My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Pearl Jam

Album Review: Kasey Chambers – ‘Bittersweet’

Kasey-Chambers-BittersweetKasey Chambers’ tenth album, which has finally been released in the United States, has quickly become one of my favorite records of the year. Composed on the heels of her divorce from Shane Nicholson, Bittersweet is also her first set of music without her brother Nash at the helm.

Chambers wanted something different this time around and enlisted the aide of Nick DiDia, a rock producer best known for collaborating with Pearl Jam and Bruce Springsteen. As a result, Bittersweet is a tender collection soaked in Banjo, tasteful piano, and a whole lot of emotion.

At its heart and soul, Bittersweet showcases a woman grappling with the sensations that follow unexpected life turns. On “I Would Do” Chambers beautifully lays out her devotion to her man, vowing to go to the ends of the earth for him – even if the journey leads to heartbreak. The waltzy “House on a Hill” likens her brokenness to the plight of a dilapidated house, spelled out with gorgeous poetry:

And it’s old and it’s worn

And the curtains are torn

And tomorrow they’re tearing it down

And just like a heart

It’s falling apart

It couldn’t stand up

If a hard wind blew

And it’s been through it all

And there’s cracks in the wall

They may as well just

Take me down too

She spells out her pain in the devastating title track, my favorite song on the album. A duet with Bernard Fanning, “Bittersweet” is a masterful reflection by a couple that have grown so far apart they don’t need each other anymore. Chambers relinquishes the lead to Fanning, which gives the track its bite. As a result, her interjections are all the more powerful.

“I’m Alive,” in direct contrast, finds Chambers turning defiant, declaring she’s gone through the fire and come out the other side a stronger woman. Backed by acoustic guitar and harmonica, Chambers adds every ounce of pathos to the lyric she can muster:

And through all the blood and the sweat and the tears

Things ain’t always what they appear

I made it through the hardest fucking year

Rockers like “I’m Alive” are hard to come by on Bittersweet, but they’re also some of the album’s finest moments. I adore lead single “Wheelbarrow,” a collaboration with Ashleigh Dallas. The lyric relies on repetitive phrasing, which allows it to joyfully get under your skin. I’m not usually one for loud arrangements but the mix of blistering rock and back porch picking is perfection. “Hell of a Way To Go” applies similar production techniques to frame Chambers’ request of what should be done with her remains if she dies of a broken heart.

“Stalker” finds Chambers unleashing her inner crazy while “Heaven or Hell” has her warning an egomaniac to come off his high horse. The almightily plays a surprising role on Bittersweet, showing up at the beginning and end of the album. The beautiful “Is God Real” finds Chambers looking for something to believe in. “Christmas Day” is an exquisite holiday tune about Mary and Jesus.

Bittersweet is my favorite album so far this year because Chambers has a way with a lyric that keeps the project from detouring into ‘breakup record’ territory. Her ability to traverse a wide array of emotions, while coming to terms with the changing tides of life, is striking.

Grade: A

Album Review: Willie Nelson – ‘Heroes’

Nearly two decades after he departed Columbia Records, Willie Nelson has rejoined the Sony Music family with Heroes, which was produced by Buddy Cannon and released last week on the Legacy Recordings imprint. He is joined by a number of guest artists, including Merle Haggard, Ray Price, Kris Kristofferson, Jamey Johnson, Sheryl Crow, Billy Joe Shaver, and Snoop Dogg. Also participating are Nelson’s sons Micah and Lukas. Sounding very much like a younger version of his 79-year-old father, Lukas performs on most of the album’s tracks and does the heavy lifting much of the time.

As is usually the case with a Willie Nelson album, the selection of songs is eclectic. A cover of Coldplay’s “The Scientist” was released as a single late last year. Three more singles were released almost simultaneously last month. “Roll Me Up And Smoke Me When I Die”, a lighthearted number that makes pokes fun at Willie’s well-known marijuana habit, was released on April 20th, or “420 Day”, which apparently is significant in the cannabis subculture. “Just Breathe”, a Pearl Jam cover and “Come On Back Jesus” were released the following day in celebration of Record Store Day. I particularly like the latter, which calls for the second coming of Christ and asks him to “pick up John Wayne on the way.” I’m cool with that. Rounding out the track list are some covers of some western swing classics: Bob Wills’ “My Window Faces The South” and Fred Rose’s “Home In San Antone”, as well as the Ray Price classic “This Cold War With You”, on which Price makes a guest appearance. Also included are some original tunes written by Willie, Lukas, and Buddy Cannon.

Some of the guest appearances are my favorite moments on the album. While I wasn’t too excited to see Snoop Dogg’s name on the guest roster, his contribution to “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me While I Die” wasn’t bad. Sheryl Crow, the lone female guest artist, chimes in on “Come On Up To The House”. But the album’s true highlights are “A Horse Called Music”, which reunites Willie with Merle Haggard and “Cold War With You” featuring Ray Price. Although the presence of Lukas Nelson on most the album’s tracks is clearly to compensate for the elder Nelson’s fading vocal prowess, both Willie and Merle Haggard are in surprisingly good vocal form. Ray Price’s voice, on the other hand, is showing signs of wear and tear, and Kris Kristofferson was never much of a vocalist anyway.

Although I’m biased towards some of the album’s older songs, the contemporary fare is almost as good. I quite enjoyed “That’s All There Is To This Song” and “The Sound Of Your Memory”, which was written by Lukas Nelson with Elizabeth Rainey. Despite the inclusion of the Coldplay and Pearl Jam numbers, this is very much a country album, and one that does not pander to current commercial trends. There is much here for the country fan to enjoy, and Heroes is almost certain to end up on many this year’s best albums lists.

