My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Jennifer Hanson

EP Review: Jamie Floyd – ‘Sunshine & Rainbows’

sunshine & rainbowsOne of my favourite songs last year was the wonderful ‘The Blade, as recorded by Ashley Monroe. I was intrigued to learn that Jamie Floyd, one of the song’s writers, was releasing her own version as part of a six track EP. Ms Floyd has a warm alto voice which is not as sweet or vulnerable as Ashley’s, but is still attractive. As a precocious child singer she had a record deal at the age of 11 which went nowhere, and now combines her songwriting career with waitressing.

Her version of ‘The Blade’ is hushed and emotional, and does justice to the song, although it doesn’t quite match the Monroe version, it’s still an excellent performance of one of the best songs of recent years, and well worth tracking down.

Almost as good is ‘The People You Knew’, which she wrote with Lori McKenna. This delicate piano-led ballad is wistfully sad about losing touch with a former best friend:

I can’t explain it but the world changed
You slipped away

The appealing title track, a co-write with Shannon Wright, has a gentle melody and a philosophical approach to life and loss. This is another lovely track, and eminently coverable – it would be ideal for Ashley Monroe.

Unfortunately I did not care for Jamie’s musical choices on the remaining tracks.

‘The Devil Don’t Live In Georgia’ has an arresting title and is a good song with a sultry Southern Gothic blues feel, but the production on Jamie’s vocal is electronically distorted in such a way that it is unlistenable for me. ‘Hey Love’ offers similar treatment to a boring pop song; I disliked this intensely. ‘Casino’ was written with former pop-country singer Jennifer Hanson and Lucie Silvas, a British born pop singer-songwriter who is now based in Nashville and married to a member of the contemporary country duo the Brothers Osborne. It is another pop/rock tune which isn’t my cup of tea but I found it less offensive to my ears than the other two.

So this album of two halves falls into the hard to grade territory: I’ll average it at B-.

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Album Review – Don Williams – ‘Reflections’

4096_donwilliamsreflectionsOn his second Sugar Hill Release, and his third album in a decade, 74-year-old Don Williams spends a lot of time reflecting, just as the album’s title suggests. In the forty-plus years he’s been in the music industry he’s certainly earned the right, and with ten expertly chosen songs, he also gets right to the point.

As per usual Garth Fundis is along for the introspective journey and he succeeds masterfully in placing Williams’ distinctive baritone front and center, allowing the conversational way in which he sings to anchor the album extraordinarily.

This is no more apparent than on the one-two punch that opens the project. Townes Van Zant’s folksy “I’ll Be There In The Morning” is as honest a love song as it was forty-six years ago, with Williams breathing new life into the number with a combination of acoustic and steel guitars accentuated with ribbons of glorious harmonica. “Talk Is Cheap,” a Guy Clark co-write (with Chris Stapleton & Morgane Hayes) that previously found a home on Alan Jackson’s Thirty Miles West, lays bare our tendency to dream hypothetically and brings out the song’s urgency (‘wine’s for tasting, roads for taking’) in a way Jackson’s version didn’t. Both are two of the finest moments on record all year thus far.

Jennifer Hanson, Marty Dodson, and Mark Nesler’s “Back To The Simple Things” furthers the urgency felt in “Talk Is Cheap” by lamenting on modern technology and the stronghold is has on society. On one hand Williams is calling on us to live, on the other he’s making sure we remember what’s most important along that journey – human connection. The chugging beat, which backs the song, is fabulous, too, as is the uncomplicated way Williams is gets the message across.

“Working Man’s Son” finds Williams ruminating on a life lived while perfectly capturing the male psyche. Where most singers desire to run in the opposite direction from their elderliness, Williams stairs it squarely in the face with a stunningly age-appropriate lyric by Bob Regan and Jim Collins:

 I’ve had my fun, I’ve made some friends

I’ve loved and lost and loved again

Been down that less traveled road

Just to see how far it goes

Spoke my mind to defend myself

Tried not to hurt nobody else

But if I did, I hope they’ll forgive

Williams turns negative on Doug Gill’s “Stronger Back,” an antidote to the man taking the good with the bad on “Working Man’s Son.” He may be wishing for ‘a stronger back, a bigger heart, the will to keep on walking when the way is dark” but instead of letting his problems go, he just wants to embrace them and thus take responsibility. The flourishes of steel help to extenuate the track’s beautifully steady beat, and keeps the proceedings from getting too dark and moody.

“Healing Hands” is another life-well-lived moment, this time from a grandchild lamenting on the calluses as a benchmark of life in one’s years and the relationship between healing hands and a kind heart. The sentiment is there in Steve Gillette & Rex Benson lyric, but the execution is too schmaltzy. Fundis nicely makes up for it and saves the song with a striking mandolin and guitar heavy arraignment that’s slightly addictive.

