Gretchen’s first independent release following her departure from Sony sees her taking the producer’s chair herself alongside Blake Chancey (and old friend John Rich on a handful of tracks). The end result is not that far removed from her Sony records, and fans of Gretchen’s rocking side will be happy. Admirers of her way with a ballad (Wilson’s most underrated talent) will be more disappointed.
Current single ‘Work Hard, Play Harder, is set to a relentless rock beat which led to a copyright infringement claim from the rock band the Black Crowes; the case was settled out of court and led to the writers of the latter’s song being given co-writing credit here, alongside the originally credited Wilson, John Rich and Vicky McGehee. This lyrically predictable and musically dull piece about a hardworking “redneck, blue-collar” bartender/waitress is already Gretchen’s biggest hit since 2006’s ‘California Girls’, perhaps because it fits into the pigeonhole Gretchen created for herself with her signature tune ‘Redneck Woman’.
It is one of only two tracks co-written by Gretchen. Dallas Davidson helped her with the other, the rocking sociopolitical statement ‘Blue Collar Done Turn Red’ which mixes a declaration of patriotism with some social criticism of modern changes:
We used to judge a man by the shake of his hand
And his honor and his honesty
Never knocked him down when he stood his ground
Cause it wouldn’t fit the policy now
There’s bailout bills and fat cat deals
Ex-SteelDriver Chris Stapleton and Terry McBride offer a trenchant criticism of modern country radio in ‘Outlaws & Renegades’:
Well, just the other day I was driving down the road
Listening to the stuff coming out of Music Row
I didn’t recognise a single song or none of the names
But it didn’t really matter cause they all seem to sound the same
Where’s all the outlaws and renegades?
Lord knows I miss those days
When they said what they thought
And what they thought was what was on your mind
It seems to veer off course in the last verse when it moves into another political complaint (about politicians and gas prices), and then back to music with a spoken outro namechecking Cash, Jennings and Nelson.
Their era is also recalled in the rather generic Southern Rock-country of the title track, written by consummate hit maker Jeffrey Steele and Tom Hambridge. This pays cursory tribute to various 70s Outlaw and Southern Rock acts – Waylon again, of course, plus the Charlie Daniels Band, Hank Williams Jr, and on the rock side of the border, the Allman Brothers, Z.Z. Top and Lynyrd Skynyrd. It is one of those tracks that strikes one as being more fun for the musicians to make than for the listener; it isn’t that interesting on record either musically or lyrically; it’s all about the groove and feel, which probably works better live.
The same writers were joined by Bob DiPiero to write the rather better ‘Walk On Water’; I like the ironic lyric setting out a drunk’s bravado, but the tune is lacking in melody, and Gretchen seems to be singing it a little too straightforwardly. The next track, the bluesy ballad ‘Love On The Line’, written by Al Anderson and Chris Stapleton, is another where I like the lyric better than the tune. This one has a guilty Gretchen brooding over a relationship she is apparently trying, more or less consciously, to sabotage:
I don’t know why I put your love on the line
I could stop but the truth is I don’t think I can
It’s not something I wanted or something I planned
Boy I love you, I need you, I want you to stay
But I keep my secrets to keep you from walking away
In a similar style is Bekka Bramlett and Bobby Terry’s tormented post-breakup ‘As Far As You Know’, which is unlistenably shouty in the chorus, and definitely my least favorite track.
Rich and McGehee teamed up with Rodney Clawson to write a sympathetic portrait of a ‘Trucker Man’ on his way back home to Tulsa, a thematic nod back to the country music of the 70s which is more effective than the overt name-dropping numbers.
‘Earrings Song’ (written by Rivers Rutherford and Monty Criswell) was a non-charting single last year, and is another story of a blue-collar worker enjoying a night out, but a much more entertaining one than ‘Work Hard, Play Harder’. In this fun (if redundant) updating of Loretta Lynn’s classic ‘Fist City’, Gretchen tackles the woman eying up her man and threatens her with violence.
Don’t make me take my earrings out
Cause I’ll show you what a catfight’s all about
I’ll throw you down and mop the floor
A man like mine’s worth fighting for
I rather like this one, and it should have been a hit. My favorite track, though, is the most traditional country song here, ‘I’m Only Human’, a pained tale of temptation written by McGehee with Rivers Rutherford and Dave Berg. Set to a gently lilting tune, Gretchen has an encounter with a married man and has trouble resting temptation:
I’m doing my best to do what is right
But I’m only human…
Every minute you’re hanging around
The lonely in me keeps on wearin’ me down
If you only knew what I’m thinking right now
Boy you’re making me crazy
I’m wanting you baby
What are you doing?
I’m only human
So reach in them jeans and put on that ring
The one that you think you’ve been hiding from me
This is outstanding. I much prefer Gretchen in this style to rocking it out as she does on the majority of this album; her voice has a beautiful soft timbre on slower material which is lost when she goes up-tempo.
She also shows off her vulnerable side in the sweetly sung closing track, ‘I’d Love To Be Your Last’, written by Rivers Rutherford with husband-and-wife team Sam and Annie Tate, a love song in which she regrets past lovers on both sides:
If I could do it over I’d have waited for this moment
So I could give my heart to you unbroken
But if our mistakes brought us together
Does it really matter whether
We were saints or sinners in the past?
I don’t care if I’m your first love
But I’d love to be your last
This record is not bad and not great, but something of a mixed bag, with much to appeal to fans of Gretchen’s ‘Redneck Woman’ side.
I Got Your Country Right Here is available at all major retailers, in CD and digital format from amazon.