My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Josh Thompson

Album Review: Gary Allan – ‘Set You Free’

set you freeGary Allan’s career seemed to be on a bit of slowdown, with his last top 10 single coming in 2007. Gary has responded by turning to a variety of producers, often a ploy of the artist in decline and desperate to get another hit, but on the whole it seems to have worked. The result is probably the artist’s most sonically adventurous album to date, which is a mixed blessing, but after an initial sense of disappointment on my first hearing, I’ve warmed to the record more than I was expecting.

His biggest hit single in years, the resigned ‘Every Storm Runs Out Of Rain’, is a good song in a contemporary vein. The production (overseen by Gary with Greg Droman) is adventurous and a long way from Gary’s earliest traditional leanings, but not unattractive (apart from an echo which I could do without but is only used a couple of times). It places Gary’s best plaintive vocal at the heart of the track, supported by an effective harmony from co-writer Hillary Lindsey. This is the song which give the album its title.

Gary and Droman also produced ‘You Without Me’, a weary reflection on dealing with having split from someone the protagonist still loves, which Gary wrote with John Lancaster and Rachel Proctor, with another fine vocal. ‘Sand In My Soul’, their third collaboration, on the other hand, is a boring Warren Brothers song about depression on the beach, with a weird echoey sound. The bluesy rocker ‘Bones’, written by Keith Gattis, has an interesting lyric but it sounds like a loud tuneless mess. Disappointingly it is one of the songs flagged on the CD packaging as a likely single.

Gary turned to Mark Wright to help with a further three tracks. The best of these is ‘Hungover Heart’ which is a solid number despite a sometimes heavy hand with the electric guitars. Gary’s vulnerable vocal is perfect for the song, written by Matt Warren and James Leblanc. Gary’s own ‘No Worries’ is bland and boring reggae-lite which sounds like a Kenny Chesney reject, with irritatingly whispery, echoey production. ‘Good As New’ closes the album with an air of philosophical resignation, and is okay but a little over-produced.

The producer with the biggest role is Jay Joyce, best known for his work with Eric Church, and although I was concerned that I wouldn’t care for his work with Gary, it turns out to be better then expected. The best track on the album is one of his production efforts, is the downbeat ‘It Ain’t The Whiskey’, which showcases Gary’s grainy voice and is reminiscent of his best work, and where the production choices are inventive in a mostly good way (although the last instrumental break is pointlessly loud). An unusual opening with the faint sound of an organ leads into the body of the song, in which Gary declares to an AA meeting “in the church of the broken people” that depression is the root of his addiction, and

It ain’t the whiskey that’s killing me

The song was written by Greg Barnhill, Jim Daddario and Cole Degges.

Joyce also does a good job with the chugging ‘Tough Goodbye’, about a commitment-phobe with some qualms about breaking up with his latest victim. Penned by Josh Thompson and Tony Martin, the song is pretty good and gets a committed delivery from Gary, with an interesting ending where he suddenly sounds more vulnerable and even regretful. It might make a good single.

‘Drop’, another likely single does have a compelling, sexy vocal, but the song is just okay and the instrumental arrangement and production don’t really appeal to me, although it might work on radio. The mid-tempo ‘Pieces’ (written by Gary with Odie Blackmon and Sarah Burton) isn’t bad but is a bit loud, while ‘One More Time’, written by Gary with Hillary Lindsey and Matt Warren, is inoffensive but boring.

Overall, I think this album is a distinct improvement over his last couple of albums, although the quality of the material is not up to his classic work.

Grade: B

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Album Review: Brad Paisley – ‘This Is Country Music’

Brad Paisley was our Spotlight Artist last November, and he has produced some outstanding material in the past. His last few releases, however, have been on a downward spiral, and sadly his latest release accelerates the trend. He cowrote almost all the material with a variety of partners, most often including Kelley Lovelace and/or Chris Dubois. To be frank, he would have been well advised to look elsewhere, because so much of this is just plain uninspired.

