Saturday, January 29, 2011

Heidi Newfield, "Stay Up Late"

Five years ago, Heidi Newfield departed her band Trick Pony to embark on a solo career.  Her debut album produced one memorable single in the Cash-tribute ballad "Johnny and June," but overall failed to make a major impact at radio.  With "Stay Up Late," her first single since 2009, Heidi is back for another stab at the country charts.  Though the single is clearly tailor-made for endless radio airplay, it does not sound like a promising entry for a 40-year-old female artist who was never a member of the automatic-add club to begin with.

This is a prime example of an idea that could have worked, but just didn't take off.  Heidi's distinct vocals are right on the mark, but the song itself is nothing more than a snoozingly simple play-by-play description of a night of romance.  It never delves beneath the surface layer into the emotions and desires that stimulate the actions it describes.  The lyrics don't communicate them, and the thick pop-country production only turns this night of intimacy into an overly audacious house party.  The production certainly doesn't make up for the problem that we're essentially listening to a musical to-do list that's entirely one-dimensional.  It's all "what" with no "why."

The main issue with "Stay Up Late" is one that is common to many of the ditties that are in rotation on country radio.  All it aims to be is an inoffensive distraction.  In reality, one of the major reasons why people are complaining about country's current state is because country radio is increasingly saturated with cheap fluff just like this.

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


Friday, January 28, 2011

Jamey Johnson, "Heartache"

If you haven't heard Jamey Johnson's new single yet, then I'm going to be quite frank with you - It's very creepy. 

The song's narrator is the personafication of "Heartache."  He was "born in a cave in the time of dinosaurs when a cave man caught his woman lovin' on the missin' link livin' next door."  In a low growl, he declares that he's "gnawin' on your pretty little wife" and merely "savin' you for later."  He even recalls a few of his "pretty good days" (involving Antony and Cleopatra, Jackie and J.F.K., Charles and Diana, et cetera), and then claims that "We're about to have some real fun."

Now let me pose a simple question to you:  Could anyone possibly play this character as convincingly as Jamey Johnson does?  Imagine if "Heartache" were performed by one of the typically happy-go-lucky acts such as Martina McBride or Sugarland.  It could easily have wound up a total farce.  But on the other hand, Jamey's deep-throated drawl is nothing if not the perfect fit for such darkly sinister subject matter.  Subdued organ tones and electric guitar chords offer the ideal sonic backdrop.  Seriously, when you listen to this single, doesn't it scare you at least a little bit?

Without a doubt, Jamey's "Heartache" is the best single 2011 has produced thus far (acknowledging the fact that that competition has not been particularly stiff).  Even just on paper, "Heartache" is a solid song.  It is a strikingly clever and unique concept that sounds like nothing we have heard on country radio in recent years.  But what really makes this a great record is the way Jamey just owns it!

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


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Rascal Flatts, "I Won't Let Go"

I kind of saw this coming.  Sure, Rascal Flatts gave us one of the best singles of 2010 with "Why Wait," but now they're sinking back into their usual routine of depressing me.

Admittedly, this single could have been much worse.  Gary LeVox gives a restrained vocal delivery, and though the production gets a bit louder toward the end, it never totally erupts into bombastic self-indulgence (which has been a problem in the past for Rascal Flatts).  Their performance is solid, and the harmonies are there, so at least "I Won't Let Go" is easy on the ears.

To the boys' credit, they certainly do sound like they believe in this song.  But that doesn't quite overcome the fact that the said song is basically a giant cliche-pile.  Lyrics such as "I will stand by you/ I will help you through/ When you've done all you can do..." are awfully generic.  It's hard to tell what's even going on in whatever story this song is attempting to tell.  We have little insight into what the difficult struggle is that these characters are going through, and it's hard to even guess who's singing to whom.

It is definitely well-sung.  But this is still just another bland and interchangeable love song, and there's not enough to recommend it over all the other bland and interchangeable love songs on country radio.  But radio plays it, and their fans buy it, so why would the Flatts care that nobody is going to remember these songs after the chart run ends?

