My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Single Review: Taylor Swift – ‘Fearless’

When Taylor Swift released the best song she’s ever sang, and one of my personal favorites, it became her lowest charting single ever. For some reason ‘Fifteen’ wasn’t massive, but Swift follows it up with the title track and fifth single from her sophomore album, Fearless.

After ‘Fifteen’, ‘Fearless’ is just so juvenile. Sure, teenage girls will connect with wanting to be kissed in the rain, but I honestly have no intention of doing so as an adult male. The message of the song is about being fearless in love, but Swift’s past singles have dealt with the same theme in much better ways. ‘You Belong With Me’ was real and engaging, while “Love Story” had the whole Romeo and Juliet motifs going for it: ‘Fearless’ is just less by comparison.

This song is catchy and fun, and Swift sings it fine (as well as she can), but I just feel like she has better versions of this song out there. This song is definitely more pop than country, but who would expect anything different? Regardless, she can do better than this.  And has.

Grade: C+

‘Fearless’ was written by: Taylor Swift, Liz Rose and Hillary Lindsey and can be purchased at iTunes and streamed at Last FM.

Single Review: Lady Antebellum – ‘American Honey’

The cover for Lady A's upcoming album

Lady Antebellum is on a roll, there’s no doubt about that. Right after scoring their first #1 with “I Run To You” they busted out of the gate with the first single and title track from their upcoming sophomore album, “Need You Now”. Now, the true test is if they can keep up that incredible momentum with “American Honey” their brand new single.

So is it any good? Yeah, I think so. Mostly. It’s a simple song about getting back to one’s roots that doesn’t sound like a re-tread. With a light drum loop that doesn’t sound forced, but rather keeps the light fiddle and acoustic picking moving along. Around the second verse, it begins to sound more Adult Contemporary than country, but thankfully this song still sounds like it was meant to be a country song, unlike most, if not all, of Lady A’s previous singles.

Hillary Scott gets her first her first turn at complete lead vocals and she proves to be more than capable with Charles Kelley’s perfect harmony vocals in the background. The song never gets bombastic, something that Lady A is very good about and sounds very pleasant to the ears, another thing Lady A is very good at.

So what’s wrong with this song? It sounds like it’s meant to be a story song, but there is literally no plot. So when Scott sings “I need to get back to her somehow…” She’s trying to say “I need to get back to my roots,” but the song gives us no idea why she needs to and how she’s going to do that, so what’s the point? The first verse does a nice job of background, but the story just doesn’t go anywhere beyond that, so the song doesn’t say much, although it does say nothing with very nice sounding language.

This single is better than most of the dreck clouding the airwaves, but it still doesn’t say much and when it does, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Lady A can do better.

Grade: B+

‘American Honey’ was written by: Hillary Lindsey, Cary Barlow, and Shane Stevens.  It can be purchased at iTunes and you can listen to it here.

Year In Review: Chris Dean’s Top 10 Albums of 2009

These albums are an interesting mix: a few indie albums, a comeback album, a mainstream major release (or 3) and a live album that shouldn’t go together. However, from the albums I heard this year, these were my favorites, the ones I kept listening to. Hopefully you agree, but maybe not and that’s what makes the end of the year so interesting! Maybe you’ll find something new on my list that you didn’t think to listen to.

10. Southern VoiceTim McGraw (Curb)

A last minute entry on my list, this album was not what I expected. I hadn’t even listened to his new singles, and I wish I’d paid more attention. This album is a mature bunch of story songs such as the morbid “Good Girls”. The most touching is ‘You Had To Be There,’ a scene in a prison where a father talks to his son through a glass window and a phone. Even lead single ‘It’s A Business Doing Pleasure With You’ is a fun pop-country song that manages to be fresh.

9. Destination Life – Rhonda Vincent (Rounder)

A finely crafted bluegrass album that’s entertaining from start to finish. An infectious version of ‘Stop the World (And Let Me Off)’ is by far my favorite track here.

8.Middle Cyclone – Neko Case (Anti)

I had the chance to see Neko in concert right before this CD came out, and I wish I had; this is a unique collection of natural disaster-inspired love songs. ‘This Tornado Loves You’ is awesome, and the album artwork is one of my favorites ever. I mean come on, holding a sword on a car hood? Yeah!

7. Live At Eddie’s Attic – The Civil Wars (Sensibility)

A free, digital, live album- this duo is a hidden gem. ‘Poison & Wine’is raw and heartbreaking- not to mention they can really sing live. Hopefully a studio album will be in the works…

6. The Long Way Home – Terri Clark (Bare Track)

A little more slick than I expected, nevertheless this album has very fine tunes, especially the AA-themed’A Million Ways To Run’ and the clever “If You Want Fire”.

5. Song Up In Her Head – Sarah Jarosz (Sugarhill)

In the vein of Nickel Creek, Sarah Jarosz’s album is progressive bluegrass with plenty of banjo. A cover of the Decemberist’s ‘Shankill Butchers’ is the highlight.

