My Kind of Country

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

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Album Review: Glen Campbell – ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’

rhinestone cowboyI originally felt like I had drawn the short straw when assigned this album. The two singles from the album, “Country Boy” and “Rhinestone Cowboy” are my two least favorite Glen Campbell singles, and this album is almost relentlessly downbeat in its feel and lyrics.

Al DeLory was often criticized for overproducing Campbell’s albums with string arrangements, but his arrangements never drowned out Campbell’s voice. At points that comes close to happening on this album, which was produced by Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter.

The album opens with “Country Boy”, written by Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter, a #3 country single that also charted pop. To me the production sounds far more over the top than DeLory ever was guilty of producing. As far as being country music, it is at best ersatz country.

Livin’ in the city
Ain’t never been my idea of gettin’ it on
But the job demands that you make new plans
Before your big chance is gone
You get a house in the hills
You’re payin’ everyone’s bills
And they tell you that you’re gonna go far
But in the back of my mind
I hear it time after time
“Is that who you really are?”

Country boy, you got your feet in L.A.
But your mind’s on Tennessee
Lookin’ back, I can remember the time
When I sang my songs for free
Country boy, you got your feet in L.A.
Take a look at everything you own
But now and then, my heart keeps goin’ home

Lambert & Potter also provided the next three songs on the album, “Come Back”, “Count On Me”, and “Miss You Tonight”, all passable album filler material salvaged by Campbell’s vocal prowess. While I don’t think these songs would stand alone as singles, they further the general theme of the album, which I would describe as that of the alienation of a country boy lost in the big city.

Side one of the vinyl original version of the album closes with the Smokey Robinson penned Temptations classic “My Girl”. While I wouldn’t describe Campbell as a blue-eyed soul singer, he always does a passable job on soul and R&B material. Side one of the album was mostly downbeat material so it was nice to have side one end on an upbeat note.

Side two opens with Larry Weiss’s “Rhinestone Cowboy”. This song was Glen’s biggest single, selling over two million copies on initial release and would receive two Grammy nominations for best pop vocalist and song of the year, and would win ACM Single of the Year for 1975. “Rhinestone Cowboy continues the general theme of the album.

Well, I really don’t mind the rain
And a smile can hide all the pain
But you’re down when you’re ridin’ the train that’s takin’ the long way
And I dream of the things I’ll do
With a subway token and a dollar tucked inside my shoe
There’ll be a load of compromisin’
On the road to my horizon
But I’m gonna be where the lights are shinin’ on me
Like a rhinestone cowboy
Riding out on a horse in a star-spangled rodeo
Rhinestone cowboy
Gettin’ cards and letters from people I don’t even know
And offers comin’ over the phone

Next up is a nice cover of a Mike Settle song “Build You A Bridge” followed up by a Johnny Cunningham song, “Pencils For Sale”.

Randy Newman was always a perceptive songwriter and “Marie” is no exception. Glen invests all the emotion necessary to bring Randy’s lyric to life:

The song that the trees sing
When the wind blows
You’re a flower, you’re a river
You’re a rainbow
Sometimes I’m crazy
But I guess you know
I’m weak and I’m lazy
And I hurt you so
I don’t listen
To a word you say
And when you’re in trouble
I turn away
But I love you
I loved you the first time I saw you
And I always will love you Marie
I loved you the first time I saw you
And I always will love you Marie

The album closes out with the Barry Mann/ Cynthia Weil composition “We’re Over”. As far as I know this song was never a big hit for anyone, but it is a well crafted song that I can see any number of contemporary artists (Adele, Michael Buble`) handing well.

We’re over. I guess we know we’re over
Even though all the words are still unsaid
And we talk of other things instead
We’re over. We’ve come and gone, we’re over
We go on like two actors in a play
Acting out our lives from day to day

Going through our paces
With smiling frozen faces
That tell more than they hide
And knowing when we fake it
It’s not love when you make it
Without any feeling inside

I had not listened to this album for many years as it strikes me as basically a seventies pop album, which I found to sound entirely different than the classic Al DeLory produced albums I had come to love and cherish.

There are a lot of different musicians on the album, but I was particularly struck by the following:
Horns – Paul Hubinon, Chuck Findley, Don Menza, Jerome Richardson, Tom Scott, George Bohanon, Lew McCreary, Dalton Smith / Strings – Sid Sharp and the Boogie Symphony / Backing vocals – Ginger Baker, Julia Tillman, Maxine Willard.

I would give this a C+ but many of my non-country music loving friends consider this to be their favorite Glen Campbell album, and considered as 70s pop this album is probably a B+.

