My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Miranda Lambert

Classic Rewind: Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe, and Gwen Sebastian — ‘Cowboy Take Me Away’

The trio takes on the Dixie Chicks classic, which turns 20 this year:

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Album Review: Dolly Parton – ‘Dumplin’

Dolly Parton’s latest project is the soundtrack to a new Netflix movie about a plus-size teen and Dolly fan who enters a beauty pageant run by her judgmental mother.

It is very much the pop side of Dolly’s music, with little country sounding about it. Producer Linda Perry, an extremely successful songwriter and producer from the pop world, perhaps best known for writing ‘Get The Party Started’ for Pink! and ‘Beautiful’ for Christina Aguilera, clearly has little facility for or understanding of country music.

A number of the songs are co-writes with Perry especially for the film. ‘Girl In The Movies’ is a nice but rather repetitive song with a warm lyric about a girl with big dreams which ties into the film themes. ‘Red Shoes’ is charming and passionate. A more country production would have worked better on these songs. ‘Who’ is a pretty song about discovering first love. ‘Push And Pull’ is about a troubled relationship (perhaps, from the film synopsis, the young heroine and her mother).

Willa Amai is a young Californian singer and protegee of Perry. Her duet with Dolly on the latter’s 70s pop hit ‘Here You Come Again’ is a bit over produced, but not bad, and Dolly sounds great on the track.

‘Here I Am’, originally on Dolly’s iconic Coat Of Many Colors album, is performed here as a duet with Australian pop star Sia. Dolly’s voice is crystal clear and beautiful; Sia’s deeper voice is soulful and powerful, and the overall effect is rather good, with a faintly gospel air. It is one of the best moments on this album.

I also really enjoyed ‘Why’, a rhythmic and spiritual duet with gospel legend Mavis Staples. It has a Dolly in the 80s feel to it, with a gospel overlay, catchy melody and a powerful lyric:

I often wonder what I’m doin’ here
There must be a reason
But it’s not always clear
Why was I born,
Wwhat’s my purpose in life
There is an answer to my question why
(Well, well, well)

I wonder why we can’t love and be free
Let everyone be all that they wanna be
Judge not lest you be judged,
Let heaven decide
Still we don’t do it, and I wonder why

I know I’m not perfect but nobody is
There’s things more important topping my list
Acceptance and kindness and doin’ what’s right
We would if we could, whoa, why don’t we try

I wonder why we can’t just love and be free
Let everyone be all that they wanna be
Judge not lest you be judged,
Let heaven decide
Still we don’t do it, and I wonder why

I wonder why we can’t just speak out and say
I see you my brother and I love you that way
Just be who you are with purpose and pride
‘Cause God loves us all and I bet he wonders why
We can’t love one another the way that we are
Why we are blinded from seeing that far
Let’s light the fire
Spread love with the light
We’re walkin’ in darkness, no good reason why

I wonder why we can’t just let them be free
Let everyone be all that they wanna be
My brothers, my sisters, come walk by my side
Oh I will if you will
Oh why don’t we try

You know love is the answer to my question why
But still we don’t do it
And I wonder why

Rhonda Vincent adds harmonies on the urgently optimistic ‘If We Don’t’, another of the Perry co-writes, which encourages making a difference. There is some actual fiddle on the song, from Alison Krauss, but it doesn’t really showcase the vocals. Not bad, though.

‘Holdin’ On To You’, a duet with Elle King, who has previously worked with Dierks Bentley, is very pop indeed, and I hated it. Dolly’s pop hit ‘Two Doors Down’ is very busy in this brassy incarnation; I can imagine it works in the context of the movie.

Miranda Lambert duets on a version of Dolly’s first ever hit, the Curly Putnam-penned ‘Dumb Blonde’, which does sound like a country record. Unsurprisingly to regular readers, I much prefer Dolly’s original version of her classic ‘Jolene’, but the new re-recording is actually very effective. Dolly’s vocal is somber and underlines the sadness of the story of the betrayed woman begging her rival for pity, and the string arrangement is dark and powerful.

So it sounds as if this set of recordings would work well for its main purpose, as a movie soundtrack, and also as an album in its own right for Dolly’s pop and international fans. It has less to offer fans of her more country material, but may still be worth a listen.

Grade: B

Classic Rewind: Miranda Lambert – ‘Tin Man’

Album Review: Pistol Annies — ‘Interstate Gospel’

The most pleasant surprise for me this decade has been the emergence of Pistol Annies as a creative force in modern country music. My admiration for the artistic sensibilities of Miranda Lambert has been well-documented, but I’ve come to acquire a deeper appreciation for Ashley Monroe, and a new affection for Angaleena Presley.

The trio got the ball rolling on their third album, Interstate Gospel, at the beginning of this year when Lambert sent Monroe and Presley a verse and chorus to a song she was working on. Within 20 minutes they had each sent back a verse. That song, “When I Was His Wife,” is a blistering waltz from the heightened perspective of a woman post-divorce:

He’d never cheat, he’d never lie

He’ll love me forever ’til the day that we die

He’ll never take me for granted I

Said that too when I was his wife

 

God, he looks handsome in the bright morning light

His smile can light up your world for a while

His love is enough to keep me satisfied

I said that too when I was his wife

 

He’s funny as hell, hot as July

He’s strong when I’m weak, sweet when I cry

I’ll always be the apple of his eye

I said that too when I was his wife

The keen sense of awareness they tapped into on “When I Was His Wife” permeates throughout the record. Presley takes the lead on “This Too Shall Pass,” a not-so-delicate ballad about being trapped in a dead-end relationship. The true cost of staying in that relationship, the subject of the gorgeous “Leavers Lullaby,” finds Monroe at a moment of clarity:

When did I get this crazy?

When did I get so mean?

