My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Lady Antebellum

Single Review: Charles Kelley feat. Eric Paslay and Dierks Bentley – ‘The Driver’

Screen-Shot-2015-10-04-at-8.08.01-PMI’ll admit that seven years ago, I was a Lady Antebellum fan. Their debut album, co-produced by the illustrious Victoria Shaw, showcased a band with tremendous promise. While not earth shattering, “Love Don’t Live Here” had grit that proved they were a force to be reckoned with. “I Run To You” made good on their potential and deservedly won the CMA Single of the Year award. “Need You Now” and “American Honey” were also good, but the album that surrounded them marked the beginning of the end. After just five singles, Lady Antebellum devolved into a second-rate pop act.

When they announced their upcoming hiatus, I was thrilled. Would they use this time to reevaluate what had happened to their sound? Charge their depleted artistic batteries? Well, we got an answer this week when Charles Kelley announced a solo single and upcoming EP. As Lady Antebellum’s artistic prowess went south, Kelley’s rich baritone went along with it. He used to be the guy who let loose, a nice counterbalance to Hillary Scott’s softer soprano.

Now we have “The Driver” to contend with. Kelley’s first solo single is a piano drenched soft rock ballad that wouldn’t be out of place in Lady Antebellum’s repertoire. The track is listenable and while the lyric doesn’t have anything to say at all, it contains zero traces of bro, metro, or any other of the current trends turning mainstream country into the unrecognizable laughing stock it is today.

Is this a step in the right direction? No, it’s not. What is this song even about? You have three acts, sung by Kelley, Eric Paslay, and Dierks Bentley respectively. Kelley portrays the driver, the one in charge of bringing the circus to town. Paslay is the dreamer sitting in the front row, enjoying the show. Bentley meanwhile is the singer, giving the audience all he has during his performance. While the characters are well thought out, they don’t go anywhere. There’s no reason to care about any of them, so we don’t. Why is this song even called “The Driver” (opposed to “The Dreamer” or “The Singer”)? Is he the glue that holds everyone together?

Like a lot of modern country songs that hint at substance, “The Driver” has good bones and a clever premise. It fails because it doesn’t take the story anywhere. All we have are descriptions of three characters – no depth or soul to make them more than constructs on a casting director’s call sheet. What’s missing is the actor brave enough to take what’s on the page and turn it into a multi-dimensional character worth caring about. Why is it so novel to actually develop a story into something worthwhile?

The only credit I can give to Kelley and Co is that they’ve presented us with a tune that doesn’t out rightly offend in any major way (except the fact IT’S NOT COUNTRY. AT ALL). They’re committed vocally. I don’t hear any noticeable use of computers in place of instruments. They appear to actually be singing. None of these things should ever be a cause for celebration, but in the current climate, we have to take what we can get. I’ll reserve the ‘F’ and ‘D’ grades for the pure dreck. In comparison, “The Driver” isn’t horrible, it’s just lazy in every noticeable way.

Grade: C-

It’s that time of year: Predictions for the 48th annual CMA Awards

Logo for "The 48th Annual CMA Awards"With Brad Paisley and a pregnant Carrie Underwood set to host for the seventh straight year, and all the usual suspects set to perform, you’d think business would run as normal. But you’re wrong. Not only will this mark the first CMA telecast without Taylor Swift in nine years, pop starlet Ariana Grande is set to perform with Little Big Town while Meghan Trainor will sing her hit “All About That Bass” with Miranda Lambert. Few other surprises have been announced, but God only knows why Trisha Yearwood has been regulated to a presenter’s slot and not given prime exposure to sing “PrizeFighter” with Kelly Clarkson.

At any rate, here are the nominees. You’ll find my Should Win / Will Win perdictions below. Do you agree/disagree? Sound off in the comments.

Entertainer of the Year

george-strait-credit-vanessa-gavalya-650Blake Shelton and Keith Urban have one trophy apiece while George Strait is nominated the year he gave his final concert. Only Luke Bryan and Miranda Lambert, who are on their second nominations, have yet to win.

Should Win: George Strait – The Country Music Hall of Famer and country music legend wrapped his Cowboy Rides Away Tour a year after beating his younger competition to win this award for the first time in 24 years. When all is said and done, the CMA would be foolish to deny Strait his rightful place as an all-time category winner (four wins), along with Garth Brooks and Kenny Chesney.

Will Win: George Strait – Prissy Luke Bryan can have his turn with his third consecutive nod next year. Strait, who’ll never be eligible for this award again, will go out in style.

Female Vocalist of the Year

m.lambert_264_Rsm_1595A milestone year, as Martina McBride and Miranda Lambert go for their record fifth win and Taylor Swift makes what’ll likely be her final appearance in the category. No artist has won five trophies; only Reba has as many as McBride and Lambert, so it’ll be very interesting to see how the Country Music Association votes this year.

Should Win: Kacey Musgraves – a year after winning Best New Artist and scoring two Grammy Awards, the only nominee who hasn’t won should emerge victorious with just her second nomination. 

Will Win: Miranda Lambert – stranger things have happened, but the artist with the most nominations usually walks away with at least one major award. It’s definitely time to spread the wealth, but that likely won’t come this year, thus helping Lambert make CMA history.

 dierks-600x399Male Vocalist of the Year

Jason Aldean has never been much of a compelling singer, but his radio and touring success should’ve earned him his fourth consecutive nomination. Dierks Bentley is back four years after his last nod, correcting a major oversight, and Keith Urban shows up for the tenth consecutive time.

