My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Katrina Elam

New singles roundup: Swift, Flatts & Bedingfield, Shelton

Taylor Swift – “Sparks Fly”   Listen.

When most of us were still clumsy, horomonal teenagers, our high school English teachers drilled Mark Twain’s old adage “write what you know” into our heads as if the statement held some great truth, and Taylor Swift has certainly given the questionably sage advice new credibility with her music. After all, who knows more about the thunder and lightning in your head as physical attraction causes an ebb and flow of emotions than a 21 year-old woman, fresh from her teens and with enough life experience to recognize it as it’s happening? “Sparks Fly” isn’t propelled by an original idea like the singer’s recent singles – dropping everything for the passion of a sweet embrace is perhaps pop and country music’s most popular go-to place right now – but will stand up with the heavier-hitters in Swift’s catalog because the songwriter’s vocabulary has evolved to speak to her target audience instinctively. She’s singng about engaging green-eyed boys and fantasies of kissing in the pouring rain, being carried up the stairs, and so on. Add to that the engaging Swiftian melody, some really clever lines – “something that’ll haunt me even when you’re not around” is a personal favorite – and the stop and start production, where the electric guitar pounds as hard as the drums, and you’ve got a ready-made chart-topper. Even with lighter fare such as this, Swift demonstrates why she’s got the corner on the country-light market right now.

Grade: B+

Rascal Flatts featuring Natasha Bedingfield – “Easy”   Listen.

Another season, another country star/pop star collaboration for the radio playlists.  This time out, it’s Rascal Flatts teaming with British dance/pop hit-maker Natasha Bedingfield.  Katrina Elam and Mike Mobley’s lyrics offer a telling glimpse into the awkwardness two ex-lovers experience trying to keep their cool in a crowd of Friday night revelers.  It’s got more substance than “Don’t You Wanna Stay”, for instance, but to their credits, Aldean and Clarkson had the horse sense to limit their showboating to a realized final crescendo.  Here, LeVox and Bedingfield do a disservice to the true-to-life lyrics with their “I’m so deep, complex, and heartbroken this is the only way I can express myself” approach to performing the song. The pounding production tricks that work to punctuate the lyrics in the chorus do nothing more than ratchet up the pretentiousness of the affair by two, as swells of screaming electric guitars and an electronic drum machine frame the vocal antics.  They seem to have been going for over-the-top schmaltz, and they’ve accomplished that, but in the end, “Easy” comes off as “Picture” with an emo-sensibility.

Grade: D+

Blake Shelton – “God Gave Me You”   Listen.

The first four lines to the CMA Male Vocalist of the Year’s latest single don’t signal a big love song is soon to come.  Those bits of self-realized honesty do serve to characterize the narrator, however, and lend an air of believability (not to mention leniency) to coming statements like “You’ll always be love’s great martyr/I’ll be the flattered fool/And I need you“.  Contemporary Christian artist Dave Barnes had a 2009 hit on the Adult and triple C charts with the song.  Shelton has injected his best matter-of-fact country boy vocal into the song, overcoming the smashing electric guitars and electric piano that lead the song.  “God Gave Me You” is a better offering from the singer than his previous four consecutive chart-topping singles, and will earn its eventual place at the top.

Grade: B

Album Review: Reba McEntire – ‘Keep On Loving You’

reba keep on loving you cover
She revisits many of the same themes and ideas she has sung to us about before, at times saying it better than before.  But more
often than not, these recycled themes fall short of the songs of their predecessors.  Reba is in fine voice throughout the entire
album.  Her vocal is the one thing I can’t find any complaints about, it’s sassy when it needs to be, tender when the music calls
for it, and it aches and burns at just the right moment.  Reba has long been a master at interpreting a lyric, and her years of
experience are certainly on display here, even when the songs fail her.
Up-tempo:
Nothing to Lose – Trisha Yearwood’s GH … changed ‘my last cigarette’ to ‘this old paperback’ and Reba gives a more
ferocious vocal, attacking the lyric with a spitfire in her voice.
I’ll Have What She’s Having – western swing, another smoking vocal …
A remixed ‘I Want a Cowboy’ dance mix sent to clubs all over America, busy music, young lyrics it should suit that crowd just
fine, even if it’s not really my style.
Consider Me Gone – second single, 90s pop-country feel, classic Reba ‘strong-woman’ theme.
Ballads: – ‘But Why’ … more of the classic Reba sound –
‘Over You’ is the sort of tried and true heartbreak ballad Reba fans eat up, but these
The album’s stand-out track is the swampy ‘Maggie Creek Road’.  In this tale of a mother’s love and how she avenges her own
situation and saves her daugher at the same time, Reba rolls out the lines like a folklore missionary.  This is the kind story song
Reba excels best at – stories of sex and violence and revenge and family love in the vein of southern Gothic classics like ‘Fancy’
and ‘The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia’, this Karyn Rochelle and James Slater fits neatly into that category.

For her Valory Music Co. debut, Reba revisits many of the same themes she has sung to us about in the past, at times saying it better than before.  But more often than not, these recycled themes fall short of the songs of their predecessors.  Reba is in fine voice for the entire album.  Her vocal is the one thing I can’t find any complaints about. It’s sassy when it needs to be, tender when the music calls for it, and it aches and burns at just the right moments.  Reba has long been a master at interpreting a lyric, and her years of experience are certainly on display here, even when the songs fail her.

You don’t get to be country music’s biggest female hit-maker without following some sort of formula, and this album showcases Reba’s formula of a couple show-stopping ballads, some up-tempo numbers, and the occasional achingly sad number. Splitting production credits with long-time collaborator Tony Brown and Mark Bright gives the album a fresh sound for sure, but it also tends to create a lack of focus.  The one core element running through nearly every song on Keep On Loving You is that of the strong woman, which Reba has been singing the praises of for the better part of two decades now.  But these strong women are all over the place, from being allegedly heartbroken in the lead single, the rocking ‘Strange’, to being genuinely blue in ‘Over You’ and then on a manhunt in ‘I’ll Have What She’s Having’.  There’s certainly no consistency to the instrumentation either, as Reba goes from pop-country to western swing – all ably I might add.

Reba really steps out of the box with the up-tempo numbers on the album more than anything, and these are also the most traditional of the cuts.  Trisha Yearwood recorded ‘Nothing to Lose’ for her Greatest Hits album.  There’s not much difference to the backing tracks each lady used, but here Reba has changed ‘my last cigarette’ to ‘this old paperback’ and she gives a more ferocious vocal, attacking the lyric with a spitfire in her voice.  ‘I’ll Have What She’s Having’ is a fun western swing number and another smoking vocal that finds the narrator admiring the man out on the dance floor and inquiring where she can find one of her own.

A remixed ‘I Want a Cowboy’ was sent to dance clubs all over America, and with the original’s busy music and young lyrics it should suit that crowd just fine, even if it’s not really my style.  Katrina Elam co-wrote the song, and first recorded it on her 2004 debut.  She also provides harmony vocals here.  A couple of other throw-away tracks pop up with the rousing ‘Pink Guitar’ and its prerequisite Johnny Cash reference. Likewise, ‘Over You’ is the sort of tried and true heartbreak ballad Reba fans eat up, but these are lyrics from the recycling bin again, and the performance is a bit much as she overstates the lyrics as if she had something new to say.

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