4. American Saturday Night – Brad Paisley (Arista)

I didn’t expect to like this album, but I did and I have been playing it for the past 6 months. ‘Everybody’s Here’ is a gorgeous ode to not having a good time at a party. Anyone else surprised that a solo, mainstream male artist made it on my list? I kind of am.

3. Sara Watkins – Sara Watkins (Nonesuch)

Her solo debut is surprisingly not a continuation of Nickel Creek (Although that would still be awesome!), Sara brings more country tunes. The mournful ‘All This Time’ and swingy ‘Any Old Time’ show her real talent.

2. Mountain Soul II – Patty Loveless (Saguaro Road)

Do I need to say anything? Probably not, but I will. I actually like this album more than the first Mountain Soul, but it doesn’t quite have a knockout track like ‘You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive’. ‘Diamond And The Crown’ with Emmylou Harris comes really close though, with it’s hymn-like organ and wonderful performance.

1.Revolution – Miranda Lambert (Sony)

I meant to write a review here for this album, but life got in the way. This album manages to be diverse and cohesive at the same time; a feat last accomplished so deftly by a mainstream artist when Trisha Yearwood released Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love. ‘The House That Built Me’ made me miss home so much I shed a tear, something that very few songs have the power to do.

Year In Review: Chris Dean’s Top 10 singles of 2009

Sure, I love ‘Busted’ by Patty Loveless- it’s an awesome song.  However, it never had a chance at radio, everybody knows that. For my list, I tried to stick with songs that either were radio hits or were put out by acts that had potential to be radio hits. I love more obscure music, but I think looking at the commercially successful songs, there’s quality to be found there, and I hope I’ve found most of it.

10. StrangeReba McEntire
Of the two hits Reba has had this year, this one’s my favorite because it doesn’t have the been there done that feeling of ‘Consider Me Gone’. It also has a catchy melody- in a good way of course.

9. That Kind of HappyEmily West
I wish I could sue someone for the fact that Emily West isn’t a star; this song manages to be exactly what radio wants while being fresh and creative. Hopefully’Blue Sky’, her new single with Keith Urban will change that, but I doubt it.

8. Living For The Night - George Strait
I’ve never really been a Strait fan, but this song is just so heartbreaking it caught me. At least Strait brings some real country music to the radio.

7 .Only You Can Love Me This Way - Keith Urban
A little saccharine, but an honest ode that rings true. Urban is such a great singer, and I love the acoustic-ness of this song. I wish I could play the guitar like him…

6. Play The SongJoey + Rory
I’m so surprised this never got played! Sarcasm aside, this was a daring single that is a good song, but was obviously doomed for failure. They should have given ‘Sweet Emmylou’ a chance- at least it doesn’t lambast the music industry!

5. JoeySugarland
Sugarland’s only non-number 1 from Love On The Inside, this song is still pretty good. A weak chorus drags it down, but the story is solid and told in an unexpected way. If only they hadn’t cancelled the release of ‘Keep You’… Now they don’t have a single at all.

4. Welcome To The Future - Brad Paisley
Witty and meaningful- a tactic Brad Paisley employs well here. Since I like it so much, no wonder it’s his first single in years to not hit #1…

3. Need You NowLady Antebellum
Smooth pop-country (emphasis on the pop) has never sounded so good or been this sad. Props to this promising duo for bringing the sad back to the radio.

2. White LiarMiranda Lambert
My second favorite song from Revolution, this single is climbing in the top 10, and actually has a chance at the top spot! With a fun story and a great, but simple turnaround, this song is quality country music from a real entertainer.

1. Solitary Thinkin’ Lee Ann Womack
This song wasn’t quite the masterpiece ‘Last Call’ was, but it’s by far the most relaxing song I’ve ever heard- it always makes me unwind with a twinge of loneliness. If I drank, this would be my favorite drinking song for sure.

Album Review: Sara Evans – ‘Born To Fly’

As the third release of her career, after one album that flopped and a second moderately successful release, this album would make or break Sara Evans’ career. The title cut from her previous album, ‘No Place That Far’ was a hit, but the other two singles were not as successful.  Sara sorely needed to come back with a bang. Long story short? She did in October of 2000.  This time co-producing the set with Paul Worley, known for his work with the Dixie Chicks, Martina McBride, and Lady Antebellum.

This two-times platinum album spawned three top ten singles, including the #1 title track.  The album itself went to #6 on the Country Albums chart – Evans’ first top 10 album.  For me, this was one of the first country albums I voluntarily listened to. My dad, a big Sara Evans fan passed Restless on to me and eventually Born To Fly, and I played the heck out of them. Without those albums, I might not love the country music that I do today.

