My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Grace Potter

Week ending 6/27/15: #1 singles this week in country music history

2247383-21955 (Sales): In The Jailhouse Now — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Jukebox): In The Jailhouse Now — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Disc Jockeys): Live Fast, Love Hard, Die Young — Faron Young (Capitol)

1965: Before You Go — Buck Owens (Capitol)

1975: You’re My Best Friend — Don Williams (ABC/Dot)

1985: Little Things — The Oak Ridge Boys (MCA)

1995: Texas Tornado — Tracy Lawrence (Atlantic)

2005: Making Memories Of Us — Keith Urban (Capitol)

2015: Girl Crush — Little Big Town (Capitol)

2015 (Airplay): Wild Child — Kenny Chesney with Grace Potter (Blue Chair/Columbia)

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Single Review – Kenny Chesney – ‘El Cerrito Place’

There’ve essentially been two Kenny Chesneys of late – the artistic mastermind (“You and Tequila,” “Somewhere With You”) and the commercial lightweight (“Live A Little,” “Feel Like A Rock Star”) with each coexisting somewhat seamlessly amongst each other. After three singles categorized as lightweight, it was time for his artistic side to rear its head. But when I heard said single was Keith Gattis’ “El Cerrito Place” I was nervous.

I’ve been a big fan of Charlie Robison’s 2004 reading, with Natalie Maines providing gorgeous backing vocals. Their voices melt together like a pure Texas dream, while the production smartly stays out-of-the-way allowing both to shine. More importantly there’s grit in Robison’s voice that allows him to convey the nuances in the story so that you believe him as the song’s protagonist.

But after ten years of stadium tours and album after album of odes to beachfront life, Chesney has lost the sense of how to appropriately covey a song like this. He sounds completely foreign singing in his lower register, like a comedic actor trying to show dramatic range. He finally morphs into the Kenny Chesney we’re all familiar with by the first chorus, but Buddy Cannon frames him with a bombastic production that turns “El Cerrito Place” into the typical generic single, not the emotionally wrought tale it was in Robison’s capable hands. Even the female backing vocals, reuniting Chesney with his “You and Tequila” partner Grace Potter, are lost in the sea of sound.

It’s all a shame because Gattis’ song is wonderful, and I was so looking forward to Chesney turning in a killer recording that would help to elevate the standards of country radio for the time it was in heavy rotation, in much the same way Tim McGraw and Faith Hill did with “Angry All The Time” in 2001. He’s shown he’s fully capable of turning in phenomenal performances on this type of emotionally wrought material in the past, but I guess those days are firmly in the rearview mirror.

Grade: C+ 

ACM Award predictions

The Academy of Country Music is announcing its annual awards live on TV on Sunday. Here are our predictions and hopes for the ceremony:

Entertainer of the Year

Jason Aldean
Kenny Chesney
Brad Paisley
Blake Shelton
Taylor Swift

Jonathan: First off, let the Carrie Underwood backlash begin. And end. I agree with the fans who love her, but she didn’t make enough of a splash in 2011 to be considered here. At least you need to release a solo single. I agree with this list as it features most of the big players in country music right now. I would’ve included Zac Brown Band here as musicianship should win out over star power. But I can’t say any of these artists don’t deserve it from a numbers perspective.
Will Win: Taylor Swift – it’s still a fan voted award and she has the largest fan base for these kinds of contests.
Should Win: Blake Shelton – not because of his radio hits but because he’s the only one here to ascend to the next level in 2011. He makes country music look cool on The Voice, too. He may not have a strong catalog of singles but we could do far worse in Hollywood’s ideal of country music.

OH: I think I would also lean to Blake Shelton here. Chesney, Aldean and Swift have all had bigger tours and more impressive sales, but Blake has been representing country music to a mass audience thanks to his TV exposure. However, this being a fan-voted category, I think Taylor Swift will be Sunday’s winner, with only the fast-rising rocker Jason Aldean likely to challenge.

Razor X: Taylor Swift has this one in the bag, as it’s fan voted again this year.

Note: Voting is still open for anyone who wants to make their contribution. Read more of this post

Classic Rewind: Matraca Berg ft Suzy Bogguss and Gretchen Peters – ‘You And Tequila’

It was a big hit for Kenny Chesney and Grace Potter. Here is the writer’s own version, supported by Suzy Bogguss and Gretchen Peters:

Album Review – Matraca Berg – ‘The Dreaming Fields’

Known for writing such classic 90s country as “Strawberry Wine,” “You Can Feel Bad,” and “Wrong Side of Memphis,” Matraca Berg is one of the most prolific songwriters of the last twenty years. And the artists who’ve recorded her music (Reba McEntire, Trisha Yearwood, and Patty Loveless) have gone on to redefine the essence of what it means to be a country singer.

