My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Diane Warren

EP Review: LeAnn Rimes – ‘Re-Imagined’

While the craze of mainstream country stars collaborating with mainstream pop acts has garnered major attention, and rightfully so, another trend has been making waves but leaving far too little a wake. In August 2016, Suzy Bogguss released Aces Redux, a complete re-recording of her classic album in the lush acoustic style she favored in recent years. Dixie Chicks completely overhauled the arrangements on their songs for their MMXVI tour and companion concert album. Mary Chapin Carpenter reexamined parts of her back catalog on Sometimes Just The Sky this past March. Rodney Crowell has Acoustic Classics coming out the middle of next month.

Artists re-recording their hits have been going on since the beginning of recorded music. A recent cause for this is a little-known fact that when artists switch record labels, they don’t get to take the masters and rights to their discography with them. In other words, the artists entire back catalog is the sole property of their former home, especially if it was a major label.

Those re-recorded songs are typically sung as facsimiles of the original hit recording with the hopes a gullible music buying public won’t be able to tell the difference. Very often it’s those re-recordings that make their way onto digital platforms, especially if the artist’s original music hasn’t been licensed by their record label for release in that format.

What’s going on here is entirely different and completely by choice. These albums aren’t merely gimmicky cash grabs but thoughtful reexaminations of songs, and in this case of Rodney Crowell different songs entirely. For his new album, he completely re-wrote “Shame On The Moon.” He felt his original composition, which was a massive hit for Bob Seger and The Silver Bullet Band in 1982, wasn’t composed with the depth and complexity he would bring to the song today.

In the case of LeAnn Rimes and her new five-track EP Re-Imagined, she reworked these songs for her Remnants tour last year and decided to commit them to record. Although I’ve been somewhat of a rabid fan of her music since the very beginning, I haven’t been paying too much attention to her lately. This release broke the short drought, which I’m also sure it was intended to do.  

She opens the collection with “How Do I Live.” Her original version, from 1997, is still one of the cleanest and most masterful pop records I’ve ever heard. She transforms Diane Warren’s lyric into a piano ballad, which might work for some people, but it didn’t work for me. I really don’t care for Rimes in this style, which always comes off heavy, slow and prodding.

I had actually forgotten what the original version of “Can’t Fight The Moonlight” sounded like, the one featured on the Coyote Ugly soundtrack in 2000. Listening to it again, it’s clearly influenced by Britney Spears’ debut from a year earlier. I’m more familiar with the dance remix, which worked on an international scale as I’m sure Curb intended at the time. This new version, taken live from a concert, has more in common with the remix but features actually instrumentation.

Rimes’ original version of “Blue,” from 1996, is arguably still the greatest record she’s ever made. She gave it new life, in collaboration with The Time Jumpers, on Lady & Gentlemen in 2011. For this version, also taken live from a concert, she goes full-on jazz but doesn’t sacrifice the trademark yodel or the song’s traditional country roots.

The revelation, as far as her hit records are concerned, is “One Way Ticket (Because I Can).” Rimes gives the song a gorgeously soft acoustic arrangement stripping the song of any smoke and mirrors. It’s truly impressive what she does with the song, alone, without backup singers to give her a lift. Rimes still has it more than 22 years later.

The final track is one of the two songs from Spitfire that elude to the cheating scandal that soured her reputation with the public and ended her first marriage. “Borrowed” was originally produced by Rimes’ long-time collaborator Darrell Brown, who also oversaw this EP. The track was already in this style so nothing about the arrangement really changed.

However, this version is a duet with Stevie Nicks. Rimes and Nicks harmonize throughout the song, which is a mistake given the lyrical content. I’m also a huge fan of Nicks and Fleetwood Mac, so I’m saying this with love, but Nicks’ voice isn’t what it used to be but either is Don Henley’s. The age on Nicks’ rasp, which is far too low now, is just unappealing.

The majority of this EP feels utterly unnecessary and in place of new music, not really worth much of anyone’s time. Rimes’ voice has changed, too, which she claimed in a 2013 lawsuit was the result of botched dental work. She still has incredible range, which I noted when I reviewed “How To Kiss A Boy” in November 2016, but the clarity is gone.

I still recommend checking it out, especially if you’re a fan of Rimes’ work, to hear this new addition to her musical legacy.

Grade: B+

Album Review – Travis Tritt – ‘The Storm’

TrittstormTravis Tritt’s most recent album was released in 2007 for independent label Category 5 Records. Co-produced with American Idol judge (and former Journey guitarist) Randy Jackson, the project debuted at #3 on the country album’s chart, his highest debut in more than thirteen years.

