My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Caitlin & Will

The Idol effect

There is no doubt that American Idol has had an impact on mainstream country radio. Fourth season winner Carrie Underwood has built on her launch on the show to become one of today’s best selling artists. She can boast several CMA Female Vocalist titles, and is the reigning ACM Entertainer of the Year. The show has been much more successful at kicking off careers than country-based equivalents like Nashville Star and CMT’s Can You Duet, although sustaining them has proved harder.

The first Idol contestant to make a mark on country radio was Josh Gracin, who finished fourth in season 2, in 2003. He signed to Lyric Street, and enjoyed a short run of success including one #1 hit and several top ten singles, but his time ran out and he was dropped by his label last year. Carrie then raised expectations for Idol alumni, and the year after her win saw two contestants move on to country chart success. Kellie Pickler has gained more attention for her personality than for her music, but is still doing reasonably well. Bucky Covington followed Gracin to Lyric Street, and his career pattern is looking similar: he enjoyed some success from his first album, but singles from his as-yet unreleased follow-up have not done as well.

Contestants from later season have not fared as well. Season 6’s Phil Stacey and season 7’s Kristy Lee Cook both got deals soon after their runs on the show; in a bizarre coincidence each released one single reaching exactly #28 on the Billboard country chart, and an album which was received with indifference, before being unceremoniously dropped. Stacey then moved into Contemporary Christian music. The latest product of the show, last year’s Danny Gokey, has a single currently in the lower reaches of the chart and an album out today; it will be interesting to see if he catches on with a country audience, having (like Stacey) not been identified with the genre while on the show.

This year’s show has two teenage pop-country singers very much on the pop side of that equation – Aaron Kelly, who cites Rascal Flatts and Keith Urban as influences, and African-American Haeley Vaughn, who is comparable to a non-writing Taylor Swift, right down to the poor live vocals. The history of the show suggests that if either of these 16 year olds can reach the top six or eight, they can pretty much count on a major label deal. Any lower placing probably means a quick return to obscurity.

Nashville Star has been generally less successful at launching careers. The last two winners never even got a general album release. The biggest star from the show is season 1’s third placed Miranda Lambert, but her rise has been slow; followed by season 4 winner Chris Young, who had to wait a few years before getting his first big hit last year. Both are genuine talents who I suspect would have got there in some other way eventually. Can You Duet, lauded as the best of the reality shows at finding real talent, launched the wonderful Joey + Rory, but first season winners Caitlin & Will flopped at radio. The jury is still out on their successors Steel Magnolia.

Why has a country-based show been less successful than a multi-genre one at launching country artists? Partly the answer lies in exposure: Idol is shown on a bigger TV network, and can boast substantially higher audience figures. There are several drawbacks to this; one is that effectively the new artists gaining the greatest media exposure are selected by a TV production company without any particular interest in country music, and whose primary concern is making a TV program which will attract the greatest number of viewers and sell commercials. In addition, those who do well on Idol tend to be those who appeal across demographics and musical tastes. Carrie Underwood was very vocal about being a country singer, but clearly her musical influences incorporate pop as well, and she gained fans on the show partly through her performances of rock songs. Doing well on a voting-based show with Idol’s numbers indicates a starting fan base which does a lot of the groundwork for the marketing people. Others to have launched country careers after the show (Gracin, Stacey and Gokey for instance) showed little attempt to come across as country artists at all until very late in the day. The Idol contestant who appears to be the most rooted in country music are probably Kellie Pickler, and her records have not yet borne that out, while she is not the strongest singer; and Kristy Lee Cook, who was a pleasant enough singer but lacked the vital spark.

