My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Kimberly Perry

Single Review – Danielle Bradbery – ‘The Heart of Dixie’

Danielle-Bradbery-The-Heart-Of-Dixie-Cover-ArtOne of the biggest mysteries in contemporary country music has been the ongoing stagnation at the top for female artists. Not since Taylor Swift debuted with “Tim McGraw” in June 2006, has a woman been able to have consistent airplay for their singles. Some (Jana Kramer and Kacey Musgraves) have launched big but seemingly fizzled out while others (Kellie Pickler and Ashton Shepherd) have been dropped by major labels after multiple albums worth of singles couldn’t peak better than top 20. You have to look at duos and groups to find any other females (Jennifer Nettles, Hillary Scott, Kimberly Perry, Shawna Thompson, Joey Martin Feek) who are having success and even they have enough male energy to keep them commercially viable.

Let’s not forget that two summers ago, fourteen days went by without a single song by a solo female in the top 30 on the Billboard Country Singles Chart. With the demographics in country music skewing younger and the music-seeking public increasingly more and more female, is there any hope this pattern will change? Can anyone break through the muck and join the ranks of Swift, Miranda Lambert, and Carrie Underwood?

If anyone can, it’s Danielle Bradbery. She has three strikes in her favor already – at 17 she’s young enough to appeal to the genre’s core demographic audience, she’s signed to the Big Machine label Group run by master monopolizer Scott Borchetta, and as winner of The Voice, she has Blake Shelton firmly in her corner. Plus, she’s an adorable bumpkin from Texas who has enough charisma and girl next door appeal to last for days.

They also nailed it with her debut single. “The Heart of Dixie” isn’t a great song lyrically speaking. Bradbery is singing about a girl named Dixie who flees her dead-end life (job and husband) for a better existence down south. But that’s it. There’s nothing else in Troy Verges, Brett James, and Caitlyn Smith’s lyric except a woman who gets up and goes – no finishing the story. How Matraca Berg or Gretchen Peters would’ve written the life out of this song 20 years ago. Also, could they have found an even bigger cliché than to name her Dixie?

But the weak lyric isn’t as important here as the melody. It has been far too long since a debut single by a fresh talent has come drenched in this much charming fiddle since probably Dixie Chicks. The production is a throwback to the early 2000s – think Sara Evans’ “Backseat of a Greyhound Bus” – and I couldn’t be happier. So what if the arrangement is a tad too cluttered? Who cares if Bradbery needs a little polish in her phrasing? There isn’t a rock drum or hick-hop line to be found here, and in 2013 country music that’s a very refreshing change of pace.

Bradbery isn’t the savior for female artists in country music. Expect for her Voice audition of “Mean” and a performance of “A Little Bit Stronger,” we’ve yet to hear Bradbery the artist, although Bradbery the puppet has been compelling thus far. Her lack of a booming vocal range like Underwood’s may also hurt her, but isn’t it time someone understated turned everything down a notch?

With everything she has going in her favor, Bradbery may be our genre’s best hope for fresh estrogen. I don’t see her injecting anything new into country music, but redirecting the focus back to a time when “Born To Fly”-type songs were topping the charts, isn’t a bad thing in my book. Hers mostly likely won’t be that lyrically strong, but if she can keep the fiddle and mandolin front and center – I won’t be complaining.

Grade: B 

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Album Review – The Band Perry – ‘Pioneer’

“Daddy rocked us to sleep with the Rolling Stones; Mama woke us up with Loretta Lynn. So we get it honest” – Kimberly Perry

300999_laIt’s no secret that “If I Die Young” is one of my favorite singles of this decade, no matter how much airplay it receives. Nathan Chapman’s simple production combined with Kimberly’s sweet vocal is an irresistible combination, difficult for me to resist.

So about a year ago now, I was thrilled when The Band Perry announced they’d be working with Rick Rubin on their sophomore album. The veteran producer who famously resurrected Johnny Cash’s career in the final two decades of life, he also produced the final Dixie Chick record Taking The Long Way, possibly my favorite album from them. In addition, they expressed their intent to work with songwriting genius (and Semisonic front man) Dan Wilson based on his involvement with “Someone Like You” and “Don’t You Remember” from Adele’s 21 (He also had a lot to do with the genius of the Chicks’ album). The Perry siblings even spoke openly of their love for those two songs, which made me very excited, as I love them, too.

