My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Chris Young

Week ending 2/10/18: #1 singles this week in country music history

1958 (Sales): The Story of My Life — Marty Robbins (Columbia)

1958 (Disk Jockeys): Ballad of a Teenage Queen — Johnny Cash (Sun)

1968: Skip A Rope — Henson Cargill (Monument)

1978: I Just Wish You Were Someone I Loved — Larry Gatlin (Monument)

1988: Wheels — Restless Heart (RCA)

1998: Just To See You Smile — Tim McGraw (Curb)

2008: Letter To Me — Brad Paisley (Arista)

2018: Meant To Be — Bebe Rexha featuring Florida Georgia Line (Big Machine)

2018 (Airplay): Losing Sleep — Chris Young (RCA)

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Christmas Rewind: Chris Young – ‘Holly Jolly Christmas’

Song starts about 1.20 in

Album Review: Tracy Lawrence – ‘Good Old Days’

If popular culture is to be believed, it seems the 1990s is the hottest decade right now. Most of the ‘new’ television shows are reboots of classics from the era, including Full House and Will & Grace, with the originals casts reprising their roles. In popular music, if you were a major player 20-25 years ago, then its suddenly fashionable to return with new music and slews of concert dates.

In country music, this trend extends to the return of Faith Hill and Shania Twain with their first new music in more than a decade while Garth Brooks is wrapping up his massive three-year tour this month in Nashville. Even Dixie Chicks came home to the United States with their first tour in ten years. What’s old is new again or rather the music that defined my childhood is suddenly hip again.

It would be a stretch to place Tracy Lawrence at the same level since he was never a global superstar or wheeled much influence on an international stage. But he was one of the most consistent and traditional artists in his day, with a catalog that more than stands up to anything released by the artists who may have eclipsed him in status.

To celebrate this resurgence, Lawrence has released Good Ole Days, which recognizes what he refers to as a ‘hunger for the music from my era.’ The album pairs him with modern day country artists singing his hits. The whole concept does seem like a gimmick, a cash grab for the gullible fan unaware they are likely only lining the pockets of the executive who dreamt up this project. But really it’s a chance to finally hear country’s current class sing real well-written songs for the first time in their careers. I jumped at the chance to review this album simply so I could hear how these artists sound when forced to interrupt the actual country music. I’ve always had a theory that there is talent there if these artists had the proper vehicle to show it off.

This is the proper vehicle because instead of the artists making these songs their own, with their typical non-country producers and such, they have to stick within the confines of the original arrangements, including the steel, fiddle, and twang. Without the ability to hide, every weakness would be on the table.

Luke Bryan tackles Lawrence’s 1991 debut “Sticks and Stones” and handles it well. I wasn’t impressed with Jason Aldean’s take on “Just Can’t Break It to My Heart,” his voice was a bit too dirty, but the energy was good.

I remember reading in Quotable Country, on the dearly-departed Country California, Justin Moore says if he had a say he would make an album in the vein of I See It Now. He goes back a bit further here with “Alibis” and knocks it out of the park. Moore is a great country singer and it’s a shame he has to reside in this current climate.

Dustin Lynch sounds exactly like a young Lawrence on “Texas Tornado,” which is kind of scary. His performance isn’t excellent, but it’s damn close. I was surprised Miranda Lambert, who has been known to belt this out in concert, wasn’t singing it but that could’ve been label politics.

Probably the newest artist featured here is Luke Combs, who just hit number one with “When It Rains It Pours.” There’s no mistaking he’s a country singer and he easily pulls this off. The same is true for Chris Young, but he sounds like he’s just going through the paces on “If The Good Die Young.” If he had just let go the results could’ve been incredible.

The legend of Tim McGraw is he moved to Nashville on May 9, 1989, and has always said he’s more of a storyteller while Keith Whitley is a singer. I agree wholeheartedly, but his performance of “Time Marches On” is bland. In contrast, Easton Corbin shines on “Paint Me A Birmingham.”

Kellie Pickler’s talent is wasted on “Stars Over Texas,” which finds her regulated to singing the chorus. As the sole female voice on the whole album, you would’ve thought she’d be allowed more of a presence. I didn’t care for her vocal either, which makes her sound like a little girl.

There are two new songs in the mix. Brad Arnold, the lead singer of Alternative Rock band Three Doors Down (think ‘Here Without You’) joins Lawrence on the title track, which is being billed as his “country music debut.” The song, which also features Big & Rich, is a faux-rock disaster. The military-themed fiddle drenched ballad “Finally Home,” which features Craig Morgan, is better but not really for my tastes.

