My Kind of Country

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

Album Review: Reba McEntire – ‘The Last One To Know’

"The Last One To Know"In 1987 a controversy surrounded Reba McEntire; not unlike the controversy that surrounds LeAnn Rimes and her husband today. The singer has never spoken much about her divorce in interviews. What the public knows for a fact is that Reba filed for divorce from Charlie Battles, her husband of eleven years, and two years later married her manager Narvel Blackstock. Gossip rags said they started going out with each other before they divorced their spouses, but this has been denied by both parties. Regardless of what happened, 1987 was a year of sadness for Reba, and so The Last One To Know resulted from this sadness. Called her “divorce album” by Reba herself, The Last One To Know is an album that focuses on breakups and the uncertainty of the future, both of which are reflected in the title-track, which was also the lead single:

Why is the last one to know
The first one to cry and the last to let go
Why is the one left behind
The one left alone with no one to hold
The last one to know

Penned by Matraca Berg, this tale of a woman whose man has left her for another woman is particularly aching, mostly due to Reba’s vocal and Berg’s sharp pen. It became a #1 hit, and so did the follow-up “Love Will Find Its Way To You”; the only song on the album that brings forth a feeling of hope. Unfortunately it’s also the weakest track, with throwaway lyrics like  ‘So you’ve got to let your love shine through Your eyes, your smile/You’ve got to let somebody know how you feel inside/Your heart, you’ll find/Somebody wants to be a part of your life.’ It’s a theme that’s been done before with much better results, and the modern production feels out of place on an otherwise relatively traditional album.

While this is an album that has very few ‘happy’ songs, it doesn’t lack tempo. In “I Don’t Want To Mention Any Names” Reba is telling a’ friend’ to back off and stop flirting with her boyfriend, but she’s telling it in a sly fashion, as she doesn’t explicitly tell the woman to back off, but instead tells the story to her as if she was a casual confidante. While the subject matter is ‘serious’ enough, the song is filled with clever lines and winds up as a very humorous and amusing track. “Someone Else” is similar in theme to “No Such Thing”, a track from the predecessor to this album: What Am I Gonna Do About You. Reba is firmly assuring her man that she’s not out running around, and that if there was someone else, she wouldn’t be there with him. She almost growls at times here, and the song is very much a track with attitude.  It’s a worthwhile listen, but not the best track on the album as it gets repetitive at times.

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Album Review: LeAnn Rimes – ‘This Woman’

"This Woman"Around the same time as Faith Hill released “Mississippi Girl”, her big return to country, LeAnn Rimes released her first single from This Woman called “Nothin’ ‘Bout Love Makes Sense”. It too, was supposed to be Rimes’ big return to country music after the pop records I Need You and Twisted Angel. It succeeded in doing so; the single peaked at #5 on the country charts, #1 on the Canadian country charts, and #52 on the U.S.  Hot 100. This became her highest ranking single on the country charts since 1998, but this was soon to be beat by the two follow-ups “Probably Wouldn’t Be This Way” (#3), and “Something’s Gotta Give” (#2). The album has since been certified gold, selling about 750.000 copies.

The set opens  “I Want To With You”, a simple tune about the narrator’s desire to do the important things in life together with her partner.LeAnn is showing off her lower register on this song, which, along with Dann Huff’s soulful production, makes the song sound not only sexy, but also a little bit intimidating, especially as she sings these lines;

Life is a lot like a battle
When love is under attack
Once I was easily rattled
I’d run just like that
I wouldn’t fight back

This combination works very, very well, and definitely makes it stand out among similarly themed songs. A far too busy production slams us in the face as the album’s second track “You Take Me Home” opens (after all, it IS a Dann Huff record). A song that’s supposed to be about love, and how love feels like it takes you home to the simpler times and simpler things, is definitely damaged by such a busy production. LeAnn’s vocal is indeed very fine, but it could be a bit less bombastic. The lyrics are rather well-written though, and LeAnn, while she is a little bombastic, conveys the message of being homesick well, making the song quite listenable, despite the production dragging it down. It’s a shame though, that it’s only listenable, because I’m very convinced that had she recorded this with another producer (Garth Fundis, or even Mutt Lange, for instance), it could be a killer track.

