My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Randy Jackson

Album Review: Janie Fricke – ‘From The Heart’

Janie Fricke’s third Columbia album (her last to be produced by Billy Sherrill) was only modestly successful. It bears all the hallmarks of its era, but on the best tracks Janie’s beautiful voice shines through. This makes the record’s shortcomings all the more frustrating, as it is so evident that she could have done so much better.

There were two top 30 singles. The first, the very poppy mid-tempo ‘But Love Me’, is marred by horribly intrusive production which makes an otherwise harmless peppy number unlistenable. Infinitely better is Janie’s version of the classic ‘Pass Me By (If You’re Only Passing Through)’, which is truly excellent.

Another highlight is the traditional country ballad ‘One Piece At A Time’ (surprisingly written by Randy Jackson). Addressed to the protagonist’s ex, the singer proudly explains how her true love has healed the hurt and banished the memory of her predecessor:

I built a brand new love with the pieces I found
I put him together one piece at a time
What was once yours and his is now his and mine
I’ve erased all those memories that you left behind

‘Some Fools Don’t Ever Learn’ is another very good song with a strong vocal, although some aspects of the production sound dated today.

Unfortunately most of the rest of the album is disposable pop- country, with Janie’s vocals all too frequently breathy and undersung, and songs like ‘Falling For You’ boring and with little or nothing about them one might describe as country.

The vocals are much stronger on ‘My World Begins And Ends With You’, but the song itself is syrupy and bland and the arrangement dated.

‘A Cool September’ (written by Billy Sherrill and Glenn Sutton) is a heavily orchestrated loungy jazz number which Janie sings quite well, but not in a country style at all. The biggest disappointment is with Janie’s lackadaisical cooing treatment of the standard ‘When I Fall In Love’; she has the vocal chops to really deliver on this song, but she fails to dive it any oomph at all. She seems to be trying too hard to sound pretty to invest it with any real emotion. The same goes for . ‘This Ain’r Tennessee And He Ain’t You’ is a good song which sounds a little too much like something from musical theater – carefully and thoughtfully delivered, but a little detached from the song’s raw emotion.

Reba McEntire, another rising star but one who would soon surpass Janie, also recorded ‘Gonna Love Ya (Till The Cows Come Home)’. Janie’s version is pretty but forgettable and lacking in passion.

There were glimmers of potential in this album which pointed to something significantly better than the sum of the album.

Grade: C-

Album Review – Travis Tritt – ‘The Storm’

TrittstormTravis Tritt’s most recent album was released in 2007 for independent label Category 5 Records. Co-produced with American Idol judge (and former Journey guitarist) Randy Jackson, the project debuted at #3 on the country album’s chart, his highest debut in more than thirteen years.

Pop singer/songwriter Richard Marx (who has also collaborated with Keith Urban) wrote the album’s lead single, and best known cut, “You Never Take Me Dancing.” Tritt pairs the tune with the oddly intoxicating “Mudcat Moan prelude” which has little to do with the song, but shows off his scatting abilities quite nicely. Despite the strong vocal, the track does nothing for me and is an unapologetic departure for Tritt. I cannot get past the drum machine and non-commercial vibe. It’s more than a miracle the song made it as high as #27.

Second single “The Pressure Is On,” a cover of the Hank Williams Jr song, didn’t even chart and with Tritt’s throaty southern rock vocal, that’s not surprising. He sings it well enough, but I cannot get into it at all, and at more than five minutes in length, it seems to just drag on and on.

Jackson and Tritt included two other covers in the set and sadly, both are more of the same. “Should’ve Listened,” written by the members of Canadian rockers Nickelback, boasts a nice country lyric but could’ve benefited greatly from an arrangement that’s more traditional. Same goes for Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s “Somehow, Somewhere, Someday” which lays the electric guitars on obnoxiously thick. Both songs are a mess, and far below Tritt’s usual standard.

Pop songwriter Diane Warren also contributes two cuts to the project. I’ve never been a big fan of her writing – pop power anthems designed to be big career records. She brings her usual flare to these cuts as well, and both are middle of the road. “I Wanna Feel Too Much” sounds like an Idol winner’s single that lays on the inspirational goo like its going out of style, while “I Don’t Know How I Got By” is too generic a love song for Tritt. He’s killed it with sentimental ballads before, but the track lacks the punch and sincerity of his previous love songs.