Good Ole Days is a great concept with lousy execution. These tracks are collaborations between the singer and Tracy Lawrence which doesn’t work on any level. Get rid of Lawrence entirely and turn this into the proper tribute album it’s screaming to be. His nasally twang is insufferable and pointlessly distracting. The lack of female artists in the mix is also troubling, as you don’t need just men to sing these songs.

Grade: B-

Classic Rewind: Chris Young covers – ‘Here’s A Quarter Call Someone Who Cares’

Album Review: Matt Mason – The Songwriter’s Collection, Volume 1

Matt Mason has been trying to break through for a long time now. As a 20 year old back in 2006 he was a contestant on Nashville Star, finishing fourth the year Chris Young won. Five years later he won CMT’s Next Superstar, and scored a deal with Warner Brothers. That deal fizzled out with nothing to show for it, but now he has self-released an album. A few of the tracks ppreviously appeared on an EP, Chasing Stardust, in 2013. His vocals are a little flat, but serviceable, and the songwriring is solid. The music is traditional country leaning to the 70s Outlaw tradition, and the lyrical theme is of literal outlaws and criminals.

‘Where I’ve Been’ is an arresting opener, telling the story of a restless drifter with a criminal past and dreams of Nashville:

Goin’ down a road that’s full of sin
Been to Hell on a train and back again
I can’t tell you where I’m going
But I know where I’ve been

It is an excellent song.

Even better, ‘E’ is a dark but compelling story song about a man hunting down his wife’s lover:

Just blew past the county line
That needle’s pushin’ ninety-five
I’m on you like a shadow move for move
All you see is my headlights
I see the whites in your eyes
That fear mirrored in your rearview
Go ahead and ride the gas
Don’t think that you’re livin’, man,
Just ’cause you make it past Dead Man’s Curve
Man, as far as I can tell
We might both end up in hell
But you’re sure as hell goin’ first

I also loved the classic styled heartbreak drinking song ‘Liquor’:

Wish I could hold that girl like I can hold my liquor
I’d be in her arms not in this bar on one more bender

The reflective acoustic ballad ‘Outrun Your Mind’ effectively reveals a man who can’t escape his past.

‘Feather In Her Halo’ is a love song in which the sinner protagonist is willing to change his ways in return for his lady’s love, even going to church and spending his leisure time reading. ‘I Run’ is a nice love song from the chastened point of view of someone who has already followed that path and rejects “the me that can hurt you”. The metaphor-laden ‘Reason to Ride’ is another love song from a man with a troubled past.

‘Chasing Stardust’ was written directly about the singer’s past experience with cocaine addiction. While lyrically believable, the melody and vocal are both a bit flat. The quietly confessional closing track, ‘7 Years Old’ is also autobiographical, but much better. He traces his life from a childhood closeness to God, though falling prey to sin in his late teens and drugs (coyly called ‘candy’) in his early 20s:

Then I found forgiveness a late 29
And I asked an angel if she’d be my wife
She called me fallen and that saved my life

‘Guitars And Guns’ draws on tales of the Old West to compare a musician’s life with that of an outlaw; a little cliché’d but not bad. ‘Mason Jar’ has a folky Americana feel and is quite pleasant.
Unsubtle in every respect , ‘Old Man Jones’ is a loud Southern rocker about undisciplined children inevitably growing up as criminals and addicts, which seems a bit extreme.

This album is something of a mixed bag, but there are some very strong tracks. It’s worth checking out to see if it appeals to you.

Grade: B-

Week ending 3/18:17: #1 singles this week in country music history

1957 (Sales):Young Love/You’re The Reason I’m In Love — Sonny James (Capitol)

1957 (Jukebox): Young Love — Sonny James (Capitol)

1957 (Disc Jockeys): Young Love — Sonny James (Capitol)

1967: Where Does The Good Times Go — Buck Owens (Capitol)

1977: She’s Just An Old Love Turned Memory — Charley Pride (RCA)

1987: Baby’s Got A New Baby — S-K-O (MTM)

1997: We Danced Anyway — Deana Carter (Capitol)

2007: Ladies Love Country Boys — Trace Adkins (Capitol)

2017: Body Like a Back Road — Sam Hunt (MCA)