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Album Review: Julie Roberts – ‘Men & Mascara’

Men & MascaraAfter the semi-success that was her self-titled debut, Julie returned to the fans in 2006 with Men & Mascara. This time around she hired Byron Gallimore; the man responsible for producing Faith Hill and Tim McGraw, both of whom have turned out to be two of the biggest hit makers in the genre.  Any sane person would think that this would be the recipe for success; a stellar vocalist who also has a stunning exterior, great songs, and a contemporary production. Alas, no. Neither of the singles released off the album (The title track, and a cover of Saving Jane’s “Girl Next Door”) charted, and so this album faded quietly into obscurity, which is truly sad, because this is one of the best albums I’ve heard. Ever.

In the opening track “Paint And Pillows”, Julie assumes the role of a woman whose man just cheated on her. She uses their home and furniture as a metaphor for their relationship:

It’s gonna take more than paint and pillows
New curtains on these windows
To cover up all the trash that you drug in
There ain’t a rug big enough to sweep it under
And just in case you wonder
I’d rather strike a match and watch it go up in smoke
It’s gonna take more than paint and pillows

He can’t fix what he broke with just a few band-aids, and if he doesn’t make a better effort, she’s ending the relationship. This would’ve made a killer single, because not only does it showcase Julie’s voice brilliantly; it also has a contemporary sounding production. It would’ve slipped right in between Before He Cheats and Should’ve Said No; the only thing separating it from them being: the fact that it’s actually good. Damn good, to be more precise. Read more of this post

1989 Album Review: Shelby Lynne – ‘Sunrise’

sunriseAfter a very turbulent childhood, which sadly ended with her alcoholic father killing her mother and then himself, Shelby moved to Nashville with her younger sister Allison, who is also a singer. Barely out of her teens, she started playing bars and clubs to support herself and her sister. After appearing on a TV show, Shelby inked a deal with Epic Records, releasing her first single, a duet with George Jones, called “If I Could Bottle This Up” in 1988. Even though it was only a very minor hit, her debut album Sunrise still followed the year after, something that would be very unlikely in today’s business. Paired with legendary producer Billy Sherrill, one would think that the end results could be nothing less than amazing.  And they aren’t. From the first note of the first song, “The Hurtin’ Side”, Lynne’s voice is established as a force to be reckoned with, and I can honestly say that it’s one of the very best in any genre;  it possesses both power and vulnerability, radiating emotion on every song. “The Hurtin’ Side” is about a lost love, whom Shelby still can’t get over.

There’s a river of feeling somewhere
And I’m told it flows deep and wide
But this mountain of memories I’m climbing
Keep me here on the hurtin’ side

The production of the track comes off as outdated, like many other uptempo numbers from this era do. Still, the lyrics of the song coming from the mouth of 19 year old Shelby (which is how old Taylor Swift is now), who sings with the conviction of an experienced forty year old, can be described as nothing less than great. Like LeAnn Rimes, Shelby showed an amazing ability of conveying  emotion at a very young age, and that ability is present on the entire album. “Little Bits And Lightning” is a song that deserves nothing less than classic status. The lyrics are nothing less than timeless, the topic being a lost love that the narrator’s trying to find again, but all she can find is “Little Bits And Pieces”.

But all I found were little bits and pieces
Odds and ends of things we tore in two
But all I found were little bits and pieces
But I couldn’t find one piece of love that belonged to me and you

Billy Sherrill’s production is glossy, which fits Shelby’s voice well. Shelby’s vocal is, as always, sublime, and her performance is pretty much the definition of heartbreak. Few people can claim to achieve such things at age 19.

