Sunday, October 31, 2010

Album Review: Darius Rucker - Charleston, SC 1966

Please let us observe a moment of silence in recognition of all the gifted voices that have been wasted on substandard material.

It looks like we'll have to keep on waiting to hear all those two-steps and shuffles that Darius Rucker intended to include on his debut country album, but scrapped in favor of saccharine radio filler that was better suited for nonstop airplay.  He dumbed down his music, and radio pounced on it, so why would he alter the formula for his second album?

Opening track "This" revisits the "Bless the Broken Road"/ "Here" formula that Rascal Flatts found success with, and turns it into Lonestar-esque declaration of domestic bliss.  It is every bit as interesting as its simple one-word title would lead one to expect. (Next up is lead single "Come Back Song," which is worth skipping altogether) Charleston revisits the "sippy-cup country" subgenre time and time again.  He gets a little saucy on "Might Get Lucky," which is about a married couple trying to steal time away from their brood so they can... you know, "do it."  It may speak to a few parents, but non-parents will have a hard time appreciating it.

The album's best moments are often the darker ones.  "Whiskey and You" ranks as one of the most striking tracks on the album, in which a brokenhearted narrator constantly returns to two sources of comfort, both of which ultimately prove detrimental.  "I Got Nothin'" and "Things I'd Never Do" add another good dose of heartbreak to what is largely a musical playdate.

While this album features strong vocals from start to finish, the lyrics remain average and unremarkable, with "She's Beautiful" being one of the most depressingly forgettable songs on the album.  If you've heard Darius's first country album Learn to Live, you've heard this one as well.  His latest effort will neither surprise nor disappoint his current fans, nor will it win him any new ones.  In his quest to fit in with what is deemed acceptable to country radio, Darius has successfully created another album that is completely and totally middle-of-the-road.  It's not especially good, nor is it outstandingly bad.  But it sure is disheartening to see such a talented artist playing it so safe.  Can't we aim just a little bit higher than this, and create something that actually leaves a dent in one's memory when it's through playing?

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


Friday, October 29, 2010

Bellamy Brothers, "Back In the Day"

When was the last time the Bellamy Brothers were in regular rotation on country radio?  Nineteen-eighty-something?  This new single from their Anthology, Vol. 2 compilation won't return them to radio playlists.  There would be about a one in a million chance of that.  But it will be enough to provide four minutes of fun for loyal fans of the legendary duo.

No young-gun country rocker could ever pull of the nostalgia theme better than a veteran act with a three-decade career under the belt.  In "Back In the Day," a man reminsces about romantic flings with his woman from back when she was "hotter than a pistol."  The relationship has long since fallen apart, and the narrator has became more and more weighed down with the anxieties of life.  A running undercurrent in the lyrics is a desire for, not just lovemaking and french-kissing, but a return to the carefree life of days gone by.

But there's no need to overthink it.  When the instrumental arrangment sounds this cool, you could probably get away with singing the phone book.  As "Back In the Day" begins, the production does sound slightly dated (refer back to the song title if you find that surprising).  But it gradually builds until it includes the sounds of one hammering away on a honky-tonk piano.  We then hear a few cheeky-sounding organ chords, followed by a jazzy guitar solo.  Catchy, catchy, catchy!

Granted, "Back In the Day" is by no means a reincarnation of the Bellamy Brother's best-known classics.  But it is enough to prove that, like good ol' George Jones, David and Howard Bellamy don't need nobody's old rockin' chair.  They sound completely rejuvinated!  A walk down memory lane has never been so much fun.

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

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Album Review: Taylor Swift - Speak Now

The latest taboid rumor to surface about the current country radio darling is that she is in a relationship with movie star Jake Gyllenhaal.  Jake, you'd better be nice to Taylor - she's writing lyrics in her head during every moment she's with you!  But joking aside, Taylor's new album Speak Now is an intriguing effort.  Yes, most of the songs are about boys, but there are several areas where Taylor shows a measure of growth as a songwriter. 

Taylor often excels most when venting anger and hurt feelings, which often produces some of her most hard-hitting verses.  Perhaps the strongest track on the album is "Dear John," in which she walks us through the life cycle of a failed relationship, and tries to make sense of things after the difficult breakup.  The verses portray a wide spectrum of emotions that include hurt, anger, and regret.  Another standout track is "Back to December" (her confession to former lover and Twilight hunk Taylor Lautner), in which she expresses remorse instead of anger, having broken the heart of the one who loved her.  The album's weaker moments (such as "Enchanted" and the leadoff single "Mine") often come when Taylor returns to fairytale-like lyrical territory that was thoroughly tread in her first two albums.

One admirable strength that Taylor has displayed on previous efforts, and continues to display here, is a knack for causing the simplest phrases to make a powerful point, though often using hardly any fancy poetic language (No, I'm not talking about the "careless man's careful daughter" line).  It's as if you can hear a pin drop after she sings "When you're fifteen and somebody tells you they love you, you're gonna believe it."  It's the same when she sings "The last time you saw me is still burned in the back of your mind/ You gave me roses and I left them there to die."

Though Taylor's sound has often been a far cry from traditional country, Speak Now is perhaps her most pop-flavored effort to date.  It's not bad pop music, but Taylor often falters when paired against loud and overwrought pop production, as such tends to highlight her vocal imperfections.  When the drum beats and guitar riffs are cranked up too loud, they seem to compete with Taylor's vocals for the listener's attention.  Her voice, while pleasant-sounding in its lower register, lacks the power necessary to bear such competition.  "Better Than Revenge" is a prime example of this characteristic.  While it is an interesting song on the lyric sheet, the driving punk-influenced arrangement is near headache-inducing.

There is one track that is untouched by the general poppiness of the album as a whole.  The song "Mean" is backed by a simple arrangement that is heavy on fiddle, banjo, and mandolin.  We haven't heard Taylor get that country in a long time.  In the lyrics of "Mean," Taylor minces no words as she gives an answer to all who have attacked her over her vocal weaknesses.  The distinctly country arrangement makes it sonically interesting, though not necessarily an album highlight.

Indeed, Taylor has lately taken some sharp criticism for being a subpar vocalist, especially after an embarrassingly off-key Grammy performance with rock legend Stevie Nicks.  It is clear that Taylor is no vocal acrobat, as evidenced by a few rough vocal spots on this album (like "Mine" and the title track).  But Speak Now does find Taylor developing an ability to convey emotion through her vocals - emotions ranging from nostalgia ("Never Grow Up"), desperation ("Haunted"), and triumph ("Long Live").

