My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Casey James

American Idol Season 10: Gone country

Unexpectedly, this week’s American Idol finale features not one but two young singers who will be unleashed on the country music world in the coming months. Perhaps because they represent different styles of country music, they appear not to have split the “country” vote getting to the final two. I mentioned deep voiced 17-year-old Scotty McCreery from North Carolina earlier this year, commenting on his similarity to Josh Turner, but at that point 16-year-old Georgia girl Lauren Alaina had managed to fly under my radar. She is a pop-country singer, with a voice not unreminiscent of a young Faith Hill. Both have selected a number of country songs to perform over the past weeks, and both are likely to head to Nashville once the show is over.

To be perfectly honest, both teenagers seem to have some raw talent but might have been better had they spent a few years honing their vocal and performance skills. Scotty is understood to be the front-runner, regularly eliciting deafening screams from young girls in the Idol audience, and he has by far the more confident polished approach, with an ease on stage which belies his youth and inexperience. Idol judge Randy Jackson even made some rather implausible comparisons to Garth Brooks last week. His poise and confidence will stand him in good stead whether his career takes him to superstardom or if he crashes and burns when out of the Idol bubble.

Back in April I speculated as to whether Scotty’s debut performance would involve “triumph or disaster”. I must confess that even after a dozen weeks of competition, I’m still on the fence. His voice certainly rivals Josh Turner’s in its range, but it signally lacks Turner’s resonance and richness of tone. I have also noticed that when he strays out of the most comfortable part of his range, his tone develops a slightly foghorn quality which is not mellifluous. Canny song choices when he is picking songs to record will be vital if he is to make a record I personally will like. And he is still only 17 – his voice may have room to develop and grow.

I want to root for Scotty, though, just because he is the most traditionally inclined of any real contender who has ever been on American Idol. Season 5’s Kellie Pickler, who has promised her upcoming third album will offer us some more traditional country, was never likely to win and ended up in sixth place, noted more for her dizzy blonde persona and dramatic family background than her singing.

Lauren, who was an early judges’ favorite, appears to have lost some confidence over the course of the show, and has the general demeanour and maturity level one would expect from a high school girl. This is not a criticism – merely an observation, and she will, in due course, grow up. I am inclined to think her voice may possibly have more potential than Scotty’s, as although she has shown some technical deficiencies – issues with her breath control and an occasional tendency to oversing in the manner of Carrie Underwood – she has a very nice underlying tone. Her youth makes her appear to be more malleable by producers and label executives, and her personal musical taste also leans very much pop-country, so I would be less likely to want to buy her post-Idol work.

Both of the youngsters are likely to sign record deals with one of the labels in the Universal Music Group, and I would expect Mercury or MCA Nashville the most likely homes for them. That brings in an additional complicating factor for Scotty McCreery, as his own idol Josh Turner is already on MCA. Regardless of the results of the show, it could be interesting to see what happens with the careers of the two finalists. It’s UMG’s first year in association with Idol. When the Sony group signed artists from Idol, if they didn’t meet with immediate success they were soon disposed of (Kristy Lee Cook, for instance, now signed to Broken Bow). They have been going slower with last year’s third placer Casey James, who has still not released anything. Will UMG want instant returns, or would they have the patience to emulate what RCA did with Nashville Star’s fourth season champion Chris Young or Columbia did with the same show’s Miranda Lambert, namely give these youngsters time after their reality show runs to mature and develop?

Scotty and Lauren duet on ‘I Told You So’:

Something to look forward to

We spent part of last month rounding up the best and worst of 2010. Now we’re into a brand new year, it’s time to start looking forward again, and wondering what the year ahead may hold in store.

Newly crowned CMA Entertainer of the Year Brad Paisley’s This is Country Music has a release date in March, with the lead single already on its way up the charts. Current Arista labelmate Alan Jackson is reportedly considering his future options now that he has fulfilled his obligations to the label, and perhaps we will see him moving to pastures new like Martina McBride and Trace Adkins, although either way I don’t really expect a new album from him this year. Ronnie Dunn has already been into the studios for his contribution to the Country Strong soundtrack, and is working on his solo album. I doubt he can expect Brooks & Dunn levels of success for this, even if he was the voice of the duo’s hits, but I’m looking forward to hearing what he comes up with.