Thhe three outside songs provide the most worthwhile tracks. The spiritual ‘Life’s Railway to Heaven’ former is the record’s sole nod to the traditionalism which marked Brad’s early career, and features guest vocals from Marty Stuart, Sheryl Crow and Carl Jackson. ‘A Man Don’t Have To Die’, written by Rivers Rutherford, George Teren and Josh Thompson, is the album’s highlight for me, although the story’s set-up is not as well set up as it might be. The song is largely addressed to a preacher, “new around here”, but it isn’t clear what he’s been saying to his flock to prompt this response:

It don’t really scare us when you yell and shake your fist
You see we already know that Hell exists

The body of the song is much more effective, with its depiction of the hell on earth of being laid off by a ungrateful employer, “six months short of 30 years“, struggling to repay a mortgage, or a broken marriage. The chorus has effective harmonies, but the track is marred by out of place and very irritating wordless backing vocals in the second half possibly intended to be the voices of angels.

The charmingly playful ‘Toothbrush’ (written by Joel Shewmake, Jon Henderson and Danny Simpson) details the growth of romance, and this track boasts an imaginative arrangement which makes it the best sounding track on the record. Brad’s composition ‘Eastwood’ is a rather good atmospheric Western style instrumental with Clint Eastwood adding a few words at the beginning and end. Brad’s little boys gurgle a few words as well, and are less irritating than most intrusions of child voices.

None of Brad’s songs here is up to the standard of his earlier work, but I still quite like the title track’s tribute to the inclusiveness of country music, which I reviewed last autumn – at least until it collapses into an uninspired litany of (much better) song titles. The current hit, ‘Old Alabama’ is a fair tribute to the band of that name, but far less effective as a song in its own right, even when Randy Owen joins in, and it is over-produced to boot.

Also acceptable is the rueful ‘I Do Now’ which has the protagonist looking back at his wedding and regretting breaking the promises he made then. It starts out very well indeed, with an understated regret imbuing the first verse, but the chorus is predictable and the later verses don’t take us anywhere unexpected. ‘New Favorite Memory’ is a pleasant but slightly dull evocation of domestic bliss. The affectionate wedding-set ‘Love Her Like She’s Leavin’’, complete with advice (from the bride’s Uncle Bill) of how to keep the relationship going, has a very pop-influenced melody and a pleasant but cliche’d lyric. The Eagles’ Don Henley sings harmony.

On a similar theme, the new single ‘Remind Me’, the duet with Carrie Underwood (reviewed recently by J.R. Journey) is actually a pretty good song about a couple longing for the sweetness of the early days of a love affair which has become a stale marriage, but Carrie oversings her parts, sounding too intense where the lyric seems to call for wistfulness, and overwhelms Brad when they are singing together, while the track is too heavily produced. It will probably be a monster hit.

‘One Of Those Lives’ is a well-meaning and earnestly sung pieces comparing the protagonist’s petty problems with more serious ones faced by others, but it is awkwardly phrased and generally feels a bit forced, and I don’t care for Brad’s ventures into a falsetto.

Brad includes his usual brace of songs intended to be funny but which don’t raise a smile. Of these, the silly novelty ‘Camouflage’ with yelled call-and response backing vocals reminiscent of Joe Diffie’s worst moments at least makes an impact, if not a positive one. The Mexican vacation-set ‘Don’t Drink The Water’, a duet with Blake Shelton, falls completely flat and is a waste of both men’s talent. ‘Working On A Tan’ is a boring beach song which sounds very poppy with Beach Boys style harmonies. ‘Be The Lake’ is equally dull, as Brad leches over his love interest.

This is a disappointing offering from an artist who seems to have run out of steam creatively. Unless he manages to recharge his batteries, I suspect this will be the last Brad Paisley album I’ll buy.

