My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Sara Evans

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-

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Week ending 10/3/15: #1 singles this week in country music history

milsap-21955 (Sales): I Don’t Care — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Jukebox): I Don’t Care — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Disc Jockeys): I Don’t Care — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1965: Only You (Can Break My Heart) — Buck Owens (Capitol)

1975: Daydreams About Night Things — Ronnie Milsap (RCA)

1985: Lost in the Fifties Tonight (In The Still of the Night) — Ronnie Milsap (RCA)

1995: I Like It, I Love It — Tim McGraw (Curb)

2005: A Real Fine Place To Start — Sara Evans (RCA)

2015: Strip It Down — Luke Bryan (Capitol)

2015 (Airplay): Save It For a Rainy Day — Kenny Chesney (Blue Chair/Columbia)

Week ending 9/26/15: #1 singles this week in country music history

1955 (Sales): I Don’t Care — Webb Pierce (Decca)

forester1955 (Jukebox): I Don’t Care — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1955 (Disc Jockeys): I Don’t Care — Webb Pierce (Decca)

1965: Is It Really Over — Jim Reeves (RCA)

1975: Daydreams About Night Things — Ronnie Milsap (RCA)

1985: I Fell In Love Again Last Night — The Forester Sisters (Warner Bros.)

1995: I Like It, I Love It — Tim McGraw (Curb)

2005: A Real Fine Place To Start — Sara Evans (RCA)

2015: House Party — Sam Hunt (MCA)

2015 (Airplay): Crash and Burn — Thomas Rhett (Valory)

Classic Rewind: Sara Evans covers ‘Don’t Close Your Eyes’

Sara pays tribute to Keith Whitley:

Week ending 10/18/14: #1 singles this week in country music history

porteranddolly1954 (Sales): I Don’t Hurt Anymore — Hank Snow (RCA)

1954 (Jukebox): I Don’t Hurt Anymore — Hank Snow (RCA)

1954 (Disc Jockeys): I Don’t Hurt Anymore — Hank Snow (RCA)

1964: I Don’t Care (Just As Long As You Love Me) — Buck Owens (Capitol)

1974: Please Don’t Stop Loving Me — Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton (RCA)

1984: Uncle Pen — Ricky Skaggs (Epic)

1994: She’s Not The Cheatin’ Kind — Brooks & Dunn (Arista)

2004: Suds In The Bucket — Sara Evans (RCA)

2014: Burnin’ It Down — Jason Aldean (Broken Bow)

2014 (Airplay): Roller Coaster — Luke Bryan (Capitol)

Concert Review: Sara Evans and Kiley Evans at the South Shore Music Circus

IMG_3885Sara Evans is an incredible vocalist. That at least was evident when she took the stage August 29 at the South Shore Music Circus in Cohasset, MA. Evans turned in one brilliant performance after another, wrapping her comforting twang around a majority of her most recognizable singles.

She opened the show with “Born To Fly” before treating the audience to a brisk set of her career during the new millennium. This fantastic overview ranged from “Perfect” and “I Keep Looking” to “Real Fine Place To Start” and “As If” with ease. She loaded the set with uptempo tunes, bringing out lesser faire like “Coalmine” and enjoying the audience’s eruption during “Suds In The Bucket,” which followed a brief synopsis of her upbringing on the Missouri farm; a life with three older brothers and four younger sisters.

In the beginning Evans stuck with the music, pausing after a generous strand of songs before engaging the audience. While I normally enjoy banter, Evans has a way of coming off slightly disingenuous, like a performer fulfilling a job, and not a singer giving a whole-hearted performance. This is just Evans’ way; a fact that hasn’t changed in the three years since I last saw her live (and wrote a concert review of her show).

She was quick to mention that 2011 performance, a herculean feat where she arrived late to the venue (Cape Cod Melody Tent) via private jet, with her tardiness blamed on a combination of her kids and the Birmingham, Alabama airport she was flying out of. Her circumstances this time weren’t much better – sick kids she claimed she had to spank – but she was able to get to the venue on time, even if she fell asleep (or so she alleged) during hair and makeup.