Appearing on Idol is by no means a guarantee of stardom in country music, but it allows some singers to get that initial break, together with mass exposure most can only dream of. I can hardly blame any aspiring singer from applying for the show, or begrudge them any success they may get as a result. Nor can the show be blamed for the drift popwards of country radio, which was already well underway before it was launched. It has however benefitted from that drift, which has offered a more welcoming home for artists with the inbuilt crossover appeal necessary for a successful Idol run. I can’t really criticise the labels for signing artists from Idol or similar shows, either. In some ways, the voting audience provides a giant focus group for the A&R department, as well as providing publicity and developing fan bases  which help to get a nascent career off to a good start. A down side is that poor live performances are also transmitted to a wide audience, and those bad memories can linger. I still remember with shuddering horror Kellie Pickler failing to hit the high notes on aversion of Martina McBride’s hit ‘How Far’, and that has probably colored my response to her records ever since.

Do you think American Idol and its competitors have been an influence for good or bad on country music – or have they made no real difference to the underlying issues, just changing some of the faces?

Year In Review: J.R. Journey’s Top 10 Albums of 2009

As with my favorite singles of the year list, finding ten albums from 2009 that I really loved wasn’t as big a task as I first expected it to be, but narrowing it down and placing them was the real chore.  I’ve certainly been more influenced by the various blogs and sites I read this year than I ever have before – the influence of sites like The 9513, Country Universe, The Gobbler’s Knob, etc. are definitely showing here.  Not to mention, I’ve picked up lots of great music from the suggestions of my fellow writers here at My Kind of Country.  In case you missed any of them, they’re all worth adding to your collection, and here my ten favorite albums from the past twelve months.

10. EP – Caitlin & Will (Sony)

The debut release from the winners of CMT’s Can You Duet turned out to be a six-song digital EP instead of a full album in CD form.  A varied collection of songs that, in my opinion, is very focused, especially for two singers who were thrown together on a reality show.  Caitlin’s crystal clear vocals provide the perfect balance to Will Snyder’s husky delivery.  There were several great songs on here, and no throwaways.  Check out ‘Even Now’, ‘Leaves of September’, and ‘Dark Horse’.

9. Live On The Inside – Sugarland (Mercury)

Sugarland’s recent live set follows the CD/DVD combo form.  I was a little disappointed that the full show with all their hits wasn’t also the audio CD.  The DVD serves the live album’s purpose – to capture their hits in concert, and the result is a full-blown Sugarland show, complete with all their hits, hamster balls and all.  Rather than being an audio form of that show, the CD features several tracks not found on the DVD, mostly all covers of pop and rock songs from the past 20-something years.  Some I could do without, but the real gems like ‘Circle’ and ‘Better Man’, where Nettles puts her own distinctive vocal stamp on these rock hits, are a real treat.  Their country spin on Beyonce’s ‘Irreplaceable’ is more enjoyable than it probably should be and Kristian does a fine job when he takes a turn at lead on ‘The One I Love’.

8. Twang – George Strait (MCA)

The latest offering from King George finds him stepping outside his comfort zone with off-beat tracks like ‘Arkansas Dave’ and the all-Spanish ‘El Rey’.  Showing up as a co-writer on 3 of the album’s tracks is also a fairly new development for Strait, but judging from the quality of the material he wrote with Dean Dillon and his son, Bubba Strait, I’m hoping George picks up his pen more often, and also takes more chances musically, with his next album.  For now, I’m still enjoying spinning this one.

7. Beautiful Day – Charlie Robison (Dualtone)

When Charlie Robison and Dixie Chicks banjo-playing, multi-instrumentalist Emily Irwin Robison divorced in 2008, the Texas singer/songwriter poured his misery into this collection of songs.  Robison sings here of regrets, heartache, and moving on, all with a tinge of sadness and even a touch of reluctance.  Favorite tracks include ‘Down Again’ and ‘Reconsider’.

6. Sing: Chapter 1 -Wynonna (Curb)

Since leaving The Judds and going solo, Wynonna’s sound has changed a lot over the years.  We’ve heard her incorporating sounds from R&B, pop, rock, jazz, and everything in between.  A collection of classic songs from several genres, with one new song in the way of the title track written by Rodney Crowell, Sing is an interesting and at times inspired collection. Wynonna’s ferocious delivery is front and center the entire time, always reminding us that Wynonna Judd is the owner of one of the finest voices of our time.