2017 (Airplay): Sober Saturday Night — Chris Young feat. Vince Gill (RCA)

Jonathan Pappalardo’s Favorite Singles of 2016

My favorite singles of the year run the gamut from commercial to obscure and everything in between. Keep reading for career moments from Tim McGraw and Reba McEntire to shining examples of why Lori McKenna and Brandy Clark are more than expert songwriters.

unknown10. Chris Young Feat Cassadee Pope – ‘Think Of You’

Young deserves credit for searching within his own genre for a female collaborator. He deserves praise for co-writing a song that doesn’t use Pope as
window dressing, but rather as a means of furthering the story. This tale of a once-great couple isn’t revelatory, but it’s catchy as hell.

 9. William Michael Morgan – ‘Missing’

The influence George Strait said was absent from country radio came roaring back to life with William Michael Morgan’s follow-up to “I Met A Girl.” “Missing” is an astonishing single in that it makes little compromise to the modern landscape. Warner Bros deserves credit for releasing something this country to radio. Time will tell if they respond favorably.

 500x5008. Kelsey Waldon – ‘All By Myself’

Among its many achievements, a few of which you’ll see highlighted further down, 2016 introduced Kelsey Waldon, a killer traditionalist, to the masses. “All By Myself” is a stern warning to fakers, a biting assessment of authenticity and a woman’s empowerment anthem for the current generation. 

7. Mary Chapin Carpenter – ‘Something Tamed, Something Wild’

The most common criticism I’ve heard about Mary Chapin Carpenter’s more recent works is she ‘lacks a pulse.’ It may be true to an extent, but I’m not hearing it here. This introspective examination of existential curiosity is one of her finest in recent memory. The parent album it comes from is her best in more than a decade.

6. Time Jumpers – ‘Kid Sister’

Vince Gill’s tribute to Dawn Sears is both personal and touching.

record-year-cover5. Eric Church – ‘Record Year’

Not since “The Song Remembers When” has a song about songs been this clever or powerful. Church proves he’s a master once again, name checking legends at every turn and laying out a jovial tale of heartbreak both ear catching and believable. “Record Year” is undoubtedly the best mainstream single of the year.

 4. Lori McKenna – ‘Wreck You’

The lead single from The Bird and the Rifle is this masterful look at sabotage in which the woman is admitting fault, with brutal candor – “Something between us changed, I’m not sure if its you or me But lately all I do seems to wreck you.”

unspecified-13. Tim McGraw – ‘How I’ll Always Be’

2016 found Tim McGraw in an artistic renaissance, with his strongest back-to-back singles in twenty years. He succeeded in a climate unfavorable to substance without conceding to modern pressures. “Humble & Kind” is the better lyric. But “How I’ll Always Be” shines melodically. Not since “Just To See You Smile” has McGraw sounded this good on record. 

2. Brandy Clark – ‘Love Can Go To Hell’

The genius is in the delivery. Brandy Clark sings this so deadpan, it’s easy to miss the dark humor underneath the surface. I totally missed it, but when it hit me, I never heard this the same way again.

reba-1024x10241. Reba McEntire – ‘Just Like Them Horses’

Tim McGraw wasn’t the only one in the throws of an artistic reawaking in 2016. This tale of a dying man giving positive reassurance to the loved one he’s leaving behind may’ve been too much for radio to bare, the unique take on ‘if you love me, let me go’ too smart for the masses.

Reba eulogized her father with this tune before committing it to record, which only solidified the emotional undertones she brought forth in her performance, her strongest vocal since “If I Had Only Known” twenty-five years ago. “Just Like Them Horses” is just that good, a bone-chilling highlight from a career with far too many to count.

Album Review: Loretta Lynn – ‘White Christmas Blue’

loretta-lynn-white-christmas-blue-1476726333The crop of Christmas albums has been hit or miss this year with big band affairs aptly showcasing Chris Young and Brett Eldridge’s vocal prowess and Kacey Musgraves’ continued decent into her own quirkiness. Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood had the most disappointing record, a haphazard affair unbecoming from an artist (Yearwood) with impeccable song sense who knows better.

Loretta Lynn has released the years most intriguing holiday record, White Christmas Blue, which comes a full fifty years since her Owen Bradley produced Country Christmas. The album is a full-on traditional affair and a delight at every turn.

