Monday, May 30, 2011

Kellie Pickler, "Tough"

Songwriter:  Leslie Satcher

The buzz about Kellie Pickler's new album is that it will closely reflect the sounds of the traditional country music that she cherishes most.  That's right, folks.  Nashville's platinum blonde pop-country princess is going neotraditional.

Well, sort of, at least.  Let us not forget that introspective, emotionally-charged song lyrics are as much of a country music tradition as the sweet sounds of the crying fiddle and steel guitar (acknowledging the fact that such traditions seem to have gone by the wayside in recent years).  On a lyrical level, the album's first single "Tough" is not quite as interesting as one might have hoped, especially considering it was penned by talented songwriting veteran Leslie Satcher.  It's basically a standard girl power/ 'rough-around-the edges' anthem.  She sings about how rough and tough she is, thumbs her nose at the "pretty little high-heeled thing[s]," and predictably concludes that Jesus loves her anyway.

But while the lyrics don't exactly pop, the performance does.  Kellie's vocal is restrained in the song's beginning, but she quickly picks up steam, exhuding a confident bravado as she firmly declares that "There ain't nothin' wrong with a woman that's got a little backbone."  Her sentiments are underscored by a banjo plucking away furiously while fiery fiddle riffs rip through the chorus.  A strong drumbeat keeps the song from falling squarely into the 'neotraditional' category, but this is still Kellie's countriest single release by a long shot.  It could still be considered pop-country, but it clearly draws greater influence from the latter component than the former.  "Tough" is unmistakably country music, and it's a pretty cool sounding country record at that.

It would still be nice to see Kellie delve into some deeper lyrical material on her upcoming album.  But as a performance, "Tough" is still strong enough to keep us interested.  It's a capable vehicle to effectively allow Kellie to showcase her infectious personality, charisma, and energy.

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

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Glen Templeton, "I Could Be the One"

Songwriters:  Tom McHugh, Jay Knowles

Is there still room for a two-stepper on country radio?  Even one as good as Glen Templeton's new single "I Could Be the One"?  Could Taylor Swift and Lady Antebellum just scoot over and make a little room?

"I Could Be the One" is sung from the perspective of a rough-around-the-edges character hoping that the object of his desire will give him a chance, and recognize his potential.  The first verse acknowledges his somewhat unsavory character traits.  He can be "stubborn as a two-dollar 4-H mule, hard to handle as your granddad's tools... but," he points out, "I could be the one."  The second verse delves into what could happen if these two potential lovers get together.  "I could be a too-much-tequila mistake, or I could be your heart's big lucky break.  Might be a little more than you can take, but," he reminds us yet again, "I could be the one." 

Each verse builds on the previous one in a well-arranged lyrical progression.  As the interesting similes and metaphors flesh out the narrator's character, it's hard not to wonder if the uncertainty of the relationship's outcome only adds further fuel to the passion between him and his potential significant other.  You definitely have to give credit when a song can sound this catchy while still possessing organically-layered lyrics that can hold up under scrutiny.

Did I mention that the track also sounds really cool?  The production follows a steady shuffle tempo while a banjo plucks away prominently.  The thumping beat in the background offers just enough oomph to underscore the other elements without overwhelming them.  Glen's smooth vocal delivery ties it all together into a fun, upbeat track that is both remarkably catchy and unmistakably country.  If country radio were to give a chance to cool country shuffles like this, it would undoubtedly make for a much more interesting listening experience.

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

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Kristin Chenoweth, "I Want Somebody (Bitch About)"

So, have you heard?  Tony-winning Broadway actress/singer Kristin Chenoweth will release her first country album, Some Lessons Learned, on September 13.  Will it be any good?  Well, the woman definitely knows how to sing and entertain, and she's working with some good songwriters (including the legendary Diane Warren).  A Randy Travis duet is also in the works, which is another encouraging sign.  At any rate, it comes as a surprise that she and her label have churned out a debut single that is, in all honesty, utterly wretched.  Jaw-droppingly terrible.  Abysmally atrocious.

