My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Jack Ingram

Album Review: Miranda Lambert – ‘Weight Of These Wings’

the-weight-of-these-wingsMiranda Lambert lost her crown as Female Vocalist of the Year at this year’s CMA awards. Listening to her new double album, I wonder if she is consciously moving beyond the genre. Even by today’s standards this sounds more like an Americana or alt-country record to me than a country one. Produced by Frank Liddell, Glenn Worf and Eric Masse, it is too often loaded with reverb and echo-ey production that is a long way from Nashville, particularly on the first of the two discs. As a country fan I’m disappointed, as the songwriting is strong and shows Miranda really developing artistically in this collection of songs reportedly inspired by her recent divorce.

‘Runnin’ Just In Case’, written with Gwen Sebastian, is a case in point: an interesting song about a restless soul beginning to regret her rootlessness just a little:

What I lost in Louisiana I found in Alabama
But nobody ever taught me how to stay
It ain’t love that I’m chasin’
But I’m running just in case

I ain’t unpacked my suitcase since the day that I turned 21
It’s been a long 10 years since then
It’s getting kind of cumbersome

‘Ugly Lights’ (written with Natalie Hemby and Liz Rose), is a nicely observed song about the morning-after drinking away the protagonist’s troubles, with a touch of self deprecating humor as she does the ‘Monday morning drive of shame’ picking up her car from the bar. ‘Use My Heart’, which Miranda wrote with Ashley Monroe and Waylon Payne, is a downbeat tune about the aftermath of a broken heart.

But good as these songs are, the arrangements and production simply don’t sound like they belong on a country album.

‘We Should Be Friends’, written by Miranda solo, is a fun song about female friendship and bonding over shared experience. The subdued ‘Getaway Driver’, written with Miranda’s new boyfriend Anderson East and old friend Natalie Hemby, is quite a good song about a pair of lovers on the run, written from the man’s viewpoint. In the lead single ‘Vice’, written with Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne, the protagonist is defiant about her sins.

Love song ‘Pushin’ Time’ (reportedly about her new romance) was okay but not very interesting. I didn’t much care for the perky ‘Highway Vagabonds’, and hated the noisy mess ‘Covered Wagon. ‘Pink Sunglasses’ was irritating and tuneless. ‘Smoking Jacket’ is boring and overwhelmed by the production. ‘You Wouldn’t Know Me’ was boring.

The production on side 2 is generally more bearable, and the songs less commercial.

My favorite tracks is ‘To Learn Her’, which has a pretty melody and sweet lyric about love and loss, which Miranda wrote with Ashley Monroe and Waylon Payne. It is the most country the album gets, and is a pleasure. ‘Tin Man’ is a delicately subdued tune about the pain of knowing love and heartbreak which Miranda wrote with Jon Randall and Jack Ingram.

The mid-tempo ‘Good Ol’ Days’ (a co-write with Brent Cobb and Adam Hood) is pretty good. The sunny ‘For The Birds’ is reminiscent of Kacey Musgraves. The ode in celebration of a Southern ‘Tomboy’ also reminded me of Musgraves. The wearied, gentle ‘Well-Rested’ is another nod to her split from Shelton.

In ‘Keeper Of The Flame’, written with Hemby and Liz Rose , she places herself as representative of a tradition of singer-songwriters, although without dropping any names or reflecting any specific tradition. ‘Dear Old Sun’ is rather boring, but perhaps on purpose as it is about surviving depression; less intentional is the fact that the backing vocals do not sound to be in tune.

In ‘Things That Break’ (written with Jon Randall’s wife Jessi Alexander and Natalie Hemby), Miranda reflects on a propensity for accident. The rocky ‘Bad Boy’ is less effective despite some perceptive lines, while ‘Six Degrees Of Separation’ is another muddy mess.

If much of the record is dominated conceptually by the experience of Miranda’s divorce, by the final track she is optimistic:

Sometimes these wheels
Get a little heavy
I can’t stay between the lines but I’m rockin’ steady
When I can’t fly
I start to fall
But I’ve got wheels
I’m rollin’ on

This is the kind of album it’s hard to assign a grade to. The songwriting is of a very high quality, really showing Lambert coming into her own as a mature artist. But the production choices are just not enjoyable for me.