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

Monday, January 24, 2011

Zac Brown Band, "Colder Weather"

The Zac Brown Band is loved by many for bringing the "country" back to country radio with fiddle-laden feel-good tunes such as their recent smash "As She's Walking Away."  But their new single "Colder Weather" - an appropriate release for this time of year - stands out as one of the group's more crossover-friendly efforts.  While it will still prove to be a fine fit for country radio, it wouldn't sound out of place on an adult contemporary station either.  In some ways it recalls the classics rock power ballads of past decades, but it's stripped of the typical bombast with the vocals and piano pulling the majority of the weight.  The production builds up to a peak in the bridge after the second chorus, but throughout the song it retains enough restraint to keep from being an unnecessary distraction.

Zac's character is a "ramblin' man" with a "gypsy soul" - a man who was "born for leavin'."  But he finds himself torn between his inborn nature, and the lover he's left behind in Colorado.  The narrative lets us sympathize with both of these characters.  The song does not reveal any ultimate resolution.  We are not told if this man ever gives up his rambling ways, but we are told that the thought of his woman haunts him wherever he goes.  "It's a shame about the weather," the man laments.  But we can't help but wonder if it really is the weather that's keeping him away, or of it's really his longing for the open road, and the weather is merely a thin cover-up.  Such layered story elements are strikingly effective at portraying the conflict this character faces between his two competing desires. 

Even though there are few traditional country elements on this record, it still conveys loneliness and longing almost as well as our favorite good old pedal-steel barroom weepers.  Solid storytelling combines with wistful harmonies and an organic arrangement to make "Colder Weather" a fine single from all angles.

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


Friday, January 21, 2011

Album Review: Wanda Jackson - The Party Ain't Over

All hail the queen of rockabilly!  The legendary Wanda Jackson enjoyed a career as one of the most popular rockabilly artists of the 1950s, and then went on to become a successful mainstream country star, eventually becoming a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Now she's back with a new album helmed by producer Jack White - the same visionary who led Loretta Lynn to Grammy glory with their 2004 project Van Lear Rose.  Their pairing brings about a creative triumph of an album in which retro meets modern, and everybody has a great time.

On this new project, Wanda takes us through a rip-roaring genre-busting set of classic covers.  Everyone from Little Richard to Jimmie Rogers to Amy Winehouse is given the Wanda Jackson rockabilly treatment.  Her energetic horn-infused versions of Little Richard's "Rip It Up" and Bob Dylan's "Thunder On the Mountain," the latter of which in particular is a spunkier-than-ever reinterpretation of the original, are a few of the album's highlights.  She gets more laid-back and sultry with her slow-burning take on "Teach Me Tonight."  She delivers an solid performance of "Shakin' All Over," but some unnecessary editing effects do weigh the track down a bit.

The only misstep on the album is her rocked-up version of the Gospel song "Dust On the Bible."  Let's face it - "Dust On the Bible" was not meant to be a party song.  On that particular track, a stripped-down arrangement would have been much more befitting, such as that found on the following track "Blue Yodel No. 6."  Thus Wanda closes out the album by getting her yodel on with a Jimmie Rogers classic.

As we would expect, Wanda's performances ooze personality, spunk, and sass, just as they always have.  While this may be a covers album, it is still unmistakably Wanda.  The musical arrangements of The Party Ain't Over turn it into a wildly fun throwback to Wanda's rockabilly glory days.  Sure, she may be 73-years old, but one listen to The Party Ain't Over will show anyone that Wanda's partying days are far from over.

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


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Aaron Lewis, "Country Boy"

Two things I'm getting tired of: (1) Washed-up rockers emigrating to country music (2) Songs that scream "I'm so country!" in the most typically one-dimensional format imaginable.  This is the first single I've heard that was guilty of both offenses.