Though not perfect, Speak Now is likely to satisfy Taylor's current fans.  She may even win some new fans if she continues expanding her songwriting perspective and vocal abilities, while still retaining the same authenticity that has always been evident in her work.

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


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Top Ten Greatest Women of the Nineties, #4 - Shania Twain

(Come on, you had to know she was coming up sooner or later)

Born Eileen Regina Edwards in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, Shania Twain famously overcame a troubled and impoverished childhood to become one of the best-selling female artists of any music genre, dominating country and pop music on an international scale that was without precedent.  She displayed a remarkable ability to connect fully with the emotions expressed in her ballads, but she also delivered a plethora of catchy up-tempo hits as well.  In addition to her revolutionary songwriting, Shania's alluring image and unique music videos made her a cultural icon.

Shania released her self-titled debut album in 1993.  The album received positive reviews, but was initially a commercial flop, fizzling out at #67 on the U.S. Country Albums chart.  However, Shania's later success prompted renewed interest in her little-known debut album, which eventually led to the album reaching platinum selling status.

Shania's charming debut single, "What Made You Say That," was largely ignored by country radio, peaking at only #55 on the charts.  But the song did gain some attention for its accompanying music video.  The video was controversial at the time, due to the fact that Shania's midriff was exposed in some shots.  Previously, it was unheard of for so much skin to be shown in a country music video.  The video was originally banned from CMT, but was later re-added after the controversy died down.

Shania's debut album met with greater success in the European country music market, which let to her receiving CMT Europe's Rising Star of the Year Award.

Shania's early musical output also served to attract the attention of rock music producer Robert John "Mutt" Lange, who met Shania at the 1993 Fan Fair, and offered her his services as producer.  Mutt and Shania quickly became very close, eventually marrying.  The two wrote or co-wrote all of the songs that formed Shania's second album The Woman In Me, which would provide her commercial breakthrough, as well as win a Grammy Award for Best Country Album.

The album's first single, "Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under," was Shania's first major career hit, reaching #1 in Canada, and just barely missing the Top Ten in the U.S.  Her performance of the clever and quirky lyrics was full of spunk and personality, making "Whose Bed" one of her most memorable singles.

The follow-up single, "Any Man of Mine" was a groundbreaking moment for country music.  In that song, Shania displayed a unique female point of view in her declaration that men should accept their women the way they are, while constantly striving to deserve their affections.  Many female artists (Jo Dee Messina, Dixie Chicks, Carrie Underwood, etc.) followed in Shania's footsteps in exploring similar lyrical themes, demanding respect from men, and refusing to play the part of the victim.  With the arrival of Shania Twain with songs like "Any Man of Mine," the era of the self-pitying country heartbreak queens had officially come to an end. 

Shania's point was driven home by a heavy, danceable, boot-stomping beat backed with prominent fiddle and steel.  Both the single and video received many award nominations, taking home the Canadian Country Music Awards for Single and Video of the Year.

Shania third album Come On Over, released in 1997, would establish Shania as one of the first female country artists to achieve major crossover pop success.  It was an unprecedented runaway success that amassed worldwide sales of 39 million, and becoming the best selling country album of all time, as well as the best selling album by a female artist.

The album's third single, "You're Still the One," was Shania's first single to be released to international pop markets, ultimately becoming one of the most successful singles of her career.  "You're Still the One" topped the country charts in the U.S. and Canada, as well as the U.S. Adult Contemporary Chart and the Australian ARIA chart.  It was also Shania's first Top 10 single on the U.S. Hot 100 chart, and also entered many European pop charts.

In the lyrics of "You're Still the One," Shania proudly looked back on a relationship that overcame doubts and beat all odds to stand the test of time.  Shania's soft emotional vocal delivery was another asset that made it one of the greatest country-pop love songs of the decade.  Shania's fine songwriting and vocals earned her Grammy Awards for Best Country Song and Best Female Country Vocal Performance, plus a nomination for the all-genre Record of the Year category (which she lost to Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On").

Shania threw the ultimate bachelorette party with her 1999 girl power anthem "Man! I Feel Like a Woman!"  The single was a Top 5 country hit, and also achieved a measure of crossover airplay.

Throughout most of her career, Shania received very little CMA love.  But when the CMA finally recognized Shania, they did so in a big way, bestowing one of country music's highest honors upon her.  Thus, Shania ended the nineties decade as the reigning CMA Entertainer of the Year.

Shania's success continued into the early years of the 2000s.  In 2002, she released her fourth studio album Up!, which scored several more country and pop hits.  Her first Greatest Hits package followed in 2004.  The compilation included the Top 10 country hit "Party for Two," a previously unreleased song that featured guest vocals from then-newcomer Billy Currington.

Shania has been on hiatus ever since 2005.  In 2007, she announced plans to record a new album, but such plans have yet to take shape.  The new album was delayed several times, with one delay factor being Shania's split from Mutt Lange.  Shania returned to the Spotlight earlier this year when she appeared as a guest judge on the popular FOX-TV talent competition American Idol.  She later returned to Idol to mentor contestants as they prepared to perform her songs on the show.

Recent developments have suggested that plans have been set in motion for the new album.  When/If a new Shania album comes out, you can bet I'll be the first one to go out and buy it.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Album Review: Sugarland - The Incredible Machine

This isn't a country album.  Sugarland has given us a straight-up rock album.  But that's not the problem here.  The problem is that it isn't even a good rock album.

The Incredible Machine is loaded with heavy-handed power pop production.  While it has been advertised as something newfangled and exciting, it is anything but.  The general sound of the album is bland, watered down, and at times even chaotic.

The songs have hardly any lyrical content to speak of.  The contents of the lyric sheet range from vague and platitudinous pep talks like "Stand Up" to the utter nonsense of tracks like "All We Are" and "Wide Open."  Kickoff single "Stuck Like Glue," while unmistakably a shameless ditty, displays a flash of creativity by blending pop-country and reggae into an insanely catchy musical breakdown with simple and clean production.  It stands out sharply from the rest of the album tracks, but it is by far the best the album has to offer.  In general, the songs never rise above mediocrity.  Instead, Kristian and Jennifer simply hide behind "Oh-ay-oh-ay..." chants.

Throughout Sugarland's career, one of its strongest assets has been its capable lead vocalist.  Indeed, vocal powerhouse Jennifer Nettles has proven herself to be one of the strongest female singers mainstream country music has to offer.  But all too often, even her usually stunning vocals fall short of the usual standard, even to the point of being a slight degree above unlistenable.  Throughout the album, Jennifer plays with a variety of vocal nuances that are largely disastrous.  She hits a low point in her annoyingly nasal delivery of "Tonight."  Fortunately, "Shine the Light" shows traces of the Jennifer we once knew.  On "Shine the Light," Jennifer gives an emotionally engaging performance that is reminiscent of singles like "Stay" and "Already Gone."  But when Jennifer's vocals are not fully up to par on album like this, Sugarland doesn't have much going in its favor.

