My Kind of Country

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

Category Archives: Single Reviews

Single Review: Lee Ann Womack – ‘All the Trouble’

Although she is best known to the masses for her massive crossover hit “I Hope You Dance”, Lee Ann Womack has built a reputation as one of only a very select few female artists that adheres to country music’s traditions. John Rich once referred to her as this generation’s Tammy Wynette. I’m not sure I quite agree with that assessment; my first reaction was that she was more like a Patty Loveless, but I’ve come to realize that a case can be made that she is this generations’ Emmylou Harris, putting artistry and tradition ahead of commercial concerns and earning universal respect from her peers. Let’s just pretend that 2002’s Something Worth Leaving Behind never happened; she has more than redeemed herself for that misstep.

Lee Ann is releasing a new independent album in October and there have been rumors that she is moving in an Americana direction. It’s a little hard to say based on the advance single “All the Trouble,” which is different from her usual fare. I’d call it country blues with a touch of gospel rather than Americana; in fact, it sounds like something that The Judds might have had success with in their heyday.

Written by Lee Ann with her bandmates Adam Wright and Waylon Payne, “All the Trouble” begins with Lee Ann singing the chorus acapella at a the lower end of her register and slowly builds in intensity. During the first, mostly acoustic verse, she sounds beaten down:

The deck is stacked against you
Life’s a losing hand
Even when you think you’re up
You’re right back down again
Either way you play it
The house is gonna win.

By the second chorus, she kicks it up a notch, sounding more like the Lee Ann of old.

I’ve got all the trouble I’m ever gonna need
And I just don’t want no more.

By this point she’s singing more intensely, desperately searching for a happy ending. It’s about a full octave higher than the beginning of the song, which is quite effective in giving the listener a full sense of her emotions. The background vocalists provide a gospel feel which gives the whole song a sense of hope. Unfortunately, at this point the production becomes a lot busier and louder than it was at the beginning and I feel that this is a case where less would have been more.

“All the Trouble” is not perfect, but it’s everything that contemporary mainstream country is not: substantive, well-written, and well sung from the female point of view. I’m looking forward to hearing the full album.

Grade: B+

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Single Review: Tanya Tucker – ‘Forever Loving You’

The Glen Campbell-Tanya Tucker relationship was the gift that kept on giving to tabloid publishers in the early 1980s. A middle-aged legend past his commercial peak hooked up with a rising starlet half his age. In a more cynical age, it might have been suggested that the entire affair was concocted by publicists to keep the singers in the headlines. Except it wasn’t and when it ended, it ended badly, with a violent drug-induced brawl that left the reputations of both Campbell and Tucker in tatters. Neither was ever able to completely live it down; the affair was considered by most to be Campbell’s midlife crisis and Tucker’s youthful indiscretion.

It’s not a period of their lives that one would expect either party to look back on fondly. However, recent events have suggested that there was more to the messy relationship than the tabloid headlines led us to believe. Last Tuesday, August 8th, Campbell died after a six-year battle with Alzheimer’s disease. The next day, Tucker released a new single — her first in eight years — which is a tribute to her late partner. Written by Tanya with Michael Lynn Rogers and Rusty Crowe, “Forever Loving You” is probably the most deeply personal single of her career. A beautiful piano and pedal steel-led ballad, it is an expression of regret that things didn’t turn out differently, that lays to rest any lingering doubts that Tanya’s feelings for Glen were sincere, and that she never quite got over him:

I never stopped loving you even after all these years,
I still feel you next to me at night when you’re not here.
Oh, how your sweet songs stay with me even after all this time
Your memory’s right here in my heart, forever on my mind
.

Tanya is in good voice; the lyrics are deeply emotional and the melody is beautiful; this used to be a sure-fire formula for a monster hit. We all know that isn’t going to happen in today’s radio environment, but it’s a must-have for fans of both Glen and Tanya. A portion of the proceeds are going towards Alzheimer’s research, which is, of course, a cause well worth supporting. The track can be downloaded from iTunes and Amazon.

Grade: A

Single Review: Brandy Clark – ‘You’re Drunk’

It’s about time I let you in on a little secret. I’m always clamoring for new releases from Brandy Clark. When my local record store didn’t carry Live From Los Angeles this past Record Store Day, I went online and was able to secure the final copy at Bull Moose Records in New Hampshire.