Album Review – The Band Perry – ‘Pioneer’

“Daddy rocked us to sleep with the Rolling Stones; Mama woke us up with Loretta Lynn. So we get it honest” – Kimberly Perry

300999_laIt’s no secret that “If I Die Young” is one of my favorite singles of this decade, no matter how much airplay it receives. Nathan Chapman’s simple production combined with Kimberly’s sweet vocal is an irresistible combination, difficult for me to resist.

So about a year ago now, I was thrilled when The Band Perry announced they’d be working with Rick Rubin on their sophomore album. The veteran producer who famously resurrected Johnny Cash’s career in the final two decades of life, he also produced the final Dixie Chick record Taking The Long Way, possibly my favorite album from them. In addition, they expressed their intent to work with songwriting genius (and Semisonic front man) Dan Wilson based on his involvement with “Someone Like You” and “Don’t You Remember” from Adele’s 21 (He also had a lot to do with the genius of the Chicks’ album). The Perry siblings even spoke openly of their love for those two songs, which made me very excited, as I love them, too.

So, what the heck went so horribly wrong? Well, it seems like the their label had other ideas. Kimberly has explained that Rubin “in his current incarnation” is a minimalist, but “we also knew that to accommodate all of the goals that we had, the best producer was Dann Huff.” One can assume, reading between the PR fog, that Republic Nashville didn’t approve of Rubin’s artistry, and wanted the band to go with a producer that would keep them firmly within the good graces of country radio. In other words, an intelligently articulate record wouldn’t be supported in today’s Nashville in the same ways an overproduced Huff-led record would.

And is Pioneer ever overproduced. Huff works his usual magic, suffocating the songs until they are one click away from needing life support. The rock production has even affected Kimberly’s voice, the band’s crowning instrument, which is now sadly showing the wear of extreme overuse. I wasn’t expecting to hear such breathy vocals from her, and like Carrie Underwood’s newly acquired rasp, it’s kind of sad. What ever happened to simply singing?

Pioneer is what happens when country music becomes too commercial. Every aspect of the product is grossly overdone in an attempt to appeal to the arena and stadium crowd, and while the songs may work well live; they fail as a listening experience on an album. Luckily, though, this isn’t the atrocious mess it could’ve been and they did find (and write) some decent songs, even if nothing here lives up to the singles from their debut.

I quite like “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely,” despite the somewhat muffled production and “I Saw The Light” is possibly my favorite song on the whole project. The title track is as folksy as they seem to get, and “Back To Me Without You” is nicely restrained although it gets a bit power ballad-y by the end. I don’t have a huge issue with thick production at all when it’s done correctly (here’s looking at you, Eric Church). Huff’s style actually works well on “Forever Mine Nevermind,” which has noticeable country elements in the choral melody.

I’m also enjoying the tender “Mother Like Mine,” which the trio wrote as a declaration of what the world would look like if everyone had been raised by their mom:

So the wars would all be over

‘Cause she’d raise us all as friends

And no one would ever wonder if somebody wanted them

We’d walk on grass that’s greener

And our cares would all be freer

If the world had a mother like mine

The no wars line is a bit predictable, and Kimberly’s vocal shows the wear of shouting too much on stage, but overall it’s a very touching song that would work well as a single. Their southern gothic tribute “End of Time” isn’t as revelatory as I would’ve liked, but it’s probably closest to the sound on their debut. “Night Gone Wasted” is a mess in this form, but I can hear the honky-tonk elements beneath all the noise, especially on the chorus. If any song ever called for an acoustic makeover, this would be it.

The rest is just plain dreck. I do get why some would praise “Chainsaw” for being a country romp, but it sounds to me like something Huff would’ve done with Rascal Flatts circa 2004. There’s just nothing new in the production to peak my interest. The lyric is typical Band Perry but the melody sounds very dated. Even the Target exclusive tracks are marred by unintelligent choices in both vocals and production, and can hardly be appreciated for the quality songs they probably are.

To call me disappointed in Pioneer would be an understatement. I’m thankful this isn’t an obvious clichéd attempt at commercialism, but this record could’ve been and deserved to be so much more. The songs are there but you wouldn’t know it based on all the distracting elements hindering overall enjoyment. Pioneer will rightfully get The Band Perry to that next level they so deserve to ascend to, but it comes at far too big a price for the fans that loved the simplicity of their debut. Hopefully, they’ll be able to find a happy medium next time.

Grade: C+  

Jonathan Pappalardo’s Top Ten Singles of 2011

While 2011 was a bland and boring year for mainstream country music where anthems to dirt roads, tales about being someone’s honey bee, and odes to plastic party accessories were all over the radio, it did feature some bright spots. There was even one artist I thought was so constantly strong, two of their singles made my top ten for the year. I would’ve added this person’s latest as a third, but two in one top ten is more than enough.