Pop singer/songwriter Richard Marx (who has also collaborated with Keith Urban) wrote the album’s lead single, and best known cut, “You Never Take Me Dancing.” Tritt pairs the tune with the oddly intoxicating “Mudcat Moan prelude” which has little to do with the song, but shows off his scatting abilities quite nicely. Despite the strong vocal, the track does nothing for me and is an unapologetic departure for Tritt. I cannot get past the drum machine and non-commercial vibe. It’s more than a miracle the song made it as high as #27.

Second single “The Pressure Is On,” a cover of the Hank Williams Jr song, didn’t even chart and with Tritt’s throaty southern rock vocal, that’s not surprising. He sings it well enough, but I cannot get into it at all, and at more than five minutes in length, it seems to just drag on and on.

Jackson and Tritt included two other covers in the set and sadly, both are more of the same. “Should’ve Listened,” written by the members of Canadian rockers Nickelback, boasts a nice country lyric but could’ve benefited greatly from an arrangement that’s more traditional. Same goes for Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s “Somehow, Somewhere, Someday” which lays the electric guitars on obnoxiously thick. Both songs are a mess, and far below Tritt’s usual standard.

Pop songwriter Diane Warren also contributes two cuts to the project. I’ve never been a big fan of her writing – pop power anthems designed to be big career records. She brings her usual flare to these cuts as well, and both are middle of the road. “I Wanna Feel Too Much” sounds like an Idol winner’s single that lays on the inspirational goo like its going out of style, while “I Don’t Know How I Got By” is too generic a love song for Tritt. He’s killed it with sentimental ballads before, but the track lacks the punch and sincerity of his previous love songs.

“What If Love Hangs On,” which Tritt co-wrote with Matchbox 20 lead singer Rob Thomas, is also a mess, ruined by his outlandish vocal. He’s rendered almost unrecognizable singing high notes that take away from the commanding powers of his deep voice. He also co-wrote “Doesn’t The Good Outweigh The Bad,” and it’s an excellent lyric but he and Jackson should’ve toned down the production. There are hints of his traditional country side, but they remain hidden by loud guitars and drums that distract from what this song could, and should have been. He wrote the title track solo, and it’s a good bluesy number, but keeps up the theme of being too loud and completely overstated with booming production. Nothing changes with “Rub off on Me,” or “High Time for Getting Down.”

I do actually really like one track on The Storm that goes against the loud, booming production that ruins the rest of this album. “Something Stronger Than Me” is the closest Tritt comes to reestablishing the brand that made him a respected artist in the first place. It isn’t traditional country, but the production is nicely understated and Tritt gives a sincere and heartfelt vocal. But what makes the track a keeper is the fabulous lyric, a story about personal daemons written by Don Poythress, Donnie Skaggs, and Michelle Little. It’s easily one of the best recordings of Tritt’s career.

All and all, The Storm is nothing short of a mess, and easily among the weakest of Tritt’s albums, even if its one of the most sonically consistent works of his career. I just cannot get past the loud booming guitars and drums that hinder opposed to help us enjoy the songs. There is far too much rock for my liking here, and I find myself once again wishing Tritt had stuck to his country side, which is the best quality of his musical personality.

Grade: C

Album Review: Trisha Yearwood – ‘Where Your Road Leads’

It’s somewhat surprising that Trisha Yearwood never had any major crossover success, considering that much of her material seems to have been tailored to appeal to listeners outside the country market. However, in an era when hits by her contemporaries Shania Twain, Faith Hill and Martina McBride were climbing the pop and adult contemporary charts, Yearwood’s success was strictly limited to the country charts. After five successful albums with Garth Fundis, she teamed up with Tony Brown, with whom she shared production duties on ten of the eleven tracks of her sixth release. The result, 1998’s Where Your Road Leads, found her mostly moving further in a mainstream pop direction, with a few play-it-safe nods to country radio.

The change in producers was barely noticeable in the first single release, the mid-tempo “There Goes My Baby”. Similar in style to her previous single “Perfect Love”, and virtually indistinguishable from much of Trisha’s work with Garth Fundis, “There Goes My Baby” climbed to #2 in May of 1998. It was followed by the somewhat overblown title track, which despite being hyped as “the” duet with Garth Brooks and produced by Brooks’ producer Allen Reynolds, “Where Your Road Leads” is a Yearwood vehicle, with Brooks solely in a supporting role and never taking the lead vocal. Written by Victoria Shaw and Desmond Child, it had less chart success than the previous Yearwood-Brooks collaboration, the prior year’s #2 hit “In Another Eyes”. Despite the obvious star-power of both both performers, “Where Your Road Leads” peaked at #18.