Whatever it is that makes you love country music, you won't hear it anywhere on this album.  Sugarland has done away with all of the characteristics that made them so endearing to country music fans.  I usually applaud there uninhibited creativity, but not when their supposed creativity fails to meet a reasonable standard of quality.  Any way you look at it, The Incredible Machine is an incredible disappointment.

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


Saturday, October 23, 2010

Lee Brice, "Beautiful Every Time"

First of all, congratulations to Lee Brice on breaking the record for longest chart run in the history of the Billboard Hot Country Songs Chart with "Love Like Crazy" at 56 weeks.  "Love Like Crazy" has provided Lee Brice with a thrilling and long-awaited career breakthrough, after seeing his original debut album shelved as each single tanked in the lower reaches of the charts.

But it's easy to see that Lee's sudden success is the result of a highly-calculated approach to achieving superstardom.  He has fallen into the good graces of the radio gods by giving them exactly what they want - easily-digestible lyrics that are deep enough for the fans to tout as meaningful, but not deep enough to provoke too much actual thinking.  While "Love Like Crazy" did contain a few isolated lines that were actually somewhat interesting, such lines were difficult to find in the mess of nondescript cliches that surrounded them.

"Beautiful Every Time" follows very much in the vein of its predecessor.  It's a slice of simple and inoffensive contemporary that goes down easily.  But to Lee's credit, this time he employs some interesting lyrical images to aid in grasping his listeners heartstrings, such as a gorgeous view of the ocean and a beautiful blushing bride.  Lee's powerful voices shines brightly on the soaring chorus, despite a few distracting production choices and an uneven melody that jumps too suddenly from low to high.

But where the song ultimately goes wrong is in its blatantly contrived appearance, which instantly arouses suspicions of pandering.  It's hard to like this song when it is all too obvious that Lee is trying so hard to make us like it.  While the ocean part gets a few extra points, the song unfortunately veers off into all the typical lyrical formulas that radio clamors for.  Surely radio will never be able to resist the triple-whammy of a song that mentions soldiers, church, and Mama! 

The best country songs spring from personal experiences and emotions.  They rarely come in the form of slick and predictable single offerings that are tailor-made to fit the current radio climate of the time.  The simple fact is that it's hard to be moved by a song that is so clearly aimed at the top of the charts.  Some things may be "Beautiful Every Time," but this song is likely to get very old very fast.

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


Friday, October 22, 2010

Getting to Know Amber Hayes

This small town girl from Weleetka, Oklahoma, is currently making inroads on the country charts with her debut single "C'mon" - a fun and upbeat two-stepper in which she invites country radio listeners to get up and dance.  Her EP of the same title was released on August 31, and is available on iTunes.  I recently had a chance to interview this talented young woman, and learn more about the artist behind those great tunes.

Ben:  I understand you've been singing since you were very young.  Would you like to describe some of your early experiences in singing?

Amber:  Sure!  I started singing when I was five.  My grandma took me to dance lessons.  I kind of figured out that I more of a singer than I was dancer, so I just started singing.  Doing like some singing and dancing numbers, you know together.  Stuff like "Rocky Top."  I was performing at the fairs and festivals in Oklahoma around where I'm from, and Oprys and different stuff like that.  So that's kind of probably where I first started was actually you know with the fairs and the festivals.  I also did some pagaents, so I was doing some singing at that stuff too.  But mainly just the fairs and festivals.

Ben:  At what point was it that you decided you wanted to make a career out of music?

Amber:  I think that was something very early on that I think was just in me - that I knew that I was always gonna be doing this.  That this was something I was going to be doing when I was older, and that it was gonna be a career for me.  When I was even in school (grade school, junior high, high school), I just never really wanted to go to school.  I always wanted to be off singin' somewhere, so it was just always in me, I think.

Ben:  What artists do you think have influenced your sound and style the most?

Amber:  I have three that I always go to, and that's Barbara Mandrell - I grew up listening to her, jumping on the bed, and singin' "Sleeping Single In a Double Bed" - Reba, you know, being from Oklahoma - It was cool to see such a small town girl from Oklahoma be able to reach such big dreams, the same kind of dreams that you want, so she was a big influence - and Dolly, of course.  I'm a songwriter, and I just think she's amazing, of course, everything that she's done.  So those are probably my top three.  I love Patty Loveless and Trisha Yearwood as vocalists as well.

Ben:  Those are some of my favorites.  So I understand that one who's had a lot of positive things to say about you and your singing is Jeannie Seely.

Amber:  Yeah!

Ben:  So how does it feel having that stamp of approval from Miss Country Soul?

Amber:  Oh man, she's amazing!  I've had the opportunity to be able to work with her several times.  It means a lot to me.  I've learned a lot from her as a performer.  She always, when she walks onstage, has 'em right there in her hand.  She is just so great, and I love what she's done for country music.  I think it's so cool that she's in her sixties, and she's up there singin' on the Grand Ole Opry every weekend.  I wish I could do that when I get to be her age.

Ben:  I understand that in addition to being a recording artist, you also have experience as a theater performer.  Would you like to tell about your experience playing Kathy Twitty in The Conway Twitty Musical?

Amber:  Sure, yeah, you know that was a big deal for me, and it was actually kind of like what took my career to the next level.  I tried out for The Conway Twitty Musical to be Kathy or Joni Twitty in the musical.  I just got an e-mail, and one of my friends said "You should go and try this out, you know, because you love theater, and it's country music."  I love the traditional country music, and Conway - he's amazing.  So just to be a part of that was so awesome, and it was a great learning experience for me.  Theater is totally different than just going out and doing a regular show every night.  It's something that is very structured, and it's just, you know, a different level of performance.  The acting part of it was something that I was able to really work on and it taught me a lot.  So it was amazing.  We got to tour with George Jones, and you know, the Twitty family was involved, and I got to meet them, and I went to Twitty City, and got to hear great stories about Conway and his legacy.  It was really just something very special to be a part of.

Ben:  Do you feel like your experience in stage musicals has brought anything to your live shows?

Amber:  Definitely!  When you're doing acting, acting is just basically like singing.  You're telling a story, and even though you're not singing it, you're talking in your expressions and everything, and I definitely think it's brought more of a story feel to my songs, and even if it's a ballad that maybe just about love and emotions, I think there's something that you can take from the theater part of it to make it better.  As a performer, it really did help me grow.