Grade: B+

Week ending 5/21/16: #1 singles this week in country music history

Academy+Country+Music+Awards+Artist+Decade+6KPcHTfeigAl1956 (Sales): Heartbreak Hotel/I Was The One — Elvis Presley (RCA)

1956 (Jukebox): Heartbreak Hotel/I Was The One — Elvis Presley (RCA)

1956 (Disc Jockeys): Heartbreak Hotel — Elvis Presley (RCA)

1966: Distant Drums — Jim Reeves (RCA)

1976: What Goes On When the Sun Goes Down — Ronnie Milsap (RCA)

1986: Ain’t Misbehavin’ — Hank Williams, Jr. (Warner Bros./Curb)

1996: My Maria — Brooks & Dunn (Arista)

2006: Wherever You Are — Jack Ingram (Big Machine)

2016: H.O.L.Y. — Florida Georgia Line (Republic Nashville)

2016 (Airplay): Somewhere on a Beach — Dierks Bentley (Capitol)

Album Review: Hayes Carll – ‘Lovers And Leavers’

lovers and leaversTexan singer-songwriter Hayes Carll’s new album sees him taking a more personal turn as he reflects on his experiences of fatherhood and divorce, and finding new love .

‘Drive’ (written with Jim Lauderdale) opens the album, painting the picture of a man without roots or a destination in mind:

Burning up your life
Oh, it’s some place else to go
Just drive, drive, drive
Round and round
A Colorado town
Like a mustang in the mountains
You’re too wild to settle down
Sing your song
Throw your hammer in the air
Burning both ends of that candle
And pretend that you don’t care

The bluesy ‘Sake Of The Song’, whose title and vocal delivery both draw comparison with the Townes Van Zandt classic, is a co-write with Darrell Scott. It is about the musician’s true motivation: not stardom but the song itself.

If you’re nobody’s business
Or you’re front page news
Folk, rock, country or Delta blues,
Tell your truth however you choose
And do it all for the sake of the song

Yeah, hitchhike, and bus ride, and rental car
Living rooms, coffee house, and rundown bars
Ten thousand people or alone under the stars
It’s all for the sake of the song

There’s the man who wrote “Your Cheatin’ Heart”
Now he’s lying through his tooth
And he plays it on a stolen harp,
That’s soaked in a hundred proof…

And there’s the young man on the marquee
He’s the son of someone well known
And his father bought the two of us
So he could strike out on his own…

And there’s the mystic,
And there’s the legend
And there’s the best that’s ever been
And there’s the voice of a generation
Who won’t pass this way again
And there’s record deals and trained seals
And puppets on a string
And they’re all just trying to figure out
What makes the caged bird sing

My favourite song is the country lament about a failed relationship, ‘Good While It Lasted’, which Carll wrote with Will Hoge:

I smoked my last cigarette
I drank my last drop
Quit doing all the things
I swore I’d never stop
I changed my direction
Sang a different tune
Gave up all those childish ways
That made me old too soon
Things were going good there for a while
I tried to straighten out the crooked road that I was on

We both said forever
Forever till the end
Forever’s something different
To a lover and a friend
We thought we had it all there for a while
Just like that perfect moment
Before the darkness turned to dawn
It was good while it lasted
But it didn’t last too long

‘You Leave Alone’ is a melancholic but sympathetic story song or portrait in song, of a dreamer who “never went nowhere”.

The dissolute-sounding ‘My Friends’ pays tribute to the support of old friends, and has some interesting lines, but musically it’s a bit of a mess and he sounds as if he recorded it drunk. It is the closest thing here to the more raucous sound he has produced in the past, and on this showing it’s a good thing he appears to have moved away from it.

‘The Love That We Need’ was written with the artist’s new love interest, Allison Moorer, and fellow Texan Jack Ingram, and offers rather a bleak look at a passionless relationship. ‘Love Don’t Let Me Down’, the song from which the album’s title is drawn, displays the protagonist’s vulnerability but offers a gleam of hope for happiness. The pleasant mid-tempo ‘Love Is So Easy’ is a slightly quirky love song.

‘The Magic Kid’ is a tender description of Carll’s young son, a talented conjuror, and of the courage of innocence. The delicate ‘Jealous Moon’ ends the album on a poetic note.

This album marks a maturing of Carll as an artist, and I was very impressed. While he’s not the greatest of vocalists, he gets his songs across adequately, and the song quality is what matters here.

Grade: A

ACM Awards: My Kind Of Country’s choices

Last week we revealed our predictions for Sunday’s ACM Awards ceremony. Now we’ll let you know who we’d actually like to win. We had a number of unanimous predictions, mainly relating to Taylor Swift and Lady Antebellum, but we’re a bit more divided when it comes to our personal choices.

