My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Gavin DeGraw

Album Review: LeAnn Rimes – ‘Today Is Christmas’

today is christmasLeAnn Rimes has often had one foot in country and one in pop, but as she has struggled to find her audience the last few years she has concentrated more on her country roots with the lovely Vince Gill-produced covers album Lady And Gentleman and the personal Spitfire. Unfortunately on her new Christmas album she has reverted to pop and jazz, and while some of it is well done (some isn’t), none of it is country, which is a disappointment for me . Very brassy production overwhelms a rather bizarre selection of material, although I do have to give her some credit for not repeating the same handful of songs which appear on every other Christmas album. It’s just a shame the result does not pay off better. Also featured instrumentally to better (though non-country) effect is the legendary Booker T Jones on B3 organ and Wurlitzer.

Particularly dreadful is ‘Must Be Santa’, a 1960 pop hit which is a noisy mess dominated by a brass section, and whose admittedly silly lyrics LeAnn dashes out so fast it sounds as if the whole track gas been speeded up artificially. The title track, newly penned by LeAnn and her regular collaborator Darrell Brown, is apparently this year’s Christmas theme for NBC’s Today show. It may work in context as a glorified jingle but it’s very irritating as a standalone song, even in a Christmas party setting.

A cover of Kenny Loggins’ seasonal 1970s soft rock hit ‘Celebrate Me Home’, performed as a duet with pop star Gavin De Graw, is inoffensive but exceptionally boring. A second new Rimes/Brown tune, ‘I Still Believe in Santa Claus’ is bearable but bland MOR. LeAnn’s version of ‘Little Drummer Boy’ is very well sung, but isn’t one of my favourite Christmas songs.

A perky version of ‘Holly Jolly Christmas’ in medley with Frosty The Snowman’ is quite entertaining, with LeAnn showing off her jazz scatting. The brass instruments are jettisoned here. LeAnn recruits R&B star Aloe Blacc as her duet partner on ‘That Spirit Of Christmas’, originally recorded by Ray Charles. This mellow soul tune works very well, and I enjoyed it.

‘We Need A Little Christmas’ is a loungy ballad from Broadway musical Mame, which LeAnn sings very well, backed by a restrained piano and string arrangement. The similar ‘Christmas Time Is Here’ (originally composed for A Charlie Brown Christmas) is good too, with an accomplished and tender vocal and delicate arrangement. I really liked this.

My favorite track is Brandi Carlile’s ‘The Heartache Can Wait’, a beautiful, understated ballad about holding on to a relationship through one last Christmas. LeAnn’s vocal is excellent, bearing favorable comparison with the very best of her work, and is sympathetically backed by a tasteful string arrangement. It feels a bit out of place in the midst of the party atmosphere which dominates on the album, but is outstanding, and would work on a non-Christmas record. I would definitely recommend this track.

Scottish New Years tune ‘Auld Lang Syne’ and a medley of ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’, ‘Angels We Have Heard On High’ and ‘Hark The Herald Angels Sing’ sound lovely aurally, although she takes too many liberties with the melodies, which are unrecognisable in places.

This is a jazzy pop album rather than a country one, so it wasn’t really to my taste as a whole, but there are some tracks I enjoyed.

Grade: B-

Album Review – Sara Evans – ‘Slow Me Down’

SaraEvansSlowDownAlbumWhen Sara Evans appeared on Opry Backstage with Bill Anderson in the late 90s, she commented on her voice, saying no matter what she sings it’ll always come out country. That logic may’ve been true at the time, but with producer Mark Bright at the helm and a 2014 mentality to uphold, Evans is as far from her country roots as one can be and still associate with country music.

If you’ve studied the careers of the 80s and 90s country women as closely as I have over the years, you know they show their true colors when their commercial prospects begin to fade. Do they go the Reba or Faith Hill route and squeeze out every last hit, with little regard for quality? Or do they take the Kathy Mattea and Patty Loveless route and seamlessly transition into a legacy career marked by adventurous and risk taking records that display the innate artistry that made them too smart for country radio in the first place?

With Slow Me Down Evans fits squarely into the former category with an album that exposes a hidden truth of her career – that she was never that artistic at all, just a trend follower who happened to come of age at a time when good quality songs were still the mainstay of mainstream Nashville. With that era firmly in the rearview mirror, we’re left with a singer resorting to whatever she can to find a platform, and the results are more than a little desperate.

When the title track was released late September, the press behind it made “Slow Me Down” out to be the best thing Evans had ever recorded, a record akin to the 80s crossover hits that came between the Urban Cowboy era and the new traditionalist movement. In reality it’s a terrible song, shoddily written by Merv Green, Heather Morgan, and Jimmy Robbins. The verses are stunted and repetitive and the chorus, while strong, becomes too breathy when Evans morphs into a pop diva by the end.

The rest of the album follows suit, with Evans turning out one generic ‘bright pop’ moment after another with little regard to singing anything that actually has something to say. Bright’s use of drums and electric guitars is far too generic for Evans, and any uniqueness in her voice is suppressed in favor of exploiting the lowest common denominator. Even her trademark covers of mainstream hits have taken a beating, with her take on Gavin DeGraw’s “Not Over You” maintaining far too much of his original, down to inviting him in for a guest vocal.

When I reviewed Stronger three years ago, I said one of that project’s shortcomings was the lack of Evans’ trademark sweeping story songs (‘I Learned That From You’ and ‘You’ll Always Be My Baby’) and her distinctive honky-tonkers (‘Born To Fly’ and ‘Suds In The Bucket’). Those problems exist here, too, but after three years of such songs going the way of VCRs and Landline telephones, it’s hardly a surprise. Evans does try and maintain the last ounce of her country credibility with “Better Off,” a fiddle-heavy tune featuring Vince Gill, but the production is still far too loud, with drums and noise marring the purer elements.

If it’s any consolation, there’s a lyrical consistency on Slow Me Down that elevates the album above Stronger, which had too may juvenile lyrical couplets. But that’s hardly a cause for celebration, as the music here is far too weak, generic, and bland for a singer of Evans’ caliber. I’m not overly disappointed, though, as I kind of expected this, and in the context of mainstream country, this is one of the less irritating releases to come so far this year.

Grade: C-