This album highlights the pop in pop-country, but is still distinctive because of Sara’s great voice. The title track is also the opener and it really sets the tone of the entire album. Acoustic guitars and a chugging drum line push along a story of a girl who knows she’s destined for bigger things. A catchy song with traces of dobro and fiddle, it’s a very enjoyable slice of pop-country that cemented Sara’s spot as a star.  It would be her first #1 hit on the Country Singles chart.

Also on the faster side is one of my favorite tracks on the album, ‘Four-Thirty’. A song about a woman promising to meet her traveling lover who she would see around…4:30. Right. Well, Sara gives an engaging performance to a simple song that has one of the better melodies to come around. She sells the song with all she’s got and it works. ‘I Keep Looking’ is another hit single – it went to #5 – with some tempo that details how Sara keeps looking for something more. It’s a song that’s easily relatable, talking about how everyone wants everything they can’t have. While fun, this song has no country elements whatsoever, showing Sara’s complete move away from country music on parts of this album.

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Single Review: Carrie Underwood – ‘Temporary Home’

As iTunes counted down to the release of Play On, Carrie Underwood’s latest album, I bought the singles since I planned on buying the album digitally. When I first heard this song, I knew it was a formulaic 3-part song, but in my opinion it is a really good 3-part song.

Now on Carnival Ride I wasn’t sure how much of a hand Carrie had on her co-writes, but from interviews it seems that Carrie developed the concept, title and scenes for the entire song, something that I’m fairly impressed by. Even looking past the formula, the song earnestly tries to convey it’s religious message and it comes across loud and clear. It’s a little blunt; namely that even a casual country fan could see the last verse coming from a mile away, but the song is still effective. Luckily, even if it is a little blunt, “Temporary Home” is easily one of Carrie’s best vocal performances, only rivaled by “Someday When I Stop Loving You”, which is also from Play On.

Maybe it’s just because of my personal religious beliefs, but the song’s notion that this life is just a “temporary home” in preparation for the afterlife is very much how I see this life, and I bet many listeners everywhere will be able to relate. It’s also nice that she pays attention to some of the more maligned social groups, namely foster kids and moms in halfway houses- something that’s a little more rare in modern country songs. Honestly, it’s just a miracle that hobos weren’t chosen, if you ask me.

Grade: A-

Written by: Carrie Underwood, Zac Maloy and Luke Laird

Listen to “Temporary Home” here on Last FM, or watch the live music video here on CMT.com

Single Review: Brad Paisley – ‘American Saturday Night’

As I stated in my review from way back in June of the album that’s named after this song, I’ve always just been a casual fan of Brad Paisley. That’s why I was so surprised by American Saturday Night- it just clicked with me, not to mention it was a surprising quality album from a mainstream country act.

Brad Paisley has recently used his wit to perform random tick-checks on girls, lambast any potential feminine traits in guys everywhere and ruthlessly tear apart any geeks: but now he uses his wit for the forces of good! In “American Saturday Night” he casually observes the melting pot characteristic of America. It’s not pushy and stupid like recent hit “It’s America”, but rather just honest and well-written. Whether he comments on spanish moss or toga parties, it’s interesting to see how many foreign things really do make up an American Saturday night.

While I’m a little sad his streak of #1′s ended with “Welcome To The Future”, Brad won’t be slowing down any time soon. This song is fast, catchy and filled with nice electric guitar work that’s interspersed with just enough fiddle and steel guitar to keep it on the country side of country-pop radio. With guitar solos aplenty, it’s not a song for purists, but it’s so enjoyable it doesn’t really matter.

I’ll still hope for a release of “Everybody’s Here”, but this song is just as good in my book- and it’s the Brad Paisley that everyone expects and enjoys. I like this Brad way better than the Brad on “I’m Still A Guy”…

Grade: A

Written by: Brad Paisley, Ashley Gorley and Kelley Lovelace

Listen to “American Saturday Night” here on Last FM

Album Review: Patty Loveless – ‘Trouble With The Truth’

Trouble With The TruthWhen we were divvying up the albums that we wanted reviewed for this month, I called dibs on Trouble With The Truth because I knew I would be busy and it’s one of my absolute favorites. First I want to tell a short story: At the end of last year, I was working on my year-end albums list. While looking at other blogs, I found that most were raving about Patty Loveless’ cover album, Sleepless Nights. I didn’t know if I would like the album, but 2 days before Christmas, I journeyed through the snow and crowds to buy the album. Listening to it, I was impressed- so much that it made my year end list that I compiled the next week! After that I bought Dreamin’ My Dreams, On Your Way Home and Mountain Soul off Amazon, all becoming top albums in my collection.
It was like discovering something amazing that had been around the whole time! However, it wasn’t until July of 2009 that I decided to complete my Patty Loveless collection. Then I found my 2 favorite Patty Loveless CDs, When Fallen Angels Fly and Trouble With The Truth. When I first listened to them I was floored- where had these CDs been?!