Ben:  Do you see yourself returning to the theater anytime in the future?

Amber:  I would love to.  I'm really focused right now on my career, as far as my country music career, but you know it's something that I definitely love and hope that at some point I can go back and do.

Ben:  So how's the album coming along?

Amber:  It's going great!  Things are awesome.  We just got finished doing a 70-station radio tour, and 15 states, and we're really excited.  The single "C'mon" is at #44 Music Row, and so that's an achievement for us, and we're just moving foward.  The EP came out August 31, and it's called C'mon.  We got to debut that on WSM and that was a big honor for me, because like I said, I love traditional country music, and to be involved with them, and for them to want to be involved in the release was pretty awesome, so things are going really really well.

Ben:  I've noticed that your sound has a lot more traditional country flavor to it than a lot of the music that we hear on country radio nowadays.  Do you consider yourself a traditionalist?

Amber:  I definitely think that what I like to sing about, my lyrics, are more traditional.  My sound's a little bit more traditional, but I think I have a new version of traditional.  I wouldn't say I'm a traditionalist, but I definitely lean more to the traditional side.

Ben:  Kind of like a progressive traditionalist?

Amber:  There you go.  That's great.

Ben:  So would you like to tell about what kinds of songs you have on your album?

Amber:  Sure!  You know, I was just saying that most of them, the lyrics are very country.  I grew up in a small town, and I think a lot of my lyrics come from that.  A lot of the values and the morals and the stories that are on the EP definitely come from being from a small town.  Songs like "Right As Rain" and "Home" - those are both songs that I think definitely came from calling my mom or calling my grandma and finding out what's going on in my small town.  Then also, you know, "Right As Rain" talks about cellars and talks about, you know, faith a lot, and those are things that are important to me, 'cause I grew up in Oklahoma where we had a lot of tornadoes, and spent a lot of time in cellars.  So I think I've brough a lot of Oklahoma into my music, and definitely my influences - people like Reba.  I think the song "Wait" on the EP definitely has a Reba type of feel to it, and with my own little twist of how it should be, you know - who I am.  So I think that kind of sums up what the album is, and then of course "C'mon" is very fun and very Juddsy-like.  I love the acoustic feel that they bring to their music, and that's kind of where I was going with that, so you know, it's a fun party "Girls' Night Out" type song, so it was a fun one to do live.

Ben:  Yeah, kind of like "Turn it Loose" or one of those Judds kind of songs.

Amber:  Yeah!  Or "Girls' Night Out."

Ben:  Are there any songs in particular that you enjoyed writing most, that you're most proud of, or closest to?

Amber:  You know, I think "Home" probably is my favorite off of the EP just because anytime you start talking about home, it gets very personal.  Being from a small town and moving to Nashville, it was really hard for me to be away from my family because all my family lives there.  I think it's very real of who I am, and that my family is very important to me, and that home means a lot to me, and I hope that one day I can go back and give back to my community.  Most of the small towns in America right now, they're suffering, so I'd love to get to a point where I can go back and give back and help, so I think that "Home" probably is the one I'm really proud of.

Ben:  Is there anything else you'd like to tell about your single "C'mon"?

Amber:  I wrote "C'mon" with a couple of my friends.  We were on a writer's retreat.  Like I said, I love the Judds, so we were kind of looking for that kind of feel for the song.  We were actually going to the beach, and we weren't gonna write that day, but I was like 'Hey, you know, let's write!  We might as well on the way,' and that just kind of came to us.  I think "C'mon" is just very different than what you're hearing on the radio right now, I feel like, and I think it's real fun and fresh.  I think almost everybody, girl or guy, can relate to just wanting to lay back and have a good time.  So that's kind of what "C'mon" is about, I think.

Ben:  Would you like to tell a little bit about how you go about writing your songs?

Amber:  Sure, you know, I don't play during my live show.  I play a little bit of piano.  Most of the time, if I come up with a melody that's in my head, or I'm singin' it as I'm walking through my house or something like that, and then I go with the melody idea sometimes.  But mainly I go with a lyric idea or a hook or an idea of how I kind of want it to go.  I go have a co-write, and then they bring in something that's different, so that's kind of how I write.  A lot of times I just go, and we don't have an idea at all, and we just sit there and talk and find something to write about, you know, just something that we're talking about, coffee or whatever.  I don't really think that I have a set way each time, but you know, I'm open to everybody's opinion when we come in and do a co-write.

Ben:  One kind of random question that I wanted to ask is who would be your dream duet partner?

Amber:  Oh, that's a good one.  Gosh! 

Ben:  Living or dead.

Amber:  Living or dead?  Guy or girl - does it matter?

Ben:  Either one, or both.

Amber:  Girl probably would be Dolly or Reba.  Those would be my top ones.  I think it would be very cool to do a duet with Reba, being from Oklahoma - two Oklahoma girls.  But Dolly, I mean, shoot, who wouldn't wanna do a duet with her?  As far as guys go, gosh it would be awesome to go back to somebody that's not alive.  It'd be Conway, you know, I'd love to do something with him.  He has that whole sexy thing to him, and like the whole Loretta and Conway thing.  Wouldn't that be cool?

Ben:  Oh yeah.

Amber:  But you know, I think Luke Bryan would be somebody I'd want to do something with that's very current right now.

Ben:  Yeah, he's a good one.  So, one last question:  Do you have any goals that you're working towards in your career?

Amber:  You know, I'm taking it one day at a time.  Just working hard every day, and putting one foot in front of the other.  My biggest goal is to sing on the Grand Ole Opry.  That's something that I want to do.  I think that's something that my whole team knows, and is working towards.  And then of course just any way to take it to the next level as far as a tour.  I would love to be on a big tour with Brad Paisley or Luke Bryan.  That'd be amazing, so I think those are the next steps, and just to be able to go out and capitalize on what we've done and how hard we've all worked with this single, and to be able just to take it and do a bunch of live shows.  It'd be amazing.


Courtney Dickinson, "Daddy Drives a Ford"

This new Graffiti Peace/ Bubba Records signee has appeared in national ad campaigns (at the age of two), taken the stage on the Grand Ole Opry, worked in television and film, and performed for former President Jimmy Carter, all before reaching the legal driving age.  She is now attempting to add country radio hitmaker to her list of accomplishments.

Did you smell country cliches when you saw the title to this new single?  I know I did.  But fortunately, "Ford" stears clear of that route.  True, the song does play on the common cliche of a girl wanting to find a guy who's just like her daddy.  But it's better to put your own spin on a cliche than to just copy it down and try to pass it off as a lyric. 