“What If Love Hangs On,” which Tritt co-wrote with Matchbox 20 lead singer Rob Thomas, is also a mess, ruined by his outlandish vocal. He’s rendered almost unrecognizable singing high notes that take away from the commanding powers of his deep voice. He also co-wrote “Doesn’t The Good Outweigh The Bad,” and it’s an excellent lyric but he and Jackson should’ve toned down the production. There are hints of his traditional country side, but they remain hidden by loud guitars and drums that distract from what this song could, and should have been. He wrote the title track solo, and it’s a good bluesy number, but keeps up the theme of being too loud and completely overstated with booming production. Nothing changes with “Rub off on Me,” or “High Time for Getting Down.”

I do actually really like one track on The Storm that goes against the loud, booming production that ruins the rest of this album. “Something Stronger Than Me” is the closest Tritt comes to reestablishing the brand that made him a respected artist in the first place. It isn’t traditional country, but the production is nicely understated and Tritt gives a sincere and heartfelt vocal. But what makes the track a keeper is the fabulous lyric, a story about personal daemons written by Don Poythress, Donnie Skaggs, and Michelle Little. It’s easily one of the best recordings of Tritt’s career.

All and all, The Storm is nothing short of a mess, and easily among the weakest of Tritt’s albums, even if its one of the most sonically consistent works of his career. I just cannot get past the loud booming guitars and drums that hinder opposed to help us enjoy the songs. There is far too much rock for my liking here, and I find myself once again wishing Tritt had stuck to his country side, which is the best quality of his musical personality.

Grade: C

American Idol Season 10: Gone country

Unexpectedly, this week’s American Idol finale features not one but two young singers who will be unleashed on the country music world in the coming months. Perhaps because they represent different styles of country music, they appear not to have split the “country” vote getting to the final two. I mentioned deep voiced 17-year-old Scotty McCreery from North Carolina earlier this year, commenting on his similarity to Josh Turner, but at that point 16-year-old Georgia girl Lauren Alaina had managed to fly under my radar. She is a pop-country singer, with a voice not unreminiscent of a young Faith Hill. Both have selected a number of country songs to perform over the past weeks, and both are likely to head to Nashville once the show is over.

To be perfectly honest, both teenagers seem to have some raw talent but might have been better had they spent a few years honing their vocal and performance skills. Scotty is understood to be the front-runner, regularly eliciting deafening screams from young girls in the Idol audience, and he has by far the more confident polished approach, with an ease on stage which belies his youth and inexperience. Idol judge Randy Jackson even made some rather implausible comparisons to Garth Brooks last week. His poise and confidence will stand him in good stead whether his career takes him to superstardom or if he crashes and burns when out of the Idol bubble.

Back in April I speculated as to whether Scotty’s debut performance would involve “triumph or disaster”. I must confess that even after a dozen weeks of competition, I’m still on the fence. His voice certainly rivals Josh Turner’s in its range, but it signally lacks Turner’s resonance and richness of tone. I have also noticed that when he strays out of the most comfortable part of his range, his tone develops a slightly foghorn quality which is not mellifluous. Canny song choices when he is picking songs to record will be vital if he is to make a record I personally will like. And he is still only 17 – his voice may have room to develop and grow.

I want to root for Scotty, though, just because he is the most traditionally inclined of any real contender who has ever been on American Idol. Season 5’s Kellie Pickler, who has promised her upcoming third album will offer us some more traditional country, was never likely to win and ended up in sixth place, noted more for her dizzy blonde persona and dramatic family background than her singing.

Lauren, who was an early judges’ favorite, appears to have lost some confidence over the course of the show, and has the general demeanour and maturity level one would expect from a high school girl. This is not a criticism – merely an observation, and she will, in due course, grow up. I am inclined to think her voice may possibly have more potential than Scotty’s, as although she has shown some technical deficiencies – issues with her breath control and an occasional tendency to oversing in the manner of Carrie Underwood – she has a very nice underlying tone. Her youth makes her appear to be more malleable by producers and label executives, and her personal musical taste also leans very much pop-country, so I would be less likely to want to buy her post-Idol work.

Both of the youngsters are likely to sign record deals with one of the labels in the Universal Music Group, and I would expect Mercury or MCA Nashville the most likely homes for them. That brings in an additional complicating factor for Scotty McCreery, as his own idol Josh Turner is already on MCA. Regardless of the results of the show, it could be interesting to see what happens with the careers of the two finalists. It’s UMG’s first year in association with Idol. When the Sony group signed artists from Idol, if they didn’t meet with immediate success they were soon disposed of (Kristy Lee Cook, for instance, now signed to Broken Bow). They have been going slower with last year’s third placer Casey James, who has still not released anything. Will UMG want instant returns, or would they have the patience to emulate what RCA did with Nashville Star’s fourth season champion Chris Young or Columbia did with the same show’s Miranda Lambert, namely give these youngsters time after their reality show runs to mature and develop?

Scotty and Lauren duet on ‘I Told You So’: