January 23, 2018
Posted by on
It’s been a long time since I’ve heard a Blake Shelton single I actually liked, but here comes this track from his current album Texoma Shore which is his newest radio single. Even more surprisingly, it’s co-written by Rhett Akins, Ben Hayslip, Ashley Gorley and Ross Copperman.
A gentle understated melody and arrangement leads into a relective lyric about childhood memories. Things that seemed annoying at the time are seen in retrospect with love as things that made the protagonist who he is today.
There’s not a lot more to it, but the details are specific and lovingly recalled, painting a completely believable picture of a suburban Southern upbringing. Musically, it’s also recognisably country music with no extraneous elements.
This might not be a standout in past generations, but heard today it’s a real step in the right direction.
Grade: a slightly generous A-
October 2, 2014
Posted by on
The real Dierks Bentley shows himself again.
“Say You Do” is a throwback to the type of fare the endured Bentley to radio listeners in the last decade, the type of song focused on his relationship with his woman; not his bros or a beer bottle. Joseph Hill, Shane McAnally, Trevor Rosen, and Matt Ramsey have composed an effecting lyric while Bentley supplies the perfect amount of desperate urgency to bring the story to life.
When I first heard “Say You Do” through the track’s music video, I was taken aback by the stark opening, Bentley’s voice framed by lush instrumentation. The current climate of country radio would never touch a song so elegantly constricted so I was almost begging the backing track to pick up, and fill out.
It isn’t every day you desire a more cluttered production, but when Bentley turns in this strong a vocal on a song so firmly against all popular trends, you want it to have every chance of succeeding. Producer Ross Copperman does his job, but ultimately drowns the track with so much noise, it’s all Bentley can do just to keep his head above water. That the listener can still feel his urgency through the muck attests to Bentley’s acute skills as a vocalist.
So we’re not graced with the second coming of “Settle For A Slowdown,” “Long Trip Alone,” or “Draw Me A Map.” But at least Bentley seems heading back in that direction, full steam ahead.
Progress is progress. I’ll take it.
September 23, 2014
Posted by on
Every year there seem to be fewer and fewer traditionally rooted country singers on mainstream labels still making a play for radio attention. Josh Turner is one of the holdouts, so it’s always good to hear from him, even if his material is sometimes less ambitious than one would ideally like. The precipitous recent decline in lyrical themes makes his conservative approach all the more welcome. Even in better times for country music Josh’s richly burnished bass-baritone voice would stand out.
His newest single, ‘Lay Low’ paints a comforting picture of the tranquillity to be found in a rural retreat with a loved one, a million miles away from the dispiriting partying songs we hear too much. Although Josh didn’t write the song (reliable songwriting team Tony Martin, Mark Nesler and Ross Copperman are responsible), it was apparently written especially for him and was inspired by a cabin owned by Josh and his wife. A pretty melody and sincere vocal make this a breath of fresh air on the airwaves, and raise hopes for Josh’s new album.
The production is given a little radio friendly gloss which will hopefully make it palatable for DJs while retaining the song’s country roots, and allowing Josh’s great vocals to shine (although I regret to say that I hear traces of vocal processing in some places – completely unnecessary. It isn’t the best thing he’s ever recorded, but it is a decent song and has a welcome maturity in its approach to
September 3, 2014
Posted by on
Arguably the most exciting news in country music this year was the recent announcement that Trisha Yearwood had inked a deal with RCA and was releasing a new single. “PrizeFighter” is her first single since 2008’s “They Call It Falling For A Reason”. It reunites her with her longtime producer Garth Fundis and with her pal Kelly Clarkson who provides harmony vocals on the track. The two had previously collaborated, along with Reba McEntire, on a recording of “Silent Night” for Clarkson’s 2013 Christmas collection.
I was so glad to hear that Yearwood was back, that the song itself almost didn’t matter to me. The tune, which was written by Jessi Alexander, Sarah Buxton, and Ross Copperman, is a midtempo empowerment anthem which stands as a metaphor for the uphill battle Trisha faces to get back on the charts and country radio. In lesser hands the overall “Yes, we can” message might sound trite. But her voice is as beautiful as ever, meshing well with Clarkson’s harmony vocals and that more than compensates for the lightweight lyrics. The production is tasteful, just layered enough to sound contemporary without being intrusive. It is not particularly country but Trisha was never a traditionalist. It is stylistically close enough to her big hits from the 90s that longtime fans will not be disappointed. It is in many ways, a play-it-safe choice, but that is understandable given the obstacles Yearwood faces as she attempts to relaunch her recording career.
The big question mark is whether country radio will welcome back into the fold a female artist whose last Top 10 hit was 13 years ago, and who turns 50 years old in a little more than two weeks’ time. If this record is successful, Yearwood will become one of a very select number of female artists to score a hit after the age of 50. This is presumably why the much younger Clarkson is credited as a featured guest, to appeal to younger audiences. Hopefully the strategy will work, because although “PrizeFighter” doesn’t rise to the level of Yearwood’s very best work, hers is still a voice that deserves to be heard. Hopefully we’ll be hearing much more from her in the near future.
March 14, 2014
Posted by on
Of today’s current crop of artists, Dierks Bentley is one of the few who at least tries to get it right. Much of the time he succeeds, though occasionally his projects fall short of expectations. Unfortunately, his latest effort Riser, which was released last month falls mostly into the latter category. If you like your country arena-rock style, then you’ll probably enjoy this album, but if you think country music should actually sound country, you’ll likely be disappointed.
Riser was produced by singer-songwriter Ross Copperman. Though he has dabbled in country music from time to time — he co-wrote “Tip It On Back” (one of my least favorite Dierks Bentley singles) as well as songs for Steve Holy and Jennette McCurdy — Cooperman is best known for songs like “All She Wrote”, which was a 2007 pop hit in the UK and “Holding On And Letting Go”, which was featured in the television series The Vampire Diaries. Not surprisingly, bringing in a producer from outside the genre has resulted in one of Dierks’ least country-sounding albums.
Things get off to a decent start with “Bourbon In Kentucky”, the album’s lead single featuring background vocals from Kacey Musgreaves. Surprisingly, the record stalled at #40. The current single “I Hold On”, which Bentley wrote with Brett James, has fared much better. It currently resides at #3 on the charts, but it’s not particularly memorable.
Though not in alignment with my tastes, Riser is at least several notches above the usual dreck heard on country radio today, and it does contain some substantive songs. “Here on Earth” was inspired by the death of Dierks’ father and the 2012 Sandy Hooks school shootings in Connecticut, and “Damn These Dreams”, about trying to juggle competing priorites is well written. But I am bored to distraction with arena rock laced with a bit of banjo and steel guitar so people will think it’s country.
I became more and more disillusioned with this album with each passing track, when I was pleasantly surprised by the very last one — “Hurt Somebody”, which — surprise! actually sounds country and even contains a bit of fiddle and background vocals by Chris Stapleton, whose gravelly voice complements Dierks’ nicely. “Hurt Somebody” is the album’s one truly great song. Download it along with “Bourbon In Kentucky” and “Here on Earth” and skip the rest.