Yearwood returned to the Top 10 with the album’s third single, the fiddle and steel charged and somewhat fluffy “Powerful Thing”, which reached #6. Despite its lightweight lyrics, it is one my favorite tracks on the album. The fourth and final single release, Diane Warren’s “I’ll Still Love You More” appears to be an attempt to recreate the success of the previous year’s “How Do I Live”. However, “I’ll Still Love You More” is a bit too saccharine for my taste, and despite having reached #10 on the charts, it is one of the more forgettable hits in Trisha’s catalog.

Like the singles, the album cuts are somewhat hit or miss. The dreamy-sounding “Never Let You Go Again” is rather tedious and my least favorite song on the entire album. “I Don’t Want To Be The One”, written by Carole King and Irish singer-songwriter Paul Brady, is also a bit lackluster. The pop-leaning “Heart Like A Sad Song”, however, is a standout, as is my favorite track among the non-singles, “Bring Me All Your Lovin'”, written by Doyle Primm, Allison Moorer and Kenny Greenberg.

Overall, Where Your Road Leads is an uneven effort, dull at times, with occasional flashes of brilliance. It’s worth noting, however, that Trisha’s magnificent vocal performance often overcomes the sometimes mediocre material. Nevertheless, it doesn’t rank among her best work.

Where Your Road Leads reached #3 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart, and was the last Trisha Yearwood album to earn platinum certification. It is available inexpensively from third-party sellers at Amazon.

Grade: B-

Album Review: Sara Evans – ‘Restless’

The success of Sara Evans’ Born To Fly, with its contemporary pop-country sound, allowed the singer to further experiment with the formula, and the result was an album of pop-country at near perfection at times.  With Restless, she finally delivered a set of songs worthy of her vocal talent, while still viable candidates for radio airplay.  Unlike its predecessors, there’s not much on the traditional side on this disc, but that doesn’t keep it from being a quality set, full of nuance and emotion.  Upon its release in April 2003, the disc debuted at #3 on the Country Albums chart – which would be its peak.  Over the course of the next eighteen months, it would sell a million copies to be certified platinum.

There are very few flashes of anything traditional on Restless, aside from a light bluegrass undertone to ‘Feel It Comin’ On’ and the fiddles sprinkled throughout on a few tracks, though they’re deep in the mix.  Sara Evans was reaching for crossover success with all her might on this release, and overall, the album lends itself to a niche in country music somewhere between Shania Twain and Trisha Yearwood.

Evans has always had a somewhat spotty relationship with country radio, with a single or two from each album missing the top 10, even during the hottest period of her career.  The first single is a syrupy tale of a young lady, leaving town on a greyhound bus to hide the ‘shame’ of her unwed pregnancy.  Verse two finds the young lady delivering the baby on the interstate, and to my ears this gives the entire song an unrealistic slant.  It’s puzzling to that it took four writers to create this story, especially since there’s essentially no happing ending.  Maybe that’s what kept it from being a major hit – that all-important act three.  The track still managed to climb to #16 on the Country Singles chart.

The next single would fare much better at radio, just barely missing the top spot at #2.  ‘Perfect’ is a clever lyric, written by Sara with Tom Shapiro and Tony Martin.  A groovy guitar lick opens the song, before it becomes a fun sing-along about the joys of a regular everyday existence.  The sound, and even the melody, is akin to Evans’ own ‘I Keep Looking’, and it was clearly meant to revisit that sound.  While there’s nothing revolutionary about the production or the lyric, it’s one of my favorite Sara Evans songs, and just a bit of ear candy.

Earning her first gold-single, and her third #1 at country radio, ‘Suds In The Bucket’ is as close as Restless gets to anything traditional.  The sound is very much post-Shania neo-traditional, with the drums mixed as loud as the fiddle.  It’s undeniably country I guess, but also undeniably 21st century country.  The most charming thing about this song, with its rather bland story, is Sara’s vocal, where she finally lets loose a little of the twang we heard on her first couple albums, but is largely absent this time around.

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Album Review: Sara Evans – ‘Born To Fly’

As the third release of her career, after one album that flopped and a second moderately successful release, this album would make or break Sara Evans’ career. The title cut from her previous album, ‘No Place That Far’ was a hit, but the other two singles were not as successful.  Sara sorely needed to come back with a bang. Long story short? She did in October of 2000.  This time co-producing the set with Paul Worley, known for his work with the Dixie Chicks, Martina McBride, and Lady Antebellum.