So, what the heck went so horribly wrong? Well, it seems like the their label had other ideas. Kimberly has explained that Rubin “in his current incarnation” is a minimalist, but “we also knew that to accommodate all of the goals that we had, the best producer was Dann Huff.” One can assume, reading between the PR fog, that Republic Nashville didn’t approve of Rubin’s artistry, and wanted the band to go with a producer that would keep them firmly within the good graces of country radio. In other words, an intelligently articulate record wouldn’t be supported in today’s Nashville in the same ways an overproduced Huff-led record would.

And is Pioneer ever overproduced. Huff works his usual magic, suffocating the songs until they are one click away from needing life support. The rock production has even affected Kimberly’s voice, the band’s crowning instrument, which is now sadly showing the wear of extreme overuse. I wasn’t expecting to hear such breathy vocals from her, and like Carrie Underwood’s newly acquired rasp, it’s kind of sad. What ever happened to simply singing?

Pioneer is what happens when country music becomes too commercial. Every aspect of the product is grossly overdone in an attempt to appeal to the arena and stadium crowd, and while the songs may work well live; they fail as a listening experience on an album. Luckily, though, this isn’t the atrocious mess it could’ve been and they did find (and write) some decent songs, even if nothing here lives up to the singles from their debut.

I quite like “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely,” despite the somewhat muffled production and “I Saw The Light” is possibly my favorite song on the whole project. The title track is as folksy as they seem to get, and “Back To Me Without You” is nicely restrained although it gets a bit power ballad-y by the end. I don’t have a huge issue with thick production at all when it’s done correctly (here’s looking at you, Eric Church). Huff’s style actually works well on “Forever Mine Nevermind,” which has noticeable country elements in the choral melody.

I’m also enjoying the tender “Mother Like Mine,” which the trio wrote as a declaration of what the world would look like if everyone had been raised by their mom:

So the wars would all be over

‘Cause she’d raise us all as friends

And no one would ever wonder if somebody wanted them

We’d walk on grass that’s greener

And our cares would all be freer

If the world had a mother like mine

The no wars line is a bit predictable, and Kimberly’s vocal shows the wear of shouting too much on stage, but overall it’s a very touching song that would work well as a single. Their southern gothic tribute “End of Time” isn’t as revelatory as I would’ve liked, but it’s probably closest to the sound on their debut. “Night Gone Wasted” is a mess in this form, but I can hear the honky-tonk elements beneath all the noise, especially on the chorus. If any song ever called for an acoustic makeover, this would be it.

The rest is just plain dreck. I do get why some would praise “Chainsaw” for being a country romp, but it sounds to me like something Huff would’ve done with Rascal Flatts circa 2004. There’s just nothing new in the production to peak my interest. The lyric is typical Band Perry but the melody sounds very dated. Even the Target exclusive tracks are marred by unintelligent choices in both vocals and production, and can hardly be appreciated for the quality songs they probably are.

To call me disappointed in Pioneer would be an understatement. I’m thankful this isn’t an obvious clichéd attempt at commercialism, but this record could’ve been and deserved to be so much more. The songs are there but you wouldn’t know it based on all the distracting elements hindering overall enjoyment. Pioneer will rightfully get The Band Perry to that next level they so deserve to ascend to, but it comes at far too big a price for the fans that loved the simplicity of their debut. Hopefully, they’ll be able to find a happy medium next time.

Grade: C+  

Single Review – The Band Perry – ‘Done.’

DoneI’ve had Kathy Mattea on the brain lately, thanks in no small part to the life enriching experience I had seeing her live for the first time in late February. I came away stunned by her intellect and grace, but more importantly, her ability to pick songs that have an indelible magic. Her material is ageless and sounds just as good coming from a 53 year old as it did all those years ago when she was in her 20s and 30s.

The power of a great song is lost on much of mainstream country music today but judging from their 2010 eponymous album, I always thought The Band Perry had ‘it.’ I’ve loved all their singles (expect “Hip To my Heart”) to date, and they’ve truly been one of the bright spots on country radio in the past three years.

But there’s something way off about ‘Done,’ the second preview of their soon to be released (April 2) sophomore record Pioneer. What’s allowed them to stand out is an innate ability at mixing a sweet likability with a dark edge. Take that away, and they’re just another mainstream act vying for the attention of fans

At the simplest level, “Done” is so sloppily constructed, it’s beneath a band with this much talent. What struck me first was how juvenile the lyrics were, especially the chorus:

Mama always told me that I should play nice

She didn’t know you when she gave me that advice

I’m through, with you

You’re one page I’d like to burn

Bottle up the ashes, smash the urn

I’m through with you, la ti da

I don’t wanna be your just for fun

Don’t wanna be under your thumb

All I wanna be is…done

Seriously? They couldn’t even find at least one ear catching phrase to make their point? Lines like ‘I don’t wanna be your just for fun’ or ‘I’m through, with you’ are so childish, it’s almost embarrassing. The verses aren’t much better, oozing with the maturity level of a thirteen-year-old girl breaking up with her first love (“It’s gonna hit you hard Til You see stars” and “You play with dynamite don’t be surprised when I blow up in your face”). “Done” is like the reject song Taylor Swift left off her first album, the one that made “Picture To Burn” seem like such a good idea at the time.