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1989 Album Review: Reba McEntire – ‘Sweet Sixteen’

Sweet SixteenAfter making a surprise 180° turnaround with 1988’s pop-oriented Reba, the singer alienated many traditional country fans, and Sweet Sixteen was an attempt to recapture them. Now, Sweet Sixteen is in no way a traditional album the way The Last One To Know was a traditional album, but it’s still considerably more country than Reba. With some fiddle and steel (and, inexplicably, a lot of sax), Reba set out to reel in some old fans, while keeping the new ones she gained with Reba. The question is: did she succeed in making an album that appeals to all groups?

The set opens with the lead single, a cover of  The Everly Brothers’ “Cathy’s Clown”, in which Reba assumes the part of a third woman, who desperately wants the male in the song, but he’s too busy being “Cathy’s Clown”. Surprisingly it works, and in this writer’s opinion, the song has never sounded better. Apparently, the general public thought so too, as this became a smash #1 hit. The second track, “‘Til Love Comes Again”, a top 5 hit, offers a more traditional arrangement, which works in Reba’s favor. It has sadly become one of Reba’s more obscure hits, and is unfortunately not a song that today’s radio audience is familiar with.

“It Always Rains On Saturday” is a song Reba penned with the writers of “Whoever’s In New England” (Kendal Franchesci and Quentin Powers), and it pleases me to say that it’s completely on par with the classic that it inevitably will be compared with. Reba is listed as a co-writer on 3 of the album’s tracks.  The narrator is a single mother who feels very lonely when her son goes off with his father on weekends.

On Monday the sun really shined
On Tuesday the weather was fine
Wednesday and Thursday went by
By Friday the clouds filled the sky

Instead, she uses the weather as a metaphor for what’s going on inside her mind, which is a very interesting ploy that really works.

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Album Review: Sara Evans – ‘Real Fine Place’

"Real Fine Place"After seeing massive success with “Suds In The Bucket”, one of her most traditional singles, Sara decided to record a more traditional-leaning album. At a shallow listen, the sound and production of Real Fine Place is not very different from Restless or Born To Fly. What differentiates this album from those is, however, Sara’s choice of material. The huge Diane Warren-esque ballads like “Need To Be Next To You” are mostly gone, being replaced by foot-stompers like “Coalmine” and traditional tracks like “Cheatin'”.

The aforementioned “Coalmine” is the opening track, giving off more energy than a Red Bull. The roaring fiddles really complement the lyric, and Sara sounds like she’s having a blast singing it. The lead single “Real Fine Place To Start” follows, which is glossy and infectious country-pop at its best.

“Cheatin'”, the third track, may be one of the very best songs ever about, well, cheating. Its traditional sound suits Sara’s voice perfectly, her thick Missouri drawl is in its rightful environment on the track. She sounds positively spiteful, really capturing the essence of the lyric. This is Sara Evans as she should be.

“New Hometown” and “You’ll Always Be My Baby” are two power ballads, the former conjuring up beautiful scenery of Sara and her man standing in their front yard, and the latter being a touching song about parenthood and God. Both are of remarkable high quality, and Evans, being the prime vocalist she is, interprets the heck out of both.

“Supernatural” features a flurry of awkward metaphors that could seem like gibberish upon the first listens, but actually come together quite nicely after repeated listening.  The arrangement is light and airy with great background vocals. “Roll Me Back In Time” is a song about young love and commitment that could be a real tear-jerker had the tempo been slowed down a little. It’s nevertheless very effective as it is; the electric guitar piercing the track throughout creates a very nice effect, particularly towards the surprising end of the song.

“The Secrets That We Keep” is a song about intimacy, in the same vein as Sara’s earlier single “Tonight”. The latter is however superior to “Secrets”, and portrays a more nuanced rush of emotions. “Bible Song” is a song which could only be described as “epic”. A song about small-town life, where the small-town life is not exactly romantically portrayed, as opposed to most country songs. She repeats the word “Hallelujah” close to 35 times towards the end, which could be seen as hyperbolic by some, but which this writer sees as a necessary “lid” to the song.