It sounds like the amazing award-winning talents of Kristin Chenoweth were taking a siesta during this recording session, because all I hear is a cacophony of screeching and whining swamped in excessive auto-tuning.  Her performance on this track is shrill, thin, and downright painful for the ears to hear. 

But even if Kristin had delivered a world-class vocal performance, there would still be no saving this song.  "I Want Somebody" is meant to be about a woman's search for unconditional love, but it ends up a stupid rattled-off laundry list of 'I-wants,' which range from dull, to cheesy, to flat-out ridiculous.  From "I want somebody I can bitch about" to "I want somebody who can make me insane, completely crazy," this is an awful song.

"I Want Somebody" is thoroughly finished off by a grating, overcrowded arrangement, thus driving the final nail in the coffin, and ensuring that this abhorrent single is an epic fail from every angle.  If Kristin Chenoweth ever wants to be taken seriously as a country artist, then some major re-evaluating of strategies is in order, because this here is definitely not working.  Listen at your own risk.

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

Friday, May 27, 2011

Album Review: The Essential Rosanne Cash

Rosanne Cash was one of the most popular female country artists of the eighties, but with a decent number of hits already under her belt, she relinquished her slot on country radio in exchange for full creative freedom. The Essential Rosanne Cash – released thirty years after her career hit “Seven Year Ache” reached number one – is an in-depth career-spanning compilation featuring 36 songs hand-selected by Rosanne herself.

This album is a double-disc set in which each disc covers a different era in Rosanne’s career. Disc 1 begins with two tracks (“Can I Still Believe In You” and “Baby, Better Start Turnin’ ‘Em Down”) from Rosanne’s little-known self-titled debut album, released on German label Ariola. From there, this disc goes into all of Rosanne’s best-known radio hits, as well as some lesser-known inclusions, all arranged in loose chronological order. Essential hits such as “Seven Year Ache,” “My Baby Thinks He’s a Train,” “Blue Moon with Heartache,” and her Grammy-winner “I Don’t Know Why You Don’t Want Me” are all present and accounted for. After we hear a fair amount of the synth-laden sound of the eighties, the disc segues into the mainstream country sound of her 1987 album King’s Record Shop. That classic set yielded four number-one singles – a feat unprecedented by any female artist at the time – all of which are included in this compilation (“The Way We Make a Broken Heart,” “Tennessee Flat Top Box,” “If You Ever Change Your Mind,” “Runaway Train”). The first disc closes with Rosanne’s final number-one hit, her country-tinged cover of the Beatles’ “I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party,” signaling the end of Rosanne’s hit-making era.

But it would be a mistake to focus only on Rosanne’s hit songs, and to overlook the remarkable body of work she produced in the years after she turned away from hit making. As Disc 2 opens, it deviates from chronological order by beginning with “The Real Me,” a non-single track from King’s Record Shop. This deviation is appropriate, as “The Real Me” ideally sets the tone for the songs to follow. Indeed, Disc 2 represents the era in which Rosanne had stopped attempting to squeeze herself into the mainstream country mold, and began recording the most personal music of her career. This was when we began to see the real Rosanne Cash in exquisite compositions such as “The Wheel” (the centerpiece of her 1993 rock album of the same title), “Sleeping In Paris,” “Rules of Travel,” and many others.

An indispensable inclusion is “September When It Comes,” – Rosanne’s ethereal duet with her legendary father Johnny Cash, recorded in 2003 for her album Rules of Travel. The song, written by Rosanne with her husband John Leventhal, explored the theme of mortality in a way that was eerily prophetic of Johnny Cash’s own impending death (which took place in September of that very year). Using the month of September to symbolize the period near the end of one’s life, the lyrics beautifully conveyed emotions of both pain and hope. Such a masterpiece of a song is a definite career highlight, whether it becomes a hit or not. After losing her father, mother, stepmother, and stepsister in a short two-year time span, Rosanne poured her grief into her 2006 set Black Cadillac, expressing herself through songs such as the title track, “House On the Lake,” “The World Unseen,” and “The Good Intent,” all of which are included in The Essential Rosanne Cash. Disc 2 closes with two tracks from Rosanne’s 2009 covers album The List – “500 Miles," “Sea of Heartbreak" (her duet with Bruce Springsteen), and "Sweet Memories."

