My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Martina McBride

Spotlight Artist: Country & Irish

Although country music is often dismissed as an art form that only appeals to North Americans, its popularity around the world is well documented. In addition to following the big Nashville stars, many countries have their own homegrown versions of country music as well. This month will take a look at three artists who are currently popular in Ireland, although, ironically, none of them were actually born there.

Robert Mizzell was born in Shreveport, Louisiana on July 21, 1971 and did a stint in the US Army after graduating from high school. When his love interest decided to return to her native Ireland, he followed there and tried his hand at a variety of jobs including construction and selling insurance. He did not grow up listening to country music, but the huge international success of Garth Brooks in the early 1990s inspired him to give it a try. His first major hit, “Kick Ass Country” led to a stint on an X-Factor style program called Let Me Entertain You. Although he is largely unknown in his native USA, he has an extensive following throughout Europe and Australia, thanks to hits such as “Say You Love Me”, “Mama Courtney” and cover versions of hits by Nashville stars.

Lisa McHugh was born on August 16, 1988 in Glasgow, Scotland to Irish parents. She grew up listening to Dolly Parton, Martina McBride and Garth Brooks. In 2009 she relocated to Letterkenny in her mother’s native county of Donegal, and eventually she settled in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh in Northern Ireland. To date she has released four studio albums and one live album. She appeared on the Grand Ole Opry in 2012.

Like Lisa McHugh, Nathan Carter is also a UK native of Irish ancestry. He was born in Liverpool, England on May 28, 1990 to parents who both hailed from the city of Newry, which straddles the border between counties Aramagh and Down in Northern Ireland. His debut album, the aptly-titled Starting Out was released in 2007. Shortly thereafter he relocated to Ireland. In 2012, he released a version of the Bob Dylan chestnut “Wagon Wheel” which made him a household name in the Emerald Isle. He has recorded a total of nine studio albums, the last four of which were released by Decca Records.

Some of the music that we’ll be reviewing this month will be new to you, while some of it will be more familiar, albeit with a different twist. We hope you’ll enjoy it.

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Album Review: The Whites – ‘Give a Little Back’

51rbd9bcgvl-_ss500_pjstripe-robin-largetopleft00The Whites continued to record only sporadically when their stint as a major label act ended. 1996’s Give a Little Back, appeared nearly a decade after their final release for MCA/Curb. Released by the independent Nashville-based Step One Records, it has a more contemporary, less down-homey feel to it than their earlier work. Even at their commercial peak, The Whites were somewhat at odds with the mainstream. It does not seem to have been a serious attempt to reignite their recording career; no singles were released and the album received little promotion, but it is an impressive effort given the small-label constraints they had to work with.

I’m guessing that Give a Little Back was produced for a mere fraction of the cost of a typical major label release of the day, but no corners whatsoever were cut where the session musicians were concerned. Some of Nashville’s finest — Jerry Douglas (dobro), Buddy Emmons (pedal steel), and Ricky Skaggs (mandolin and fiddle) — appear in the musician credits.

The songs themselves are also quite good and are a mixture of both old and new from a cover of The Louvin Brothers’ “Steal Away and Pray” to more contemporary fare by Karen Staley, Jerry Fuller and John Hobbs, all well known composers of the day. Allmusic lists “I’d Jump the Mississippi”, a song written by George Jones, on the tracklist but it does not appear on the iTunes version of the album.

The Whites’ radio singles all featured Sharon as the lead singer, but she shares the spotlight just a little with her father – who is a surprisingly good vocalist on “Whose Heart Are You Breaking Tonight” and “Give Love an Inch” – and her sister Cheryl who sings lead on “Slow Dancin’”, “Til This Ring Turns Green” and “Try a Little Kindness”. The latter is best known as a hit for Glen Campbell, but The Whites had previously recorded it as a bluegrass song in the 70s when they were still relatively unknown. Cheryl is not the vocalist that Sharon is. The two numbers on which Buck sings lead are similar in arrangement to the uptempo material Ricky Skaggs released when he first emerged as a mainstream artist in the early 80s. I thought that Ricky might have produced the album, but Ray Pennington is the credited producer.

