My Kind of Country

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

Category Archives: Single Reviews

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’

Single Review: Artists of Then, Now and Forever – ‘Forever Country”

forevercountry-1110x400

The Country Music Association has found a way of honoring their fiftieth anniversary – gather 30 of the genre’s biggest stars from the past, present and future for an unprecedented collaboration. The result is certainly buzzworthy and continues the tradition of the ‘all-star jam’ that saw its beginnings with the original 1972 recording of ‘Will The Circle Be Unbroken.’ The trend continued into the 1990s (Think “I Don’t Need Your Rocking Chair” and “One Heart At A Time”) before seemly dying off.

“Forever Country,” as the collaboration is called, blends three country standards – “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” “I Will Always Love You” and “On The Road Again” into a single song showcasing each of the artists involved with dedicated solos. The John Denver classic is the bedrock, with the others woven in.

The song succeeds because of Shane McAnally, who subtracts not distracts with his warm production values. He does a superb job of complimenting each artist with a sense of balance that allows each one to shine individually. While they also beautifully come together as a collective whole, it’s obvious that some do shine brighter than others, which is understandable in such a context.

It’s been a long time since the legacy of country music has been honored and I admire the Country Music Association for bringing their theme and mission alive in such a public way. To have all these artists in one place, on one track truly is astonishing. We’ve let history fall by the wayside in recent years as boom era veterans (the last artists to grow up on classic country music) have been pushed out in favor of younger artists who meet demographic needs but have little knowledge of or appreciation for what it took to make their careers possible. This pattern is cyclical and leaves behind those who refer to the past as ‘the good ole days’ when country music still had a soul.m_forevercountrycma

Those unworthy younger performers, of which there are too many to mention, are nowhere to be found, which begs a question – are they subtly making the claim that no one, save Brett Eldridge (who adds is voice to the mix), is truly worthy of carrying the torch for the next generation? It also saves the track from coming off as a laughing stock.

“Forever Country” could’ve exercised a bit more imagination than having Dolly being Dolly at the end, there are legends missing I would’ve liked to have seen included and it’s odd to have Jason Aldean (who was shut out of the nominations entirely) figure so prominently. But the intention and heart of the project is carried out in execution, which is why “Forever Country” shines so brightly. It’s the gimmick that succeeds in not being gimmicky at all. It’s far from the greatest recording I’ve ever heard, but it is a welcomed surprise. I’ll take it.

Grade: A

 

 

Single Review: Tim McGraw – ‘How I’ll Always Be’

how-ill-always-beSince leaving Curb, Tim McGraw seems to have regained his interest in recording good songs – and to be one of the few artists country radio allows to sing songs with substance. He follows up recent #1 ‘Humble And Kind’ with another strong song. His latest single, ‘How I’ll Always Be’ is a sweet paean to the simple things in life, written by Chris Janson, Jeremy Stover and Jamie Paulin. The protagonist happily admits to being a little old fashioned, wanting

a little more ol’ Hank Williams [rather] than that trendy crap

the gentle tone is somewhat belied by some aspects of the lyrics which present the protagonist as a fighter, but those are balanced by his love of

Ol’ stray dogs and guitars playin’
One room churches, back road walks and front porch swingin’

He is the quintessential character in a country song,

Fast cars and motorcycles
Raisin’ hell in cowboy boots
But hey on Sunday morning I’ll take the back row seat

The charming lyric is set to a gentle melody is supported by country instrumentation and understated production. This is country music as we rarely hear it on radio. The only flaw, sonically, is that the autotune which too often seems to be used to smooth out McGraw’s vocals is audible again. His personal connection to the lyric is evident, with a warm, tender approach, and the record does all the right things – apart from that one issue, which stops me from completely loving the track. It is still a breath of fresh air on the radio, though, and would probably sound great in the car, when other sounds muffle the autotune.

Grade: B+

Listen here:

Single Review: Brandy Clark – ‘Love Can go To Hell’

love can go to hellHaving loved Brandy Clark’s Twelve Stories, I was disappointed by some of the musical and arrangement choices producer Jay Joyce made for her current album, although her strong songwriting continues to shine. While the arrangement on new single ‘Love Can Go To Hell’ is more cluttered than it needs to be, fortunately it does not detract from the song, which Brandy wrote with Scott Stepakoff (a rock singer turned Nashille songwriter). It doesn’t sound bad – just a touch too busy.

A bitter post-breakup musing on the nature of love and pain sees Brandy reflecting on a recent breakup. She claims, not entirely convincingly, not to blame her ex:

Heaven knows
I only wish you well

I don’t blame you at all
No, I don’t hate you at all
It’s all love’s fault

But she is unable to move on:

I can get drunk on a Saturday night
And try to fall for someone new
But I’d just wake up hungover
Cursin’ the day I fell for you

The mid paced tune is redolent to me of 90s contemporary country, the kind of song Trisha Yearwood or Matraca Berg might have recorded (with a more subtle backing). Brandy is a fine singer as well as an excellent songwriter, with a voice capable of expressing strong emotions, and she performs this song well.

