Monday, May 31, 2010

James Wesley, "Real"

James Wesley is back after barely missing the Top 40 with his previous single, "Jackson Hole." His new single, "Real" begins with some surprisingly striking lyrics. I've never before heard a country song slamming all reality shows from The Bachelor to Survivor to The Real Housewives of [Insert name of city or county here]. He doesn't mention any of the shows by name, but lines such as "a pretty girl cries 'cause she don't get a rose" and "where I come from housewives don't act like that," make it obvious what the song is referring to.

The song's treatment of reality shows almost made me want to give it a positive review, since I have nothing but contempt for such shows. Indeed, they are a far cry from what real life is really like. How unfortunate it is, then, that the song begins to weaken as the verses progress! James goes on to mention several life-altering experiences such as war and death, as well as the trials related to the farming industry. He attempts to tie all of these references together by saying "I call that real." Is that all the song is trying to say? Is it only saying that "Reality shows aren't real, but farming catastrophes are"? It almost sounds like James doesn't quite know what he's trying to say, making "Real" seem like an unfinished product.

It's okay for a country song to just be fun, but this song isn't fun. Not every country song has to have some kind of message, but if a song hammers away at emotional hot-buttons, then there needs to be a reason for it. Such references should play a role in helping the song to make its point, and that's exactly what's missing from "Real."

Believe me, I wanted to like this song, but I didn't. It was an innovative concept that was not fully developed. The song sounds like it's trying to make a profound statement, but it ends up being a melodramatic disappointment.

(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10)

To hear this song, click the "Cool New Music" link under the "More Cool Sites" link list.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Lady Antebellum, "Our Kind of Love"

I have never denied the fact that Lady Antebellum is a talented group. The problem I had with them was that they, with their usually pop-heavy music, seemed to treat country music as little more than a marketing label. Their music was always heavy on percussion and electric guitars, lacking a true country identity. Their previous hit, "American Honey," had a nice fiddle, but the distracting drumbeat ruined it.

With that it mind, it sure was refreshing to hear that hot fierce fiddle ripping through the chorus of Lady A's current single, "Our Kind of Love." Now, don't get your hopes up, traditionalists - they're not hearkening back to the days of Conway and Loretta. However, this song does have a distinct feeling of being country - contemporary country, that is. The obligatory guitar riffs are still included, but that's not enough to stop this from being Lady A's best-produced single so far.

The song's lyrics are not always particularly engaging, though we've definitely heard worse. The song attempts to capture the enamored feeling one has when in love. It does so through some similes and metaphors ("You wear a smile like a summer sky"... "I swear your heart is a free bird") The lyrics include a few not-so-clever lines. "Just living in the moment"... "You somehow always know just what to say" - I'm pretty sure we've heard those before. But it seems like the main focus of the single is the infectious melody. Though there are a few weak points in the lyrics, the song still manages to create the romantic feeling that it aims for.
This is not Charles and Hillary's strongest vocal performance, but it's always fun to hear them duet. Unlike on many duets, which often sound like two separate singles squished into one, Charles and Hillary always sound like they are singing to each other, and not just to an audience, which is what really makes the performance come to life.
This single is far from perfect, but it's expertly produced, and it sure is fun. I wish I could give it credit for more, but I can't.

(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10)

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Mulch Brothers, "Everybody Loves Summertime"/ Todd O'Neill, "Somethin' with Some Attitude"

We now go back to the summer song file. Let's talk about two more songs that are vying for a spot on your beach party playlist. I'm going to save time by discussing two of them in one review. Both songs are from new artists, and both songs miss the mark completely.

"Everybody Loves Summertime" - Oh, that's genius. When I read the title of the Mulch Brothers debut single, my first thought was, "Oh great, Captain Obvious got a record deal." The song's chorus has an infectious melody, but the production is average. It has a few steel guitar fills and some bold and energetic piano playing, but the country elements are sadly overwhelmed by rock elements. Not surprisingly, the lyrics are pure schlock, gravitating toward pointless references to bikinis, shorts, flip flops, and all that hot summery stuff. Cold beer and margaritas also get a shout-out.