In "Daddy Drives a Ford," Courntey clearly defines the most important qualification for any man wishing to be her lover - He must drive a Ford, just like her daddy.  No fancy German sports cars!  In a rapid-fire delivery, Courtney rattles off all the features that her potential-new-boyfriend's car must possess - everything from automatic three-speed to wall-to-wall carpeting.  The high-octane melody speeds along in a way that almost resembles a Ford weaving in and out of traffic.

Unfortunately, there are a few bumps in the road.  I hate to pick on a 14-year-old over her vocals, but her delivery here sounds more like something you'd hear out of a karaoke machine than what you hear on the radio.  Her delivery sounds a bit strained and listless at some points in the song, and she is nearly drowned out by the drumbeat in the chorus.  If all goes well, she may be able to acquire more vocal control as she matures.  For now, clever lyrics, hooky melodies, and sprightly banjo and mandolin-laced production compensate to some degree for vocal weaknesses.

This "Ford" may have a few dents here and there, but the sum of its parts successfully works to make it enjoyable.  If you're just looking for a good road tune tune to blast from the stereo of your trusty-rusty old truck, then Courtney has just the ride for you.

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

HEAR IT on Courtney's official website

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Little Big Town, "Kiss Goodbye"

They're back!... Right?  After spending a few years outside the spotlight, Little Big Town has stormed back onto the charts with their first Top 10 hit in four years ("Little White Church"), and has topped the country albums chart for the first time ever with The Reason Why.  Can they maintain their newfound career momentum, or will this turn out to be a false comeback?  Clearly, the release of the album's single is a make-or-break moment.  But if there is any justice in this world, "Kiss Goodbye" will perform just as well as "Little White Church" if not better.

This is one of the group's more pop-flavored efforts, though the steel guitar is still detectable.  "Kiss Goodbye" is largely backed by piano in the beginning.  As the song continues, the production builds up to an unnecessary guitar solo near the end, but the instruments never quite drown out the vocalists.  The song begins quietly with Phillip Sweet singing solo against a piano backdrop.  A drumbeat and a steel guitar chime in as the first verse continues, and then all four members join voices on the chorus.  This progression offers an interesting contrast between soft and loud, which aids in making "Kiss Goodbye" such a uniquely engaging listen.

While the lyrics of "Kiss Goodbye" do adequately convey the intended message, it is the group's performance that lifts the song up to an even higher level of greatness than what it inherently has.  This single boasts some strikingly beautiful harmonies, coupled with a rising melody that allows them to shine more than ever.  Even though none of the band members had a part in writing this song, they put their own signature style on it through their trademark harmonies.  Such harmonies also serve to clearly identify this project as a group effort, as opposed to a solo artist with a glorified backup band.

There's plenty to love about this new single, as well as the solid album that it is drawn from, but it's the gorgeous vocals that really make it a showstopper.  If Little Big Town continues giving us such strong performances as this, then let us hope we won't have to kiss them goodbye anytime soon!

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


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Album Review: The Band Perry

Obvious talent is displayed on The Band Perry's debut album.  Neil and Reid Perry show fine musicianship on the mandolin and bass, and Kimberly Perry proves herself to be a strong and capable frontwoman.  Her vocals are focused and controlled, but also show a raw emotional quality.

One of the album's most appealing characteristics is its unique musical stylings that mix pop melodies with traditional country and bluegrass instrumentation.  The album is heavy on fiddles, banjos, and mandolins from start to finish.  It's clearly not strictly traditional, but it manages to have a pleasant back-porch atmosphere while still sounding modern.  Thanks to gorgeous production, strong vocals, and engaging melodies, The Band Perry's debut is a pure sonic treat to listen to.

The Perry siblings share songwriting credits on many of the album's tracks, and in a few places it becomes noticeable that they are still honing their craft in songwriting.  The lyrics of lead single "Hip to My Heart," though undeniably catchy, are mostly pure fluff.  The current single "If I Die Young" is full of vividly interesting word pictures, but there is a lack of connection in the song as a whole.  But while in some aspects there is some lyrical fine-tuning in order, the lyrics remain interesting without resorting to tired cliches. 

One of the strongest tracks on the album is the bitter "Miss You Being Gone," in which the narrator lets her ex-lover know in no uncertain terms that their relationship is hopelessly unsalvageable.  In "Postcard from Paris," she uses a variety of colorful examples to describe her realization that her current lover is merely a substitute for the man she left behind.  Though the radio releases thus far have mainly been among the album's weaker moments, many of the non-single tracks display remarkable songwriting potential.

Though it's not perfect, The Band Perry's debut announces the arrival of some of Nashville's strongest newcomers.  It is a fine introduction to a talented new act, and a well-crafted effort that could hardly be more charming.

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


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Top Ten Greatest Women of the Nineties, #5 - Faith Hill

To one whose knowledge of country music history reaches back no further than 2005, Faith Hill's primary claim to fame may seem to be her celebrated marriage to Tim McGraw.  But back in her heyday, this blond bombshell racked up eight number one country hits, three number one albums, and sold over 25 million records, thus becoming one of the best-selling female artists in country music history.

With a voice as big as Texas, this Mississippi girl could convey a spectrum of a emotions with a single note.  Each performance was perfectly polished with the most charming pop-country hook.

Faith burst onto the country scene in 1993 with her smash hit debut single, "Wild One," which quickly shot up to the top of the charts.  With "Wild One," Faith became only the fourth female artist in history to take her debut single to number one.  "Wild One" spent a total of four weeks at the top of the charts, making Faith the first female artist in 30 years to achieve the feat.  The runaway success of the single helped push the accompanying album Take Me As I Am to sales of 3 million.  Thus, Faith Hill quickly became a bona fide star, winning the ACM Award for Top New Female Vocalist in 1993.

[Note:  The Official Faith Hill YouTube channel does not allow embedding of her music videos, so they cannot be included in this post, but I have included links that you may click in order to view them]

The recording of Faith's sophomore effort had to be put on hold as she underwent surgery to repair a ruptured blood vessel in her vocal cords.  But that ordeal ended up being a blessing in disguise, as it gave Faith more time to refine her song selection for the album.  In 1995, she returned just as strong as ever with her triple-platinum sophomore album It Matters to Me.  The emotional title track become her fourth number-one hit.

In the spring of 1996, Faith was engaged to marry her former producer Scott Hendricks.  But that changed when she went on the Spontaneous Combustion tour with country singer Tim McGraw, and the two stars found themselves very much attracted to each other.  Faith soon broke off her engagement, and began dating Tim McGraw.  By the time the tour ended, the couple had become engaged.  They were married on October 6, 1996.