Living wild and exhausted

Paying what it cost to feel so free

 

Run along, little daddy, take the dog and the house and dang me

It ain’t worth the time that it’s gonna take to change me

It’s as deep as the holler and clear as the water that stains me

I want whatever it is I ain’t gettin’ from you

 

I know you need me to need you

I tried to teach you to be tough

There’d be no such thing as leaving

If just loving somebody was enough

“Best Years of My Life,” the purest moment on the record and one of the strongest mainstream country songs released this year, happens when you realize just what it takes to get you through the day:

I picked a good day for a recreational Percocet

I’ve got an itch to just get high

I’m in the middle of the worst of it

These are the best years of my life

 

I’ve got the hankering for intellectual emptiness

I’ve got the need to ease my mind

I’ll watch some re-runs on the TV set

These are the best years of my life

 

I’m gonna mix a drink and try to drown this worthlessness

Call mom and tell her I’m alright

Well he don’t love me but he ain’t gone yet

These are the best years of my life

“Masterpiece” finds a couple on the brink, questioning the possibility of undoing what to the rest of the world seems so perfect. The song, which Lambert said needed to be written, celebrates the darker side of being “that couple:”

Baby, we were just a masterpiece

Up there on the wall for all to see

We were body and soul, we were talked about

Once you’ve been framed you can’t get out

 

Who’s brave enough to take it down?

Who’s fool enough to lose the crown?

We’re just another thing they’ll all forget about

They’ll be standing around laughin’

Like nothing ever happened

All these moments of clarity reach their apex on “Got My Name Changed Back,” which has never made reclaiming your personal identity sound more fun. It has some clever wordplay, a nice dose of dobro, and a melody that’s catchy as hell. “Milkman” is melodically softer than its lyric, which finds a daughter putting her mother on blast for judging her personal choices:

If mama would’ve loved the milkman

Maybe she wouldn’t judge me

If she’d’ve had a ride in his white van

Up and down Baker Street

On a Monday with her hair down and hand about to slide between his knees

But mama never did love nothin’ but daddy and me

 

If mama would’ve smoked her a cigarette

Maybe she wouldn’t judge me

If she’d’ve done more than the dishes

Untied them apron strings

She’d be sittin’ in her sundress on the back porch mixing whiskey and sweet tea

Mama never did think twice about feelin’ this free

 

Mama never liked to pick wildflowers

Drinkin’ on a Sunday was a sin

She might’ve made it past the water tower

If she’d’ve loved the milkman

“Sugar Daddy” is about reclaiming your power by knowing and getting exactly what you want. “Stop Drop and Roll One” is unapologetically defiant, with the hard edge of pure country rock. “Cheyenne” finds Lambert enviously singing about a very flawed woman:

She lives for the nightlife and trashy tattoos

She loves country music and broken-in boots

Nobody can blame her for the chip on her shoulder

She finds plenty of pool-table cowboys to hold her

 

Her daddy says she was destined for sadness

And her grandmama Lily’s to blame for the madness

The only forever she knew ended tragic

So she’ll fall the night while the neon light flashes

 

If I could trade love like Cheyenne

If I could be just as cold as the beer in her hand

If I could move men and mountains with a wink and a grin

Oh, if I could treat love like Cheyenne

Another of the album’s shining moments, the title track, celebrates all those signs we see along the highways and backroads, not billboards, but those ones on the lawns of churches and the like that often display inspirational messages. “Interstate Gospel” isn’t just a great title for a classic country shuffle, but it lyrically ties the whole record together:

These church signs, they light up these roads that I roam

They’re leading me closer, they’re calling me home

The further I get, the further I go

This interstate gospel is saving my soul

This interstate gospel is saving my soul

Interstate Gospel, as far as mainstream country albums go, saved my soul, too. “Got My Named Changed Back” is lyrically thin with all the repetition and the “la-la-la” and “oh-oh-ohs” throughout are disconcerting. But overall this is a great album and well worth the five-year wait.

Grade: A

Single Review: Tenille Townes — ‘Somebody’s Daughter’

The newest acquisition to Nashville’s storied Columbia label, which rebranded as Columbia Nashville in 2007 after it was purchased by Sony Music, is Tenille Townes, a 24-year-old country singer hailing from Grande Prairie, Alberta, Canada.

Over the summer, I had the honor of attending a private concert by Townes atop a prestigious vineyard in Napa Valley, CA. She was the featured entertainment for night one of a two-night wine auction I’ve been fortunate to attend for the past three years. She sang acoustic, with just a guitar, giving the audience a perfect sense of both her voice and her personality.

She opened the show with what has become her debut American single, “Somebody’s Daughter,” which went for adds at country radio just after Labor Day. As she explained at the event, the song tells the story of a homeless girl she spotted on the side of the road:

I drive home the same way

Two left turns off the interstate

And she’s always standing

At the stoplight on 18th Street

She could be a Sarah

She could be an Emily

An Olivia, maybe a Cassidy

With the shaky hands

On the cardboard sign

And she’s looking at me

 

Bet she was somebody’s best friend laughing

Back when she was somebody’s sister

Counting change at the lemonade stand

Probably somebody’s high school first kiss

Dancing in a gym where the kids all talk about someday plans

Now this light’ll turn green and I’ll hand her a couple dollars

And I’ll wonder if she got lost or they forgot her

She’s somebody’s daughter

Somebody’s daughter

Somebody’s daughter

Townes co-wrote the song with Barry Dean and Luke Laird, two of the better songwriters in Nashville at the moment. Laird is not without his critics, but he has won Lori McKenna’s seal-of-approval, and the songs they’ve collaborated on together have been fantastic. He’s also turned in above-average work with both Eric Church and Miranda Lambert. Dean has also worked with McKenna, penning some great songs.

I really like the story, especially the way the three of them crafted it, with utmost sincerity. The lyric cleverly jumps out at the listener, with nice turns-of-phrase, and the melody commands attention. “Somebody’s Daughter” is It’s hardly revelatory or destined to become a classic, but it is a great modern mainstream country record. It’s a cut above typical and actually has something to say.

Problem is, for the most part, the listener cannot extract any of that. “Somebody’s Daughter” was put through the Nashville machine in order to maximize its chances at airplay. Jay Joyce’s production drowns the song in unnecessary noise that hinders Townes’ ability to showcase her voice, or the lyric, properly. I can’t fault Columbia Nashville for concentrating on their bottom line, as that’s all label executives care about anyways, but they’re doing Townes a disservice here. I don’t dislike Joyce when he’s working with Church, but he almost always fails every other artist he produces. They, more often than not, deserve better than his best inclinations.

There are some great bones here, and I wish Columbia Nashville had sought fit to pair her with Lambert’s production team, Frank Liddell and Glenn Worf. They would’ve known how to make this a great record overall, much like they did with Lambert on “Heart Like Mine.”