5. My Turn – Tanya Tucker (Saguaro Road)

I rightly called 2009 ‘the year of the tribute’ earlier in the year, and looking over my top albums of the year list, I think I made a justifiable generalization since so many of my favorite artists released albums looking back and paying tribute to the classic songs that country music was built on.  Tanya’s covers album was just a step above Wynonna’s mostly for the arrangements behind the songs.  While Wynonna took the songs, changed them up, and made them something different, Tanya took a straightforward approach, and simply infused her patented vocals into these tried and true songs, injecting her personality into them at the same time.  I find myself playing this one more than I expected to, especially ‘Love’s Gonna Live Here’ and ‘You Don’t Know Me’.

4. Keep On Loving You – Reba (Valory)

I admit this is an album that took time to grow on me before I really loved it.  After the first couple listens to Reba’s first album for her new record label, I was a bit disappointed.   I expected more in the way of going back to the classic Reba sound.  But Reba has never been an artist to look back, but instead forges ahead with the trends of the day.  She reminded us why she’s one of the most successful and respected singers in country music’s history with this release, and tracks like ‘Over You’, ‘Maggie Creek Road’, and the chart-topping second single, ‘Consider Me Gone’, are throwbacks to the time when Reba music was golden, and her vocal performances throughout the album are engaging.  This is certainly an album with lasting power in my own library.

3. The List – Rosanne Cash (Manhattan)

The idea behind this album is fascinating in itself.  An eighteen year-old Rosanne, whose father was a bonafide superstar in country music, didn’t seem to know much about its history.  Being a good father, Johnny Cash set out to correct this, making his daughter a list of 100 essential country songs.  The entire list still hasn’t been made available for the public to see, but Rosanne did record twelve of them for her latest offering, simply titled The List.  Cash weaves through these country classics with ease and gives a contemporary interpretation to them, with the help from some of her superstar New Yorker friends like Elvis Costello, Rufus Wainwright, and Bruce Springsteen.  Choice tracks include ‘Sea of Heartbreak’ (with Springsteen), ‘Long Black Veil’, and ‘Girl From The North Country’.

2. Revolution – Miranda Lambert (Sony)

On her third studio album, Lambert has finally come into her own as an artist, and in my opinion, has reached a peak in her evolution as an artist.  Note that I said ‘a peak’ and not ‘the peak’.  While it doesn’t pack the power punch her last album, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend did, and doesn’t seem to have as clear a vision, Lambert has never been stronger as a writer or a vocalist than on Revolution.  She wrote most of the album, but she also had the good sense to draw from the wealth of material coming out of Music City and other places, and a quick glance of the liner notes shows names like Ashley Monroe, John Prine, and Julie Miller, among Lambert’s own many writes and co-writes, a couple with boyfriend Blake Shelton.  Of particular note are ‘The House That Built Me’, ‘Heart Like Mine, and ‘That’s The Way The World Goes ‘Round’.

1. The Long Way Home – Terri Clark (Bare Tracks)

Taking the top spot on my list is Terri Clark’s first independent release after freeing herself from big-label politics.  Terri had taken a sabbatical to her native Canada to care for her mother and write songs when she headed to Nashville earlier this year and recorded this set in three takes.  The result is one of the most focused albums I’ve ever heard.  Whether it was intentional, or just a facet of her state of mind at the time, Clark has taken on a more mature aura to her music and herself, imparting the sort of wisdom that only comes from experience.  ‘A Million Ways To Run’ is a beautiful and telling narrative about running from your problems.  ‘Merry Go Round’ talks of slowing down, enjoying life, and taking stock, while ‘If You Want Fire’ warns and coaches you on the ups and downs of a red-hot love affair.  Clark has never sounded better, nor has her writing been as sharp than on this introverted collection of songs.