Also a recording artist, Berg has released five studio albums and just returned with her sixth, The Dreaming Fields, her first album in 14 years. Inspired by the sparse 70s singer/songwriter fare she grew up with, Fields mixes impeccable songwriting with pitch-perfect vocals to create one of the best country releases of 2011.

The attention to detail rivals anything being released on major labels, and the quiet production help to elevate this album above your standard indie-country release. What could’ve been lifeless and boring is instantly brought to life by Berg’s confidence in what she’s singing. Instead of merely going through the motions, she puts her heart and soul into each of the 11 songs. Berg grabs you with her emotional delivery and never lets go.

Without even listening to the album, fans should already be familiar with at least two of the album’s songs. Trisha Yearwood brought the title track to new heights on her Heaven, Heartache, and the Power of Love album and “You and Tequila” is was a monster hit for Kenny Chesney and Grace Potter.  And the 9513 reviewed the album’s first single, “Oh Cumberland” in advance of the album.

I have to admit, I was a bit skeptical of hearing Berg’s version of “Fields.” After Yearwood tackles a song, it’s hard to imagine anyone else matching, let alone exceeding, her power and delivery. But, of course, Berg proves she’s more than up to the task. The way she wraps her voice around the tale of a family losing their farm will bring even an emotional ice cube to tears. You know she feels what she’s singing.

And on that note, when listening to the album I could actually hear Yearwood singing some of these songs. It wouldn’t have been a stretch for Yearwood to have put “Silver and Glass” on her Hearts and Armor album.  The story of a girl trying to find her place in the world is one of the best songs Yearwood has yet to record.

Another standout track, “Clouds,” makes such a simple statement – “I only like clouds when it’s raining/they do no good just hanging around” – yet conveys so much with so little. It only emphasizes the the importance of a strong hook. When a song is properly executed lyrically, it becomes a poetic declaration. Plus, the lush production and use of harmonica in the intro, break-up the sameness of the preceding tracks and offer a refreshing change of pace in the listening experience.

The uniformity of the production is really the only area worthy of negative criticism. The album rolls along so gently, at times it can feel sleep-inducing. Berg does have up-tempo songs she could’ve recorded, including her excellent “They Call It Falling For A Reason” which Yearwood made a low-charting single in 2008, but to include such a song would’ve tinkered with the pace of the album just enough to throw off the vibe she was after.

Berg mirrored the album after Emmylou Harris’s solo debut Pieces of the Sky, Neil Young’s Harvest and Joni Mitchell’s iconic Blue – three albums from her childhood. She lives up to Harris’s legacy the most; Fields is more than worthy of her influence. Berg sings with the clarity Harris had on her 70s classics, and has a similar knack for choosing songs aren’t the typical country fare that’ll be dated in the decades to come.

It’s just a shame that country radio has all but passed on intelligent music like this – to hear Berg on the radio would be a refreshing change of pace from the muscular country getting crammed down our throats. We do have Chesney to thank for getting “You and Tequila” on the airwaves and, possibly, calling slight attention to this fine recording. You know if Chesney recorded it, it’ll more than likely burn up the charts and becomes a major success.

But it doesn’t matter if country radio passes on the album or not, the music has reached the public and will live on as long as Berg continues to shape her legacy. And as cliché as it sounds, with a voice this stunning, and music this brilliant, let’s hope she doesn’t wait another 14 years to record a follow-up.

Grade: A 

Spotlight Artists: Female Singer-songwriters

For our March spotlight, we’re taking a look at four distinct country songwriters who all, at one point or another, found themselves on the cusp of stardom when they scored major label deals. None would be superstars in their own right, but their songs would be turned into some of the greatest country records of the last thirty years by some of the best female (and sometimes male) voices the genre has to offer.

In celebration of the release of Gretchen Peters Hello Cruel World and Matraca Berg’s The Dreaming Fields we’re taking a look at:


Nanci Griffith

Nanci Griffith’s life hasn’t been without its struggles. Born Nanci Caroline Griffith on July 6, 1953 in Seguin, Texas, she suffered a tragic loss when her boyfriend was killed in a motorcycle accident the night of their senior prom. His loss forever altered her life and became a big inspiration to her songwriting. Griffith has since survived both breast (1996) and Thyroid (1999) cancer.