I’m also still finding additional nuances in Big Day In A Small Town more than a year since it was released. I only recently uncovered the brilliance of “Since You’ve Gone To Heaven,” a track I had initially failed to understand in any concrete way. Brandy Clark isn’t just one of the strongest songwriters to come along this decade. She’s one of the greatest contemporary voices in country music, achieving an equal footing with the likes of Gretchen Peters, Matraca Berg, Bobbi Cryner and Lori McKenna.

Clark is adding to her legacy with “You’re Drunk” a staple of her live show and an outtake from the sessions for Big Day In A Small Town. The story goes that she never took the song seriously until she cut it, the track didn’t fit the vibe of the album and she had to find a way to get it out.

While I’m glad it’s out there, I’m thrilled it didn’t make the album. “You’re Drunk” is an outtake for a reason – it’s shallow, far too contemporary and lacks Clark’s overall distinctiveness. “You’re Drunk” feels undeveloped in a “Girl Next Door” sort of way, trying to be clever without really packing any significant punch.

Her work with Shane McAnally (they co-wrote this with Josh Osborne) has been incredible – the pair wrote “Since You’ve Gone to Heaven” together – but this feels like it’s dripping with McAnally’s influence and not in a good way. The production and overall vibe is far more “American Kids” than “Last Call” or “Follow Your Arrow.”

That being said, “You’re Drunk” isn’t terrible. It’s found a proper home as an outtake, where it belongs, and not the anchor to a new album, like the one consisting solely of drinking songs she wants to do at some point. I’ll give her a pass for this. It’s an outtake and nothing more. Even Brandy Clark doesn’t have to hit it out of the park every time she’s up at bat.

Grade: B-

Single Review: Shania Twain – ‘Life’s About To Get Good’

Twenty years ago, the ongoing and never-ending “is it country or is it pop” debate focused primarily on Shania Twain, who was the polarizing crossover artist of the day. My assessment was — and still is – that some of her earlier hits were country but most of her music starting with Come On Over was definitely pop. Even before she began crossing over to the pop charts, Shania was controversial for not living in Nashville, not relying on Nashville producers and songwriters, and for not touring to support her breakthrough album The Woman In Me. There is no question that Shania owed a great deal of her success to clever marketing and the savvy of her husband, producer and co-writer Robert John “Mutt” Lange. It is also true that much of the music they made together, regardless of the genre one categorized it under, wasn’t particularly substantive.

That being said, I always felt that Shania was more talented than many of her detractors gave her credit for. After an extended absence from the charts, she has a lot riding on her first full-length album since her divorce from Lange. Aside from the underwhelming 2011 single “Today is Your Day”, it’s been twelve years since she had a record on country radio and fifteen years since she released a full-length studio album. She needed to prove not only that she could still deliver the goods, but also to establish for once and for all that not all of the credit for her prior success was attributable to Lange. Unfortunately, “Life’s About to Get Good”, the advance single from her upcoming new album Now, fails on both counts.

Although the song directly tackles the subject of the adversities Shania has faced since she was a staple on country radio, “Life’s About to Get Good” doesn’t address those issues in a substantive manner. Instead, they are a springboard to the repetitive, Pollyanna-ish platitude that life will be all rainbows and unicorns from this day forward. In so many ways, the song is typical of what we’ve come to expect from Shania: a catchy earworm that doesn’t say a whole lot but provides three minutes or so of distraction from the banalities of day to day life.

It is not a great song, but I have heard far worse. Had Shania released this record during her commercial hey-day it probably would have been just another bit of inconsequential fluff. The real problems with this recording, however lie in the production, beginning with the annoying EDM in the intro, and continuing on with the extreme uses of autotune and the general over-processing of her vocals, which sap the song of any life or emotion that may have been there to begin with. It’s not terribly surprising since neither of the producers (Matthew Koma and Ron Aniello) has a background in country music. It’s not as though I was expecting anything particularly country or rootsy, but it is a bit disappointing that Twain is apparently OK with such heavy-handed and sloppy production that only reinforce the perception that she was just a pretty face that catapulted to stardom due to her ex-husband’s studio wizardry.