First of all, Aaron, I have a hard time believing you here.  You were the frontman of the rock group Staind.  Now this guy's coming out and telling us that he really was a country boy all along?  Or is he saying "A country boy is all I'll ever be... starting NOW"?  It's an unfortunate truth that being the frontman of a rock group hurts your country cred, and when a rocker-gone-country comes right out of the gate proclaiming his countryness, it is not going to sound authentic.  That problem is not helped by the fact that "Country Boy" essentially sounds like a rock song.

The lack of authenticity may be the most obvious problem, but even the most Southern backwoods hick of an artist would have a hard time selling me this song.  It might seem more authentic coming from such an artist, but the song is still a bore.  The melody plods along in a lethargic and repetitive manner, and the lyrics just string together all the palatable sentiments that country radio loves to hear.  It begins with the typical images of dirt roads and drinking.  The next verse, which is actually semi-interesting, describes how Aaron has maintained his country-boy identity despite pressure from his record label.  Then the song ends with some safe and inoffensive expressions of patiotism. (I'm not quite sure how the line "A couple extra pounds never really hurt" is supposed to fit in here) The verses are loosely-connected at best, with each verse culminating in his declaration of being a country boy, but there's no discernible running theme beyond that.

While Aaron portrays himself as one who refuses to bow to current trends in the music business, such a claim would carry much more weight if this song as a whole did not carry the unmistakable stench of pandering.  At any rate, "Country Boy" doesn't seem to bode well for Aaron's country career.  If this song tops the country charts, I just might toss my cookies.

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


Monday, January 17, 2011

Josh Kelley, "Georgia Clay"/ Joanna Smith, "Georgia Mud"

Though these two nostalgia-themed country songs share many similarities, the artists behind them have been following markedly different career paths.  Newcomer Joanna Smith previously took an unsuccessful stab at the country charts with the gimmicky novelty tune "Gettin' Married," which saw its weak chart run finish almost as soon as it started.  Josh Kelley's current claims to fame are (1) Being the older brother of Lady A's Charles Kelley (2) Being Mr. Katherine Heigl (3) The Top 10 Adult Contemporary hits "Amazing" and "Only You" from 2003 and 2005, respectively.  After his pop career fizzled out, his brother's country band became a platinum-selling success, and now here comes big brother Josh to stake his claim in country territory.  Coincidence?  You be the judge.

Forgive me if I'm over-reaching here, but "Georgia Clay" sounds like it's trying way too hard to sound like everything else on country radio.  Since Josh is another immigrant from the pop market, "Georgia Clay" includes a few steel guitar fills and pickup truck references so as not to throw any curves at the country fan base.  Sadly, "Georgia Clay" is weighed down by uninteresting lyrics that sound just like every other nostalgic country tune.  An additional problem is that when you sing about Georgia clay stuck on the wheels of a pickup truck, those lyrics call for a much more raw and earthy sound than what we hear on this record.  This is one case where clean and polished pop-rock production just doesn't work at all.  The single's biggest shortcoming is that it offers no insight into what qualities and talents Josh brings to country music besides a capable singing voice and the requisite movie star good looks.

Joanna's "Georgia Mud" doesn't exactly boast groundbreaking lyrics, but they're solid enough to tell the story effectively.  We see here that Joanna actually has much more singing talent than her debut single led us to believe.  Her delivery of "Gettin' Married" was shrill and unwieldy, but her performance of "Georgia Mud" is nothing short of charming - rich, and layered with shades of emotion.  The light mandolin-laced ballad has a nice breezy laid-back vibe, and Joanna just eases into it gracefully.  She gives the song enough energy to avoid sounding boring, but not so much as to be overwhelming.  Even if one raised a quizzical brow at Joanna's debut single, "Georgia Mud" effectively arouses our curiosity as to what else this gal has up her sleeve.

Obviously, we don't expect new artists to start cranking out classics as soon as they get their start in country music, but a good debut single will highlight an artist's strengths to give a positive introduction to the new voice.  "Georgia Mud" displays charisma, personality, and strong interpretive abilities, while "Georgia Clay" just sounds like it's trying fit in.  In the cases of these two artists, a good introduction "Georgia Clay" isn't, and "Gettin' Married" wasn't, but "Georgia Mud" is.  Final verdict:  I'll take Joanna's "Mud," but I'll pass on Josh's "Clay."