I usually find fiddle and steel out of place on a Christmas album, but White Christmas Blue is changing that perception for me. The album is mostly comprised of holiday standards, with jovial renditions of “Frosty The Snowman” and “Jingle Bells” sitting comfortably along side “To Heck With Ole Santa Claus,” one of the album’s strongest cuts and a personal favorite of mine. “Blue Christmas,” a full-on honky-tonker in Lynn’s hands, is also excellent.

The ballads don’t hit as hard. It may be the starkness she brings to “Away In A Manger,” “Silent Night” and “Oh, Come All Ye Faithful” that didn’t do it for me or the fact I’ve heard them so often, in so may different versions, their simple beauty has begun to wear thin. “’Twas The Night Before Christmas” was a complete surprise, a perfect way to end the album.

White Christmas Blue also boasts two original numbers. “Country Christmas” is a rerecording of the title track from the last album and Lynn hasn’t lost any of the spunk she brought to the original. The other, the title track, is a rather somber affair, which finds Lynn with everything she wants – except her honey:

It’s Christmas Eve and I’m still all alone

It’ll be Christmas day when you come home

Icicles hanging from the eves, snow is glistenin’ from the trees

My Christmas time with you is over due

 

You turn into my white Christmas blue

You turn into my white Christmas blue

I should be saying ho ho ho instead of bu bu bu

Oh Santa Claus would no want you to break my heart in two

You turn into my white Christmas blue

I cannot recommend this album enough.

Grade: A-

Christmas Album Review: Chris Young – ‘It Must Be Christmas’

it-must-be-christmasChris Young has arguably the best voice of any male country singer currently signed to a major label. It’s a shame that of late years his musical choices have been disappointing as he chases commercial success at the expense of artistry. Happily, while his new Christmas album isn’t particularly country, it leans in the direction of, well, traditional Christmas music, rather than the bro-country he has been led astray by before.

Chris’s warm baritone voice is perfectly showcased tenderly crooning ‘The Christmas Song’ and ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’. ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas’ shoots for the same territory, but I found it just a little dull.

The Phil Spector-penned (i.e. 60s pop) ‘Christmas Baby (Please Come Home)’ is cheery and Christmassy with an arrangement dominated by bells, and surprisingly enjoyable. Chris’s vocal commitment also lifts the lightweight ‘Holy Jolly Christmas’; this gets a brassy arrangement.

The outstanding moment comes with a gorgeous duet with Alan Jackson on the Keith Whitley Christmas classic ‘There’s A New Kid In Town’, which is just lovely. Brad Paisley guests on a nice sincere take on ‘The First Noel’. ‘Silent Night’ has one of the most beautiful melodies of any carol/Christmas tune, and is almost impossible to mess up. Chris sings it beautifully, with 90s R&B boyband Boyz II Men used sparingly to provide ethereal harmonies on the chorus. The end result is extremely effective.

There are two new songs, both co-written by Chris, but frankly neither is particularly memorable. ‘Under The Weather’ is quite a pleasant love song set at Christmas time, but the title track is chock full of clichés.

Production is mostly nicely understated, supporting Young’s excellent vocals. This is an excellent choice to play while entertaining your non-country loving family members this Christmas.

Grade: A

Christmas Rewind: Chris Young – ‘The Christmas Song’

Week ending 5/14/16: #1 singles this week in country music history

Charley-Pride_1981-21956 (Sales): Heartbreak Hotel/I Was The One — Elvis Presley (RCA)

1956 (Jukebox): Heartbreak Hotel/I Was The One — Elvis Presley (RCA)

1956 (Disc Jockeys): Heartbreak Hotel — Elvis Presley (RCA)

1966: I Want To Go With You — Eddy Arnold (RCA)

1976: My Eyes Can Only See as Far as You — Charley Pride (RCA)

1986: Grandpa (Tell Me ‘Bout the Good Old Days) — The Judds (RCA/Curb)

1996: You Win My Love — Shania Twain (Mercury)

2006: Who Says You Can’t Go Home — Bon Jovi with Jennifer Nettles (Island)

2016: Somewhere on a Beach — Dierks Bentley (Capitol)

2016 (Airplay): Think of You — Chris Young featuring Cassadee Pope (RCA)

Christmas Rewind: Chris Young – ‘Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)’

Week ending 12/12/15: #1 singles this week in country music history

images-81955 (Sales): Love, Love, Love/If You Were Me — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Jukebox): Love, Love, Love/If You Were Me — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Disc Jockeys): Love, Love, Love — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1965: Make the World Go Away — Eddy Arnold (RCA)

