My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Heather Morgan

Song Reviews: Sara Evans – ‘Marquee Sign’ and ‘Words’

It was last summer when Sara Evans made the announcement she had signed a recording contract with Sugar Hill Records. The move was designed to reunite Evans with her former A&R partner Tracey Gershon, a former record executive with UMG and a judge on Nashville Star the year Miranda Lambert placed third.

I was shocked when I heard the news. Had Sugar Hill Records lost their integrity? Why would they sign an artist as mainstream as Sara Evans? It turns out there was a bit more to the deal – Evans has gone on to form her own imprint, Born To Fly Records, with Gershon serving as a member of her A&R team.

Free of Sony’s constraints, I was excited to hear the first taste of Words, which is being touted for two main reasons – it’s her first independent album and it features a whopping fourteen separate female songwriters among the writing credits. The pedigree, on paper at least, seems high.

In reality, though, lead single “Marquee Sign,” co-written by Evans, Jimmy Robbins and Heather Morgan, is nothing more than a continuation of the sleek pop-country from her most recent Slow Me Down era, which did in fact slow down whatever momentum she had gained from “A Little Bit Stronger” (which appears on Words in acoustic form, as if it needs to reappear seven years later) to a screeching halt.

I’m smart enough to know that I should expect nothing when it comes to releases like “Marquee Sign.” Just because Words is an independent album, from Evans‘ own imprint, where is the incentive and guiding force that demands it has to be quality? She has to know she won’t get significant airplay, but that sadly isn’t enough for a reverse of course and a change of direction.

“Marquee Sign” might be a terrible song, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. It’s still characteristically Sara Evans. I do wish it was more “Backseat of a Greyhound Bus” or “Suds In The Bucket” Sara Evans, but those days are fourteen years in the rearview mirror.

In the lead up to Words, Evans has also issued the title track (co-written by Robins, David Hodges and Jake Scott), a ballad that makes ample use of her falsetto and trades twang for acoustic pop. The presentation is a breath of fresh air that presents Evans in a new light. On this track, at least, I give her credit for giving us something different that isn’t more of the same. “Marquee Sign” is nothing more than a doubling down of what hasn’t worked for her creatively or commercially in the past few years.

‘Marquee Sign:’ C

‘Words:’ B-

Album Review: Aaron Watson – ‘Vaquero’

vaqueroAaron Watson is an old favorite of mine, with his honest Texan country style and high quality songs. His latest album is a bit of a mixed bag, but has some very bright spots.

There is the kernel of a concept EP within the album, with a brace of songs addressing the Mexican American experience. The title track paints a portrait of an old Mexican cowboy offering some useful homespun advice, set to a pretty tune. A rather lovely Spanish guitar instrumental, ‘Mariano’s Dream’, fits nicely into this category, leading into ‘Clear Isabel’, a dramatic, empathetic story song about a Mexican cop fleeing the drugs cartels for the safety of the US, where his daughter marries the rancher narrator but her father is deported and murdered.

The opening ‘Texas Lullaby’, a moving story song about a soldier’s WWII love story, is perhaps my favorite track. ‘Be My Girl’ and ‘Big Love In A Small Town’ are attractive love songs with pretty melodies. The latter of these benefits from the harmonies of co-writer Heather Morgan.

‘They Don’t Make ‘Em Like They Used To’ talks about social and economic changes in a way reminiscent of some of Merle Haggard’s songs. It needs more of a melody, as far too much of the song is on a single note, but it’s an interesting song deeply rooted in Texas:

Well no news is good news, tell me whose news really tells the truth
The death toll rises high as gas prices shoot straight through the roof
Meanwhile politicians preach while some preachers politick
Well we need is lots of love, yeah lots of love might do the trick

Instead we criticize, we glamorize who’s right or wrong, who’s left or right
Missin’ out on so many beautiful colors, fightin’ over what’s black and white
We’ve gotta forgive, gotta learn to live together, make the world a better place
Maybe someday somebody somewhere will look back on today
Look back on us and say

They don’t make ’em like they used to

‘The Arrow’ is a life-affirming philosophical number aimed at Aaron’s children, set to a gentle tune, which I liked a lot:

Aim for the stars in the sky
Take heart, pull it back and let fly
On the wings of an angel
Let it fly with the grace of a dove

Let it fly with kindness and love.

‘Diamonds And Daughters’ was written especially for Aaron’s daughter Jolee and is a pretty song about the father-daughter relationship.

Disappointingly from an artist known for his solid Texas country style, a few tracks here are over produced in modern radio style. The main offender is the (admittedly quite catchy in its way) lead single ‘Outta Style’. ‘Amen Amigo’ is just too loud. ‘Run Wild Horses’ is a pretty, wistful ballad under a layer of over-production. I enjoyed ‘One Two Step At A Time’ and ‘Rolling Stone’, although again the production is intrusive. ‘Take You Home Tonight’ is rather forgettable. ‘These Old Boots Have Roots’ isn’t a bad song.

But the less good tracks are definitely overshadowed by the good stuff, especially as there are a generous 16 tracks, allowing for the odd misstep to be overlooked. This is another strong offering from Aaron, the quality of shoes writing is improving all the time.

Grade: A-

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-