Should Win: Bentley – it’s a race this year between Bentley and Luke Bryan, both of who deserve first time wins. But Bentley gets the edge thanks to seniority, and it’s about damn time, too.

Will Win: Blake Shelton – the reining champion is about the only one who can stop Bentley’s momentum. His material is getting weaker and his shtick ever more tiresome, but he’ll endure himself to voters anyways.

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Week ending 9/13/14: #1 singles this week in country music history

Trisha1954 (Sales): I Don’t Hurt Anymore — Hank Snow (RCA)

1954 (Jukebox): I Don’t Hurt Anymore — Hank Snow (RCA)

1954 (Disc Jockeys): I Don’t Hurt Anymore — Hank Snow (RCA)

1964: I Guess I’m Crazy — Jim Reeves (RCA)

1974: Please Don’t Tell Me How The Story Ends — Ronnie Milsap (RCA)

1984: Tennessee Homesick Blues — Dolly Parton (RCA)

1994: XXX’s and OOO’s (An American Girl) — Trisha Yearwood (MCA)

2004: Girls Lie Too — Terri Clark (Mercury)

2014: Burnin’ It Down — Jason Aldean (Broken Bow)

2014 (Airplay): Bartender — Lady Antebellum (Capitol)

Week ending 3/22/14: #1 singles this week in country music history

NealMcCoy_sm1954 (Sales): Slowly — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1954 (Jukebox): Slowly — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1954 (Disc Jockeys): Slowly — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1964: Saginaw, Michigan — Lefty Frizzell (Columbia)

1974: There Won’t Be Anymore — Charlie Rich (Epic)

1984: Elizabeth — The Statler Brothers (Mercury)

1994: No Doubt About It –Neal McCoy (Atlantic)

2004: Watch The Wind Go By — Tim McGraw (Curb)

2014: Bottoms Up — Brantley Gilbert (Valory)

2014 (Airplay): Compass — Lady Antebellum (Capitol)

2013 CMA Awards predictions – Who should and will win

Here are my predictions for the 47th annual show, airing next Wednesday on ABC. Do you agree/disagree? As always you can check out the nominations, here.

UnknownENTERTAINER OF THE YEAR

A solid list of well deserving nominees, minus Carrie Underwood, whose lack of a nomination has already incurred my wrath. Taylor Swift may be the biggest star here, but the Country Music Association deserve credit for keeping their traditional edge alive and including George Strait, whose in the middle of his final tour.

Should Win: George Strait – he won back-to-back in 1989 and 1990 and deserves his third win this year, while he’s half way through his two year goodbye to the road

Will Win: Luke Bryan – he’s the biggest male artist in country music right now, selling huge amounts of albums and ranking up hit after hit. He’s on top and here to stay, which a win in this category is going to prove.

Cruise - Single CoverSINGLE OF THE YEAR

A surprising yet diverse list of nominees with Florida Georgia Line’s behemoth squaring off with Darius Rucker’s mainstream reading of an underground smash going up against Kacey Musgraves’ critical favorite, and Miranda Lambert’s best dose of angst since “Gunpowder & Lead.” I only wish The Band Perry’s “Better Dig Two” was here in place of “Highway Don’t Care.”

Should Win: “Mama’s Broken Heart” – the fourth single from Four The Record was album’s best and proof that artists who get complacent should put down their own pen and let the professionals take over.

Will Win: “Cruise” – It’s the #1 song in country music history with a rap remix that also made it relevant in pop, and more than five million digital downloads. Is there any other single of the year?

imagesALBUM OF THE YEAR

Taylor Swift’s first (but likely not last) foray into pop is up against Kacey Musgraves’ critical smash and Little Big Town’s coming out. Underwood’s album is just okay and Shelton’s should’ve been replaced with Ashley Monroe’s Like A Rose.

Should Win: Same Trailer Different Park – the best album of the bunch comes from a 24-year-old who pours more life experience into her twelve songs than all the other nominees combined. One of the strongest major label debuts in years.

Will Win: Red – name recognition alone will endear her to voters, who’ve been handing this award to the biggest star for the past several years. Not even the fact it’s a pop album will hurt her.

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Week ending 5/4/13: #1 singles this week in country music history

Hawkshaw-Hawkins1953 (Sales): Kaw-Liga — Hank Williams (MGM)

1953 (Jukebox):Your Cheatin’ Heart — Hank Williams (MGM)

1953 (Disc Jockeys): Your Cheatin’ Heart — Hank Williams (MGM)

1963: Lonesome 7-7203 — Hawkshaw Hawkins (King)

1973: Behind Closed Doors — Charlie Rich (Epic)

1983: You’re The First Time I’ve Thought About Leaving — Reba McEntire (Mercury)

1993: Alibis — Tracy Lawrence (Atlantic)

2003: Have You Forgotten? — Darryl Worley (DreamWorks)

2013: Cruise — Florida Georgia Line (Republic Nashville)

2013 (Airplay): Downtown — Lady Antebellum (Capitol)

Week ending 5/4/13: #1 albums this week in country music history

elvis presley - aloha from hawaii1968: Eddy Arnold – The Everlovin’ World of Eddy Arnold (RCA)

1973: Elvis Presley – Aloha from Hawaii: Via Satellite (RCA)

1978: Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson – Waylon & Willie (RCA Victor)