As an artist, she released her debut album There’s A Light Beyond These Woods in 1978.  She would release four albums (none of which charted) before Kathy Mattea brought her fame after her version of Griffith’s “Love At The Five and Dime” peaked at #3 in 1986.

This success led to a deal with MCA Records. Lone Star State Of Mind was released in 1987. The title track would peak at #36 and the album would peak at #23. Tony Brown would also produce the follow-up, Little Love Affairs, released in 1988. It would also chart, although not as successfully. Griffith’s deal with MCA would span just three more albums, two (One Fair Summer Evening and Storms) of which charted quite low.

The 1990s would bring further success. Suzy Bogguss had a #9 peaking hit in 1992 with “Outbound Plane,” a song Griffith co-wrote with Tom Russell. In 1994, Griffith won her first (and only) Grammy award, Best Contemporary Folk Album for Other Voices, Other Rooms; a collection of songs that inspired her.

Griffiths has a new album, her first since 2009’s The Loving Kind. Although not yet released in the United States, Intersection is available in the UK.

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2012 Grammy predictions

The Grammy awards are probably the world’s most prestigious cross-genre awards in the word of music, although within country music the CMA and ACM awards hold greater weight. The significance of the Grammies has been further affected this year with the contraction in the number of categories of interest to country fans. But awards shows offer a way of taking stock once every few months regarding the genre as a whole, particularly the more mainstream end. In a few days, we’ll learn who has won this year’s awards. In the meantime, here are our predictions:

Best Country Solo Performance

This new category combines the former nods to performances by male and female vocalists.

‘Dirt Road Anthem’ – Jason Aldean
‘I’m Gonna Love You Through It’ – Martina McBride
‘Honey Bee’ – Blake Shelton
‘Mean’ – Taylor Swift
‘Mama’s Song’ – Carrie Underwood

Razor X: I can’t remember the last time I came across a more underwhelming list of nominees. “Honey Bee” is the only one on the list that I can tolerate, but it doesn’t seem like the sort of song that usually wins Grammys. I think Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood are the two real contenders here; I’ll predict that Underwood will win.

Occasional Hope: A remarkably uninspiring lineup in this category. I suppose by default my vote (if I had one) would have gone to Blake Shelton. Carrie Underwood’s song is well-meaning but bland; Martina McBride’s is the epitome of emotional manipulation; Jason Aldean’s record is horrible; and Taylor Swift’s song has nice production for once, but the lyric collapses into juvenile namecalling (and I’m afraid I’m still unimpressed by her vocal ability). That leaves Blake Shelton with a slight but not unlistenable song, making it my lukewarm favorite by default. Who will actually win it? The Grammy voting pool is a bit different from the specialist country awards shows, so I’m going to predict Taylor Swift as although Aldean has had a big breakthrough over the past couple of years, I think his lack of cross-genre name recognition will limit his appeal to voters. He, Swift and Blake Shelton all have performance slots on the show (Blake as part of a Glen Campbell tribute and Jason Aldean revisitng his duet with Kelly Clarkson), which could be an indication that the battle is between these three.

Jonathan Pappalardo: It seems as though the Grammy organization can’t win. If they go by artistic merits they’re deemed out of touch with reality. If they go with what’s popular, they’re deemed too mainstream. For my tastes these nominees are awful. There isn’t a song here I can get excited about, apart from Taylor Swift’s “Mean.” If she has to win an award this year, let it be this one.

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Jonathan Pappalardo’s Top Ten Singles of 2011

While 2011 was a bland and boring year for mainstream country music where anthems to dirt roads, tales about being someone’s honey bee, and odes to plastic party accessories were all over the radio, it did feature some bright spots. There was even one artist I thought was so constantly strong, two of their singles made my top ten for the year. I would’ve added this person’s latest as a third, but two in one top ten is more than enough.

So in addition to complaining about those songs that seem to have taken country music off track, let’s take a moment and celebrate what was good about country music in 2011. And judging by my list, you have to remember that just because a song spent four or five weeks at #1, doesn’t mean it’s of good quality. So here’s my list of favorite songs, all released as singles in 2011.

I’ll have the rest of my list, numbers 11-45, on my own blog later this month.

10. Randy Houser – “In God’s Time”

The balance between religion and spirituality in American popular culture is often shaky – there are those who believe in the teachings derived from texts and others who choose to let a higher power guide them, but don’t necessarily tie it to a particular faith. As there are those who happily merge the two.