Patty has developed a knack for picking quality material, resulting in albums that I can listen to non-stop and never got bored of them! There’s variety, going from the rollicking “Everybody’s Equal In The Eyes Of Love” to the calming and hopeful “Someday I Will Lead The Parade”. However, the strongest stretch of songs is the trio of “Lonely Too Long”, “You Can Feel Bad” and “A Thousand Times A Day”. All released as singles in a year, spanning 1995 and 1996, the first 2 being #1 hits. They are 3 distinctly different songs, each showing off another side of Patty.

“Lonely Too Long” and “A Thousand Times A Day” are sadder, with the former regarding the morning after being “lonely too long” and the latter a sad tale of constantly remembering and forgetting someone. Patty can really knock a well-written song out of the park as she does here. “You Can Feel Bad” is a delightfully biting song where an ex gets kicked to the curb with some well-earned sarcasm. The song was co-written by Matraca Berg, one of my all time favorite songwriters, whose written everything from Trisha Yearwood’s “Dreaming Fields” to “Wild Angels” by Martina McBride.

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A swarm of new videos!

CMTHead over to CMT’s website today, and there are 10 music videos that are premiering. Those would be “Southern Voice” by Tim McGraw, “I’m Alive” by Kenny Chesney & Dave Matthews, “White Liar” by Miranda Lambert, “Keep You” by Sugarland, “Consider Me Gone” by Reba McEntire, “That’s How Country Boys Roll” by Billy Currington, “Hit The Ground Runnin’” by Keith Urban, “Sooner Or Later” by Michelle Branch and “Cowboy Casanova” by Carrie Underwood (Click the links to get to the videos, as of now, the Kenny Chesney video doesn’t seem to be working…). The Chesney, Urban, McGraw and Currington videos are all either half or mostly performance videos, so this time around the girls have better videos. Here are my 3 favorites:

“White Liar” by Miranda Lambert
I saw it was a wedding scene, and I knew it would be awesome: it doesn’t disappoint. Look at the preacher… You might see another country star!

“Keep You” by Sugarland
A simple video set in a theater, for some reason Jennifer Nettles cuts her hair in the most depressing way possible. It kinda makes sense, but looks gorgeous and has an amazing song, so it’s still good.

“Cowboy Casanova” by Carrie Underwood
Definitely a pop video with dancing and outfits, but the retro vibe is awesome, and at the end that guy has to be freaked out. Random synchronized dancing terrifies me.

What do you think of the new videos? Anybody else think that Michelle Branch really looks like a Hippie? Will Keith Urban make more than one non-live video per album?

Single Review: Sugarland – ‘Keep You’

Sugarland Keep YouJennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush of Sugarland tried to write an “emotional song about being numb,” and the product of this little exercise is their new single “Keep You”. (The music video premiers on CMT on October 2nd) What strikes me most about the song is about how it builds steadily. It starts off with a quiet acoustic guitar, then adds in a little more with some piano and drums then keeps growing until it builds to the climax, accompanied by some nice strings in the background- but never too much.

Nettles gives this song all she’s got, showing off her vocal range in the chorus with a wonderfully vulnerable performance. It’s also great how right after she goes high in the chorus, it drops down low again as she sings the titular phrase:

What do I gotta do?
What do I gotta do to keep you?
What do I gotta do to keep you from doing this to me?

The lyrics really show how one can feel so much while feeling nothing at all, the numbness that pervades after a big loss. The lyrics are beautifully written and mostly avoid the cliches that radio seems to be riddled with today, making this very fresh.

One thing that still bugs me is the complete absence of Kristian in any vocals from this song- I wish he could sing a little more, but it doesn’t affect the quality of this song in any way, thankfully. He at least had some vocals on their past couple singles, but he plays no vocal role whatsoever here- even though he co-wrote and plays in the song.

“Keep You” is by far one of my favorite Sugarland songs, even though it falls as more acoustic pop than country. However, it’s got enough heartbreak and some good lines (“Tried our hand at magic / but we couldn’t make us disappear”) to sit as one of my absolute favorites. This is the rare song that gets shipped to country radio today that still has some quality left! Honestly, I’m also pretty glad that Sugarland is putting out a new music video because their last video (For “Already Gone”) was released in September of 2008! Unfortunately this means that “Very Last Country Song” may never be a single, which is a shame.

Grade: A

Written by: Jennifer Nettles, Kristian Bush & Bobby Pinson

Listen to “Keep You” here.

Single Review: Taylor Swift – ‘Fifteen’

Fifteen Taylor SwiftSo far with Taylor Swift’s new singles, I’ve noticed a pattern. While the first and third singles (“Love Story” and “You Belong With Me”) from Fearless were both a little faster and remixed to pop radio, the other two (“White Horse” and “Fifteen”) are slower songs that stay within Country radio. Fortunately, the slower songs are much better than the faster songs, as is the case with “Fifteen”.

