My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Kelly Lovelace

Album Review: Randy Houser – ‘How Country Feels’

how country feelsRandy Houser’s third album, while his most consistent to date, is still a very mixed bag. Derek George’s production is generally unsubtle and loud, and acceptable but uninspired on the quieter tracks. Houser’s career seemed to have hit the roadblocks, when he left Show Dog-Universal for independent label Stoney Creek. However, ‘How Country Feels’ his first single for the new label proved to be a hit, and became only his second top 10 single to date. It isn’t a very interesting song, but regrettably that seems to be what it takes for commercial success these days.

New single ‘Running Outta Moonlight’, written by Dallas Davidson, Kelly Lovelace and Ashley Gorley, is quite catchy but too loud, and while not dislikeable, rather bland lyrically with its generic picture of outdoor romance in the South. However, its very flaws make it a good bet to repeat the performance of ‘What Country Feels’. Much the same goes for the equally loud ‘Growin’ Younger’, written by Randy with Justin Weaver and Brett James, with its positive but unoriginal message about living life to the full, and I could see this as a successful single later this year.

The nadir of the album is reached with ‘Absolutely Nothing’, a half-spoken, largely tuneless, incredibly bland and completely pointless song about doing nothing. It’s the kind of thing that was probably fun at an uninspired writing session, but has no interest for anyone else (the guilty parties are Lee Brice, Joe Leathers and Vicky McGehee). Luckily, it is the only track (of 15) which has absolutely no merit.

There is a handful of genuinely outstanding songs which make this project worthwhile (or are at least worth downloading separately). Perhaps the best of all is ‘The Singer’, written by Trent Willmon and Drew Smith. It is a tender portrait of the (ex?) wife of a successful but troubled musician:

She loved the singer
She just couldn’t live the song

Almost as good is Randy’s own ‘Power Of A Song’, written with Kent Blazy and Cory Batten. This gentle but powerful ballad sounds as though it was inspired by ‘Three Chords and the Truth’, telling the story first of a man planning on leaving his wife and kids and turned around by hearing a song on the radio:

That’s the miracle of music
Loves’s the only thing as strong

The second verse is a contrasting, and even more powerful, story of a woman who never thought she would have the courage to leave a violent relationship – and this time the song gives her the strength not to turn round, 40 miles out. Oddly, this great song has a copyright date of 2004, but somehow has never been cut before. I’m garteful Randy revived it for this album.

The third great song is ‘Along For The Ride’, a pensive philosophical number with gospel-style paino and a bluesy feel to the vocals which Randy wrote with Zac Brown and Levi Lowrey. The last standout is the closer, ‘Route 3 Box 250D’, even though it is a co-write about rural life with Rhett Akins and Dallas Davidson. What makes it work is that it is an emotionally invested, detailed story about a specific family situation which feels very real, which does not shy away from the dark side. The story of growing up in a trailer in Mississippi with a violent stepfather with the only refuge fishing on a neighbour’s pond until the child’s prayers are answered when rescue comes from an uncle is deeply moving, as the protagonist reflects,

That’s where I became a man
Long before my time

The lyrics note bleakly, “Hollywood don’t make no movies” about the kind of life he led, but actually there is the kernel of a film, or perhaps a novel, in this song.

I liked ‘Shine’, written by Neil Thrasher, Trent Summar, Wendell Mobley. Set to an engaging banjo-led arrangement (but still a bit too loud), it tells the story of a rural moonshiner giving some hope to the residents of a town badly affected by the economic downturn of the past few years.

‘Top Of The World’, written by Jason Sellers, Rob Hatch, Lance Miller and Vicky McGehee, is a pretty good mid-tempo love song with a catchy tune, and I also quite liked ‘Goodnight Kiss’, written by Hatch and Sellers with Randy. ‘Wherever Love Goes’ is a pleasant contemporary country duet with labelmate Kristy Lee Cook, written by Sellers with Neil Thrasher and Paul Jenkins.

‘Like A Cowboy’ and ‘Let’s Not Let It’ are decent songs both co written by Randy, hampered by heavy handed production. ‘Sunshine On The Line’, written with Dallas Davidson, has a fairly generic lyric about good times with a pretty girl in the summer, but is saved by the energetic Southern rock performance.