“Somebody’s Daughter,” in this state, is a missed opportunity. Townes has talent, and a great voice, but you’d hardly know it since it isn’t being properly showcased here. Joyce has produced a record that is too loud and too processed. It’s too bad.

Grade: B 

 

Week ending 9/1/18: #1 singles this week in country music history

1958: Blue, Blue Day — Don Gibson (RCA)

1958 (Disk Jockeys): Alone With You — Faron Young (Capitol)

1968: Mama Tried — Merle Haggard (Capitol)

1978: Blue Skies — Willie Nelson (Columbia)

1988: I Couldn’t Leave You If I Tried — Rodney Crowell (Columbia)

1998: I’m Alright — Jo Dee Messina (Curb)

2008: Should’ve Said No — Taylor Swift (Big Machine)

2018: Meant To Be — Bebe Rexha featuring Florida Georgia Line (Big Machine)

2018 (Airplay): Drowns The Whiskey — Jason Aldean Feat. Miranda Lambert (Broken Bow)

Week ending 8/25/18: #1 singles this week in country music history

1958: Blue, Blue Day — Don Gibson (RCA)

1958 (Disk Jockeys): Alone With You — Faron Young (Capitol)

1968: Already It’s Heaven — David Houston (Epic)

1978: Talking In Your Sleep — Crystal Gayle (United Artists)

1988: The Wanderer — Eddy Rabbitt (RCA)

1998: I’m Alright — Jo Dee Messina (Curb)

2008: Should’ve Said No — Taylor Swift (Big Machine)

2018: Meant To Be — Bebe Rexha featuring Florida Georgia Line (Big Machine)

2018 (Airplay): Drowns The Whiskey — Jason Aldean Feat. Miranda Lambert (Broken Bow)

Album Review: Forever My Girl soundtrack

The latest country music themed movie, Forever My Girl, featuring an acting role for Travis Tritt, is really more of a romantic drama. I don’t know what the film is like, although it doesn’t sound particularly good, but my attention was caught by the official soundtrack album. This is already available on iTunes, and includes some new songs by artists including the aforementioned Tritt and Josh Turner.

Most of the songs are co-written by one Brett Boyett, the film’s music director, presumably either to fit emotional moments in the plot, or for the country singer characters to perform. British actor Alex Roe, who plays the country singer male lead in the film, is surprisingly convincing singing a brace of tunes which are presumably his character’s hits. ‘Don’t Water Down My Whiskey’ is typical contemporary pop-country (which is to say not recommended). Rather better is ‘Enough’, quite a nice love song, although it leans AC rather than country. It is reprised at the end of the set as a suet by Little Big Town’s Phillip Sweet and Lauren Alaina; their take is glossier and even less country sounding, better sung but somehow with less character.

The best of Roe’s tracks is ‘Smokin’ And Cryin’’, one of the few not written by Boyett. This is rather a good song about a woman undergoing heartbreak, written by Jackson Odell (who also helps with a number of Boyett’s songs here) and Caroline Watkins, with an acoustic arrangement. The worst, ‘Finally Home’, would actually be a decent song if not for the ghastly, out of tune duet vocal from a child actress in the film which is quite unlistenable.

Pop-country starlet Alaina makes a solo appearance with the contemporary sounding ballad ‘Wings Of An Angel’. She has a strong voice, and although it’s not quite my cup of tea it is well done of its type.

The best track is probably ‘Can’t Tame A Fire’, a very good song ruing a heartache, performed by Dan Tyminski. Josh Turner sounds good on ‘Back From Gone’, a fairly strong song but on the more contemporary sounding side.

Travis Tritt has a role in the movie, and sings a new song called ‘Slowing Down’, which Boyett wrote with Paul Overstreet. It’s a good song, but Tritt’s voice is sadly showing the signs of age – very disappointing. Another Overstreet co-write, ‘Who Needs Mexico’, sung by the unknown (at least to me) Mason James, is more effective and I rather enjoyed this.

Another newcomer, Destin Bennett, is pleasant but forgettable on ‘Wild And Free’. Canaan Smith, who was a rising star for Mercury a few years ago but has faltered since, is horribly over produced on ‘Always And Forever’, which is typical of today’s radio hits and provides the film title. Mickey Guyton’s ‘Caught Up In Your Storm’ is blues rather than country.

Producer Boyett takes on one lead vocal himself, and shows on ‘Solid Ground’ he has a rather limited voice, but it is not unsuited to the wearied lyric.

Alongside the new songs, the set includes what is perhaps Miranda Lambert’s worst recording, ‘Little Red Wagon’, and a number of very pop leaning Little Big Town cuts, the best known of which is ‘Little White Church’.

So there are a few worthwhile tracks, but on the whole this soundtrack is not very inspiring.

Grade: C

Christmas Rewind: Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert – Home (Christmas)

Album Review: Lisa McHugh – ‘Old Fashioned Girl’

Lisa McHugh, born and raised in Glasgow, Scotland, moved to her parents’ Irish homeland In 2010, aged 22. Her debut album was released the same year, and made a very promising start to her career. Her clear, sweet voice is showcased on an interesting mixture of country and Irish folk material.

The title track is a rather charming mid-paced tune written by Joni Harms, an American singer-songwriter whose recorded work has focussed on cowboy songs/Western music. Her songs suit Lisa’s pretty voice very well, and three of them are included on this album. ‘When I Get Over You’ is a lovely sad ballad about coping with a breakup. ‘Catalog Dreams’ is a nicely observed story song about a farmer and his wife longing to buy a mail order tractor and sewing machine respectively, which is very much in an American setting rather than an Irish one.

The Irish side of Lisa’s music is represented by two songs in particular. ‘Buchaill On Eire’ is a very pretty Irish folk ballad with Gaelic lyrics. Lisa’s version sounds absolutely lovely, although I have no idea what it is about. She also covers the Northern Irish folk singer-songwriter Tommy Sands’ song ‘There Were Roses’, a gutwrenchingly moving song about a pair of friends across the sectarian divide in Northern Ireland, who are both killed during the Troubles in the 1970s, based on a true story. Lisa sings it beautifully, using the arrangement and minor lyrical changes made by another fine Irish folk singer, Cara Dillon, in her 2005 version.

Centuries of hatred
Have ears that do not hear
An eye for an eye
it was all that filled their minds,
And another eye for another eye
Till everyone was blind.