This two-times platinum album spawned three top ten singles, including the #1 title track.  The album itself went to #6 on the Country Albums chart – Evans’ first top 10 album.  For me, this was one of the first country albums I voluntarily listened to. My dad, a big Sara Evans fan passed Restless on to me and eventually Born To Fly, and I played the heck out of them. Without those albums, I might not love the country music that I do today.

This album highlights the pop in pop-country, but is still distinctive because of Sara’s great voice. The title track is also the opener and it really sets the tone of the entire album. Acoustic guitars and a chugging drum line push along a story of a girl who knows she’s destined for bigger things. A catchy song with traces of dobro and fiddle, it’s a very enjoyable slice of pop-country that cemented Sara’s spot as a star.  It would be her first #1 hit on the Country Singles chart.

Also on the faster side is one of my favorite tracks on the album, ‘Four-Thirty’. A song about a woman promising to meet her traveling lover who she would see around…4:30. Right. Well, Sara gives an engaging performance to a simple song that has one of the better melodies to come around. She sells the song with all she’s got and it works. ‘I Keep Looking’ is another hit single – it went to #5 – with some tempo that details how Sara keeps looking for something more. It’s a song that’s easily relatable, talking about how everyone wants everything they can’t have. While fun, this song has no country elements whatsoever, showing Sara’s complete move away from country music on parts of this album.

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Album Review: Sara Evans – ‘Real Fine Place’

"Real Fine Place"After seeing massive success with “Suds In The Bucket”, one of her most traditional singles, Sara decided to record a more traditional-leaning album. At a shallow listen, the sound and production of Real Fine Place is not very different from Restless or Born To Fly. What differentiates this album from those is, however, Sara’s choice of material. The huge Diane Warren-esque ballads like “Need To Be Next To You” are mostly gone, being replaced by foot-stompers like “Coalmine” and traditional tracks like “Cheatin'”.

The aforementioned “Coalmine” is the opening track, giving off more energy than a Red Bull. The roaring fiddles really complement the lyric, and Sara sounds like she’s having a blast singing it. The lead single “Real Fine Place To Start” follows, which is glossy and infectious country-pop at its best.

“Cheatin'”, the third track, may be one of the very best songs ever about, well, cheating. Its traditional sound suits Sara’s voice perfectly, her thick Missouri drawl is in its rightful environment on the track. She sounds positively spiteful, really capturing the essence of the lyric. This is Sara Evans as she should be.

“New Hometown” and “You’ll Always Be My Baby” are two power ballads, the former conjuring up beautiful scenery of Sara and her man standing in their front yard, and the latter being a touching song about parenthood and God. Both are of remarkable high quality, and Evans, being the prime vocalist she is, interprets the heck out of both.

“Supernatural” features a flurry of awkward metaphors that could seem like gibberish upon the first listens, but actually come together quite nicely after repeated listening.  The arrangement is light and airy with great background vocals. “Roll Me Back In Time” is a song about young love and commitment that could be a real tear-jerker had the tempo been slowed down a little. It’s nevertheless very effective as it is; the electric guitar piercing the track throughout creates a very nice effect, particularly towards the surprising end of the song.

“The Secrets That We Keep” is a song about intimacy, in the same vein as Sara’s earlier single “Tonight”. The latter is however superior to “Secrets”, and portrays a more nuanced rush of emotions. “Bible Song” is a song which could only be described as “epic”. A song about small-town life, where the small-town life is not exactly romantically portrayed, as opposed to most country songs. She repeats the word “Hallelujah” close to 35 times towards the end, which could be seen as hyperbolic by some, but which this writer sees as a necessary “lid” to the song.

“Tell Me” is a nice, quiet song about honesty and being open with your significant other, which does unfortunately blend in with the other songs, seeming quite trite in comparison. It can, however, be appreciated during the quieter times of life, and the fact that it features some really pleasant steel in the background throughout the entire track doesn’t hurt. “Momma’s Night Out” is a rocking track with some awesome big-band-esque instrumentation. Sara is fed up with her couch-potato husband, and she’s finally decided to have some fun. I suppose many wives and mothers can relate to this.

The album closer “These Four Walls”  is a haunting ballad about the joys and fulfillment of motherhood, and how that, despite it ruining the narrator’s dreams of being a singer and actress, is the best thing that ever happened to her. The appreciation she feels from her kids and husband is one of the most satisfying feelings one could have, Sara expresses.

With Real Fine Place, Sara has crafted one of the most rock-solid albums of the 21st century so far. Her smooth, creamy, caramel-like voice is one of the best Nashville has ever seen, and with knockout songs like these, it’s bound to be an artistic success.

A+

Listen to “Cheatin'” and “You’ll Always Be My Baby” .