My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Dave Barnes

Album Review: Blake Shelton – ‘Red River Blue’

redriverblue2011’s Red River Blue marked Blake Shelton’s return to the full-length album format, following a pair of “Six Pak” EPs that were released the year before. Like Hillbilly Bone and All About Tonight, Red River Blue was produced by Scott Hendricks. It is more pop-leaning than his earlier work under Bobby Braddock’s guidance, but it has also been far more successful commercially. Shelton’s record sales have likely enjoyed a boost due to the exposure he has enjoyed as a judge on NBC’s The Voice.

The album’s first single was “Honey Bee”, which was written by Rhett Akins and Ben Hayslip. It’s lyrically fluffy and not terribly country, despite name-checking Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn, but nevertheless it’s a catchy, fun tune. It quickly shot to #1 and sold more than two million digital downloads. The second single is a cover version of “God Gave Me You”, which was written and originally recorded by contemporary Christian singer Dave Barnes. I like the song and Blake’s vocal performance, but Scott Hendricks’ production is borderline-bombastic, though one could argue it is restrained in comparison to some of the other songs on the album. It too reached the #1 spot, as did the two subsequent singles “Drink On It” and “Over.” “Drink On It” is a little closer in style to Blake’s earlier work, though the production is a bit too slick for my liking. “Over”, however, crosses the line with overwrought production on the chorus, which is a shame because the song itself is not bad and would have benefited from a more understated arrangement. Heavy-handed production similarly mars an otherwise very good cover of Dan Seals’ “Addicted”, which is one of two bonus tracks on the deluxe version of the album.

As one might glean from the title, “Good Ole Boys” is the most country-sounding track on the album, with a beat that is reminiscent of Waylon Jennings. It laments the disappearance of the good ol’ boy and is one of the best tracks on the album, though I could have lived without the gratuitous reference to feminine hygiene products in the song’s final twenty seconds. Also quite enjoyable is the ballad “I’m Sorry” which features a guest harmony vocal performance by Martina McBride. The title track, on which Blake is joined by Miranda Lambert is one of the quieter tunes on the album. It is one of the album’s highlights and it concludes the main setlist. The deluxe version of the album contains two bonus tracks, the disposable “Chill” and the aforementioned “Addicted”. There is only one track on the album that I dislike: the grating “Hey” with its dumbed-down lyrics and irritating beat.

Red River Blue
isn’t Blake Shelton’s very best work but it does have its good moments and it is a lot better than most of what is on the country charts these days. Admittedly, that is setting the bar low, but the album is worth seeking out.

Grade: B

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2012 CMA Awards: our predictions

The 46th annual Country Music Association annual awards ceremony will take place on November 1, 2012 at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena. The show will air live on ABC television again this year and is presented by the pairing of Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood, who will take over hosting duties for the fifth consecutive year. Eric Church and his massive hit “Springsteen” lead the list of nominees, with Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton close behind him.

On awards night, look for a musical tribute to Willie Nelson and The Band Perry to debut the first taste of their Rick Rubin produced sophomore album. There’s also talk that Female Vocalist nominee Kelly Clarkson will debut “Don’t Rush” on the telecast, a duet with Vince Gill featured from her Greatest Hits, Chapter One album in stores Nov. 19. Also look forward to a duet from Tim McGraw and Faith Hill (which I’ve heard is during the Nelson tribute), and solo performances from each.

Entertainer of the Year

Jason Aldean
Kenny Chesney
Brad Paisley
Blake Shelton
Taylor Swift – Jonathan Pappalardo, J.R. Journey

The usual solid yet unspectacular group. Carrie Underwood fans are likely fuming at yet another snub, while everyone else will bark at the inclusion of Swift, a two-time winner and the incumbent, for her increasing lack of country credibility. But Aldean is the nominee to watch, as his recent stadium tour announcement will likely endear him to voters in the years to come.

Jonathan Pappalardo: I’ll bet on the safest choice this time around and say Taylor Swift is going to win. Chesney may have had the biggest tour, and Aldean is on fire right now, but Swift has the lock on this category.

J.R. Journey: Taylor Swift now not only represents about one-fourth of the total United States GDP, she also hawks makeup, perfume, and shoes on the side. And she just had the #1 song in 12 countries. I say Swift is most likely to succeed on CMA night.

Female Vocalist of the Year

Kelly Clarkson
Miranda Lambert – Jonathan Pappalardo
Martina McBride
Taylor Swift – J.R. Journey
Carrie Underwood

Kelly Clarkson, really? She did score a #21 hit with the country version of “Mr. Know It All” so her nomination is somewhat, albeit very marginally, justified. She has yet to fully embrace a career in country music. McBride is a snoozer scoring her 14th consecutive nomination and 15th overall as her career takes a downward spiral. See, this is what happens when all the great female artists of late (Kimberly Perry, Jennifer Nettles, Shawna Thompson) are members of duos and groups.