Grade: D

Song Reviews: Sara Evans – ‘Marquee Sign’ and ‘Words’

It was last summer when Sara Evans made the announcement she had signed a recording contract with Sugar Hill Records. The move was designed to reunite Evans with her former A&R partner Tracey Gershon, a former record executive with UMG and a judge on Nashville Star the year Miranda Lambert placed third.

I was shocked when I heard the news. Had Sugar Hill Records lost their integrity? Why would they sign an artist as mainstream as Sara Evans? It turns out there was a bit more to the deal – Evans has gone on to form her own imprint, Born To Fly Records, with Gershon serving as a member of her A&R team.

Free of Sony’s constraints, I was excited to hear the first taste of Words, which is being touted for two main reasons – it’s her first independent album and it features a whopping fourteen separate female songwriters among the writing credits. The pedigree, on paper at least, seems high.

In reality, though, lead single “Marquee Sign,” co-written by Evans, Jimmy Robbins and Heather Morgan, is nothing more than a continuation of the sleek pop-country from her most recent Slow Me Down era, which did in fact slow down whatever momentum she had gained from “A Little Bit Stronger” (which appears on Words in acoustic form, as if it needs to reappear seven years later) to a screeching halt.

I’m smart enough to know that I should expect nothing when it comes to releases like “Marquee Sign.” Just because Words is an independent album, from Evans‘ own imprint, where is the incentive and guiding force that demands it has to be quality? She has to know she won’t get significant airplay, but that sadly isn’t enough for a reverse of course and a change of direction.

“Marquee Sign” might be a terrible song, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. It’s still characteristically Sara Evans. I do wish it was more “Backseat of a Greyhound Bus” or “Suds In The Bucket” Sara Evans, but those days are fourteen years in the rearview mirror.

In the lead up to Words, Evans has also issued the title track (co-written by Robins, David Hodges and Jake Scott), a ballad that makes ample use of her falsetto and trades twang for acoustic pop. The presentation is a breath of fresh air that presents Evans in a new light. On this track, at least, I give her credit for giving us something different that isn’t more of the same. “Marquee Sign” is nothing more than a doubling down of what hasn’t worked for her creatively or commercially in the past few years.

‘Marquee Sign:’ C

‘Words:’ B-

Single Review: William Michael Morgan – ‘Missing’

Last year, I threw the William Michael Morgan’s single “Missing” into my year-end Top Ten. It had just been released as a single and had caught my year for its unapologetic nod to traditionalism. “Missing” is the kind of song that even seven years ago would’ve been a massive hit.

George Strait likely would’ve been the one to propel it up the charts, and it probably would’ve been a “B” single in his hands, against his catalog. But it’s a winner for Morgan, who turns in a performance that measures up to Strait and rightfully stands on its own.

To my ear there isn’t a negative thing I can say about this record. It’s currently my favorite song at country radio and one of the only bright spots going into this summer season.

Grade: A+

Single Review: Chris Stapleton – ‘Broken Halos’

Chris Stapleton has finally shared the first official taste of his highly-anticipated sophomore album, From A Room, Volume 1. He may have sung “Second One to Know” on the ACM Awards earlier this month, but “Broken Halos” is the first audio Stapleton and Mercury Records have shared with fans.

I must admit I haven’t been able to drink the Stapleton branded cool-aid. I’m not much of a fan of his style or voice, which do not excite me. My brain keeps wanting to compare him to Jamey Johnson, which for me is no contest. I love Johnson and adore That Lonesome Song. I still can’t get into Traveller no matter how many times I listen to it.

“Broken Halos” doesn’t change my perception. It’s a blues rocker, not a country song, a style that fits him well. I admire how structured the song sounds, there’s no wild abandon impeding on the listening experience. “Broken Halos” is probably as straight a reading as we’re ever going to get from Stapleton.