Martina McBride fans will recognize “Walk That Line”, a song that was included on Martina’s 1992 debut album. The Whites version, with Sharon singing lead, is faithful to Martina’s original version. I slightly prefer Martina’s version because it’s more familiar to me but The Whites’ version is also very good. My favorite track is the upbeat “I’ve Changed the Lock on My Heart’s Door.”
Give a Little Back shows that The Whites still had a lot to offer after their hitmaking days ended and makes one wish that they had recorded more frequently in the post-major label phase of their career.

Grade: A

Album Review: Faith Hill – The previously unreleased material on ‘Deep Tracks’

faith-hill-deep-tracks-cover-artWhen Faith Hill emerged after an eight-year hiatus to celebrate her twentieth wedding anniversary, announce a Soul2Soul revival tour and mentor contestants on The Voice, I figured she was banking on nostalgia to propel this new era of her career. Hill has smartly been riding on Tim McGraw’s coattails since 2006, knowing she can’t fill arenas, or Vegas casinos, to (near) capacity without him.

She also couldn’t launch a comeback with Illusion, a record Warner Bros. likely shelved after two embarrassing singles – “Come Home” and “American Heart” bombed at country radio when she desperately needed a hit to regain momentum within the industry. That was never going to happen anyways, as age and changing trends saw Carrie Underwood filling the space she once occupied.

With those statistics in mind, I was surprised when she quietly announced a new album to end the record contract she signed in 1993. But I was disheartened to learn it would exist as Deep Tracks, a project comprised of previously released album cuts the label probably wisely never saw fit to release as singles. The project is nothing more than a cash grab and an insult to Hill’s tenure with the label. I’m glad to see Hill on board, though, which is more than I can say for the umpteenth Greatest Hits projects Curb released to extend McGraw’s contract. If the marketing is to be believed, it seems she actually selected these songs herself.

Tagged onto the end of the album are three previously unreleased songs, of which I was anxious to hear. I’ve been a big fan of Hill’s since I began listening to country music in the mid-90s and always welcome anything new she chooses to give her fans. And with the infrequency of her releases, I haven’t cast Hill aside as I’ve done to Martina McBride.

The new material begins with the recently recorded “Boy,” written by Lee Brice, Rob Hatch and Lance Miller. The track is classic Hill, a love song, she freely admits reminds her of her man. While it doesn’t break any new ground, the plucky ballad deviates from her typical sonic playbook just enough to keep the feel of the song fresh.

Rob Mathes and Allen Shamblin’s “Why” follows. Hill recorded the track in 2004 for Fireflies and when it failed to make the cut, Dann Huff brought the song to Rascal Flatts, who brought it to #18 in 2009. The song explores a woman’s anguish in the wake of an unimaginable tragedy:

Oh why, that’s what I keep askin’

Was there anything I could have said or done

Oh I, had no clue you were masking a troubled soul, God only knows

What went wrong, and why you’d leave the stage in the middle of a song

 

Oh why there’s no comprehending

And who am I to try to judge or explain

Oh, but I do have one burning question

Who told you life wasn’t worth the fight

They were wrong

They lied

And now you’re gone

And we cried

‘Cause It’s not like you, to walk away in the middle of a song

The execution is extremely heavy-handed with Huff’s production and Hill’s vocal leaning far too piano-ballad pop for my tastes. The lyric itself is somewhat powerful, but it lacks the subtlety that made “Can’t Be Really Gone” and “On A Bus To St. Cloud” so magical.

In context, the final cut is arguably the saddest. Hill’s mother had long wished her daughter would record a gospel album, the only type of music she wanted to hear her sing. Such a project never came to fruition, so “Come to Jesus” is the closest Hill’s come to carrying out her mother’s wishes. Hill’s mom passed away just three weeks ago, right before the CMA Awards, but was able to hear this song in time.

Hill could obviously still make a gospel album, which could be a treat, if it sounds nothing like she does on this Mindy Smith tune. I appreciate and wholeheartedly welcome the use of fiddle throughout, but there’s just nothing delicate or interesting to hold my attention. This is not the soaring moment (think “There Will Come A Day”) I was hoping for.

With this new material Hill deserves full credit for covering her bases. “Boy” fits perfectly within her penchant for love songs while “Why” displays her knack for age-appropriate material tackling emotional subjects. “Come to Jesus” is the type of song she was teasing when gearing up for the ill-fated Illusion that supposedly nixed her country sound for ‘southern soul.’

While I didn’t find much here to be excited about (“Boy” is the best of the new stuff and worth checking out), I don’t want to suggest the ‘deep tracks’ themselves are of poor quality. If you’ve never heard her take on Lori McKenna’s stunning “If You Ask,” do yourself a favor and check it out.

