My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Colbie Caillat

Album Review: Trace Adkins – ‘Love Will’

lovewillI never know what to expect from Trace Adkins these days. I’m hard pressed to think of another example of such a talented vocalist whose musical output is so wildly inconsistent. Love Will, his latest effort, while not quite a return to his traditional roots, at least avoids obnoxious songs in the vein of “Chrome”, “Hillbilly Bone” and the infamous “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk”.

He teams up with a variety of producers this time around: Frank Rogers, Mark Wright, Tony Brown, Mickey Jack Cones and Kenny Beard, most of whom he has worked with in the past, and for the most part the results are quite good. The opening track “When I Stop Loving You”, is a catchy number that would be a good choice for a late summer single. It was written by Even Stevens and Marty Brown, who had a brief recording stint with MCA in the early 90s.

Things move in a decidedly more pop direction beginning with the second track “So What If I Do”, which may very well be the first Trace Adkins recording to ever feature a saxophone. “Come See Me”, written by Kenny Beard and Exile members J.P. Pennington and Sonny LaMaire. This song sets the stage for a cover of an Exile song, on which some of the band members appear as guest artists (more on this a little later). I actually didn’t mind the pop leaning songs up to this point, but by the time we get to the overproduced “Altar of Your Love”, the only Adkins co-write on the album, it begins to wear a little thin. And then there’s the cover of “Kiss You All Over”, which was a #1 pop hit for Exile in 1978, which sounds very much like a product of the era in which it originated. Its inclusion on the album seems pointless: Exile spends as much (or perhaps more) time singing as Adkins, and if he had to cover an Exile song, there are much better ones to choose from than this.

Fortunately, things improve dramatically after this. “If The Sun Comes Up” is an excellent number that sounds like vintage Adkins. “Say No To A Woman” is a more respectful look at the fairer sex than some other songs in Trace’s catalog. The current single “Watch The World End”, a duet with pop-singer Colbie Caillat is enjoyable, although the string section is somewhat intrusive. Likewise, I could have done without the strings and choir on the Chris Stapleton and Tim James-penned title track, which closes out the album.

Love Will is more pop-leaning than most of Trace’s other albums, which may be an attempt to remain relevant at country radio. It is however, a more mature sound for him, and the absence of tasteless and sexist redneck anthems is a most welcome change.

Grade: B

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Album Review – Jerrod Niemann – ‘Free The Music’

Since debuting with Judge Jerrod and the Hung Jury in 2010, Jerrod Niemann has rightfully earned his reputation as one of the genre’s strongest mainstream assets, someone who respects tradition but is modern enough to exist in the current marketplace. I loved his 2010 top 5 “What Do You Want From Me” so much, I couldn’t wait to dig in and see what Free The Music had in store.

For someone who counts themselves among Lefty Frizzell’s biggest fans and openly admits to studying the history of country music back to the 1920s, I was taken aback at Niemann’s desire to push the limits with his new album Free The Music. The inclusion of R&B and Hip-Hop accents seems to go against his personal mantra and makes it difficult to believe his stance that he wants to be known as a country singer through and through.

At its best, Free The Music is somewhat of a feel good album, as shown with the fabulous lead single “Shinin’ On Me.” But even though Niemann wants to party and have a good time, it’s always with purpose, like mending a broken heart. He exemplifies this best on “I’ll Have To Kill The Pain,” a horn heavy standout highlighting his every guy persona. The same is true for “It Won’t Matter Anymore” a lyrically amusing ode to letting go of taxing jobs and bad relationships in favor of kicking back on the beach. Both are excellent earworms showcasing Niemann’s lighter side, one of his stronger qualities as an artist, while the former begs to be released as a single.

Niemann only gets trendy once on Free The Music and it comes courtesy of his co-write with Houston Phillips, “Real Women Drink Beer.” The market for beer centric tunes is overly saturated, while references to “denim on the rear” are a dime a dozen. But he manages to infuse the track with a Dwight Yoakam-like vocal sensibility and strict country arrangement that is actually endearing. In much the same way, it’s his vocal that rescues the jazzy “Honky Tonk Fever.” What could’ve been very cheesy is at least made interesting by his inflections and the way he uses his voice to play with the listener. Niemann and co-producer Dave Brainard do a wonderful job of utilizing the piano as well, using it to underscore the melodies and move each track along nicely.

Another standout is the brilliant yet sonically progressive tour de force “Guessing Games,” a break up ballad where Niemann channels “Wicked Games” era Chris Isaak. The track is one of my favorites and easily the strongest lyric (Neimann co-wrote it with J.R. McCoy) on the album. I wish I could say the same for the soft rockish “Only God Could Love You More,” a fan favorite. The lyric and vocal are fine, but Niemann downplays the country elements of the track a bit too much for my taste. A better love song is “All About You” is duet with Colbie Caillat that gets the romanticism right despite falling into cliché territory with the coral line “It’s all about the way/You kiss me baby.” Like Jason Aldean and Kelly Clarkson’s duet, Niemann and Caillat’s voices blend well together on a much subtler song.