I don’t know what the moral is
Or where this song should end
But I wonder just how many wars
Are fought between good friends
And those who give the orders
Are not the ones to die
It’s Scott and young MacDonald
And the likes of you and I

There were roses, roses,
There were roses
And the tears of the people ran together

Also very good is ‘Beyond The Rainbow’s End’, a beautiful ballad about a loved one who has died, written by Daniel O’Donnell, the leading Irish country singer of the 1980s and 90s. The accordion-led ‘God’s Plan’, written by Derek Ryan, one of Lisa’s contemporary Irish country peers, is an attractive love song. ‘Ramblin’ Man’ is a cover of a song associated with Philomena Begley, the top female Irish country star of the 1970s and 80s.

There is an enjoyable version of ‘You Ain’t Woman Enough To Take My Man’, together with some less known covers. Lisa’s energy works well on the Gail Davies song ‘I’m A Little Bit Lonely’ and the sassy ‘You Were Right’ (from Australian girl group The McClymonts):

The biggest damn mistake I made was loving you
Well, you were right, you were right, you were right
Until I proved you wrong
You can fight all night to say what you like
I’ll still be gone
You said I’ll never make it out there on my own
You were right, you were right, you were right
Until I proved you wrong

The Nanci Griffith song ‘I Wish It Would Rain’ is more plaintive, and Miranda Lambert’s ‘Love Letters’ is also very effective.

This is a very strong album which I enjoyed a great deal. I would recommend checking it out.

Grade: A

“Every Little Thing” and Carly Pearce’s fabricated fairy tale

The deeper I lean into the marketing of mainstream country music, The more I’m seeing the blatant manipulation. It’s no secret that Keith Hill’s comment that women are the tomatoes on the salad was offensive and misogynistic, but it was also, unfortunately, spot on. Women, unless they are members of a group, duo or collaboration also featuring men, have been shut out of even marginal airplay. Miranda Lambert is justifiably pissed at her diminishing returns, even as her music veers more and more towards Americana.

Media outlets that cover mainstream country have been celebrating the success of Carly Pearce’s “Every Little Thing” with Rolling Stone Country saying she “defied the odds with risky song” in a recent headline. I’ll admit, it’s against the norm, in this current climate, to release a ballad and have it succeed. The slower a song is the less likely it will fall under what is deemed “radio friendly.” That logic is nothing new.

But what’s baffling is the suppression of the truth. Carly Pearce is succeeding on her own merit about as much as Thomas Rhett. This grand success story? It’s all courtesy of iHeart Media and their “On The Verge” program. “On The Verge” exists to help struggling artists succeed and pretty much guarantees them a #1 hit. It’s the only reason former American Idol runner-up Lauren Alaina scored a chart topper with “The Road Less Traveled” seven years after her debut album bombed into oblivion. There’s absolutely no fairy tale here, no reason to cheer or even get excited. These feats are political manipulations swept under the rug disguised as major success stories.

We’re at a crisis point right now with female artists. Not only are none getting airplay, there really aren’t any in the mainstream sector for radio to embrace. Brandy Clark and Sunny Sweeney would never get airplay for the latest music, in any era, since they’re 40 years or older. Ashton Shepherd didn’t connect, with her heavy twang, so MCA dropped her. Ashely Monroe was told, on her last radio tour, that “On To Something Good,” was dead on arrival. Kacey Musgraves has done next to nothing to endear herself to the mainstream audience beyond wearing crazy outfits and adorning her sets with neon cacti. She will join Harry Styles on tour next year. Will Maren Morris connect? Possibly, as she’s already building a following. But I would think she’d have to prove herself as more than the “80s Mercedes” singer. “I Could Use A Love Song” has done that for me, but it’s only a step in the right direction for her to take as she contemplates her follow-up to Hero.

About the only person, we can count on is Carrie Underwood, who is currently in between albums. Time will tell if her newly minted deal with Capitol Nashville, the label that refused to sign her as a pre-teen back in 1996, will yield further success. I can’t imagine her being blackballed but I never thought Dixie Chicks would fall from grace like that either. In this market, anything is possible.

Is there a solution or silver lining in all of this? I honestly have no idea. I never imagined mainstream country music would ever be in this bad a shape in my life. It took until I got to college to see why Luke Bryan has been able to succeed like he has. He’s tapped into an audience previously ignored by country music, those who love to socialize and party and be high on life. He’s like the male Taylor Swift in that sense. He’s found his audience and he’s running with it all the way to the bank.

This era is the building block for whatever comes next. Has anyone else noticed the glaring oddity of Sam Hunt’s “Body Like A Backroad?” The song has succeeded without a music video, parent album or physical release of any kind. I can’t remember any other massive song that lacked even one of those three elements. These are uncharted waters and they’re reaping big rewards.

Maybe you know where we’re going from here. I know I probably shouldn’t care, and I have spent the majority of this year focused on independent releases, but I do. I can’t help it. It’s in my nature as female artists have always been my favorite, the ones I listen to most frequently. I guess Angaleena Presley and her fellow Pistol Annies said it best:

Dreams don’t come true

They’ll make a mess out of you

They’ll hang around the darkest corners of your mind

They’ll beat your heart black and blue

Don’t let anyone tell you they do

Dreams don’t come true

 

I hate to put a damper

On the fairy tale you pictured

I shoulda known all along that

Glass slippers give you blisters

Album Review: Natalie Hemby – ‘Puxico’

Natalie Hemby, Dean Dillon to Miranda Lambert’s George Strait, released her debut album back in January. The album, seven years in the making, is the musical accompaniment to a documentary she produced about her hometown of Puxico, Missouri. Hemby solely composed each of the project’s nine songs.

Hemby opens the album wonderfully, with the folksy tones of “Time-Honored Tradition,” a jaunty uptempo number about her longing for “kindred town filled with good company.” Said town ultimately goes through a “Grand Restoration,” in which the past and present beautifully collide to bring a sense of history into the modern day. She gets the sentiment right on “Worn,” a characteristic she gives to “the finer things worth keeping,” but I could’ve done with a more interesting execution. Similarly rudimentary is lead single “Return,” which details the idea that you need to get away in order to fully appreciate your life back home.