I can forgive bad songwriting if I enjoy the track’s production (can’t “Done” just sound even a little country?), a case evident with TBP’s “You Lie,” which was actually clever. But the breakneck speed of “Done” makes the intent feel disingenuous, almost exacerbating the song’s lyrical problems. I give Kimberly credit for putting her sass into overdrive (and her vocal is strong as usual), but this feels like a comedy show, not a biting revenge anthem towards a dead-end boyfriend.

They need to do way better than this if they want to have a catalog of hits worthy of being sung thirty years from now.

Grade: C

Songwriters: Reid Perry, Neil Perry, John Davidson, Jacob Bryant

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New singles roundup: McGraw, Band Perry, Strait

Tim McGraw – ‘One Of Those Nights’     Listen

Two singles (not counting his grotesque 2011 holiday single “Christmas All Over The World”) into his first post-Curb career resurrection project, Tim McGraw is proving extremely frustrating. I firmly wrote him off as a has-been after he crammed that “Truck Yeah” garbage down our throats, and vowed never to give him my attention again. But with “One Of Those Nights,” he has returned to the artist he used to be, the hit maker I grew up listening to all those years ago.

It’s almost revelatory to hear a McGraw single these days with a straightforward unprocessed vocal, simple melody, and somewhat interesting story. I only wish the proceedings weren’t so bland, with McGraw coming off sounding pedestrian. He needs far stronger lyrical content coupled with something fresh and exciting in the arrangement if he wants to redeem himself for the poor song choices he’s made in the past six or so years. “One of Those Nights” puts him firmly on the right path, but he still has a long way to go before I can really get excited about his music again.

Grade: B –

The Band Perry – ‘Better Dig Two’    Listen 

The first taste of their highly anticipated Rick Rubin-helmed sophomore project, “Better Dig Two” is signature Band Perry – effortlessly idiosyncratic with an ear-catching melody and a strong attention-grabbing story. Kimberly gives her usually commanding lead vocal, and Neil’s opening banjo licks sound like homage to Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson as much as Home-era Dixie Chicks.

So why am I not liking this as much as I should? Well, something about it feels slightly off. The banging drums throw off the organic vibe of the track and seem like an excuse to make the proceedings loud in places to fit within the constraints of country radio. And the repeating of the opening line at the end feels like an afterthought. But that being said, “Better Dig Two” is still the best mainstream country single released this fall, proving once again that The Band Perry are scary good.

Grade: B+

George Strait – Give It All We Got     Listen

At 60 George Strait is releasing the best music of his career, proving what a little bit of reinvention can do to keep country radio within grasp without slickening up the production to fit in with the Jason Aldeans of the world. But more than that he’s accomplished the near impossible by delivering a love song about bedding a woman all the while keeping the track completely age appropriate. It’s a remarkable feat and he should be rewarded for adequately pulling it off.

“Give It All We Got” is the forward thinking tour de force “Run” was ten years ago and it shakes up his traditional leaning formula just enough (I love the echoing technique in the chorus) to keep him modern and relevant in all the right ways.

Grade: A+

2012 CMA Awards: our predictions

The 46th annual Country Music Association annual awards ceremony will take place on November 1, 2012 at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena. The show will air live on ABC television again this year and is presented by the pairing of Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood, who will take over hosting duties for the fifth consecutive year. Eric Church and his massive hit “Springsteen” lead the list of nominees, with Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton close behind him.

On awards night, look for a musical tribute to Willie Nelson and The Band Perry to debut the first taste of their Rick Rubin produced sophomore album. There’s also talk that Female Vocalist nominee Kelly Clarkson will debut “Don’t Rush” on the telecast, a duet with Vince Gill featured from her Greatest Hits, Chapter One album in stores Nov. 19. Also look forward to a duet from Tim McGraw and Faith Hill (which I’ve heard is during the Nelson tribute), and solo performances from each.