The hit songs are only the tip of the iceberg – This is true of just about any artist, but perhaps all the more so with Rosanne Cash. There is often much more to learn about an artist than what can be discerned from a simple, concise “Greatest Hits” package. By visiting virtually every chapter of Rosanne’s career, The Essential Rosanne Cash manages to live up to its title in full – essential in the sense of music quality, as well as effectiveness in summing up an artist’s career. Of course, the only way to see the full depth of Rosanne’s artistry would be to collect her entire discography, but The Essential Rosanne Cash offers the finest portrait that could ever be seen from one compilation album. The result is a career retrospective as beautiful and well-rounded as any artist could hope for.
(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Scotty McCreery, "I Love You This Big"

From the moment North Carolina teenager Scotty McCreery first appeared on the American Idol stage, he set tongues a-wagging in the world of country music.  His wink-wink boy-next-door charm and dynamic performances made him an instant fan favorite.  Though rival Lauren Alaina seemed to be the judges' favorite, Scotty's fan base succeeded in rallying together to win him the Idol title.  But despite his popularity, he has been met with some early resistance from some country radio programmers who have taken a strong dislike to him.  Thus, in launching Scotty's country music career, his label is playing it safe by releasing the most generic, easily-digestible love song as his first single.

First, let's get this out of the way:  I like Scotty McCreery.  I like his deep-throated, Josh Turner-esque vocals.  I like his neotraditional-leaning musical style.  Heck, I even voted for him!  But now that I've said what I do like, I have to say that I do not like this song.  Not even a little bit. 

True, the laid-back steel guitar-laced arrangement makes it a little more palatable, but the unabashed cheesiness of the title hook "I Love You This Big" instantly leaves a bad taste in the mouth.  Title hook aside, the verses are consistently mediocre in content.  From "The way my heart starts pounding when I look into your eyes..." to "You do something to me deep down in my heart," awkward metaphors and cliche phrasing are in abundance.  Even Scotty's vocal delivery begs for an added level of expressiveness, lacking the charisma that often came across from his Idol performances.

Scotty has a good voice.  We've seen that repeatedly demonstrated over the course of the season.  But "I Love You This Big" is just so, so boring.  Bottom line:  Scotty deserves a better song than this.

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

Sara Evans, "My Heart Can't Tell You No"

Songwriters:  Simon Climie, Dennis W. Morgan

When you think of eighties pop tunes that are deserving of country reinterpretations, isn't Rod Stewart the first act that comes to mind?  Possibly not, but that must have been what Sara Evans was thinking.  Her new single offering, hot on the heels of her first number one hit since 2005, is a cover of the Rod Stewart hit "My Heart Can't Tell You No."

Of course, no amount of pedal steel can fully conceal the fact that "My Heart Can't Tell You No" is a pop song at its core.  It's eighties power ballad flavor remains distinguishable, particularly during the crescendoing chorus.  Despite such characteristics, Sara's take on "My Heart Can't Tell You No" is more toned back instrumentally in comparison to the original and to the electric guitar-laden power balladry of Sara's previous smash, "A Little Bit Stronger."  This recording finds Sara primarily backed by acoustic and steel guitar.  The arrangement does contain a helping of electric guitar, but even that sometimes-distracting instrument manages to stay in its proper place.

The arrangement displays some pleasant interplay between the instruments and Sara's soaring vocals.  Each time Sara sings "When the one you love's in love with someone else..." she is answered by a series of weeping steel guitar chords.  This demonstrates the well-known fact that, despite her occasional affinity for flirting with crossover sounds, Sara's distinctive alto has always sounded best when paired with traditional country instruments.  Sara's performance vascillates from a restrained, low-key delivery to a series of high vocal swoops.  She sings with palpable conviction as she begs her lover "You've got to stay away from me!  Stay away from me!"