This is an uneven record, which always makes giving a grade somewhat notional. The best songs deserve A status, and I recommend cherrypicking those to download. I suspect these are the ones that won’t get played on radio, but it is good to see that artists with one eye on the charts are stil able to include songs of substance on their albums.

Grade: B

Advertisements

Album Review: Joe Nichols – ‘It’s All Good’

Joe Nichols is one of Music Row’s underrated journeymen performers. His sixth studio album, released last week is a mostly quiet affair, more rooted in tradition than the music of most his contemporaries, with a few concessions to contemporary tastes that should give him a shot at some radio airplay. As with his last few albums, he’s opted not to put all his eggs in one basket by using just one producer. This time around Mark Wright shares the honors with Buddy Cannon, with each contributing five tracks.

Things get off to a rocky start with the lead single, “Take It Off” a mediocre number that attempts but does not succeed in recreating the winning formula of 2005’s “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off”. Written by Dallas Davidson, Ashley Gorey, and Kelly Lovelace, the song is ultimately done in by the lack of subtlety in the lyrics, namely the part that goes:

You’re a pretty little country thing
But giddy under them cut-off jeans
Take ’em off, come on mama, take ’em off

Presumably these words of poetry are the handiwork of Kelly Lovelace, since they sound like something we’d normally hear from Brad Paisley. Released in August and reviewed by J.R. Journey shortly thereafter, “Take It Off” is currently at #25 on the charts.

The second track, “The More I Look” is a little better. It doesn’t contain any tasteless lyrics, but the production is a little cluttered and loud for my liking. Thankfully, this is the only production misstep on the album. I imagine that this track is earmarked for release as a single at some point, since it seems more radio friendly than most of the other songs on the album. Another likely single is “Somebody’s Mama”, a tune written by David Lee Murphy and Kim Tribble that finds Joe in the midst of covering up a tattoo that reminds him of an old flame. The couple apparently split up because Joe wasn’t ready to settle down:

She used to say all she wanted was babies
And I was too young to slow down
But I figure she’s probably somebody’s mama by now.

He goes on to speculate that she’s also dripping in diamonds and driving an expensive car, which seems odd because nothing else in the lyrics suggests that she was particularly materialistic. On the contrary, the fact that “she used to say all she wanted was babies” suggests quite the opposite. Still, it’s a pleasant song that stands a reasonable chance of success on the charts.

Things improve considerably from the fourth track on, with Joe sounding a lot at times like a younger George Strait, in both his vocal style and choice of material. The Strait influence is particularly evident with the title track written by Gary Burr and Georgia Middleman. “It’s All Good” is the most traditional and the best song on the album and probably not what radio wants, so it will likely linger in obscurity as an album cut. “No Truck, No Boat, No Girl” is also quite good and slightly more radio-friendly. The mood continues to get more mellow as the album progresses, with inoffensive filler like “Never Gonna Get Enough” and “She’s Just Like That.” The closing track “How I Wanna Go”, is a particularly laid-back tune that finds Joe contemplating an easy life on a sailboat with his guitar and lady, and again sounding very much like King George.

Nichols has had inconsistent success on the singles charts and there’s probably not anything here that is going to change that. It’s All Good is not an outstanding album, but it is very good above-average effort that deserves a listen. It is currently on sale for $5.99 at Amazon MP3.

Grade: B

Album Review: Brad Paisley – ‘American Saturday Night’

Brad Paisley’s 5th Gear album marked the beginning of a subtle shift to a more contemporary sound, a trend that continued with his follow-up album, 2009’s American Saturday Night, his least traditional-sounding album to date. The familiar tongue-in-cheek pick-up tunes, semi-rowdy party and fishing songs, and odes to domestic harmony are still present, but the electric guitars are amped up a little more than on previous albums. The end result is somewhat of a mixed bag; there are plenty of enjoyable moments but overall the album is the weakest in Paisley’s catalog.

Brad co-wrote all of the songs on the album, many of them with long-time collaborators Chris DuBois (who is also credited as executive producer), Ashley Gorley, Kelly Lovelace and Tim Owens. Although this group of songwriters has served Paisley well over the past decade, his continued reliance on them is the most fundamental flaw of this album. This time around, they seem to have run out of things to say, and as a result, much of American Saturday Night is a rehash of previous Paisley albums. The lead single “Then” is virtually a reincarnation of “She’s Everything” from 2005’s Time Well Wasted; “Water” seems to be a slightly less crass version of “Ticks”, and “Anything Like Me” is strikingly similar to “Letter To Me.” This play-it-safe approach worked well as far as radio was concerned; all of these tracks made it to either #1 or #2 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, and “Then” was certified platinum for digital sales exceeding one million downloads.