Entertainer of the Year

Jason Aldean
Kenny Chesney
Brad Paisley
Blake Shelton
Taylor Swift – Jonathan Pappalardo, J.R. Journey

The usual solid yet unspectacular group. Carrie Underwood fans are likely fuming at yet another snub, while everyone else will bark at the inclusion of Swift, a two-time winner and the incumbent, for her increasing lack of country credibility. But Aldean is the nominee to watch, as his recent stadium tour announcement will likely endear him to voters in the years to come.

Jonathan Pappalardo: I’ll bet on the safest choice this time around and say Taylor Swift is going to win. Chesney may have had the biggest tour, and Aldean is on fire right now, but Swift has the lock on this category.

J.R. Journey: Taylor Swift now not only represents about one-fourth of the total United States GDP, she also hawks makeup, perfume, and shoes on the side. And she just had the #1 song in 12 countries. I say Swift is most likely to succeed on CMA night.

Female Vocalist of the Year

Kelly Clarkson
Miranda Lambert – Jonathan Pappalardo
Martina McBride
Taylor Swift – J.R. Journey
Carrie Underwood

Kelly Clarkson, really? She did score a #21 hit with the country version of “Mr. Know It All” so her nomination is somewhat, albeit very marginally, justified. She has yet to fully embrace a career in country music. McBride is a snoozer scoring her 14th consecutive nomination and 15th overall as her career takes a downward spiral. See, this is what happens when all the great female artists of late (Kimberly Perry, Jennifer Nettles, Shawna Thompson) are members of duos and groups.

Jonathan Pappalardo: While I’d love to see this award go to Clarkson (to tick off the industry if nothing else), she’s a pop singer who’s done a bang up job covering country songs in concert. That’s about it. Miranda Lambert, meanwhile, is the biggest star in country music right now that actually looks and sounds country. And her intuition to form the Pistol Annies proves she’s not afraid to take creative risks. Its her award to lose, and I don’t foresee that happening.

J.R. Journey: Taylor Swift is the likely winner here for pretty much the same reasons she’ll win Entertainer of the year. Miranda Lambert’s new solo music is way below her usual standards this year and I think Carrie Underwood’s dog already had its day in this category, so I don’t see voters leaning toward either of them. 

Male Vocalist of the Year

Jason Aldean
Luke Bryan
Eric Church
Blake Shelton – Jonathan Pappalardo, J.R. Journey
Keith Urban

Another somewhat standard list until you take into account Urban is here in place of red-hot Dierks Bentley. Bentley’s exclusion, which comes on the heels of three back-to-back #1 hits is shocking. Urban should be joining Brad Paisley and been made to sit this one out this year.

Jonathan Pappalardo:  There’s seemingly no stopping Blake Shelton right now despite one mediocre single after another. He’s the biggest star here next to Jason Aldean and the all around better vocalist. He’ll sail to his third straight win no problem.

J.R. Journey: Blake Shelton is coming off two consecutive wins here and his visibility remains higher than Aldean’s, the next closest competitor. Long shots for the win Luke Bryan and Eric Church are still newcomers and first time nominees leaving Keith Urban the longest shot “veteran” slot. For my money, Shelton will repeat a third time here.

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Single Review – The Band Perry – ‘Postcards From Paris’

Since their debut in late 2009, The Band Perry have made their mark on country music – the brothers and a sister trio have racked up a couple number one hits (“If I Die Young” and “All Your Life”) a #2 (“You Lie”) and an all but forgotten top 20 (“Hip To My Heart”) while keeping the instrumentation decidedly country, a foreign concept to many of their contemporaries. Their latest single, the fifth from their self-titled debut, follows perfectly in that trend.

Written by the trio, Kara DioGuardi and Jeff Cohen, “Postcards From Paris” is the tune they couldn’t leave as an album cut even though their label wanted to move to their sophomore album. The release is a smart move, though, as “Postcards” is the perfect song to help bring them to the next level of superstardom and like others have stated, is one of the strongest lyrics on their record.

It also doesn’t hurt that producers Nathan Chapman and Paul Worley strike the ideal balance between old school country and new age country-rock with the blended production. The fiddle hasn’t sounded this good on any single thus far in 2012, and the punchy drums at the end of the chorus extenuate Kimberly’s anger perfectly, all while giving the song enough of a kick to keep the modern bent alive.

