My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Chris Dubois

Album Review: Brad Paisley – ‘Love And War’

I basically like Brad Paisley. He writes good song lyrics, has a very individualistic sense of humor and is one heck of an instrumentalist. Even though he competes in the area of today’s mindless country music, he always makes sure to include a few tracks with lyrics to appeal to stone cold traditionalists like myself. He is fearless in his choice of material and never plays it safe, which means that each of his albums contains something unexpected, and occasionally he’ll try something that just doesn’t work, such as 2013’s “Accidental Racist”.

That said, there is one criticism I always have of his album, and that criticism is that the instrumental backing track is always too loud. It’s an easy fix – just keep the vocals at their current level and lower the instrumental accompaniment by about 40% or better yet, delete the electric lead guitar and replace it with acoustic guitar and/or mandolin. Fat chance of that ever happening, I know, but I’d thought I’d get it off my chest

Brad has at least co-writing credit on all of songs on this album; actually they are all co-writes (but see below).

The album opens with “Heaven South” a typical hometown ballad that has plenty of steel guitar and with a little tweaking, could have been played on country radio in the 1970s. Brent Anderson and Chris DuBois share the writing credits on this one.

Next up is “Last Time For Everything”, a passages of life song, describing the things that occur as one passes through life.

“One Beer Can” is a mid-tempo story about a party that almost, but not quite, got covered up.

Bobby threw a party
His parents left town
He told a few people who told a few people, word got around
It was a legendary evenin’
The whole place got trashed
It took all day Sunday, four his buddies and twelve Glad bags
They got it all cleaned up, hauled it off in the truck
Made ‘fore his parents got back
When they got home he gave them a hug
And almost a heart attack

‘Cause there was one beer can
Lying there on the floor
Right behind the sofa
You could see it from the door
His daddy threw a fit
And Bobby, he discovered it
There ain’t nothing in this world to ruin your summer
Like one beer can
One beer can

“Go To Bed Early” is a slow ballad that concerns a party that our protagonist chooses to skip a party or a concert he won’t attend in favor of a (perhaps) quiet evening with his girl. I would hope this is released as a single as it is a very strong song.

There’s a party going on tonight
And we can go if you want to
There’s a good band playing downtown
But looking at you right now
Tell you what I’d rather to do

Is go to bed early
Turn out the lights
It’s only eight thirty
But that’s alright
Know you ain’t tired
Neither am I
Let’s go to bed early
And stay up all night

Dinosaur rocker Mick Jagger gets co-writing credit with Brad on the duet “Drive of Shame”. The song’s instrumentation sounds like something that Jagger’s usual band might have recorded. Jagger plays electric guitar and tambourine on this track.

“Contact High” has an R&B groove to it but no, it’s not about drugs or alcohol.

“Love and War” features co-writer John Fogerty and is a melancholy rocker that reiterates the relative neglect of veterans, particularly those of the Vietnam era. It is less true now than it was during the 1960s and 1970s but still makes a point worth remembering.

He was nineteen
And landed at Bagram
Scared and all alone
He lost a leg and a girlfriend
Before he got home
And they say all is fair in Love and War
But that ain’t true, it’s wrong
They send you off to die for us
Forget about you when you’re done

“Today” is a love song about remembering his girl as she is today. This has a really traditional feel to it. I very much like the song and think it made a good single.

“Selfie #theinternetisforever” is very topical – whether it will be remembered ten years from now is questionable, but it is good for a smile in 2017. The tone is both funny and scolding at the same time.

I have no idea who is Timbaland, and after listening to his vocal contributions to “Grey Goose Chase”, I’m not sure I care. This is a prototypical song about drinking a woman off your mind – what used to be described as “the endless ballads of booze and broads” except this isn’t a ballad.

Brad generously gives Johnny Cash co-writing credit on “Gold All Over The Ground” although some stage comments are the extent of JC’s involvement. This is a nice country ballad with some excellent steel guitar.

“Whispering Bill” Anderson co-wrote “Dying To See Her”, a nostalgic slow ballad and provides a narration. In this song an older man looks forward to reuniting with his departed love.

Imagine her
Standing there
Young again
Long brown hair
As he crosses over
To the other side
She smiles at him
He runs at her
With arms open wide
She was his reason for living
She was his rock and his best friend

Timbaland is back on “Solar Powered Girl”; this track features some banjo. The song is essentially about breaking loose and starting over.

Paisley traverses into the muck of modern politics on “The Devil is Alive and Well”, where he comments that some of the worst things are done in the name of God, which occasionally has been true.

Surf the web
Turn on the news
Same old story
Everyday
Hateful words
That we all use
So much anger
So much pain
I don’t know
If you believe in Heaven
I don’t know
If you believe in Hell
But I bet we can agree that the Devil
Is alive and well
Alive and well

“Meaning Again” is a mid-tempo ballad about moments of defeat redeemed by love on a daily basis.

Sittin’ on the interstate
The end of another day
Feeling tired, feeling beat up, feeling small
Sick of running this rat race
And Coming last place

Feeling like I don’t matter at all
Then I walk through the door
She says “I missed you, where ya been?”
And just like that
My life has meaning again

The album closes out with a reprise of “Heaven South”

Lyrically, there is not a song on this album that I dislike. There are songs on which I would change the production and/or instrumentation. I give this a B+ and can imagine that many others will like it more than I do.

Advertisements

Album Review: Craig Morgan – ‘That’s Why’

thats whyReleased in October 2008, That’s Why continued Craig Morgan’s recent run of success, reaching #8 on Billboard’s country albums chart. Released on BNA, Craig’s first and only album for the label, That’s Why would see four singles released with varying success.

Morgan co-produced the album with Phil O’Donnell and together they wrote the lead-off single (and first track on the album), “Love Remembers”, which became Morgan’s sixth top ten hit in November 2008. The song is a ballad but with somewhat noisy guitars but with the requisite steel and fiddle to qualify this as a country song. Morgan gives a strong but somewhat overwrought reading to the song.

You can forget what love was wearing
When it walked out your front door
Where you fell down to your knees
And you can forget the kind of suitcase
That was packed out on the sidewalk
While you cried there beggin’ please
But love remembers

You can lie and tell yourself
You’re over it and someone else will take love’s place
And this is for the best
You can lie in that bed
In a stranger’s arms reachin’ for comfort
Close your eyes and still get no rest

Cause love remembers
The smell of a summer day
Lying in a hammock over fresh cut grass
And the promise of forever
Yeah love remembers
The sound of the pouring rain
Beatin’ down on the top of a car
On the side of the road
Where it couldn’t wait
Yeah love remembers

Craig Morgan would have a hand in writing six of the tracks on this album, five of them in conjunction with Phil O’ Donnell.

The next song up is “Bonfire”, a very noisy up-tempo with rock guitar accompaniment. The song describes a summer party around a bonfire. The first verse is about the partiers and the second verse tells of an incident in which a police officer arrives to break up the gathering, but decides instead to participate. This was the third single from the album and reached #4. Morgan wrote the song with Kevin Denney, Tom Botkin and Mike Rogers.