At that point, Faith took a three-year break from touring and recording in order to start a family with Tim.  But during this period, she did add her voice to the single "It's Your Love," from Tim's album Everywhere.  The song became a six-week number one smash - the longest-running number-one single since Waylon Jennings' "Luckenbach, Texas" - and won the CMA Award for Vocal Event of the Year.  This was not to be the last time that this pair would duet together, but it was the moment when the world was introduced to one of country music's royal couples.

It was with Faith's third album, simply titled Faith, that she began courting crossover pop success.  She made a triumphant return to the top of the charts in 1998 with "This Kiss," an ultra-catchy musical expression of just-fell-in-love ecstasy and energy.  In addition to topping the country charts, "This Kiss" became Faith's first-ever Top 10 pop hit. 

The song's music video was highly advanced for the time, featuring extensive use of computer-generated imagery.  "This Kiss" remains one of Faith's best-remembered music videos, having won several awards for its creativity.  On the 1998 CMA Awards show, Faith performed the song while dancing in a giant flower, in keeping with the video's garden theme.  That year, Faith also won the first of her three ACM trophies for Top Female Vocalist, and "This Kiss" won ACM Awards for Single of the Year and Song of the Year.


The Faith album produced another number-one hit with its third single "Let Me Let Go," which featured harmony vocals from Vince Gill, and appeared on the soundtrack to the film Message In a Bottle


Faith's fourth album was hurriedly released in 1999 in order to capitalize on her newfound success as a pop star.  Faith closed out the nineties decade on a high note with the most commercially successful album of her career, the 8x platinum-selling Breathe.

Faith won three Grammy Awards for the album Breathe - Best Country Album, Best Country Collaboration with Vocals ("Let's Make Love," with Tim McGraw), and Best Female Country Vocal Performance ("Breathe").

Faith delivered the quintessential pop-country power ballad with the album's title track, which topped the country charts for four weeks, and became a massive international pop hit.  Even today, "Breathe" is regarded as Faith Hill's signature song.

The song's music video was controversial due to shots of Faith in a bed, but that didn't stop it from winning the 1999 CMA Award for Music Video of the Year.


After the turn of the millennium, Faith scored several more hits from her Breathe album.  She released her first full-fledged pop album in 2002 with Cry.  Though country radio was cool toward the project, its singled did receive some airplay on pop radio.  Faith returned to country music with her 2005 set Fireflies - possibly her strongest and most distinctly country album to date.

Faith has lately been on hiatus from recording, though she has announced her intentions to record a new album in the near future.  Until then, we shall eagerly wait to see what kind of music this exceptionally talented lady will give us next.

Randy Houser, "A Man Like Me"

I am just loving the steel guitar intro to this track!  So raw.  So natural-sounding.  So unlike the token steel fills superfluously inserted to make non-country songs "country."  A honky-tonk piano chimes in when the second verse rolls around, and is prominently heard during the instrumental break.  This single from Randy Houser's new album They Call Me Cadillac has a fresh throwback traditional sound that will cause it to greatly stand out from the radio fluff surrounding it.

But while I am overwhelmed by the spectacular neotrad arrangement, I am underwhelmed by the song itelf.  It seems any line from this song could have been culled from an earlier single release.  You could draw a straight line from Sawyer Brown's "Some Girls Do" to Eric Church's "Guys Like Me" to this song.  The song is about how thankful this man is that he has a woman who can love a man like him.  That theme has been done several times, and it unfortunately seems to get less interesting each time.

But even though the actual song is not particularly interesting, Randy sounds like he believes in it, and is just having a good ol' time singing it.  He settles into a soft groove during the verses, and then lets loose on the chorus.  A rollicking melody allows Randy to prominently display the nuance and power of his fantastic singing voice.

With this is mind, I will forgive the dull lyrics... this time.  This may not be a great song, but it is a great performance from an artist who is coming closer to living up to his incredible potential.

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

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Christian Kane, "The House Rules"

Actor, songwriter, and country-rock band frontman Christian Kane adds a new item to his resume with the release of his first solo country single, and that item is hillbilly shouter.

What better way to kick off a solo career than by pandering to the redneck party crowd demographic?  Why, there are a million better ways, but that's not to say it can't be done reasonably well.  One such success story is Gretchen Wilson, who managed to strike a chord with "Redneck Woman."  Granted, she has been very much imprisoned by her debut hit (no comment on the current state of Gretchen's career), but still, any artist can learn from the way that artists like Gretchen have been able to capture a fun and lighthearted spirit, channel it into their performance, and preserve it on a record.

That's where "The House Rules" fails.  It doesn't inspire us to let loose and have a good time.  All it really does is make you dive for the volume knob.  The lyrics are mainly a boring matter-of-fact description of a party scene where "Everbody sings and drinks and laughs and gets high." (Duh - what did you expect?) But even though the lyrics are dull, they could have been elevated with a better melody and a more nuanced performance.  Christian's performance on this track hardly even resembles singing.  Instead, he overbearingly shouts that if you don't have a good time, you'll be thrown out of the joint.  There is absolutely nothing remotely catchy or fun about this whole abomination of a single, and any appealing qualities are drowned out by deafening hard-rock guitar riffs.  As the crowning touch of mediocrity, they throw in a chanting crowd sing-along, as if in a desperate attempt to convince us that we are having fun, which is almost laughable.

Is this really how you want to introduce yourself to the country music community - as one who aims to be nothing more than loud?  If loudness is what you're aiming for, then congratulations - you have achieved it.  But "The House Rules" is, by all other measures of artistic worth, a dismal failure.  If this is the kind of country music that this actor-turned-singer plans on making, then he'd better not quit his day job.

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


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Music Video Round-Up - October 2010, Part 2

Just a few days after I did my last Round-Up, CMT premiered a long list of music videos that we had not had a chance to talk about.  Now it's time to do a super-sized Round-Up for Part 2.

Sara Evans, "A Little Bit Stronger"

I have to admit that I have a bit of a biased stance toward my girl Sara, but I just love this song more and more each time I hear it.  The video featured Sara talking about her post-breakup feelings in a video blog.  At first I was distracted because I automatically expected to see bad acting, but that portion fits well with the song, since talking about her feelings is just another way to get "A Little Bit Stronger."  Overall, the video does a fine job in channeling the emotions in the lyrics.  Besides that, Sara just looks so pretty in this video!