But it’s the offbeat lyrical content, quickly becoming The Band Perry’s signature quirk, which really helps sell the song. “Postcards” is, on the onset, a simple story of newly found love until you realize she’s with the wrong man:

I was with my boyfriend, a new boyfriend

He was as sweet as he could be

One look at you and I was through

My heart switched up on me

Like any great song, the emotions of being with the wrong person are fully flushed out – every decision she’s made is now coming into question, as though the universe got it backwards and her diamond ring was actually a fake. Now that she feels she’s supposed to be with someone else, the protagonist can’t help but let out her primal scream (accompanied by those well-placed drums) – And now I’m ruined, I’m ruined.

And it’s that twisty angst element that’s helped to form the trio’s sound and thusly helped them emerge as one of the most exciting acts having hits right now. So far each one of their hit singles has had a tinge of darkness to it. For them, it isn’t enough to sing a simple love song. Kimberly always has to be ruined when a better catch comes along or obsessed with the person who doesn’t notice her. With her gorgeous and tantalizing twang; she pulls off each character with the ease of a singer with twice as much life experience.

Like all their hits, “Postcards From Paris” proves that by singing material that digs far deeper than the average mailed-in fluff, The Band Perry are creating a rich listening experience that deserves further cultivation in the years to come. Their songs aren’t perfect yet, but with time, I have no doubt they’ll get there.

Grade: A

2011 CMA award predictions

The Country Music Association annual awards ceremony will take place on November 9th, 2011, presented by the pairing of Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood, who have become something of a fixture in that role in the past few years. Last year Brad also triumphed by winning the Entertainer of the Year title for the first time. The show will feature performances from many of the nominees, plus American Idol Scotty McCreery and pop star Lionel Richie, who has been recording duets with country stars for release next spring.

Here are our thoughts about who will walk away smiling next Wednesday night, category by category:

Entertainer of the Year

Jason Aldean
Brad Paisley
Blake Shelton: Jonathan Pappalardo, Occasional Hope, Razor X, J.R. Journey
Taylor Swift
Keith Urban

Occasional Hope: I feel this is a genuinely open category this year. Brad Paisley is the reigning Entertainer, having finally won the long overdue title last year, and is clearly popular with voters. However, I think he has passed his peak both commercially and (more importantly) artistically, with relatively disappointing sales figures for recent albums, although he continues to do well at radio with a #2 and two #1 hits over the period. He is also one of the top earners in country music, alongside Taylor Swift. Teen favorite Swift won the title controversially in 2009, then was largely ignored last year, and is back again with a brace of nominations. She undoubtedly has the biggest international and pop profile of all the nominees, as well as the biggest sales, with over three million copies sold so far of Speak Now in the U.S. and platinum or multi-platinum status in a number of other countries, some (like the Philippines) with little exposure to country music. She has also toured successfully overseas this year. Of course, that makes her an international pop star as much or more than a country star who has gotten lucky with pop airplay; how far should that sway the CMA?

I have a sneaking suspicion that Jason Aldean could be a big winner this year overall. He’s had a good year, with one of the best-selling albums (over 1.5 million sales), and his brand of country-rock, while far heavier on the rock than the country, has carved out a niche in the market for himself. I’m not a fan myself, but he is undeniably one of the big names in country music at the moment, with two #1 and a #2 hit single from this album, and a crossover AC hit thanks to his duet with Kelly Clarkson. But my gut feeling is that it’s a bit soon to win the top award this year. Blake Shelton, despite his title as reigning Male Vocalist, is the other surprise nominee, and he could just swing it based on the impact he has had as an ambassador for the genre, with his TV role on The Voice. He has also had two #1 singles with ‘Who Are You When I’m Not Looking’ and ‘Honey Bee’, and the frankly baffling inclusion of his poorly selling EP among the Album nominees signals that the Association voters are keen to reward him.

Razor X: It’s hard for me to get very excited about any of these nominees, but Shelton seems to be on a hot streak so I think he will win. And if I have to root for one of these nominees, I’d probably go with him.

Jonathan: This is a case of the veterans versus the newcomers. Urban hasn’t won since 2005 and I don’t expect that drought to end this year. Paisley (who should win) and Swift are strong contenders, but their steady success isn’t enough to help them prevail. It comes down to Shelton versus Aldean, and in a battle between the country rocker and the TV star, Shelton walks away with his first Entertainer trophy.

J.R. Journey: I think Paisley and Urban are just slot-fillers at this point in their careers, so they’re out. Jason Aldean had a strong year and so did Taylor Swift, but neither exploded into the mainstream – Taylor’s been there for several years now – like Blake Shelton, with a major television and soundtrack push. He’s on a major upswing, and that ought to sway voters enough to give him the edge.

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