The song, though, is a good one. I really like the spiritual nature of the lyric, which offers a poignant message of redemption:

Angels come down from the heavens

Just to help us on our way

Come to teach us, then they leave us

And they find some other soul to save

 

Seen my share of broken halos

Folded wings that used to flysang

They’ve all gone wherever they go

Broken halos that used to shine

Broken halos that used to shine

 

Don’t go looking for the reasons

Don’t go asking Jesus why

We’re not meant to know the answers

They belong to the by and by

They belong to the by and by

My personal feelings don’t distract from how well he executes this record. The lyric could be flushed out a bit more, but the arrangement is tasteful and he uses his god-like voice to the fullness of its powers. “Broken Halos” is signature Chris Stapleton and a fine beginning to what promises to be one of the strongest artistic achievements for mainstream country this year.

Grade: B+

Single Review: Trace Adkins – ‘Watered Down’

The term “watered down” is usually used in a pejorative sense in the country music world. It’s generally used to refer to music that has been stripped of its country elements in favor of a more MOR sound that will appeal to a wider audience, but as the title of Trace Adkins’ new single, it seems to suggest a creative renaissance of sorts.

It’s been six years since Trace last had a single in the Top 10 and nine years since his last number one. During that time period country music saw the rise and (hopefully) fall of Bro-country and a lot of other changes that many of us were not happy about. Trace himself bears some responsibility for the genre’s wrong turn, given some of his own questionable musical choices in recent years. It’s nice to see that he is apparently trying to make amends for that with his latest effort. Written by Matt Jenkins, Trevor Rose and Shane McAnally, “Watered Down” is a ballad that finds Trace acknowledging middle age, without wistfulness, regrets or nostalgia. The production is contemporary — heavily dependent on keyboards and a subtle string section — but it is never heavy-handed. He’s well aware that he is no longer a young man, but he’s not quite ready to retire to a life of golf at The Villages just yet:

We still fly like gypsies
Just a little closer to the ground
And we still love our whiskey
But now it’s just a little watered down

Unless I’m reading too much into this, the song seems to be a metaphor for Trace’s career. It’s very possible that he’ll never again have a big radio hit, but he seems content to settle into a new role as one of country music’s elder statesmen. He’s not going to try to maintain the hectic pace of his younger years, but he’s still going to stick around and make music on his own terms. And if “Watered Down” is an indication of the path he’s planning to take from now on, I very much look forward to following him on his journey.

Grade: A

Single Review: Zac Brown Band – ‘My Old Man’

The Zac Brown Band have always maintained that they are not a strictly country band; however, they they have been one of the few (mostly) bright spots at country radio over the past decade.  With the release of the polarizing Jekyll + Hyde album, they ventured into the world of EDM and reggae.  It didn’t seem to hurt them commercially but it did alienate many of their fans.  The Band now seems to be extending an olive branch to those fans with their new release, “My Old Man”.

Written by Zac Brown with Niko Moon and Ben Simonetti, “My Old Man” is the latest in country music’s long-standing tradition of honoring one’s parents.  It channels old chestnuts as “Coal Miner’s Daughter”, “Daddy’s Hands”, “That’s My Job” and “Love Without End, Amen” and delivers essentially the same message as those classic songs.  While it doesn’t break any new ground, it does take the initial steps needed to get country music in general – and the Zac Brown Band in particular – back on track artistically.

A sparsely arranged ballad consisting of acoustic guitar, a little fiddle, a subtle string arrangement and the Band’s trademark harmonies, “My Old Man” opens with the narrator’s boyhood reminiscences of his father.  In the second verse, the narrator is grown with a son of his own.  The third verse reveals that the narrator’s father has passed away.  The narrator expresses hope that he can live up to the example that was set for him, and looks forward to an eventual reunion with his father in the afterlife.

“My Old Man” was produced by Dave Cobb, best known for his work with Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson.  It’s the refreshing glass of water that  fans have been crying out for during a long drought in the bro-country desert.  I look forward to hearing the Band’s forthcoming album.

Grade:  A

Single/Song Review: Sunny Sweeney – ‘Bottle By My Bed’

trophyThe first single from Sunny Sweeney’s much anticipated new album is something of a change of pace emotionally. Coming to the song cold I expected this to be about the alcoholic type of bottle, but it is something quite different. Drawing on her real life experience of infertility the song, which Sunny wrote with Lori McKenna, voices her and her husband’s longing for a baby.

She compares her life, apparently enviable, but empty, to that of friends already raising children, whereas she has “an empty room at the top of the stairs”. She says she would be happy to exchange worldly possessions for the baby bottle, and later the carpool.