“Lovers On Display” is one of many relationship-centric tunes on Puxico. The simplistic ballad is an appealing dissertation on love, using carnival imagery to evoke innocent romance. The ambiguous steel drenched “This Town Still Talks About You” is a brilliantly heartbreaking reminder that a person’s presence can be alive and well even if they aren’t physically present. Our minds aren’t so lucky, as Hemby points out in “I’ll Remember How You Loved Me,” which says memories fade but we never forget love.

The love, or really praise, for “Cairo, IL” is a big reason why I decided to finally listen to Puxico. The gorgeous ballad, a tribute to a long abandoned ghost town, is considered one of the best country songs released this year:

All the fields are flooded up to Highway 51

Illinois is coming ’cross the bridge where the Old Ohio was

Don’t look away, it will be gone

 

Kentucky and Missouri, a trinity of states

Nothing’s in a hurry ’cept the water in between the rising banks

Oh nothing moves but nothing stays

Where the longing for the leaving and the welcome-home receiving join

Still I’ll keep driving past the ghost of Cairo, Illinois

 

She used to be a beauty back in 1891

After Fort Defiance, now she’s weathered by the river and the sun

She’s still around but she is gone

 

Where the longing for the leaving and the welcome-home receiving join

Still I’ll keep driving past the ghost of Cairo, Illinois

The lyric is simple, and the song itself is very quiet, but the hook does pack a nice punch. I probably enjoy “Ferris Wheel,” a track Faith Hill recently featured in her Instagram Stories when Hemby was scheduled to open up for her and Tim McGraw on a recent Soul2Soul tour stop, even more. The steel-drenched ballad, which has a lovely and inviting melody, is far and away my favorite track on the album.

On the whole, Puxico is a very strong album and a wonderful introduction to Hemby and her personal style. I just found it to be a bit too sing-song-y in places and some of the songs could’ve been more complex. I kept comparing her, in my head, to Kacey Musgraves, which I’m having a hard time shaking.

But, that being said, this is an album well-worth checking out.

Grade: B+

Song Reviews: Sara Evans – ‘Marquee Sign’ and ‘Words’

It was last summer when Sara Evans made the announcement she had signed a recording contract with Sugar Hill Records. The move was designed to reunite Evans with her former A&R partner Tracey Gershon, a former record executive with UMG and a judge on Nashville Star the year Miranda Lambert placed third.

I was shocked when I heard the news. Had Sugar Hill Records lost their integrity? Why would they sign an artist as mainstream as Sara Evans? It turns out there was a bit more to the deal – Evans has gone on to form her own imprint, Born To Fly Records, with Gershon serving as a member of her A&R team.

Free of Sony’s constraints, I was excited to hear the first taste of Words, which is being touted for two main reasons – it’s her first independent album and it features a whopping fourteen separate female songwriters among the writing credits. The pedigree, on paper at least, seems high.

In reality, though, lead single “Marquee Sign,” co-written by Evans, Jimmy Robbins and Heather Morgan, is nothing more than a continuation of the sleek pop-country from her most recent Slow Me Down era, which did in fact slow down whatever momentum she had gained from “A Little Bit Stronger” (which appears on Words in acoustic form, as if it needs to reappear seven years later) to a screeching halt.

I’m smart enough to know that I should expect nothing when it comes to releases like “Marquee Sign.” Just because Words is an independent album, from Evans‘ own imprint, where is the incentive and guiding force that demands it has to be quality? She has to know she won’t get significant airplay, but that sadly isn’t enough for a reverse of course and a change of direction.

“Marquee Sign” might be a terrible song, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. It’s still characteristically Sara Evans. I do wish it was more “Backseat of a Greyhound Bus” or “Suds In The Bucket” Sara Evans, but those days are fourteen years in the rearview mirror.

In the lead up to Words, Evans has also issued the title track (co-written by Robins, David Hodges and Jake Scott), a ballad that makes ample use of her falsetto and trades twang for acoustic pop. The presentation is a breath of fresh air that presents Evans in a new light. On this track, at least, I give her credit for giving us something different that isn’t more of the same. “Marquee Sign” is nothing more than a doubling down of what hasn’t worked for her creatively or commercially in the past few years.

‘Marquee Sign:’ C

‘Words:’ B-

Album Review: Angaleena Presley – ‘Wrangled’

These past couple of years have seen Pistol Annies go their separate ways, as Ashley Monroe tried to gain traction with The Blade and Miranda Lambert continued to rack up Female Vocalist of the Year trophies, publicity split from Blake Shelton and poured her soul into The Weight of These Wings, released last November. Their bandmate Angaleena Presley is the group’s true outlier, the musical anomaly that doesn’t quite fit any particular mode.

Pistol Annies have reunited this year on Gentle Giants: The Songs of Don Williams, in which they contribute their take on his classic “Tulsa Time.” They’ve also come together for the opening track of Presley’s sophomore record Wrangled, which was produced by Oran Thornton. The track, “Dreams Don’t Come True” is a steel-laced ballad concerning the dark side of stardom:

I thought

There’d be a man in a suit and a ten-gallon hat

He’d give me a deal and a red Cadillac

And I’d make hit records and get hooked on drugs

But I wound up pregnant and strung out on love

 

Dreams don’t come true

They’ll make a mess out of you

They’ll hang around the darkest corners of your mind

They’ll beat your heart black and blue

Don’t let anyone tell you they do

Dreams don’t come true

 

I thought

I’d change the world with three chords and the truth

I’d be like Elvis but with lipstick and boobs

My bra would be floatin’ in a guitar-shaped pool

And I’d flip the bird to them whores in high school

The lyric is brilliant and it’s nice to hear the band’s harmonies again, but the track is so cluttered and weighted down, I’m finding it difficult to extract the enjoyment from it I so desperately want to. Wrangled continues in that tradition throughout its twelve tracks, presenting a sonic landscape I honestly found challenging to take a liking to. But the significance of these songs makes Wrangled hard to ignore.

Presley uses Wrangled as a vehicle for venting the frustrations and anger she feels towards society and an industry she feels unjustly spit her out. At 40, she’s dictating her own rules and refusing to play nice.