Year In Review: J.R. Journey’s Top 10 Singles

The consensus among country bloggers and critics alike seems to be that 2009 was one of the weakest years in country music history.  I admit that I didn’t have to whittle my list down as much as I did last year, but it was still easy enough to find ten top-rate songs to call my favorites of the year.  My biggest problem was where to rank them, since I love all these songs.  I kept my list to songs that were released as singles this year – whether they charted or not.  Here’s hoping some of these are your kind of country too.

10. ‘Toes’ – Zac Brown Band

The feel-good hit of the Summer of 2009, the Zac Brown Band really won me over with this fun release.  I had already bought the album for ‘Whatever It Is’, but this third single from the group made me a huge fan.  It’s just not often we hear a fresh sound in country music these days, or acts willing to take chances with their lyrics.  With ‘Toes’, the Zac Brown Band did both, and delivered a mighty fine tune.

9. ‘Need You Now’ – Lady Antebellum

With its infectious melody and oh-so relatable lyric, Lady Antebellum had their biggest hit of the career so far with this song.  I’ll agree with the consensus that there’s not anything traditional about it, but country music has always had a place for the adult contemporary sound.  And I have too, as long as it’s quality music.  And this is quality music.

8. ‘Consider Me Gone’ – Reba

Reba’s 23rd Billboard #1 hit – and 34th overall – is a throwback to the classic 90s hits that made her a superstar.  The theme is a little tried and true, but the chorus still gives us some great lines and Reba delivers nothing less than a brilliant vocal.  This has fast become one of my favorite songs in her immense catalog.

7. ‘Reconsider’ – Charlie Robison

This dark chronicle of a relationship crumbling, which finds the narrator wondering if he’d done things different, would his lover still be with him comes from Robison’s ‘divorce album’, Beautiful Day – he was married to Dixie Chicks member Emily Irwin-Robison.  Though this track never charted on the country charts, it was released, and it’s a shame radio wouldn’t play it.  We sorely need deep, cerebral songs like this to balance out the top 40 playlists.

6. ‘Sing’ – Wynonna

The title cut, and only new track, on Wynonna’s most recent covers album, this Rodney Crowell-written tune sounds like it was written specifically for the singer.  It’s message of hope and looking on the bright side fits Wynonna’s daily platitudes for living lifestyle perfectly, while lines like ‘Sing it like you hear it/Like you have no need to fear it now’ remind us it’s from the pen of a master.

5. ‘Keep The Change’ – Holly Williams

Everybody loves ‘Mama’, the universally-acclaimed track from Williams’ critics-favorite Here With Me album.  I have to admit I was highly impressed and very surprised that I liked the album so much.  I just didn’t expect this much in the way of an alt.country album from the granddaughter of Hank Williams.  Guess I shouldn’t have underestimated that Williams bloodline.  Getting back to the song at hand, I was drawn more to this track than any other on the set because of its message of I’m-hitting-the-road.  The entire chorus is worthy of quoting, but I’ll just leave you with ‘It’s been a long time comin’/I’m jumpin’ off this reckless pity train‘ and hope you want to hear more.

4. ‘Even Now’ – Caitlin & Will

I just knew these two were destined for stardom when Sony released ‘Even Now’ to radio.  It was smart, well-performed, and had actual adult fare. Before it had a chance to climb, the duo was out on a radio tour promoting the single, when radio programmers supposedly flipped over the song ‘Address In The Stars’ a syrupy three-act story song about, you guessed it, death.  This prompted the label release that instead.  Too bad, since ‘Even Now’ was one of the best singles of the year, and one I think could have really made a name for the Can You Duet-winning duo.  Fate wasn’t on their side I guess, as even the second single – the one radio programmers flipped over – didn’t get any airplay either, and thus ended their recording career.  We haven’t heard anything from them since – and a quick glance at their website and MySpace page shows no news.