Despite its inherent pop nature, the lyrical content of "My Heart Can't Tell You No" fits in snugly with the signature themes of country music.  It's a good song, but the production of the original version planted it squarely among the trends of its specific era.  Resurrecting the song into a less bombastic, modernized version shows the timelessness of a well-constructed lyric.

Overall, "My Heart Can't Tell You No" is a respectable entry from an artist whose own life has been the stuff of a country song in recent years.  It may or may not rank as one of Sara's best-remembered singles in years to come, but either way, it's a competent reworking that shows what a capable lyrical interpreter Sara can be when given the right song.

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

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Kenny Chesney, "You and Tequila" (featuring Grace Potter)

Songwriters:  Matraca Berg, Deana Carter

Kenny should mine the Matraca Berg catalog more often.  It seems to work well for him.  With this performance, Kenny reminds us once again of the strong balladeer skills he possesses.  He's a talented vocalist, but his previous hit "Live a Little" didn't come close to doing him justice.

Here we find a narrator drawing a parallel between two things that are damaging to him, but that hold him in a seemingly inescapable grasp - liquor, and the love of an unhealthy relationship.  Desire collides with better judgment in these bitter lyrics, as the character realizes that "It's so easy to forget the bitter taste the morning left," and that "It's always your favorite sins that do you in."  The memorable chorus culminates in the winning line "One is one too many, one more is never enough.  "You and Tequila" is a beautifully-written piece of mature emotion-filled storytelling, the likes of which are scarcely heard on country radio anymore.

Grace Potter's contribution comes in the form of [what used to be called] background vocals, as opposed to a proper duet, but she's a worthwhile inclusion nonetheless.  Her softly understated vocals add an extra layer of longing to the performance, fitting in perfectly next to Kenny's smooth delivery.  The subtle acoustic arrangement sounds beautiful on its own, but it gives both vocalists plenty of room to shine.

At this high point in his career, Kenny could probably make a number-one country hit out of the Oscar Mayer jingle.  When an artist like Kenny reaches automatic-add status on country radio, it's always heartening to see an artist use that position to shine the spotlight on quality song material that might not otherwise have a shot at mass exposure.  In recent years, intelligent lyricists such as Matraca Berg seem to have fallen by the wayside on country radio, so Kenny deserves a great deal of credit for reintroducing the mainstream country audience to her unique work.  At any rate, it easily makes for the finest Kenny Chesney single in recent memory.

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

Friday, May 20, 2011

Rachel Holder, "Chocolate"

Songwriters:  Chuck Howard, Bob Regan, Kristy Osmunson

I'm faced with a bit of a challenge here.  How can I explain in coherent terms why I enjoy Rachel Holder's debut single "Chocolate"?  It's about a girl leaving a guy for chocolate.  He cheats on her, so she dumps him, and fills the void of his departure with... you guessed it... chocolate.

Sound hokey?  The concept may sound like something that can be easily dismissed, but let's imagine for a moment.  If an artist were intent on singing a song about chocolate, what characteristics could make it enjoyable instead of annoying?  A catchy melody?  "Chocolate" has that.  A performance packed with personality?  "Chocolate" has that.  Humorous lyrics?  A fun, upbeat arrangement?  "Chocolate" has that, along with all the makings of an oddly charming little ditty.

Of course, you can only enjoy "Chocolate" if you accept the fact that it's pure novelty - ear candy, if you'll excuse the pun.  It's not aiming for great lyrical depth - It's aiming to put a smile on your face, and maybe even get you to sing along.  Call it a guilty pleasure if you must, but this "Chocolate" has just the right confection of cheeky humor, subtle cleverness, and infectious personality to make it work.  Congratulations, Rachel - You made me like a song about leaving a guy for chocolate.