But if you thought "Everybody Loves Summertime" was bad, just wait, because the songs get much worse. Todd O'Neill's current single opens with a catchy acoustic guitar intro, but then the percussion and the rock and roll guitars kick in, and the country flavor quickly evaporates. This party song begins with images of Bud Lights and provocatively-dressed women. He then declares that "This band sucks" - Are you even allowed to say that something "sucks" on country radio? He screams "I don't wanna hear another stupid love song/ About how somebody got done wrong." Sorry, pal, but those kinds of songs are the cornerstones of country music. If you don't like love songs, or songs about people getting done wrong, then stop pretending to be country and shoot for the pop Top 40. Todd says that we "gotta play somethin' with some attitude," and he does indeed seem to have a bit of an attitude. He comes across as a disdainfully proud Southern rocker with no real respect for country music's past. That's not the kind of artist I want to hear on country radio. Todd says "I need to feel a beat that makes we wanna bang my head," and this song sure does make we want to bang my head - against a wall. I now need a Dolly Parton fix in the worst way.

Both of these songs exemplify much of what is wrong with today's country music. There was a time when country music was characterized by deep emotion, storytelling, and lyrical messages, which was what elevated it above other genres of music. But now, country relies on catchy hooks, thumping beats, and fancy production. It's like bubblegum pop with a steel guitar thrown in. If anybody needs me, I will be out in the barn bemoaning the pitiful state of current country music.


(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10)

Monday, May 24, 2010

Jennette McCurdy, "Not That Far Away"

You might not recognize this girl, but your teenage daughter probably does. This 17-year-old starlet first gained a teen fan base as one of the stars of Nickelodeon's popular sitcom iCarly. She recently got a record deal, and now she has gone country. Jennette offered her fans a rare treat when she allowed them the opportunity to vote for the song that they wanted to be her debut single. Fans were given several song samples to choose from, and "Not That Far Away" was the song they picked. It officially hits radio today.
The song is about a girl who travels from California to Nashville to pursue her dream of country stardom. As the chorus kicks in, she promises to call her mama every night, and assures her that she is "not that far away." The lyrics include several poetic lines such as "I'm just tryin' to write the story of my life." One of the song's advantages is that it is age-appropriate. Many aspiring teen country stars (such as Katie Armiger) have made the mistake of singing songs that are better suited to adult artists, which has hindered their success. But Jennette avoids making that mistake. Instead, the song sounds like a realistic depiction of where she is in her life and career.

The song has slick and polished pop-country production, and it is capably sung. Jennette does seem to have some talent, but her debut single shows a notable weakness in that sounds a little bit like a Carrie Underwood knockoff. That makes comparisons between Jennette and Carrie inevitable, which exposes Jennette's relative lack of vocal control and power. If Jennette wants to establish her own identity as an artist, her producers need to help her develop a style of her own. We already have a Carrie Underwood, and she does a fine job of filling her role, so there's really no need for a new one. Being a new artist, Jennette needs to stand out among her radio peers if she is to make a name for herself in country music. She can't do that by copying Carrie. That's especially important if she wants to be taken seriously as a performer, despite being a teenager and an actress-turned-singer.

Jennette's debut single shows evidence of untapped potential. With reliable guidance, she just might have what it takes to join the club of platinum blonde country hitmakers.

(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10)

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Billy Currington, "Pretty Good at Drinkin' Beer"

Billy Currinton's new single, the first from his as-yet-untitled fourth album, kicks off with a fun and bouncy steel guitar intro. It's enough to make you think, "Oh boy! This song is going to be a neotraditional rollicking good time!" But then Billy opens his mouth, and disappointment sets in as the song's terribly tepid lyrics come pouring out.