At this point I should mention that this album went through several different releases. “Bonfire” was NOT on the first release of the album, replaced by “Summer Sundown”. Listeners who picked up the album upon its initial release will also notice that the songs are sequenced somewhat differently than I am describing. Cracker Barrel Restaurants released a version of the album with three bonus tracks including “Summer Sundown” and the previously unreleased “You” and “Evel Knievel”.

Kerry Kurt Phillips, Chris DuBois wrote the stoic “This Ain’t Nothing”, in which a newspaper reporter interviews an old man about a tornado that destroyed his house. The old man tells of the real losses in his life – his father, his brother, a good friend and his left hand during a battle in Vietnam, and his wife of fifty years – and explains that losing the house is nothing because unlike the other losses in his life, the house can be replaced. This song was released as the fourth single in 2010 and reached #13 country airplay / #83 pop. I think it is the best song on the album. I should note that this song was not on the CD release of the album, which featured a much juvenile song in “Every Red Light”.

“And last year, I watched my lovin’ wife
` Of fifty years waste away and die
And I held her hand ’til her heart of gold stopped pumpin’
So, this ain’t nothin'”

He said, “I learned at an early age
There’s things that matter, and there’s things that don’t
So if you’re waitin’ here for me to cry
I hate to disappoint you boy, but I won’t”

Then he reached down in the rubble and picked up a photograph
Wiped the dirt off of it with the hand that he still had
He put it to his lips and he said, “Man she was somethin’
But, this ain’t nothin'”

Dave Turnbull joins Morgan & O’Donnell as co-writers of the title track “That’s Why” an uplifting mid-tempo ballad that should have been released as a single.

My alarm goes off early,
Can’t afford to be late.
If I don’t get a move on then I won’t get paid.
So I throw back those covers and get my butt out of bed.
It’s still dark when im leavin’ so I let my lady sleep.
I know her and them babies are countin on me
To put food on the table and keep this roof over our head.

Prior to this album, most of Craig’s hits had been up-tempo numbers (such as “Redneck Yacht Club” and “I Got You”) but most of this album is taken at slower tempos. The last track on my copy of album is the gospel-tinged “Ordinary Angels”, complete with a choir. It is a very nice song, one that could easily be true to life for military veteran Craig Morgan.

It could be a waitress at coffee shop you never saw before
A soldier that’s just coming home from fighting in the war
We all got a little superman ready to take a fly
And save a life, oh save a life
Take a look around and you’ll see ordinary angels

It could be someone walking down the street
A stranger on a bus
A little kid on his way to school or any one of us
We all got a little superman ready to take a fly
And save a life, oh save a life
Take a look around and you’ll see ordinary angels

Unfortunately everything else on the album strikes me as filler, although someone at the label thought that track five, “God Must Really Love Me”, would make a good second single. It reached #26 breaking Craig’s string of seven consecutive top twelve hits.

“Sticks”, for example, reminds me of Craig’s 2007 top ten hit “International Harvester”, but it is not as good. The rest is just nondescript filler, neither terrible nor terribly interesting.

That’s Why is a decent album, particularly in the reissued versions. Still, this would be the last Craig Morgan album I would purchase, since it seemed that the promise of the first album was being wasted with pop-country production slathered upon it. I feel that Craig would make a really good traditional country artist. As a modern pop-country artist, Craig Morgan is just another good artist. Perhaps when he has given up on chart success, an album worthy of his debut album will emerge.

C+

Below is the track listing of the version of the album I reviewed:

01. Love Remembers – writers: Craig Morgan, Phil O’Donnell
02. Bonfire – writers; Morgan, Kevin Denney, Mike Rogers, Tom Botkin
03. This Ain’t Nothin’ – writers; Kerry Kurt Phillips, Chris DuBois
04. That’s Why – writers: Morgan, O’Donnell, David Turnbull
05. God Must Really Love Me: -writers Jim Collins, Troy Verges
06. Lookin’ Back with You – writers: James, Morgan, O’Donnell
07. Sticks – writers: Galen Griffin, Gary Hannan, Morgan, O’Donnell
08. It Took a Woman – writers: Jimmy Melton, Turnbull
09. Planet Her – writers: Kirby, Morgan, O’Donnell
10. Ordinary Angels – writers: Angelo Petraglia, S. Olsen, R. Supa

Album Review: Joe Nichols – ‘Crickets’

crickets joe nicholsJoe Nichols’s career never quite recovered from his break to tackle his substance abuse problem in 2007, notwithstanding 2010’s chart topping single ‘Gimmie That Girl’. He has since lost his deal with Show Dog Universal, and his new album is released on the independent Red Bow. Independent labels tend to have fewer resources available for promotion, making radio hits harder to come by, and as if to compensate, Joe has followed the example of Chris Young by including a large proportion of lyrically unambitious commercial material. Luckily, a total of 16 tracks leaves enough room for good songs as well as bad, including three essential downloads.

The very best track on the album is a heartfelt, beautifully sung cover of Haggard’s ‘Footlights’. Joe is also at his neotraditional best with the Josh Turner-styled ‘Billy Graham’s Bible’, a lovely ballad which dresses up a love song into a discussion of destiny, with the protagonist comparing himself transformed by his love to the titular Bible, and to Willie Nelson’s guitar:

The good Lord had a plan for them
The moment they were made
In the right hands they come alive
You understand the reason why

Some things wind up where they’re meant to be
Like Billy Graham’s Bible
Willie’s old guitar
And me

It was written by Chris Dubois, Jimmy Melton and Neal Coty, and is outstanding.

Also excellent is ‘Old School Country Song’, written by Rivers Rutherford and Jim Collins, which pays tribute to the lasting power of real country music even in a changing world:

In a chat room out in cyberspace
They might not be face to face
They both know they’re up to something wrong
They say we’ve come a long, long way
Talkin’ bout the world today
Still sounds like an old school country song

Folks still love and folks still leave
Drunks get drunk and cheaters cheat
And there’s just something lonesome ‘bout a midnight train
Someone done somebody wrong
We’ll miss Mama when she’s gone
And trust me
That ain’t never gonna change

Breakin’ up is still a mess
It don’t make a heart hurt less
‘Cause you text it from a mobile phone
All you’ve really done, you see
Is modernize the melody
This still feels like an old school country song

You can take it off that ol’ jukebox
Burn it on your new Ipod
The three chords and the truth are just as strong
You can say we’ve come a long long way
Play what you want to play
But there’s nothing like an old school country song

‘Better Than Beautiful’ is a pretty love song delivered with palpable sincerity, which is the best of the rest. Opener ‘Just Let Me Fall In Love With You’ is quite an attractive mid-tempo tune, although the lyric is filled with clichés. ‘Love Has A Way’ is another pretty ballad spoiled in its second half by an insensitive and echoey production. ‘Baby You’re In Love With Me’ opens attractively, but has a cliche’d lyric about driving around in the country with a girlfriend. ‘Gotta Love It’ is nicely sung but the production is too loud and the song not very interesting.