1983: Alabama – The Closer You Get (RCA)

1988: George Strait – If You Aint Lovin’, You Ain’t Livin’ (MCA)

1993: Billy Ray Cyrus – Some Gave All (Mercury)

1998: Shania Twain – Come On Over (Mercury)

2003: Darryl Worley – Have You Forgotten? (Dreamworks)

2008: Lady Antebellum – Lady Antebellum (Capitol)

2013: Blake Shelton – Based on a True Story (Warner Brothers)

Week ending 4/27/13: #1 singles this week in country music history

kershaw1953 (Sales): Kaw-Liga — Hank Williams (MGM)

1953 (Jukebox): Kaw-Liga — Hank Williams (MGM)

1953 (Disc Jockeys): Kaw-Liga — Hank Williams (MGM)

1963: Still — Bill Anderson (Decca)

1973: Superman — Donna Fargo (Dot)

1983: American Made — The Oak Ridge Boys (MCA)

1993: She Don’t Know She’s Beautiful — Sammy Kershaw (Mercury)

2003: Have You Forgotten? — Darryl Worley (DreamWorks)

2013: Cruise — Florida Georgia Line (Republic Nashville)

2013 (Airplay): Downtown — Lady Antebellum (Capitol)

Predictions for the 48th annual ACM Awards

Unknown-5Now that we’ve turned the clocks forward an hour and our calendars from March to April, it’s time to turn our attention to Las Vegas and the annual Academy of Country Music Awards telecast. CBS is carrying the show live Sunday Night (April 7) and it promises to be an eclectic mix of mainstream country music; hosted by Blake Shelton and Luke Bryan. Look for Tim McGraw to sing his latest “Highway Don’t Care” with Taylor Swift and Keith Urban, while Jason Aldean is rumored to be involving Joe Diffie in his performance of “1994.” Kelly Clarkson will be singing “Don’t Rush” and Bryan plans to debut a new single, “Crash My Party.” But I’m most excited to see what promises to be a buzzed about moment – Garth Brooks and George Strait collaborating for the first time to pay tribute to show producer Dick Clark.

Here are the nominees and predictions:

UnknownEntertainer of the Year

· Jason Aldean

· Luke Bryan

· Miranda Lambert

· Blake Shelton

· Taylor Swift – Jonathan Pappalardo 

As a fan voted award, the logic would be on Taylor Swift to take this home. And while she’s the likely winner, I’m wondering if Blake Shelton’s Voice popularity may propel him to the podium instead. There has to be a chance someone besides Swift could take this home, right? Well, I’m not betting on it, but Shelton seems the most likely one to do it.

Unknown-1Male Vocalist of the Year

· Jason Aldean

· Luke Bryan

· Eric Church

· Toby Keith

· Blake Shelton – Jonathan Pappalardo 

It’s nice to see Keith sneak in a nod here, as he’s still a gifted vocalist and “Hope On The Rocks” proves it. Aldean is just too weak a singer to make much of a significant impact and I can’t see the Academy embracing Church. So this as a two-way race between show co-hosts Shelton and Bryan, and I only see the ACM awarding it to Bryan if they want to shake it up. But they may see him as an eventual winner (like after he releases his next album) and go with Shelton again.

The 52nd Annual GRAMMY Awards - ArrivalsFemale Vocalist of the Year

· Miranda Lambert – Jonathan Pappalardo 

· Martina McBride

· Kacey Musgraves

· Taylor Swift

· Carrie Underwood

While I would love to see Musgraves take this home, she’s too new for such a prestigious honor. McBride’s a broken record at this point – she hasn’t had an impactful hit single in years and while Underwood is releasing some of the most ambitious songs of her career, she’ll likely be seen as old hat by this point. This is Lambert’s award to lose and Swift’s dominance in a completely different genre market isn’t going to change that.

images-2Vocal Duo of the Year

· Big & Rich

· Florida Georgia Line

· Love and Theft

· Sugarland

· Thompson Square – Jonathan Pappalardo 

If Florida Georgia Line wins this award, I’m done. “Cruise” may’ve been one of the biggest hits of last year, but popularity hardly denotes quality. Thompson Square should repeat here and even though they aren’t as strong as they could be, they’re the best of this bunch outside of Sugarland.

imagesVocal Group of the Year

· The Band Perry

· Eli Young Band

· Lady Antebellum

· Little Big Town – Jonathan Pappalardo 

· Zac Brown Band

After their come out of nowhere Grammy win in February, Little Big Town are the darlings of Nashville and that will continue with a win here. Their success is long overdue, as is a win in this category. Zac Brown Band and The Band Perry can have fun duking it out for second place.

Unknown-2New Artist of the Year

· Florida Georgia Line – Jonathan Pappalardo 

· Brantley Gilbert

· Jana Kramer

This is really a toss up. Any of these three could win although Kramer has proven the most country minded of the nominees. She’s my favorite, but I’m not counting out Florida Georgia Line. It’s another fan voted award and “Cruise” is insanely popular.

