My Kind of Country

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

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Album Review: Dolly Parton – ‘Dumplin’

Dolly Parton’s latest project is the soundtrack to a new Netflix movie about a plus-size teen and Dolly fan who enters a beauty pageant run by her judgmental mother.

It is very much the pop side of Dolly’s music, with little country sounding about it. Producer Linda Perry, an extremely successful songwriter and producer from the pop world, perhaps best known for writing ‘Get The Party Started’ for Pink! and ‘Beautiful’ for Christina Aguilera, clearly has little facility for or understanding of country music.

A number of the songs are co-writes with Perry especially for the film. ‘Girl In The Movies’ is a nice but rather repetitive song with a warm lyric about a girl with big dreams which ties into the film themes. ‘Red Shoes’ is charming and passionate. A more country production would have worked better on these songs. ‘Who’ is a pretty song about discovering first love. ‘Push And Pull’ is about a troubled relationship (perhaps, from the film synopsis, the young heroine and her mother).

Willa Amai is a young Californian singer and protegee of Perry. Her duet with Dolly on the latter’s 70s pop hit ‘Here You Come Again’ is a bit over produced, but not bad, and Dolly sounds great on the track.

‘Here I Am’, originally on Dolly’s iconic Coat Of Many Colors album, is performed here as a duet with Australian pop star Sia. Dolly’s voice is crystal clear and beautiful; Sia’s deeper voice is soulful and powerful, and the overall effect is rather good, with a faintly gospel air. It is one of the best moments on this album.

I also really enjoyed ‘Why’, a rhythmic and spiritual duet with gospel legend Mavis Staples. It has a Dolly in the 80s feel to it, with a gospel overlay, catchy melody and a powerful lyric:

I often wonder what I’m doin’ here
There must be a reason
But it’s not always clear
Why was I born,
Wwhat’s my purpose in life
There is an answer to my question why
(Well, well, well)

I wonder why we can’t love and be free
Let everyone be all that they wanna be
Judge not lest you be judged,
Let heaven decide
Still we don’t do it, and I wonder why

I know I’m not perfect but nobody is
There’s things more important topping my list
Acceptance and kindness and doin’ what’s right
We would if we could, whoa, why don’t we try

I wonder why we can’t just love and be free
Let everyone be all that they wanna be
Judge not lest you be judged,
Let heaven decide
Still we don’t do it, and I wonder why

I wonder why we can’t just speak out and say
I see you my brother and I love you that way
Just be who you are with purpose and pride
‘Cause God loves us all and I bet he wonders why
We can’t love one another the way that we are
Why we are blinded from seeing that far
Let’s light the fire
Spread love with the light
We’re walkin’ in darkness, no good reason why

I wonder why we can’t just let them be free
Let everyone be all that they wanna be
My brothers, my sisters, come walk by my side
Oh I will if you will
Oh why don’t we try

You know love is the answer to my question why
But still we don’t do it
And I wonder why

Rhonda Vincent adds harmonies on the urgently optimistic ‘If We Don’t’, another of the Perry co-writes, which encourages making a difference. There is some actual fiddle on the song, from Alison Krauss, but it doesn’t really showcase the vocals. Not bad, though.

‘Holdin’ On To You’, a duet with Elle King, who has previously worked with Dierks Bentley, is very pop indeed, and I hated it. Dolly’s pop hit ‘Two Doors Down’ is very busy in this brassy incarnation; I can imagine it works in the context of the movie.

Miranda Lambert duets on a version of Dolly’s first ever hit, the Curly Putnam-penned ‘Dumb Blonde’, which does sound like a country record. Unsurprisingly to regular readers, I much prefer Dolly’s original version of her classic ‘Jolene’, but the new re-recording is actually very effective. Dolly’s vocal is somber and underlines the sadness of the story of the betrayed woman begging her rival for pity, and the string arrangement is dark and powerful.