An attempt to joke about the revolving circular stage (which the South Shore Music Circus and sister venue Cape Cod Melody Tent are known for) fell flat, but she was able to creep everyone out with a story about lice going around at her daughter’s school. Evans is a mother after all, with tweens and teens, so sharing stories of that world isn’t necessarily unwelcomed.

And for all her banter (she didn’t even know how to pronounce the town she was performing in, which was written out taped to the stage for her), she actually focused heavily on the music. Evans brought the audience back a few years and reflected on her marriage before launching into “A Little Bit Stronger,” mentioning how grateful she was to us fans for helping make it one of her biggest hits. She also graced us with her cover of Rod Stewart’s “My Heart Can’t Tell You No,” which made me happy, as I never expected her to sing it. The same went for “Backseat of a Greyhound Bus,” which came early on. I would’ve figured Evans would’ve forgotten all about that song by now.

Those who saw my review of Slow Me Down this past March (and engaged in a healthy debate on Engine 145), would most likely be surprised I would even attend an Evans concert. Despite what I said, out of anger toward her musical direction, I do love her and have been a fan ever since seeing the “Three Chords and the Truth” video on CMT seventeen years ago. She graced us with three new cuts from her latest project; her Isaac Slade assisted duet “Can’t Stop Loving You” (a duet with her phenomenal backup singer/guitarist), the title track, and brand new single “Put My Heart Down.” I actually do like the new single, and it is one of the more memorable tracks on the new project. All were sung well during the show, too.

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Album Review – Sara Evans – ‘Slow Me Down’

SaraEvansSlowDownAlbumWhen Sara Evans appeared on Opry Backstage with Bill Anderson in the late 90s, she commented on her voice, saying no matter what she sings it’ll always come out country. That logic may’ve been true at the time, but with producer Mark Bright at the helm and a 2014 mentality to uphold, Evans is as far from her country roots as one can be and still associate with country music.

If you’ve studied the careers of the 80s and 90s country women as closely as I have over the years, you know they show their true colors when their commercial prospects begin to fade. Do they go the Reba or Faith Hill route and squeeze out every last hit, with little regard for quality? Or do they take the Kathy Mattea and Patty Loveless route and seamlessly transition into a legacy career marked by adventurous and risk taking records that display the innate artistry that made them too smart for country radio in the first place?

With Slow Me Down Evans fits squarely into the former category with an album that exposes a hidden truth of her career – that she was never that artistic at all, just a trend follower who happened to come of age at a time when good quality songs were still the mainstay of mainstream Nashville. With that era firmly in the rearview mirror, we’re left with a singer resorting to whatever she can to find a platform, and the results are more than a little desperate.

When the title track was released late September, the press behind it made “Slow Me Down” out to be the best thing Evans had ever recorded, a record akin to the 80s crossover hits that came between the Urban Cowboy era and the new traditionalist movement. In reality it’s a terrible song, shoddily written by Merv Green, Heather Morgan, and Jimmy Robbins. The verses are stunted and repetitive and the chorus, while strong, becomes too breathy when Evans morphs into a pop diva by the end.

The rest of the album follows suit, with Evans turning out one generic ‘bright pop’ moment after another with little regard to singing anything that actually has something to say. Bright’s use of drums and electric guitars is far too generic for Evans, and any uniqueness in her voice is suppressed in favor of exploiting the lowest common denominator. Even her trademark covers of mainstream hits have taken a beating, with her take on Gavin DeGraw’s “Not Over You” maintaining far too much of his original, down to inviting him in for a guest vocal.

When I reviewed Stronger three years ago, I said one of that project’s shortcomings was the lack of Evans’ trademark sweeping story songs (‘I Learned That From You’ and ‘You’ll Always Be My Baby’) and her distinctive honky-tonkers (‘Born To Fly’ and ‘Suds In The Bucket’). Those problems exist here, too, but after three years of such songs going the way of VCRs and Landline telephones, it’s hardly a surprise. Evans does try and maintain the last ounce of her country credibility with “Better Off,” a fiddle-heavy tune featuring Vince Gill, but the production is still far too loud, with drums and noise marring the purer elements.

