It is a spirited competition among country and Americana songwriters right now to pen the most devastating heartbreak songs possible in a race to to see who can rip your heart straight out of your chest like that guy in the Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom movie and stop on it the hardest. Country fans are clamoring for this type of stuff like masochists, while even the mainstream of country music has gotten in on the game.
Leave it to Kentucky duo Sunday Best to buck this trend and attempt to swim upstream by embracing the positivity of life and the righting of the mind, all while featuring a piece of playable furniture as one of the primary instruments. It’s a daunting task, but one they accomplish on their new album Feel Good Country.
Friends since elementary school, singer and guitar player Nicholas Jamerson and cajón player Kris Bentley were a unique but spirited and well-received duo from Kentucky’s musical heartland when the debuted nearly a dozen years ago. In 2018, they officially called it quits, and Nicholas Jameson focused primarily on his solo career. Jamerson still has a solo project coming out later this year (Peace Mountain 5-19), but at some point during the pandemic, Sundy Best caught a second wind and here we are.
The songwriting and melody composition of Nick Jamerson and Kris Bentley is the reason you come to sup at the table of Sundy Best, and why you stick around and ask for seconds. In 2023, there aren’t supposed to be unclaimed melodies as classic and fetching as the ones found in the chorus of “Bad Imagination” and “I Won’t Be Bothered” just laying around. But Jameson nabbed them, and put them to good use.
It’s the messages though that may resonate with some audience members the most. Townes Van Zandt once said that there are two types of music: the blues and “Zippity Doo Dah.” This album isn’t exactly the latter, and it’s not patronizing in its positivity either. It’s more about re-framing your perspective, which the key to most happiness is all about.
“I Won’t Be Bothered” is a song about not allowing little things or negative people to bring you down. “Walk by Faith” is about trusting yourself, trusting the cosmos, and trusting the process of life. Self-reflection is critical to this process, and this is what is broached in possibly the album’s best cut called “Bad Imagination” co-written by Jamerson with Adam Landry about how it’s often ourselves who most impede our pursuit of happiness.
Feel Good Country doesn’t hang entirely on this positive theme. “Winding Through the Woods” written by Kris Bentley is about returning to your hometown. Sundy Best is best considered a singer/songwriter project with music that is more country than it is anything else. But Sundy Best is also not singularly bound by the country genre. Don’t get flipped out by the opening title track, by the way. It’s just a little audio silliness to set the mood.
This leads us to the cajón. Oh, the cajón. Perfect as a nightstand, a stool for unexpected company, a step for reaching a light bulb, or one of those little tables some weed smokers love to use for their nugs and papers, it’s as versatile as it is convenient. And hey, it dubs as a drum set too. Originating from Peru, the square-sided hand instrument is better suited to the complex rhythms of Latin music, and when implemented in 4/4 time, tends to come across as either a rough generator of hip-hop beats or rehashed Third Eye Blind rhythms.
It’s a polarizing instrument for sure, especially in country, and is probably at least partially responsible for the low ceiling Sundy Best has experienced, despite the quality of the songwriting and the infectiousness of some of the songs. Some just see the instrument as amateurish as opposed to understated. Kris Bentley is a quality cajón player for sure. But then again, so is your second cousin, and that Rasta guy two doors down. It gives off a unique sound profile that some just won’t find appealing in country.
But at this point, the cajón is part of what defines Sundy Best. It’s a party to an approach to center the song as the focus of the music. And along with other tasteful production throughout Feel Good Country, this is successfully accomplished in an album that some will proclaim as one of the best written affairs in 2023 so far, as well as hereafter.
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