“Tell Me” is a nice, quiet song about honesty and being open with your significant other, which does unfortunately blend in with the other songs, seeming quite trite in comparison. It can, however, be appreciated during the quieter times of life, and the fact that it features some really pleasant steel in the background throughout the entire track doesn’t hurt. “Momma’s Night Out” is a rocking track with some awesome big-band-esque instrumentation. Sara is fed up with her couch-potato husband, and she’s finally decided to have some fun. I suppose many wives and mothers can relate to this.

The album closer “These Four Walls”  is a haunting ballad about the joys and fulfillment of motherhood, and how that, despite it ruining the narrator’s dreams of being a singer and actress, is the best thing that ever happened to her. The appreciation she feels from her kids and husband is one of the most satisfying feelings one could have, Sara expresses.

With Real Fine Place, Sara has crafted one of the most rock-solid albums of the 21st century so far. Her smooth, creamy, caramel-like voice is one of the best Nashville has ever seen, and with knockout songs like these, it’s bound to be an artistic success.

A+

Listen to “Cheatin'” and “You’ll Always Be My Baby” .

Album Review: Martina McBride – ‘Shine’

image-11For her tenth studio album, Martina McBride decided it was time to switch out Paul Worley, whom she had been working with since what seems to be the dawn of time. His replacement? Dan Huff. Just the sound of that name triggers many alarms in country fans all over the world. The result is, as expected, one of Martina’s poppiest albums, but also, shockingly one might add, a really good one.

The set opens with the 80’s rock-esque track “Wrong Baby Wrong Baby Wrong”, an empowering theme about living life to the fullest. What’s surprising is that it’s actually really well written, as opposed to the new Jo Dee Messina single. Martina’s also oddly “silent”, meaning that she’s not belting all the time. This actually goes for the entire album, with a few exceptions, one being the second track, “I Just Call You Mine”, a big pop number. Martina could possibly take this all the way to #1 on the AC charts, because this song isn’t just pop, it’s good pop.

The next track, “Sunny Side Up” is a rather bland track not flattered by Huff’s production. Martina manages to sound interesting however, so it’s not a total loss. It’s followed by another song “Walk Away”, that’s just as suited for the AC charts as “I Just Call You Mine”, but just like that song, it’s also really good.

The real shocker on this album is track five – ‘I’m Trying’, which is a haunting song about a couple dealing with a man’s alcoholism. The track, which is almost acoustic, shocks on behalf of Dan Huff because of the sparse production, but also on behalf of Martina, whose singing has never been more nuanced and restrained.

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Cryin’ time

Martina McBrideI’ve been feeling quite down for these last few weeks, finding it difficult to both concentrate and write anything for the blog. What’s interesting about these “down times” is that I fall into a predictable pattern when it comes to my music. I always go for certain songs, or rather, certain types of songs. These songs work like therapy.

According to Martina McBride, “Life is a roller-coaster ride”, and while I’m descending (or sometimes plunging) into the depths of the darker side of life, my music tends to be insanely sunny. When I’m riding along the rails at rock-bottom depths, my listening habits usually takes a turn to the far more depressing depths of the musical pool, with songs like Dolly Parton’s “Not For Me” and Loretta’s “Miss Being Mrs.” in constant rotation. As the trolley starts its uphill climb once more, the mood of my music shifts to more of a mildly positive mood.  Faith Hill’s “A Room In My Heart” and Chely Wright’s “Deep Down Low” are two favorites of mine.

I think this is very interesting, because my mind seems to be seeking out its own therapy during the hard times.  For instance, I believe I listen to sunny music as I’m about to go into a slight depression as an attempt to counter balance my darkening feelings. Listening to very depressing music is sort of uplifting during the most depressing times, because I find it comforting to know that “there’s someone worse off than me”, however cruel that might seem.

Now, I might be over-analyzing (and coming across as very bipolar), but these habits seem pretty natural to me, and I do believe that music helps me through sad times. That’s why I sometimes pity those who don’t listen to music much.

What are some of your musical habits when feeling “down”?

Listen to “Not For Me”, “Deep Down Low”, “Sunny Day”, and “Down”.