Once you've read this song's title, you've heard it all. The song's narrator mentions a variety of physically demanding or mentally challenging occupations, and says that he likely would not be able to perform such tasks ("I wasn't born for diggin' deep holes/ I'm not made for pavin' long roads/ I ain't cut out to climb high line poles") He then concludes, "But I'm pretty good at drinkin' beer." The song is entirely composed of one man's declaration that drinking beer is all he's good for.

I'm not saying that every country song needs to have groundbreaking lyrics. Some songs are meant to be just plain fun, and there's definitely nothing wrong with that. But the songwriters definitely could have tried harder, and done better than this. Besides being pointless, the lyrics describe this individual in a way that makes it hard to have any respect for him.

In spite of the lyrical weaknesses, the song's production is noteworthy. It has a straight country sound with a catchy steel guitar hook. Billy also adds some appeal to the song with a pleasantly laid-back vocal delivery that goes well with the song's theme.

But while the song does have an enjoyable sound, the bad lyrics still draw the most attention. Overall, this is a disappointing single that echoes Billy's similarly frivolous hit, "People Are Crazy." Sure, he's pretty good at drinkin' beer, but lately he's been pretty bad at picking out his songs.

(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Chelsea Field, "Things I Should've Said"

Meet Chelsea Field, the first signee from a new label called Moxy Records. (By coincidence, she and I both happen to share names with film stars) Does Chelsea have the vocal chops to match her good looks?
She most certainly does. Her vocal delivery on "Things I Should've Said" is full of spunk and power, and it even gets slightly overwhelming at times. Still, I have to give her credit for fully throwing herself into her performance instead of coasting along with the melody and production.
To Chelsea's credit, her debut single boasts a strong set of lyrics. The song is about a woman who regrets using hurtful words with her lover. It contains a clever hook ("The things I should've said keep playin' in my head like a radio") and a powerful line at the end of the chorus ("I think I probably told you everything/ Except for the things I should've said"). Lines in the verses such as "Baby I'm sorry/ I don't want to fight" and "I'm just bein' stubborn/ And I don't need to be" are not particularly poetic, but they are straightforward and honest, and the song still makes its point.
On the down side, the lyrics are weighed down by cluttered production. The fiddles and banjos sound great, but the drumming is overdone, and the loud guitar riffs are out of character with the song's lyrics. Even though the song has decent lyrics, the song's poor production reduces it to the same level as all the rest of the over-polished pop-country that we hear on the radio.
However, this single still has positive traits that should not be overlooked, and Chelsea still has potential to be a great artist. She is a diamond in the rough - all she needs is a little bit of polishing.
(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10)

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Joey + Rory, "That's Important to Me"

NOTE:  "That's Important to Me" was originally slated to be the album's first single, but it now appears that "This Song's For You" will be released instead.  This review was written prior to, and does not reflect the change.

Joey Martin Feek of the husband-and-wife duo Joey + Rory will tell you herself how the idea for this song came about. "So one day we just literally made a list of all the things that were important to me growing up, what I wanted to help instill in our girls, and this is what came out." The end result is one of the best and most beautiful country songs of 2010.

"That's Important to Me" is the first single from Joey + Rory's upcoming second album, aptly titled Album #2, set for a June release. Part of the song describes simple little pleasures of life that many take for granted (From "Openin' the windows and lettin' in some air" to "Feedin' my family a home-cooked meal"). As the verses progresses, the song focuses on important values ("Tellin' the truth and bein' real"), and on the commitment in Joey and Rory's relationship as a married couple. ("Always havin' you to hold/ Bein' beside you when we're growin' old") They look toward the future as the song closes with "Believin' our dreams will take us somewhere/ Still bein' ourselves if we ever get there." Thus, instead of sounding like a mess of cliches, the song comes off as an open and honest statement of who Joey and Rory are as people.