I’m just upset that after twenty-three years of enormous success, Hill and her fans aren’t being treated to a more heartfelt sendoff than Deep Tracks. Everyone involved deserves so much more than this.

Grades: 

Deep Tracks: D 

Boy:’ B+ 

Why:’ C 

Come To Jesus:’ C 

Album Review: Ronnie Dunn – ‘Tattooed Heart’

61haqvae9cl-_ss500The Nash Icon movement, as I understood it, was meant to provide a platform for veteran artists where they wouldn’t have to compete with the younger generation for radio airplay. Why then, has nearly every Nash Icon artist released an album that still seems to be an attempt to rack up radio hits? Ronnie Dunn’s latest effort follows down the same trail that Hank Williams Jr, Martina McBride and Reba McEntire blazed ahead of him.

Tattooed Heart is Dunn’s inaugural release for the label. He co-produced the set with Jay DeMarcus. It consists of twelve songs written by some of Nashville’s finest, ranging from Liz Hengber, Steve Bogard and Bob DiPiero to Jim Beavers, Jon Randall and Tommy Lee James. Dunn had a hand in writing two of the songs, including the album’s best track “She Don’t Honky Tonk No More”, co-written with Nikki Hernandez and Andrew Rollins.

Dunn is joined by a couple of old friends on a pair of songs. His current single “Damn Drunk” features his former partner Kix Brooks, whose presence would go unnoticed if he weren’t credited on the label. Reba McEntire makes a more audible contribution on “Still Feels Like Mexico”, which I’m guessing will be the next single. The song itself isn’t particularly interesting, however. The album’s first single was “Ain’t No Trucks In Texas”, which peaked at #42 on the airplay chart last year.

The quality of the material itself is not in question and Ronnie Dunn’s voice remains one of the best in country music. What makes Tattooed Heart such a mixed bag is the production which is too heavy-handed on almost every track. “Ain’t No Trucks In Texas” is too loud, the strings are too intrusive on the otherwise very good “I Worship The Woman You Walked On” and ditto for the background vocalists on the 1950s-sounding title track. The self-penned “I Wanna Love Like That Again” is more restrained, although the song itself isn’t very country-sounding. The aforementioned “She Don’t Honky Tonk No More”, the album’s sole traditional song, is flawlessly executed. I wish the rest of the album were more in that vein; it’s more in line with what the target audience — those of us who have been Brooks & Dunn fans for nearly 25 years — really want to hear.

Grade: B-

50th CMA Awards: Grading the Twenty Performances

Instead of the typical CMA Awards prediction post, I thought it might be fun to rank the twenty performances, all of which brought something special to the evening. Here they are, in ascending order, with commentary:

20.

imrs-phpBeyoncé Feat. Dixie Chicks – Daddy’s Lessons

The most debated moment of the night was the worst performance in recent CMA history, an embarrassment to country music and the fifty years of the organization. Beyoncé was the antithesis of our genre with her staged antics and complete lack of authenticity. If Dixie Chicks had performed this song alone, like they did on tour, it would’ve been a slam-dunk. They were never the problem. Beyoncé is to blame for this mess.

Grade: F

19.

Kelsea Ballerini – Peter Pan

I feel bad for her. It seems Ballerini never got the memo that this was the CMA Awards and not a sideshow at Magic Kingdom. Everything about this was wrong – the visuals, wind machine and, most of all, the dancers. Once I saw the harness in plain sight, I knew it was over.

Grade: F 

 18.

362x204-q100_121d9e867599857df2132b3b6c77e0c8Luke Bryan – Move

Nashville is perennially behind the trends as evidenced by Bryan’s completely out of place performance. One of only two I purposefully fast forwarded through.

Grade: F 

 17.

Florida Georgia Line feat. Tim McGraw – May We All 

Stood out like a sore thumb, for all the wrong reasons. Not even McGraw could redeem this disaster.

Grade: F  

16.

gettyimages-620669440-43407842-8b2a-437b-a6e4-f643a1b5b104Carrie Underwood – Dirty Laundry

The newly minted Female Vocalist of the Year gave the third weakest performance of this year’s nominees. I commend her use of an all-female band, but disliked everything else from the visuals to Underwood’s dancing. It all starts with the song and this one is among her worst.