The Sony group has relied on American Idol to pick up new artists with a built-in fanbase for several years; this tie-in has now ended, with the group now planning to be associated with Simon Cowell’s rival X Factor show (launching in the fall), and the Idol link now picked up by the Universal Music Group (country imprints are MCA and Mercury). The most successful of these signings is of course Carrie Underwood, whose pattern of releases to date suggests a new album at the end of 2011. I don’t expect any change in direction from her high-energy pop-based style, but more intriguing are the things Kellie Pickler has been saying about her third album being more firmly rooted in traditional country music. I haven’t been particularly impressed by her music to date, but I’m willing to keep an open mind. The latest Idol alumnus to go country after the show is Texan Casey James, who finished third on last year’s Idol and is now with BNA (as the Casey James Band); his roots seem to be more blues than country but he may be worth watching out for. RCA will be releasing a second album from the previous year’s third place finisher Danny Gokey; his debut sold pretty well but failed to set the radio alight or to connect with more traditional country fans.

RCA has lost one of its superstar acts in the form of Martina McBride. It will be interesting to see what (if any) effect Martina’s move to Republic Nashville has on her music: a determined attempt to regain the limelight following the relative under-performance of her last album and recent singles by appealing to modern radio tastes a la Reba’s recent work, an artistic resurgence, or just more of the same? Sunny Sweeney’s Republic debut is also keenly anticipated.

Sticking with RCA, Sara Evans’s long-delayed new album (originally announced for January 2010) is now due to come out in March, taking its title, Stronger, from her Country Strong cut, which is rising up the charts. Again, we’ll have to wait to see if she is trying to get radio play by concentrating on her pop crossover style, or returning to her country roots. I suspect the former, particularly since she has been working with Taylor Swift’s producer Nathan Chapman. My favorite RCA artist at the moment is Chris Young, and I hope he will be back in the studios this year, as his breakthrough second album was released in September 2009. I feel his material to date has (with a few exceptions) not been worthy of his great voice, and I hope that now he can claim two #1 hits, he can demand the very best of what Nashville’s songwriters have to offer.

Reigning CMA Male and Female Vocalists of the Year Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert have a wedding to plan, but Miranda in particular will be expected to produce a follow-up to her acclaimed 2009 release, Revolution. Blake divided his 2010 output into two “Sixpak” EPs (neither of them very good, the first producing just one single), and it will be interesting to see if he sticks with this template or reverts to a fullscale album in future.

I hope this will be the year Ashton Shepherd finally breaks through commercially. The prolific George Strait tends to release an album a year, so with nothing new in 2010 he is overdue for a new album. Joe Nichols has a Greatest Hits set out soon, so I assume Show Dog Universal has stopped promoting 2009’s Old Things New, and perhaps we can look forward to something new later in the year. But the artist I’m most hoping for new music from is Lee Ann Womack, especially after her stellar contribution to the Country Strong soundtrack.

Over at Curb, it seems that Tim McGraw may finally be out of his contract. LeAnn Rimes’s Vince Gill-produced covers set was supposed to be released last year, but may appear this year, although I’m not inspired by what we’ve heard so far. Heidi Newfield is also supposedly due to have her second solo effort for the label out this year. I’d like to hear more from talented duo Martin Ramey and Star de Azlan, but as it’s Curb I’m not exactly holding my breath in anticipation.

One of my favorite artists, Randy Travis is celebrating the 25th anniversary of his groundbreaking Storms Of Life with his second duets album, the success of which will depend partly on the choice of duet partners. Legends who have new music in the works include Dolly Parton and Charley Pride. And of course, I’m also hoping to hear some great music from new acts.

What are you most looking forward to this year?