TornadoAlbum of the Year [Award goes to Artist(s)/Producer(s)/Record Company]

· Blown Away – Carrie Underwood (19/Arista Nashville), Produced by: Mark Bright

· Chief – Eric Church (EMI-Nashville), Produced by: Jay Joyce

· Red – Taylor Swift (Big Machine Records), Produced by: Jeff Bhasker, Nathan Chapman, Dann Huff, Jacknife Lee, Max Martin, Shellback, Taylor Swift, Butch Walker, Dan Wilson

· Tailgates & Tanlines – Luke Bryan (Capitol Nashville), Produced by: Mark Bright, Jeff Stevens

· Tornado – Little Big Town (Capitol Nashville), Produced by: Jay Joyce – Jonathan Pappalardo 

A good list of mainstream albums. Chief would seem the frontrunner since it already won the CMA Award, but this is the first race to include Little Big Town’s superstar making set. I’m going out on a limb and say Tornado will take this home.

Unknown-6Single Record of the Year [Award to Artist(s)/Producer(s)/Record Company]

· “Even If It Breaks Your Heart” – Eli Young Band (Republic Nashville), Produced by: Mike Wrucke

· “Over You” – Miranda Lambert (RCA), Produced by: Chuck Ainlay, Frank Liddell, Glenn Worf

· “Pontoon” – Little Big Town (Capitol Nashville), Produced by: Jay Joyce – Jonathan Pappalardo 

· “Springsteen” – Eric Church (EMI-Nashville), Produced by: Jay Joyce

· “Wanted” – Hunter Hayes (Atlantic/WMN), Produced by: Hunter Hayes, Dann Huff

“Pontoon.” It won the CMA, a Grammy, and reversed the fortunes of a band too talented for the oblivion it was heading for. There’s no way they’ll lose, but if they do it’ll go to Hayes and his sophomore single “Wanted.”

Unknown-7Song of the Year [Award to Composer(s)/Publisher(s)/Artist(s)]

· “A Woman Like You” – Lee Brice, Composers: Phil Barton, Johnny Bulford, Jon Stone, Publishers: 3JB Music (BMI), Adios Pantalones (SESAC), Hears That Skyline Music (SESAC), Sixteen Stars Music (BMI), Warner-Tamerlane Publishing Corp. (BMI)

· “Even If It Breaks Your Heart” – Eli Young Band, Composers: Will Hoge, Eric Paslay, Publishers: Cal IV Songs (ASCAP), Will Hoge Music (BMI)

· “Over You” – Miranda Lambert, Composers: Miranda Lambert, Blake Shelton, Publishers: Pink Dog Publishing (BMI), Sony ATV/Tree Publishing (BMI) – Jonathan Pappalardo 

· “Springsteen” – Eric Church, Composers: Eric Church, Jeff Hyde, Ryan Tyndell, Publishers: Bug Music (BMI), Ole Purple Cape Music (BMI), Sinnerlina (BMI), Sony ATV/Tree Publishing (BMI)

· “Wanted” – Hunter Hayes, Composers: Hunter Hayes, Troy Verges, Publishers: Happy Little Man Publishing (BMI), Songs From The Engine Room (BMI), Songs Of Universal Inc. (BMI)

“Over You.” The ACM will follow in the footsteps of the CMA and bring Lambert and Shelton to the podium. Two genre superstars are just too hard to ignore. Their only competition, Kacey Musgraves’ ‘Merry Go ‘Round’ wasn’t even nominated, so I just don’t see anyone else taking this home.

Unknown-8Songwriter of the Year

· Rodney Clawson

· Dallas Davidson (Already won, off-camera award) 

· Josh Kear

· Luke Laird

· Shane McAnally

Davidson has already won; this is an off-camera award. But I would’ve gone with McAnally who seems to be on fire right now. His collaborations with Brandy Clark are killer.

Unknown-3Video of the Year [Award to Producer(s)/Director(s)/Artist(s)] *(Off Camera Award) [TIE]

·” Creepin'” – Eric Church, Producer: Iris Baker Director: Peter Zavadil – Jonathan Pappalardo 

· Merry Go ‘Round – Kacey Musgraves, Producers: Perry Bean, Kacey Musgraves Director: Perry Bean

· “Tornado” – Little Big Town, Producer: Iris Baker Director: Shane Drake

· “Wanted” – Hunter Hayes Producers: Stephanie Reeves, Eric Williams Directors: Traci Goudie, Patrick Hubik

· “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” – Taylor Swift, Producer: John Nguyen Director: Declan Whitebloom

· “The Wind” – Zac Brown Band, Producer: Ben Kalina Director: Mike Judge

Most of Zac Brown Band’s videos are distracting, with annoying concepts that take away from the song completely. “The Wind” is no exception. The Swift clip is awful and does nothing to portray her maturity and “Wanted” isn’t special enough to stand out from this pack. Church deserves this the most, as both the song and video for “Creepin’” are completely original. This is where he should get some much-deserved hardware. 

Unknown-9Vocal Event of the Year [Award to Artist(s)/Producer(s)/Record Company] *(Off Camera Award)

· “Don’t Rush” – Kelly Clarkson Featuring Vince Gill (19/RCA/Columbia Nashville) Produced by: Dann Huff

· “Easy” – Rascal Flatts Featuring Natasha Bedingfield (Big Machine Records) Produced by: Dann Huff, Brian Kennedy, Rascal Flatts

·”Feel Like a Rock Star” – Kenny Chesney (Duet With Tim McGraw) (Blue Chair/BNA) Produced by: Buddy Cannon, Kenny Chesney  – Jonathan Pappalardo 

· “Let It Rain” – David Nail Featuring Sarah Buxton (MCA Nashville) Produced by: Chuck Ainlay, Frank Liddell

· “The Only Way I Know” – Jason Aldean With Luke Bryan & Eric Church (Broken Bow) Produced by: Michael Knox

What a terrible, terrible bunch of songs that equate to nothing more than empty opportunistic pandering. The only worthwhile songs here are “Don’t Rush” and “Let It Rain” and they are hardly ‘events.’ I bet Chesney/McGraw will take this home but if it wasn’t an off-camera award, than I’d say Aldean/Bryan/Church. The latter would make for ratings gold on stage, but it would be a wasted opportunity off-camera. In truth, though, I couldn’t care less about these nominees if I tried.