3. ‘Drunk Dialer’ – Miss Leslie

Miss Leslie has been one of my favorites since I got my copy of her last album, Between the Whiskey and the Wine.  This year, she didn’t release an entire album of new material, but she did give us this excellent tune about the friend who always calls you up, repeatedly, ‘begging you to join her at the local dive’.  Some of us relate as the dialing friend, and some as the friend on the receiving end of the calls.  Either way, it’s a great listen, and one of my favorites of the year.

2. ‘If You Want Fire’ – Terri Clark

Terri gave us one of the best albums of the year, so it’s only natural one of the singles from that release would find its way to the upper reaches of my singles list.  This melody-driven tune, released only in Canada, is just a real lyrical treat with a great hook. Spoken like someone who’s been burned a time or two herself, Terri imparts a bit of wisdom she’s picked up, ‘If you gotta have it, all that madness and  passion, then you’ll learn/If you want fire, it better be worth the burn.’

1. ‘Breaking Apart’ – Chris Isaak (with Trisha Yearwood)

The ‘rock star next door’ released his 13th album this year, titled Mr Lucky.  The finest track on that set is a sweet duet with Trisha Yearwood called ‘Breaking Apart’.  This also got zero love from country radio, but is as fine a country song as I’ve heard the past 12 months.  Yearwood’s smooth and always pitch-perfect harmonies compliment Isaak’s own, whether he’s in tenor or falsetto.  As the pair take turns trading lines on the verses, we find Yearwood in the company of the best duet partner she’s ever taken on IMO, and I’m sure the same can be said for Isaak.

Year In Review: Occasional Hope’s Top 10 singles of 2009

This has been the worst year for mainstream singles that I can remember. That was rubbed in for me when I started thinking about compiling not only this list but an upcoming list of the best singles of the decade. My shortlist comprised far more songs for every other year than for the current one. Not only that, but almost none of my picks for this year were actually hits. I didn’t deliberately pick obscure songs, and there have been some hits this year I have liked, but few that I have loved. It’s not just that radio seems to have moved in a direction I don’t care for, but also the labels have been picking as singles the songs I least liked from artists and albums I did like. But after a lot of thought, I’ve come up with this list of my personal favorites from 2009.

10. ‘Even Now’ – Caitlin & Will
This hardly even counts as a single, because the label pulled it before it had a chance to make an impact in favor of the over-produced ‘Address In the Stars’. That gamble didn’t pay off, and the duo was dropped by Columbia without an album release before the end of the year and have since split. However, this was a very impressive contemporary country duet with strong vocals, and it should have done much better.

9. ‘Cold Coffee And Hot Beer’ – John Anderson
The leadoff single from John Anderson’s Bigger Hands is a witty look at man so hopeless at life without his woman you can’t be really surprised she left. Sadly, it didn’t make any headway at radio.

8. ‘Stop The World (And Let Me Off)’ – Rhonda Vincent
My favorite track from bluegrass singer Rhonda Vincent’s current album, this cover of a real country classic was never going to get played on today’s country radio, but it’s a great song and recording regardless.

7. ‘Mama’ – Holly Williams
The daughter of Hank Williams Jr is more Americana than she is country, but this warm tribute to Holly’s mother following her parents’ divorce has a charm which cannot be denied – unless you’re a radio programmer.

6. ‘To Say Goodbye’ – Joey + Rory
I was disappointed that this moving song about the pain of loss and not being able to say goodbye was ignored by radio.

5. ‘She Never Got Me Over You’ – Mark Chesnutt
This lovely Keith Whitley/Dean Dillon/Hank Cochran song (never released by Whitley) was recorded by 90s star and current independent artist Mark Chesnutt on his most recent album (2008’s Rollin’ With The Flow), and it peaked on the Billboard singles chart at #49 earlier this year.

4. ‘Backwoods Barbie’ – Dolly Parton
Another non-charting single which deserved a wider audience, the title track of Dolly’s 2008 comeback attempt album is a remarkable song. Dolly’s image has often got in the way of a true appreciation of her as a singer and songwriter, and in this song she tackles that head-on.