Jonathan Pappalardo: While I’d love to see this award go to Clarkson (to tick off the industry if nothing else), she’s a pop singer who’s done a bang up job covering country songs in concert. That’s about it. Miranda Lambert, meanwhile, is the biggest star in country music right now that actually looks and sounds country. And her intuition to form the Pistol Annies proves she’s not afraid to take creative risks. Its her award to lose, and I don’t foresee that happening.

J.R. Journey: Taylor Swift is the likely winner here for pretty much the same reasons she’ll win Entertainer of the year. Miranda Lambert’s new solo music is way below her usual standards this year and I think Carrie Underwood’s dog already had its day in this category, so I don’t see voters leaning toward either of them. 

Male Vocalist of the Year

Jason Aldean
Luke Bryan
Eric Church
Blake Shelton – Jonathan Pappalardo, J.R. Journey
Keith Urban

Another somewhat standard list until you take into account Urban is here in place of red-hot Dierks Bentley. Bentley’s exclusion, which comes on the heels of three back-to-back #1 hits is shocking. Urban should be joining Brad Paisley and been made to sit this one out this year.

Jonathan Pappalardo:  There’s seemingly no stopping Blake Shelton right now despite one mediocre single after another. He’s the biggest star here next to Jason Aldean and the all around better vocalist. He’ll sail to his third straight win no problem.

J.R. Journey: Blake Shelton is coming off two consecutive wins here and his visibility remains higher than Aldean’s, the next closest competitor. Long shots for the win Luke Bryan and Eric Church are still newcomers and first time nominees leaving Keith Urban the longest shot “veteran” slot. For my money, Shelton will repeat a third time here.

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New singles roundup: Swift, Flatts & Bedingfield, Shelton

Taylor Swift – “Sparks Fly”   Listen.

When most of us were still clumsy, horomonal teenagers, our high school English teachers drilled Mark Twain’s old adage “write what you know” into our heads as if the statement held some great truth, and Taylor Swift has certainly given the questionably sage advice new credibility with her music. After all, who knows more about the thunder and lightning in your head as physical attraction causes an ebb and flow of emotions than a 21 year-old woman, fresh from her teens and with enough life experience to recognize it as it’s happening? “Sparks Fly” isn’t propelled by an original idea like the singer’s recent singles – dropping everything for the passion of a sweet embrace is perhaps pop and country music’s most popular go-to place right now – but will stand up with the heavier-hitters in Swift’s catalog because the songwriter’s vocabulary has evolved to speak to her target audience instinctively. She’s singng about engaging green-eyed boys and fantasies of kissing in the pouring rain, being carried up the stairs, and so on. Add to that the engaging Swiftian melody, some really clever lines – “something that’ll haunt me even when you’re not around” is a personal favorite – and the stop and start production, where the electric guitar pounds as hard as the drums, and you’ve got a ready-made chart-topper. Even with lighter fare such as this, Swift demonstrates why she’s got the corner on the country-light market right now.

Grade: B+

Rascal Flatts featuring Natasha Bedingfield – “Easy”   Listen.

Another season, another country star/pop star collaboration for the radio playlists.  This time out, it’s Rascal Flatts teaming with British dance/pop hit-maker Natasha Bedingfield.  Katrina Elam and Mike Mobley’s lyrics offer a telling glimpse into the awkwardness two ex-lovers experience trying to keep their cool in a crowd of Friday night revelers.  It’s got more substance than “Don’t You Wanna Stay”, for instance, but to their credits, Aldean and Clarkson had the horse sense to limit their showboating to a realized final crescendo.  Here, LeVox and Bedingfield do a disservice to the true-to-life lyrics with their “I’m so deep, complex, and heartbroken this is the only way I can express myself” approach to performing the song. The pounding production tricks that work to punctuate the lyrics in the chorus do nothing more than ratchet up the pretentiousness of the affair by two, as swells of screaming electric guitars and an electronic drum machine frame the vocal antics.  They seem to have been going for over-the-top schmaltz, and they’ve accomplished that, but in the end, “Easy” comes off as “Picture” with an emo-sensibility.

Grade: D+

Blake Shelton – “God Gave Me You”   Listen.

The first four lines to the CMA Male Vocalist of the Year’s latest single don’t signal a big love song is soon to come.  Those bits of self-realized honesty do serve to characterize the narrator, however, and lend an air of believability (not to mention leniency) to coming statements like “You’ll always be love’s great martyr/I’ll be the flattered fool/And I need you“.  Contemporary Christian artist Dave Barnes had a 2009 hit on the Adult and triple C charts with the song.  Shelton has injected his best matter-of-fact country boy vocal into the song, overcoming the smashing electric guitars and electric piano that lead the song.  “God Gave Me You” is a better offering from the singer than his previous four consecutive chart-topping singles, and will earn its eventual place at the top.

Grade: B