Elizabeth Cook, "All the Time"

I thought it would be cool to include a video from an artist who is outside the country music mainstream, but still undeniably talented.  She may not have any radio hits, but trust me, this gal is worth a listen.  This video of the recent single from her new album Welder features several Old-West-style movie clips interspersed with footage of Elizabeth singing.  Elizabeth dons a wide array of unique constumes throughout the clip.  The video is in all black-and-white, which fits the theme well, and gives it a special classic appeal.

Keith Urban, "Put You In a Song"

Keith strikes out.  While this video does have some interesting performance footage, it's clogged up with far too many uninteresting shots.  It takes place entirely in a recording studio.  Such a concept works on some songs (Mary Chapin Carpenter pulled it off with"Shut Up and Kiss Me"), but "Put You In a Song" calls for a more colorful setting.  How about shots of Keith driving with music turned up loud?  Just a thought.

Jason Aldean, "My Kinda Party"

Eh... I could take this one or leave (probably leave it).  It's just what I expected - a bunch of gyrating backwoods babes.  But there were some interesting visual effects.  It's kind of funny how they include several close-up shots of the steel guitar.  It's like Jason's saying, "Look!  I have a steel guitar player!  SEE?!  I am country!"

Jaron and the Long Road to Love, "That's Beautiful to Me"

One half of my brain says, "Aw, how cute!"  The other half says, "Oh, how sappy."  Discuss.

Jerrod Niemann, "What Do You Want"

I like this one!  Maybe I just have a thing for black-and-white music videos.  One interesting touch is that Jerrod's significant other is portrayed by co-writer/ backup vocalist Rachel Bradshaw.  Though our sympathy primarily rests with Jerrod, Rachel's presence serves to remind us that there are two sides to this story. (Off-topic:  That is a really cool hat)

What's your favorite video from Part 2?

Sara Evans, "A Little Bit Stronger" - 42%
Jerrod Niemann, "What Do You Want" - 19%
Keith Urban, "Put You In a Song" - 19%
Jason Aldean, "My Kinda Party" - 14%
Elizabeth Cook, "All the Time" - 4%
Jaron and the Long Road to Love, "That's Beautiful to Me" - 0%

Hooray!  Sara wins!  It's also nice to see that at least one person voted for Elizabeth Cook.  Thanks to the 21 readers who participated in this poll.

Blake Shelton, "Who Are You When I'm Not Looking"

This is a side of Blake Shelton that we have not seen in a while.  He has lately spent most of his time on hillbilly hellraising anthems, with some attempts being more successful than others.  But his current effort is a stripped-down ballad that expresses a man's desire to get to know a woman better, and the result is a remarkable success.

Does she break things when she gets mad?  Does she eat a box of chocolates when she's feeling bad?  Does she call up mama when all else fails?  Sure, she's good-looking, but Blake wants to know the person behind that pretty face.  The song's melody, combined with the soft and laid-back arrangment, seems to mirror the wonder and curiousity that Blake's heartfelt vocal draws out of the lyrics.

The only problem with "Who Are You When I'm Not Looking" is that it spends a little too much time on relatively inane details such as "Do you... slide down the hallway in your socks."  It would be preferable to hear Blake delve deeper into this woman's thoughts, feelings and personality, as opposed to such simple quirks.

Nevertheless, the intent behind the lyrics is still evident.  It is still clear that such questions are motivated by genuine love.  The execution may not be 100% perfect, but that doesn't stop "Who Are You" from being one of the sexiest, most deeply romantic songs that Blake has ever given us.

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


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Getting to Know DJ Miller

DJ Miller is a young Hoosier country singer signed to Evergreen Records.  He released his debut single, "A Little Naughty Is Nice," earlier this summer, and is currently working on his debut album.  Recently, I had a chance to sit down for a chat with this talented young newcomer about his music, influences, career goals, and of course, Taylor Swift.

Ben:  Would you like to start by telling us a little bit about the place you come from - where you grew up?

DJ:  Yeah, I was actually raised way out in the country, a little bit north of a small town called Idaville, Indiana.  It's literally a three-blink town - If you drive through it and blink three times, you've passed it.  I was raised out in the country, and that's what I love.  It's where I'm still living at, and it's really just kind of been a great experience living out in the country, and growing up there.  I've been in country music pretty much all my life.  My dad kind of got me started in it.  My dad Darryl had a country band for about thirty years, so when I was real young, even about two years old, I'd always go with him to a bunch of shows that I could go to, and be up onstage with him, so it's really kind of where I got my start in country music.

Ben:  How would you describe your musical style?  Would you say it's more traditional or contemporary?

DJ:  Well, I'm not really sure.  I really kind of expand when it comes to country music, you know.  I really see myself kind of going in towards kind of like a Jason Aldean-type kind of rockin'-type country, and then also I really like to fall back more on your traditional laid-back type country, kind of like George Strait-style.  I've never really had a certain style that I've really stuck to, so I'm really just kind of all over the place.

Ben:  Kind of a mix of influences?

DJ:  Yeah, really.  A big influence that I've really kind of stuck with is kind of like a Garth Brooks-type style - Garth Brooks and Brad Paisley.  They're big influences in my career, growing up, and as my career built.  Mostly with Garth Brooks, because of his entertainment.  I mean obviously even when I was two years old going with my dad to shows, I would videotape Garth Brooks' live TV concerts, and I would memorize them basically, and study his moves as an entertainer, and apply that even to the stage I was on being two years old.  You know, I'd take my hat off and wave it to the girls, and whatnot, and you know basically try to be Garth Brooks.  And then Brad Paisley came along, and his instrumental techniques really shocked me, and got me interested in that, and his interaction with the crowd also, like Garth Brooks, so huge influences in my career.

Ben:  Would you like to tell about any mentors you've had in your career as a recording artist?

DJ:  My dad's been a real huge mentor.  He's really been kind of like somebody I can vent to, or ask questions, and he always gives me some good advice.  And definitely also my manager Johnny Morris has been a huge mentor in this career, kind of telling me what's coming up next, and what I can do.  And actually you know if you think about it, there's so many people that have been mentors to me in this career. [AristoMedia Group President] Jeff Walker and [Senior Publicist] Christy [Walker-Watkins] and the whole AristoMedia basically have been huge mentors helping me out with these media interviews and whatnot, and Jack Pride has been a huge mentor.  I mean there's really a lot of people actually you could consider mentors in this career!

Ben:  Which artists would you most like to collaborate with?

DJ:  Well, it really kind of depends, you know, male or female.  Female, it would definitely have to be probably Taylor Swift, and not just 'cause she's a cutie.  But you know, me and Taylor we're around the same age, and I feel like we could really connect better with a song and whatnot.  But as for male vocalists, definitely with my influences, Garth Brooks or Brad Paisley.  Those are some huge dreams of mine.