3. ‘All I Ask For Anymore’ – Trace Adkins
Trace is a very frustrating artist for me. He has one of the best voices in country music, but too often he wastes his talent on material unworthy of it. Further, he and his label have been pioneers in the art of consistently picking his least good material as singles. So this song is a rare change – a genuine hit single from 2009 I actually like. The song is good if not great, and lifted by a beautifully judged vocal. I didn’t include the superb ‘Til The Last Shot’s Fired’ (nominated by Razor X last week) on my list, because I wanted to restrict it to formal singles, but if I had done, it would have challenged for the #1 spot.

2. ‘Busted‘ – Patty Loveless
Patty’s vibrant cover of the Harlan Howard-penned classic, which restored its original coal mining setting, is a true delight. It is the only single so far from her lovely Mountain Soul II. It was a top 10 hit for Johnny Cash in the 60s and for John Conlee in the 80s, and a crossover hit for Ray Charles in between, but Patty’s version, which easily rivals any of these, has failed to chart at all.

1. ‘High Cost Of Living’ – Jamey Johnson
I was disappointed by Jamey’s follow-up single, which sank without a trace, and surprised that the label didn’t try one of the other fine songs on That Lonesome Song, but this was far and away the best single of the year, with its serious, downbeat look at the cost of sin and addiction which was just too adult for the increasingly immature focus of country radio. It did manage to sneak into the top 40 earlier in the year.

Let’s hope next year is a bit better.

The next step for Caitlin & Will

Caitlin & WillThe latest news is that Caitlin & Will, winners of the first season of Can You Duet, appear to have been dropped by their record label, Columbia (along with Keith Anderson).

What went wrong? The label certainly doesn’t seem to have known what to do with the duo, whose excellent single ‘Even Now’ was sent to radio, only to be pulled following what was allegedly strong pressure from radio programmers for ‘Address In The Stars’ to be pushed instead. But then radio didn’t play that, either. Even a performance on this year’s Can You Duet failed to make it into a hit. A promised album was delayed in favor of a six-track digital EP. The full length album will presumably now remain on the shelf indefinitely.

There are a number of intriguing questions. Will the pair (each of whom has a strong, distinctive voice) stay together musically, or decide to pursue separate paths? They entered the competition with other singing partners, and Caitlin admitted on the show that she would have liked to be a solo artist, but in their label-approved interviews the two have talked repeatedly about the strength of their musical partnership. We may see now how deeply rooted that partnership really is.

What do you think? Why has it not worked out for Caitlin & Will, when their rivals on the show, Joey + Rory, have made a place for themselves in country music by working with a respected independent label, and even scored themselves a CMA Award nomination? Do they have any chance at surviving as independent artists, or even picking up another major label deal? Will this year’s winners, Steel Magnolia, have any more success?

Are record labels stupid, or is it just radio?

radioLately I’ve noticed that the worst songs seem to be picked for release as singles from a number of artists.  Alongside that, labels seem to be increasingly confused about how best to promote albums, with songs being announced as the next single from a given artist, and then hurriedly replaced by something else.  It all seems like a terrible muddle.  What’s going wrong?

Our March spotlight artist Eric Church has released one of the poorest songs on his new album as its lead single.  A particularly egregious example is Tim McGraw.  His label, Curb,  released a ridiculous number of singles – seven – from his last studio album, 2007’s Let It Go.  How, then, have they managed to miss the one song on that set that’s really worth hearing, ‘Between The River And Me’?  George Strait released the unimpressive ‘River Of Love’ as the third single from Troubadour when he could have released the memorably quirky ‘House With No Doors’ or the duet with Patty Loveless on ‘House Of Cash’.  There are plenty more examples.

Trace Adkins and his label have taken something of a middle course with his current album, X.  The two singles released so far, ‘Muddy Water’ and ‘Marry For Money’ are perfectly listenable, but they really aren’t the outstanding tracks, either.  Will anyone who isn’t already a fan ever get the chance to hear great songs like ‘I Can’t Outrun You’, ‘Til The Last Shot’s Fired’, or ‘Sometimes A Man takes A Drink’?  Warner Brothers seems to have abandoned Randy Travis’ Around The Bend in favor of his new hits collection, I Told You So – understandable enough, and to be fair the singles from Around The Bend made no radio impact, but that means they are apparently not even going to try with the stunning ‘You Didn’t Have A Good Time’.