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


Thursday, May 19, 2011

Jerrod Niemann, "One More Drinkin' Song"

Songwriters:  Jerrod Niemann, Richie Brown

"Hey hey hey, what's so wrong with one more drinking song?"  Nothing at all, provided that it's a good drinking song.  Especially one that goes beyond simply identifying itself as "One More Drinkin' Song," and that actually manages to distinguish itself among all the other drinking songs in country music.

The trouble with this particular drinking song is that is that it doesn't aspire to be anything more than... well... "One More Drinkin' Song."  It declares itself to be a drinking song, and asks its listeners to sing along, but brings no distinctive characteristics of its own.  Leaning on "hey hey hey" hooks wrapped in a singalong melody, it reaches the height of its cleverness in a tacked-on line about "bartenders tryin' to get paid while the rest of us are tryin to get..." which substitutes a hokey sound effect for the word "laid."  But since the song fails to offer its own fresh take on its theme, it's as if where listening to the sonic equivalent of a skeleton with no flesh.

Then the song devolves predictably into a canned barroom singalong chorus, which adds an uncalled-for layer of cheesiness.  I'm just going to put this out there while we're on the topic, but I absolutely hate crowd singalongs.  Passionately. (I might even like Brad Paisley's "I'm Gonna Miss Her" if not for that danged singalong) Whenever I hear one, I always feel as if someone is trying to convince me to like a song because other people like it.  It's a measure that often reeks of desperation.  I say if you want to convince me to like a song, try writing a song that's actually good.

While there's still nothing wrong with a good old drinking song, it's easy to see why one might gravitate toward a drinking song that's more unique and memorable than this one.  Jerrod's "Drinkin' Song" may be palatable on the first listen, but it's overall a weightless track that leaves hardly enough of an impression to garner a replay.

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

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Terri Clark, "Northern Girl"

After being cut off by U.S. country radio, Terri Clark eventually parted ways with her label home of Mercury Nashville, and focused her efforts on her native Canada, where she has continued to enjoy chart success.

In a similar vein as Faith Hill's "Mississippi Girl," Terri celebrates her Canadian roots on her brand new single "Northern Girl."  We may have become accustomed to hearing country artists proclaim the joys of the Southern lifestyle in the U.S.A., so it almost comes as a surprise to hear Terri Clark singing about how she "grew up drivin' on black ice, spinnin' in circles under neon lights."  But that's exactly the kind of place Terri Clark came from, so it's a nice change of pace from hearing so many cliche-laden songs about backwoods Southern living.

The arrangement on "Northern Girl" meshes electric guitars together with steel guitars, while still allowing Terri's strong vocal performance to cut through.  With a jubilant melody and an infectious opening guitar hook, the song will no doubt make you very happy.  Even the na-na-na-nas, which often threaten to be annoying, sound right at home on this track  The line "You can take me out of there, but you can't take it out of me," is gratuitous, but it's not enough to sour the song's sweet flavor.  Granted, it would be desirable to hear Terri dig into some deeper subject matter with the rest of her new album, but for now we can all just join Terri in her joyous celebration of her "Northern Girl" heritage.

Since U.S. country radio hasn't shown much interest in Terri Clark since 2004, it's unlikely that a song so ripe with Canadian references would bring her back into their good graces, though the song has already become a Top 20 hit in Terri's Canadian homeland.  Still, it's a solid entry into Terri's catalog, and an enjoyable preview of her upcoming new album

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


Saturday, May 14, 2011

Craig Campbell, "Fish"

Songwriters:  Craig Campbell, Arlos Smith, Ashe Underwood

Craig Campbell's self-titled debut album has drawn well-deserved praise for a sound that is distinctly country enough to appeal to traditional-leaning fans, while still being fresh and contemporary enough to be commercially viable.  Where the album all too often goes wrong is in mediocre lyrics with a few failed attempts at cleverness.  In that regard, the current single "Fish" ranks as one of the worst offenders.