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

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Uncle Kracker and Kid Rock, "Good to Be Me"

A duet between Kid Rock and Uncle Kracker?  Be still, my beating heart.

These two Michigan boys are incredibly easy for a critic to dismiss on the basis that they are "not country."  Are they country?  Not by a long stretch.  You could try pinning a "country-pop" or "country-rock" label onto them, but even that doesn't quite stick.  But the "not country" argument is a bit of an easy-out, since there are much more important factors to judge than whether or not a song sounds "country."

...Which means, in turn, that this single's non-countryness is the least of its problems.  I can be led to believe that Kid and Kracker at least "like" country music, and may have a measure of respect for the genre.  But their country radio offerings, both separately and as duet cohorts, have mostly consisted of bland and forgettable fare (with the notable exception of Kid Rock's "Picture").  "All Summer Long" was a cheap Lynyrd Skynyrd rip-off.  "Smile" sounded like it was written by a first grader.  "Good to Be Me" fails to build on their not-terribly-respectable country music legacy.

Uncle Kracker is celebrated almost as much for his vocal imperfections as for his talents, but his singing on this track is just flat-out no good, and Kid Rock certainly doesn't save it.  Even the world's greatest vocal acrobats would have a hard time selling this silly set of lyrics.  But if one insists on singing about catching some "crazy happy disease," the performance needs a lot more spirit and zest than what these two vocalists put into it.  This entire tracks sounds languid, listless, and lackadaisical.  Listen to it while driving, and it just might put you in danger of falling asleep at the wheel.

If and when Kid Rock and Uncle Kracker start giving us material that is distinctive, engaging, and well-sung, then I will welcome them to the country genre with open arms.  But at the moment, all they're doing is further entrenching country music in the deep artistic rut that it's currently in.  We could quibble over the genre label all day, but there would be no real point in it.  Is bland pop, bland rock, bland hip-hop, or bland country?  Who cares?  Garbage is still garbage no matter which can you toss it into.

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


Friday, January 14, 2011

Reba McEntire, "If I Were a Boy"

Reba covering a Beyonce pop hit?  Seriously?  While far from being her first attempt at a cover song, it may seem odd for a country music legend to be covering a song by a squarely modern mainstream pop star such as Beyonce.  The young starlets like Beyonce should be the ones covering Reba's songs, not vice-versa, right?  But, in all honesty, would such complaints exist if the world had never heard Beyonce's original version of "If I Were a Boy"?

While it may seem like a bit of an oddball cover choice for Reba, it is hard to make an argument for this song being beneath Reba's talents.  "If I Were a Boy," penned by Toby Gad and B.C. Jean, is a well-written song that examines gender gaps in a relationship.  The female narrator imagines herself as a male in her significant other's shoes, vowing that she would "be a better man," and wishing that her man in turn would make an effort to understand her and her feelings.

That may seem more convincing coming from 27-year-old pop diva than from a 55-year-old country star, but Reba sells it with her performance.  While we may more readily imagine such a scenario in a younger relationship, Reba's age does not invalidate the possibility of her having gone through a similar experience herself.  It's also noteworthy that Reba's take on "If I Were a Boy" if far from being a copy.  When compared with Beyonce's version, one may notice that Reba's vocal nuances are surprisingly different than Beyonce's.  Reba begins the song in a low and restrained tone, but lets her voice rise as the song continues.  Still, her performance carries an air of sincerity throughout, and we never get the feeling that we're just listening to a really good karaoke singer.  Her vocal carries the song through an unnecessary rise in production that pushes the song to power ballad status, but the single mercifully never approaches the utter cacophony of "Turn On the Radio."

As expected, Reba puts a country spin on the tune, but the country elements do not sound slapped-on.  The subtle steel guitar chords sound very much in character with the emotions expressed in the song, and they country elements neither seem superfluous, nor do they seem to stick out awkwardly.  It's still a far cry from traditional country music, but it's not hard to imagine this song being originally intended for the pop-country market.  In addition, this single does not sound far removed from the pop-country stylings Reba explored on her previous album.