‘Smile On Mine’ is, amazingly, a Peach Pickers’ song I actually like (despite the obligatory truck reference, it has a pleasant melody and decent lyric trying to get a girl interested). Dallas Davidson also co-wrote ‘Open Up A Can’ with Ashley Gorley and Kelley Lovelace, a relaxed number about taking a break from the stresses of life which isn’t bad but doesn’t need the party crowd sound effects.

The cliché-ridden ‘Yeah’, written by Gorley with his regular writing partner Bryan Simpson, adds nothing new or interesting. ‘Hard To Be Cool’ is boring but could be worse. The title track is also pleasant-sounding but not very interesting. The lead single ‘Sunny And 75’ is rather forgettable, but less objectionable than 95% of current hits, and has rewarded Joe for his compromises by rising up the charts and is now on the brink of the top 10.

But while the majority of the tracklisting is mediocre rather than terrible, there are a pair of really awful songs tucked in the middle of the album: ‘Y’ant To’ and ‘Hee Haw’. The latter is not a tribute to the TV show, but a tacky, crude double entendre which is heavily over-produced.

Overall, a real mixed bag, with some genuine highlights.

Grade: B-

Album Review: Blake Shelton – ‘Pure BS’

purebsBlake Shelton’s unfortunately-titled fourth album finds him pushing the envelope just a bit, exploring new sounds and expanding his production team. Brent Rowan and Paul Worley joined Bobby Braddock, who had produced Blake’s previous three releases. Like his earlier albums, Pure BS achieved gold-level sales, but also continued his inconsistent pattern with country radio, missing the Top 10 on two of the album’s three singles.

The album opens with the somewhat overproduced “This Can’t Be Good”, which Blake co-wrote with Timothy DeArmitt. The track gets off to a good start, with a strong and energetic vocal performance, but the electric guitars become more and more intrusive as the song continues, and eventually overwhelm it. It is followed by the lead single “Don’t Make Me”, which sound radio-friendyl enough but surprisingly topped out at #12. The second single, “The More I Drink”, written by David Lee Murphy, Chris DuBois, and Dave Turnbull likewise underperformed on the singles chart, peaking at a disappointing #19. Perhaps alarmed by radio’s tepid response (or perhaps it was just typical major-label greed), Warner Bros. released a deluxe version of the album with three new tracks in early 2008. One of the new tracks was “Home”, a cover of the Michael Buble pop hit. The strategy worked, wince Blake’s version, which features backing vocals from his then girlfriend Miranda Lambert, became his fourth #1 country hit. Though I’m not usually a fan of pop songs remade for the country market, I do quite like this performance.

My favorite song on the album is “I Don’t Care”, written by Dean Dillon and Casey Breathard. It borrows a theme from the Victorian-era tune “After The Ball”, in which the narrator catches his sweetheart with another man, who later turns out to be her brother. “I Don’t Care” has a happier ending, however, as the misunderstanding is resolved more quickly and the couple presumably lives happily ever after.

Even before the Deluxe Edition release and the success of “Home”, Shelton appears to have had some crossover ambitions with this album, which contains more pop-leaning material than his earlier releases. It works in some cases better than others; his performance on “What I Wouldn’t Give” is a bit over the top and the entire track is a little too AC-leaning for my liking, but the more restrained “Back There Again” works pretty well. While much of the material showcases Blake the ballad singer, the uptempo “The Last Country Song”, which laments the demise of a popular roadhouse to suburban sprawl, is one of the album’s highlights. The closing track to the original album, it features cameo appearances by John Anderson and George Jones.

Pure BS is one of the stronger entries in the Shelton discography, allowing him to branch out a bit creatively, but before his song selection choices became too spotty. The album is still easy to find, but expect to pay close to full price, unless you’re looking to buy the original non-deluxe version.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Trace Adkins – ‘X’

By 2008 I had lost a lot of faith in Trace Adkins as an artist. But then he released the mistitled X (it is the Roman number 10, and was supposedly to mark this as his 10th release – but they only reached that number if you count greatest hits compilations).

The first single, the gospel-inflected ‘Muddy Water’ presents a troubled sinner seeking renewal in baptism. It’s a bit more heavily produced than necessary, but largely enjoyable although it peaked just outside the top 20. There is room for some sheer frivolity when a jaundiced Trace, just divorced, decides next time he might as well ‘Marry For Money’, in a humorous song written by Dave Turnbull and Jimmy Melton. This did a little better on the charts, reaching #14, the same peak as the rather more serious ‘All I Ask For Anymore’. ‘All I Ask For Anymore’ (written by Casey Beathard and Tim James) is a mature reflection on the changing desires that come with growing up, from shallow youthful selfishness to a grown man’s concerns for his wife and children. Trace delivers perhaps the finest pure vocal performance of his career supported by a swelling string arrangement. The similarly themed ‘Happy To Be Here’ (written by Jason Matthews, Jim McCormick and Mike Mobley) is a bit too heavily produced but not bad.

Two of the songs are outright modern classics. ‘Til The Last Shot’s Fired’ was not a single, but gained some attention when Trace sang it live at the ACM award show. A superb song by Rob Crosby and Doug Johnson, this explores the sacrifice of soldiers who have died, mostly in vain, starting with a Confederate soldier falling outside Nashville in the Civil War, and taking us through Omaha Beach on D-Day, Vietnam and Afghanistan:

Say a prayer for peace
For every fallen son
Set my spirit free
Let me lay down my gun
Sweet mother Mary, I’m so tired
But I can’t come home
Til the last shot’s fired

Trace’s vocal is perfectly understated and conveys the sense of defeat which imbues the song’s longing for an end to conflict. The West Point choir joins the chorus at the end, embodying the unresting souls of their predecessors, but they sound perhaps just a little too rehearsed and polite for the part they are playing.

If anything, the bleak look at alcoholism and denial penned by Larry Cordle and Amanda Martin, ‘Sometimes A Man Takes A Drink’, is even better as it remorselessly catalogs a man’s battle with alcohol, with the alcohol winning:

Sometimes a man takes a drink
So he can just throw his head back and laugh
At the things he can’t change
Like the bills he can’t pay
And all of those ghosts from the past
It’s the crutch he leans on
When things have gone wrong
Life didn’t turn out like he planned
Sometimes a man takes a drink
Oh but sometimes a drink takes the man

This is a masterpiece, with a superb vocal from Trace (who has had his own issues with drinking in the past).

Read more of this post

Album Review: Chris Young – ‘Neon’

Chris Young’s second album moved him from former Nashville Star winner to bona fide country star. His eagerly anticipated third, Neon, is a self-assured neotraditional record with just enough radio gloss to keep him at the top, produced by the experienced James Stroud.

He has one of the great classic country voices, a rich burnished baritone with phrasing and interpretative ability, which is improving with time. His material has up to now been patchy, with a few highlights rising out of a mediocre mass lifted only by Chris’s exceptional voice, and on the whole this album is a step in the right direction with his most consistent selection of material to date.