"Fish" draws on a double entendre in which a fishing trip is used as a drawn-out metaphor for sex.  It pairs a lethargic melody with a forgettable hook ("Man that girl sure loves to fish"), resulting in a real yawn of a single.  With cliche-filled verses that are continually dull in content, "Fish" is too nondescript to be offensive, and too bland to be amusing.  It's hard to determine the point of the song's existence.

I really do like Craig Campbell.  He's a talented guy with an enjoyable musical style.  But when it comes to showcasing Craig's talent and artistic potential, "Fish" is a wasted oppurtunity.

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


Friday, May 13, 2011

Album Review: Victoria Banks - Never Be the Same

Never Be the Same, the second studio album from Canadian singer-songwriter Victoria Banks, includes a fair helping of delicious slices of pop-country, kicking off with the charming opener “Come On.” It’s about as simple a song as its title leads us to expect, but with an uplifting melody, a cool fiddle-laced arrangement, and a competent lead vocal delivery, the sum of its parts make for an enjoyably breezy contemporary country love song.

The track “Jackson” might have you expecting a cover of the well-known Cash classic, but it’s far from it. It boasts the most attention-grabbing opening line of any song on the album – “It’s a long way back to Jackson in a beat-up Cadillac/ With a Bible on the floorboard and a body in the back.” The absorbing story-song is easily the most striking track on the album. It reaches a climax in the bridge after the second chorus, when Victoria’s character sneers at the ineffective justice system, and opts to take things into her own hands – “There was never any crime, ‘cause there wasn’t no proof/ But a big sister always knows the truth/ So when he gets home tonight, I swear I’ll make things right/ I’ll be waitin’ inside with a forty-five.”
Title track “Never Be the Same” is sonically interesting thanks to Victoria’s nuanced lead vocal, but the song is lyrically unfulfilling, leaning upon the crutch of laundry-list songwriting. It touches on a number of life experiences the narrator has had, with her simply concluding that she “will never be the same.” On the song “Somebody Does,” Victoria visits similar lyrical territory to that of the recent Sugarland hit “Little Miss,” in which a narrator offers comfort and encouragement to a downtrodden companion. It’s a solid concept, but the lyrics seem to call for a little added specificity, with the hook “Right now you think nobody cares, but somebody does” seeming hollow and vague.
Never Be the Same is clearly not an album without its faults, with lyrics that don’t often scratch below surface level. Even on the strongest songs, layers of production often act as an unnecessary distraction. A primary example is the rather awkwardly-constructed empowerment anthem “Barefoot Girl,” which extols the joys of pick-up trucks and torn-up jeans, while the heavy beat and thumping production would seem more at home in the “high-rise high heels world” that the narrator rejects. The trait re-surfaces in the spousal abuse tale “Remember That, written by Victoria with Rachel Proctor, which appeared on Jessica Simpson’s 2008 country album Do You Know. Victoria’s performances sounds a degree more invested in the lyrics than Jessica’s, but her sincerity is undermined by an overwrought arrangement. The arrangement threatens to detract from the fact that “Remember That” ranks among the album’s strongest lyrics, in which a woman addresses an abused victim in a manner that is gentle, sympathetic, and not at all condescending.
As a whole, Never Be the Same includes many of the building blocks necessary to construct a great album, but they sometimes wind up scattered hither and thither with needless clutter falling in between. Still, the album has its share of great moments demonstrating the magic that can happen when all of the pieces fall into alignment.

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


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Wynonna, "Love It Out Loud"

Songwriters:  Wynonna Judd, Cactus Moser

On hearing a new track from Wynonna, one might wonder if it will be closer to the classic "No One Else On Earth" version of Wynonna, or the underwhelming "I Will Stand By You" version.  As it turns out, her new single is definitely closer to the former.  Much closer.

"Love It Out Loud" was written as a tribute to Wynonna's mother and musical cohort Naomi Judd.  But instead of laying on the sap, "Love It Out Loud" turns out to be a rocking throwback to Wynonna's "No One Else On Earth" glory days.  Fiddles and electric guitars sit side by side in a driving country-rock arrangement, yet Wynonna's Ferrari of a voice continually acts as the main instrument.  Her voice shows some signs of wear, but that does not detract from our listening enjoyment in the least.  She throws herself into the performance head on with all the gritty soulfulness that has characterized her best work.  Her voice rises from a deep growl to an aggressive roar while exuding a punctuated swagger in a consistently engaging performance.