There are a million ways Reba's remake could have gone wrong, but she turns in a strong performance on this track.  Sure, this cover may be another reflection of Reba's "appeal to the younguns" strategy, but once you get over the obvious inappropriateness of Reba covering Beyonce, you will find that this is actually a surprisingly good single.  There have been instances when some of Reba's best covers went so far as to eclipse the originals (Think "Fancy" and "The Night the Lights Went Out In Georgia").  While that's unlikely to happen in this instance, it shows what a unique interpretive ability Reba has when paired with a worthy song.  It's to Reba's credit as a vocalist that she was able to make her take on "If I Were a Boy" sound this natural.

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


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Album Review: Steel Magnolia

The second-season winners of CMT's Can You Duet kick off their self-titled debut album with some fun and catchy fluff.  Despite a title that immediately screams "ditty," "Ooh La La" is actually pretty good fluff, with a sprightly banjo line and some flirty interplay between members Joshua Scott Jones and Meghan Linsey.  Top Five debut single "Keep On Lovin' You" might touch your catchy bone at first, but the lyrically-sparse tune may wear thin after continued exposure.  But in general, Josh and Meaghan's best moments are often the lighthearted ones, with the awesomely-produced country-meets-reggae tune "Rainbow" being one major highlight.

Steel Magnolia generally takes up residence in the pop-country camp, with drumbeats and guitar licks giving it a modern and polished flair, while generous amounts of banjo and steel give it a discernible country identity.  But when the album reaches its end, the twosome tones back their sound for the soft and sweet acoustic ballad "Glass Houses."  The pop-friendly ear candy stylings lead one to suspect some Keith Urban influence, which seems likely considering that the duo covers an Urban tune ("Homespun Love") from his days with The Ranch.  Ironically, "Homespun Love" ranks as one of the most roots-oriented country-sounding tracks on the album.

The undeniable chemistry between Josh and Meaghan makes their performances a real treat, with Josh's smooth rock-and-roll baritone and Meaghan's soulful Southern drawl sweetly blending together like chocolate and peanut butter.  The album is dominated by full-fledged duets between the two cohorts, making Steel Magnolia unmistakably a duo effort.

By far, the album's most notable misstep is the second single "Just By Being You (Halo and Wings) which takes limp lovey-dovey balladry to new heights of cheesiness and pure sap.    While there are a few lackluster mid-tempos, the overall product is a fun and frisky country romp that provides plenty of entertainment for the present, while suggesting even greater potential for the future.

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


Monday, January 10, 2011

Miranda Lambert, "Heart Like Mine"

On the first listen, Miranda's new single may seem like a bit of a holding pattern.  Throughout her career, we've heard her sing about drinking, smoking cigarettes, and various other topics that reinforce her rough-around-the-edges persona.  "Heart Like Mine" doesn't seem to stray far outside of Miranda's comfort zone, but it does manage to further flesh out the character that is present in so many of Miranda's hits.

Miranda declares that she "ain't the kind you take home to Mama" and "ain't the kind to wear no ring."  She also smokes cigarettes, which the Christians say she should quit.  Her daddy cried when she saw her tattoo, but he still loves her anyway.  Still, she believes that Jesus understands her, even when other people don't

That's a nice sentiment, but the song falters slightly in the execution.  Miranda reminds us that "Jesus, he drank wine," and says she's sure they'd "get along just fine."  The chorus is constructed in a way that makes it appear as if that entire argument hinges on the fact that Jesus drank wine, which in turn, might lead us to wonder if she's making a case for Jesus having the same rebel streak that she does.  That doesn't quite fit, since it doesn't take a preacher to know that Jesus wasn't a chain-smoking outlaw.  The song's message is still discernible, but the method of delivery seems slightly misguided.