Occasionally addressing the future child she dreams of, she declares,

“I don’t even know you yet but I know I love you”

There is a thread of hope saving the mood from one of self-pity, ending the song with “We wait”.

A fairly sparse string arrangement allows the song’s emotions to take center stage, with a somber cello performance from Jake Clayton standing out. Sunny’s incisive vocal sells the song effectively.

This is a subject rarely addressed in country music. There’s an obscure track by Kellie Coffey, ‘I Would Die For That’, and the Dixie Chicks’ more allusive ‘So Hard’ (from the post-controversy Taking The Long Way). But Sunny’s song is the best written of these three, and the one which speaks most strongly to me. It has a special resonance for me as my mother has talked about her own struggles with fertility, many years ago, putting strain on my parents’ marriage before eventually adopting me and my brother, a path less easily available nowadays.

I’m not sure I can hear this as a radio single, but it is the kind of song which gives country music its reputation as the reflection of true life in all its complexities.

Grade: A+

Listen here, and read an interview with Sunny about the background to the song.

Single Review: Marty Stuart – ‘Whole Lotta Miles (With A Million More To Go)’

maxresdefaultAs I began writing this review, I started thinking about the last time a real truck drivin’ anthem made a play at country radio. I had to go back twenty years for Sawyer Brown’s cover of the Dave Dudley classic “Six Days on the Road.” Before that, all I could think of was Alabama’s “Roll On (Eighteen Wheeler).”

There used to be a time, long since in the rearview mirror, when mainstream country music cared about the working class, the blue collar folks who make their living keeping our country afloat each and every day. It’s hard to believe there used to be an era when paychecks and harsh realities outweighed the scantily clad country girls fulfilling the fantasies of horny teenage boys.

Marty Stuart is looking to resurrect the long-forgotten subgenre with “Whole Lotta Highway (With A Million Miles To Go).” Who better to take on this challenge than a man who has had traditional country music coursing through his veins since birth? Stuart is the master, a fact he’s proven time and again in his career and has turned into an art form over the past ten years.

“Whole Lotta Highway (With A Million Miles To Go)” is a very good song and I have no doubt everyone brought his or her ‘A’ game to make this work. My problem is, I can’t get past the sound of this record at all. The wall-of-sound production drowns the song in loud twangy and steel guitars that could’ve been pleasant if they were turned downed in order to let the lyric, and Stuart’s vocal, breathe. There’s nothing wrong with the pacing or the melody, the song itself is just too damn loud.

It’s a shame, but then again, I do hold Stuart in a class of his own with expectations no normal human could ever reach. I’m still highly anticipating Way Out West, although my expectations have been slightly lowered after hearing “Whole Lotta Miles.”

Grade: B

Single Review: Rodney Crowell feat. John Paul White and Rosanne Cash – ‘It Ain’t Over Yet’

maxresdefaultThe celebrity marriage is the stuff of legend in country music, where iconic pairs either come together as the loves in each other’s lives or break apart as fame and fortune stuck their formidable wedge where it shouldn’t belong. The success rate hasn’t been high, which should be expected, from pairs in such an industry.

One such union is that of Rodney Crowell and Rosanne Cash. The pair met when he produced three tracks on her European-Only debut album. She would venture to California to play with his band The Cherry Bombs. They married in 1979 and had their first child in 1980 and moved to Nashville the following year. Cash and Crowell would divorce in 1992.

They’re back together twenty-five years later for “It Ain’t Over Yet,” which finds Crowell tracing their love story in song, from his perspective:

For fools like me who were built for the chase

It takes a right kind of woman to help you put it all in place

It only happened one in my life but man, you should have seen

Her hair two shades of foxtail red

Her eyes some far-out sea blue-green

With stark honesty, he goes on to blame himself for their demise:

I got caught up making a name for myself

You know what that’s about

One day your ship comes rolling in

The next day it rolls right back out

And you can’t take for granted

None of this shit

The higher up you fly boys

The harder it is you’re gonna get hit

Cash takes the reins on the final verse:

I’ve known you forever and ever and ever it’s true

If you came by it easy you wouldn’t be you

You make me laugh

You make me cry

You make me forget myself

I do love the message that in love as in life, we’re only human:

It ain’t over yet

Ask someone who oughta know

Not so very long ago

We were both hung out to dry

It ain’t over yet

You can mark my word

I don’t care what you think you heard

We’re still learning how to fly

It ain’t over yet

There’s so much about this song to admire. “It Ain’t Over Yet” is devoid of animosity, which is remarkable, and paints time as an almighty healer. Crowell, as a songsmith, has never been sharper with his imagery or conviction.