Houser’s tale of letting life work itself out by surrendering to a greater force is the ultimate definition of spirituality, the study of the soul. In realty, “Time” is a fundamental lesson in how to live your life – “But no one knows, not you or me, it might be tomorrow or it might never be. Oh, but don’t lose faith. Put it in His hands. ‘Cause it might be that He might have a bigger plan. Than you had in mind. Miracles happen, in God’s time.”

Very rarely does a singer emerge from the shadows to clearly leave their mark by just a song, but Houser has here. Not only is he among the greatest living of all country singers, but also he may be the best trying to have chart success today.

“Time” is nothing short of a masterpiece, a classic and iconic statement from a living profit. Problem is, Houser occupies his time with distracting southern rock – a decision marking his downfall. If he only understood that he was put here to create songs like this, he would sour into the heavens, and fill the shoes of the ilk in his wake.

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2011 CMA Awards Recap

Now that the annual train wreck known as the CMA Awards Show has again come and gone, it’s time to take a look back and see how well the MKOC writers did with our predictions. The results are pretty evenly split this year, with Jonathan Pappalardo and Occasional Hope correctly predicting the winner in six categories, while J.R. Journey and I each guessed the winner five times.

Entertainer of the YearTaylor Swift

Perhaps in denial that such a travesty could happen more than once, none of us chose Taylor Swift as the winner in this category. All of us were rather confident that the trophy would go home with Blake Shelton.

Male VocalistBlake Shelton

Jonathan, Occasional Hope, and I all accurately predicted the winner in this category, while J.R. thought that the honor would go to Jason Aldean.

Female VocalistMiranda Lambert

This one was pretty much a no-brainer that all of us accurately predicted.

New ArtistThe Band Perry

Both J.R. and Occasional Hope called this one correctly, while Jonathan chose Luke Bryan and I predicted that the award would go to Chris Young (wishful thinking on my part).

Vocal Group Lady Antebellum

Jonathan and I got this one right, while Occasional Hope went with the Zac Brown Band and J.R. predicted that The Band Perry would be the victors in this category.

Duo of the YearSugarland

There wasn’t any real competition in this category; consequently we all accurately called this one for Sugarland.

Single of the Year“If I Die Young” – The Band Perry

Both JR. and Occasional Hope got this one right. I thought that the award would go to “Colder Weather” by the Zac Brown Band and Jonathan felt it would go to Jason Aldean and Kelly Clarkson for “Don’t You Wanna Stay.”

Song of the Year“If I Die Young” – The Band Perry

I was the only one who got this one wrong, thinking (hoping) that it would go to the Zac Brown Band’s “Colder Weather”.

Album of the YearMy Kinda Party – Jason Aldean

I predicted that this award would go to Taylor Swift for Speak Now. While I’m not sorry to have been wrong, it is small consolation that it actually went to Jason Aldean as Jonathan alone accurately predicted. Both J.R. and Occasional Hope had thought that Brad Paisley would win for This Is Country Music.

Musical Event of the Year“Don’t You Wanna Stay” – Jason Aldean & Kelly Clarkson

I was the only one who got this one right. Everyone else went with “As She’s Walking Away” by the Zac Brown Band and Alan Jackson. I take no pleasure in being right on this one.

Music Video“You and Tequila” – Kenny Chesney with Grace Potter

Only Jonathan and Occasional Hope made predictions in this category, and neither was correct. Jonathan chose “Mean” by Taylor Swift while Occasional Hope went with “Old Alabama” by Brad Paisley and Alabama.

Musician of the YearMac McAnally, guitar

Occasional Hope and I were the only ones who participated in this category. Both of us thought that Dann Huff would win.

To say that I am disappointed in any of the results would imply that I had any reasonable expectations that I would be happy with any of the outcomes. I don’t feel that any of the awards, with the exception of the Male and Female Vocalist trophies, went to the most deserving winner. The program lived up to my low expectations, but all the same it is still somewhat discouraging that this bunch seems to be the best Nashville has to offer these days.

2011: The 75-(per)cent report

School buses are back on the roads and the leaves are already starting to fall on the roads here in southern Ohio. Crisp nights are upon us, and as we head into final months of 2011, I’m revisiting my growing playlist of my favorite songs and albums released in the first three-quarters. No waxing or pondering on the fate of what’s popular this time, these are just some of my favorite releases of the year, in no particular order, combined with a few words to tell you why in some cases.  Be sure to share your top picks for the 3/4 of the year so far in the comments.

Albums

Sunny Sweeney – Concrete … As I said in my review, if this became the sounding board for all future female country albums, we’d all be better off.

Terri Clark – Roots and Wings … Though it’s not as strong as her previous effort, Clark’s latest, and its lack of airplay, is another page in the long indictment against country radio.  I’d be the first to welcome her back with this material.