The word that comes to mind when I hear this song is real. When you hear this song there is no doubt that Swift isn’t being genuine: she has lived this song and so have many other people. She took her real high school experience and translated it effortlessly into a song. Even if you’re not a teenager, we’ve all had someone who’s lied and said that they loved us and we believed them, and we’ve all wanted to go back in time and give ourselves advice.

So when you hear this song, don’t blow it off as a teenagers-only song, look at it for what it is: truth. In my opinion true country music personifies truth, gives it a voice and a melody and puts it out there for what it is- whether it be beautiful truth or the ugly truth of life. In that sense, this song is country because there are so many real people who live this song every day, whether we know it or not, or even care. This song is for them, all the “Abigails” out there.

Furthermore, while this song has a pop sound, it still sounds great with a mostly acoustic backing that never tries to be more than it is. The song perfectly matches Taylor’s voice, and she actually sounds good for the most part. It’s got that frank tone that sounds like it’s coming from a teenager, because it is.

This is by far my favorite Taylor Swift song, so I’m glad it got sent to radio because it’s her best song yet. Even if you hate her music, give this one a chance: it’s worth it.

Grade: A

Written by: Taylor Swift

Listen to Taylor Swift – ‘Fifteen’ at Last FM.

2009 album recommendations, album previews

2009 has been interesting, a crappy year for mainstream country music overall, but I would say a good year for other genres. Since the year is 75% over, I just wanted to share some of my picks from the year so far (inside country music and out) and a look at a few upcoming albums. Note: these are albums I’ve been enjoying, some may not appeal to you guys, but these albums have been played heavily by me. I also didn’t include albums I’ve reviewed, but most of those are still played a lot by me… Here are some recommendations from 2009 so far:

the long way home terri clarkThe Long Way Home by Terri Clark -Her indie debut reminds me of Fearless, only better. There are some really great tracks hidden in here- it’s a shame it won’t be heard by almost everyone. Favorite Track: “A Million Ways To Run” -This song is a look into the mind of someone at what seems to be an AA meeting- and it sounds real, not contrived.

mi planMi Plan by Nelly Furtado -She got me into Spanish music, and this album has some gorgeous cuts with great guests. Favorite track: “Bajo Otra Luz” which features Julieta Venegas & La Mala Rodriguez -This song has a great beat while the lyrics tell of how one sees their life “under another light” after their ex leaves them.

live-on-insideLive On The Inside by Sugarland -Cool live album that proves Jennifer sounds as good, if not better live. Favorite track: “Circle” -This cover just sound like it was made to be covered by Sugarland, it’s got energy and sounds great with the mandolin in the background. Jennifer’s voice just soars, while staying restrained, not to mention you can’t even tell it’s live.

breakthrough colbie caillatBreakthrough by Colbie Caillat -She’s not deep, but this album is very pleasant and good after a long day of classes. Her voice is pleasant and the songs are fun and she never really tries to be more than that. Favorite track: “Begin Again” -A catchy chorus with great acoustic-pop instrumentation makes for a very enjoyable song.

twangTwang by George Strait -Solid, as usual, but better than Troubadour by far. It’s definitely a George Strait album! Favorite Track: “Beautiful Day For Goodbye” -A man laments how nice the weather is while his lover leaves, definitely a heartbreaker akin to “Living For The Night”. I personally prefer “Living”, but I didn’t want to recommend the first single!

destination_lifeDestination Life by Rhonda Vincent -She’s so talented, and this album just sounds awesome. It’s very fresh and all of the players are just amazing. Favorite track: “Stop The World (And Let Me Off)” -This oft-covered song has a great flamenco feel mixed with bluegrass instruments, a true treat that I wasn’t expecting from Rhonda Vincent.

middle cyclone neko caseMiddle Cyclone by Neko Case -She’s different, but this album is a little more straightforward with lyrics that are easier to get. Honestly, I wish I had bought tickets to see her in New York City, but I didn’t quite get too… Lame. Favorite track: “This Tornado Loves You” -This opener has some cool opening guitar work that segues into lyrics comparing the narrator to a tornado that loves… or is she really a tornado?

Here are some upcoming albums that I’m looking forward to:

mountain soul iiMountain Soul II by Patty Loveless -Honestly, I’ve already heard it, and it’s really good. I like it better than Mountain Soul, but that’s my personal opinion, and I bet most people will disagree with me on that point. My favorite track right now is “Diamond And The Crown” which features Emmylou Harris on harmonies. (September 29th)

revolution miranda lambertRevolution by Miranda Lambert -I love the first two singles, and 15 tracks is like one-and-a-half times Crazy Ex-Girlfriend! I’ve heard the album has some really good songs, and I recommend Wal-Mart’s soundcheck performances where she performs a few of the new songs. Hopefully the fact that it’s loud doesn’t bug me, but I don’t think it will. (September 29th)

memoirs of an imperfect angel mariah careyMemoirs Of An Imperfect Angel by Mariah Carey -The lead single “Obsessed” had strange autotune, but the second single is a cover of “I Want To Know What Love Is” and is pure ballady goodness with gorgeous vocals, something Mariah Carey does well.I liked her past two albums, so I think I’ll like this one too. (September 29th)