Ben:  Since you're known for being an energetic live performer, I want to ask what would you say makes for a good live show?

DJ:  Actually, the best energetic live show is putting your crowd into it.  Your crowd really responds a lot better when you have them involved, and you interact with them.  It's one thing that Garth Brooks and Brad Paisley are really big on is interaction with your crowd.  Part of my live shows is me going out into the crowd and running through 'em, and that's a huge influence on a crowd, you know, not being afraid of your crowd, shaking their hands, putting in your arm around them, and talking to them, even in the middle of a song if you have to, so that's a huge thing for the crowd for a live concert.

Ben:  Yeah, that's really cool, and I understand you had a hand in writing some of the songs on your album?

DJ:  Yeah, that's right.  I'm a co-writer on quite a few songs on the album.  I always try to write every chance I get when I come down to Nashville with my writers, Don Goodman and Brad Wolf and Charlie Black - some great writers.  And there's actually a song on my album called "The Little Things."  I'm actually pretty proud to say that I wrote the majority of that song, and it's really overwhelming for me, because we've been getting nothing but great feedback from that song, so I'm pretty proud of that one.

Ben:  Would you be able to describe the creative process you go through in writing songs, or how the ideas come to you?

DJ:  It really is a process.  You first get influenced by an idea, and that idea could be anything - everyday life, hearing a phrase in a conversation - and then you really just kind of expand that idea into a whole song, and you put lyrics to it.  You can rhyme them or not rhyme them, and then you gotta come up with that right melody.  Songs can have different melodies put to them, but I mean it's important to find that right melody for that song, the right feeling for it, and coming up with a way for the crowd to feel that same way - to relate to it.  And then when you get into the recording studio, it's amazing to watch that song build up into something so much better.  You start with just a hard copy of just playing guitar on a melody, and singing raw lyrics, and in a few hours you watch it build with drums and bass and guitar and then you throw in special things like fiddle and banjo and backup vocals, and then you just watch it build and build and build.  You just can't stop smiling in the studio, 'cause it just gets better and better.

Ben:  Were any of your songs inspired by real-life experiences that you've had?

DJ:  Yeah, actually quite a few of them that we've co-writed.  I've came up with some ideas that are personal experiences in my life, especially "The Little Things."  My experiences as a high school kid with girlfriends and whatnot, you know a lot of experiences came into that song, and influenced it.

Ben:  What are your favorite songs that you've written or recorded?

DJ:  My favorite songs that we've written would probably have to be... "The Little Things" is probably my favorite.  It could be because it's the one that I mostly wrote myself, and that I feel so proud about.  But I really have to thank the musicians for putting all that positive energy into it, they really just turned it into something totally different than I even expected it to be, and it's so much more, so it would probably have to be "The Little Things."

Ben:  Do you have more of a connection with the songs that you've helped to write?

DJ:  Yeah, you do.  You've got that more personal feeling with it, and you know exactly what that song's talking about, and you know exactly where it's coming from, and that's important with music.  It's important to get in and try to write your own stuff, or be a co-writer at least, and that really just kind of gives you that more personal feel of knowing exactly what it's about and where it comes from.

Ben:  Have there been any other country songs that you wish you had a part in writing?

DJ:  Oh yeah, there's been quite a few of them actually.  Some songs that we're gonna be releasing I wish I had had a hand in writing, like "Snowman in Birmingham."  We're in the process of releasing that now actually.  It just got released on iTunes.  It's a great story song for the season.  It's not directed exactly towards Christmas, but it's definitely a whole season song.  It's just really a song that a lot of people can relate to.  It deals with the loss of a father, even for some people a mother, but there's a positive ending with it, you know - believing in something or dreaming of something, and it coming true.  So I definitely wish I had had a hand in writing that, but there's also so many other songs.  Dickie Lee wrote "She Thinks I Still Care," and that was a huge hit, so that was a great song to be in on, so there's quite a few of 'em.

Ben:  Would you like to tell a little bit about the experiences you've had in touring?

DJ:  We've had some pretty great experiences actually with radio tours.  You know, meeting so many of these new people is a huge experience for me, me being the backwoods kid that I was.  It was pretty exciting just to leave my county, you know, let alone going all over the country!  So meeting all these different people and their different styles, and seeing all these radio stations, and how they talk and whatnot.  Their normal conversation is totally different than my normal conversation, so it's been a great experience kind of adapting to those types of surroundings. 

Ben:  Would you like to tell a little about your single, "A Little Naughty Is Nice"?

DJ:  Yeah, actually it was written by Don Goodman and Charlie Black and Bobby Resnick.  It's really a fun song.  It's an upbeat up-tempo kind of rockin' flavor type song.  It's really kind of about boys and girls just kind of lettin' their hair down and relaxing and having a good time, especially in this world today everything is so tight, and we're just up and goin' and up and goin', and just trying to get stuff done, but you know it's still important to lean back and relax and have a good time now and then on Saturday night.

Ben:  So do you have any other projects you're working on right now?

DJ:  Well, we're finishing up the album right now.  We're having to do the album in sessions because I'm still living in Indiana, and we're real busy with these radio tours and whatnot, so we're having to do the album in sessions.  We've got one more session to do for the album, and we're gonna record about two, three, maybe four more songs.  We're jugglin' songs right now.  It's always great to have too many songs for an album, so we're kind of picking and choosing what songs we want to put on this last session, so that's our biggest project right now.  We're planning on releasing that by the end of this year or the beginning of next year.

Ben:  Is it hard to narrow it down?

DJ:  It is, actually!  It's real tough to narrow it down, and you have to always remember you've got another album coming out after this one, so I mean you can always hold it off and save it for the next one.

Ben:  Would you like to tell a little bit about the kind of music you have on your album?  Is there a particular direction it's taken?

DJ:  Actually, it's all kind of a mix, and I think that's important because your audience isn't normally directed toward one direction, and we've got all kinds.  We've got up-tempo, we've got low-tempo, and all different types of styles.  We've got some that are kind of a rockin' flavor type song, and we've got some that are more of a mellow kind of traditional type style that, you know, George Strait might sing.  So we haven't really gone into one single direction.  It's all kind of a mix.

Ben:  Do you have any goals you're working towards in your career?

DJ:  Entertainer of the Year.

Ben:  That's a good one!

DJ:  I'm just gonna go for it!  It's always been a big dream of mine.  It always came across as the big honcho award for me, so I definitely wanna get up there and join Kenny Chesney and Garth Brooks in there, so it's a big goal of mine.