So in addition to complaining about those songs that seem to have taken country music off track, let’s take a moment and celebrate what was good about country music in 2011. And judging by my list, you have to remember that just because a song spent four or five weeks at #1, doesn’t mean it’s of good quality. So here’s my list of favorite songs, all released as singles in 2011.

I’ll have the rest of my list, numbers 11-45, on my own blog later this month.

10. Randy Houser – “In God’s Time”

The balance between religion and spirituality in American popular culture is often shaky – there are those who believe in the teachings derived from texts and others who choose to let a higher power guide them, but don’t necessarily tie it to a particular faith. As there are those who happily merge the two.

Houser’s tale of letting life work itself out by surrendering to a greater force is the ultimate definition of spirituality, the study of the soul. In realty, “Time” is a fundamental lesson in how to live your life – “But no one knows, not you or me, it might be tomorrow or it might never be. Oh, but don’t lose faith. Put it in His hands. ‘Cause it might be that He might have a bigger plan. Than you had in mind. Miracles happen, in God’s time.”

Very rarely does a singer emerge from the shadows to clearly leave their mark by just a song, but Houser has here. Not only is he among the greatest living of all country singers, but also he may be the best trying to have chart success today.

“Time” is nothing short of a masterpiece, a classic and iconic statement from a living profit. Problem is, Houser occupies his time with distracting southern rock – a decision marking his downfall. If he only understood that he was put here to create songs like this, he would sour into the heavens, and fill the shoes of the ilk in his wake.

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2011: The 75-(per)cent report

School buses are back on the roads and the leaves are already starting to fall on the roads here in southern Ohio. Crisp nights are upon us, and as we head into final months of 2011, I’m revisiting my growing playlist of my favorite songs and albums released in the first three-quarters. No waxing or pondering on the fate of what’s popular this time, these are just some of my favorite releases of the year, in no particular order, combined with a few words to tell you why in some cases.  Be sure to share your top picks for the 3/4 of the year so far in the comments.

Albums

Sunny Sweeney – Concrete … As I said in my review, if this became the sounding board for all future female country albums, we’d all be better off.

Terri Clark – Roots and Wings … Though it’s not as strong as her previous effort, Clark’s latest, and its lack of airplay, is another page in the long indictment against country radio.  I’d be the first to welcome her back with this material.

Pistol Annies – Hell On Heels

George Strait – Here For A Good Time

Connie Smith – Long Line of Heartaches … Traditional country and classic themes performed by one of country music’s finest singers. A can’t-miss combination.

Chris Young – Neon

Ronnie Dunn – Ronnie Dunn … The Brooks & Dunn frontman hasn’t reached his full potential as a soloist yet – I think he’s still too unsure of himself – but this is a helluva start.

Blake Shelton – Red River Blue

… and on the not-so country side:

Lucinda Williams – Blessed

Adele – 21

Lori McKenna – Lorraine

The Decemberists – The King Is Dead 

Songs

Bradley Gaskin – “Mr. Bartender”

Kenny Chesney & Grace Potter – “You and Tequila”

Pistol Annies – “Lemon Drop”/”Trailer For Rent” … I can’t pick a favorite among these two on the album.

Ronnie Dunn – “Cost of Living”

George Strait – “Here For a Good Time”/”Poison” … It’s been said before, and better, but I really like the title track to Strait’s latest album. And I think “Poison” is one of his finest moments.

Sunny Sweeney – “Staying’s Worse than Leaving”/”Amy”

Billy Currington – “Love Done Gone”

Taylor Swift – “Back to December”/”Mean”

Lucinda Williams – “I Don’t Know How You’re Living”

Our Grammy predictions

The 52nd annual Grammy Awards show airs January 31, 2010 at 8 p.m. on CBS.

Earlier we told you who we’d each like to see winning in the country categories this year. Now it’s time to go out on a limb and say who we expect to win. We didn’t do very well last time, due to collectively underestimating the CMA voters’ enthrallment to commercial success.

Best Male Country Vocal Performance
Trace Adkins – ‘All I Ask For Anymore’: Chris
Billy Currington – ‘People Are Crazy’
Jamey Johnson – ‘High Cost Of Living’: Jordan Stacey, Occasional Hope, Razor X
George Strait – ‘Living For The Night’: J.R. Journey
Keith Urban – ‘Sweet Thing’

Jordan: The Grammys always go for this type of song: critically acclaimed, sold a lot of albums, and has been listed in best of lists all year. The Grammy’s won’t ignore Jamey Johnson.
Razor: While I like the Trace Adkins song very much, I think the award for Male Vocal Performance will – and should – go to Jamey Johnson. It received a tepid response from country radio, but the Grammy’s are somewhat less inhibited and Puritanical in their selections. This was a true highlight of 2009, and I expect that the Grammy voters will recognize that and reward the song appropriately.
OH: See my comments below on Song. I believe Jamey will win at least one of these categories, but possibly not both.
J.R.: Strait is long overdue for a string of trophies from the Grammy’s. His first-ever statuette came from the NARAS last year in the Best Country Album race, and I think he’ll add to his collection this year.