The record itself, though, suffers from overcrowding. As much as I admire John Paul White’s contributions, and his buttery vocal is gorgeous, what is he doing here? He plays an intermediary in an intimate moment that would’ve ultimately shone brighter if it were left to Crowell and Cash alone. That version would’ve been transcendent. This one is a hair slightly below, although still very much worthy.

Grade: A-

Single Review: Alison Krauss- ‘Losing You’

hqdefaultFor her first solo LP in seventeen years, Alison Krauss’ prerogative was to make a country album featuring songs older than her. She enlisted the aid of Buddy Cannon, who brought the recording sessions to life in 2013. The ten-track collection, Windy City, will finally see release on February 17.

I’ve been longing for new music from Krauss ever since Paper Airplane back in 2011, hoping she would give us something new, not another ballad-driven album with Union Station. I love when she plays with tempo and texture and doesn’t rest comfortably in her signature style.

To kick off the new set, Krauss has graced us with ‘Losing You,’ the Brenda Lee classic from 1963. Lee’s hit recording, it should be noted, wasn’t a country one – it peaked top 10 in pop and adult contemporary. It’s an excellent recording, too, with Lee singing the fire out of the torch ballad, which was perfectly produced by Owen Bradley.

In approaching anything with Krauss’ voice on it, it’s very easy to be swept away by the beautiful marriage of the arrangement with her angelic vocal. The result is stunning – Cannon perfectly complements her with lush AC-leaning tones that afford her opportunity to soar. Technically, this record is perfection.

But like most cover tunes, I have trouble deciphering the newness that separates this version from the original. We all know Krauss is otherworldly, but does she bring enough of a bite to her vocal to allow us into the complexities within the lyric? Or is beauty masking our judgment towards thinking critically about the recording? I truly cannot find anything wrong with it, although I cannot get Paul tearing apart her Don Williams’ covers out of my head. I loved those (especially ‘You’re Just A Country Boy’) as much, if not more so than ‘Losing You.’

I cannot wait to see what the rest of Windy City has in store. ‘Losing You’ is a fantastic first taste of what appears is going to be another early highlight of this already interesting year.

Grade: A

Christmas Single Review: Sunny Sweeney – ‘One More Christmas Beer’

one-more-christmas-beerSunny Sweeney’s new Christmas single is a closely observed, affectionate and highly comic look at the strains of Christmas with the family. The song (written by Sunny with Monty Holmes and Buddy Owens) has been around for a while but appears to be new to iTunes.

Opening with a jaunty whistle and some Christmas bells before launching into the tune, Sunny paints a picture of family who drink, fight and drink some more to cope with the misery of being cooped up together, all with charm and good humor.

The later it gets
The drunker we are
Someone always ends up in a fight
We think that a family try to get along
At least this one day a year
Well the fact is we can’t
We never will
So pass me one more Christmas beer

Later we hear that

Grandma is bitchin’
About men in the kitchen
It’s a good thing my grandpa can’t hear

It’s left unstated whether Grandpa is just deaf or has passed beyond all earthly cares, although I presume the former.

If you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em
Get drunk and annoy ‘em
I’m usually the one that tries to hold it together
Someone smoked up all my Christmas cheer
We don’t know any better
Same thing different year
God bless the family
Can’t wait till it’s over
Pass me one more Christmas beer

This is a fun counterpoint to the enforced jollity of so much Christmas music. Like most comedy, it’s deliberately exaggerated, but not so far as to seem removed from reality.

Highly recommended.

Grade: A+

Single Review: Candi Carpenter – ‘Burn The Bed’

Candi Carpenter

Candi Carpenter

It’s always interesting to hear a new artist for the first time. Some singers get the right song straightaway, others get filed in the ‘promising pile’. Newcomer Candi Carpenter fits into the first category with her Sony debut single.

