My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Angelo Petraglia

Album Review: Kim Richey – ‘Bittersweet’

Kim Richey released her sophomore album Bittersweet in March 1997. The album opens with “Ever River,” which Brooks & Dunn took into the top 5 from their Steers and Stripes album in 2002. Richey’s version is excellent, with a nice muscular melody that doesn’t overwhelm the track.

I’m also very familiar with “I Know,” in much the same way as “Just My Luck.” I really like this one, although the chorus feels slightly underdeveloped and could use a bit more punch. The same goes for “Fallin’,” a love song, and one of my favorite tracks on the album.

The banjo drenched mid-tempo ballad “I’m Alright,” about a woman liberated following a breakup, is very good. “To Tell The Truth,” about a woman who still has feelings for her ex, follows in the extremely high-quality nature of the album. “My Whole World” has a Mavericks vibe I really dig. Sonically, “The Lonesome Side of Town” is more of the same and matches the album cohesively.

“Don’t Let Me Down Easy” is a sparse stunner, and finds Richey begging her man not to be gentle following their breakup. Her venerability is chilling, allowing us to feel her pain alongside her.

Richey wrote the remaining four tracks solo. The jaunty “Wildest Dreams,” the mid-tempo “Straight As The Crow Flies,” the steel infused “Let It Roll” and “Why Can’t I Say Goodnight,” a lovely duet with her longtime friend and collaborator Angelo Petraglia.

Bittersweet is a wonderful record. I liked the production, which leaned more country than her debut. I would highly recommend checking it out.

Grade: A

Album Review: Jo Dee Messina – ‘Me’

meJo Dee’s latest album, released last year on her own label after she was released from her longstanding contract with Curb Records, was crowdfunded thanks to a Kickstarter campaign by her fans. It is broadly in keeping with Jo Dee’s work on Curb, contemporary pop-country which sounds positively understated compared to some of the current fare, but lacking even token nods to more traditional country instrumentation.

The lead single ‘Peace Sign’ is an assertive response to a breakup, with the protagonist cheerfully calling herself “dumb” for falling for the kind of man who dumps her by e-mail. While not the subtlest of songs, it should appeal to Jo Dee’s fans. It is one of two songs co-written by Jo Dee’s former Curb labelmate Amy Dalley, the other being ‘Breakin’ It Down’, another well-written (though unfortunately over-produced and sung) breakup song with an upbeat edge, although this time she is the one breaking away.

The assertive second single, ‘A Woman’s Rant’, is a self-penned plaint about the specific difficulty of modern life for women trying to juggle motherhood and career while getting paid less than male counterparts:

There’s so many things I can’t begin to understand
The differences that are between a woman and a man
You see, women they do twice the work and get half the pay
Men they climb the ladder while the women pave the way
They say that we’re the weaker sex
I’d have to disagree
I’d walk a mile in his shoes if he’d walk a half a mile in these

This is one of the best songs on the album, and it may be excessively self-deprecating to call it a rant, although it’s certainly unapologetically feminist.

In contrast, Jo Dee also wrote ‘Say Goodbye To Superman’, my favorite track on the album. This tearjerker is about a woman trying to explain to her young son why his idolised daddy isn’t coming home any more. It begins gently sad, building into a big ballad.

Jo Dee wrote two songs here with Alyssa Bonagura, daughter of Kathie Baillie and Michael Bonagura of 80s group Baillie & The Boys. The defiant country-rock opener ‘Not Dead Yet’ is about being a survivor, possibly addressed to her former label as she declares,

You’re the one who stopped believin’
While I’m still in the chase.
You shattered my feelings,
But you won’t shatter my faith

The other Bonagura co-wrote, ‘He’s Messed Up’, is more pop-rock than country of any variety, and it comes as no surprise to learn that it was written for rocker Pink. It is rather too loud and shouty for my taste, although I think there’s a decent lyric buried there, warning girls against a player (apparently based on a real life example).

Bonagura’s mother co-wrote the title track with Jo Dee. It is a pretty melodic tune about feeling inadequate. Jo Dee also co-wrote ‘Love On A Maybe’, a busily produced pop-rocker about a potential relationship with a guy paying hot and cold, and the rather boring ‘I’m Free’.