Grade: A

Year In Review: Megan Morrow’s Top 10 Albums of 2009

It certainly wasn’t intentional, but my top ten albums of 2009 happen to come mostly from the great women recording country music these days. I think I’m drawn to them because there’s a depth to their stories and lyrics, their vocals and arrangements. It seems they’re taking more non-commercial risks than their male counterparts, and are less formula-driven. They’re more interesting and hold my attention for the long haul. These are the albums I’ve been playing over and over this year:

10. #1s…and Then Some – Brooks & Dunn (Sept.) What a ride! This two-disc set is a great romp through the hits of an amazing duo, and ‘Honky Tonk Stomp’ isn’t a bad way to go out.

9. Twang – George Strait (Aug.) Consistently good but stretching himself a bit at the same time (‘El Rey’ for example), George just keeps hitting home runs. ‘Living For the Night,’ ‘Where Have I Been All My Life’ and ‘Beautiful Day For Goodbye’ are highlights for me.

8. Gold and Green – Sugarland (Oct.) Christmas albums can be just another collection of the same old songs overdone again. Leave it to Sugarland to come out with one that’s anything but typical – maybe that’s why the title isn’t the usual Red and Green. I’m still putting this one on my list even though it was released later in the year, if only for ‘Nuttin’ For Christmas’ with its great dobro, vocals and humor, and their fresh take on ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’ accompanied by simple banjo.

7. Live on the Inside — Sugarland (Aug.) Jennifer and Kristian are some of those incredible artists that are even better live! I love their “countrified” instrumentation on the covers! Who would have thought ‘Better Man’ by Pearl Jam would sound great with accordion!

6. The List – Rosanne Cash (Oct.) Not only is this a great covers album, but the story behind it is wonderful, too. Her father, Johnny Cash, gave her his list of the “100 essential country songs” when she was 18 in order to give her a good country music education. Thankfully, she says, she had the good sense to keep the list. Rosanne has one of those great, unpolished folk country voices – not unlike her dad. Love the more acoustic tracks on this one.

5. Dolly – Dolly Parton (Oct.) Perhaps this 4-disc set doesn’t count as a new release, but Dolly is…well…Dolly. Following her career over the years in this time-lapse kind of format is amazing, especially for those of us who weren’t following her as it happened. If you need a new release, though, then sub in her Dolly Live From London that just came out in November. Over 60 and still kickin’, and charmin’ and capturing life in her stories.

4. Revolution – Miranda Lambert (Sept.) I’m not sure that Revolution quite lives up to its name, but it’s still a great album with Miranda’s barbwire and roses lyrics, edgy arrangements of guitars and plenty of steel, like ‘White Liar’, mixed with some beautiful and thoughtful numbers like ‘The House That Built Me’ and ‘Virginia Bluebell.’ She’s got such a unique sound and her lyrics stand out and grab you – sometimes by the throat, but almost always by the heart.

3. Keep On Loving You – Reba McEntire (Aug.) As much as I love Mountain Soul II for the consistency of its acoustic mountain style, I love Reba’s album for its variety. It’s got classic gritty country story drama in ‘Maggie Creek Road’, as well as contemporary fun in ‘Pink Guitar’, ‘I Want a Cowboy’ and ‘I’ll Have What She’s Having’, some solid country fare like ‘Nothing To Lose’ and ‘Consider Me Gone’, and songs that catch your heart in ‘Eight Crazy Hours’ and ‘She’s Turning 50 Today’.

2. Mountain Soul II – Patty Loveless (Sept.) Wow. From Patty’s clear yet soulful vocals to the simple acoustic production and classic instrumentation to the gems of the songs themselves, this album is a delight from start to finish! Just go get it!

1. The Long Way Home – Terri Clark (Sept.) See J.R. Journey’s spot-on review of this one. The word that sums up Terri’s offering for me is “real”. There isn’t a song on the album that doesn’t embody that word. The lyrics and Terri’s interpretation are the highlights. Thankfully, the production and arrangements really allow them to shine. I can tell The Long Way Home will be a long-time fave in my library.

Recommendation: Live songs & albums

So being the Sugarland freak I am, I went to Wal-Mart to get Live On The Inside the morning it came out- before they had even put it on the shelves. I had to find a worker to get the box of new CDs open to get me one so I could have it. Not being a fan of live CDs, I was worried, but Live exceeded all my expectations. With superb singing of both Sugarland’s hits and mostly great covers, I was very happy. So for my recommendation this week, I’m going to recommend 3 tracks from 3 live albums that I’ve enjoyed:

live on inside“Better Man” by Sugarland (Originally by Pearl Jam)
Playing this for friend, he remarked the bridge wasn’t energetic enough and listening to the original, he was right, but Sugarland does a good job here. This song has themes that belong in country music, and the mostly acoustic arrangement works out to make a cool cover. This is one of my favorites from Live On The Inside, as well as “The One I Love” and “Circle”. Watch a preview of it on Youtube.

cwlive“Poison & Wine” by The Civil Wars (Original song)
Thanks to this article from Country Universe, I discovered their free live album, Live at Eddie’s Attic (You can still download it for free here). I was pleasantly surprised to find two very talented singer/songwriters making very good music, “Poison & Wine” being my favorite. It’s a gorgeous song with driving piano that underlies it’s sadness. Watch it live on YouTube.

album_tigers“Rated X” by Neko Case (Originally by Loretta Lynn)
A #1 hit for Loretta Lynn, this controversial song does well in the hands of Neko Case, still sounding country, but all Neko. I almost got to see Neko Case live in New York City this year, but unfortunately I didn’t get to go. Sadly you can’t hear this song anywhere, but iTunes has Neko’s excellent live CD, The Tigers Have Spoken here.

These three albums have made me like live albums more, now I want yours.

What live albums or tracks would you recommend?