My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Shane MacAnally

Album Review: Kacey Musgraves – ‘Golden Hour’

In my more than twenty-five years of listening to and absorbing country music, I’ve come to observe the many different artistic paths taken by artists who either desire to play in the vast wilderness of mainstream pop, double down on a commercial sound out of desperation for relevancy, morph into an artistic powerhouse or stay pigeonholed as a one trick pony unable to diversify.

Kacey Musgraves really hasn’t taken any of those paths on Golden Hour. She’s simply hit the reset button on a career that had devolved into parody, with songs like the half-baked “Biscuits” showcasing an artist tail-spinning artistically. There was little to enjoy about Pageant Material, and while it was traditional, it just didn’t hit the mark on any level. Musgraves had become a persona, losing sight of the fact she had to be a human being, too.

Those days are long gone. Golden Hour isn’t just a step in the right direction. The album is leaps and bounds ahead of anything she’s done in the wake of Same Trailer, Different Park.

Our first taste of the new music, “Butterflies,” is a beautiful ode to coming into one’s own through a budding relationship and a metaphor for her new direction:

I was just coastin’, never really goin anywhere

Caught up in a web, I was gettin’ kinda used to stayin’ there

And out of the blue, I fell for you

 

Now you’re lifting me up ‘stead of holding me down

Stealing my heart ‘stead of stealing my crown

Untangled all the strings ’round my wings that were tied

I didn’t know him and I didn’t know me

Cloud Nine was always out of reach

Now, I remember what it feels like to fly

You give me butterflies

 

Kiss full of color makes me wonder where you’ve always been

I was hiding in doubt ‘ill you brought me out of my chrysalis

And I came out new all because of you

Shane McAnally makes his sole appearance on the album courtesy of “Space Cowboy,” which wonderfully chronicles a relationship that had simply run its course:

You can have your space, cowboy

I ain’t gonna fence you in

Go on ride away, in your Silverado

Guess I’ll see you ’round again

I know my place, and it ain’t with you

Sunsets fade, and love does too

Yeah, we had our day in the sun

When a horse wants to run, there ain’t no sense in closing the gate

You can have your space, cowboy

 

After the gold rush, there ain’t no reason to stay

Shoulda learned from the movies that good guys don’t run away

But roads weren’t made to not go down

There ain’t room for both of us in this town

To prove she’s still the same woman we’ve come to know and love, Musgraves had to include one nod to her past, albeit with very different window dressing. “High Horse” is an excellent kiss-off to anyone who acts righteous and likely doesn’t even know it. This is her attempt at disco, and while the beat is infectious, I’m hearing EDM more than traditional disco. The track, no matter how well-executed, is a polarizing moment for mainstream country. I love it, so none of this truly matters to me.

The pop-infused “Happy & Sad” is another standout moment and my favorite thing Musgraves has ever done. The lyric may find her having a good time at a party, having an incredible time with a guy, but knows better than to fully give in:

Is there a word for the way that I’m feeling tonight?

Happy and sad at the same time

You got me smilin’ with tears in my eyes

I never felt so high

No, I’ve never been this far off of the ground

And they say everything that goes up must come down

But I don’t wanna come down

The brilliance of “Happy & Sad” is how Musgraves uses the story to display growth and maturity by writing from the perceptive of a woman her own age, who has had enough relationship experience to no longer allow the fairytale aspects of a new relationship cloud her judgment. She may have “never felt so high” but she’s introspective enough to know there’s always another side where the high wears off.

The banjo and steel infused “Oh What A World” is the evolution from “Happy & Sand” and finds Musgraves in the place where she can finally, and unequivocally, let go of any and all self-doubt:

Oh, what a world, don’t wanna leave

All kinds of magic all around us, it’s hard to believe

Thank God it’s not too good to be true

Oh, what a world, and then there is you

She’s clearly referring to her husband, musician Ruston Kelly, whom she married while in the process of writing and recording this album. Their relationship comes up again on the title track:

Baby don’t you know?

That you’re my golden hour

The color of my sky

You’ve set my world on fire

And I know, I know everything’s gonna be alright

Musgraves’ feelings for Kelly are at the center of “Velvet Elvis” a sonically adventurous ballad in which she defines their relationship as classic but kitschy. She admits she’s “only human” on “Wonder Woman,” in which the banjo returns to underscore an important admission:

But, baby, I ain’t Wonder Woman

I don’t know how to lasso the love out of you

Don’t you know I’m only human?