Curb artist Ashley Gearing also released the song as a single this year, but it failed to chart for her. Hopefully it will do better for its writer.

Grade: B+

Single Review: Willie Nelson & Time Jumpers – ‘Heartaches By The Number’

willie-nelson-for-the-good-times-a-tribute-to-ray-price-album-cover“Heartaches By The Number,” written by Harlan Howard, saw life as both a country and pop song in 1959. While Guy Mitchell scored a Billboard Hot 100 #1 with the song, it was Ray Price who brought it to #2 on the Hot C&W Sides Chart with the song’s original release. The track has now become a standard thanks to notable recordings by the likes of George Jones, Jerry Lee Lewis and Waylon Jennings, among others. Cyndi Lauper even featured it on her country album just this year.

Willie Nelson is giving the song a new lease on life as the first single from his For The Good Times: A Tribute to Ray Price, the culmination of a fifty-year friendship that endured until Price died in December 2014. His version is fantastic, thanks in no small part to the Time Jumpers, who provide the gorgeous steel and fiddle dominant musical accompaniment.

I have to say I was more than apprehensive about the pairing, which I thought looked intriguing on paper, but might come off as a mish-mash in execution. Nelson’s unique vocal delivery, especially in recent years, has made collaborating a challenge. But on “Heartaches By The Number” he sounds as vibrant as he has in years. Nelson more than holds his own with the energetic arrangement. The recording is crisp, clean, country and among the most splendid pieces of music I’ve heard all year.

“Heartaches By The Number” is also an outstanding jumping off point for the Time Jumpers, who’s fantastic Kid Sister drops early next month. Although he hates being singled out when talking about the band, these recordings go a long way in making up for the acquired taste of Vince Gill’s most recent solo album.

As if “Heartaches By The Number” and the addition of the Time Jumpers aren’t exciting enough, For The Good Times was produced by another legend, Fred Foster, who is entering The Country Music Hall of Fame this year. With those pedigrees, I cannot wait to hear what the rest of the album has in store.

Grade: A+

Single Review: Toby Keith – ‘A Few More Cowboys’

a few more cowboysOne of Toby Keith’s biggest hits was the Western themed ‘Shouldve been A Cowboy’. His latest single revisits that territory, but using the metaphor to tackle some of today’s social issues.

Written by Keith with Bobby Pinson and Dean Dillon, the lyric is in the main a celebration of Texas and an idealized cowboy ethos, with some more questionable elements. Some of it is conventional and likeable enough:

There’d be a bunch more daddies sons could be proud of
We’d have half the crime, we’d have twice the fun
With a few more cowboys, be a lot less outlaws
With a few more amens, be a lot less bad calls
With a few more yes ma’ams and a lot less yes man
This world would be a better place to live in
With a few more cowboys

He strikes a chord with the current anti-politics mood by making jabs at professional politicians:

If the White House was in Texas, man, we’d get a straighter answer

Although I’m not sure his alternative of “more fist fights” is much of an improvement, it’s hardly a surprise coming from Toby. Naturally there’s a bit of trade protection and an allusion to beating the enemy, again archetypal Keith:

Met ’em at high noon, hell, it’s about high time
We looked ’em in the eye, got our head out of the sand
Hit ’em with a big John Wayne, by God they’d understand

Production is beefed up, but recognisably country; there is a prominent electric guitar but it is not too intrusive, and Keith’s robust vocals are solid (when he actually sings). It’s quite an enjoyable tune with a pleasant mid paced melody. The lyric video is quite good fun, especially the image which accompanies the fist fights line.
But there is one element to the lyric which is fundamentally misjudged, and as it comes in the second line, and is then repeated in as portentous drawl at the end of the song, it can’t be overlooked as a passing thought – it’s a central point of the song:

If they’d let us smoke what we want, we’d have a lot less cancer

Um, really? While I understand there are some trials using parts of the cannabis/marijuana plant, that’s a far cry from actually smoking it being beneficial. This isn’t the place for that debate; suffice it to say that it significantly mars the song for me.

Grade: B- (it would be B+ without the line I objected to)

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Single Review: Ronnie Dunn with Kix Brooks – ‘Damn Drunk’

RD_SINGLE_DD_Cover_2016.05.03_FNLSince splitting with Kix Brooks in 2010, the solo career of Ronnie Dunn has included some shining moments (including “Cost of Livin,” one of the finest singles this decade) interspersed with bizarre rants, record label changes and a handful of forgettable singles. His last, “Ain’t No Trucks In Texas,” was so unmemorable and performed so poorly Scott Borchetta and his team have abandoned it all together.

Big Machine Label Group hit the reset button last Friday, with the release of “Damn Drunk,” which is being touted as the first single from Dunn’s upcoming and long overdue debut for Nash Icon. The mid-tempo ballad produced by Jay DeMarcus of Rascal Flatts, airs on the side of bombast with loud electric guitars impending on a listening experience more pop/rock than country.

The track is also billed as ‘with Kix Brooks,’ a moniker I’d never thought I’d see in my lifetime. His contributions, solely on the choruses, are slight and add nothing to the song. Folks drawn to ‘Damn Drunk’ in hopes of a reunion of sorts are going to be disappointed. “Damn Drunk” is squarely on Dunn’s shoulders as a solo single.