Kenny Chesney
Toby Keith
Brad Paisley: J.R. Journey, Occasional Hope, Meg
George Strait: Razor X

Taylor Swift
Carrie Underwood
Keith Urban
Zac Brown Band

J.R.: I think Brad is about 3 years overdue for an Entertainer of the Year win. He’s one of the best we’ve got.
OH: He apparently puts on a great live show, has a good image, is a popular choice to co-host awards shows himself, and it’s his turn. Actually, as J.R. says, it’s been his turn for a while, and he keeps getting overlooked. Now his commercial star seems to be waning a bit, I hope he doesn’t miss the boat on this award at one of the major awards shows. It’s a shame this category is fan-voted.
Meg: Top tour, great sales & #1s, appearances everywhere – Brad’s been working hard and deserves this.
Razor: This is a pretty underwhelming list of nominees. I don’t think the Zac Brown Band has risen to the level yet where they can be taken seriously as contenders for this award – and the veterans who usually get nominated (Chesney, Urban, Keith, and Paisley) haven’t done anything that spectacular in the past year. For that reason, I’m picking my favorite from this list of entertainers as the person to whom I’d like to see this award given.

Kenny Chesney
Brad Paisley: J.R., Meg
Darius Rucker
George Strait: Occasional Hope, Razor X
Keith Urban

Razor: Again, I’m going strictly by personal preference. Strait is the only really decent singer in this group of otherwise weak vocalists.
OH: He’s the best singer of these guys and has the best current album release.

Miranda Lambert
Reba McEntire: J.R., Meg, Razor X
Taylor Swift
Carrie Underwood
Lee Ann Womack: Occasional Hope

Razor: She is simply the best in this group of nominees, and against the odds, has had a resurgence at radio in the past year.
J.R.: Who else would I pick? She did have a great album which was just certified gold and recently released the longest-running chart-topper of her 33 year career and is currently part of the hottest country music ticket on the road right now. This is Reba’s 14th nomination with 7 wins in this category in the past 25 years. That’s impressive.
Meg: She’s had a great year with a super single in ‘Consider Me Gone’ at #1 for 4 weeks, a gold album, and arguably has the best vocals and interpretation out there.
OH: I love her voice the most of the nominees, and although flawed I liked her album the most. I hope her new album is better than the lead single though.

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What makes it country?

buckleEven after a good three years of listening to my local country station, rooting around on the internet and exploring country music blogs, I still often wonder to myself, “What makes country music, country?” There’s such a variety of artists with a diversity of sounds and looks these days. Is there a definitive element that makes them country?

While watching the ACMs this last weekend, a friend commented during Lee Ann Womack’s wonderful performance of  ‘Solitary Thinkin’, “Boy, she’s real country — not pop at all.” Another friend was trying to describe Jamey Johnson’s look and style, and summed it up by saying, “He’s just…country!” At the same time, Brooks and Dunn kicked off the show with their energetic ‘Play Something Country’ which features the line, Crank up the band, play the steel guitar. Yet what followed didn’t have too many obvious steel guitars: Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, Sugarland and Rascal Flatts.

So what makes country, country?

Is it the instrumentation? Does it have to have fiddles and steel front and center to qualify? If so, that sure knocks out quite a bit of what is considered country these days. Some argue that the genre would be better off without these folks, but I’d miss Sugarland.

Is it the subject matter? Is that old joke true that if you play a country song backwards the guy gets his girl and his job back, finds whatever he’s lost, quits crying and leaves the bar sober? Or does a country song need to take place on gravel roads down south or out west driving a pick-up past Old Glory? If so, then you’d eliminate Dolly Parton’s ‘9 to 5’, Reba’s huge early hit ‘Whoever’s In New England’ and so many songs that have more of an urban, northern setting or don’t have a setting at all. And if you played certain country songs backwards, the ending wouldn’t be happy anymore — country love songs or those finally-growing-up songs like Jack Ingram’s ‘Measure of a Man.’

Is it the artist’s accent, clothes, or life story? J.R. Journey wrote a great piece called ‘To twang or not to twang’ here on the blog not too long ago. If you take the twang out of the country does it become pop or rock? If you put boots and a buckle on the singer, or if they grew up in small-town Oklahoma, Texas or Tennessee ridin’, ropin’ and roughin’ it, does that figure in somehow?

Is it the melodies, harmonies and structures of the songs themselves?  Perhaps, but there’s so many styles of country influenced by every other musical genre — blues, blue grass, rock, folk, pop, the islands, swing, you name it.

Is it some combination of the above, or is there another characteristic that’s less stereotypical that defines country as country?

What is it that’s at the core of country music in your mind and heart? What’s YOUR kind of country?