So it sounds as if this set of recordings would work well for its main purpose, as a movie soundtrack, and also as an album in its own right for Dolly’s pop and international fans. It has less to offer fans of her more country material, but may still be worth a listen.

Grade: B

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50th CMA Awards: Grading the Twenty Performances

Instead of the typical CMA Awards prediction post, I thought it might be fun to rank the twenty performances, all of which brought something special to the evening. Here they are, in ascending order, with commentary:

20.

imrs-phpBeyoncé Feat. Dixie Chicks – Daddy’s Lessons

The most debated moment of the night was the worst performance in recent CMA history, an embarrassment to country music and the fifty years of the organization. Beyoncé was the antithesis of our genre with her staged antics and complete lack of authenticity. If Dixie Chicks had performed this song alone, like they did on tour, it would’ve been a slam-dunk. They were never the problem. Beyoncé is to blame for this mess.

Grade: F

19.

Kelsea Ballerini – Peter Pan

I feel bad for her. It seems Ballerini never got the memo that this was the CMA Awards and not a sideshow at Magic Kingdom. Everything about this was wrong – the visuals, wind machine and, most of all, the dancers. Once I saw the harness in plain sight, I knew it was over.

Grade: F 

 18.

362x204-q100_121d9e867599857df2132b3b6c77e0c8Luke Bryan – Move

Nashville is perennially behind the trends as evidenced by Bryan’s completely out of place performance. One of only two I purposefully fast forwarded through.

Grade: F 

 17.

Florida Georgia Line feat. Tim McGraw – May We All 

Stood out like a sore thumb, for all the wrong reasons. Not even McGraw could redeem this disaster.

Grade: F  

16.

gettyimages-620669440-43407842-8b2a-437b-a6e4-f643a1b5b104Carrie Underwood – Dirty Laundry

The newly minted Female Vocalist of the Year gave the third weakest performance of this year’s nominees. I commend her use of an all-female band, but disliked everything else from the visuals to Underwood’s dancing. It all starts with the song and this one is among her worst.

Grade: D+

15.

Thomas Rhett – Die A Happy Man

The biggest hit of the year gave Thomas Rhett a moment his other radio singles proves he doesn’t deserve. He remained gracious throughout the night, proving he can turn it on when it counts. I just wish it wasn’t an act.

Grade: B- 

14.

362x204-q100_b63432d74b677e29d35917efd7490170Keith Urban – Blue Ain’t Your Color

A perfectly serviceable performance of an above average song. He did nothing to stand out from the pack neither adding to nor distracting from the night’s more significant moments.

Grade: B

13.

Dierks Bentley feat. Elle King – Different for Girls 

At least Bentley wasn’t showcasing the rowdier side of Black. He and King didn’t do anything to stand out and the whole thing was more middle of the road than anything else.

Grade: B

 12.

landscape-1478192054-gettyimages-620693852Martina McBride, Reba McEntire, Kacey Musgraves, Jennifer Nettles and Carrie Underwood – Dolly Parton Tribute 

I have nothing against Parton nor do I deny her incredible legacy as a pioneer in the genre. But it’s time to honor someone else. Parton has been lauded and it’s so old at this point, it’s unspectacular. That’s not to say this wasn’t a great medley, it was. I just wish it had been for someone different, like say, Tanya Tucker.

Grade: B

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Week ending 10/1/16: #1 singles this week in country music history

10751524064_de215b568c_b1956 (Sales): Don’t Be Cruel/Hound Dog — Elvis Presley (RCA)

1956 (Jukebox): Don’t Be Cruel/Hound Dog — Elvis Presley (RCA)

1956 (Disc Jockeys):Crazy Arms — Ray Price (Columbia)

1966: Almost Persuaded — David Houston (Epic)

1976: If You’ve Got the Money, I’ve Got the Time — Willie Nelson (Columbia)

1986: In Love — Ronnie Milsap (RCA)

1996: So Much For Pretending — Bryan White (Asylum)

2006: Give It Away — George Strait (MCA)

2016: Peter Pan — Kelsea Ballerini (Black River)

2016 (Airplay): Different For Girls — Dierks Bentley featuring Elle King (Capitol)

Album Review: Dierks Bentley – ‘Black’

dierks-bentley-black-album-coverDierks Bentley describes his eighth album Black as “a relationship album that covers the ups and downs of the journey and ends with some self-realization and evolvement.” The title comes from his wife’s maiden name, although the themes of the record are universal and not specifically about her.