‘Strong Shot Of You’, written by Australian country singer-songwriter Sherrie Austin with Clay Mills and Weston Davis is energetic pop-rock-country with over-processed vocals. ‘Take It’, written by Hillary Lindsey, Brett James and Angelo Petraglia is even more horribly processed and more or less unlistenable. The wistful ‘Like A Kid Again’, written by Adrienne and Keith Follese and Tammy Hyler is better.

The arrangements and production aren’t the kind of country music I personally like, but it is very well done, with Jo Dee singing well on some strong material. I do applaud her for making the kind of music she wanted to, and fans of Jo Dee’s 90s/early 2000s peak should find much to like about this record.

Grade: B

Single Review: Dierks Bentley – ‘Up On The Ridge’

Dierks Bentley has a longstanding interest in bluegrass, and has included a bluegrass track on each of his four major label albums to date. Last year it was announced that he planned to record two albums this year – a bluegrass side project and a mainstream album. As he started the process he and producer Jon Randall (the songwriter and one-time major label artist now billed by his full name Jon Randall Stewart) found the two projects came together, and the end result, due next month, was a single record which melded country, bluegrass and other influences. The title track has been released as the lead single and gives us our first glimpse into what will be on offer.

I’ve always liked Dierks’ voice and he sounds committed here. The tune doesn’t have much range, but the strong driving rhythm grabs hold of the listener from the start and never let’s go. I really like the instrumentation (slightly beefed up bluegrass) on this, but I really didn’t care for the minor keyed chorus and particularly the backing vocals (allegedly courtesy of Alison Krauss but she is almost unrecognizable, stripped of all her sweetness). I was a little disappointed that the production of a bluegrass-inspired project did not sound quite as acoustic and natural as I had hoped it would, with some incongruous and artificial echoey effects in the chorus, at the very start of the song and in the last verse. They do not destroy the song for me, but they did seem unnecessary and a counter to the joys of the musicianship. This would probably work better live, where studio intrusion would be discarded.

Written by Dierks with Angelo Petraglia, the lyric is about the joys of the countryside, but it differs from the standard country living songs. For a start it is a refreshing change to have a song about the countryside actually sounding country (or bluegrass), and that alone would make this stand out. However it isn’t really a ‘country pride’ song at all – the narrator clearly lives in the city and is only heading out to the hills for the night:

Let’s blow out these city lights
Let’s just leave it all behind
Get up where the air is still
You can hear the whippoorwill
Start a fire, pass the shine
Won’t be home till mornin’ time

I might quibble about the categorization of air on the ridge being still; every hilltop I’ve ever been on has been very windy with the stiller air on more protected lower ground. After the first verse’s attractive picture of sharing music and drink around a bonfire, the main part of the song is an appeal for the protagonist’s girl to join him, although, to be picky again, there doesn’t seem to be much hope for privacy. This aspect of the song is underlined in the video with its good-humored depiction of smiling pickers playing in a field overnight to a crowd of young people dancing strikes an inclusive note, with several romantic couples forming. This has great charm, does perhaps mean the focus of the original song changes to the more inclusive approach of the first verse.

Dierks’ dog Jake, who gets a cameo in the video, is well-known to his fans as he has appeared in several of his master’s previous videos and been photographed in album liner notes, making the front cover of his self-titled debut. One of my favorite things about this song was the name-check for Jake, which sounds as though it may be based on actual experience:

Hear old Jake start to howl
When he hears that ol’ hoot owl

I loved his first two albums, but felt he had lost his way a little artistically in more recent years, although he is still massively successful on country radio. Based on the evidence of this single, he has found an adventurous new path by incorporating bluegrass into his sound and making an album based on artistic concerns rather than commercial ones and I am extremely interested to hear the new album. This is a potentially risky move; Dierks has been very popular with radio programmers in recent years, but as a group they have been reluctant to embrace anything far from mainstream pop-country. If country radio makes this the hit it deserves to be, it will bring a welcome freshness to the airwaves.

Grade: B

Buy ‘Up On The Ridge’ from amazon mp3.