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Review: A new voice from Texas rips it but tests the censors

Last Updated Aug 13, 2020 at 12:38 pm EDT

Kolby Cooper, “Vol. 2″ (Combustion Music)

Kolby Cooper could add a fresh voice to country radio — if he could only get past the censors.

The 21-year-old fire breather from the piney woods of East Texas offers relief from the parade of inauthentic junk laden with John Deere tractor references that’s still way too pervasive these days.

He’s edgy, that’s for sure.

On “Vol. 2,” a new five-song EP, Cooper doesn’t take long to start the beat-down. One of the songs, “2 Words,” begins with a 15-second banjo intro and then drops hard into a breakup song as emphatic as any you will ever hear. And the two words it’s built around are enough to take commercial radio off the table.

That’s probably OK with Cooper, who still lives in Bradford, Texas, not far from Palestine, a little farther from Dallas. He has the look of a guy who might pump your gas at one of those East Texas stations that still hasn’t converted to pay-at-the-pump.

His music pulsates with the give-a-care vibe of someone still kicking dust off his jeans.

Cooper’s first EP, 2018’s “Vol. 1,” was followed by his only full-length album, “Good Ones Never Last,” which helped make him a word-of-mouth sensation. His previously best-known breakup song, “It Ain’t Me,” registered more than eight million Spotify streams.

Yes, breakup songs are a specialty. But Cooper, who married early, says neither song is autobiographical.

“I showed the song to my wife,” he says. “And she was like, ’Oh sure, that’s a good song. But are we OK?’”

The answer was yes. And Cooper shows his range and depth on new song “Cannonball,” a ballad about commitment that’s original in its own way.

Versatile and fearless, Cooper is the kind of voice that could redeem country music — if only his songs can be cleared for airplay.

Scott Stroud, The Associated Press