Shakira_She_Wolf_2009She Wolf by Shakira -Yeah, I know, “WHAT?” This album is supposed to be like electro dance-pop with asian influences- whatever that means, but if it’s all like “She Wolf”, I’ll love it. I love the title track, and sometimes I get in the mood to dance, and this album seems like it’ll be too much fun. I think I just like it when someone howls in the middle of a song… (October 5th)

play on carrie underwoodPlay On by Carrie Underwood -I’m the rare one that likes “Cowboy Casanova”, but I’m hoping this album will be much better than Carnival Ride, but I’m not keeping my hopes up. I think everyone’s hoping for an album of “I Told You So”s, but I bet when it comes out her anti-fans will be the ones saying “I told you so…” (November 3rd)

Sugarland Gold And GreenGold And Green by Sugarland -Being the massive Sugarland fan I am, I found out they were making a Christmas album, and I was actually excited- something a Christmas album never does for me. It includes the five Christmas songs that were included on the Wal-Mart re-release of Enjoy The Ride, plus five new songs written by the duo. Two Sugarland albums in two months? I’ll take that. (October 13th)

As-of yet untitled… by Alicia Keys -The first single, “Doesn’t Mean Anything” (Listen to it here) is really great, very meaningful and gorgeous- it bodes well for this project. (Winter 2009)

As-of yet untitled… by Gary Allan -I like him and his voice, although I disliked Living Hard, we’ll see about this one. (2009)

So what about you guys? Favorites of 2009 so far? Upcoming ones that you’re ready for?

Miranda’s “Revolutionary” EP

Dead FlowersOkay, this is pretty cool. Most people already know that Miranda Lambert’s new album, Revolution, comes out in just a few weeks on September 29th. However, this is new: On September 8th (tomorrow), you can go to Best Buy and buy Dead Flowers, a small EP of a few songs:

“Dead Flowers”
“Take It Out on Me”
“I Just Really Miss You”
“Nobody’s Used to Be”

The first one we know- the last 3 were all bonus tracks for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend offered from different stores. If that weren’t enough, the EP only costs $1.99 and it comes with a coupon for $2 off Revolution when it comes out. Is that a deal or what? I just had to share this deal- of course as a poor college student, I just have to bum a ride to Best Buy…

Single Review: Carrie Underwood – ‘Cowboy Casanova’

PLAYA while back I must have become a follower of Carrie Underwood on Facebook, because after returning from the library, I saw a notice of her new single on my news feed- and I decided to give it a listen. I enjoyed Carnival Ride at first, but after a while, I got sick of it and her screaming singing (with exceptions for “I Know You Won’t”, “Wheel Of The World” and “I Told You So”). Needless to say, I wasn’t looking forward to Play On, Carrie’s upcoming album that drops on November 3rd.

Starting out, this song screams Shania Twain, with its strong girl message and fusion of electric guitar, fiddle and steel guitar that all flow in and out of each other throughout the song. It’s a very cool sound, sounding a little like Brad Paisley’s recent album, albeit with less imaginative electric guitar parts. It’s not full-on country, but it’s definitely more country than pop and would never sound at home anywhere near the pop charts.

Carrie doesn’t scream, but sings strongly, reminiscent of Martina McBride’s shift in vocal style on her newest album. She growls a little and doesn’t try to rupture eardrums, and any higher notes really fit in with the song. In “Last Name”, she didn’t really seem to get the joke of the song and sounded empty, but not so on this song. She’s warning a girl about the “good time cowboy casanova, leanin’ up against the record machine.” She disses him with lines about “candy-coated misery” and “blue-eyed snakes” that show Carrie does have a personality behind the American Idol machinations- something rare among idol alums.

This Shania-styled smash is by far my favorite Carrie song yet, and manages to remind of me Shania while not sounding like a knock-off. It’s got the vocals, the interesting production and the attitude that all make a good single. I hope I like her new album as much as this… We’ll see, but for now, this is good.

Grade: B+

Written by: Carrie Underwood, Mike Elizondo and Brett James

Recommendation: Live songs & albums

So being the Sugarland freak I am, I went to Wal-Mart to get Live On The Inside the morning it came out- before they had even put it on the shelves. I had to find a worker to get the box of new CDs open to get me one so I could have it. Not being a fan of live CDs, I was worried, but Live exceeded all my expectations. With superb singing of both Sugarland’s hits and mostly great covers, I was very happy. So for my recommendation this week, I’m going to recommend 3 tracks from 3 live albums that I’ve enjoyed:

live on inside“Better Man” by Sugarland (Originally by Pearl Jam)
Playing this for friend, he remarked the bridge wasn’t energetic enough and listening to the original, he was right, but Sugarland does a good job here. This song has themes that belong in country music, and the mostly acoustic arrangement works out to make a cool cover. This is one of my favorites from Live On The Inside, as well as “The One I Love” and “Circle”. Watch a preview of it on Youtube.