If it’s any consolation, there’s a lyrical consistency on Slow Me Down that elevates the album above Stronger, which had too may juvenile lyrical couplets. But that’s hardly a cause for celebration, as the music here is far too weak, generic, and bland for a singer of Evans’ caliber. I’m not overly disappointed, though, as I kind of expected this, and in the context of mainstream country, this is one of the less irritating releases to come so far this year.

Grade: C-

Christmas Rewind: Sara Evans – ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas’

Album Review – Heidi Feek – ‘The Only’

Heidi-Feek-The-OnlyI became a fan of Heidi Feek after her profile during a season one episode of The Joey + Rory Show. During the segment, she introduced the world to her then fiancé and spoke about her love of listening to vinyl records. She’s since become a regular fixture on her parents’ television show, providing background vocals during performances and singing Patsy Cline’s “Walking After Midnight” and Hank Williams’ “Kaw-Lija” during Crosley Radio Vinyl Rewind pieces.

Like her parents Feek is a throwback to a simpler era making it easy to forget she’s in her mid-twenties, around my age. She’s a great vocalist, with a distinctively bluesy twang not far removed from Cline or torch singer Mandy Barnett. I’ve been anticipating a full-length album since that initial appearance, and while I didn’t buy her 2010 EP Eden I was quick to acquire a copy of The Only when the release was announced in late August.

Needless to say, I’m not disappointed. Feek’s first full-length album is a wonderful showcase for her distinct stylings and a fine introduction to who she is as an artist. The album blasts off with the rockin’ “I Like The Way,” an excellent electric guitar drenched number reminiscent of Dwight Yoakam, and the first of four tracks she penned solely with her father Rory. Reverb heavy “I Didn’t Know About You” (co-written by Feek, her father, and James Slater) continues in a similar uptempo vein, transporting Feek back to the Sun Records era of the 1950s while also updating that sound to keep the track modern and fresh. Similarly to “I Like The Way,” “I Don’t Know About You” succeeds on its electric guitar centric sound, giving Feek some muscle behind her energetic vocal.

“57 Bel Air,” another father daughter co-write, is not only the best of the uptempo numbers, and the strongest track on the whole project and the one song I can’t wait to hear each time I listen to the album. It picks up on the electric guitar heavy sound that threads together the uptempo numbers, but adds a distinctive drum beat that elevates the track above the rest. “57 Bel Air,” in which Feek compares her current relationship to the classic car, does the best job of maintaining the rock sound Feek loves while also keeping the track firmly within the realms of her country roots.

As a fan of Feek I was excited to hear her trademark ballads, the side of her musical personality I was most familiar with going in. Feek’s style is best summed up when she’s inspired by Cline, as she shows on “One Night With You,” a co-write with her dad, Austin Manual, and Aaron Carnahan and “There Lives A Fool,” which her dad co-wrote with Sara Evans about sixteen years ago. Both numbers are ripe with bluesy elements that allow Feek to shine vocally, although a chaotic guitar solo suffocates the end of “One Night With You.” The gorgeously understated opening of “There Lives A Fool,” featuring Feek’s vocal backed solely by an upright bass, showcases her impressive range and is one of album’s standout moments.

I also really enjoy “Someday Somebody,” the album’s first single and a co-write between Feek and her dad. The song takes a modern approach to her bluesy side with distinctive electric guitar riffs infused with a steady drumbeat framing her straightforward vocal. Even more contemporary is the title track (which Feek penned solo), a 90s country inspired ballad about a woman telling her man he isn’t the end of the line in terms of relationships. I love how the drums and guitars work together to create a gentle ease that helps guide the song along. “Berlin,” co-written by Feek, her dad, and Slater, follows the same path although it’s far more addicting with the wonderful ‘we hold on/we let go/body and soul/still I love you’ refrain keeping it memorable.

By all accounts, The Only is a solid album, although it didn’t provide the listening experience I was hoping for despite some truly outstanding numbers. There aren’t any clunkers on the project (not even a very atypical cover of “Heartbreak Hotel” that shows off Feek’s interpretation skills) but the production is too heavy handed at times, giving the album a sense of sameness that grows tiring after hearing just a few tracks. But The Only isn’t a bad album by any means, and well worth checking out.