The title track, more hip-hop than anything else, falls victim to similar non-country trappings although I do really like the chorus. It’s a cool sounding song, and I sort of understand his message about freeing music from constrictions, but overall it just doesn’t come together for me. I do love the last line – “If you’re sitting alone with a bottle of jack/listening for traditions skip to the next track.” That he understands, and even addresses the lack of country music on the song proves he understands balance, which is more than can be said for many of his peers. He’s also outside the country realm with “Get On Up,” but the cool funky vibe saves it from obscurity.

The traditional song he references on the title track is the excellent “Whiskey Kinda Way,” the purest country song on the album. A 90s country throwback (but with horns in place of steel guitar), it’s one of the strongest mainstream lyrics released all year. I wish “Fraction of a Man” Niemann’s self penned introspective closing track was much the same, but I can’t get passed the song’s jarring structure and enjoy the lyric underneath.

But more than the songs themselves, it’s the inclusion of horns that’s going to make Free The Music polarizing to the listener hoping for more steel in the mix. They don’t bother me, as they help much more than hinder the overall sound of the album. At its best, Free The Music is a strong album ripe with interestingly crafted and complete songs. Niemann may push the boundaries of tradition, but he does it in a way that’s not only cool but also thoroughly enjoyable.

Grade: A – 

Our Grammy predictions

The 52nd annual Grammy Awards show airs January 31, 2010 at 8 p.m. on CBS.

Earlier we told you who we’d each like to see winning in the country categories this year. Now it’s time to go out on a limb and say who we expect to win. We didn’t do very well last time, due to collectively underestimating the CMA voters’ enthrallment to commercial success.

Best Male Country Vocal Performance
Trace Adkins – ‘All I Ask For Anymore’: Chris
Billy Currington – ‘People Are Crazy’
Jamey Johnson – ‘High Cost Of Living’: Jordan Stacey, Occasional Hope, Razor X
George Strait – ‘Living For The Night’: J.R. Journey
Keith Urban – ‘Sweet Thing’

Jordan: The Grammys always go for this type of song: critically acclaimed, sold a lot of albums, and has been listed in best of lists all year. The Grammy’s won’t ignore Jamey Johnson.
Razor: While I like the Trace Adkins song very much, I think the award for Male Vocal Performance will – and should – go to Jamey Johnson. It received a tepid response from country radio, but the Grammy’s are somewhat less inhibited and Puritanical in their selections. This was a true highlight of 2009, and I expect that the Grammy voters will recognize that and reward the song appropriately.
OH: See my comments below on Song. I believe Jamey will win at least one of these categories, but possibly not both.
J.R.: Strait is long overdue for a string of trophies from the Grammy’s. His first-ever statuette came from the NARAS last year in the Best Country Album race, and I think he’ll add to his collection this year.

Best Female Country Vocal Performance
Miranda Lambert – ‘Dead Flowers’
Martina McBride – ‘I Just Call You Mine’
Taylor Swift – ‘White Horse’: J.R. Journey, Occasional Hope
Carrie Underwood – ‘Just A Dream’: Chris, Jordan Stacey, Razor X
Lee Ann Womack – ‘Solitary Thinkin”

Razor: ‘Just A Dream’ and ‘White Horse’ are the only two songs in this category that can legitimately be called hits. It would be a further travesty for Taylor Swift to win over Carrie in a vocal performance categeory. The Grammy’s are more prone than the CMAs or ACMs to reward artistry over commercial success. While ‘Just A Dream’ is no artistic masterpiece, Carrie is hands down the superior vocalist.
OH: The Grammy voters don’t always care if something’s a hit, but nothing here is sufficiently artistically compelling to win on that account. I agree it’s between Taylor and Carrie, and travesty or not, I think Taylor will carry it on her current awards and commercial momentum.
J.R.: Taylor is white hot right now, pardon the pun. Grammy voters have traditionally either went for tracks that make strong artistic statements or the flavor of the day. This year, with nothing really standing out from the pack as brilliant in this category, I think name-recognition will swing it for Swift.
Jordan: They seem to like Carrie, and it’s a much stronger song than ‘Last Name, so she will probably walk away with this one.