One of the important things Joey mentions is "keepin' it country on the radio," and Joey + Rory are definitely keepin' it country with this single. There are no wild bass lines, no fiery electic guitar solos; there aren't even any drums. The song is primarily backed with Rory's acoustic guitar, with the occasional piano notes, and the soft twang of a steel guitar. A dobro is also included, giving the song some bluegrass feel. Joey doesn't try to blow us away with her vocals. Instead of screeching at the top of her lungs, she sings in a soft, sweet, and understated manner that could hardly be more lovely to listen to. The instrumentation combined with the vocal delivery give the song one of its most notable traits - elegant simplicity. Thus, with strong lyrics, pleasing instrumentation, and excellent vocals, Joey + Rory have turned in one of the best performances of their career.

After taking third place on Season 1 of CMT's Can You Duet, Joey + Rory have received little support from country radio. Their first single, "Cheater, Cheater" clocked in at a rather un-impressive #30, and their two susequent radio offerings failed to chart. It's uncertain if "That's Important to Me" will receive more spins than its predecessors. But this is one song that the programming directors would do well to pay attention to, since it just might be one of country radio's most memorable moments.

(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10)
HEAR IT: (Live acoustic version)

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Trace Adkins, "This Ain't No Love Song"

Trace Adkins is a bit of a wild card. Sometimes his songs do well on the charts; sometimes they do not. Oftentimes they are very good, but sometimes they are not. His latest single was the least successful single of his career, charting at a faint #49. Besides that, "Ala-Freakin'-Bama" was freakin' awful. Not surprisingly, that song was tossed out by his record label, and it will not appear on his upcoming album Cowboy's Back In Town. The album's "new" first single, "This Ain't No Love Song," could be heard as Trace's plea for forgiveness.

Basically, "This Ain't No Love song" is about being in denial. The man in the song is attempting to ward off a woman who is interested in him, refusing to admit that he is beginning to have feelings for her. He claims that his heart "didn't skip a beat" when he met her, and "the earth didn't move" when she spoke his name. But as the second verse rolls around, he sounds like he's getting tongue-tied. He says "I couldn't sleep last night, but you weren't on my mind." As the song progresses, it becomes clear that he is indeed falling for this woman.

The song's strongest lyrics are in the verses, but the chorus is a bit weaker. Trace claims "This ain't no love song/ I just felt like getting my guitar on and singing a tune." Those lines are a bit vague and - dare I use the word? - rather boring. Still, the song makes its point, and the story is told.

The song's mid-tempo production is a bit generic, but Trace vocals are always up to par, as he is one of the most talented men in country music. Regardless of the lyrics and production, his performance is never a disappointment, and this performace meets his previous standards.

"This Ain't No Love Song" has a few dull parts, but it was still a clever concept, and it is still an enjoyable listen. It may not be Trace's strongest song, but it's good enough that we can forgive him for "Ala-Freakin'-Bama."

(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10)

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Montgomery Gentry, "While You're Still Young"

"Life is too short to put if off anymore/ You gotta live it before it's too late." That is a truth universally acknowledged, especially in the world of country music. We have heard numerous country songs on that very topic - Jo Dee Messina's "Was That My Life," Kenny Chesney's "Don't Blink," and Darius Rucker's "History In the Making," just to name a few examples. We now have another song to throw into the category - Montgomery Gentry's new single "While You're Still Young," from their upcoming seventh album Freedom.

At first, this song sounds like your average country-rock throwaway. We hear repetitive guitar licks throughout the verses, with a few distracting pedal steel fills added to make it sound like country, and a fiery guitar solo to keep it from sounding too country. Unfortunately, the song's melody is somewhat ill-suited to Troy and Eddie's voices, and they fall short of pulling it off.

Listen more closely to the song's lyrics, and you will realize that this song is your average country-rock throwaway. As noted before, there is a long list of country songs about the shortness of life, but "While You're Still Young" fails to measure up with the rest of them. Most songs of this type encourage us to savor the special moments in life, and not to take anything for granted. But the message in this song is "Do something crazy and dumb while you're still young." That may go well with Montgomery Gentry's party-animal image, but it's not the best message for this type of song to have. Depending on what "crazy and dumb" things a person does, such things could have lasting consequences on a person's life. Do you really want to ruin your life "while you're still young?" In that case, one would be wasting his youth instead of getting the most out of it.