Despite that setback, the song has plenty of redeeming qualities.  An undercurrent of humility and honesty runs throughout the verses as this character straightforwardly lays bare her faults and imperfections.  The lyrics fit Miranda's tough gal image rather subtly without beating us over the heat with it.  It even hints at the character having a softer side underneath a rough exterior.  Sure, she could blow your head off with that rifle if she wanted to, but she's still a real person with the same desire for acceptance that we all have.  That makes the character feel more relatable to the audience.

Another appealing quality of this single is the fact that we can scarcely imagine it being recorded by any other artist.  This song is uniquely Miranda, and that fact is a positive reflection on Miranda's well-defined artistic identity.  It may not be Miranda's all-time best song, but "Heart Like Mine" goes to show that even Miranda's slightly substandard fare is still stronger than the best material some of her peers may have to offer.

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


Saturday, January 8, 2011

Opry Spotlight: The Whites

A broadly charming act that epitomizes the phrase "family harmony."  The patriarch of the group, Buck White, cut his musician's teeth playing dance hall and radio gigs in Texas back in the fifties.  He developed fine musicianship on both piano and bluegrass mandolin, and he gained attention for his unique stylings of Texas country and blues.  

Buck married Pat Goza in 1951, and the couple then moved to Arkansas and began performing with another couple in an act known as the Down Home Folks.  When Pat and Buck had children of their own, their daughters Sharon and Cheryl also grew into the performing life.  In 1971, the family moved to Nashville, where they continued performing as the Down Home Folks.

In 1973, mother Pat bowed out of the group, and Buck continued performing with Sharon and Cheryl (Their sister Rosie has also performed with her family on occasion).  In 1975, the group played a gig with Emmylou Harris, who invited Sharon and Cheryl to sing background vocals on her 1978 album Blue Kentucky Girl, and later took the Whites on tour with her as an opening act.  It was on that tour that Sharon White met musician Ricky Skaggs, whom she married in 1982.

By the early eighties, the family had begun performing under the name The Whites.  They enjoyed a string of Top 10 and Top 20 country hits in the early half of the decade, starting with their first Top 10 single "You Put the Blue In Me."  Their streak continued with hits such as "Hangin' Around," "I Wonder Who's Holding My Baby Tonight," "Give Me Back That Old Familiar Feeling," "Forever You," "Pins and Needles," and "If It Ain't Love (Let's Leave It Alone)."  In 1984, they were inducted into the Grand Ole Opry.

After the radio hits dried up, The Whites began recording more bluegrass and gospel-oriented material.  In 1989, they released the Christian album Doing It By the BookThe Whites were unexpectedly thrust back into the spotlight in 2001 with their appearance in the hit film and multi-platinum soundtrack O Brother, Where Art Thou?, in which they performed the Carter Family classic "Keep On the Sunny Side."  The success of the film caused a great surge in the popularity of acoustic music, and The Whites got to share in the glory when the O Brother soundtrack won the coveted Grammy Award for Album of the Year.

More recently, The Whites released the 2007 album Salt of the Earth, a collaboration with Ricky Skaggs.  In addition to re-entering the country charts for the first time in two decades, the project won a Grammy for Best Southern Country, Bluegrass, or Gospel Album.

In 2008, The Whites received the honor of being inducted into the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame.  They have since continued touring across the country, and today they remain a regular attraction on the Grand Ole Opry stage.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Randy Montana, "1,000 Faces"

This talented young country newcomer is the son of Billy Montana - the songwriting genius behind best-loved chart-topping smashes like Garth's "More Than a Memory," Jo Dee's "Bring On the Rain," and Sara's "Suds In the Bucket."  After a stint as the frontman of his own rock band, Randy Montana eventually followed his father's footsteps into the country market, making his own mark with his recent Top 40 single "Ain't Much Left of Lovin' You."  But unlike the modern heartbreak of his previous single, his new release "1,000 Faces" is more in the vein of love songs, albeit not the stereotypical lovey-dovey type.