Those emotions come to light on “Mama I Tried,” which finds Presley and Thornton revising the themes (and signature riff) of the Merle Haggard classic. The lyric is directed at the music industry, and while fantastic, the presentation (littered with cumbersome electric guitars) is far too loud for my taste:

I came so close so many times

And I’ll never get back the best years of my life

Empty proposals, all talk, no show

It’s getting too hard to keep holding on

Now you’ve got to let it go

 

Mama I tried, Mama I tried

I cheated and I lied

I painted up my face like a rodeo clown

And I choked on cheap perfume as I spread myself around

I strutted my stuff at every juke joint in town

Always the bridesmaid, never the bride

Mama, Mama, I tried

She continues with her self-written confessional “Outlaw,” in which lays bear (with help from Sheryl Crow) her true nature:

Grass looks greener, the money does too

It sure looks easier for the chosen few

Mama always said God broke the mold when he made me

And I’ve spent my whole damn life tryin’ to fit back in

 

I don’t wanna be an outlaw

I don’t wanna be a renegade

I wanna be a straight-shootin’ high-falutin’ rider on the hit parade

It’s too hard to live this way

I don’t wanna be an outlaw

I don’t wanna be a renegade

 

If you think I’m brave, you’re sadly mistaken

Every fight I’ve ever fought, every rule I’ve ever broke

Was out of desperation

I’d just as soon be

Another face in the crowd of people who are scared of me

Presley examines her life as a performer on “Groundswell,” which pairs her desires with a nice banjo riff. She spends the song feeling almost hopeful:

I gotta make it through these Alabama pines

‘Cause I’ve got a house to clean and bedtime story to tell

One more song, one more show

One more penny in the well

One whisper leads to one yell

Groundswell

Groundswell

The treatment of women by modern society is at the heart of “Good Girl Down,” which Presley co-wrote with rockabilly legend Wanda Jackson. The blistering rocker, which uses noise to drown out Presley’s vocal, is a pointed and sharp feminist anthem:

I’m not just a pretty face

not a flower in a vase

its a mans world and I’m a lady

and they’ll never appreciate me

 

They’re gonna take the time to get to know who I am

frankly boys, I don’t give a damn

I’ve got my head on straight

 

You can’t get a good girl down

You can’t get a good girl down

She’s got not secrets and she’s got no lies

She’ll burn you out with the truth in her eyes

She’s standing on solid ground

You can’t get a good girl down

Wrangled also features Guy Clark’s final song, which he and Presley co-wrote together. “Cheer Up, Little Darling,” which features an intro of Clark speaking the first verse, is sparse and a nice breath of fresh air.

She teams with Chris Stapleton on “Only Blood,” a brilliant ballad that dissects a couple’s marriage, his cheating, and their inevitable confrontation. The track, which features an assist from Stapleton’s wife Morgane, is not only one of Wrangled’s strongest tracks, but it’s one of my favorite songs so far this year.

While she had a hand in writing each of the twelve tracks on Wrangled, Presley wrote three solo. The title track revisits one of my favorite themes, quiet desperation, with the intriguing tale of a housewife who feels she “might as well be hogtied and strangled/tired of wakin’ up feelin’ like I’ve been wrangled.”

Presley follows with “Bless My Heart,” the most honest woman-to-woman song since Pam Tillis & Dean Dillon’s “Spilled Perfume.” Presley plays the role of the aggressor, tearing the other woman down at every delicious turn:

Listen here honey, I know you mean well

But that southern drawl don’t cover up the smell

Of your sweet little goody-goody

Spoiled rotten daddy’s girl act

Your two-faced trash talkin’ tongue

Might as well be an axe

 

You’d knock a girl down

So you could feel tall

You’d burn Cinderella’s dress

So you could feel like the hottest girl at the ball

You’re a beauty mark on the human race

And if you bless my heart I’ll slap your face

 

It’s evolution honey, and in case you didn’t know

The more you learn, the more you grow

When you’re livin’ in a bubble

You can bet that it’s bound to burst

You’re going to pay for every time

You didn’t put the greater good first

The most adventurous track on Wrangled is “Country,” which features hip-hop artist Yelawolf. The track is a mess, but the lyric is genius. The track was composed in parody to the trends on modern country radio. In a twist, it’s the verse rapped by Yelawolf that helps the message truly resonant:

There used to be a place downtown

Where they threw nut shells on the floor

But they cleaned up and went corporate

And now I don’t go there no more

My mama bartended that place

When it was a dive and alive

But they sold it out to retire

And chase that American Pie

Now we got no Hank and Johnny

No Waylon playin’, Dwight Yoakam on radio

Just a crazy load of these country posers

I suppose a couple are real

But they’ll never make it

So thank God for Sturgill Simpson

‘Cause Music Row can fuckin’ save it

But I’m fuckin’ gettin’ it son

Wrangled closes with the gospel rave “Motel Bible.” I’ve never said this before about a project, but this truly is a difficult album to assign a grade to. Each of the twelve tracks, including “High School,” are lyrically brilliant and demand to be heard. But puzzling production choice mare more than a few of the songs, leaving the listener wanting a more delicate approach in order to fully appreciate what they’re hearing. But if you can look past that flaw, Wrangled is this year’s Big Day In A Small Town – a record for the ages by a female artist with an unabashed adult perspective. It hasn’t yet charted and likely won’t find much of an audience, but that doesn’t distract from its high quality. I just wish the production didn’t get in the way.

Grade: B+

Classic Rewind: Miranda Lambert – ‘Greyhound Bound For Nowhere’

A young Miranda Lambert on Nashville Star. She later included this song on her debut album.

Occasional Hope’s top 10 albums of 2016

real-country-musicThere has been some excellent country music released this year, admittedly mostly away from the major labels. Just missing my cut were strong comebacks from Loretta Lynn and Lorrie Morgan; glorious Western Swing from the Time Jumpers; sizzling bluegrass from Rhonda Vincent and her band; and a pair of very promising debuts from Mo Pitney and William Michael Morgan.

10 – Bradley Walker – Call Me Old Fashioned
Traditional country meets gospel from an underrated singer.

Best tracks: ‘His Memory Walks On Water’; ‘Why Me’; ‘Sinners Only’; ‘In The Time That You Gave Me’.

big-day-in-a-small-toen9 – Brandy Clark – Big Day In A Small Town

Like Miranda Lambert’s latest, this album married outstanding storytelling and songwriting, good vocals and overbearing production. But the songs here are so strong that the end result still made it into my top 10.