The song goes a step beyond that and urges young adults to "Go on and tie the knot/ Start a new life/ Take turns getting up when the baby cries." Getting married and having kids is not necessary something to do while one is very young. Instead of letting someone get the most out of his youth, it only forces him to grow up faster. Furthermore, not everyone is prepared to meet the demands of marriage while still young. With this in mind, we can see that this song encourages young ones to make choices that may prove unwise.

I can see that the songwriters attempted to write an inspirational song about living life to the fullest, but "While You're Still Young" has serious flaws. The biggest flaw is that it fails to paint a realistic picture of life in the real world.

(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Keith Urban, "I'm In"

These days, Music Row record companies seem far too apt to hand a record deal to any "aw shucks" pretty boy who can fake a Southern drawl. But Keith Urban was one guy who had me thoroughly impressed with his vocal talent from the first time I heard him. His talent has been rewarded with armloads of industry awards, platinum albums, and a string of number-one hits. He has already scored four substantial hit singles from his current album Defying Gravity. With a remake of the Radney Foster song "I'm In," Keith now attempts to score a fifth.

Keith is not the first artist to cover this song. Radney Foster's original version failed to chart, but the Kinleys cracked the Top 40 with their cover version in 2000. But I can't see what makes this song worth covering in the first place. The songwriting is slightly amateurish, especially for a respected artist like Radney Foster (No, I'm not related to him - at least I don't think I am). The lyrics contain annoying little gaffes such as stressing the wrong syllable in "contract" and then clumsily rhyming it with "that." (Love doesn't come with a con-tract/You give me this; I give you that) The song attempts to convey the feelings of one who has difficult expressing himself in words, but it's a chemical mixture that fails to ignite.

The song's shallow production sounds very much the same as just about every other song Keith has released - heavy on percussion and even heavier on wild electric guitar riffs. Keith is an accomplished guitar player, and he never passes up a chance to show off. But how ever did this kind of music end up on country radio? Is it because there's a banjo thrown in? This does not come close to the instrumental richness that the best country songs possess. I know that Keith is an artist who is trying to express himself, but when I tune in to a country music station, I want to hear country music. This is not it.

Keith's vocal performance is the main thing that saves this song from being a total washout. He sings in a way that is energetic and infectious, following the pattern set by Radney Foster as well as the Kinleys. His strong vocals offer a glimmer of hope for an otherwise tepid track.

Keith's take on "I'm In" will satisfy some of his fans, and it will likely perform well on radio, but it seems that was all Keith was aiming for, when he is capable of so much more. If he was trying to create something genuinely interesting and truly memorable, then this song would be a dismal failure. Sorry, Keith, but I'm out.
(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Jewel, "Satisfied"

I have nothing but respect for this amazing singer and songwriter. She initially made a name for herself in pop and adult contemporary music, but her songs have always been influenced by country music. In 2008, she released her first full-fledged country album, Perfectly Clear. I, for one, was ready to welcome her to the country genre with open arms. The first single, "Stronger Woman," charted at a respectable #13, but Jewel has since been absent from the country Top 20. Now she is back with her second country album, Sweet and Wild, set for a June 8 release. After the first single, "Stay Here Forever," stalled at #34, Jewel takes another shot at the country charts with the follow-up called "Satisfied."

That ever-familiar voice sounds lovely as ever on this new single. She sings in a soft and sweet whisper, and then raises her voice to belt out the chorus. Throughout the song, she oozes emotion in a truly showstopping performance.