Besides the obvious fact that "Love It Out Loud" is such an unabashedly cool record, it has a heart and a message at the core of all that toe-tapping fun, not to mention a great title hook.  "Love isn't love, really love, until you love it out loud," Wynonna sings with fierce conviction.  Isn't that true?  'Love isn't love until you love it out loud' is great advice that could be applied in just about any relationship scenario, whether it be a parent-child relationship or a romantic relationship.  The chorus is surrounded by a variety of quirky rapid-fire rhymes that don't always have a close tangible connection with the title hook, but that still contribute to the consistently interesting lyrical content.

Had it been released in the mid to late nineties, "Love It Out Loud" would have totally torn up the charts.  Whether it will do so today is less certain.  One thing is for sure:  If country radio programmers ignore it, they will be ignoring what is hands down one of the best country singles of 2011.

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


Monday, May 9, 2011

Jake Owen, "Barefoot Blue Jean Night"

Songwriters:  Eric Paslay, Dylan Altman, Terry Sawchuk

Jake, I hate to break this to you, but Rascal Flatts already did this.  So did Jack Ingram.  And Brad Paisley.  But maybe you realized that.  Maybe you realized that another song about hot girls and cold beer is about as unique and memorable as a speck of dirt.  You had to know that you weren't going to make any lasting impression with those lyrics.  Maybe that's why you went for all-out cheesiness instead.

With a cacophony of echoing whoa-oa-oas and robotic hand claps, "Barefoot Blue Jean Night" is easily bad enough to make the listener physically cringe on the first listen.  Purists have often complained that modern mainstream country sounds like bad eighties pop, but it's almost eerie to hear a song that fits the description this perfectly.  Thus, instead of evoking feelings of youthful nostalgia, "Barefoot Blue Jean Night" only leave an extremely bad taste in your mouth.

"Barefoot Blue Jean Night" is another calculated effort to capitalize on country radio's annual obsession with summer songs. Like most of its fellow summer songs, its lyrics don't delve much deeper than the requisite references to hot girls and cold beer.  But summer songs are not inherently evil.  The right amount of cleverness and personality can be just the right thing to get listeners in the summertime party mood (see "Redneck Yacht Club").  There's no personality here - The track sounds like business as usual, but with an extra layer of bad taste.

"Barefoot Blue Jean Night" tosses out cleverness in favor of the generic, aiming only to fit in comfortably between all the other summer songs on radio playlists.  This leaves the finished product feeling like a clumsy grasp at commercial success, and a lazily thrown-together mashup of random ingredients.

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


Sunday, May 8, 2011

Music Video Round-Up - May 2011, Part 2

Stealing Angels, "Paper Heart"

Margaret Durante, "Maybe Tonight"

Jennette McCurdy, "Generation Love"

Corey Smith, "Twenty One"

Ronnie Dunn, "Love Owes Me One"

Eric Church, "Homeboy"

Taylor Swift, "Mean"

Friday, May 6, 2011

Music Video Round-Up - May 2011, Part 1

Lots of great new vids to talk about this month, so we're going to split this round-up over two parts.  Part 2 will be coming soon!

Josh Abbott Band, "Oh, Tonight"

Overall simple, but including a few more dramatic touches - like fire, for instance.  The music video preserves the same conversational tone that the song itself has, in that it shows Josh Abbott and Kacey Musgraves playing guitar and singing to each other in a simple fireside setting.

The Dirt Drifters, "Something Better"
(Embedding disabled - Click here to watch)
This video follows a blue collar worker through his grueling everyday routine.  It includes quite a few odd camera angles, and a good bit of humor.  Quirky, fun, and off-beat, just like the song.