And if I let you down, I don’t mean to

All I need’s a place to land

I don’t need a Superman to win my lovin’

‘Cause, baby, I ain’t Wonder Woman

The banjo also plays a role in the sonic texture of the confectionary “Love Is A Wild Thing,” which stood out to me right off the bat when I initially listened to the album. I don’t hate but don’t love “Slow Burn” or “Lonely Weekend.” They aren’t weak tracks by any means, but I found Musgraves’ phrasing throughout both of them to be slightly annoying.

The album also boasts two piano-based ballads that offer a change of pace. “Mother” is an ambiguous and short lullaby. She closes the album with “Rainbow,” a song for anyone bearing the weight of the world on their shoulders, which she played at her grandmother’s funeral.

Like most of modern country, it’s difficult to classify Golden Hour. It debuted on the Billboard Country and Americana/Folk Albums charts, both at #1. It isn’t ‘traditional country’ by any means but I don’t hear any radical sonic shift from what Musgraves has been doing these past five years.

To me, Golden Hour is a singer/songwriter record from a woman exploring what it means to have found a love worth holding on to for decades to come. It chronicles the budding beginnings of a marriage that will likely blossom for many albums as the years go on.

Grade: A- 

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Single Review: Brandy Clark – ‘You’re Drunk’

It’s about time I let you in on a little secret. I’m always clamoring for new releases from Brandy Clark. When my local record store didn’t carry Live From Los Angeles this past Record Store Day, I went online and was able to secure the final copy at Bull Moose Records in New Hampshire.

I’m also still finding additional nuances in Big Day In A Small Town more than a year since it was released. I only recently uncovered the brilliance of “Since You’ve Gone To Heaven,” a track I had initially failed to understand in any concrete way. Brandy Clark isn’t just one of the strongest songwriters to come along this decade. She’s one of the greatest contemporary voices in country music, achieving an equal footing with the likes of Gretchen Peters, Matraca Berg, Bobbi Cryner and Lori McKenna.

Clark is adding to her legacy with “You’re Drunk” a staple of her live show and an outtake from the sessions for Big Day In A Small Town. The story goes that she never took the song seriously until she cut it, the track didn’t fit the vibe of the album and she had to find a way to get it out.

While I’m glad it’s out there, I’m thrilled it didn’t make the album. “You’re Drunk” is an outtake for a reason – it’s shallow, far too contemporary and lacks Clark’s overall distinctiveness. “You’re Drunk” feels undeveloped in a “Girl Next Door” sort of way, trying to be clever without really packing any significant punch.

Her work with Shane McAnally (they co-wrote this with Josh Osborne) has been incredible – the pair wrote “Since You’ve Gone to Heaven” together – but this feels like it’s dripping with McAnally’s influence and not in a good way. The production and overall vibe is far more “American Kids” than “Last Call” or “Follow Your Arrow.”

That being said, “You’re Drunk” isn’t terrible. It’s found a proper home as an outtake, where it belongs, and not the anchor to a new album, like the one consisting solely of drinking songs she wants to do at some point. I’ll give her a pass for this. It’s an outtake and nothing more. Even Brandy Clark doesn’t have to hit it out of the park every time she’s up at bat.

Grade: B-

Single Review: Trace Adkins – ‘Watered Down’

The term “watered down” is usually used in a pejorative sense in the country music world. It’s generally used to refer to music that has been stripped of its country elements in favor of a more MOR sound that will appeal to a wider audience, but as the title of Trace Adkins’ new single, it seems to suggest a creative renaissance of sorts.