Single Review: Darius Rucker – ‘Wagon Wheel’

wagon wheelAlthough when he first announced his move into country music, Darius Rucker spoke enthusiastically about his love of tradition, his label persuaded him to play it safe and record a preponderance of happy domestic numbers with polished production. For a while that worked for the artist, who has become the first African American to achieve mainstream commercial success in country music in years. However in recent months the increasing saminess of his material seems to have come home to roost, with the title track to his upcoming third country album, True Believers not making it very far into the top 20 on the country radio chart, and the album’s release date deferred.

In what may be a make-or-break moment for his career, Darius’s newest single is a song which while not traditional country in it the purest sense, is a lot more rootsy and organic sounding – and much better – than anything he has sent to radio so far. It is a song which will be familiar to many country fans, although it has not previously been a chart hit on country radio

The song in its current form was expanded on a chorus and melody by folk legend Bob Dylan, with story verses added by Ketch Secor of the modern old-time string band Old Crow Medicine Show. Old Crow Medicine Show were the first to record the song in its current form, around a decade ago, and that version was recently certified gold, reflecting slow but steady sales. It was covered a few years later in a slightly more polished style by Jeremy McComb, a talented independent artist who has not quite managed to break through despite getting pretty close to the top 40 with his 2008 single ‘Cold’.

Darius Rucker’s version features Lady Antebellum, an unexpected choice as their own music is so often bland, but while their voices are not particularly identifiable here, they make decent background singers. The arrangement is broadly similar to both previous versions, if a little slicker and more radio friendly, with prominent fiddle, banjo and mandolin making this one of the most country sounding records on today’s country radio. The singalong melody is a natural crowd pleaser, and the breezy feel is very attractive and should appeal to radio programmers who like the Zac Brown Band’s music. Fans of the original may feel, justifiably, that Darius brings little new to the song, but on its own merits, this is an enjoyable recording.

The world weary story of a man travelling south through the US to get to his sweetheart suit Rucker’s gravelly voice very well, and he tackles it with commitment and credibility, with his dreams of seeing his beloved giving it a sunny, optimistic feel. I feel I’ve always wanted to like Darius Rucker’s records more than I actually have, but this track has a lot more life than any of Rucker’s previous singles. I really like this single, and hope it does well for him.

But after his last two singles faltered on the charts, this could be a crucial point in his career.

Grade: B+

EP Reviews: ‘Hillbilly Bone’ and ‘All About Tonight’

hillbilly bone2010 saw a departure in Blake’s career, as his label used him as the guinea pig to pioneer their new SixPak idea – EPs with six tracks. It was originally intended that Blake should release three over an 18 month period, but in the event there were just two. Unexpectedly, it was to mark a watershed in Blake’s carer, catapulting him to the very top. None of his singles since 2010 has peaked lower than #1. Generally loud and unsubtle production from Scott Hendricks proved to be exactly tailored for country radio success.

Hillbilly Bone, the first of the two SixPaks, had just one single, the chart topping title track. The duet with Trace Adkins is in many ways annoying with cliche’d lyrics but there is a good humor and charm in the delivery which makes it hard to hate as much as it deserves. It was a genuine smash, selling over half a million downloads, and won Blake CMA and ACM awards for Vocal Event of the Year as well as the coveted CMA Male Vocalist of the Year, the first major awards of his career.

‘Kiss My Country Ass’ is unredeemed crap with no mitigating factors, the epitome of the country pride song with an aggressive edge. A cover of a poorly performing Rhett Akins single written by Akins with regular partner in crime Dallas Davidson and Jon Stone), it is predictably dreadful.

‘You’ll Always Be Beautiful’ is an AC-leaning and sincerely sung romantic ballad about love for a woman even she doesn’t think she’s pretty. It was written by Lee Brice and Jerrod Niemann.

‘Can’t Afford To Love You’ is another Rhett Akins song about a working class guy in love with a high maintenance glamorous girl, which is an undistinguished but okay song buried under too much loud production.

The best track by far on this EP (and the only worthwhile download), Blake’s own song ‘Delilah’ is a rather sensitive song declaring love for a troubled woman who has been unlucky in love elsewhere; the girl’s name, incidentally, was taken from fiancee Miranda Lambert’s dog.

You can’t blame no one but you Delilah
For what you find when you never ever look around
Reach out for the one right here beside ya
And find the one that’s never gonna let you down

Clint Lagerberg and Craig Wiseman’s ‘Almost Alright’ is a well-written song about slowly getting over a relationship, spoiled by the inclusion of Caribbean steel drums which sound tinny.

all about tonightThe title track and lead single from Blake’s second SixPak, ‘All About Tonight’ is a party song written by the Peach Pickers, which, although it’s one of their better efforts, tells you all you need to know. The live ‘Got A Little Country’ which closes proceedings is just as bad and long much the same lines.