Chris co-wrote seven of the ten songs, including the excellent lead single and current big hit, ‘Tomorrow’ (with Frank Myers and Anthony Smith), which showcases his mastery of the classic heartbreak ballad. The vocals are better than the song itself, although that is very good, with the protagonist clinging on to the remnants of a relationship he knows is about to fall apart:

We’re like fire and gasoline
I’m no good for you
You’re no good for me
We only bring each other tears and sorrow
But tonight I’m gonna love you like there’s no tomorrow

The second best song is ‘Flashlight’, with its fond memories of a father’s love, shown by his teaching his son how to fix cars – but really, of course, lessons are in how to live and love rather than car maintenance. Just as well, because the son here never does quite grasp the latter, but has got the point of the former:

To this day I still can’t make ‘em run right
But I sure did learn a lot
Just holding the flashlight

In other words, it’s basically a teenage boy version of Trace Adkins’ current hit ‘Just Fishing’.

Great voice aside, Chris has gained success by capitalizing on the clean-cut sexiness on songs like his breakthrough hit ‘Gettin’ You Home’, and there is a focus on love songs here, but with a fairly varied feel. The good-humored opener ‘I Can Take It From There’ is a mid-tempo come-on written with Rhett Akins and Ben Hayslip, referencing Conway Twitty with rather more reason than most recent namechecks of country stars. ‘Lost’, written by Chris with Chris Dubois and Ashley Gorley, is a mellow (and potentially commercial) invitation to a girl to get ‘lost’ on purpose together, and while I prefer the former, I could see either of these do well on radio. The tender ‘Old Love Feels New’ (written with Tim Nichols and Brett James) is my favourite of the love songs, with its tribute to a long-lasting relationship. The tender ballad ‘She’s Got This Thing About Her’, which Chris wrote with Kent Blazy and Cory Batten has a string arrangement, and while it is well sung, it sounds a bit out-of-place aurally on this record.

The Luke Laird co-write ‘You’ and Monty Criswell and Shane Minor’s ‘When She’s On’ are the only dull moments. The rowdy ‘Save Water, Drink Beer’ is not as amusing as it seems to think it is, but successfully raises the energy levels, could well be a successful single and would probably go down well live with its obvious singalong possibilities. The traditional sounding title track, with a wistful-sounding vocal comparing the beauties of nature in the American southwest to the joys of the honky-tonk, with Chris declaring neon to be his favourite color.

iTunes has a couple of exclusive bonus tracks. ‘I’m Gonna Change That’ is a pretty solid but slightly too loud mid-tempo with muscular vocals. ‘Don’t Leave Her (If You Can’t Let Her Go’ is very good indeed, a melancholy tinged proffering of advice to a friend planning to break up with his sweetheart, which is all too obviously based on the protagonist’s biter experience. It’s a shame this one didn’t make the cut for the standard release, and even more so that the label didn’t consider adding as bonus tracks the three classic covers he released as an EP last year. Overall, though, this is a fine release from one of the brightest young stars in Nashville.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Brad Paisley – ‘This Is Country Music’

Brad Paisley was our Spotlight Artist last November, and he has produced some outstanding material in the past. His last few releases, however, have been on a downward spiral, and sadly his latest release accelerates the trend. He cowrote almost all the material with a variety of partners, most often including Kelley Lovelace and/or Chris Dubois. To be frank, he would have been well advised to look elsewhere, because so much of this is just plain uninspired.

Thhe three outside songs provide the most worthwhile tracks. The spiritual ‘Life’s Railway to Heaven’ former is the record’s sole nod to the traditionalism which marked Brad’s early career, and features guest vocals from Marty Stuart, Sheryl Crow and Carl Jackson. ‘A Man Don’t Have To Die’, written by Rivers Rutherford, George Teren and Josh Thompson, is the album’s highlight for me, although the story’s set-up is not as well set up as it might be. The song is largely addressed to a preacher, “new around here”, but it isn’t clear what he’s been saying to his flock to prompt this response:

It don’t really scare us when you yell and shake your fist
You see we already know that Hell exists

The body of the song is much more effective, with its depiction of the hell on earth of being laid off by a ungrateful employer, “six months short of 30 years“, struggling to repay a mortgage, or a broken marriage. The chorus has effective harmonies, but the track is marred by out of place and very irritating wordless backing vocals in the second half possibly intended to be the voices of angels.

The charmingly playful ‘Toothbrush’ (written by Joel Shewmake, Jon Henderson and Danny Simpson) details the growth of romance, and this track boasts an imaginative arrangement which makes it the best sounding track on the record. Brad’s composition ‘Eastwood’ is a rather good atmospheric Western style instrumental with Clint Eastwood adding a few words at the beginning and end. Brad’s little boys gurgle a few words as well, and are less irritating than most intrusions of child voices.

None of Brad’s songs here is up to the standard of his earlier work, but I still quite like the title track’s tribute to the inclusiveness of country music, which I reviewed last autumn – at least until it collapses into an uninspired litany of (much better) song titles. The current hit, ‘Old Alabama’ is a fair tribute to the band of that name, but far less effective as a song in its own right, even when Randy Owen joins in, and it is over-produced to boot.

Also acceptable is the rueful ‘I Do Now’ which has the protagonist looking back at his wedding and regretting breaking the promises he made then. It starts out very well indeed, with an understated regret imbuing the first verse, but the chorus is predictable and the later verses don’t take us anywhere unexpected. ‘New Favorite Memory’ is a pleasant but slightly dull evocation of domestic bliss. The affectionate wedding-set ‘Love Her Like She’s Leavin’’, complete with advice (from the bride’s Uncle Bill) of how to keep the relationship going, has a very pop-influenced melody and a pleasant but cliche’d lyric. The Eagles’ Don Henley sings harmony.

On a similar theme, the new single ‘Remind Me’, the duet with Carrie Underwood (reviewed recently by J.R. Journey) is actually a pretty good song about a couple longing for the sweetness of the early days of a love affair which has become a stale marriage, but Carrie oversings her parts, sounding too intense where the lyric seems to call for wistfulness, and overwhelms Brad when they are singing together, while the track is too heavily produced. It will probably be a monster hit.

‘One Of Those Lives’ is a well-meaning and earnestly sung pieces comparing the protagonist’s petty problems with more serious ones faced by others, but it is awkwardly phrased and generally feels a bit forced, and I don’t care for Brad’s ventures into a falsetto.

Brad includes his usual brace of songs intended to be funny but which don’t raise a smile. Of these, the silly novelty ‘Camouflage’ with yelled call-and response backing vocals reminiscent of Joe Diffie’s worst moments at least makes an impact, if not a positive one. The Mexican vacation-set ‘Don’t Drink The Water’, a duet with Blake Shelton, falls completely flat and is a waste of both men’s talent. ‘Working On A Tan’ is a boring beach song which sounds very poppy with Beach Boys style harmonies. ‘Be The Lake’ is equally dull, as Brad leches over his love interest.

This is a disappointing offering from an artist who seems to have run out of steam creatively. Unless he manages to recharge his batteries, I suspect this will be the last Brad Paisley album I’ll buy.