You’re Still Here…

Sad country songs are not a rarity. Most all country songs were sad or at least depressing back in the day. That provides a stark contrast to the happy-go-lucky songs of today’s country radio environment, but even Jessica Simpson and Rascal Flatts listeners hear sad songs, no matter how sappy they might be.

Now, almost all my favorite songs are sad ones, but once in a while there comes along that one song that completely takes your breath away. “You’re Still Here” by Faith Hill was one of them.

You're Still Here - SingleThe final track of the Cry album, “You’re Still Here” shocked me like no other song. Cry is an album that I love and appreciate very much now, but when I first heard it back in 2002 I brushed the album off as “pop crap”. The huge Faith fan in me did however force me to listen to it all the way through. Cry was a very serious album throughout, and even had it’s sad moments. As the track before the the last one, “I Think I Will”, was finishing up, I thought to myself:

“Thank God! Only one more track”.

The albums’ previous songs suggested a slow, sappy love ballad as the final cut, and the title “You’re Still Here” didn’t help to suggest otherwise. Read more of this post

Album Review: Miss Leslie – ‘Between The Whiskey And The Wine’

Between The Whiskey And The WineMiss Leslie is the real deal. There is no doubt whatsoever if she’s hardcore honky tonk or not. Hard fiddles, loads of steel, and lyrics that involve either alcohol or heartbreak. Usually both.

The set kicks off with the “My Give A Damn’s Busted”-esque tune “I’m Done With Leaving”, which is the perfect kiss-off tune. Miss Leslie’s songwriting is sharp, and the conviction in her voice even sharper. The second track, which is the title track, is a song that describes the entire country genre, particularly the older, more traditional part of it: no happiness, no light at the end of the tunnel, no hope, all heartbreak, and all alcohol. Miss Leslie sounds genuinely “I’m never gonna heal”-heartbroken. She’s still depressed and still drinkin’ like hell in the next cut, “I Can Still Feel”, which could be the direct continuation of the title track. The next track, “Hold Back The Tears” could be another chapter to the two previous cuts, only this time we’re taken several years into the future, where the narrator has been sitting on that same bar stool for several years, and she’s still drowning her sorrows. Miss Leslie delivers this one perfectly, with just enough strength, and just enough of that ‘I gave up many years ago’ feeling in her voice.

What’s this? On “I Can Get Over You”, Miss Leslie convinces herself that she can get over the man who’s leaving her, and even though she thinks it may take years, she still sounds certain that she will eventually get over him. She apparently changed her mind on the next track, because she’s pulled out the bottle again, and sounds completely void of hope on “To Get Through This Day”.

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Album Review: Reba McEntire – ‘Just A Little Love’

Just A Little LoveReba McEntire’s rise to fame was slow. She had her first #1 hit, “Can’t Even Get The Blues” in 1982, five years after her debut album was released. Reba McEntire, her self-titled debut didn’t even chart on the Country Albums Chart, nor did her following two albums. It wasn’t until 1981’s Heart To Heart she actually charted an album. Her first top-ten hit was a bit before that though, “(You Lift Me) Up To Heaven” peaked in 1980. When it became clear that she was leaving Mercury, the label she had been with since her signing in 1975, the label did as labels often do; they didn’t really bother with promoting her end of contract album Behind The Scene (See Trisha Yearwood’s Jasper County).

She left Mercury for MCA, and released her debut for the label in 1984. Just A Little Love was more of a soft pop album than a real country record, and Reba, dissatisfied with the end result went on to release My Kind Of Country later that year, an album that yielded her two #1, and is somewhat considered to be her breakthrough album. Things didn’t fare as well with the album’s predecessor Just A Little Love though. It produced two singles, the title track which was a top five hit, and “He Broke Your Memory Last Night”, a top fifteen hit. Reba’s lack of satisfaction with the album is however, just plain dumb according to me.