‘Who Are You When I’m Not Looking’, the second single, is much, much better, a rather charming love song written by Earl “Bud” Lee and John Wiggins, which had previously been recorded by Joe Nichols. It was another #1 hit for Blake.

‘Draggin’ The River’, written by Jim Beavers and Chris Stapleton, is a playfully performed duet with Miranda Lambert about a Southern rural romance opposed by the girl’s father, which is quite entertaining; the young lovers decide to fake their deaths while they elope. Miranda wrote ‘Suffocating’ with Lady A’s Hillary Scott (who also contributes harmonies), a ballad with rather a bland melody which does not effectively bring the downbeat lyric to life. Uninspired production doesn’t help. ‘That Thing We Do’, written by Jeff Bates and Jason Matthews, is okay but forgettable mid-tempo filler.

A bonus cover of the Dan Seals hit ‘Addicted’ was included for iTunes pre-orders; that track was later included as a bonus on Red River Blue and can be downloaded separately. It’s a shame this didn’t make the main setlist, as it’s a fine version which allows Blake’s incisive voice and sympathetic delivery to shine, and is one of his best recordings, although a stripped down production without the full orchestration which swamps the second half of the song would have made it better still.

Grade: Hillbilly Bone: D; All About Tonight C

Annus horribilis: the worst country songs of 2012

wile e coyoteAfter several years of the reign of redneckus maximus, we’re now to the point of trucksong overloadus, way past selfus parody-us, and nearing complete-us crappus.  How does mainstream country music crawl out from under this pile of cartoonish crap it has buried itself in? I don’t know. My fellow writers don’t know either. But we know these are truly terrible songs.

10. “Something ‘Bout a Truck” – Kip Moore

Georgia native Moore first landed on the Hot Country Songs chart last year with “Mary Was The Marryin’ Kind”, a decent little throwback of a song. When that tanked, he came back (and not surprisingly hit big) with this loud, obnoxious and cliche’-laden song, a song so lowest common denominator and devoid of intelligence that even Craig Morgan would have passed on it.

– J.R. Journey

9. “Must’ve Had a Good Time” – Parmalee

No. Thank. You. How can anyone call this mess even remotely country? Just when you think you’ve heard it all, something comes along to make the rest seem like the second coming of Hank Williams, Sr. Every year I think we’ve hit rock bottom and then we go further and further down the black hole. I now understand why people give up listening to country radio.

– Jonathan Pappalardo

8. “Telescope” – Hayden Panettierre

A ridiculously bad pop song like a parody of bad country radio yet somehow it has made the jump from TV’s Nashville (where I gather it’s supposed to be a bad record) to being a bona fide minor hit with both sales and radio play. This seems like the ultimate indictment of modern radio programmers.

– Occasional Hope

7. “Good Girl” – Carrie Underwood

The horrible echoey production and shouted vocals make this unlistenable.

– Hope

Frantic, spastic, shout-y, and a good dose of forced rasp. Couldn’t she have found a better influence than Steven Tyler? He’s clearly no good for this girl. Any chance I can pick up the tab for his goodbye shoes? Please?

– Jonathan

6. “Cruise” – Florida Georgia Line

The only thing worse than this pair of deebags hitting a major breakthrough in their career with a piece of drivel like this will be the countless deebags-in-training that will be inspired to emulate Florida Georgia Line’s success. From the butchered grammar lyrics to the singers’ affected twang and dog tags around their necks, these guys are a legit training manual on how to be scuzzy deebag losers.

– J.R.

5. “Dancing Away With My Heart” – Lady Antebellum

We get it already. You haven’t seen each other in ages. Now move past this chance meeting and see where life takes you from here. Just maybe, there might be an interesting story in there somewhere. That is, if you can get over not having seen each other in ages and move beyond this anti-climatic dance floor run-in. Give it a try, you can’t get much worse. Right?

– Jonathan

This isn’t offensive to my ears like some of the songs on this list, it’s just so damn boring. Aren’t we on the twelfth floor yet?

– J.R.

4.  “She Cranks My Tractor” – Dustin Lynch

For every “Big Green Tractor” we get…this. I want to respect Dustin Lynch, but he isn’t helping his case by writing, recording, and releasing an ode to having an orgy with farm equipment.

– Jonathan

3. “Family Tree” – Her and Kings Country

Features an actual, very bad rapped section, badly constructed lyric. This almost unbelievably terrible song fortunately failed to make any headway for the Warner/Elektra group.

– Hope

2. “Kick It In The Sticks” – Brantley Gilbert

Wow, country radio sure has changed, yeah? The thought that Gilbert could get this pumped up nonsense up the charts (it stalled at 29, thank goodness, but in a re-release – it didn’t chart in 2010, wonder why?) is flat-out disgusting. I can stand my share of pop/country or rock/country type songs, but this is taking it to a whole new level. “Kick It In The Sticks” should be “Kick Him to the Curb.”

– Jonathan

This one was too awful even for country radio, which is quite an indictment. Heavy rock accompaniment to a song about country living, with very bad rock-style vocals from Brantley who sounds as if he has laryngitis. Unfortunately I think he meant it to sound that way. I also do not find the George Strait namedrop remotely credible.

– Hope

1. “Truck Yeah” – Tim McGraw

Don’t judge a book by its cover, but in this case judge a song by its title. When you’ll do anything to stay relevant, like record this junky play on words, you’re nothing more than desperate. “Felt Good On My Lips” and “It’s a Business Doing Pleasure With You” are bad, but this is inexcusable.