Grade: C-

Single Review: Brad Paisley with Carrie Underwood – ‘Remind Me’

No less than six of the fifteen tracks on Brad Paisley’s This Is Country Music album, released Monday, feature guest vocalists. Paisley trots out Alabama, Don Henley, Blake Shelton, Marty Stuart, and even Clint Eastwood to join him in song, but the biggest country music name he’s corralled is Carrie Underwood. Does the pairing of two of country’s leading personalities fulfill the potential of its level of starpower, or even match Brad and Carrie’s first duet “Oh Love” from Paisley’s 2007 5th Gear album? Not at all.

Lately, Paisley’s singles have taken on a classic-country-meets-today’s-technology feel. He’s made it a point to insert the kind of new-fangled studio tricks usually foreign to country music and hold on to the hot string of traditionalism he’s made a name with. Unfortunately, it’s all been very formulaic up to this point, and “Remind Me” doesn’t serve to change that. From the electronic hue of Paisley’s vocals at the front of the song, to Underwood’s unflattering falsetto, both singers deliver one of their weakest performances yet; neither party’s pipes are flattered here, and neither sounds terribly engaged. A bed of guttural electric guitar leads their misguided performances, and Paisley of course allows for his self-indulgent solo.

A less balls to the wall approach would certainly have suited the song better. With frequent cowriters Chris DuBois and Kelley Lovelace, Paisley has crafted a clever song commenting on the rekindling of a love affair. But it’s really hard to hear the spackling of melody meeting manuscript above all this noise. This could never have been a classic, but it sure could have been a lot better.

Grade: C-

“Remind Me” isn’t available as an individual download without buying the album.  Get it at itunes.

Album Review: Brad Paisley – ‘American Saturday Night’

Brad Paisley’s 5th Gear album marked the beginning of a subtle shift to a more contemporary sound, a trend that continued with his follow-up album, 2009’s American Saturday Night, his least traditional-sounding album to date. The familiar tongue-in-cheek pick-up tunes, semi-rowdy party and fishing songs, and odes to domestic harmony are still present, but the electric guitars are amped up a little more than on previous albums. The end result is somewhat of a mixed bag; there are plenty of enjoyable moments but overall the album is the weakest in Paisley’s catalog.

Brad co-wrote all of the songs on the album, many of them with long-time collaborators Chris DuBois (who is also credited as executive producer), Ashley Gorley, Kelly Lovelace and Tim Owens. Although this group of songwriters has served Paisley well over the past decade, his continued reliance on them is the most fundamental flaw of this album. This time around, they seem to have run out of things to say, and as a result, much of American Saturday Night is a rehash of previous Paisley albums. The lead single “Then” is virtually a reincarnation of “She’s Everything” from 2005’s Time Well Wasted; “Water” seems to be a slightly less crass version of “Ticks”, and “Anything Like Me” is strikingly similar to “Letter To Me.” This play-it-safe approach worked well as far as radio was concerned; all of these tracks made it to either #1 or #2 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, and “Then” was certified platinum for digital sales exceeding one million downloads.

The singles “American Saturday Night” and “Welcome To The Future” are more original. The former is a celebration of the melting pot that is America and is my favorite of the cuts that were released to radio. “Welcome To The Future” received a lot of attention when it was released for its reference to the historic 2008 US presidential election. The song doesn’t quite work because it attempts to tie a breakthrough moment in race relations to the marvels of modern technology that dominate the first half of the song. Though the writers undoubtedly had good intentions, the triumph over decades of social injustice is trivialized by the comparison to smart phone apps and video conferencing.

Not only does American Saturday Night borrow heavily from the themes explored in Brad’s previous albums, it also relies on some of the same production gimmicks, namely the rowdy party chorus on the end of “Catch All The Fish”. While this may have worked well on previous records such as “Alcohol” and “I’m Gonna Miss Her”, it seems like out of place here. How many people can there possibly be on board that fishing boat anyway? But despite the production misstep, “Catch All The Fish” is one of the best tracks on the album,with some excellent steel guitar and fiddle playing by Randal Currie and Justin Williamson, respectively. Ditto for “The Pants.” Another favorite is “No”, which was co-written by Bill Anderson and Jon Randall. Although it is bound to invite some comparisons to Garth Brooks’ “Unanswered Prayers”, it at least explores some territory that is uncharted for Brad.

Despite its flaws, American Saturday Night is not a bad album, but it seems doomed to become one of Brad’s least memorable albums due to its lack of originality. Most of what he has to say here, he has said before, and more effectively. For his next project, I’d like to see him to take a few more risks instead of playing it safe, and perhaps engage the talents of some outside songwriters in order to gain a fresh perspective.

American Saturday Night is widely available from retailers such as Amazon and iTunes.

Grade: B-

Album Review: Brad Paisley – ‘Time Well Wasted’

Following a successful tour with Terri Clark and Reba McEntire in 2005, Brad Paisley released his fourth album, Time Well Wasted, which in addition to producing three more #1 hit singles, was named Album of the Year by both the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music in 2006. It follows the same winning formula of combining traditional country music and comedy that made Mud On The Tires a commercial success. It also features some marquis name guest artists such as Alan Jackson, Dolly Parton, George Jones, Bill Anderson and Little Jimmy Dickens. Like its predecessors, Time Well Wasted was produced by Fred Rogers, with Chris DuBois acting as executive producer.

The advance single was Brad’s own composition “Alcohol”. Once a staple at country radio, drinking songs have more or less fallen victim to the political correctness movement, and there was indeed a backlash against this party anthem for what critics claimed glamorized alcohol abuse. Most people, however, just viewed the song for what it was: a tongue-in-cheek party tune. The minor controversy did little to impede the record’s success on the charts. It reached #4 and also earned gold certification for digital sales exceeding 500,000 downloads.

Brad’s 2003 marriage to Kimberly Williams has been the apparent inspiration for a number of his songs that revolve around the theme of domestic bliss. There a few such offerings here, both humorous — “The World” — and serious — “Waitin’ On A Woman”, “She’s Everything”, and “Rainin’ You”. Both “The World” and “She’s Everything” reached #1, as did a re-recorded version of “Waitin’ On A Woman” when it was eventually released as part of Brad’s next two albums 5th Gear and the mostly instrumental Play. Brad’s vocal limitations are apparent on the album cut “Rainin’ You”, and to a lesser extent on “She’s Everything”, one of Paisley’s least traditional sounding singles to date. It was, however, the most successful single from the album, earning platinum certification for more than one million digital sales.

Even the happiest relationships have their rough patches, as we see in the tracks “I’ll Take You Back”, which is sort of an opposite-sex point of view version of Sara Evans’ “Cheatin'”, and the cleverly written “Flowers” in which Brad is an erring husband or boyfriend trying to make amends by repeatedly sending his wife or girlfriend roses, which are immediately trashed upon receipt, prompting the question:

” … How many flowers have to die
Before you give this love another try?
I’ve asked you to forgive me at least nine dozen times,
Tell me, how many flowers have to die?”

Paisley is joined by labelmate Alan Jackson for a rendition of Guy Clark and Darrell Scott’s “Out In The Parking Lot”, which finds the protagonists avoiding a cover charge at a club by drinking “Old Crow Whiskey and hot 7-Up” in their truck. The lyrics are a bit lightweight, but it’s a fun song and the two sound good together.