The song begins on a very strong note as Randy describes the many faces of love, backed by a plucked-out acoustic arrangement.  "There's brunettes, blonde girls, blue jeans, string of pearls... debutantes, drama queens, glued to Bride magazine" he sings, concluding that "Love has a thousand faces, but I see you."  As he describes the many various women who could be potential lovers, Randy employs clever rhyming schemes and a low-key but infectious rhythm.  This gives the song an air of mystery, and keeps the list-song format from seeming like a crutch.

But now we run into problems.  As Randy leads us through these descriptions, he leads us to expect some sort of lyrical climax - something profound that would drive home the song's ultimate point.  Such a climax is never reached.  Our only listener payoff comes in the form of an overly loud rock guitar solo.  The problem isn't that it's "too pop;" the problem is that it doesn't fit the character of the song.  Up until that mid-point, the song has an appealingly intimate and personal mood.  It's as if Randy is singing to this one woman, and to no one else.  Once the arena rock production kicks in, that intimate feeling is obliterated.  Then it's no longer about the woman - It's about wowing the fans.

In addition, without that much-needed clincher verse, the lyrics just seem to run around in circles.  True, the lyrics are for the most part interesting, but even the strongest of bricks still need mortar to hold them together.  Likewise, with neither a binding narrative structure nor a consistent mood, "1,000 Faces" ultimately crumbles.

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

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Music Video Round-Up - January 2011

Katie Armiger, "Best Song Ever"

Ha, I totally could have been in this video.  See all those people bopping out to "Best Song Ever"?  That's how I get whenever I'm listening to it in the car.

Easton Corbin, "I Can't Love You Back"

Really interesting concept.  It fleshes out the storyline a bit further, and shows that the departed lover has not dumped the guy, but rather was killed in a car accident (Don't worry - It's not graphic or bloody).  It makes the song seem even sadder!  My only thing is that I was expecting it to reach some sort of peak when it finished showing the lover driving in reverse back towards her man, and it really didn't.  But still a good video nonetheless.

The Grascals and Dolly Parton, "I Am Strong"

Aw, they filmed it at St. Jude.  And yay for Dolly Parton!

Favorite new video?

56% - Easton Corbin, "I Can't Love You Back"
37% - Katie Armiger, "Best Song Ever"
6% - The Grascals and Dolly Parton - "I Am Strong"

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Ashton Shepherd, "Look It Up"

Back in 2008, Ashton Shepherd seemed to be an answer to the prayers of all country music purists.  She burst onto the scene with her heavy Southern drawl, rich and expressive vocals, and an ultra-twangy musical style that was countrier than an Alabama dirt clod.  Her first two singles ("Takin' Off This Pain" and "Sounds So Good") charted and #20 and #21 respectively - not exactly runaway successes, but still a substantial accomplishment for a female artist of the neotraditionalist brand.  Unfortunately, her debut album Sounds So Good failed to make a major commercial impact, and she quickly faded from the public's memory.

But now she's back with a new single, and a sophomore album to be released sometime in 2011.  For now, Ashton is tiding us over with the kiss-off debut single "Look It Up."  It sounds clever enough on the first listen, as Ashton smartly belittles her no-good cheating husband.  "The word is faithful," she chides.  "Look it up.  It means through thick and thin, and pitchin' in..."  She also has a few choice words for her man's mistress, who she dubs a "piece of trash" that defines the word easy.

The problem is that such lyrics, while fairly interesting on the first listen, lose their shine once the novelty wears off.  After a few more listens, the concept no longer holds up, and the descriptions sound tedious instead of clever.

Sometimes the vocal and production may provide just enough extra kick to overcome such a hurdle, but in this case they don't.  The production sounds too lazy on half of the track, and too busy on the other half.  Neither the melody nor Ashton's delivery has enough character to bring the song to life.  Her performance sounds dull and nondistinct in comparison to her earlier work.  While she is still by no means a vocal hack, she could easily be mistaken for Gretchen Wilson.

This single is definitely not a total trainwreck, but the sum of its parts falls short of what it could have been, and we've already seen Ashton do better.  Still, it's good to have her back, even if she's not quite back in full form.  Here's hoping that the rest of her new album will blow us away, even if the first single didn't.

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