Beyond those shortcomings, though, the track has merit. “Damn Drunk” was co-written by Liz Hengber, and while it’s not her strongest composition, it is a real song with actual structure. This song isn’t mailed in with hopes of checking off the lyrical boxes needed to produce a radio hit. It may be about a guy lusting after his girl, but there’s a slight maturity to the proceedings that puts “Damn Drunk” just above the rest. It may be rock, but it’s not bro-country by any stretch of imagination.

It also helps that Dunn commits to the song completely, with a tour-de-force vocal that proves he still has the goods after twenty-five years in the business. He does come off desperate with a scraggily appearance that renders him somewhat unrecognizable (he’s too thin or something), but that thankfully (the desperation) doesn’t manifest itself in this recording at all. Dunn is still himself even if that self is packaged in a modern day setting.

Grade: B

Single Review: Stephanie Quayle – ‘Drinking With Dolly’

drinking with dollyStephanie Quayle hails from Montana, where she grew up on a buffalo farm. Previous singles were more pop-country, but her new single for indie label Rebel Engine Entertainment is a revelation.

Produced by Matt McClure, a fiddle introduces a very pretty, gentle melody. The song, written by Rachel Proctor and Victoria Banks, looks back wistfully to the glories of classic country music c. 1969, and the great female singers of that era. A lovely traditional fiddle-led arrangement perfectly complements it. Stephanie’s sweet voice is completely convincing as the girl longing to relive that time alongside Dolly Parton and her contemporaries, and getting some good advice from them:

Share a few secrets and a cigarette
Say a few things that we’ll not regret
Tell it like it is
Three chords and the cold hard truth
I bet they’d have a little advice to share
How to tame a man and tack up my hair
Might as well look god while you’re out paying your dues
Oh if I could turn back time

I’d go drinking with Dolly after the Opry
Pour one for Tammy too
Put on my rhinestones
Paint up my nails
Kick off my dancing shoes
Hey there, Loretta
Put a quarter in the jukebox
We’ll sing along with you
We’ll raise up a glass
Wish Patsy could be there too
Talk about men cause that’s what women do

This is a true delight. I understand that Ms Quayle has an EP coming out soon, and I shall watch with interest for her future work.

Listen for yourself
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yFV0eqDO4dU and I highly recommend you download it from iTunes.

Grade: A+

Single Review: Josh Turner – ‘Hometown Girl’

hometown girlJosh Turner is one of the few surviving traditionally inclined holdouts on a major label, but he has been struggling with radio in recent years, and as a result his label has been delaying releasing new music.

His new single does not boast the deepest of lyrics, but it is a pleasant enough, if rather cliche’d, paean to a woman who has spent time in the big city but returned to the humble small town she grew up in. The protagonist seems to have followed the same trajectory, searching “all over the world” for love, only to find it back home. There is an attractive melody and reasonably restrained though not very inspired modern production, which is. Josh’s voice is as good as ever, and the end result is quite a nice little record. To be perfectly honest in another era it would be regarded as inoffensive but forgettable filler, but set against most of the fare on today’s “country” radio it’s a blessed relief.

The song was written by Marc Beeson and Daniel Tashian.

Listen here.

Grade: B

Single Review: Dwight Yoakam – ‘Tomorrow’s Gonna Be Another Day’ b/w ‘High on a Mountain of Love’

51bARUV4GWLDwight Yoakam’s latest effort comes to us courtesy of Third Man Records, a niche label specializing in vinyl releases that was founded by Jack White in 2001. The 7″ single was released last week, with White himself producing. Both the A and B sides of the record are remakes of songs whose origins are from outside of country music. Written by Tommy Boyce and Steve Venet, ‘Tomorrow’s Gonna Be Another Day’ was originally a 1966 album cut for The Monkees. I’d never heard it before but it works reasonably well as a rockabilly number and is not all that different from a lot of Yoakam’s other rock-tinged offerings. It’s a decent song, but probably not one I would have chosen to resurrect for a single release. I prefer the B side of the record, ‘High on a Mountain of Love’, which was recorded by a number of pop acts in the 1960s. It was also a #1 country hit for Charley Pride in 1981. I remember listening to and greatly enjoying that version when I was growing up.

Both songs are pleasant enough and well performed by Dwight, but Jack White is not my favorite producer and his choices here had tremendous negative impact on my ability to enjoy either song. The arrangements on ‘Tomorrow’s Gonna Be Another Day’ are cluttered and busy. ‘High on a Mountain of Love’ is better in that respect, but one has to almost strain in order to hear Dwight’s vocals over the music. This is also true, to a somewhat lesser extent on the A side of the record. Both recordings have a very tinny low fidelity sound, which I suspect was deliberate and probably a way to tie into the “vinyl is cool” mentality. They sound like they were recorded in a garage. I didn’t like that production approach when White used it with Loretta Lynn and I don’t like it now. Both of these tracks would have been a whole lot better if they had been recorded in a more conventional manner.

Grade: B-