Best Female Country Vocal Performance
Miranda Lambert – ‘Dead Flowers’
Martina McBride – ‘I Just Call You Mine’
Taylor Swift – ‘White Horse’: J.R. Journey, Occasional Hope
Carrie Underwood – ‘Just A Dream’: Chris, Jordan Stacey, Razor X
Lee Ann Womack – ‘Solitary Thinkin”

Razor: ‘Just A Dream’ and ‘White Horse’ are the only two songs in this category that can legitimately be called hits. It would be a further travesty for Taylor Swift to win over Carrie in a vocal performance categeory. The Grammy’s are more prone than the CMAs or ACMs to reward artistry over commercial success. While ‘Just A Dream’ is no artistic masterpiece, Carrie is hands down the superior vocalist.
OH: The Grammy voters don’t always care if something’s a hit, but nothing here is sufficiently artistically compelling to win on that account. I agree it’s between Taylor and Carrie, and travesty or not, I think Taylor will carry it on her current awards and commercial momentum.
J.R.: Taylor is white hot right now, pardon the pun. Grammy voters have traditionally either went for tracks that make strong artistic statements or the flavor of the day. This year, with nothing really standing out from the pack as brilliant in this category, I think name-recognition will swing it for Swift.
Jordan: They seem to like Carrie, and it’s a much stronger song than ‘Last Name, so she will probably walk away with this one.

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Favorite Grammy Performances

I finally watched the Grammy’s on my DVR tonight, just for the performances, and it led me to this question:

What was your favorite performance from the Grammys?
There were some great ones, and some not so great ones (Miley Cyrus makes Taylor Swift sound like Trisha Yearwood), but I picked my 3 favorites:

1. “15 Step” by Radiohead and the USC Marching Band
Alright, I love Radiohead. I admit it. I bought In Rainbows, and it struck me as a phenomenal record. Imagine my joy when my favorite track off the album was going to be performed at the Grammys! My only complaint was that Thom (the singer) moves weirder than Chris Martin. But for everything else, the performance was golden. I was skeptical at first, but the marching band was an amazing touch — a stroke of genius, in my opinion. Very different than the original (listen here) which has electronic beats instead. This is just a very cool song, and a great performance.

2. “Stay” and “Chasing Pavements” by Sugarland and Adele

Adele receiving the Grammy for Best New Artist

Adele receiving the Grammy for Best New Artist

Two of my favorite vocalists singing two of my favorite songs. What could be better?! Well, I would have preferred more singing together, but the perfect performances from the two definitely validate their Grammy wins. They are both wonderful ladies, and Kristian Bush is nice, too. Even sweeter is how Adele beat the Jonas Brothers. YES!!!

3. “You Pulled Me Through” by Jennifer Hudson

Just the fact that she could go out there after all that she’s been through and sing that well…? She is a very resilient person. This performance cements the fact that she deserves to be here, and she seems to be doing as well as she can after all that. I still kind of wish she would have done “Spotlight“, but whatever. “You Pulled Me Through” was great, too — it matched the mood much better anyway.

P.S.  Props to M.I.A. for performing on her due date. Did anyone notice her maniacal laugh when the camera found her while reading nominees? I love her…

I’m also sad about the whole Chris Brown/Rihanna thing. I hope she’s doing okay.

So what do you guys think? Agree? Disagree?

Poll – Grammy For Best New Artist

Well I know you guys don’t like non-country artists, but I wanted to go along with my recent theme of Grammy categories. If you haven’t noticed, Lady Antebellum is nominated for the Best New Artist against some steep competition and the Jonas Brothers. Now you’re probably wondering “So what?” grammy1

Well, the other three competitors in the category are three of my favorite artists, who I have discovered through iTunes free singles, namely Duffy, Adele and Jazmine Sullivan. I got all of their respective free singles over the course of 2008, and then followed them to get their debut albums throughout the year, and I love all three of them.

Adele and Duffy are both considered neo-soul singers, compared to Amy Winehouse, while they have no resemblance to her in any way. Adele is a singer-songwriter with a blusey voice who comes from England, while Duffy sounds like she traveled through time straight from the 60’s, while she really came from Wales. Jazmine Sullivan sings R&B and hails from Philadelphia- tutored by Missy Elliott and she has had much success in the U.S.

About their songs, Duffy has her international hit “Mercy” (Nominated for the Grammy for Best Female Pop Performance), Adele has the hit “Chasing Pavements (Nominated for 3 Grammys including Record and Song of the year) and Jazmine has her R&B #1 “Need U Bad” (And is nominated for various R&B awards).
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