– Jonathan

I have no idea what McGraw is thinking. Having escaped the malign clutches of Curb I had hoped he would be free to record some decent material, but instead he comes up with this witless semi-rap trash, which is completely without merit of any kind. Some people don’t deserve artistic freedom.

– Hope

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 – Carrie Underwood – ‘Blown Away’

The modern state of country music finds songs fitting into one of two categories – southern party anthems (usually sung by those unwilling to accept their 20s are long over) or tunes primed for the pop world (usually sung by female artists or acts like Lady Antebellum and Gloriana). Very rarely does a song stand on its own truly as a piece of country music.

“Blown Away” attempts to fit into that third category by resurrecting the long forgotten era of murder ballads, a sub-genre made famous by the likes of Johnny Cash (“Banks of the Ohio”) and Porter Wagoner (“Cold Hard Facts Of Life”) in the 1960s and more recently, Martina McBride (“Independence Day”) in the 1990s and Brad Paisley (“Whiskey Lullaby”) about nine years ago.

This time, a daughter is seeking revenge on an abusive father by keeping him “passed out on the couch” during what appears to be a very strong tornado, powerful enough for her to “lock herself in the cellar” and wait it out.

Unfortunately, the similarities end there, with “Blown Away” underscoring Underwood’s grave failure as a storyteller – her inability to grasp the art of subtlety. She, and producer Mark Bright, mistakenly turn the song into a pop power ballad, where the overwhelming production and bombastic vocal become the focus instead of the fabulously dark storyline.

How many people, in the times “Blown Away” has been given television exposure in the past two months, actually know what the song is really about? The tune’s presentation, complete with a distracting wind tunnel and falling debris, only manages to dilute the overall storyline and water down what could (and should) be one of the greatest country singles of the year.

For a lyric this promising, I only wish it had been given more room to be the star.

Grade: B

ACM Award predictions

The Academy of Country Music is announcing its annual awards live on TV on Sunday. Here are our predictions and hopes for the ceremony:

Entertainer of the Year

Jason Aldean
Kenny Chesney
Brad Paisley
Blake Shelton
Taylor Swift

Jonathan: First off, let the Carrie Underwood backlash begin. And end. I agree with the fans who love her, but she didn’t make enough of a splash in 2011 to be considered here. At least you need to release a solo single. I agree with this list as it features most of the big players in country music right now. I would’ve included Zac Brown Band here as musicianship should win out over star power. But I can’t say any of these artists don’t deserve it from a numbers perspective.
Will Win: Taylor Swift – it’s still a fan voted award and she has the largest fan base for these kinds of contests.
Should Win: Blake Shelton – not because of his radio hits but because he’s the only one here to ascend to the next level in 2011. He makes country music look cool on The Voice, too. He may not have a strong catalog of singles but we could do far worse in Hollywood’s ideal of country music.

OH: I think I would also lean to Blake Shelton here. Chesney, Aldean and Swift have all had bigger tours and more impressive sales, but Blake has been representing country music to a mass audience thanks to his TV exposure. However, this being a fan-voted category, I think Taylor Swift will be Sunday’s winner, with only the fast-rising rocker Jason Aldean likely to challenge.

Razor X: Taylor Swift has this one in the bag, as it’s fan voted again this year.

Note: Voting is still open for anyone who wants to make their contribution. Read more of this post

2012 Grammy predictions

The Grammy awards are probably the world’s most prestigious cross-genre awards in the word of music, although within country music the CMA and ACM awards hold greater weight. The significance of the Grammies has been further affected this year with the contraction in the number of categories of interest to country fans. But awards shows offer a way of taking stock once every few months regarding the genre as a whole, particularly the more mainstream end. In a few days, we’ll learn who has won this year’s awards. In the meantime, here are our predictions:

Best Country Solo Performance

This new category combines the former nods to performances by male and female vocalists.

‘Dirt Road Anthem’ – Jason Aldean
‘I’m Gonna Love You Through It’ – Martina McBride
‘Honey Bee’ – Blake Shelton
‘Mean’ – Taylor Swift
‘Mama’s Song’ – Carrie Underwood

Razor X: I can’t remember the last time I came across a more underwhelming list of nominees. “Honey Bee” is the only one on the list that I can tolerate, but it doesn’t seem like the sort of song that usually wins Grammys. I think Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood are the two real contenders here; I’ll predict that Underwood will win.

Occasional Hope: A remarkably uninspiring lineup in this category. I suppose by default my vote (if I had one) would have gone to Blake Shelton. Carrie Underwood’s song is well-meaning but bland; Martina McBride’s is the epitome of emotional manipulation; Jason Aldean’s record is horrible; and Taylor Swift’s song has nice production for once, but the lyric collapses into juvenile namecalling (and I’m afraid I’m still unimpressed by her vocal ability). That leaves Blake Shelton with a slight but not unlistenable song, making it my lukewarm favorite by default. Who will actually win it? The Grammy voting pool is a bit different from the specialist country awards shows, so I’m going to predict Taylor Swift as although Aldean has had a big breakthrough over the past couple of years, I think his lack of cross-genre name recognition will limit his appeal to voters. He, Swift and Blake Shelton all have performance slots on the show (Blake as part of a Glen Campbell tribute and Jason Aldean revisitng his duet with Kelly Clarkson), which could be an indication that the battle is between these three.