Grade: B+

Classic Rewind – Sara Evans and Adam Levine cover ‘Leather and Lace’

Album Review: Lorrie Morgan – ‘War Paint’

warpaintBy 1994, with three platinum albums and ten Top 10 singles (including two #1s) under her belt, Lorrie Morgan appeared to be at her commercial peak when her career unexpectedly lost some of its momentum. War Paint produced three singles, all of which tanked at country radio at a time when Morgan was pretty much an automatic add at most stations. The first single, the rock-tinged “My Night To Howl”, which finds Lorrie preparing for a night on the town, is admittedly not one of her best and its #31 peak seems justified, but the failure of the follow-up single was rather surprising. She finally tackled the subject of Keith Whitley’s death head-on with deeply personal and soul-baring “If You Came Back From Heaven”, which she co-wrote with producer Richard Landis. It’s the song that many fans had expected from her immediately after Whitley’s passing, but when it finally arrived, it was met with a huge ho-hum from radio. Peaking at #51, it was her worst-performing single since her breakthrough. Country radio’s lack of interest was perhaps a result of how much the country music landscape had changed in the five years since Whitley’s death. The catchy, uptempo and pop-tinged “Heart Over Mind” seemed like a safe radio-friendly choice for a third single but it too failed gain a foothold at radio, and only reached #39.

After three misfires, BNA declined to release any further singles from the album, although there were a few worthy potential candidates, including “The Hard Part Was Easy” and “Exit 99”, which is one of my all-time favorite songs from Lorrie. Foreshadowing Sara Evans’ “Three Chords And The Truth”, which would be released three years later, the tune finds Morgan hopping into her car and driving off after a fight with her husband. The further she drives, the more her anger subsides and by the time she reaches Exit 99 near the end of the song, she’s reconsidered and ready to turn around and go home. “Exit 99” was omitted from the cassette version of the album, as BMG was still engaging in its practice of including extra tracks on the CD versions of its releases, to entice buyers to purchase the more expensive format.

Lorrie has covered classic country songs on many of her albums, and on War Paint she takes on two revered numbers: “A Good Year For the Roses”, which George Jones had taken to #2 in 1970, and the Hank Cochran-penned “Don’t Touch Me”, which was a #2 hit for Cochran’s then-wife Jeannie Seely in 1966. “A Good Year For The Roses” pairs Lorrie up for the first time on record with Sammy Kershaw, who she would eventually marry. Both songs are well-performed, particularly “Don’t Touch Me”, but neither was commercial enough in the mid-1990s to be considered for single release.

Despite containing many gems, War Paint is not without its missteps. I’m not particularly fond of the lead single “My Night To Howl” or the somewhat overproduced and lyrically unsubtle title track that Lorrie co-wrote with Tom Shapiro. Likewise, I could have done without the dull Angela Kaset number “Evening Up The Odds”, which serves as the album’s closing track. None of these songs is truly terrible, but their inclusion make this album a more uneven listening experience than Morgan’s earlier work.

Even though it failed to produce any hit singles, War Paint sold respectably and earned gold certification, suggesting that Lorrie had a fan base that would remain loyal to her even if radio was beginning to cool towards her. Although she did enjoy a few more big hits on subsequent albums, her performance on the singles chart became inconsistent from this point on.

Despite its flaws, there are enough solid tracks on War Paint to recommend it. Although it is out of print, inexpensive used copies are easy to find.

Grade: B+

Single Review – Danielle Bradbery – ‘The Heart of Dixie’

Danielle-Bradbery-The-Heart-Of-Dixie-Cover-ArtOne of the biggest mysteries in contemporary country music has been the ongoing stagnation at the top for female artists. Not since Taylor Swift debuted with “Tim McGraw” in June 2006, has a woman been able to have consistent airplay for their singles. Some (Jana Kramer and Kacey Musgraves) have launched big but seemingly fizzled out while others (Kellie Pickler and Ashton Shepherd) have been dropped by major labels after multiple albums worth of singles couldn’t peak better than top 20. You have to look at duos and groups to find any other females (Jennifer Nettles, Hillary Scott, Kimberly Perry, Shawna Thompson, Joey Martin Feek) who are having success and even they have enough male energy to keep them commercially viable.