The song, as described by Jewel herself in her video blog, is about "letting somebody know you love them while you can." One of the song's strongest traits is the fact that it has a message. That message is 'Don't hide the love you feel for someone, because if you do, you will come to regret it.' The point is emphasized by a series of questions in the chorus: So did you say it?/ Did you mean it?/ Did you lay it on the line?/... Cause if you did, hon/ Then you've loved some/ And that feeling inside/ That's called satisfied." The song emphasizes the importance of not letting day-to-day activities get in the way of showing love for that special someone. "Satisfied" is another classic example of the outstanding songwriting that Jewel has received high praise for throughout her career.

The song's main weaknesses are in the production. Much of Jewel's previous country material had even more country flavor than that of artists who had always been considered country. But the production of "Satisfied" leans more toward pop - polished pop, as opposed to the soft acoustic-based pop that Jewel was previously known for. Token steel guitar fills are the main feature that gives the song country credibility. That's not enough to make a distinction between Jewel's country music and her pop music.

But that doesn't stop "Satisfied" from being a strong performance. It's strengths outweigh its weaknesses. It was definitely enough to leave me more than satisfied.

(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10)

Monday, May 10, 2010

LoCash Cowboys, "Here Comes Summer"

Ah... summer! As it draws ever nearer, there are so many things to look forward to. The weather gets warmer. The kids get a break from school. You might even take a vacation with your family. But there are some things about summer that we aren't so excited about. Television becomes saturated with boring reruns. And country radio stations are barraged with an endless flood of summer-themed songs with lyrics that are about as poetic as a phone book. When it comes to releasing bland summer tunes, the LoCash Cowboys are a couple of this year's primary offenders.

This entire song sounds like it was written by a perverted teenage idiot. All these boys do is rattle off a list of things that are associated with summertime. It starts with "B-b-b-barefoot beach blonde walking on white sand, boogie board, Good Lord, girls flirtin' workin' on a good tan," and it's all downhill from there. The chorus screams "Here comes summer/ Ain't nothin' hotter/ Three months of nothin' but women and water." What on God's green earth is this song trying to say? Is it telling any kind of story? Does it have a message of any kind? Is it supposed to stir my emotions? No, no, and no. I can't see what the point is to these pathetic lyrics. It only sounds like an excuse to shoot a music video with a bunch of half-naked bikini babes (which is exactly what they did).

The vocals only run the song further into the ground. The obnoxiously over-exaggerated fake Southern drawl is downright painful to listen to. The only reason I suffered through the entire song was because I was writing a review of it. One listen left me thoroughly annoyed, not to mention three and a half minutes closer to the grave.

Clearly, the LoCash Cowboys are trying to capitalize on the popularity that summer songs often enjoy during this time of year. But in so doing, they have entirely sacrificed artistry and good taste. The end result is one of the most idiotic country songs of 2010. Here comes summer - there goes creativity.

(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10)

Kevin Fowler, "Pound Sign (#?*!)"

Kevin Fowler has been active in country music for a whole decade now, and he has yet to make a splash at radio. He caught my attention with his 2008 release "Best Mistake I Ever Made," but he has repeatedly failed to crack the Top 40. His latest single, "Pound Sign," shows some signs of desperation.

The song pokes fun at certain choice words that some may be tempted to use, but avoid for fear that their may be "little ears" around. The tag line spelled out is "I feel like pound sign, question mark, star, exclamation point," referring to censoring one's unsavory speech. Is the song relatable? It definitely is. We all have days when we feel like "#?*!" I will admit that the song did tickle my funny bone a bit, especially at the end when he throws in "percentage sign, 'at' symbol, backslash, squiggle thing." But beyond that, the song doesn't have much of a punchline. All of the song's substance is contained in one silly line in the chorus. If an song is really going to give me a good laugh, it needs to have witty lines included throughout the verses. But in "Pound Sign," the verses merely describe being tired and needing a shower in a matter-of-fact way that it not clever or funny.
The song's production is decent, employing the usual line-up of country-rock instruments, but it is not outstanding enough to elevate such an unimpressive set of lyrics. Kevin does manage to breathe some life into the song through his vocals. He puts personality into the lyrics with a delivery that is playful and energetic. Nevertheless, the song still has great shortcomings.
Kevin may have potential, but he has not yet fully lived up to it. He may be trying to give us something humorous, but it sounds more like a bid for attention. With such weak lyrics, "Pound Sign (#?*!)" may very well be described as #?*!
(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10)