Jonathan Pappalardo: It seems as though the Grammy organization can’t win. If they go by artistic merits they’re deemed out of touch with reality. If they go with what’s popular, they’re deemed too mainstream. For my tastes these nominees are awful. There isn’t a song here I can get excited about, apart from Taylor Swift’s “Mean.” If she has to win an award this year, let it be this one.

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Single Review – Zac Brown Band – ‘No Hurry’

In the ongoing battle for group supremacy in country music, Zac Brown Band should win every battle. I love their tendency to stick to a more traditional sound and sing songs that aren’t riddled with clichés. They’re a much-needed breath of fresh air to offset the watered down sound of Lady Antebellum and the pretty boy flare of Rascal Flatts. Plus, as entertainers and musicians, there is hardly a better mainstream country act around.

But as more and more singles keep getting released and hitting #1 (“Keep Me In Mind” marked their seventh consecutive trip to the top and eighth overall), I’ve noticed the freshness of their sound has settled somewhere around routine. When you’ve set the bar as high as they have, it’s difficult to continue to show growth when you’re just consistently great.

But like any great act, there’s bound to be some missteps along the way. For the fifth single from the band’s latest album You Get What You Give, “No Hurry” is a bit of a let down. For all the outstanding album cuts (I’m looking at you “Let It Go” and “Martin”) on the project, I’m baffled this one will have its day at radio in place of some truly excellent songs.

Co-written by Zac Brown with James Otto and Wyatt Durrette, “No Hurry” is basically a laundry list of items the protagonist needs to accomplish but isn’t in a rush to complete:

You know my old car needs washing

And the front yard needs a trim

And the telephone keeps ringing

And the bossman knows I know its him

And the bills ain’t gonna pay themselves

No matter anyway

Cause I ain’t in no hurry today

Here’s the problem – these aren’t a particularly attention grabbing list of items to sing about. List songs are the hardest to sell because if they’re not exciting, there ceases to be a point. And “No Hurry” fits into that category. If the opening lyrics cannot hold the attention of the listener, and these don’t hold mine, than you know something is wrong.

As the song progresses, the lyrics take a turn from the idea of this person not being in a hurry for daily activities and errands to not being in a rush to ascend to heaven:

When I must return

To the cold cold ground

Have ’em take their time

When they lay this sinner down

Heaven knows that I ain’t perfect

I’ve raised a little cain

And I plan to raise a whole lot more

Before I hear those angels sing

(Gonna get right with the lord)

But there’ll be hell to pay

But I ain’t in no hurry

The idea of living it up while you’re still on earth is predictable and bordering on cliché. As evidenced by their lazy execution, the writers are aptly reiterating what we’ve heard countless times before without offering us anything new. And such a poor execution is quite baffling from writers as talented as these.

But the one saving grace for “No Hurry” is the production. I thoroughly enjoy the fiddle and guitar work as it accomplishes the task of drawing the listener in and keeping them from turning the dial as soon as the song comes on. Anytime I get to hear fiddle front and center on a mainstream country single these days is a cause for celebration. Too bad the concept for the song doesn’t follow suit.

Grade: C 

Single Review – Lady Antebellum – ‘Dancin’ Away With My Heart’

On the third single from Own The Night Lady Antebellum reunites with Josh Kear who helped them pin “Need You Now.” It’s an attempt to rekindle the fire of their signature song.

As the story goes, it’s about a couple that lost touch after high school only to meet up years later. It’s as if no time has passed and all the feelings from when they were eighteen come rushing back.

The gently rolling soft drums and guitars aid in wrapping the story in a sweet romantic comedy-like vibe that perfectly complements the back and forth between Charles Kelley and Hillary Scott. Their roles in this love story are believable because of their sincere conviction. They play these characters very well.

With so much working in their favor, why did “Dancing Away With My Heart” have to go so wrong? The lazy songwriting and inability to fully flush out the details of this reunion display a complete lack of effort. There’s no mention of where this chance meeting is taking place. Are they attending a high school reunion? A mutual friend’s wedding? Did they know each other would even be present?

So much time is spent drilling in the fact they haven’t seen each other in ages that they forgot to fill us in on the details that took them from college until the present moment. It’s frustrating that they would leave so many important details unanswered.

They should’ve followed Reba’s lead. She got every detail right when she tackled the same theme in 1995.

Grade: B- 

Week ending 12/17/11: #1 singles this week in country music history

1951: Slow Poke — Pee Wee King & His Golden West Cowboys (feat. Redd Stewart) (RCA)

1961: Walk On By — Leroy Van Dyke (Mercury)

1971: Kiss An Angel Good Morning — Charley Pride (RCA)

1981: Still Doin’ Time — George Jones (Epic)

1991: For My Broken Heart — Reba McEntire (MCA)

2001: I Wanna Talk About Me — Toby Keith (DreamWorks Nashville)

2011: We Owned The Night — Lady Antebellum (Capitol)

Week ending 12/10/11: #1 singles this week in country music history

1951: Slow Poke — Pee Wee King & His Golden West Cowboys (feat. Redd Stewart) (RCA)

1961: Walk On By — Leroy Van Dyke (Mercury)

1971: Kiss An Angel Good Morning — Charley Pride (RCA)

1981: Bet Your Heart On Me — Johnny Lee (Warner Bros.)

1991: For My Broken Heart — Reba McEntire (MCA)

2001: I Wanna Talk About Me — Toby Keith (DreamWorks Nashville)

2011: We Owned The Night — Lady Antebellum (Capitol)