Best tracks: ‘Since You’ve Gone To Heaven’; ‘Three Kids, No Husband’; ‘Homecoming Queen’.

8 – Cody Jinks – I’m Not The Devil

His deep voices tackles themes of darkness versus light, on some very strong songs.

Best tracks: ‘The Same’; ‘I’m Not The Devil’; ‘Grey’.

7 – Jamie Richards – Latest And Greatest

Warm, inviting vocals and excellent songs with a real gift for melody.
Best tracks: ‘I’ll Have Another’; ‘I’m Not Drinkin’; ‘Last Call’; ‘Easier By Now’.

for-the-good-times

6 –Willie Nelson – For The Good Times: A Tribute To Ray Price

As the veterans of country music continue to pass away, it’s a comfort to see that at 83, Willie Nelson is still going strong. His tribute to the late Ray Price, with the help on several tracks of The Time Jumpers, was a delightful reminder of some of the best country songs ever written.

Best tracks: ‘Heartaches By The Number’; ‘Crazy Arms’; ‘Invitation To The Blues’.

5 – Dallas Wayne – Songs The Jukebox Taught Me

The deep voiced singer’s Heart of Texas debut is a honky tonk joy.
Best tracks: ‘No Relief In Sight’; ‘Eleven Roses’; ‘She Always Got What She Wanted’.

4 – Mark Chesnutt – Tradition Lives

A solid return from the 90s star with some excellent songs. It feels as if the last 20 years never happened.

Best tracks: ‘Is It Still Cheating’; ‘So You Can’t Hurt Me Anymore’; ‘Neither Did I’.

hymns3 – Joey + Rory – Hymns That Are Important To Us

A final heartbreaking labor of love for the duo recorded during the last stages of Joey’s illness. Joey’s beautiful voice and inspirational spirit are showcased for the last time.
Best tracks: ‘Softly And Tenderly’; ‘When I’m Gone’; ‘I Surrender All’.

2 – John Prine – For Better, Or Worse

I adored John Prine’s collection of classic country duets on the topic of marriage, and said when I reviewed it that it was set to be my favourite of the year. I was almost right. It really is a delightful record – great songs, lovely arrangements, and outstanding vocals from the ladies counterpointing Prine’s gruff emotion.

Best tracks: ‘Fifteen Years Ago’ (with Lee Ann Womack); ‘Look At Us’ (with Morgane Stapleton); ‘Color Of The Blues’ (with Susan Tedeschi); ‘Cold Cold Heart’ (with Miranda Lambert); ‘Dreaming My Dreams With You’ (with Kathy Mattea); ‘Mr And Mrs Used To Be’ (with Iris De Ment).

1 – Gene Watson – ‘Real. Country. Music

While Willie Nelson is still great, his voice is showing signs of age. The wonderful Gene Watson is still at the peak of his powers in his 70s, and his skill at picking excellent material hasn’t faltered either. His latest album reminds younger performers what real country music is all about.

Best tracks: ‘Couldn’t Love Have Picked A Better Place To Die’; ‘Bitter They Are, Harder They Fall’; ‘When A Man Can’t Get A Woman Off His Mind’; ‘A Bridge That Just Won’t Burn’; ‘Ashes To Ashes’; ‘She Never Got Me Over You’.

Album Review: Miranda Lambert – ‘Weight Of These Wings’

the-weight-of-these-wingsMiranda Lambert lost her crown as Female Vocalist of the Year at this year’s CMA awards. Listening to her new double album, I wonder if she is consciously moving beyond the genre. Even by today’s standards this sounds more like an Americana or alt-country record to me than a country one. Produced by Frank Liddell, Glenn Worf and Eric Masse, it is too often loaded with reverb and echo-ey production that is a long way from Nashville, particularly on the first of the two discs. As a country fan I’m disappointed, as the songwriting is strong and shows Miranda really developing artistically in this collection of songs reportedly inspired by her recent divorce.

‘Runnin’ Just In Case’, written with Gwen Sebastian, is a case in point: an interesting song about a restless soul beginning to regret her rootlessness just a little:

What I lost in Louisiana I found in Alabama
But nobody ever taught me how to stay
It ain’t love that I’m chasin’
But I’m running just in case

I ain’t unpacked my suitcase since the day that I turned 21
It’s been a long 10 years since then
It’s getting kind of cumbersome

‘Ugly Lights’ (written with Natalie Hemby and Liz Rose), is a nicely observed song about the morning-after drinking away the protagonist’s troubles, with a touch of self deprecating humor as she does the ‘Monday morning drive of shame’ picking up her car from the bar. ‘Use My Heart’, which Miranda wrote with Ashley Monroe and Waylon Payne, is a downbeat tune about the aftermath of a broken heart.

But good as these songs are, the arrangements and production simply don’t sound like they belong on a country album.

‘We Should Be Friends’, written by Miranda solo, is a fun song about female friendship and bonding over shared experience. The subdued ‘Getaway Driver’, written with Miranda’s new boyfriend Anderson East and old friend Natalie Hemby, is quite a good song about a pair of lovers on the run, written from the man’s viewpoint. In the lead single ‘Vice’, written with Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne, the protagonist is defiant about her sins.

Love song ‘Pushin’ Time’ (reportedly about her new romance) was okay but not very interesting. I didn’t much care for the perky ‘Highway Vagabonds’, and hated the noisy mess ‘Covered Wagon. ‘Pink Sunglasses’ was irritating and tuneless. ‘Smoking Jacket’ is boring and overwhelmed by the production. ‘You Wouldn’t Know Me’ was boring.

The production on side 2 is generally more bearable, and the songs less commercial.

My favorite tracks is ‘To Learn Her’, which has a pretty melody and sweet lyric about love and loss, which Miranda wrote with Ashley Monroe and Waylon Payne. It is the most country the album gets, and is a pleasure. ‘Tin Man’ is a delicately subdued tune about the pain of knowing love and heartbreak which Miranda wrote with Jon Randall and Jack Ingram.

The mid-tempo ‘Good Ol’ Days’ (a co-write with Brent Cobb and Adam Hood) is pretty good. The sunny ‘For The Birds’ is reminiscent of Kacey Musgraves. The ode in celebration of a Southern ‘Tomboy’ also reminded me of Musgraves. The wearied, gentle ‘Well-Rested’ is another nod to her split from Shelton.