1975: Secret Love — Freddy Fender (ABC/Dot)

1985: I Don’t Mind the Thorns (If You’re the Rose) — Lee Greenwood (MCA)

1995: Tall, Tall Trees — Alan Jackson (Arista)

2005: Come a Little Closer — Dierks Bentley (Capitol)

2015: Die a Happy Man — Thomas Rhett (Valory)

2015 (Airplay): I’m Comin’ Over — Chris Young (RCA)

Week ending 12/5/15: #1 singles this week in country music history

1955 (Sales): Love, Love, Love/If You Were Me — Webb Pierce (Decca)

211955 (Jukebox): Love, Love, Love/If You Were Me — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Disc Jockeys): Love, Love, Love — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1965: Make the World Go Away — Eddy Arnold (RCA)

1975: It’s All in the Movies — Merle Haggard (Capitol)

1985: Too Much on My Heart — The Statler Brothers (Mercury)

1995: Check Yes or No — George Strait (MCA)

2005: Come a Little Closer — Dierks Bentley (Capitol)

2015: Die a Happy Man — Thomas Rhett (Valory)

2015 (Airplay): I’m Comin’ Over — Chris Young (RCA)

Occasional Hope’s top 10 singles of 2015

law 2015Country radio may be going from bad to worse with the arrival of the likes of the obviously non-country Sam Hunt, but there have been some superb singles released this year, particularly from female artists. A few of them have even made an impact on radio, proving there is still hope. Among the singles that just missed the cut for my top 10 were the charming first two singles from Kacey Musgraves’ second Mercury album – ‘Biscuits’ and ‘Dime Store Cowgirl’; Sunny Sweeney’s dead-marriage duet with Will Hoge, ‘My Bed’; and Chris Young’s sexy ‘I’m Comin’ Over’.

10. Jon Pardi – ‘Head Over Boots’
Sunny and catchy – this is country rock done exactly right. It’s currently working its way into the top 40.

9. Chris Stapleton‘Nobody To Blame’

Singer-songwriter Chris Stapleton’s unexpected triple victory at this year’s CMA Awards was the pleasantest surprise I’ve had at an awards ceremony in years. Showing why he deserved it, his November single release is an excellent song imbued with his bluesy soulful brand of country music.

burning house8. Cam – Burning House
I hear Camaron Ochs as more folky pop rather than a country singer at heart, but I’ve really liked her two 2015 singles, the upbeat ‘My Mistake’ (about embarking on a one night stand with no regrets), and the gentle melancholy of ‘Burning House’. The haunting melody makes this my favourite of the two, and for a change radio agrees with me, as this has proved to be her breakthrough, with the track at #11 on the country radio chart as of early November. Her debut album is due this month.

shut up and fish7. Maddie & Tae – ‘Shut Up And Fish’
An irresistibly catchy tune from the effervescent duo, which uses its comic trappings to dress up a serious message about sexual harassment.

6. Jason James‘I’ve Been Drinkin’ More’
Perhaps the most obscure of my top 10 singles is this solid barroom shuffle, which sounds like a forgotten county classic:

I’ve been drinkin’ more
Since you’ve been lovin’ me less

5. Jana Kramer – ‘I Got the Boy’
Disappointingly the album it heralded turned out to be otherwise terrible, but I still like Jana Kramer’s mature reflection on the passing of teenage romance, written by Connie Harrington, Tim Nichols and former child TV star Jamie Lynn Spears. Her vocal ability may not stand up to the other women who made my top 10 this year, but on this song at least, she has an appealing warmth. It was another genuine hit, and is still rising.

4. Trisha Yearwood‘I Remember You’
The second single from Trisha Yearwood’s 2014 mixture of hits and fine new songs, Prize Fighter, is an impeccable song, written by Canadians Kelly Archer, Ben Caver and Brad Rempel. My review said it was “as close to perfect as it gets”, and it is an exemplary example of understated subtlety in both the vocal and the production.

jamey johnson3. Jamey Johnson‘Alabama Pines’
Jamey Johnson has not been very forthcoming with new music even now that he has launched his own label. But he did share this single with us earlier this year, even initially allowing it to be downloaded free. A beautiful, steel laced melody, it looks back on his southern childhood and the dreams of a life in music who took him away.