Grade: D+

15.

Thomas Rhett – Die A Happy Man

The biggest hit of the year gave Thomas Rhett a moment his other radio singles proves he doesn’t deserve. He remained gracious throughout the night, proving he can turn it on when it counts. I just wish it wasn’t an act.

Grade: B- 

14.

362x204-q100_b63432d74b677e29d35917efd7490170Keith Urban – Blue Ain’t Your Color

A perfectly serviceable performance of an above average song. He did nothing to stand out from the pack neither adding to nor distracting from the night’s more significant moments.

Grade: B

13.

Dierks Bentley feat. Elle King – Different for Girls 

At least Bentley wasn’t showcasing the rowdier side of Black. He and King didn’t do anything to stand out and the whole thing was more middle of the road than anything else.

Grade: B

 12.

landscape-1478192054-gettyimages-620693852Martina McBride, Reba McEntire, Kacey Musgraves, Jennifer Nettles and Carrie Underwood – Dolly Parton Tribute 

I have nothing against Parton nor do I deny her incredible legacy as a pioneer in the genre. But it’s time to honor someone else. Parton has been lauded and it’s so old at this point, it’s unspectacular. That’s not to say this wasn’t a great medley, it was. I just wish it had been for someone different, like say, Tanya Tucker.

Grade: B

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Album Review: Martina McBride – ‘Reckless’

71DYXrOa+jL._SX522_Martina McBride has been suffering from a bad case of the dulls for about a decade now. 2005’s Timeless was her last worthwhile effort and I have to admit that I pretty much wrote her off after that. The mere fact that we’ve waited a full month to review her latest album is a testimony to how low our expectations were. In fairness, though, the new album is an improvement over all of her recent output, albeit only slightly.

Reckless — a rather tame and subdued affair despite its title — is her debut release for the recently formed Nash Icon Records. The imprint, a joint venture between Big Machine and Cumulus Media, was formed to give a home to veteran artists so that they no longer had to compete with newer acts for radio airplay. The idea was to create a new radio format for these displaced veterans, and to give them the artistic freedom to record what they wanted without having to worry about chasing the latest trends. The problem is that the radio format never really took off and none of the artists on the Nash Icon roster seem to be doing anything differently from before. McBride partnered up with producers Nathan Chapman and Dann Huff, which pretty much guaranteed that nothing new,innovative or very country-sounding was going to result.

Reckless does contain a handful of decent songs, which are unfortunately ruined by heavy-handed, synthesizer-laden production. In its better moments it is somewhat reminiscent of Evolution, which remains one of my favorite McBride albums, but even those moments don’t quite reach the lofty heights of that 1997 masterpiece. The title track, which serve as the album’s first single, gets the album off to a good start. It’s a catchy number that I really like; I just wish the intrusive background vocals had been left off. “Low All Afternoon”, my favorite track, is a very nice ballad about “the other woman” who comes out on the losing side when she forces her lover to choose between her and his fiancee. It features a nice steel guitar solo, but like “Reckless”, it is marred by “oohing and ahhing” background vocals. “The Real Thing” is a better than average “laundry list” song, on which guest Buddy Miller’s harmony vocals are drowned out by the overly loud electric guitars. “We’ll Pick Up Where We Left Off” is one of the album’s quieter selections. It’s a decent song, again marred by the background vocals and annoying handclaps. The closing track “You and You Alone” is torchy and totally non-country piano ballad that nicely showcases Martina’s beautiful vocals.

The rest of the album, including “Diamond”, featuring the always boring Keith Urban, is not worth mentioning in any great detail.

Reckless exceeded my admittedly low expectations. It’s more AC than country and not particularly interesting but it’s still better than anything Martina has released in quite a long time.