In life, you know you ‘get it’ when you realize our days on earth are a journey full of lessons that never cease to reveal themselves to us. Steve Wariner and Tony Arata wrote “The Answer” about this phenomenon and framed the tale as a boy with countless questions for his all-knowing father. Williams does an impeccable job of bringing the ballad to life as does Fundis with his gorgeous production.

Much like he did with “I’ll Be There In The Morning,” Williams breathes new light into Jesse Winchester’s “If I Were Free” not by removing the song’s simplicity, but by adding to it. He turns the folk song into a country ballad backed solely by an acoustic guitar. The track takes on new meaning, too, with Williams at the helm.

With reflections on a life-well-lived, laments against modern technology, and disgust for people who dream without execution, a song like Merle Haggard’s “Sing Me Back Home,” about a man watching a prison execution, is the odd one out. But the tale does work, seeing as Reflections is an album, in part, about looking back on one’s life. The album’s real weak link is “I Won’t Give Up On You.” There’s nothing wrong with the beautiful love song at all, it just isn’t as spectacular a moment for Williams when compared to the rest of the record.

Often when singers make a record they talk about the idea of ‘having something to say’ with the songs they’re releasing. It’s especially true of songwriters, which makes Reflections all the more remarkable – Williams didn’t write a single word (he did co-produce) yet he has more to say in these ten tracks than most anyone over the course of their whole careers. His gifts as a singer and song interpreter are unmatched and help to elevate Reflections above the usual faire. If you’ve been waiting for a substantive collection full of meaning, with tasteful country production and class – than this is it. I can’t recommend Reflections enough.

Grade: A 

Single Review: Gwyneth Paltrow – ‘Country Strong’

“Country Strong” is a very conventionally-produced power anthem, with fluffy lyrics performed by a beautiful blonde singer. In other words, it has all the trappings of a potential smash hit. Having grown weary of the steady onslaught of outside-the-genre celebrities trying to crack the country music market in recent years, I was initially more than a bit skeptical upon learning that Gwyneth Paltrow was releasing a single to country radio. Therefore, I was a pleasantly surprised after listening to the song to discover that Paltrow proves herself to be a competent, if non-distinctive, vocalist, though admittedly the excellent harmony vocals provided by Vince Gill and Patty Griffin help to camouflage Paltrow’s vocal shortcomings. I may revise my opinion of Gwyneth’s singing depending on how her live performance on the upcoming CMA Awards show goes, but in the studio, at least, she is definitely up to the task.

Written by Jennifer Hanson, Tony Martin and Mark Nesler, and produced by Byron Gallimore, “Country Strong” is the title track of a new soundtrack album being released by RCA this week, to promote the upcoming motion picture of the same title. In the film, Paltrow portrays a fallen country star, struggling to recover from alcoholism and rebuild her career. Tim McGraw co-stars as her manager and husband.

There is nothing particularly memorable or interesting about this record, and in fact, a strong case can be made that the last thing country radio needs right now is another generic, relentlessly positive female empowerment anthem. However, since the track’s purpose is solely to act as a promotional tool for a movie, and since Gwyneth Paltrow is not normally known as a singer, I’m prepared to cut her and the record a little slack. And since, presumably, Paltrow’s character triumphs over her adversities by the end of the film, the positive message is entirely appropriate.

A music video of “Country Strong” can be viewed on YouTube. The single can be downloaded from iTunes and Amazon. The soundtrack album, which also contains contributions from Chris Young and Patty Loveless, Ronnie Dunn, Sara Evans, Trace Adkins, Lee Ann Womack, and others is also available from Amazon.

Grade: B

Chris’s End of 2008 List: Top 30 Singles

This is my 2008 top-30 singles post! First, about my singles list, I attempted to avoid songs that could still impact the charts more, songs like Miranda Lambert’s “More Like Her” or Little Big Town’s “Good Lord Willing”. I made some exceptions as you’ll soon see, but I tried to keep it to songs that peaked on the charts in 2008. Anyway, here are my top 30 singles of 2008! If you read my albums post, I’m warning you, this post is even longer…

That Don’t Make Me A Bad Guy

30. “She Never Cried In Front Of Me” – Toby Keith

– It’s not very country sounding, but Toby gives a great performance to a very good sad song. It’s probably my favorite song from him.

Long Trip Alone

29. “Trying To Stop Your Leaving” – Dierks Bentley

– Dierks is doing what he does best, it has energy, but still has meaning and great singing. A very solid single from a great album.

Fearless

28. “Love Story” – Taylor Swift

– Yeah, I did it, Swift’s on my list! I actually love this song, it’s creative and different from other artists, but I’m young so I may be biased. I also love the sound, especially the fiddle near the end that I find myself whistling. 

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