David Nail, "Let It Rain"

Eh, didn't really care for this one.  Kind of boring.  Never really went anywhere.  All that really happened was sitting around and watching the soon-to-be-ex-lover get dressed.

Thompson Square, "I Got You"

A Sonny & Cher spoof - seems appropriate, considering the song's title.  This video finds Keifer and Shawna Thompson playing muliple roles - the hosts of the Keifer & Shawna Show, themselves performing as Thompson Square, and others as well.  Still not a fan of the song, but this is a cute video.

Sugarland, "Tonight"

Some interesting visual elements, including a variety of colorful costumes worn by Jennifer Nettles.

Emerson Drive, "Let Your Love Speak"

What could possibly be a cooler setting than Sydney, Australia?

Chris Young, "Tomorrow"

Simple, yet very well played out.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Lady Antebellum, "Just a Kiss"

Songwriters:  Dave Haywood, Charles Kelley, Hillary Scott, Dallas Davidson

Their previous single may have been one of their weakest, but the new single from Lady's Antebellum's upcoming third album may be a step in the right direction.  On "Just a Kiss," lead vocalists Hillary Scott and Charles Kelley play the parts of young lovers in a budding relationship, experiencing strong feelings of desire, yet adhering to their better judgment.  They opt to take it slow, settling for "Just a kiss on your lips in the moonlight, just a touch in the fire burning so bright."

As a lyrical composition, "Just a Kiss" is neither memorable nor outstanding.  Lyrics about being "Caught up in this moment, caught up in your smile" aren't particularly interesting.  Without the right treatment, a song like "Just a Kiss" would be a total bore, but the song is saved by the grace of Charles and Hillary's beautifully acted out performances.  As Hillary sings the opening verses, her vocal carries just the right air of vulnerability combined with passion.  Charles' deep-throated voice supplies the ideal contrast to Hillary's restrained delivery.

"Just a Kiss" is very much a straightforward pop power ballad, similar in some ways to the Jason Aldean - Kelly Clarkson smash "Don't You Wanna Stay," though without the obligatory steel guitar fills.  It's not country by a long stretch, and it doesn't pretend to be, with a twang-free line-up of piano and strings pulling the weight instead.  Like the aforementioned hit, "Just a Kiss" is largely built around one big chorus that serves as the song's centerpiece.  The chorus boasts a surprisingly infectious melody, which carries a sense of urgency, while echoing the underlying passion of the song's characters, not to mention planting itself firmly in the heads of listeners.  As a lyric, "Just a Kiss" is not groundbreaking, but as a performance, it works.

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


Monday, May 2, 2011

Goodbye to the 9513 - The Web's Premiere Country Music Blog Retiring

I received some sad news today, and I couldn't let the day go by without writing a few words about it.  The 9513, deservedly the web's number one country music blog, is retiring, as announced today by editor Brody Vercher.

Since it's first post in 2006, The 9513 has defined what a great country blog should be, featuring reliably excellent writing, a wide variety of music covered, and a consistent standard of high-quality content, all overseen by founders Brady and Brody Vercher.  News roundups were posted regularly, helping readers keep thoroughly well-informed on all the goings-on in the world of country music.  In addition, it included the insightful musings of columnists such as Barry Mazor, Paul W. Dennis, and Chris Neal.  Impossible to forget are the site's detailed, well-thought-out, and unabashedly honest reviews of current album and singles, authored by talented writers such as Jim Malec, Blake Boldt, Karlie Justus, Juli Thanki, and C.M. Wilcox.  The 9513 was valuable for the way it introduced us to talented artists of the independent music scene, while still giving mainstream country generous coverage as well.  The 9513 writers always praised the music where praise was deserved, while never hesitating to offer criticism when such was warranted.

If it were not for The 9513, The 1-to-10 Country Music Review would not exist.  It was The 9513's insightful, yet always entertaining content that inspired the creation of my own little blog.  I've been happily blogging away for over a year now, growing as a writer, meeting great new people, and having a good old time.  I have The 9513 to thank for that.

We'll miss it.