Grade: B-

Week ending 3/5/16: #1 singles this week in country music history

3bc2f57b-fddc-d074-4ed0-c17d293ef3781956 (Sales): I Forgot to Remember to Forget/Mystery Train — Elvis Presley (Sun)

1956 (Jukebox): I Forgot to Remember to Forget — Elvis Presley (Sun)

1956 (Disc Jockeys): Why Baby Why — Red Sovine & Webb Pierce (Decca)

1966: Waitin’ in Your Welfare Line — Buck Owens & The Buckaroos (Capitol)

1976: Good Hearted Woman — Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson (RCA)

1986: You Can Dream of Me — Steve Wariner (MCA)

1996: Wild Angels — Martina McBride (RCA)

2006: When I Get Where I’m Going — Brad Paisley with Dolly Parton (Arista)

2016: Die a Happy Man — Thomas Rhett (Valory)

2016 (Airplay): Dibs — Kelsea Ballerini (Black River)

Christmas Rewind: Martina McBride – ‘Please Come Home For Christmas’

Album Review: Don Henley – ‘Cass County’

cass countyI was more than prepared to dislike this album. I haven’t liked Henley’s previous solo endeavors, nor the efforts of his band mates such as Glenn Frey, and I never liked Henley’s band the Eagles. Nevertheless, the song titles on the album intrigued me so I agreed to review the album.

Over the years many outsiders have attempted to enter the country music genre in an effort to revitalize flagging careers. There have been some outsiders who proved to have bona fide country credential, most notably Carl Perkins, Conway Twitty, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chris Hillman and Vince Gill.

Most, however are imposters peddling a brand of faux country (Jessica Simpson and Bret Michaels come to mind. Imagine my surprise, when I listened to this album and found that I enjoyed it as much as the new George Strait and Clint Black albums. While I wouldn’t describe this as 100% country, I would call it 100% very good!

Yes, Henley has brought in a bunch of country superstars to assist him in this endeavor, but they really were not needed, not that I don’t appreciated the talents of Miranda Lambert , Merle Haggard, Martina McBride, Dolly Parton, Vince Gill and Allison Krauss.

Cass County opens up with Tift Merritt’s “Bramble Rose,” with Miranda Lambert and Mick Jagger joining Henley. While I don’t think Jagger adds anything positive to the mix, neither does he destroy it.

Next up is a Henley composition “Cost of Living”. Henley collaborates with the legendary Merle Haggard, a somber ballad about the price of living and the challenges of growing older. I really don’t know much about Henley but Haggard surely knows these lessons as well as anyone, and maybe more so.

“Take A Picture Of This” is an odd song about a couple looking back on the past. The twist on the song is that that by the song’s end the man realizes that he doesn’t really know his wife anymore and decides to leave her.

“Waiting Tables” tells the tale of a young girl who grew up in a timber town, got married too young and wound ended up a single mother at 23 years old. Now she’s stuck waiting tables and hoping for a new love that will be more than a one night stand. This song is a nice example of songwriting craftsmanship.

The least country song on the album follows, the rockin’ blues number titled “No, Thank You” follows. The song advises the importance of viewing everything with a skeptical eye.

The pedal steel guitar dominates “Praying For Rain”, a song about drought stricken farmers hoping the rains will come soon. The stark realism of the song hits home.

“Words Can Break Your Heart” is slower and emotional. I regard the feel of the song as album filler, but if you listen closely to the lyrics, it is clearly more than that.

I haven’t anything from this album on the radio but it is my understanding that the first single from the album was “That Old Flame”. The song features Martina McBride in the role of an old flame wishing to make new acquaintance of a love from long ago. He wonders about her motives.

The album contains twelve songs with the deluxe edition containing sixteen songs and while I won’t comment on all of the remaining songs, I will comment on two songs that proved Henley’s bona fide credentials within the genre:

The Louvin Brothers were never massive sellers or hit makers but their influence ran both deep and wide. Dolly Parton joins Don on the Louvin’s “When I Stop Dreaming”. If this recording doesn’t stir your soul, just head for the morgue – you’re already dead and just hadn’t bothered to fall down.

The other song that Henley recorded that really interested me was the lovely “She Sang Hymns Out of Tune”. I think it is my favorite song on the album. Anyone who can dig out “She Sang Hymns Out of Tune” has more than a passing familiarity with country music. I have the song on a late 60s Dillards album but I am not sure who else may have sung it, although I have heard the song performed at bluegrass festivals. I think this song is only on the deluxe edition of the album; if that’s the case spend the extra money – it’s worth it!

I give this album an A and hope Don Henley hangs around the genre a little longer.

Song Review: Don Henley featuring Dolly Parton – ‘When I Stop Dreaming’

Don-Henley-Dolly-Parton-Kevork-Djansezian-Rick-DiamondFew people expressed surprise when Don Henley announced plans to release a country album; he has dabbled in the genre before, collaborating on projects with Trisha Yearwood and Reba McEntire. And though The Eagles were not country band, there is no denying that they greatly influenced the genre. Add to that the fact that country music has long been a dumping ground for pop and rock acts past their commercial primes, and the decision to record an album in Nashville seemed to be a logical one.