Let’s not forget that two summers ago, fourteen days went by without a single song by a solo female in the top 30 on the Billboard Country Singles Chart. With the demographics in country music skewing younger and the music-seeking public increasingly more and more female, is there any hope this pattern will change? Can anyone break through the muck and join the ranks of Swift, Miranda Lambert, and Carrie Underwood?

If anyone can, it’s Danielle Bradbery. She has three strikes in her favor already – at 17 she’s young enough to appeal to the genre’s core demographic audience, she’s signed to the Big Machine label Group run by master monopolizer Scott Borchetta, and as winner of The Voice, she has Blake Shelton firmly in her corner. Plus, she’s an adorable bumpkin from Texas who has enough charisma and girl next door appeal to last for days.

They also nailed it with her debut single. “The Heart of Dixie” isn’t a great song lyrically speaking. Bradbery is singing about a girl named Dixie who flees her dead-end life (job and husband) for a better existence down south. But that’s it. There’s nothing else in Troy Verges, Brett James, and Caitlyn Smith’s lyric except a woman who gets up and goes – no finishing the story. How Matraca Berg or Gretchen Peters would’ve written the life out of this song 20 years ago. Also, could they have found an even bigger cliché than to name her Dixie?

But the weak lyric isn’t as important here as the melody. It has been far too long since a debut single by a fresh talent has come drenched in this much charming fiddle since probably Dixie Chicks. The production is a throwback to the early 2000s – think Sara Evans’ “Backseat of a Greyhound Bus” – and I couldn’t be happier. So what if the arrangement is a tad too cluttered? Who cares if Bradbery needs a little polish in her phrasing? There isn’t a rock drum or hick-hop line to be found here, and in 2013 country music that’s a very refreshing change of pace.

Bradbery isn’t the savior for female artists in country music. Expect for her Voice audition of “Mean” and a performance of “A Little Bit Stronger,” we’ve yet to hear Bradbery the artist, although Bradbery the puppet has been compelling thus far. Her lack of a booming vocal range like Underwood’s may also hurt her, but isn’t it time someone understated turned everything down a notch?

With everything she has going in her favor, Bradbery may be our genre’s best hope for fresh estrogen. I don’t see her injecting anything new into country music, but redirecting the focus back to a time when “Born To Fly”-type songs were topping the charts, isn’t a bad thing in my book. Hers mostly likely won’t be that lyrically strong, but if she can keep the fiddle and mandolin front and center – I won’t be complaining.

Grade: B 

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Classic Rewind: Sara Evans – ‘Just A Closer Walk With Thee’

Single Review: Kelleigh Bannen – ‘Sorry On The Rocks’

Listening to Capitol/EMI newcomer Kelleigh Bannen’s debut single sounds like you’re hearing the amalgamation of Martina McBride, Sara Evans, the Dixie Chicks, and virtually every female country act to hit it big at the turn of the century.  The sound here isn’t vintage, but certainly a throwback to the mass appealing sounds of a boom era for females in country music.  A crisp, neotraditional sound leads the Nashville native’s precise singing, and everything about this track reeks of committee planning.

The gist of the confrontation in the lyrics comes from the place where Lee Ann Womack’s “Last Call” meets your garden variety I’m-kicking-you-to-the-curb, frisky female goodbye song (think: “You Can Feel Bad”, “A Little Gasoline”, “Bye Bye”).  A pair of clever lines – “pretty words don’t mean too much, coming from the bottom of a glass” and “I’ve finally had enough/It’s clear you’ve had way too much” – keep the exchange interesting and make you think ‘hey this girl’s clever and will probably win this argument’.

But on the downside, producer Paul Worley uses those moments to crank the drums way too loud and invites the singer to reach outside her low-register comfort range.  Neither of those sonic missteps is the song’s major liability, however. While the narrating character in “Rocks” comes across and sensible and likable, she lacks the garrulous tenacity demanded on today’s airwaves. After all, she isn’t threatening to shoot, set fire to, or maim this clueless drunk who’s called her up in the middle of the night.  She simply tells him to kiss off. That, coupled with the tired and predictable production snaps is where your commercial liability lies.