Born in Toledo, Ohio, Candi grew up singing gospel in a family band, and pursued a career in country music from her early teens, dropping out of high school to perform illegally in bars she was to young to be in. At 16 she was touring with veteran Jack Greene and performing with him at the Opry, giving her a solid grounding in country music, although her music draws on blues and rock influences as well. An exploitative management contract and bad marriage are now both behind her

The excellent song is from the viewpoint of the cheated wife. She tackles her man with righteous indignation. The situation is reminiscent of Highway 101’s late 80s classic ‘The Bed You Made For Me’, but where that and many other wronged-wife songs are fuelled principally by anger, in this one Candi’s anger is rooted deeply in the sadness of betrayal.

Most people take out the trash
They don’t bring it home
But you’d rather be cheap and dirty
Than spend one night alone

How long has this been going on, how long have you lied
Was she someone to replace me, or someone on the side

She concludes, with revulsion,

I don’t want to wash the sheets
I wanna burn the bed

She wrote the song herself, a delicate ballad, with Jerilyn Sawyer and Alden Witt. Shane McAnally’s production is nicely understated, and although not traditional country, it makes a reasonable compromise with contemporary radio appeal. Candi’s sweet voice has a purity in its tone that makes her wounded innocent completely believable, while she imbues the song with passionately felt emotion.

I shall be watching for Candi’s future music with considerable interest.

Grade: A

Single Review: Brad Paisley – ‘Today’

bp_today_webWhen Brad Paisley first arrived on the scene back in 1999, I thought he was destined to be the leader of an overdue shift back towards traditional country music. That shift never really materialized but Brad remained one of the few bright spots in an otherwise bland mainstream. In the next decade and a half things would only become worse, until an all-time nadir otherwise known as bro-country was reached. During that time even some of the genre’s more reliable artists made some questionable choices (2013’s Wheelhouse in Paisley’s case). Thankfully the bro-country fad finally seems to be over, with artists such as Sturgill Simpson and Chris Stapleton helping to end the quagmire.

Paisley’s latest effort “Today” has been lauded in some circles as a return to form for him, but to my ears it doesn’t quite live up to the hype. Perhaps my expectations were too high, but I was hoping for another “He Didn’t Have to Be” or “Whiskey Lullaby”. “Today” is neither. That’s not to say that it’s a bad song; on the contrary it’s a fairly sizable step in the right direction. It actually contains some country instrumentation, and more importantly, it’s not a mindless, hip-hop infested party song about tailgating in a cornfield. It does actually say something. It’s a bit slicker than I would like, though with equal parts country and pop power ballad. Paisley seems to be playing it safe; he’s aiming for an adult audience but he seems a little afraid of alienating anyone by going full country. It’s not the bold step towards traditionalism that I’d hoped for and it tries a little too hard to make an emotional connection with the listener, but all in all it’s not bad. It took several years for the genre to be dismantled so I suppose it will take some time to rebuild it to where it should be. As long as things are moving in the right direction, I’ll try not to complain too much.

Grade: B

Single Review: LeAnn Rimes – ‘How To Kiss A Boy’

leann-rimes-how-to-kiss-a-boy-2016Whenever I listen to a new single from LeAnn Rimes I’m left pondering how she’s figured out what no other mainstream female seems to understand. The art of song selection isn’t about finding singles for today as much as it is selecting material built to last. With “How To Kiss A Boy,” Rimes has chosen one such song.

Written by Lori McKenna and Barry Dean, “How To Kiss A Boy” is a gut wrenching meditation in heartbreak centered on rejection:

Then one night he calls you

Says it didn’t mean a thing

And you feel a break inside you

And you’re filled with disbelief

But you still let him come over

And he’s trembling when he says

Oh, baby, I’m sorry

Rimes’ devastation is brilliantly conveyed in her tender reading of McKenna’s pitch-perfect story. Her voice has never sounded more nuanced nor has been given quite this masterful a showcase to put it on display. The production, while stunningly simplistic, is heavy-handed and could’ve used a bit more texture to add flavor. But even without minor adjustments towards the country genre, “How To Kiss A Boy” is a classic record, through and through.