In ‘Keeper Of The Flame’, written with Hemby and Liz Rose , she places herself as representative of a tradition of singer-songwriters, although without dropping any names or reflecting any specific tradition. ‘Dear Old Sun’ is rather boring, but perhaps on purpose as it is about surviving depression; less intentional is the fact that the backing vocals do not sound to be in tune.

In ‘Things That Break’ (written with Jon Randall’s wife Jessi Alexander and Natalie Hemby), Miranda reflects on a propensity for accident. The rocky ‘Bad Boy’ is less effective despite some perceptive lines, while ‘Six Degrees Of Separation’ is another muddy mess.

If much of the record is dominated conceptually by the experience of Miranda’s divorce, by the final track she is optimistic:

Sometimes these wheels
Get a little heavy
I can’t stay between the lines but I’m rockin’ steady
When I can’t fly
I start to fall
But I’ve got wheels
I’m rollin’ on

This is the kind of album it’s hard to assign a grade to. The songwriting is of a very high quality, really showing Lambert coming into her own as a mature artist. But the production choices are just not enjoyable for me.

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: John Prine and Friends – ‘For Better, Or Worse’

for-better-or-worseBack in 1999 singer-songwriter John Prine released a charming collaboration with a group of country and folk female singers, singing classic country duets. 17 years later here comes a sequel, which is just as delightful. Prine’s gruff vocals are set off by his duettist’s much better voices, and the combinations work very well.

Most of the collaborators are different, with the exception of Fiona Prine (John’s wife) and Iris De Ment. The latter featured on no less than four tracks on the first album, and two here, both originally recorded by Loretta Lynn and Ernest Tubb. The tongue in cheek opener ‘Who’s Gonna Take Your Garbage Out’ has Iris throwing out her good-for-nothing husband. He complains of being henpecked, while she declares,

Calling a man like you a husband’s like calling an ol’ wildcat a pet

They take a broken marriage more seriously in the sad ‘Mr And Mrs Used To Be’.

The wonderful Lee Ann Womack is ethereally sweet on ‘Storms Never Last’. She is even better on ‘Fifteen Years Ago’, a pained tale of long lasting heartbreak, which was a hit for Conway Twitty. Turning it into a duet transforms the song from one of solo heartache (a la ‘He Stopped Loving Her Today’, but with no end in sight) to one of mutual regret, which is almost more poignant. This is my favourite track.

‘Cold, Cold Heart’ doesn’t work as well as a duet lyrically, but the cut shows duet partner Miranda Lambert can do traditional country with a lovely sounding and emotional vocal. Kacey Musgraves hams it up a bit on the ultra-retro ‘Mental Cruelty’, but the track is fun. Holly Williams is good on the sassy back-and-forth of ‘I’m Telling You’, although the song is very short (less than two minutes).

The pure voice of Kathy Mattea makes two appearances. ‘Dreaming My Dreams With You’ is gorgeously tender and romantic, while ‘Remember Me’ is pretty with a little melancholy undertone. Alison Krauss guests on the gently pretty ‘Falling In Love Again’. Probably the least known singer to a general audience is Morgane Stapleton (wife of Chris), but I’ve loved her voice since she was briefly signed to a major label a decade ago. Her performance on Vince Gill’s ‘Look At Us’ is lovely, and very reminiscent of Lee Ann Womack.

A very pleasant surprise for me was Susan Tedeschi, a blues/rock singer who does an excellent job on ‘Color Of The Blues’. Although she’s not the greatest vocalist, Americana artist Amanda Shires is also decent on ‘Dim Lights, Thick Smoke’ (one of my favourite songs), and adds a bit of quirky personality.

It’s fair to say that Fiona Prine is not in the same class as the other ladies vocally, but her duet, ‘My Happiness’, is quite pleasant. There is one solo track, the closing ‘Just Waitin’’, a surprisingly entertaining narration.

This is an excellent album which is vying to be my favorite of 2016.

Grade: A+

Retro Album Review: Miranda Lambert – ‘Crazy Ex Girlfriend’ (2007)

crazy ex girlfriendBack in the days writing for the 9513 Blog, I would post occasional reviews on Amazon. We are republishing updated versions of some of those reviews here.

Miranda Lambert is a brave singer, exploring the dark crevices of life and romance. This is territory that other female singers may explore for an occasional song, but not for an entire album. Needless to say, most of the album is about romance gone wrong.

My two favorite cuts, however, are not about romance at all. “Dry Town”, written by David Rawlings and Gillian Welch, is the most traditional country sounding track, a humorous song about wanting a cool one and finding that liquor sales are banned where you are. “Famous In A Small Town” is one of those neat little ‘slices of life’ songs dealing with the realities of life in a very small town where everyone knows everyone else’s business and ‘everyone dies famous in a small town’.

The rest of the CD is about the down side of romance (I certainly hope Ms Lambert’s real life isn’t as bleak as depicted here – she penned or helped pen eight of the songs on the album). The opening cut “Gunpowder & Lead” is unfortunate choice to open the album as it (a) isn’t country” and (b) isn’t very good, the one misfire on the album. Hopefully listeners will work through this track to get to the good stuff. If they do, they are immediately rewarded with the lighter fare of “Dry Town” and the lighter “Famous In A Small Town”.

After that it’s back to the main theme. “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” didn’t get much airplay in my area but it’s an interesting number with some nice banjo work by Mike Wrucke. The self-penned “Love Letters” about letters written (I presume) on tear-drenched paper is a song with the depths of despair and desolation Hank Williams found in “Alone and Forsaken”.

“More Like Her” is a wistful song about her beau returning to his former girlfriend whom he realized was really what he wanted anyway. The remaining songs deal with loss of self-respect, recriminations and regrets.

The album closes with the classic “Easy From Now On” penned by Carlene Carter & Susanna Clark that was a hit for Emmylou Harris back in 1978 – a classic about getting oneself readjusted after the end of a romance. I hoped they would issue this track as a single.

In the hands of a less capable singer, this almost unremitting collection of “emotional downers” would be hard to stomach. Since the songs are well written and the singer so expressive, it is well worth the time spend listening to it. I originally rated the CD on amazon as 5 stars since it is a hair better than 4.5 stars, but if allowed fractional ratings I’d have given it 4.75 stars with the major deduction for the opening track. Today (2016):

Grade: B