The singles “American Saturday Night” and “Welcome To The Future” are more original. The former is a celebration of the melting pot that is America and is my favorite of the cuts that were released to radio. “Welcome To The Future” received a lot of attention when it was released for its reference to the historic 2008 US presidential election. The song doesn’t quite work because it attempts to tie a breakthrough moment in race relations to the marvels of modern technology that dominate the first half of the song. Though the writers undoubtedly had good intentions, the triumph over decades of social injustice is trivialized by the comparison to smart phone apps and video conferencing.

Not only does American Saturday Night borrow heavily from the themes explored in Brad’s previous albums, it also relies on some of the same production gimmicks, namely the rowdy party chorus on the end of “Catch All The Fish”. While this may have worked well on previous records such as “Alcohol” and “I’m Gonna Miss Her”, it seems like out of place here. How many people can there possibly be on board that fishing boat anyway? But despite the production misstep, “Catch All The Fish” is one of the best tracks on the album,with some excellent steel guitar and fiddle playing by Randal Currie and Justin Williamson, respectively. Ditto for “The Pants.” Another favorite is “No”, which was co-written by Bill Anderson and Jon Randall. Although it is bound to invite some comparisons to Garth Brooks’ “Unanswered Prayers”, it at least explores some territory that is uncharted for Brad.

Despite its flaws, American Saturday Night is not a bad album, but it seems doomed to become one of Brad’s least memorable albums due to its lack of originality. Most of what he has to say here, he has said before, and more effectively. For his next project, I’d like to see him to take a few more risks instead of playing it safe, and perhaps engage the talents of some outside songwriters in order to gain a fresh perspective.

American Saturday Night is widely available from retailers such as Amazon and iTunes.

Grade: B-

Spotlight Artist: Brad Paisley

A presence at the top of the country charts for more than a decade now, singer-songwriter and guitar virtuoso Brad Paisley has frequently been heralded as the savior of traditional country music. While that may be overstating the case a bit, there is no doubt that he has played a key role in keeping the traditional sound alive, having built a reputation for combining contemporary country elements with humor, while showing a deep and profound respect for country music’s past.

The Glendale, West Virginia native was born on October 28, 1972. His interest in country music was sparked at age eight when his grandfather gave him his first guitar. Shortly thereafter he began singing in church. He wrote his first song at age 12 and formed his first band when he was 13. When he was in junior high school, he was invited to perform on Jamboree USA, a Wheeling, West Virginia radio program that is the second oldest country music broadcast in the United States, after the Grand Ole Opry. He became a regular cast member, performing with superstars such as Ricky Skaggs, George Jones, and The Judds.

After high school, Brad attended West Liberty University in West Virginia for two years before transferring to Belmont University in Nashville on a fully-paid scholarship. While at Belmont, he met Frank Rogers, who would one day become his record producer, as well as Kelly Lovelace and Chris DuBois, who became his songwriting partners.

Paisley spent the first few years following his graduation from Belmont as a staff songwriter for EMI Music Publishing, before signing with Arista Nashville in 1998. From that point, success came quickly. His first single “Who Needs Pictures” was released in February 1999. Released at a time when country music was becoming more pop-oriented, the record struck a chord with audiences who yearned for more traditional-sounding music. “Who Needs Pictures” climbed to #12 on the charts, and the follow-up release “He Didn’t Have To Be” made it all the way to #1. In 2000 he won the CMA’s Horizon Award and the Academy of Country Music’s Best New Male Vocalist award. He was inducted as a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 2001.

Brad married actress Kimberly Williams in 2003, following her appearance in one of his music videos. They are now the parents of two young sons and live in Franklinville, Tennessee.

In the almost dozen years since his debut, Paisley has racked up 27 charting singles, 15 of which have made it to #1, as well as seven studio albums, five of which have been certified platinum or better, and one that has been certified gold. A double-disc greatest hits package, containing both the studio recordings and previously unreleased live versions of his hits, will be released this week. We hope you’ll enjoy our look back at the accomplishments of this talented performer as we spotlight the career of Brad Paisley throughout the month of November.