My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Chris DiStefano

Album Review: Chris Young – ‘A.M.’

AMChris Young has the best voice in contemporary country music. His problem for me has always been a too-often mediocre choice of songs, but at least his traditional instincts meant it sounded good (and there have been some outstanding highlights like ‘Tomorrow’ and ‘Drinking Me Lonely’, and his super Voices EP of three classic covers). Unfortunately, the demands of country radio have struck again, and this album comes across as a determined and probably successful effort to get airplay. In other words, it’s over-produced (by James Stroud), and the largely generic songs (many of them co-written by Chris) aren’t much good either, with a couple of exceptions.

The barely-bearable lead single ‘Aw Naw’ (written by Chris with Ashley Gorley and Chris DiStefano) features partying lyric, depressingly shallow attitude towards women, loud production, not much melodic range, and irritating spelling, the only semi-redeeming factor being Chris’s muscular vocal which is actually pretty good. This had already steeled me for the possibility that this album (Chris’s fourth) would be a complete sellout, and sadly those fears were realized, although nothing else is quite as bad.

The same trio responsible for ‘Aw Naw’ also wrote the title track (a very similar loud high-energy track about late nights out) and ‘Goodbye’. The latter, product of the same writing session, is a much better song, a ballad about an unexpected call from a lover planning on breaking up. Although the production is cluttered and insensitive after a misleadingly pretty piano opening, the vocal is fine, as Chris embarks on a convincingly impassioned appeal to her that their relationship is “too good for goodbye”.

The two Chrises (Young and Di Stefano) teamed up with Rhett Akins for ‘We’re Gonna Find It Tonight’, another pretty generic partying song, delivered efficiently. Unexpectedly Akins also co-wrote the best song on the album, ‘Text Me Texas’ (alongside Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne). A nicely understated ballad about a man angsting over what his girlfriend may be doing in Houston, and with whom. He begs her to make contact – even a texted lie if she’s not willing to talk would be better than nothing. An excellent vocal is married to sympathetic production, making this a real standout.

‘Forgiveness’, written by Casey Beathard and Scooter Carusoe, is also very good, a reflective confession of the protagonist’s failings as he yearns for the peace of mind he can only get from one person’s forgiveness, which is nicely produced and arranged, with Chris using the deepest part of his vocal range with magisterial effect:

It ain’t hidin’ in a bottle on a shelf
Or lying in the bed with someone else
I can’t feel it on some Sunday morning pew
But one sleepless night it dawned on me
The peace I need so desperately
Is buried in the one place I can’t get to
Girl, it’s got to come from you

McAnally and Osborne wrote ‘Hold You To It’ with Chris Young, which is a return to the generic with a medium-tempo bar pick-up number, although it does have quite a catchy melody. Young’ s final writing credit is for the closing track ‘Lighters In The Air’, another with a pleasant tune but plodding production and not very memorable lyrics. More interesting than either song is the fact that both refer to music but not apparently to country; the former refers to the girl’s favorite song as having a “pumping” bass-line and “grooving” backbeat, while the latter is “summertime rock ‘n roll”.

‘Nothin’ But The Cooler Left’ is cluttered, loud, pandering and exceptionally boring and quite likely to be a successful single next summer. ‘Lonely Eyes’is set in a bar again, but with a darker feel which makes it more interesting, but the production is too loud in places. ‘Who I Am With You’ is a decent positive love song (written by Marv Green, Jason Sellers and Paul Jenkins), with a sincere vocal but too heavy a hand on the production.

Download ‘Text Me Texas’ and ’Forgiveness’, and perhaps also ‘Goodbye’ and ‘Who I Am With You’, but pass on the rest.

While I’ve been critical of the production choices, it’s only fair to say that it’s not as bad as much of what’s getting radio play these days – faint praise, perhaps, but worth mentioning. And Chris Young still has a great, great voice. Hopefully at some point he can make a great album too.

Grade: C

Single Review: Chris Young – ‘Aw Naw’

aw nawChris Young has been one of the brightest spots on country radio in recent years, as someone who is not only one of the few major label artists still rooted in traditional country music, but an outstanding natural vocalist with a great country voice which may just be the best currently on country radio.

So it is all the more disappointing that his latest single is so poor. It is an up-tempo, over-produced and under-written number just like everything else on country radio, with no imagination or subtlety. A drinking song about someone unable to leave the bar when someone buys another round or a pretty girl shows up, the lyrics are cliche’d from start to finish.

It opens with the same paint-by-numbers rock guitar that appears in all too many hit “country” singles these days and stays in that vein. The melody is very limited with no chance for Chris to exercise his vocal ability. Chris himself wrote the song with Ashley Gorley and Chris DiStefano.

On the plus side (faint praise?), his voice still sounds good, and Chris’s vocal shows great energy and commitment. He probably does a more palatable job on the song than almost anyone else would. And while the record is overproduced in a heavy handed and uninspired manner, it isn’t as bad as some of what’s out there. I absolutely hated this the first time I heard it, but repeat plays proved it is quite catchy in its way, and now I merely dislike it. It’s just that he is capable of so much better – and there are too few artists like that around these days so every fall from grace hurts that bit more.

This single has every chance of becoming a hit for Chris – which he needs after his last couple of singles missed the top of the charts. However, ominously, he has gone on record stating that his upcoming fourth album will feature more of the same as this kind of material is what appeals to live audiences.

Grade: C