Grade: A

Single Review: Garth Brooks – ‘Baby Let’s Lay Down and Dance’

baby-lets-lay-down-and-dance-cover-artI might as well just come out and say it – The return of Garth Brooks over the past two years has been one of the most infuriating “comebacks” in recent memory. He began by announcing his gargantuan world tour, which I would’ve been excited about, except for the fact it features Trisha Yearwood and doesn’t give her the full performance slot she deserves. He subjected us to Man Against Machine, which was crap, and announced his long-awaited duets album with Yearwood would consist of…Christmas songs. I haven’t even mentioned GhostTunes, which he’s now abandoned since it provided diminishing returns.

Brooks is attempting to re-write the narrative with a deal through Target which consists of an exclusive edition of his new album Gunslinger packaged in a bloated ten-disc boxed set entitled The Ultimate Collection. This is purely a marketing and sales move, but even he has to be smarter than to rehash his hits in another form at this point. I’m only invested because of Yearwood and her contributions to this new material, which are slight, to say the least.

Now, I’ve always been a fan of Brooks. His material has consistently been top notch and his ability to captivate a crowd is unlike anything country music has ever seen (especially in that combination). He knows music and I’m confident his heart is in the right place. But even I’ve had enough of his overblown ego and sense of importance. He craves relevancy, which is totally understandable, but his desperation is more than OLD.

Which leads us to “Baby Let’s Lay Down and Dance.” Quite frankly, the song is terrible. There’s nothing to latch onto lyrically and the production feels like it was generated rather than played. This is “Wrapped Up In You” minus the heart, soul and personality.

“Baby Let’s Lay Down and Dance” may be inoffensive uptempo radio fodder that doesn’t try to overreach and claim some big substantive payoff. But it also doesn’t give the listener anything to latch onto and is as empty as anything currently on country radio. This may give Brooks the hit he craves, but it more than damages his credibility as a songsmith and boasts very poorly for the quality of Gunslinger.

Grade: C-

Single Review: George Strait – ‘Goin’ Goin’ Gone’

goin-goin-gone-cover-artBeyond a few dates in Las Vegas with Kacey Musgraves, George Strait has remained dormant for the better part of the last year. Cold Beer Conversation has continued his downward trend as country radio continues to find little room for many with traditional-leanings. In the past few weeks Strait has returned, sitting down with The Dallas Observer (the interviewer, surprisingly, is no relation to me) for a must-read interview and mining his most recent album to release “Goin’ Goin’ Gone,” a honky-tonk rocker co-written by Wyatt Earp and Keith Gattis.

The lyric finds the protagonist down on his luck, with little savings:

I put in my forty and they take out way too much

 

I ain’t got no 401, ain’t got no benefits

They don’t hand out stock options, not down here in the pits

Despite his grim financial situation he is determined to forget his troubles, even if he only digs himself deeper:

I’m overdue so throw it on the card

Bartender, keep it open, I’m just getting started

Come Monday morning, I just might be overdrawn

But it’s Friday night, so, I’m goin’, goin’ gone

Even without a solid foundation, he does find the silver lining:

Might not be the big dream but I guess I can’t complain

It pays the rent but that’s about all that it pays

 

But I’ve got old glory hanging by my front porch light

Might not be the perfect world but then again, it might

Blue-collar anthems, once a staple of country music, have fallen by the wayside as the Nashville Machine went into overdrive to deemphasize the harsh realities of life in modern country songs. At its core, “Goin’ Goin’ Gone” is a drinking song dosed in realism, with the writers gifting us intent behind his need to keep throwing ‘em back.

While I do find the record infectious, and Strait sounds as high-energy as ever, the execution is lacking the uniqueness that would take this single over the top. Plus the arrangement, while excellent, feels a tad loud in the final mix.

“Goin’ Goin’ Gone” may have appeared on Cold Beer Conversation but MCA has serviced it as the promotional push for Strait Out of The Box: Part 2. Strait’s second boxed set (3 CDs), a Wal-Mart exclusive, will be released on November 18. In that case, “Check Yes or No” this is not. But it is very good.

Grade: B+

Classic Rewind: Asleep At The Wheel – ‘Route 66’