Then last year we saw two of the most commercially successful of today’s artists – Keith Urban and Brad Paisley – release singles taken from older projects rather than either something from their then current album or a new song to herald an upcoming 2009 release.

We’ve also seen record labels second-guessing themselves at the last minute, by not only announcing one song as a single, but going to the trouble and not-inconsiderable expense of making a video for it, and then changing their minds and offering another song as the single instead.  Sometimes they pretend there was never any intention of making the song they have made a video for the official single (as with Eric Church’s ‘Lightning’), but I’m not sure I’m convinced.

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Promoting new acts in the digital age

 

Emily West

Emily West

Contrary to conventional wisdom, I do not think that the CD is going to die anytime soon. It is inevitable, however, that CD sales will continue to decline as digital sales increase, and at some yet-to-be-determined point, both will level off and stabilize.

Digital downloads have been a tremendous marketing tool for developing acts and independent labels, who can now release their music to their target audiences without the expense of having to put out a physical product.

That being said, I find the use of digital-only promotion by some of the major labels to be a little questionable. One has to wonder why huge, well-established major labels like Capitol and Sony have chosen to introduce mainstream acts like Emily West and Caitlin & Will via digital EPs, rather than releasing full-length albums on CD. Country music is still at the point where fans who get most of their music from mainstream radio are used to buying CDs at Walmart, instead of downloading them from Amazon or iTunes. While going the digital EP route may make perfect sense for non-mainstream or indie artists, when Capitol or Sony does it, it seems to say that the label lacks faith in the artist’s ability to sell albums.

What’s your take — are digital EPs the wave of the future for new acts, or are major labels doing their artists a disservice by failing to put out a physical product?

Single Review: Caitlin & Will – ‘Address In The Stars’

caitlinwillSeason 2 of Can You Duet starts this June. And the first season winners Caitlin & Will still don’t have a single at radio yet.  The song ‘Even Now’ was released to iTunes last year – and was slated as a radio single for this year. But apparently, the radio programmers decided this tune was the better of the two.  As Caitlin Lynn said over at Country Universe on Leeann Ward’s review of this song:

Here is your truth…Sony, nor did Will or I switch our single. RADIO switched our single.  We went out on our radio tour the whole month of February. If you dont know how it works I’ll tell you…you go into a conference room or sometimes a kitchen with the Program Director and or Music Director (Sometimes they bring in staff and sometimes they dont) We play 3-5 songs for them, try to get to know them as best we can in under an hour and then leave to go do it all over again. Sometimes 5 stations in one day. At every station we would play Even Now and Address in the Stars. We gave them the single to play which was ‘Even Now’ and they said “No” we are not playing ‘Even Now’ we are playing ‘Address in the Stars’.

I made no secret in my review of ‘Even Now’, I think it’s one of the best songs to come out of Nashville in quite a while.  So, why the radio programmers decided ‘Address In The Stars’ is the better choice for the lead-single is still kind of a mystery to me.  Lyrically, it’s basically a re-write of LeAnn Rimes’ ‘Probably Wouldn’t Be This Way’.  Word is, Caitlin was inspired to write it after losing an aunt to breast cancer.  But does the song really hold up on its own without knowing the backstory?  No.

The song starts off simple enough with its piano intro and Caitlin brilliantly delivering the lines.  (She’s a modern-day Trisha Yearwood – a master of interpretation from the very beginning.) Then the chorus starts bombarding us with a wall of sound.  Caitlin’s vocal is never lost in all this sonic mess though.  She possesses one of those rare, instantly identifiable voices, and it’s plenty big enough to outshine even the glossiest production.  I’m a big fan of this duo.  But the more I think about it, this is exactly the kind of song I would expect radio to latch onto instead of an intelligent lament like ‘Even Now’.  Here’s hoping the pair succeeds anyway.