cwlive“Poison & Wine” by The Civil Wars (Original song)
Thanks to this article from Country Universe, I discovered their free live album, Live at Eddie’s Attic (You can still download it for free here). I was pleasantly surprised to find two very talented singer/songwriters making very good music, “Poison & Wine” being my favorite. It’s a gorgeous song with driving piano that underlies it’s sadness. Watch it live on YouTube.

album_tigers“Rated X” by Neko Case (Originally by Loretta Lynn)
A #1 hit for Loretta Lynn, this controversial song does well in the hands of Neko Case, still sounding country, but all Neko. I almost got to see Neko Case live in New York City this year, but unfortunately I didn’t get to go. Sadly you can’t hear this song anywhere, but iTunes has Neko’s excellent live CD, The Tigers Have Spoken here.

These three albums have made me like live albums more, now I want yours.

What live albums or tracks would you recommend?

Here comes semi-goodbye

I’ve been here since the beginning, namely this past December. J.R. asked me on the forums over at The 9513 if I wanted to be a part of a new blog, and I quickly said yes. I never expected that it would go anywhere, but we’ve seen some amazing growth- and it’s all thanks to you guys, the readers. From my first post to all the ones in between, this blog has been fun to work on, and I thank all of you for reading and caring about what we have to say.

BYU logoSo as you read this, I’ll be at college, the wonderful Brigham Young University, as a freshman! Unfortunately, that means I will not have time to post very much, or not at all. I just wanted to thank you all for listening to what I had to say. I don’t want to be distracted, obviously, so college has to take priority. I’ll be around, but just don’t expect to read much from me. Today’s recommendation will be my last post for a while, and I’ll be gone.

Thanks, and I’ll see you all around! Kind of …

Single Review: Miranda Lambert – ‘White Liar’

RevolutionAs of now, Miranda Lambert’s Revolution is one of my most anticipated albums of 2009, a list including the likes of Nelly Furtado’s Mi Plan and Patty Loveless’ Mountain Soul II (Interesting bunch, eh?). “Dead Flowers” was seemingly a step in a new musical direction for Miranda, but “White Liar” is more country and all good.

We’ve all heard the songs about women confronting their cheating men, but Miranda just seems to do it so well. She has the perfect delivery and tone, strong with a little bit of bitterness that just sounds right. She’s done it before in “Kerosene” and “Gunpowder & Lead”, but in this song she lets the truth do the talking, instead of fire or a gun- and the song is better for it. Miranda notes how “The truth comes out a little at a time [and] spreads like fire…” She goes on to tell him the truth- I just wish we could get his reaction, because I bet it’s priceless.

The best part of this song is the rollicking production that never tries to rock or be anything it shouldn’t. Beyond that, it sounds country with guitars (Steel, acoustic and electric) and more. It’s fun to listen to and makes it clear that this Revolution is something to get excited about. Honestly I don’t care if this single is successful or not, it’s just a great song and that’s all that matters to me.

Listen to “White Liar” on Miranda’s Myspace

Grade: A

Written by Natalie Hemby & Miranda Lambert

Album Review: Reba McEntire – ‘Rumor Has It’

rumor has itFirst of all, let me explain how I came across this Reba album. Rumor Has It came out in September of 1990, one year before I was born, so I found it much later. In December of 2007, right after I gave my dad Reba: Duets for Christmas, we went to my grandparents for the holiday. There, I found that my grandpa was a big country fan, and I borrowed this album, For My Broken Heart, Read My Mind (another album I’ll be reviewing) and a Kathy Mattea album. I went home and listened to the Reba albums, finding that I didn’t really like them. However, I kept them on my computer just in case I wanted to listen to them again. Fast-forward 1 year and I was becoming more and more interested in country albums from the 80′s and 90′s and I got Reba’s 50 Greatest Hits for Christmas and I grew to appreciate this album.

This release was big for Reba, with all four singles hitting the top 10 of the charts, not to mention one #1 hit (“You Lie”) and her signature song (“Fancy”). It’s a wonderful album filled with heartbreak and stories of the saddest kind. My favorite song on the album is “You Lie”, by far. Reba sings of knowing her lover wants to leave her:

So you lie, buy a little time, and I go along,
What else can I do? Maybe its wrong,
But you know how much I love you
So you lie til you can find a way to say goodbye…

It’s a devastating song with one of my favorite vocal performances by Reba that I’ve ever heard. In the same vein, the title track, “Rumor Has It” is a very sad song. Reba has heard rumors that her man is cheating on her, but she knows that they’re all true.

Reba also shines on “You Remember Me”, a biting speech to an old ex where Reba says:

You remember me, the funny way I cry
The funny way I sit there when someone says goodbye
The funny way I wind up lost when someone sets me free
Why sure, you remember me

She’s not going to take him back, she’s just going to leave him – the way he left her.