Friday, May 7, 2010

Alan Jackson, "Hard Hat and a Hammer"

If you bought Alan Jackson's new album Freight Train, no doubt the first thing you heard when you popped it in the player was the infectious fiddle kickoff of the opening track and current single "Hard Hat and a Hammer."

The song's title says it all. It is a song that extols the virtues of the common working man, proudly declaring that "There's nothing wrong with a hard hat and a hammer." Unfortunately, this song has a hard time standing out among so many similarly-themed songs, both in Alan's personal collection of tunes, and in the country genre as a whole. Granted, Alan came from a working-class family, and he is singing about something he truly believes in, but that may not be obvious to someone who does not know about Alan's background.

But even though the song's theme is well-worn territory, the lyrics are fairly decent. Alan metaphorically describes the working man as "the kind of glue that keeps this world together." Thus, he adds a poetic touch, but does so in a way that doesn't sound cheesy. One of the song's positive traits is that it does not idolize the working class - it merely expresses appreciation for the role they play in society. It is not uncommon for such a song to assume an air of superiority, but this is one pitfall that Alan wisely avoids.
The song is further elevated by the excellent production that has characterized much of Alan's music. Any country fan can enjoy the sound of that fiddle player sawing away on those strings, combined with the twang of the steel guitar. This is one of the most genuinely country sounding songs we have heard this year, and that is just what we would expect from Alan Jackson.

When I hear that distinctive fiddle intro coming out of my radio, I will likely be turning up the volume. Alan might not be breaking new ground here, but there's nothing wrong with "Hard Hat and a Hammer."

(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10)

The JaneDear Girls, "Wildflower"

Here comes another all-girl act out to stop country music from being a boys' club. The new Warner signees, a duo composed of Susie Brown and Danielle Leverett, have just released their debut single to country radio. If you read the bio on their official website, it makes them sound like the greatest thing since sliced bread, describing them as "one of the most exciting new acts in the world of country music." It's tough enough for the solo gals to hold their own on country radio, but the female duos and groups have it even harder. No doubt, we're all wondering if the JaneDear girls have what it takes to stand up to the competition.
The lyrical theme of there debut single is one that we have heard all too much of - that of being oh-so-country! These lyrics are a disappointment on their own. The second verse describes mundane activites such as borrowing your sister's cotton dress, and painting your nails, which does not support the song's theme at all. In addition, "Wildflower" possesses a terrible flaw that is increasingly common to many songs of this type - a lack of connection between the song's lyrics and the song's production. The lyrics are all about being country, but the image is drowned out by rock and roll guitar riffs, and an obnoxious bass-heavy beat. While the fiddle solo does make the song a little more interesting, it still takes a backseat to the rock and roll elements. While the lyrics are screaming "I'm so country," the instruments are screaming "I'm so not country!" If Justin Moore and Jason Aldean were chicks, this is exactly what they would sound like. But I'm not a total country purist. I would compare pop and rock influence to butter on bread. When used in small and tasteful amounts, it can enhance flavor, and add to the overall appeal. But that doesn't mean you want to gulp down a big, fat wad of it! Besides, it's only logical that if an artist claims in song to be purely country, then the song's instrumentation should support that claim.

The JaneDear Girls' career is off to a poor start with this over-polished and over-produced single (Thanks a lot, producer John Rich). Despite the song's theme, it sounds like anything but country. And despite the song's title, there is simple nothing "wild," outstanding, or exciting about it. Instead of crying out "Hey, I'm a wildflower," maybe they sound sing "Hey, I'm a pansy planted in a neat little flower bed!"

(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10)