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2009 album recommendations, album previews

2009 has been interesting, a crappy year for mainstream country music overall, but I would say a good year for other genres. Since the year is 75% over, I just wanted to share some of my picks from the year so far (inside country music and out) and a look at a few upcoming albums. Note: these are albums I’ve been enjoying, some may not appeal to you guys, but these albums have been played heavily by me. I also didn’t include albums I’ve reviewed, but most of those are still played a lot by me… Here are some recommendations from 2009 so far:

the long way home terri clarkThe Long Way Home by Terri Clark -Her indie debut reminds me of Fearless, only better. There are some really great tracks hidden in here- it’s a shame it won’t be heard by almost everyone. Favorite Track: “A Million Ways To Run” -This song is a look into the mind of someone at what seems to be an AA meeting- and it sounds real, not contrived.

mi planMi Plan by Nelly Furtado -She got me into Spanish music, and this album has some gorgeous cuts with great guests. Favorite track: “Bajo Otra Luz” which features Julieta Venegas & La Mala Rodriguez -This song has a great beat while the lyrics tell of how one sees their life “under another light” after their ex leaves them.

live-on-insideLive On The Inside by Sugarland -Cool live album that proves Jennifer sounds as good, if not better live. Favorite track: “Circle” -This cover just sound like it was made to be covered by Sugarland, it’s got energy and sounds great with the mandolin in the background. Jennifer’s voice just soars, while staying restrained, not to mention you can’t even tell it’s live.

breakthrough colbie caillatBreakthrough by Colbie Caillat -She’s not deep, but this album is very pleasant and good after a long day of classes. Her voice is pleasant and the songs are fun and she never really tries to be more than that. Favorite track: “Begin Again” -A catchy chorus with great acoustic-pop instrumentation makes for a very enjoyable song.

twangTwang by George Strait -Solid, as usual, but better than Troubadour by far. It’s definitely a George Strait album! Favorite Track: “Beautiful Day For Goodbye” -A man laments how nice the weather is while his lover leaves, definitely a heartbreaker akin to “Living For The Night”. I personally prefer “Living”, but I didn’t want to recommend the first single!

destination_lifeDestination Life by Rhonda Vincent -She’s so talented, and this album just sounds awesome. It’s very fresh and all of the players are just amazing. Favorite track: “Stop The World (And Let Me Off)” -This oft-covered song has a great flamenco feel mixed with bluegrass instruments, a true treat that I wasn’t expecting from Rhonda Vincent.

middle cyclone neko caseMiddle Cyclone by Neko Case -She’s different, but this album is a little more straightforward with lyrics that are easier to get. Honestly, I wish I had bought tickets to see her in New York City, but I didn’t quite get too… Lame. Favorite track: “This Tornado Loves You” -This opener has some cool opening guitar work that segues into lyrics comparing the narrator to a tornado that loves… or is she really a tornado?

Here are some upcoming albums that I’m looking forward to:

mountain soul iiMountain Soul II by Patty Loveless -Honestly, I’ve already heard it, and it’s really good. I like it better than Mountain Soul, but that’s my personal opinion, and I bet most people will disagree with me on that point. My favorite track right now is “Diamond And The Crown” which features Emmylou Harris on harmonies. (September 29th)

revolution miranda lambertRevolution by Miranda Lambert -I love the first two singles, and 15 tracks is like one-and-a-half times Crazy Ex-Girlfriend! I’ve heard the album has some really good songs, and I recommend Wal-Mart’s soundcheck performances where she performs a few of the new songs. Hopefully the fact that it’s loud doesn’t bug me, but I don’t think it will. (September 29th)

memoirs of an imperfect angel mariah careyMemoirs Of An Imperfect Angel by Mariah Carey -The lead single “Obsessed” had strange autotune, but the second single is a cover of “I Want To Know What Love Is” and is pure ballady goodness with gorgeous vocals, something Mariah Carey does well.I liked her past two albums, so I think I’ll like this one too. (September 29th)

Shakira_She_Wolf_2009She Wolf by Shakira -Yeah, I know, “WHAT?” This album is supposed to be like electro dance-pop with asian influences- whatever that means, but if it’s all like “She Wolf”, I’ll love it. I love the title track, and sometimes I get in the mood to dance, and this album seems like it’ll be too much fun. I think I just like it when someone howls in the middle of a song… (October 5th)

play on carrie underwoodPlay On by Carrie Underwood -I’m the rare one that likes “Cowboy Casanova”, but I’m hoping this album will be much better than Carnival Ride, but I’m not keeping my hopes up. I think everyone’s hoping for an album of “I Told You So”s, but I bet when it comes out her anti-fans will be the ones saying “I told you so…” (November 3rd)

Sugarland Gold And GreenGold And Green by Sugarland -Being the massive Sugarland fan I am, I found out they were making a Christmas album, and I was actually excited- something a Christmas album never does for me. It includes the five Christmas songs that were included on the Wal-Mart re-release of Enjoy The Ride, plus five new songs written by the duo. Two Sugarland albums in two months? I’ll take that. (October 13th)

As-of yet untitled… by Alicia Keys -The first single, “Doesn’t Mean Anything” (Listen to it here) is really great, very meaningful and gorgeous- it bodes well for this project. (Winter 2009)

As-of yet untitled… by Gary Allan -I like him and his voice, although I disliked Living Hard, we’ll see about this one. (2009)

So what about you guys? Favorites of 2009 so far? Upcoming ones that you’re ready for?