Cass County is slated to be released next month. A few tracks have been made available for download via iTunes: the non-(country) charting “Take a Picture of This” and a duet with Martina McBride called “That Old Flame”. Neither can be described as hardcore country; they are middle-of-the-road AC-type songs with just enough country elements to keep the natives happy — about what one would expect from a side-project by a rock artist.

What is a surprise, however,is the third track to be pre-released from the album: a remake of the 1955 classic “When I Stop Dreaming”. That a rock act would cover The Louvin Brothers at all is in itself amazing, and is a gesture of respect for the genre on the part of Henley. One wonders how many of today’s “country” acts even know who Ira and Charlie were. I certainly can’t imagine the likes of Luke Bryan or Jason Aldean doing something this. Nor do I particularly want to. But I digress.

Dolly Parton is Don’s duet partner. Both Henley and Parton are pushing 70 — ancient in this youth-obsessed business, but they sound great and as they show the current generation of young artists (who are probably not paying a bit of attention) how it’s done. The steel guitar and the harmonies are beautiful — even if Dolly can’t sing quite as high as she did when she provided the harmony vocals to Emmylou Harris’ definitive 1977 version of the song. This will probably never be released as a single — and radio wouldn’t play it if it were, but it deserves to be heard and is worth downloading. Or you can listen to it here. This isn’t the best version of the song I’ve ever heard, but it’s easily one of the best recordings I’ve heard out of Nashville this year. Now if we could only get someone to write new songs this good.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Martina McBride and The Chieftains – ‘I’ll Be All Smiles Tonight’

Classic Rewind: Martina McBride – Til I Can Make It On My Own’

Legendary songwriter and producer Billy Sherrill has died. Here is Martina McBride singing one of his songs (a hit for Tammy Wynette) at a 2010 event honoring Sherrill.

Classic Rewind: Tim McGraw ft Martina McBride – ‘Angry All The Time’

Predictions for the 50th annual ACM Awards

To celebrate their 50th anniversary, The Academy of Country Music Awards is being held at AT&T Stadium in Dallas, TX  this Sunday on CBS. Blake Shelton is returning for his fifth year as host while Luke Bryan will co-host for the third consecutive time. Notable performers include George Strait, Reba McEntire, Garth Brooks, and Dierks Bentley along with the usual mainstream country suspects. Nick Jonas and Christina Aguilera will also take the stage as part of unique duets.

Along with the regular awards, the ACM will also be handing out specially designed 50th anniversary Milestone Awards to Taylor Swift, Kenny Chesney, Miranda Lambert, Brooks & Dunn, Reba McEntire, Garth Brooks and George Strait. (Swift is expected to accept in person despite distancing herself from the genre).

Check out the nominations, here.

UnknownEntertainer of the Year

Garth Brooks, who has six previous wins, is nominated for the first time since 2001 in a year that saw him break ticket sale records, but underwhelm with his Man Against Machine album. The absence of Taylor Swift, George Strait and Tim McGraw left the category open for some fresh blood, resulting in Florida Georgia Line’s first nomination.

Should Win: Garth Brooks – he continues to show how it’s done, twenty-five years after his debut.

Will Win: Luke Bryan – he’ll ride his CMA momentum all the way to the finish line, scoring his second win in three nominations.

4e35192a48a8e1409d2f92873a0dbab7Male Vocalist of the Year

Despite eight previous nominations with five wins, it’s not shocking to see Brad Paisley included here. But after such an underwhelming year, it’s still surprising to see him included in a six-way tie. Dierks Bentley scores his second nomination in ten years, while half of the remaining four consist of previous winners. Jason Aldean has taken home this award for the past two years.

Should Win: Dierks Bentley – His only previous nomination came in 2005, while he was still in the promotional cycle for his sophomore album. His stature has only risen in the years since, with critical acclaim and consistent support from country radio, making him long overdue for his turn in the spotlight.   

Will Win: Luke Bryan – He’s arguably the biggest male artist in country music right now, eclipsing Aldean, Eric Church, and Blake Shelton with his stadium show, fast rising singles, and immense popularity. There’s little chance he’ll walk away empty handed, taking home his first win on his third consecutive nomination.