Endearing, it is. Pleasing to the ears, it is. A big fat flop at country radio? I’m afraid so.

Grade: C

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ACM Award predictions

The Academy of Country Music is announcing its annual awards live on TV on Sunday. Here are our predictions and hopes for the ceremony:

Entertainer of the Year

Jason Aldean
Kenny Chesney
Brad Paisley
Blake Shelton
Taylor Swift

Jonathan: First off, let the Carrie Underwood backlash begin. And end. I agree with the fans who love her, but she didn’t make enough of a splash in 2011 to be considered here. At least you need to release a solo single. I agree with this list as it features most of the big players in country music right now. I would’ve included Zac Brown Band here as musicianship should win out over star power. But I can’t say any of these artists don’t deserve it from a numbers perspective.
Will Win: Taylor Swift – it’s still a fan voted award and she has the largest fan base for these kinds of contests.
Should Win: Blake Shelton – not because of his radio hits but because he’s the only one here to ascend to the next level in 2011. He makes country music look cool on The Voice, too. He may not have a strong catalog of singles but we could do far worse in Hollywood’s ideal of country music.

OH: I think I would also lean to Blake Shelton here. Chesney, Aldean and Swift have all had bigger tours and more impressive sales, but Blake has been representing country music to a mass audience thanks to his TV exposure. However, this being a fan-voted category, I think Taylor Swift will be Sunday’s winner, with only the fast-rising rocker Jason Aldean likely to challenge.

Razor X: Taylor Swift has this one in the bag, as it’s fan voted again this year.

Note: Voting is still open for anyone who wants to make their contribution. Read more of this post

Album Review: Lori McKenna – ‘Bittertown’

Lori McKenna is not really a country artist, and would make no claims to be one. However, several of her songs have been picked up by mainstream country performers, and this album, originally released independently in 2004, was the one which allowed her to break through to national attention when Faith Hill covered three Mcenna songs, two of them from Bittertown, on her 2005 album Fireflies. This persuaded Warner Bros to sign Lori to a recording deal, and they re-released Bittertown.

Unfortunately I don’t find her voice particularly attractive to listen to, lending a harsh edge on songs like ‘Mr Sunshine’ while her diction can be muddy, burying the interesting but complex lyrics and making it hurt to establish exactly what she is saying.

The brooding ‘Bible Song’, about dissatisfaction with a restrictive small town life, which was later recorded by Sara Evans, is one of the best songs. Lori’s raw vocals work well here, and are actually more effective conveying the bitter emotions surrounding a young father’s suicide than Sara Evans’s more polished interpretation. Buddy Miller sings backing vocals.

‘Stealing Kisses’ and ‘If You Ask’ were two of the songs covered by Hill. The former is the wistful thoughts of an unhappy housewife, the latter is a slow burning wearied love letter to the unworthy and self destructive man the protagonist loves. Both are good songs.

Lori’s vocals are at their most effective on the sultry and atmospheric ‘Pour’, a downbeat bluesy number about being abandoned and stolen from by a lover she still hankers after.

I also rather like the confessional ‘Monday Afternoon’ about someone (probably an alcoholic, given that she’s drinking on the Monday afternoon of the song’s title) struggling to live a good life, although her diction is a bit hard to decipher at times, and I was grateful for the lyrics being printed in the booklet:

I know I promised you
That the Lord would be my friend
But the Lord and I don’t get along so very good …

I wish I was a better person
I don’t want to work at it
It should come naturally

‘Lone Star’ is quite an interesting story about childhood bullying of those who don’t fit in, but who later succeed in life while their tormentors crash and burn – not necessarily realistic, but at least a more measured and mature treatment of the theme recently used by Taylor Swift in her hit song ‘Mean’.

‘One Man’ is a love song about teenage sweethearts who have stayed together and abandoned youthful dreams of escape for a life together in the town they grew up in, and isn’t bad. ‘The Ledge’ has an ambitious melody her voice can’t quite carry off, and a lyric which is very metaphorical and frankly baffling.