Dolly Parton joins Brad for the masterpiece “When I Get Where I’m Goin'”, the highlight of the album. The spiritually-themed song was released as the album’s second single. Perhaps they were seeking redemption following the release of “Alcohol”, but whatever the reason, the result was the finest single release of Brad’s career. It’s often labeled a duet, but technically it is not; Parton serves strictly in a secondary role proving harmony vocals, but because it was a credited performance, she gained some bragging rights when the record hit #1 in March 2006, making her the oldest female performer (at age 60) to ever top the Billboard country singles chart. Like its predecessor “Alcohol”, “When I Get Where I’m Going” earned gold certification.

The final musical track on the album is the title track, on which Brad once again sings about another one his passions — fishing. This is followed by the comedy sketch “Cornography” featuring Dolly Parton and The Kung Pao Buckeroos (Bill Anderson, George Jones, and Little Jimmy Dickens), in a follow-up to a similar sketch from Mud On The Tires. The sketch is followed by a number of hidden outtake tracks. These routines are mildly amusing but they do tend to wear thin with repeated listenings. Luckily they are placed at the end of the album where they can be easily skipped.

Brad is credited as a writer or co-writer on nine of the album’s fifteen music tracks. The wise decision to include some submissions from outside songwriters, makes Time Well Wasted a stronger collection than some of Brad’s other albums. It reached #1 on the Billboard Country Albums chart and sold in excess of two million copies. It remains my favorite album in the Paisley catalog.

Grade: A


Time Well Wasted
is readily available from online merchants such as Amazon and iTunes.

Album Review: Brad Paisley – ‘ Mud On the Tires’

Brad’s third album, released in 2003, saw him cementing his status as a star whose music combined comedy and serious songs, and one who genuinely appreciated country music tradition.

Lead single ‘Celebrity’ is a hilarious and sharp sideswipe at reality TV shows and those chasing fame for the sake of it (and the perks), with Brad playing the talentless wannabe with an irony entirely missed when one of the hapless contestants on the generally woeful final season of Nashville Star covered it on the show:

You can act just like a fool
And people think you’re cool
Just ‘cause you’re on TV

Brad also picked a Chris DuBois/Chris Wallin song which approaches a similar theme from a slightly different angle with the quirky ‘Famous People’, where he plays the part of an ingenuous countryman who brings a visiting movie star down to size a little.

The straight-faced ‘The Cigar Song’ is based on an old joke about a man who successfully claims on the insurance for “losing” some fine Cuban cigars in “a series of small fires”. The insurance company gets the last laugh, though, with a prosecution for various counts of arson. The broadest comedy is reserved for the return of Bill Anderson and George Jones (who featured on ‘Too Country’ on Part II), joined this time by Little Jimmy Dickens on the silly but funny deliberately muddled narration ‘Spaghetti Western Swing’, which also serves as a showcase for guest Redd Volkaert’s electric guitar. I enjoy this track but probably wouldn’t want to listen to it too often.

Second single ‘Little Moments’ was the first in what has become a tradition of Brad Paisley odes to domesticity, reportedly directly inspired by his new wife, actress Kimberly Williams-Paisley, who also starred in the video. Written by Brad with Chris DuBois, it has some charm with its loping phrasing and heartfelt delivery, and the theme had not yet outworn its welcome. Also in the happy family life vein is ‘Ain’t Nothin’ Like’, written by Wynn Varble and Don Sampson). The latter has an engagingly bouncy production and good humored feel, but is marred by an irritating small-child chorus. The pedestrian ‘That’s Life’ appears to be meant to be amusing, but falls flat (with comedians Dan Aykroyd and Jim Belushi unimpressive on unrecognisable backing “yeah yeah yeahs” and occasional yelled interjections). Only Frank Rogers’ inventive production saves these songs.

The exquisitely sad duet with Alison Krauss, ‘Whiskey Lullaby’, one of the few outside songs included here, was the third single. It was a wise decision to record this Bill Anderson/Jon Randall song, which has become a modern classic and may be the song for which Brad is best remembered a generation hence. The single itself has sold a million copies, and won various awards. It tells the story of a man whose failed marriage leads him into a life destroyed by alcohol and eventual death; then the woman who left him is overwhelmed by guilt and grief and also uses whiskey as her mode of self-destruction. The acoustic instrumentation is bolstered by Krauss on viola, Jerry Douglas’s dobro, and Union Station’s Dan Tyminski on backing vocals.

The first three songs were all big hits, but none reached the top of the Billboard singles chart, all peaking at # 2 or 3. The only chart-topper from the album was to be the title track (another Chris DuBois cowrite), to my ears the least interesting of the four, but a very popular single which was certified gold.

Much better is the restrained tenderness of the love song ‘Somebody Knows You Now’, which strains Brad’s voice to the limit, only adding to the authenticity of the emotion. I also like the traditional-meets contemporary feel of of ‘Hold Me In Your Arms (And Let Me Fall)’, addressed to a girl who is reluctant to date the protagonist. Vince Gill lends harmony support.

Read more of this post

Album Review: Brad Paisley – ‘Part II’

Released in 2001, Brad Paisley’s sophomore album would continue Paisley’s run of success with 4 top 10 radio hits, including a chart-topper.  The album itself would go onto be certified platinum.  Again with the help of producer Frank Rogers, Part II doesn’t stray far from the traditional sound of his debut release, though it does show off the sense of humor that would come to dominate Brad’s single releases in recent years.

Following the ballad success from his debut album. the like-minded hit ‘Two People Fell In Love’ found its way to the top 5 as the album’s lead single. The influence of George Strait can be heard of the album’s third single, the jamming ‘Wrapped Around’, which found its way to a #2 peak.

‘I’m Gonna Miss Her’, a clever novelty tune in which a man chooses the fishing hole over a happy home, became Brad’s second chart-topper. In the same vein is the catchy and memorable ‘Come On Over Tonight’, which finds a smitten fellow inviting the lady of his affections over, after swearing off love for good.

Highlights include the final single, ‘I Wish You’d Stay’, written by Brad with Chris Dubois. Here, the narrator is aching for his love to stay, but offers his blessings on her departure, as well as several favors and help along the way.  Also essential is Paisley’s melodic take on ‘You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive’, an oft-recorded modern-day masterpiece.

‘Too Country’ features a guest vocal from George Jones, Bill Anderson, and Buck Owens in a simple fiddle and acoustic guitar arrangment of a song that begs to ask “what is too country?” The album closes with a live recording from the Grand Ole Opry on the sacred hymn ‘The Old Rugged Cross’, which features an opening from Little Jimmy Dickens.

Paying tribute to tradition was surely a factor for Brad when recording Part II, and that shows throughout. The neo-traditional arrangement on every track not only shows his love and respect for the genre’s traditions, but also his own talent in reproducing them, making Part II essential listening for any fan of neo-traditional country.

Grade: A-

Part II is still widely available. Buy it now at amazon.