Pistol Annies – Hell On Heels

George Strait – Here For A Good Time

Connie Smith – Long Line of Heartaches … Traditional country and classic themes performed by one of country music’s finest singers. A can’t-miss combination.

Chris Young – Neon

Ronnie Dunn – Ronnie Dunn … The Brooks & Dunn frontman hasn’t reached his full potential as a soloist yet – I think he’s still too unsure of himself – but this is a helluva start.

Blake Shelton – Red River Blue

… and on the not-so country side:

Lucinda Williams – Blessed

Adele – 21

Lori McKenna – Lorraine

The Decemberists – The King Is Dead 

Songs

Bradley Gaskin – “Mr. Bartender”

Kenny Chesney & Grace Potter – “You and Tequila”

Pistol Annies – “Lemon Drop”/”Trailer For Rent” … I can’t pick a favorite among these two on the album.

Ronnie Dunn – “Cost of Living”

George Strait – “Here For a Good Time”/”Poison” … It’s been said before, and better, but I really like the title track to Strait’s latest album. And I think “Poison” is one of his finest moments.

Sunny Sweeney – “Staying’s Worse than Leaving”/”Amy”

Billy Currington – “Love Done Gone”

Taylor Swift – “Back to December”/”Mean”

Lucinda Williams – “I Don’t Know How You’re Living”

J.R. Journey’s American Noise excerpts #1

For the past 5 weeks, I’ve been lucky enough to get to share my thoughts on 10 of the latest country singles in my Weekly Country Songs Roundup column at American Noise.  I have to first say a very big thanks to Jim Malec for giving me the chance, and a first-rate venue, to review the newest releases to country radio.  This is the first in a bi-weekly installment where I’ll share few excerpts from the past few weeks, some of my critics picks.

Kenny Chesney featuring Grace Potter – “You and Tequila”

Listen here

Kenny Chesney and Vermont rocker Grace Potter offer my favorite Chesney single since “Better As a Memory” with this sparse and brooding number, written by Matraca Berg and Deana Carter. The two lament the liquor and the love that make them crazy on the song’s winning chorus, with Potter’s silky vocal being the perfect match for Chesney’s smooth crooning. The verses tell of the willingness of the narrator to self-destruct for one more night flying high, offering a bit of self-realization along the way (“It’s so easy to forget, the bitter taste the morning left”) as the acoustic rhythm guitar that makes up the bulk of the production plays on.

Grade: A

Zac Brown Band featuring Jimmy Buffett – “Knee Deep”   

Listen here

At this point in their ascension to country’s reigning supergroup, Zac Brown and Band have earned the right to show off their musical chops a bit, and even to flaunt their famous friends. From the snazzy opening to the solo verse performed by island king Jimmy Buffett, this reggae-infused number allows these six talented musicians some jam time on-stage, while the singer “searches for paradise.” There’s little else to the lyrics than that utopian pursuit, but it’s warm now, and with a melody like this nobody’s pondering the lyrics anyway.

Grade: B


Emmylou Harris – “The Road”

Listen here

Addressing the loss of Gram Parsons directly in song for the first time since the epic “Boulder to Birmingham,” Emmylou Harris’ self-penned “The Road” is more an open elegy to her late mentor than song of heartbreak. It’s swelling alt-country sound doesn’t lend itself to quiet contemplation as much as it marks a turning point when wounds begin to heal, and forging ahead is inevitable, even though you never forget. Harris’ emotive skills are on full-display here and she sounds utterly despondent at crucial moments, such as when she sings, “So I carried on, you can’t be haunted by the past/People come and people go and nothing ever lasts.” Still, she always brings the listener back to that place of peace she’s found.

Grade: A-

Martina McBride – “Teenage Daughters”

Listen here

Leading off an upcoming album for Republic Nashville, Martina McBride offers this tongue-in-cheek take on child-rearing, made all the more believable because we know Martina has teenage daughters of her own, but also because she has carefully cultivated an image of being a fellow soccer mom to her female listeners. Far from being just another tale of unconditional love between parent and child, “Daughters” focuses on the often funny, always chaotic period when teenagers begin to assert their independence by avoidance of their parents at all costs. As she sings of remembering when her daughter “used to think she was cool” and bemoans the current state of their relationship which has left her “tired,” “crazy,” and “in need of a drink,” McBride offers up her most restrained vocal in years. Chunky and scattered rhythms make the track melodically clunky, but that is salvaged by the smart message and a to-the-point vocal.

Grade: B+

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