‘My Sweetheart’ is potentially very charming and has a nice acoustic backing, but the vocals sound flat. ‘Cowardly Lion’ is an angry attack on an unsatisfactory husband, and is a bit loud and tuneless for me. The last two songs, ‘Silver Bus’ and ‘One Kiss Goodnight’ both have interesting lyrics but droning tunes.

This record is interesting and ambitious, and Lori is a talented songwriter, but aurally it doesn’t work for me. However, I can see why it would appeals to fans of contemporary singer-songwriters with more of an emphasis on the songs than their interpretation.

Grade: B

Classic Rewind: Sara Evans – ‘Fool, I’m A Woman’

Another Matraca Berg song here:

Spotlight Artists: Female Singer-songwriters

For our March spotlight, we’re taking a look at four distinct country songwriters who all, at one point or another, found themselves on the cusp of stardom when they scored major label deals. None would be superstars in their own right, but their songs would be turned into some of the greatest country records of the last thirty years by some of the best female (and sometimes male) voices the genre has to offer.

In celebration of the release of Gretchen Peters Hello Cruel World and Matraca Berg’s The Dreaming Fields we’re taking a look at:


Nanci Griffith

Nanci Griffith’s life hasn’t been without its struggles. Born Nanci Caroline Griffith on July 6, 1953 in Seguin, Texas, she suffered a tragic loss when her boyfriend was killed in a motorcycle accident the night of their senior prom. His loss forever altered her life and became a big inspiration to her songwriting. Griffith has since survived both breast (1996) and Thyroid (1999) cancer.

As an artist, she released her debut album There’s A Light Beyond These Woods in 1978.  She would release four albums (none of which charted) before Kathy Mattea brought her fame after her version of Griffith’s “Love At The Five and Dime” peaked at #3 in 1986.

This success led to a deal with MCA Records. Lone Star State Of Mind was released in 1987. The title track would peak at #36 and the album would peak at #23. Tony Brown would also produce the follow-up, Little Love Affairs, released in 1988. It would also chart, although not as successfully. Griffith’s deal with MCA would span just three more albums, two (One Fair Summer Evening and Storms) of which charted quite low.

The 1990s would bring further success. Suzy Bogguss had a #9 peaking hit in 1992 with “Outbound Plane,” a song Griffith co-wrote with Tom Russell. In 1994, Griffith won her first (and only) Grammy award, Best Contemporary Folk Album for Other Voices, Other Rooms; a collection of songs that inspired her.

Griffiths has a new album, her first since 2009’s The Loving Kind. Although not yet released in the United States, Intersection is available in the UK.

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Christmas Rewind: Sara Evans – ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas’

Album Review: Lee Ann Womack – ‘Some Things I Know’

Like her contemporary Sara Evans, Lee Ann Womack followed up a neotraditional debut with a sophomore effort which was a little more in tune with contemporary tastes, but still recognizably country. The song quality is high, mainly down-tempo and focussing on failed relationships. Mark Wright produced again, but his work is less sympathetic this time around, leaning a little more contemporary than the neotraditionalism of her debut and too often smothered with string arrangements to sweeten the pill for radio.

‘A Little Past Little Rock’ is a great song about a woman who has left a desperate relationship in Dallas. Struggling to cope as she gets “A little past Little Rock, but a long way from over you”, Lee Ann delivers a fine vocal, but the track is somewhat weighed down by the swelling strings. Lee Ann’s ex-husband Jason Sellers is among the backing singers. Written by Tony Lane, Jess Brown and Brett Jones, it was the album’s first single and peaked at #2.

This performance was matched by a rare venture by the artist into comedy material which is one of my favourite LAW singles, written by Tony Martin and Tim Nichols. With tongue-in-cheek malice the protagonist vents her hatred of her successful romantic rival with the words ‘I’ll Think Of A Reason Later’ as

It may be my family’s redneck nature
Bringing out unladylike behavior
It sure ain’t Christian to judge a stranger
But I don’t like her

She maybe an angel who spends all winter
Bringing the homeless blankets and dinner
A regular Nobel Peace Prize winner
But I really hate her
I’ll think of a reason later

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