This album has an uptempo side too, like “Waitin’ For The Deal To Go Down”, where Reba’s waiting for a ring from her guy. She says it’s “Waitin’ in the store downtown”, making a fun track that balances out the album’s heavier material. Similarly, “That’s All She Wrote” is a good mid-tempo track about Reba telling a man to let go of his ex so she can take her place. The songwriting on this album is mostly really good, rarely venturing into cliche territory and mostly being fresh, even today.

Speaking of heavy material, nothing is heavier than “Fancy”, the song that has to be mentioned in any review of this album. Reba’s signature song and a classic, this song is definitely one of my favorite Reba songs. What I love about “Fancy” is that it portrays the title character in such a sympathetic manner that it’s impossible to not side with her. Maybe this is why so many people love it, they see the economic circumstances that can drive a person to such a lifestyle. If I was in Fancy’s red high-heeled shoes, I don’t know what I would do.

My only complaint of this album is that it sounds very dated because of the instruments used, even though it’s not very old at all (“Fancy” being the major exception, it sounds great today!). While not sounding country, the themes and songs themselves are great examples of country, something mainstream country today could learn from. Getting past the production, one finds an album of wonderful songs that deserve to be in such high regard in Reba’s catalog. Hopefully she can get back to this kind of high-quality material some time soon…

Get Rumor Has It on iTunes or used at Amazon

Grade: A-

Single Review: Lady Antebellum – ‘Need You Now’

Need you nowReading the other day, I was surprised that Lady Antebellum was already promoting a new album- after three hit singles from their debut album. Lady A’s trade mark is slick pop-country, like their most recent hit, “I Run To You” (Read the review here), something that can be good if done right.

Thankfully, their new single “Need You Now” is not overproduced like “I Run To You” was, but it ends up being an enjoyable slice of pop-country. Driven by acoustic and electric guitars accented by some pretty piano fills, the song is a good sounding mid-tempo track. “Need You Now” continues the duet-style vocals of their last two singles, but here Hillary Scott takes most of the lead vocals, something a little different from Lady A’s first 3 singles. This makes them feel more like an equal partnership vocal duo, something unique in today’s market. With Sugarland being the mostly-Jennifer-Nettles show and Brooks & Dunn being mostly Dunn (Not for long, though…), it’s nice to hear Lady A. split the lead vocals mostly equally. Luckily Scott succeeds in giving a great performance that never becomes bombastic, but stays reserved and calm.

While this song doesn’t sound very country, it’s a sad song with a similar story line to Lee Ann Womack’s “I May Hate Myself In The Morning”, only not as good. After a nasty break-up and a few drinks, early in the morning they realize that they need each other and make that tricky call. It’s a plot that keeps this song slightly tethered to country music, and makes for good music, while not really being novel. This song is much more interesting than the rest of the material on their first album, so hopefully this will bode well for their sophomore album that is due out in 2010.

Listen to “Need You Now” on Lady A’s blog and Last.fm, or buy it off iTunes.

Grade: B+

Written by: Dave Haywood, Charles Kelley, Hillary Scott and Josh Kear

Single Review: Jamey Johnson – ‘My Way To You’

jameyAfter constantly hearing amazing things about Jamey Johnson’s sophomore album, That Lonesome Song, I had to buy it. I enjoyed most of it, but it didn’t quite blow me away like I thought it would. Now, hearing about his new single, I heard similar hype, but I didn’t quite believe it all. From what I read, it sounded like a bland and inspirational song that sounds like all the other garbage on the radio, but I’m glad to say I was pleasantly surprised.

The lyrics might be unoriginal with clichéd lines about burning bridges, chasing dreams and wrong roads, but it manages to be a good song (No, a great song!) despite all that. With a quiet steel guitar intro, leading into a dark backing track that is undeniably country, it’s the gritty sort of song that never gets on radio these days. Acoustic guitar, steel guitar and organ all combine together to make the song something special. The song is also believable because Jamey’s been this low and this song sounds like the kind of revelation to get him back on track- we all know he’s been there. For the most part, his vocal performance is full of emotion and perfectly suited to this song.

I only have one problem with this song: the middle section. After the second rendition of the chorus, an annoying electric guitar solo comes in and trails a whole mess of bombast behind it. It’s too loud and just unnecessary, and strains Jamey’s voice way too much. However,after a minute, the song fades back into being the quieter, better track it was before the bridge. If the production just stayed dialed back the way the beginning was, this song would be my new favorite song, but it just gets too loud for me.

This song is great, one of the best songs I’ve heard on country radio that I’ve heard in a while, but it’s too loud while saying a tiny bit too little. I think Jamey’s better than this, and I hope his upcoming album is more like the first 2.5 minutes of this song.

Grade: B+

Written by: Jamey Johnson and Charlie Midnight

For today (August 3rd) only, go to Jamey’s website and download “My Way To You” for free.

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