For the past 5 weeks, I’ve been lucky enough to get to share my thoughts on 10 of the latest country singles in my Weekly Country Songs Roundup column at American Noise. I have to first say a very big thanks to Jim Malec for giving me the chance, and a first-rate venue, to review the newest releases to country radio. This is the first in a bi-weekly installment where I’ll share few excerpts from the past few weeks, some of my critics picks.
Kenny Chesney featuring Grace Potter – “You and Tequila”
Kenny Chesney and Vermont rocker Grace Potter offer my favorite Chesney single since “Better As a Memory” with this sparse and brooding number, written by Matraca Berg and Deana Carter. The two lament the liquor and the love that make them crazy on the song’s winning chorus, with Potter’s silky vocal being the perfect match for Chesney’s smooth crooning. The verses tell of the willingness of the narrator to self-destruct for one more night flying high, offering a bit of self-realization along the way (“It’s so easy to forget, the bitter taste the morning left”) as the acoustic rhythm guitar that makes up the bulk of the production plays on.
Zac Brown Band featuring Jimmy Buffett – “Knee Deep”
At this point in their ascension to country’s reigning supergroup, Zac Brown and Band have earned the right to show off their musical chops a bit, and even to flaunt their famous friends. From the snazzy opening to the solo verse performed by island king Jimmy Buffett, this reggae-infused number allows these six talented musicians some jam time on-stage, while the singer “searches for paradise.” There’s little else to the lyrics than that utopian pursuit, but it’s warm now, and with a melody like this nobody’s pondering the lyrics anyway.
Emmylou Harris – “The Road”
Addressing the loss of Gram Parsons directly in song for the first time since the epic “Boulder to Birmingham,” Emmylou Harris’ self-penned “The Road” is more an open elegy to her late mentor than song of heartbreak. It’s swelling alt-country sound doesn’t lend itself to quiet contemplation as much as it marks a turning point when wounds begin to heal, and forging ahead is inevitable, even though you never forget. Harris’ emotive skills are on full-display here and she sounds utterly despondent at crucial moments, such as when she sings, “So I carried on, you can’t be haunted by the past/People come and people go and nothing ever lasts.” Still, she always brings the listener back to that place of peace she’s found.
Martina McBride – “Teenage Daughters”
Leading off an upcoming album for Republic Nashville, Martina McBride offers this tongue-in-cheek take on child-rearing, made all the more believable because we know Martina has teenage daughters of her own, but also because she has carefully cultivated an image of being a fellow soccer mom to her female listeners. Far from being just another tale of unconditional love between parent and child, “Daughters” focuses on the often funny, always chaotic period when teenagers begin to assert their independence by avoidance of their parents at all costs. As she sings of remembering when her daughter “used to think she was cool” and bemoans the current state of their relationship which has left her “tired,” “crazy,” and “in need of a drink,” McBride offers up her most restrained vocal in years. Chunky and scattered rhythms make the track melodically clunky, but that is salvaged by the smart message and a to-the-point vocal.
Reba McEntire – “When Love Gets Ahold Of You”
The third single from McEntire’s All The Women I Am follows the disappointing chart performance of “If I Were A Boy,” and its earworm melody and punchy production full of rolling drums and snappy guitar licks should quickly restore Reba’s recent hit-making status. As always, she’s on top of her game vocally, and the single is a much better attempt than her last two efforts. But it’s a mere triple from a slugger capable of consistent home runs.
John Rich – “For The Kids”
Some are saying that John Rich is poised to become this season’s winner of NBC’s Celebrity Apprentice, thanks in no small part to this single benefitting St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, the leading children’s cancer research facility in the world which is funded entirely by donations. After making the song available on itunes a couple of weeks back, the single has since raised more than $700,000 for the hospital. Rich injects a bit of heart-tugging reality to the song by personalizing the patients’ stories, sung behind your standard electric guitar with traces of steel arrangement. This is another of John Rich’s solo singles that desperately calls for a cameo from Big Kenny; this sort of schmaltz would be more believable from the “Love Everybody guy”. Still, it’s more than endearing to see Rich using his new-found celebrity for a worthwhile cause, and this effort is bounds ahead of anything in his solo body of work.
Eden’s Edge – “Amen”
Not that country music needs another group on the charts right now–or even has room for one–but Big Machine’s latest signing comes on strong with a truly endearing song. Hannah Blaylock’s lead vocals, as well as the limited electric production, recall the breezy twang of heyday Pam Tillis. The conversational lyric finds the narrator celebrating the end of a love affair, involving a man she’s been admiring and a ‘blonde in a tube top’, is centered around a simple, yet effective, hook (“Can I get an amen?”). As the opener’s on Brad Paisley’s H20 II Tour and with a proven hit-making label behind them, expect to hear more from this trio from Arkansas.
Be sure to head over to the American Noise country section to read my entire reviews, published each Monday.