the blade2. Ashley Monroe – ‘The Blade
For most of this year, the title track of Ashley’s latest album has been the song I’ve returned to over and over again. When I reviewed that set I called this a truly outstanding song, and my feelings have not changed. Written by Marc Beeson, Jamie Floyd and Allen Shamblin, produced by Vince Gill and Justin Niebank, and sung by the delicately vulnerable Ashley Monroe, this is a beautiful depiction of the pain of love which lasts longer on one side than the other:

That’s the risk you run when you love
When you love and you give it all you’ve got to give
Knowing all along there’s a chance
There’s a chance you’ll reach and they won’t
You’ll bleed and they don’t
For you, it’s over; for me, it’s not
I kept tryin’ and you just stopped
Now I know how you can sound so brave
Cause you caught it by the handle, baby
And I caught it by the blade

It wasn’t a hit of course – it was far too good for country radio: too country, too subtle, and too female.

1. Lee Ann Womack‘Chances Are’
I thought Ashley Monroe’s single was going to make #1 on my list until I heard late in October that Lee Ann Womack had issued the best song on her critically acclaimed 2014 album The Way I’m Livin’ as its third single. A world-wearied and desperately lonely soul still has hope for love and happiness:

Chances are I took the wrong turn
Every time I had a turn to take
And I guess I broke my own heart
Every chance I had a heart to break
And it seems I spent my whole life
Wishin’ on the same unlucky star
As I watch you ‘cross the barroom, I wonder
What my chances are

Well, I know you’ve been around
And you’ve seen what you needed to see
And at night when you’re dreamin’
You’re probably not dreamin’ ‘bout me
Oh, it’s safe to say I’ve stumbled
But I’ve managed to make it through this far
As I take one step and then another
I wonder what my chances are

I have watched the world go by
Hand in hand and wondered why
I’m still so alone
Could I lay down my foolish pride
Maybe finally find my heart a home

The band has started playing
A simple song I used to know
I take your hand and walk you out
Dance to the rhythm way down low
Every heart has got a story
Mine just has a few scars
But they could heal if you would hold me and tell me
What my chances are
Well, they could heal if you would hold me and tell me
What my chances are

I first heard this excellent song sung by its writer Hayes Carll a few years ago, but LAW’s version of this excellent Hayes Carll song is quite exquisitely beautiful: beautifully sung and interpreted like a masterclass in country music, and tastefully produced with lovely steel guitar dominating the mix. Her unexpected but well deserved nomination as the CMA’s Female Vocalist of the Year probably won’t gain her airplay for this stunning record, but it’s unmissable.

Week ending 11/28/15: #1 singles this week in country music history

dicky11955 (Sales): Love, Love, Love/If You Were Me — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Jukebox): Love, Love, Love/If You Were Me — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Disc Jockeys): Love, Love, Love — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1965: May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose — Little Jimmy Dickens (Columbia)

1975: Rocky — Dickey Lee (RCA)

1985: I’ll Never Stop Loving You — Gary Morris (Warner Bros.)

1995: Check Yes or No — George Strait (MCA)

2005: Better Life — Keith Urban (Capitol)

2015: Tennessee Whiskey — Chris Stapleton (Mercury)

2015 (Airplay): I’m Comin’ Over — Chris Young (RCA)

Album Review: Chris Young – ‘I’m Comin’ Over’

im comin overThere are artists in today’s country whose music I unequivocally loathe. But in most cases, they’re people I didn’t have any particular expectations for. It’s much more painful to listen to a bad record put out by someone you know is capable of so much better – rather like the difference between a bad first date, and the betrayal of finding your spouse of many years is cheating on you. Sadly, that’s how I felt about Chris Young after his last album saw him shifting to the dark side of loud, unsubtle bro-country. Although his first few albums didn’t have consistently strong enough material, his excellent voice and traditional leanings meant I had great hopes for him. I was cautiously encouraged by his latest single, the title track to his new album, which Young produced, and mostly co-wrote, with Carey Crowder. (Link to review). Unfortunately, this song is not wholly representative of an album which is a real mixed bag, but there is a reasonable amount of worthwhile music.

One of the best songs is the one cut which neither Young nor Crowder had a hand in: ‘I Know A Guy’, written by Benjy Davis and Brett Tyler. It opens compellingly, with the protagonist offering assistance to a woman in trouble, before he launches into an impassioned chorus revealing himself as the man being left, and desperate for one last chance. The slow, measured verses work better than the chorus, which is rattled out and lacks melody, but overall this is a strong track.

