell gets beyond the formula to the heart of his subject matter on songs like “Love Her Like a Field,” “I Wouldn’t Be Me,” “Girls From Georgia” and “Something Like This,” the best of the collection.
Harrell said he thought it would be “cool” to compare love to the ever-changing movement of crops in a field for “Love Her Like a Field,” and he invoked memories of his grandfather and grandmother’s love for “Something Like This,” which includes the memorable line “On a frontporch swing like grandma and grandpa.”
On “One,” Harrell sings, “People say our chance is one in a million, but it only takes one,” and he gives a nod to his hometown in the same song when he notes, “The Flood of ‘94 that wiped out my hometown started with one drop.”
In “I Wouldn’t Be Me,” one of four songs on the album that mentions sweet tea, Harrell sings, “You ain’t got sugar, you can’t make sweet tea, and without you baby I wouldn’t be me,” and the singer’s unique proposal in “Living on Nothing But Love,” includes the line, “I want to give you my heart and my last name.”
There’s plenty for country afficianados to like on “Times Like These,” a strong first effort for the best-singing CPA in at least Southwest Georgia. Whether he chooses now to follow the path blazed by the likes of Bryan or red-hot Albany songwriters Dallas Davidson and Ray Stephenson is a decision that’s on his horizon.
— Carlton Fletcher