Album Review: Brad Paisley – ‘Who Needs Pictures’

When Brad Paisley’s debut album was released in 1999, it was a real breath of fresh air with its mix of comedy and serious numbers. Frank Rogers gave it a nicely railed back production. Brad wrote every song (most often working with Chris DuBois) with the exception of a sincere sounding version of the hymn ‘The Garden’ which closes the set, and he showed off his instrumental prowess by playing acoustic, electric and bass guitars. There is even a showy instrumental cut but ‘The Nervous Breakdown’ doesn’t do a lot for me.

Brad emerged on the scene with the fine title track, which peaked at #12 on Billboard. The protagonist’s wistful memories of happier times are sparked off by the unexpected discovery of a (pre-digital) camera with undeveloped film of vacations with a lost love, but he concludes:

Who needs pictures, with a memory like mine?

It has a tasteful string arrangement.

Brad followed this up with his breakthrough hit and first #1, the charming and genuinely touching ‘He Didn’t Have To Be’, a tribute to a loving stepfather which Brad wrote with Kelley Lovelace, whose own family background inspired the song. It opens with the apt observation,

When a single mom goes out on a date with somebody new
It always winds up feeling more like a job interview
My mama used to wonder if she’d ever meet someone
Who wouldn’t find out about me and then turn around and run

The protagonist grows up to measure himself as a potential father against the man who took them “from something’s missing to a family“. This is still one of my favorite Brad Paisley songs.

Read more of this post

Spotlight Artist: Brad Paisley

A presence at the top of the country charts for more than a decade now, singer-songwriter and guitar virtuoso Brad Paisley has frequently been heralded as the savior of traditional country music. While that may be overstating the case a bit, there is no doubt that he has played a key role in keeping the traditional sound alive, having built a reputation for combining contemporary country elements with humor, while showing a deep and profound respect for country music’s past.

The Glendale, West Virginia native was born on October 28, 1972. His interest in country music was sparked at age eight when his grandfather gave him his first guitar. Shortly thereafter he began singing in church. He wrote his first song at age 12 and formed his first band when he was 13. When he was in junior high school, he was invited to perform on Jamboree USA, a Wheeling, West Virginia radio program that is the second oldest country music broadcast in the United States, after the Grand Ole Opry. He became a regular cast member, performing with superstars such as Ricky Skaggs, George Jones, and The Judds.

After high school, Brad attended West Liberty University in West Virginia for two years before transferring to Belmont University in Nashville on a fully-paid scholarship. While at Belmont, he met Frank Rogers, who would one day become his record producer, as well as Kelly Lovelace and Chris DuBois, who became his songwriting partners.

Paisley spent the first few years following his graduation from Belmont as a staff songwriter for EMI Music Publishing, before signing with Arista Nashville in 1998. From that point, success came quickly. His first single “Who Needs Pictures” was released in February 1999. Released at a time when country music was becoming more pop-oriented, the record struck a chord with audiences who yearned for more traditional-sounding music. “Who Needs Pictures” climbed to #12 on the charts, and the follow-up release “He Didn’t Have To Be” made it all the way to #1. In 2000 he won the CMA’s Horizon Award and the Academy of Country Music’s Best New Male Vocalist award. He was inducted as a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 2001.

Brad married actress Kimberly Williams in 2003, following her appearance in one of his music videos. They are now the parents of two young sons and live in Franklinville, Tennessee.

In the almost dozen years since his debut, Paisley has racked up 27 charting singles, 15 of which have made it to #1, as well as seven studio albums, five of which have been certified platinum or better, and one that has been certified gold. A double-disc greatest hits package, containing both the studio recordings and previously unreleased live versions of his hits, will be released this week. We hope you’ll enjoy our look back at the accomplishments of this talented performer as we spotlight the career of Brad Paisley throughout the month of November.

Album Review: Darius Rucker – ‘Charleston, SC 1966’

The best thing about Darius Rucker’s second country album is what was most marked about his first: the singer’s gravelly yet flexible voice. More notable this time is the solid and often inventive contemporary country production helmed by Frank Rogers, who is rapidly becoming one of my favorite mainstream producers, with an excellent ear for the right instrumentation for any given song, and balancing commercial considerations with artistic merit. Rogers also currently produces Josh Turner (whose latest, Haywire, sounds gorgeous despite some lacklustre material) and Brad Paisley, who makes a guest appearance here. Where it falls down a little is with the lack of ambition and limited emotional palette, and it is interesting that all of these artists (each of them lucky enough to be happily married in real life) seem to have a reluctance to tackle much heartbreak or darkness in their music. Darius co-wrote every song, most frequently collaborating with Rogers, and although the material is pretty good, and more consistent than that on Learn To Live, there are no modern classics here. Possibly a few outside songs would have raised the bar. The album’s title (Darius’ place and date of birth) is an obvious nod to Radney Foster’s superb Del Rio, TX, 1959 – a rather rash idea, as it raises expectations it cannot deliver. Instead of aiming for excellence, Darius is apparently happy to settle for something that is merely good: well-performed, mainly mid-tempo, mainly positive, radio-friendly material in the center of today’s country music. And he does succeed in that rather better than many of his contemporaries.

Opening track ‘This’ is very reminiscent of much of Brad Paisley’s recent material, a paean to current domestic happiness along the lines of ‘Bless The Broken Road’:

Thank God for all I missed
Cause it led me straight to this

Written with Rogers and pop writer (and outgoing American idol judge) Kara DioGuardi, it is a perfectly competent and aurally pleasing but perhaps rather unambitious number which really epitomises this album. Also rather Paisleyesque in its domesticity is the sweet married love song ‘Might Get Lucky’ which Darius wrote with his hero Radney Foster and Jay Clements. This has a warmth and genuineness which is rather appealing. Both songs should find a ready home on country radio. ‘The Craziest Thing’ is another love song to a wife, which is less successful, managing to make walking on fire sound rather dull, despite a bouncy production. Paisley himself duets with Darius on the mildly witty carefree vacation song ‘I Don’t Care’, which the two wrote together with Chris DuBois; this breaks no new ground but is likeable and a surefire hit single in the making for next summer.

There is a welcome change of pace, and equally welcome move to something more emotionally ambivalent, with the languid ballad ‘Whiskey And You’, a love song which compares the protagonist’s need for his woman to a need for alcohol:

Ain’t nothing I can do
But come crawling back to
Whiskey and you
I never asked you to love me
I never begged you to stay
But I never want you to leave me

Also very good, and a bit more complex emotionally than the rest of the album, is ‘Things I’d Never Do’, written by Darius, Rogers and Clay Mills, with its wistful feel. The mortified protagonist, stuck in a hotel room, regrets past choices to do the kind of the things he would never have thought himself capable of:

I’d never leave the perfect girl
Or rip apart the perfect world
Just up and leave in the middle of a song

This is very effectively and subtly done, and my favorite track. Mills also cowrote ‘I Got Nothin’, a resigned response to a failing marriage where there just might be something to revive, which I also like. ‘We All Fall Down’, written with Kim Tribble, is a subdued and rather downbeat acknowledgment of inevitable and universal failure, which is another highlight for me, although it is certainly not commercial.