C+

Listen to ‘Address In The Stars’ at the official Caitlin & Will site.

Single Review: Caitlin & Will – ‘Even Now’

caitlinwillI have to start with saying I love this song and performance.  I don’t think I can put those feelings into words, but I’m sure as hell going to try.  I love this song from the first note to the last. And I’ve lived these lyrics right down to the punctuation … Oh yeah, should I mention that I’ve lived these lyrics over and over.  And over and over.  And over again.  Yep.  That’s life.  

Caitilin Lynn was my favorite on the CMT Can You Duet show from the beginning.  Why didn’t Nashville Star have this much talent?

I’ve heard these two compared to Lady Antebellum, and I think that’s a fair comparison.  But that comparison is only as deep as the sound of the singers’ voices. Caitlin and Hillary Scott are both wonderful vocalists while Will Snyder and Charles Kelley share rock-tinged voices.  And both pairings have the potential for soaring harmonies.  But I think the similarites end with the sound of the two groups.  Caitlin & Will have an edge to their sound and persona that Lady Antebellum lacks.  So, will Caitlin & Will fall victim to the Lady Antebellum niche? Or will country radio find room for both artists in their playlists? We have to wait and see the answer to that. But I think Caitlin & Will have the talent – and the song in this case too – to really take off.

The song itself makes use of the double-entendre of the title very well. A couple who has been fighting and on-again/off-again are finally at the quitting stage of their relationship. And after all the hurt they inflicted on one another, they are ‘even now’ in this game of one-up-manship. But, despite all the heartbreak, they still love each other ‘even now’. Vocally, you couldn’t ask for a better performance. Read more of this post

Can lightning strike twice? Can You Duet season 2

camyouduetI have to confess to a slightly shameful addiction here: reality music shows. I watch them even when I know they’re terrible. CMT’s Can You Duet, last spring, was a breath of fresh air – a reality music competition I could take seriously, because most of the acts were talented. It was a pleasure to watch, and I should be pleased that a second season has been announced for this summer. So why am I suddenly nervous?

Partly, it’s because looking at the show in retrospect, I realize a great deal of my love for it came from the presence of Joey + Rory, who were my favorites from the start, even though at the time I thought they were only notionally an actual duo. They were unquestionably country, whereas many of the other contestants represented the more overtly commercial side of modern country music. I loved Joey’s voice, with its interesting texture, and liked most of their song choices. And the Original Songs Night introduced me to the irresistible Cheater, Cheater. They went on to reward me for watching by producing one of my favorite album releases of 2008.

The winners, Caitlin & Will, were individually very strong singers (albeit in Will’s case, rock rather than country), and I was reasonably happy with their win. I’m interested in what their album will be like when it comes out, although I’m not yet sure if it’s likely to be something I’ll want to buy. I like their single ‘Even Now’ and hope it does well for them. Caitlin’s vocals on some of the songs up on their myspace are good, but the production is a little heavy at times.

I enjoyed a number of the other performances at the time, but most haven’t really stuck in my memory, with the exception of the male duo who sang ‘I’m Not Supposed To Love You Anymore,’ apparently to one another. I don’t think they quite intended it the way it came across, but it was certainly entertaining. Incidentally, if anyone wants to catch up, all last season’s episodes can still be viewed on the CMT website.

Can You Duet gained additional luster in my memory by comparison with the lamentable last season of Nashville Star; the less said about which the better. This really underlines my main point, though: in the end, reality shows stand or fall not on the manipulations of the judges, but on the actual talent, or otherwise, of the competitors. The success of Joey + Rory, and the fact that two other acts got record deals out of the show (although the level of their success remains to be seen), should in theory mean that some good singers who might have spurned auditioning for the uncharted first season might decide to go for it this year.

But will there be an act who will get my attention the way Joey + Rory did?