My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Mike Mobley

Album Review: James Dupre – ‘Stoned To Death’

stoned to deathSix years ago, James Dupre parlayed some popular youtube covers into a fine Kyle Lehning and Jerry Douglas produced debut album. That record was then picked up by Warner Brothers, and it seemed as if he might make a breakthrough. Unfortunately, Warner Brothers failed to do anything with James and his music other than re-releasing his album. A stint on The Voice later, the Louisiana born singer is back with new music, mostly self-composed, whereas he only contributed two of the songs on his debut. It is an encouraging step forwards artistically, while continuing to showcase his attractive, warm vocals. The new album is produced by Jordan Lehning (son of Kyle); he doesn’t do a bad job overall but lacks his father’s light touch. Backing vocalists include former American Idol runner-up Kree Harrison, although she isn’t very audible.

James’s Louisiana roots, traditional country music and his big influences Randy Travis and folk rocker James Taylor all infuse his own country music. The upbeat ‘Green Light’, which James and Jordan wrote with Skylar Wilson and Andrew Combs, opens the album to good effect with its optimistic attitude.

James wrote four songs with Neal Coty and Brent Baxter, all reflective ballads about the aftermath of a relationship. The mellow sounding but sad ‘Forgiving Me’ is about regrets for the mistakes he made, and coming to peace with himself:

So I pack that pack
Light up some self destruction
Let it lay me back for the night that I got coming
Throwin’ rocks in a muddy river
One for each regret
And writin’ the past a goodbye letter
Sending it off with a match
Chipping away at a heavy stone that ain’t half what it used to be
Working on forgiving me

Even time takes time
That’s one more thing I’m learning
And peace of mind is what you spend a long night earning

‘Someday Today’ is about coping with the loss by returning home, and is full of New Orleans atmosphere. In ‘Lonesome Alone’ he calls on his ex, bearing alcohol as “an ice-cold olive branch if it needs to be”. ‘Whatever That Was’ reflects on a relationship which was “never quite lovers, more than friends”, and which may not be over yet. It’s a fine song with a catchy tune, marred by an arrangement which is too heavy on the electric guitar.

‘Sad Song’, a co-write with Jeremy Spillman, is a mellow song about the way music helps to heal melancholy, and is very good. In contrast, the upbeat ‘Till The Real Thing Comes’, which James wrote with Adam Wright, celebrates a bar room hookup and offers a rare up-tempo moment.

The quietly melodic ‘Perfect Time’, written by Neal Carpenter and Scooter Carusoe, fits nicely with James’ own songs, and although the production has some intrusive elements, it is restrained. The rather dull ‘Hurt Good, written by Mike Mobley, Jessi Alexander and Travis Meadows, has a contemporary arrangement which adds nothing of value.

Finally, the title track, contributed by Alexander with Jeff Hyde and Clint Daniels, is a compelling drama comparing being left to a prison sentence:

I plead guilty and I wear my regret like a number on my soul

This is an excellent song, although yet again the production does its best to overwhelm it.

James’s warm voice sounds great throughout on the set, and the song quality is high. Minor niggles with the production aside, this is a strong album worth hearing.

Grade: A-

For those interested, James also stars in a new straight-to-Netflix and video film in which he plays the son of Randy Travis.

Album Review: Trace Adkins – ‘X’

By 2008 I had lost a lot of faith in Trace Adkins as an artist. But then he released the mistitled X (it is the Roman number 10, and was supposedly to mark this as his 10th release – but they only reached that number if you count greatest hits compilations).

The first single, the gospel-inflected ‘Muddy Water’ presents a troubled sinner seeking renewal in baptism. It’s a bit more heavily produced than necessary, but largely enjoyable although it peaked just outside the top 20. There is room for some sheer frivolity when a jaundiced Trace, just divorced, decides next time he might as well ‘Marry For Money’, in a humorous song written by Dave Turnbull and Jimmy Melton. This did a little better on the charts, reaching #14, the same peak as the rather more serious ‘All I Ask For Anymore’. ‘All I Ask For Anymore’ (written by Casey Beathard and Tim James) is a mature reflection on the changing desires that come with growing up, from shallow youthful selfishness to a grown man’s concerns for his wife and children. Trace delivers perhaps the finest pure vocal performance of his career supported by a swelling string arrangement. The similarly themed ‘Happy To Be Here’ (written by Jason Matthews, Jim McCormick and Mike Mobley) is a bit too heavily produced but not bad.

Two of the songs are outright modern classics. ‘Til The Last Shot’s Fired’ was not a single, but gained some attention when Trace sang it live at the ACM award show. A superb song by Rob Crosby and Doug Johnson, this explores the sacrifice of soldiers who have died, mostly in vain, starting with a Confederate soldier falling outside Nashville in the Civil War, and taking us through Omaha Beach on D-Day, Vietnam and Afghanistan:

Say a prayer for peace
For every fallen son
Set my spirit free
Let me lay down my gun
Sweet mother Mary, I’m so tired
But I can’t come home
Til the last shot’s fired

Trace’s vocal is perfectly understated and conveys the sense of defeat which imbues the song’s longing for an end to conflict. The West Point choir joins the chorus at the end, embodying the unresting souls of their predecessors, but they sound perhaps just a little too rehearsed and polite for the part they are playing.

If anything, the bleak look at alcoholism and denial penned by Larry Cordle and Amanda Martin, ‘Sometimes A Man Takes A Drink’, is even better as it remorselessly catalogs a man’s battle with alcohol, with the alcohol winning:

Sometimes a man takes a drink
So he can just throw his head back and laugh
At the things he can’t change
Like the bills he can’t pay
And all of those ghosts from the past
It’s the crutch he leans on
When things have gone wrong
Life didn’t turn out like he planned
Sometimes a man takes a drink
Oh but sometimes a drink takes the man

This is a masterpiece, with a superb vocal from Trace (who has had his own issues with drinking in the past).

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New singles roundup: Swift, Flatts & Bedingfield, Shelton

Taylor Swift – “Sparks Fly”   Listen.

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

Grade: B+

Rascal Flatts featuring Natasha Bedingfield – “Easy”   Listen.

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

Grade: D+

Blake Shelton – “God Gave Me You”   Listen.

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

Grade: B