My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Aaron Scherz

Album Review: Maddie & Tae – ‘Start Here’

starte hereMaddie Marlow and Tae Dye are a breath of fresh air in mainstream country music. The girls co-wrote every song on the album, most frequently with mentor Aaron Scherz. They consitently display both melodic and lyrical gifts, producing songs which usually have catchy and memorable tunes and intelligent, often amusing, lyrics. Their producers Dann Huff applies an unaccustomed light hand to the 90s-style arrangements.

I still like the witty take down of misogyny in bro-country, ‘Girl In A Country Song’ which was the duo’s breakthrough hit and was one of my favorite singles last year. Their current hit ‘Fly’ is a lovely inspirational ballad about striving to succeed, even at the risk of falling:

Cause you can learn to fly
On the way down

These two tracks also appeared on a test-the-waters EP earlier this year. Also from that EP is ‘Sierra’, a tart critique of a beautiful but bitchy rival set to a very pretty melody:

I wish I had something nice to say
About that girl and her million-dollar face
But beauty only gets you so far
A heart of pure gold is something very rare
And the only one she has
Is on that necklace that she wears
Acts like she’s some kind of movie star

My least favourite from the EP is the insistent poppy ‘Your Side Of Town’, which lacked their usual melodic adeptness, but it has energy in spades and shows off their attitude seeing off an ex.

Turning to the new material
The set opens with the thematically appropriate ‘Waitin’ On A Plane’, an upbeat tune about being on the verge of starting a new life in a new town – although in times past no aspiring country singer would have been planning on first class travel.

The wistful ‘Smoke’ is addressed to an elusive lover, who she believes is reluctant to commit due to past heartbreak. The smoke simile is nicely realised throughout the song.

It’s back to the comic sass of their debut with ‘Shut Up And Fish’, as the protagonist fends off a fishing companion with an ulterior motive for the trip, and seriously wandering hands:

I could tell pretty fast he had more than just bass on his mind

Oh, I was fishin’
He was wishin’ we were kissin’
I was gettin’ madder than a hornet in an old coke can
Gettin’ closer, slidin’ over
Crowdin’ up my casting shoulder
Reachin’ out trying to hold my reelin’ hand
Sayin’ I’m pretty
Sayin’ he’s in love
And how it don’t get any better than this

I said yeah it could
Boy, if you would
Shut up and fish
Shut up and fish

For a little while he calmed down and let up
But then he went right back to pushing his luck
and that line of mine wasn’t all I wanted to throw in

She does indeed end up pushing him in the lake.

‘Right Here, Right Now’ and ‘No Place Like You’ are quite pleasant pop-country love songs, which just pale set against the more interesting songs.

Much better is ‘After The Storm Blows Through’, which has a lovely melody with Celtic touches, and a moving lyric about supporting a friend through difficulties. They close up with the thoughtful take on leaving home, ‘The Downside Of Growing Up’. The deluxe edition also has acoustic versions of the last two songs.

The overall feel of the album is charming. They aren’t had core traditional country, but their brand of pop-country has a lot more country elements than most of their peers, and a lot more substance. This is an excellent debut from a very promising new act, who seem to have the increasingly rare knack of combining broad commercial appeal with real artistic merit.

Grade: A

Album Review: Reba McEntire – ‘Love Somebody’

Reba_LoveSomebodyIn the five years since All The Women I Am, Reba McEntire thought the changing tides of mainstream country music had swung too far in the opposite direction and thus she had recorded her final album. With playlists catering almost exclusively to men, she felt there wasn’t room for her anymore. That didn’t stop Scott Borchetta from begging, and after four years, he finally got her back in the studio.

Love Somebody is McEntire’s twenty-seventh album and first as the flagship artist of Nash Icon, Borchetta’s newest venture in which he signs legacy acts with hopes of returning them to prominence. The album, co-produced between McEntire, Tony Brown, and James Stroud, is an eclectic slice of modern country that proves the 60-year-old hall of famer can still keep up with the young guns. She hasn’t lost any of the distinctive color in her voice nor has she forsaken the themes that have kept her career afloat for more than forty years.

McEntire’s distinctive ear for songs brimming with attitude is evident in “Going Out Like That,” the lead single that’s beating the odds and becoming a sizeable hit. She continues in that vein on “Until They Don’t Love You,” a Shane McAnally co-write with Lori McKenna and Josh Osborne. Brash and theatrical, the track has prominent backing vocals and nods to her mid-90s anthems although it lacks their distinctiveness. The electric guitar soaked “This Living Ain’t Killed Me Yet” has an engaging lyric courtesy of Tommy Lee James and Laura Veltz and is far more structured melodically.

Pedal Steel leads the way on “She Got Drunk Last Night,” which finds a woman drunk-dialing an old flame. McEntire conveys Brandy Clark and McAnally’s lyric with ease, but I would’ve liked the song to go a bit deeper into the woman’s desperation. She finds herself haunted by the memory of an ex on “That’s When I Knew,” about the moment a woman realizes she’s finally moved on. Jim Collins and Ashley Gorley’s lyric is very good and finds McEntire coping splendidly with a powerful yet thick arrangement.

Throughout Love Somebody, McEntire grapples with intriguing thematic and sonic choices that display her ability to reach beyond her usual material. “I’ll Go On” finds her singing from the prospective of a woman who actually forgives the man who doesn’t love her. She tries and ultimately fails to adequately execute a Sam Hunt co-written hip-hop groove on the title track, one of two love songs. The other, “Promise Me Love,” is a much better song, although Brown’s busy production hinders any chance of the listener truly engaging with the lyric.

She also takes a stab at recreating the magic of “Does He Love You” through a duet with Jennifer Nettles. Written by Kelly Archer, Aaron Scherz, and Emily Shackelton, “Enough” boasts a strong lyric about two women who’ll never be sufficient for this one guy. The premise is stellar and McEntire and Nettles deliver vocally. I just wish the production were softer so we could get the full effect of their anger and despair.

While not particularly unusual, McEntire turns in another story song with “Love Land,” Tom Douglas and Rachael Thibodeau’s composition first recorded by Martina McBride on her 2007 album Waking Up Laughing. It’s never been one of my favorite songs, as I find it very heavy-handed, but McEntire handles it well.

The centerpiece of Love Somebody is Liz Hengber’s “Just Like Them Horses,” a delicate ballad about a recently departed loved one journeying to the other side. The recording is a masterpiece of emotion from Hengber’s perfect lyric to Brown’s elegant production. McEntire’s vocal, channeling the pain she felt when she first sang it at her father’s funeral last fall, is in hallowed company – it’s on par with her delivery of “If I’d Only Known” from twenty-four years ago.

The album closes with her charity single “Pray For Peace” the first self-written song McEntire has recorded since “Only In My Mind” thirty years ago. Like the majority of Love Somebody it shows her taking chances while also staying true to authentic self. While there are few truly knockout punches, this is a very good album. It might not be the strongest set she’s ever released, but it’s a solid reminder that she should stay in the game and take shorter gaps between projects.

Grade: B+