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Classic Rewind: Martina McBride – ‘Til I Can Make It On My Own’

Classic Rewind: Martina McBride covers Garth Brooks – ‘The Dance’

Single Review: Gary Allan – ‘Hangover Tonight’

Hangover-TonightI’ve come to think of Gary Allan as the male Martina McBride — an artist that I really like, who has shown in recent years, a seeming inability to select quality material. I hold out hope, with each new release, that things are getting back on track, and each time I am disappointed. It is particularly disheartening since Allan’s latest single “Hangover Tonight” is a co-write with Chris Stapleton, formerly of The SteelDrivers.

I suppose it is unrealistic for me to have any expectation that a mainstream artist struggling to get airplay in this day and age will release anything that sounds even remotely country, but the title did suggest that this might actually be a honky-tonk song. Any hopes of that were cruelly dashed by the first notes of the funky, bluesy electric guitar that dominates the track. Not only isn’t this honky-tonk, it isn’t even a drinking song. Alcohol is mentioned, of course, but the term “hangover” is used more in the sense of hanging out all night long, rather than the consequences of the morning after.

Little effort seems to have been put into the writing of this song — the lyrics are superficial, repetitious and don’t really say anything. That in itself is not a huge problem; not every song has to be deep and meaningful. But it would be nice if it actually sounded as though it belonged in the genre under which it is being marketed. I realize that this is not a new complaint, but it is frustrating in the extreme when an artist who is nearly 20 years into his recording career – who has demonstrated in the past that he can do better – phones it in instead of trying to elevate the genre above the usual dreck we’ve come to expect. The newer generation might not know any better but Gary Allan does. Too bad he has chosen the path of least resistance once again.

Listen to it here.

Grade: C

Single Review: Reba McEntire – ‘Going Out Like That’

reba-going-out-like-that-coverWhen the announcement was made that Reba McEntire had signed with Scott Borchetta’s Nash Icon label, I ran across an article where she said she thought she’d already made her final album (2010’s The Woman I Am). Brochetta, who’s Valory Music Co. label released that project, had apparently been courting McEntire for years, trying to convince her to return to the studio. The results of that begging should be out this spring.

My hopes are high for the project. Ever since she made her comeback in 2009 I’ve longed for McEntire to revisit the magic of What If  It’s You, her 1996 return to form after years of dabbling in a brand of theatrical country that turned her into a cartoon character. Save a song here and there, that obviously hasn’t happened. If this first taste of the new music is any indication, the long wait continues.

“Going Out Like That” is nothing more than a product aimed at gaining maximum airplay, a business decision where quality is the last thing on everyone’s minds. McEntire and Borchetta have forgone the grand artistic statement in favor of positioning the 60 year old for history making success by playing the mainstream game.

That being said, “Going Out Like That” isn’t without its charms. McEntire has never been one to show her age and with her trademark voice still in top form, that isn’t happening now. And while the indistinctive arrangement, produced by Tony Brown, relies too heavily on layers of electric guitars and sounds as though it was created by a computer, it does have a brightness to it that I kind of enjoy. It also doesn’t hurt that the song feels far more structured than “Turn on the Radio.”

In addition, it’s far from the worst country radio has to offer. Rhett Akins, Ben Hayslip, and Jason Sellers have crafted a lyric that steers clear of positioning McEntire as a ‘female bro’ obsessed with trucks, dirt roads, and drinking. And I still have hope for the album, which will probably have some good songs, as her weakest recordings usually do.

That doesn’t excuse the fact McEntire and Borchetta are banking on emotion manipulation by taking advantage of the fans hoping for the return of substance on their radio. Even worse, the track continues McEntire’s trend of tarnishing her groundbreaking legacy by her refusal to act her age at a time when she should be showing the younger generations how it’s done.

“Going Out Like That” also doesn’t bode well for the Nash Icon brand, which has Martina McBride and Ronnie Dunn on board as well, because it positions the label as a shameless mainstream entity and not the platform for genuine artistic expression everyone hoped it would be.

No matter how you look it, McEntire’s long awaited comeback single is a colossal waste of everyone’s time and energy. I’m so done giving artists a pass when they’ve released a product in place of a song. We’ve been taken advantage of for far too long by an industry’s mainstream sector being more concerned with numbers and profits than artistic integrity. There is a way to meet both objectives simultaneously, but “Going Out Like That” obviously isn’t it.

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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