I’ve already said my piece about the album’s vapid first single, the out-of-character “Somewhere On A Beach.” The song is awful, but the video’s farcical nature has eased my fears that this song is supposed to be taken seriously.

Bentley has followed with a unique marketing strategy that successfully sets the mood for the album. He’s released four black-and-white music videos connected by the story of a woman juggling two lovers. The visualization gives context to Black while simultaneously giving fans a taste of the record. He began with “I’ll Be The Moon,” an excellent duet with newcomer Maren Morris. Bentley has always championed up-and-coming female artists, and this is a perfect showcase for her contemporary stylings that allows her (and him) to show maturity.

The bombastic “What The Hell Did I Say,” came next. The rockish uptempo number, about a 3 a.m. drunk dial doesn’t fall into familiar troupes, which is a refreshing change of pace. “Pick Up” is even more modern, and unlike its predecessor, it’s nothing more than what you’d expect – a guy with a pickup truck and a phone desperate for time with his girl.

The final number in the video series is the title track, which Bentley chose to open the album and set the mood for the project as a whole. It’s a very sexy slice of pop/rock that has no resemblance to country music whatsoever. I will give slight credit to Bentley, who is wonderfully committed to helping advance the ambiance of the song through his vocal.

“Freedom” is atmospheric rock, an anthem for a life free of constrictions. “Roses and Time Machine,” with its hip-hop beat and deliberate phrasing, is likely to be the album’s most alienating number. Bentley doesn’t do himself any favors with the immature lyric or grating melody. The sonic nature of “Mardi Gras” is even worse, with Trombone Shorty’s contributions making the song damn near unlistenable. He mostly gets the lyric right on “All The Way To Me,” but fails to keep the arrangement tastefully uncluttered.

Bentley does succeed lyrically with the blistering “Light It Up,” a track that could easily be written for his wife. It’s a number about his woman’s ability to turn around his attitude with the little things in life. “Why Do I Feel” is the sense of balance on Black, a modern ballad that retains a bit the old-school Bentley we’ve come to admire all these years. I hate the repetition of the word ‘girl’ throughout, the song doesn’t need it at all, but in 2016 it’s all but unfortunately required.

“Different for Girls,” on the surface, isn’t a great song. But once it gets to the chorus, I like how Bentley turns convention on its head and makes it a breakup song detailing the differences in how a woman responds to the situation opposed to a guy. Elle King, of “Exs and O’s” fame provides a somewhat weak vocal that lacks the punch she brings to her own work.

The smartest aspect of Bentley’s video series is how it positions him as the narrator of Black and not the guy in these songs. In that sense he hasn’t lost his integrity as an artist. That doesn’t excuse the fact that Black is the most polarizing album he’s released to date, with hardly any reminders of his bluegrass-loving traditionalist side coming through. He’s forged ahead with a modern country album aimed at taking his career to the next level. Black is a serious push to get Bentley in awards contention, especially in Male Vocalist races. I cannot blame the strategy, nor do I blame him for it.

I do actively hate how the album is littered with references to modern technology, including cell phones and text messages. I understand it’s all a part of our modern world but I’m just not ready to have it bleed into my music in this heavy an extent. Black is just a bit too modern for my tastes but I’m also not embarrassed by it either. There’s too much by way of sex, but I didn’t feel it was handled in a grotesque manner. Bentley is still the adult in a world of overgrown boys.

Grade: B-