Young teamed up with the songwriting brothers Brad and Brett Warren to write the excellent ‘Sober Saturday Night’, which features Vince Gill’s harmony and electric guitar. A somber ballad about the misery of a Sunday morning without his ex, which hurts worse than any hangover in times past. This is perhaps the best song on the album.

The last of the songs really worth hearing on this album is ‘What If I Stay’, written by Young with Josh Hoge and Johnny Bulford, a seductive ballad right in Young’s wheelhouse.

‘Callin’ My Name’, written by Young with Crowder and Jonathan Singleton, isn’t bad, either, with a pleasant melody, although it’s a bit fillerish. ‘You Do The Talkin’’, written by Crowder with Liz Rose and Cary Barlowe, is also okay but a bit bland. ‘Alone Tonight’, one of the many songs on the album written by the writing collaboration of Young, Hoge and Crowder, isn’t a bad song, but the insensitive echoey production kills it. ‘Sunshine Overtime’ is an inoffensive beach song.

On the negative side of the balance, the trio’s ‘Heartbeat’ and the football-themed ‘Underdogs’ are horrible – repetitive, monotonous and overly processed. ‘Think Of You’ is a deathly dull and characterless duet with Cassadee Pope, a mediocre pop singer currently masquerading as a country artist following her run on The Voice.

I get the impression that Chris Young is trying to balance the demands of commercial success with songs of more substance and quality, but he hasn’t quite got that balance right here. ( I also have to say that the cover picture is not very flattering, and is calling out for a Farce The Music treatment.)

Grade: B

Single Review: Mo Pitney – ‘Boy and a Girl Thing’

Mo-PitneyEarlier this month when I reviewed William Michael Morgan’s “I Met a Girl”, I called it a small step in the right direction, but felt it fell short of greatness and that it wouldn’t have been particularly memorable had it been released in an era when the quality of mainstream country was somewhat higher. My initial reaction to Mo Pitney’s “Boy and a Girl Thing” was somewhat similar. It’s a lot better than most of the current fare on the radio but nothing to get terribly excited about. Although it is a pleasant listen, the production is somewhat generic. It’s reminiscent of some of George Strait’s later work; the fact that it was produced by Tony Brown might have something to do with that. There are some vocal similarities to Strait, and a few years ago I might have been excited about that. But a few years ago I was excited about Corbin Easton and Chris Young and look how they turned out.

“Boy and a Girl Thing” is a pleasant change from the usual fare, though — there are no obnoxious electric guitar riffs and the lyrics actually tell a story and don’t insult the listener’s intelligence. The production has a bluesy feel to it, which doesn’t feel quite right. I stumbled upon an acoustic version on YouTube that I liked a lot better.

In the end, Pitney is an artist that deserves to be supported, so I hope this record does well. Unfortunately he is signed to Curb so getting new music released on a regular basis may prove to be a problem.

Grade: B

Single Review: Chris Young – ‘I’m Comin’ Over’

i'm comin' overI was very disappointed with Chris Young’s last album as, with the exception of a couple of tracks, the demands of commercial relevance seemed to have pushed out artistic considerations. I am encouraged to find his new single is a return to something significantly better (if not his very best work).

It is a nice sounding tune with an attractive melody, and the production is tastefully understated. It’s not super-traditional, but there is audible steel guitar and the instrumentation generally serves as backdrop to the vocal.

Young’s warm, inviting vocal is always appealing, and he is convincing selling this tale of love that just won’t die even though it doesn’t quite work as a relationship. They may have broken up, but when she calls late at night he rushes over to her place.

In some ways reminiscent of Lady Antebellum’s monster hit ‘Need You Now’, both melodically and lyrically, it lacks the latter’s undercurrent of regret or sense that it is a one-time only deal born out of desperation and loneliness. This one is a pattern which doesn’t look like ending any time soon, and Chris doesn’t sound at all sorry about it. Nor is there any alcohol involved – just as well when he’s driving to see his lover. Maybe the untold story is that it is the girl who is ambivalent about the relationship, as he asks her, or himself, the rhetorical question,

Why put out a fire when it’s still burnin’?

He wrote the song himself along with Corey Crowder (who also produced) and Josh Hoge, and it is neatly constructed and believable. We could do with a lot more like this on country radio and I hope it does well for Chris.

Grade: B+

Christmas Rewind: Chris Young – ‘New Kid In Town’