By Roger Sharman

Recently, young Central Iowan artist Royce Jones released his sophomore album, ‘One last Two Step’. It’s a mixture of original songs and covers. For One Last Two Step, Royce has been able to gather a star-studded cast of studio musicians, producers and engineers from Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and Nashville, Tennessee as well as central Iowa.

Of the record Royce has said, “It’s been a pretty humbling experience to see what I’ve got to see while making this record. Getting to watch how these industry professionals create these songs and recordings, along with all the history within their stories and resumes, really reminds me of how lucky I am just to be a part of it all. When you get a guy like Billy Lawson working on your record, you never know who’ll stop in his historical ‘Wishbone Studios’. He’ll casually bring in somebody like Clayton Ivey from Rick Hall’s ‘Fame Gang’ to play keyboards and B3, Mike McGuire from the country group Shenandoah to sing harmonies, legendary songwriter Earl ‘Peanutt’ Montgomery (73 George Jones cuts) will stop in, or he might even get a phone call from Sammy Kershaw while he’s working on a song! There’s a long list that would take a whole page to cover all the hands that went into building this record, and it’s on the back of every copy that’s sold. But the most interesting part to me is all the history and stories behind these people. I’ve always loved history and facts about music, and for me this was better than any music school or education you could ever get.”

Royce started out life in a cover band trio called Lincoln Rock House, where he played lead guitar and sang, and it quickly became evident that he wanted to start a solo career. Indeed, back in early 2016, Royce played his first live solo show as support for as Eric Paslay, and ever since then, there’s been no looking back. Overall, I’d say ‘One Last Two Step’ has a more traditional, old time country feel to it than his debut album ‘Truckstop Souvenirs’ that was released back in 2018.

The title track kicks off the album and you get that traditional hardcore Honky Tonk sound straight off the bat, which complements Royce’s silky tones beautifully. The second track on the album is an old country favourite, it’s the old Johnny Rodriguez song ‘That’s the Way Love Goes’, written by Lefty Frizzell. and Sanger D. Shafer. Interestingly enough, Shafer drove to Dallas Fraser‘s cabin in the fall of 70s, solely for the purpose of writing songs, and Shafer had a melody in his head and the first verse of the song. Shafer ran it by Frizzell, who’s first comment on the song was “that’s the way love goes”. So that’s the story of the song title. Incidentally, in that same writing session, Frizzell and Shafer also penned another all-time classic song, ‘I Never Go Around Mirrors’.

Anyway, back to ‘That’s the Way Love Goes’….one night in late 1973 at Nashville’s Continental Hotel, Johnny Rodriguez was involved in a guitar poll, in which songwriters would gather around in a circle pass a guitar around, and each writer would sing the new songs they had written. Along with Rodriguez, the attendees included Dallas Fraser, Merle Haggard, and his manager Louis Talley, and also Shaffer and Frizzell. The session was almost at an end, and everyone started getting ready to go home when Lefty said he wanted to play one more song. That song was ‘That’s the Way Love Goes’. As soon as Merle Haggard heard that song, he wanted it for himself. However, he’d just finished an album and didn’t have any more studio time scheduled. The very next day, Schafer went to the studio where Rodriguez was recording, and he cut it straight away, and that gave Rodriguez his third consecutive number one hit on February 16th 1974. Merle recorded ‘That’s the Way Love Goes’ four or five times over the years before he finally recorded a version that he liked, he tried different line-ups, tempos, and arrangements. However, it didn’t come together satisfactorily for him until he teamed up with producer Ray Baker. Royce certainly does the song justice even though it would be unfair to compare to the previous versions, purely and simply because Royce is at such an early stage of his career.

A Fixture at the Greenwood Lounge’ is up next, which is a good old-fashioned Waltz which Johns manages to make sound like an old recording. I particularly enjoyed the accordion and keyboards in this track. Next up is the old George Jones classic ‘What My Woman Can’t Do’. Now, in my opinion, if you’re going to cover George Jones, then you need to have big cojones, purely and simply because you’re covering one of the greatest voices ever to grace this earth. In my opinion, John’s makes a fine fist of it. The smoothness of this young man’s voice really comes to the fore in ‘Old Gringo’, and as you can get from the title, it’s got a Mexican feel to it. The much covered, timeless classic, ‘Good Hearted Woman’, written and recorded by Waylon Jennings, along with Willie Nelson, and I’m sure this version will please fans of both of those legends. Whilst not having the rawness of the original, this version is a lot more polished, and showcases Royce’s, rich and smooth country vocal.

Throughout the album, I’ve been trying to work out who his voice reminds me of – then it struck me at the beginning of ‘The Great Escape’, where Royce sounds just like Mo Pitney, which is certainly not a bad thing. This is probably my favourite track of the originals on the album, it’s just as smooth as the proverbial baby’s bottom.

The eighth track on the album is a cover of, perhaps the most famous country song that’s ever been written, the Hank Williams classic ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”. Royce has brought this song into the 21st century and stamped his mark on the song by giving it a much more bluesy feel, as is highlighted by the guitar solo. Once more, I’m getting that Mo Pitney feel to the vocals on ‘Dance on Johnny’ which picks up the tempo a little. It’s got a more modern feel to it than most of the other tracks on the album and a sunnier sound. It’s got this real familiar feel to it even though it’s a Royce original!  It’s not a song about John Wayne, but of an old Iowan whose kind of a legend in Iowa, John Wayne Kirsch, a man known for his flamboyant dress sense and his fancy footwork on the dancefloor. Following on from that, we’re on one of the most covered songs of all-time, popularised by Jimmie Davis and Charles Mitchell in 1939, a song that’s been covered by so many artists that it’s virtually lost its country music identity, made famous by the Carter Family, ‘You Are My Sunshine’. It’s a song so famous the I doubt there’s anyone on this planet that doesn’t know it. Mr Johns does a very good job of putting his own mark on it. To finish things off suitably there is an original track called ‘Homebody’, which reminds me of Jon Wolfe from the get go – it’s got that laid-back country feel to it. Another name that springs to mind is Mark Powell.

All in all, this is a solid second album, if I were to be overly critical it’s got maybe one or two covers too many for my liking. However, I don’t like to be critical just for the sake of it and it’s a beautifully crafted and written record from an undoubtedly talented young man. In my opinion, this stands up favourably against anything coming out of Nashville right now.  I’ll be keeping a close eye on this young man’s career, as there’s no doubt in my mind that he deserves some success in this most cutthroat of businesses.

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