It’s been six years since Trace last had a single in the Top 10 and nine years since his last number one. During that time period country music saw the rise and (hopefully) fall of Bro-country and a lot of other changes that many of us were not happy about. Trace himself bears some responsibility for the genre’s wrong turn, given some of his own questionable musical choices in recent years. It’s nice to see that he is apparently trying to make amends for that with his latest effort. Written by Matt Jenkins, Trevor Rose and Shane McAnally, “Watered Down” is a ballad that finds Trace acknowledging middle age, without wistfulness, regrets or nostalgia. The production is contemporary — heavily dependent on keyboards and a subtle string section — but it is never heavy-handed. He’s well aware that he is no longer a young man, but he’s not quite ready to retire to a life of golf at The Villages just yet:

We still fly like gypsies
Just a little closer to the ground
And we still love our whiskey
But now it’s just a little watered down

Unless I’m reading too much into this, the song seems to be a metaphor for Trace’s career. It’s very possible that he’ll never again have a big radio hit, but he seems content to settle into a new role as one of country music’s elder statesmen. He’s not going to try to maintain the hectic pace of his younger years, but he’s still going to stick around and make music on his own terms. And if “Watered Down” is an indication of the path he’s planning to take from now on, I very much look forward to following him on his journey.

Grade: A

EP Review: Shelley Skidmore – ‘Shelley Skidmore’

shelley skidmoreKentucky-born Shelley Skidmore co-wrote (with Brandy Clark and Shane MacAnally) a song I loved a few years back when Joanna Smith recorded it – ‘We Can’t Be Friends’. Now she has released her own five track EP (produced by Paul Worley), and proves to have a fine voice with a smooth tone, and a genuine country sensibility. In a recent interview she cites her favorite albums of all time as Lee Ann Womack’s There’s More Where That Comes From and Patty Loveless’s When Fallen Angels Fly – definitely an indicator of someone who loves traditional country music and knows great songs when she hears them.

The excellent ‘White Picket Fences’ was written by Shelley with Brandy Clark and Jessie Jo Dillon, and it’s a very typical Clark story song. It paints a scathing picture of the guilty secrets lying behind both a small town’s respectable surfaces, which are not so very different from the open sins of the dreaded big city:

It’s all white picket fences
It’s all pink and purple pansies
Its the face of small town grace
The perfect place to raise a family
We’re all scandal
We’re all scripture
We’re all smiling for the picture
It’s alright because it’s all white picket fences

A little bit of tasteful brass adds a jocular air.

This is the only song on the set Shelley had a hand in writing – it’s a shame she didn’t include her own version of ‘We Can’t Be Friends’.

The very best song on the album is another Brandy Clark song, this time a co-write with Troy Verges. ‘Pawn Shop’ is a modern classic of a story song, as a woman pawns her wedding ring to raise the money for a bus ticket away from her bad marriage:

It ain’t stolen
It ain’t hot
Someone told me it cost a lot
Man ain’t that the truth
I thought I’d wear it my whole life
It never even crossed my mind
Back when it was new
It’d end up in a pawn shop on Charlotte Avenue

A musician then hands over his beloved guitar, and with it gives up his dreams. And the dreams of both love and music will pass to other dreamers in their turn. This is beautifully written and sung, and deeply moving.

Shelley’s husband, Greg Bates, had a shortlived career with one hit a few years back. Greg never released an album despite a top 5 single, and seems not to have enjoyed the touring aspects of being a star. He duets with Shelley on the ballad ‘What You Need From Me’, a beautiful sad song about a failed relationship written by Jon Randall, Jessi Alexander, and Phillip White:

Woman: You need a trophy on your arm
So you don’t look so lonely
Someone to get you through the nights
Someone to start your morning coffee

Man: You need a man that you can count on
Someone who’ll finish what he started
Not a restless soul that comes and goes
And only leaves you broken hearted

Both: I’m so sorry that I’ll never be what you need from me

With regret they acknowledge their mutual failure to meet the other’s needs. Greg sounds very good here, and it’s enough to make me regret the loss of his career as a solo artist before it had really got going. The tasteful and understated arrangement is very traditional country, with some lovely steel and fiddle.

The one song that doesn’ t appeal to me is the jaunty ballad ‘Making Babies’, written by Shane McAnally, Josh Osborne, and Matt Jenkins, about pressure from the in-laws to start a family. It is neatly written but the melody is the least country sounding on the album, and doesn’t quite work for me with the song.

The album closes with the quirky ‘Back In The Saddle’, a 20 year old Matraca Berg song which Berg recorded on her 1997 album Sunday Morning To Saturday Night Shelley’s version uses the same arrangement, with backing vocals from Berg, Deana Carter, Kathy Mattea and Brandy Clark. It’s very entertaining and ends the too-short set on a high.

This is a great EP I very much enjoyed. I only wish it was a full length album.

Grade: A+