As I made clear before, this isn’t much of a country record. The records starts off gently with the title track, a soft, romantic ballad about everyday love, and how it can haul you through the stressful life that so many of us live these days. Surely one of Reba’s best tunes, and one of my favorite happy songs as well. The next track, “Poison Sugar”, picks up the tempo with a peculiar melody that’ll certainly get stuck in your head. Reba is warning the ladies in town not to be fooled by a man whom she refers to as “Poison Sugar”. She tells a tale of how she’s gotten over a man in the brilliant “I’m Gettin’ Over You”, only to reveal to us that she hasn’t moved on a single inch from where she was years ago when she was with him. The happy, up-tempo melody only adds to the song’s irony.

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Album Review: LeAnn Rimes – ‘Family’

FamilyAt the age of 26, LeAnn Rimes is already somewhat of a veteran in the business. Her first album Blue was released in 1996, when she was only thirteen years old. Her debut single, the traditional “Blue”, a song written for Patsy Cline, showed an incredibly talented 13 year old singing like a forty-something woman who had lived a life of heartbreak and sorrow. The rest of the album did not quite live up to the promise of the debut single however.

Two mediocre albums followed, until 1998’s Sittin’ On Top Of The World came along and showed us an aspiring pop star, with good material to match. 1999’s LeAnn Rimes returned her to a more traditional sound, with no less than five Patsy Cline covers. 2001 gave us I Need You, a mix of ho-hum dance pop and ballads. 2002 gave us the abysmal Twisted Angel, which made me almost lose faith in LeAnn. She returned with one of the very best Christmas albums ever in 2004 however, and to say my faith was restored is to put it mildly. She followed it up with an even better album, the masterpiece that was This Woman. She made a europop excursion with 2006’s Whatever We Wanna, an excellent pop album. This short summary of her career shows that she has been a busy woman, which in her early years affected the quality of her music. Her last four albums however, including this one, were pumped out in four years, one per year, and yet they are still of remarkable quality.

As you can see, LeAnn has experimented with many kinds of music, everything from traditional country to pop; even rock. Family features a bit of everything, which is one of it’s many strengths. It is also the very first album that LeAnn has written or co-written all of the songs for, which shows. LeAnn connects with the songs in a way she hasn’t ever done before. Her voice has also never sounded any better than it does on this album, the album-closer “What I Cannot Change” being the absolute high point for her voice.

Family opens with the title track, a track more rock than it is country. LeAnn sings about the strong bond that a family shares, and she sings it with a passion few artists can match. The lead off single “Nothin’ Better To Do” oozes sex and soul, and it is truly one of the most infectious country-pop singles of later years. She tones it down a notch on “Fight”, one of the more traditional sounding songs on the album, and gives a vocal performance to die for. “Good Friend And A Glass Of Wine” and “Something I Can Feel” follows, “Good Friend….” being the strongest of the two. “Something I Can Feel” is slightly overproduced, but not enough to really drag down the song. A romantic ballad follows, “I Want You With Me”, one of the strongest cuts on the album. LeAnn really connects with the lyrics, and you really feel the words she is singing. “Nothing Wrong” is a steamy duet with Marc Broussard, and his scratchy vocals compliments LeAnn’s perfectly. Hot.

Track #9, “Pretty Things” is my absolute favorite from the album. LeAnn sings about vanity and materialism, and her interpretation of the song raises it above the “ordinary” love ballad it would have been without her masterful vocals to guide it. She rocks it out again on “Upper Hand”, and takes a swing into traditional country again with the superb, retro “One Day Too Long”. The album closer “What I Cannot Change” features one of the finest vocal performances I have ever heard from anyone. The production of the song is a little odd to me, but LeAnn’s soft, almost whispering of the chorus is enough to make even the strongest man emotional.

I will learn to let go what I cannot change
I will learn to forgive what I cannot change
I will learn to love what I cannot change
But I will change, yeah I will change
Whatever I, whenever I can

The album also has two bonus tracks, duets with Reba McEntire and Bon Jovi. They can be found on Reba Duets and Lost Highway respectively.

This is truly one of the best albums in any genre in the 2000’s.

A+

Listen to ‘Pretty Things’.