Grade: C-

Album Review: Josh Thompson – ‘Way Out Here’

It’s easy to categorize new Columbia artist Josh Thompson as another in the long line of outlaw wannabe who needs to tell us how country he is rather than showing it in the music. He does have more life experience to draw on than some of his competitors, having spent several years working in the real world before coming to Nashville in his 30s.

However, self-conscious statements of countriness do form the core theme for the songs on his debut album (all written or co-written by Josh), including the title track, which is a “my hometown is so country” number, complete with name-dropping mention of Johnny Cash, and is Josh’s new single. It is probably just generic enough to be a hit, as is ‘Blame It On Waylon’, co-written with former artist Rhett Akins, and a likely future single (it is one of the tracks billed rather prematurely on a sticker as a ‘hit song’). This is borne out in these lyrics:

If I got a don’t care attitude and long hair
And mean every damn word I’m singin’
I blame it on Waylon
And all them other outlaws

This seems to be more about image than substance, missing the point on a fairly fundamental level. The best part of this track comes in the instrumental break at the end of the song, where the rhythm actually is reminiscent of Waylon, rather than generic rock-country, and feels more like a genuine tribute than the main part of the song. The forgettably generic ‘You Ain’t Seen Country Yet’ references Haggard in the lyrics seemingly at random, and also features annoying “crowd” noise. ‘A Name In This Town’, written with Casey Beathard and David Lee Murphy, has more specific detail and a sense of ambivalence about the home town, which makes it the best of the songs in this vein. ‘Always Been Me’ has a hackneyed hook line, but feels the most sincere.

But there is some real substance here, notably with Josh’s sole solo composition, the reflective ‘Sinner’, my favorite track. It is encouraging to see that this is one of the songs expected to be a single, according to the label sticker. It treads a well-worn path thematically, but it is one that never really palls, as the protagonist humbly confesses his sins and inadequacies:

My heart’s been filled with hate, greed and envy
But I believe Jesus died to save souls like me

Cause I’m a sinner, that’s just what I am
Sometimes the devil can get the upper hand
But I hit my knees, close my eyes and bow my head
And thank the good Lord that when it comes to forgiveness
He’s no quitter cause I’m a sinner

If heaven had a limit
On the number of commandments you could break
Before they just cast your soul away
Well then, there’s no doubt
Where I’ll be heading when I check out

The song also benefits from Josh’s best vocal interpretation, coming across as more heartfelt than all the posturing.

The other really good song here is the waltz-time ‘I Won’t Go Crazy’, a dogged determination not to crack up over his heartbreak, co-written with Dallas Davidson. On a similar theme is the more superficial ‘Won’t Be Lonely Long’. I like the low key opening with the protagonist down in the dumps after his girl has walked out, but luckily she left at 7 pm on a Friday night, enabling him to go out and drown his sorrows (or have a good time instead). It isn’t a bad song (although any love whose loss is so easily overcome suggests it is fairly shallow-rooted), but it becomes less interesting as it bursts into the rocking chorus; I could imagine Brooks & Dunn doing this. I did like the wry spoken outro (“is it too late to get you back?”) which hints at something a little more ambivalent than the body of the song offers.

The pleasant ‘Back Around’ offers mellow recollections of teenage love, and is nice enough as far as it takes us, but lacks context – there is no indication as to how the relationship ended up, and Josh is not a sufficiently expressive singer to give us more than the lyric supplies. Josh’s debut single, the punchily fast-paced working man’s declaration of working hard to put ‘Beer On The Table’ sounds just like early Tim McGraw (or Tim’s more recent ‘It’s A Business Doing Pleasure with You’), and seems to have peaked just inside the top 20. It’s no classic, but it is quite entertaining, and one of the more memorable tracks here.

Neither Josh’s voice nor his material are particularly distinctive, but some of it is worth hearing. The current artist he reminds me of most strongly stylistically is Eric Church. I would be interested in hearing more if he could find the inspiration to tread some less well trodden paths in his songs.

Grade: C+

Way Out Here is available as a CD or digitally from amazon.