My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Rob Thomas

Album Review: LeAnn Rimes – ‘Spitfire’

spitfireLeAnn Rimes’ chart fortunes have been wildly inconsistent since she emerged on the country scene as a 13-year old. Her turbulent private life has also exposed her to a great deal of public criticism in recent years with her romance with new husband Eddie Cibrian breaking up two existing marriages and the home of two small children. Her excellent Vince Gill-produced covers album reignited my interest in her as an artist, and now she returns with her first records of all-new material in some years. She wrote many of the songs with her co-producer and frequent collaborator Darrell Brown, and it is the most personal and honest material she has ever recorded. She acknowledges that on the album cover, giving it the subtitle “the truth, in no particular order”. In other words, it is effectively a concept album about her affair, divorce and remarriage – meaty reality-based material which makes it a rare example of its kind in today’s market. Musically it’s not as traditional as Lady And Gentlemen but it is recognizably country music, with breathing space for LeAnn’s vocals.

The best songs are the more reflective ones where she shows some self-awareness. Candid cheating songs used to be a staple of country music but have fallen out of favor in recent years. ‘Borrowed’ is a guilt-ridden cheating song set during the affair, this one addressed to her new lover and dealing with her jealousy of his wife.

The remorseful ballad ‘What Have I Done’ (perhaps the outstanding song on the album) addresses the wrong she has done to her first love, who is “not her last”. It is an excellent song with a beautiful melody, with Alison Krauss and Dan Tyminski adding harmonies and subtle steel and fiddle.

What have I done?
I broke the sweetest heart
Of the only man that’s ever loved me

I don’t know what I’ve become
I need to get back to where I’m from
Gotta smash every mirror in this empty house
Cause like you I don’t want to see myself
Oh, what have I done?

Both of these songs were released as singles late last year, but have failed to chart.

The haunting ‘Where I Stood’ (written by Australian AC singer-songwriter Missy Higgins) tackles the same theme, opening with the words “I don’t know what I’ve done” as she faces the loss of her husband and contemplates his finding someone new.

A heavy drumbeat leads into the less subtle ‘I Do Now’, which again addresses her cheating, but with less evident remorse, with LeAnn taking comfort in listening to Hank Williams and Merle Haggard but unfortunately not borrowing from them stylistically, instead going for a rock-influenced mid-tempo sound without much melody.

‘A Waste Is A Terrible Thing To Mind’ is another fine song written by LeAnn, as she ponders over her choices. It is one of the most traditional sounding songs on the album. Her diction is a bit muddy on this one (a problem she has sometimes suffered from in the past) so it takes some concentration to decipher the story, but it recounts the protagonist’s regret at separating from husband or lover:

I threw him out like the trash one night
The dumbest thing I’ve ever done
He was the best thing that I’ll ever find
Yeah, a waste is a terrible thing to mind

Darrell Brown contributed ‘Who We Really Are’ (a co-write with Sarah Buxton), a pretty ballad on which Leann’s vocals sound nice but again the words (about discovering oneself through the vicissitudes of love) are hard to make out.

The aggressive ‘Spitfire’ lets loose against a rival in love, and is a little spiteful, calling her rival not only a “dirty little liar” but a brainless one. It’s a brave choice as the album opener and title track as it doesn’t paint LeAnn in the best light and the obviously autobiographical nature of the material elsewhere makes this open to interpretation as a personal attack on her husband’s former wife, so making it the entry into the album could antagonize some listeners (but perhaps those most offended won’t be listening anyway, on principle?). Divorced from its likely context, it’s not a bad song in assertive vein.

She definitely addresses her husband’s ex-wife elsewhere, claiming to be ‘Just A Girl Like You’, acknowledging “he may break my heart too”, but I didn’t like this one much – it feels a bit disingenuous, there is far too much vocal noodling and the instrumentation has a slightly tinny feel. ‘You’ve Ruined Me’ also sounds a bit over-produced and over-wrought vocally.

Buddy and Julie Miller’s frenetic ‘Gasoline And Matches’ is done as a duet with rock singer Rob Thomas, and is quite entertaining, although it definitely leans more in the rock direction than country; rock guitarist Jeff Beck also guests. In the context of this album, it presumably reflects the passion wrought by her relationship with her new husband.

The equally fast-paced ‘You Ain’t Right’ written by Liz Rose with another husband-and-wife team, Chris Stapleton and Morgane Hayes, has a hardworking woman complaining about her layabout man’s lack of effort. It’s a good song, but lacks melody and feels out of place thematically.

I assume the judgmental ‘God Tales Care Of Your Kind’ is an older song as it was written with Leann’s ex-husband Dean Sheremet; it too seems a curious choice for this record unless she is addressing it to herself. Finally ‘Bottle’ is surprisingly bland for a Gary Burr tune.

It seems fairly clear that LeAnn’s personal life has caused a backlash against her music, and this album (apparently her last for Curb) will probably not get the radio play it needs to do well commercially. However, it is a serious artistic work rooted in real life. Perhaps a little too much so at times.

Grade: B+

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