Closing track ‘In A Big Way’, written with Casey Beathard, expresses a traveler’s longing for home and family, and sounds possibly autobiographical (and it’s nice to hear someone namechecking Charley Pride alongside George Jones rather than one of the usual suspects). The tuneful and good-humored ‘Southern State Of Mind’, written with Ashley Gorley and Chris DuBois, is partly another homesick ode to home,

“where they drink sweet tea and they raise you to be polite”

and partly a declaration that he takes his southernness with him wherever he goes.

Lead single and #1 hit ‘Come Back Song’, written with Chris Stapleton and Casey Beathard, is quite a nice plea for forgiveness and reconciliation. I like it more than Darius’s last few singles, but it is not one of the more memorable songs on this album. ‘Love Will Do That’ is a nice example of Frank Rogers’ production, with some nice banjo from Bela Fleck and mandolin from Sam Bush, but is lyrically uninteresting. ‘She’s Beautiful’ is flat out boring and might have been dropped from the set with no ill effect.

This is in many ways a safe record. It is well made, pleasant to listen to, and should yield another brace of hits for Darius, but he doesn’t really take any chances with the material. I’m not sure I’ll remember it all that long after it’s left my current releases playlist. It seems disappointing in comparison to what I believe Darius is capable of (or to Del Rio, TX, 1959), but taken purely on its own merits it’s a pretty good record, particularly when set against many of his chart rivals.

Grade: B

Single Review: Brad Paisley – ‘Anything Like Me’

In his comedy routine Bill Cosby used to refer to the Mother’s Curse: “I hope that when you get married you have children that act the same way that you act.” Brad Paisley explores that theme in his latest single, “Anything Like Me.” The narrator of the song is an expectant father who envisions the future — and his own past — upon learning that his unborn child will be a son. He reminisces about his own formative years, about climbing trees and playing football, as well as getting grounded for skipping class and his first broken heart, and speculates that “it’s say to say that, I’m gonna get my payback, if he’s anything like me.”

Produced by Frank Rogers and written with Dave Turnbull and Chris DuBois, “Anything Like Me” finds Paisley traveling in familiar territory. The song is strikingly similar to “Letter To Me”, which also dealt with an adult protagonist reflecting on his youth, but lacks the 2007 hit’s emotional punch. Comparisons between the two songs are inevitable, and that can only work to “Anything Like Me’s” detriment because a recycled theme is never as effective the second time around. It is not a bad song by any means; it is well written and the production is tasteful and understated. However, I can’t help but think that it is a focus group-driven product calculated to appeal to a key demographic of country radio listener, as well as a blatant and artistically lazy effort to tap into the success of an earlier record. Maybe I’ve spent too much time listening to Jamey Johnson’s new album this week, but I’d rather hear Paisley do something with a little more of an edge to it.

Grade: C+

Listen to “Anything Like Me” here.

Album Review: Joe Nichols – ‘Revelation’

Joe’s second album, Revelation, was not quite as successful as its predecessor, but it has some great songs on it. Produced once more with taste and subtlety by guitarist Brent Rowan, the songs are mainly understated and a little downbeat, and those who like a lot of changes of pace may find this record disappointing. Personally, I think it rewards the time spent listening, and it is one of my favourite Joe Nichols albums.

The lead single, the earnest Harley Allen song ‘If Nobody Believed In You’, made the top 10. It ventures into both socio-political and religious territory as he moves from criticizing over-critical fathers stifling a child’s efforts and an adult son belittling his elderly father to raising the question of prayer in schools. Although it is a heavy handed lyrically, it is beautifully if a little languidly sung.

‘Things Like That (These Days)’, written by Byron Hill and Mike Dekle, tackles similar subject matter to rather gloomy effect. It tells of a boy with supportive parents who bring him up properly, and grow up to coach a children’s sport team, but the melody, while pretty, has a mournful feel, as Joe broods about those from less fortunate backgrounds:

Have mercy on all the kids (parents) out there
Who haven’t been raised to even care
About things like that these days

Iris DeMent’s ‘No Time To Cry’, which also refers to the problems of modern society (murdered babies and bombs exploding), is outright depressing. The protagonist confesses wearily the sorrow brought to his life by bereavement, tears which he cannot afford to shed. It is beautifully sung and written, but undoubtedly ends the album on a downer.

In contrast, the second and last single was the cheery (and very short – not much more than two minutes) ‘What’s A Guy Gotta Do’, co-written by Joe himself with Kelley Lovelace and Don Sampson, which peaked at #4 early in 2005. The dateless protagonist wonders why he’s not getting any interest, when
Ask anybody, I’m a pretty good guy
And the looks-decent wagon didn’t pass me by

It may be fluff, but it has a self-deprecating charm which makes it endearing, and more importantly it is one of two bright up-tempo fun songs which lighten the mood , foreshadowing the way for Joe’s next big hit, ‘Tequila Makes her Clothes Fall Off’. The other is ‘Don’t Ruin It For The Rest Of Us’, recorded the same year a little more rowdily by June’s Spotlight Artist Mark Chesnutt.

The humble ‘Singer In A Band’ is written by Gary Harrison and Tim Mensy, as the protagonist gently chides his fans for idolizing him, comparing his life to the everyday struggles of others:

You see me up there on center stage
In the spotlight for a while
But in the things that really matter
I’m just sittin’ on the aisle

When you look for heroes know that I’m just a singer in a band

It verges on sentimentality, but the palpable sincerity, almost sadness, of the delivery makes it work.

Read more of this post

Single Review: Brad Paisley – ‘Water’

My favorite part of country music has always been its simplicity, its ability to take even the everyday things we all experience and put them into a universal and appealing format.  In country music’s case, the format is usually one of easy melodies, clean vocals, and familiar instruments.  Such is the case with Brad Paisley’s latest, ‘Water’.  While this song won’t set the world on fire (no pun intended), and it probably won’t launch Brad’s star any higher than it already is, that’s fine with me.  I can enjoy a song that’s clearly meant to be a bit light.

From his first recollections of water as a 3-year old in an inflatable pool to swinging into the river on a rope – what country boy or girl doesn’t have fond memories of their community rope swing? – to the less wholesome memories of wet t-shirt contest, songwriters Paisley, Chris Dubois, and Kelley Lovelace go on to tell of the bikini-clad girls on Spring Break and of skinny-dipping in the lake.  A title like ‘Water’ could have gone in at least a dozen different directions, but Brad sings here of mostly play-time with humanity’s primary resource.

Musically and melodically, ‘Water’ isn’t far removed from Paisley’s other novelty-tinged tunes and sounds very similar to his past two single releases from his American Saturday Night album.  Sure, there are the smoking guitar licks that are now as much a part of Paisley’s musical persona as the novelty songs themselves and his vocal performance isn’t without its charms as he delivers the lyrics with his wry magnetism that’s sure to please the masses.  After all, water itself is mass, and I think this song will have mass appeal.  Not that it lives up to those expectations or to the popularity it will surely gain, and ‘Water’ isn’t the worst thing on country radio right now.  But, Paisley has shown he’s capable of better than this.

Grade: C

‘Water’ is available for download at amazon and iTunes. And before you buy, you can also listen to the song.

Songwriters: Brad Paisley, Chris DuBois, Kelley Lovelace