My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Shane Minor

Album Review: Chris Young – ‘Neon’

Chris Young’s second album moved him from former Nashville Star winner to bona fide country star. His eagerly anticipated third, Neon, is a self-assured neotraditional record with just enough radio gloss to keep him at the top, produced by the experienced James Stroud.

He has one of the great classic country voices, a rich burnished baritone with phrasing and interpretative ability, which is improving with time. His material has up to now been patchy, with a few highlights rising out of a mediocre mass lifted only by Chris’s exceptional voice, and on the whole this album is a step in the right direction with his most consistent selection of material to date.

Chris co-wrote seven of the ten songs, including the excellent lead single and current big hit, ‘Tomorrow’ (with Frank Myers and Anthony Smith), which showcases his mastery of the classic heartbreak ballad. The vocals are better than the song itself, although that is very good, with the protagonist clinging on to the remnants of a relationship he knows is about to fall apart:

We’re like fire and gasoline
I’m no good for you
You’re no good for me
We only bring each other tears and sorrow
But tonight I’m gonna love you like there’s no tomorrow

The second best song is ‘Flashlight’, with its fond memories of a father’s love, shown by his teaching his son how to fix cars – but really, of course, lessons are in how to live and love rather than car maintenance. Just as well, because the son here never does quite grasp the latter, but has got the point of the former:

To this day I still can’t make ‘em run right
But I sure did learn a lot
Just holding the flashlight

In other words, it’s basically a teenage boy version of Trace Adkins’ current hit ‘Just Fishing’.

Great voice aside, Chris has gained success by capitalizing on the clean-cut sexiness on songs like his breakthrough hit ‘Gettin’ You Home’, and there is a focus on love songs here, but with a fairly varied feel. The good-humored opener ‘I Can Take It From There’ is a mid-tempo come-on written with Rhett Akins and Ben Hayslip, referencing Conway Twitty with rather more reason than most recent namechecks of country stars. ‘Lost’, written by Chris with Chris Dubois and Ashley Gorley, is a mellow (and potentially commercial) invitation to a girl to get ‘lost’ on purpose together, and while I prefer the former, I could see either of these do well on radio. The tender ‘Old Love Feels New’ (written with Tim Nichols and Brett James) is my favourite of the love songs, with its tribute to a long-lasting relationship. The tender ballad ‘She’s Got This Thing About Her’, which Chris wrote with Kent Blazy and Cory Batten has a string arrangement, and while it is well sung, it sounds a bit out-of-place aurally on this record.

The Luke Laird co-write ‘You’ and Monty Criswell and Shane Minor’s ‘When She’s On’ are the only dull moments. The rowdy ‘Save Water, Drink Beer’ is not as amusing as it seems to think it is, but successfully raises the energy levels, could well be a successful single and would probably go down well live with its obvious singalong possibilities. The traditional sounding title track, with a wistful-sounding vocal comparing the beauties of nature in the American southwest to the joys of the honky-tonk, with Chris declaring neon to be his favourite color.

iTunes has a couple of exclusive bonus tracks. ‘I’m Gonna Change That’ is a pretty solid but slightly too loud mid-tempo with muscular vocals. ‘Don’t Leave Her (If You Can’t Let Her Go’ is very good indeed, a melancholy tinged proffering of advice to a friend planning to break up with his sweetheart, which is all too obviously based on the protagonist’s biter experience. It’s a shame this one didn’t make the cut for the standard release, and even more so that the label didn’t consider adding as bonus tracks the three classic covers he released as an EP last year. Overall, though, this is a fine release from one of the brightest young stars in Nashville.

Grade: A-

Single Review: Randy Houser – ‘In God’s Time’

I loved Randy Houser’s debut single, ‘Anything Goes’ in 2008, but was then disappointed by the remainder of the material on his album of the same title, and only partially won over by his follow-up. Now the lead single for his third album, due later this year on Show Dog-Universal, has succeeded in recapturing my interest in him as an artist.

He wrote the song with David Lee Murphy and Shane Minor, both one-time major label artists who, like Randy, faced frustration in their careers. This may have formed the common ground which led to this song. Togther, they came up with some thoughtful lyrics urging patience in the face of adversity. They may not be groundbreaking, but are nicely put together and offer a salutary rebuke to those expecting instant gratification in general, and instant answers to prayer:

Oh, but no one knows, not you or me
It might be tomorrow – or it might never be
Oh, but don’t lose faith
Put it in His hands
Cause it might be that He might have a bigger plan than you had in mind
Miracles happen – in God’s time

A quiet understated vocal allows the message of the song to take center stage. The subtle, acoustic production of the first verse swells to something a bit louder in later portions of the song, but it is not overwhelming and remains recognisably country, and allows Randy’s rich voice to shine as it has not done since ‘Anything Goes’. Regardless of its commercial prospects, I think it’s a good song and an excellent record.

Randy’s music has had a mixed reception at radio, with only the rowdy ‘Boots On’ making real inroads, and nothing from They Call Me Cadillac doing well. Religious songs aren’t for everyone, but they have often found a receptive home at country radio, particularly if they have a comforting message. This sincere and warmly sung example seems like a good bet for Randy to return to the airwaves. It’s also a promising sign for his new album, which I am now anticipating with interest.

Grade: A-

Listen here.

Single Review: Kenny Chesney – ‘Live A Little’

With his island-inspired rhythms and lyrics that tell of good times in Mexico, cold beer, sunshine, and most everything else that evokes thoughts of warm-weather fun, Kenny Chesney has positioned himself as the go-to guy for this kind of song over the past decade. After a full minute of residual, chunky guitar explosions, Chesney launches into yet another of his ‘time for a good time’ anthems in his latest single.

‘Live A Little’ isn’t groundbreaking, original, or even all that clever. Actually, everything about this track is generic, and Chesney is just repeating past hits here – several of them are compressed to make the gist of ‘Live A Little’. There aren’t even any memorable lines that dot Chesney’s own like-songs, and the story arc must have come from a focus group. Here’s the basic breakdown: Act one: frustrated man on the interstate, Act two: man resolved to have a good time at a club finds the girl of his dreams, Act Three: reiterate bumper-sticker jargon sprinkled throughout. Set to a groovy and catchy melody, and you’ve got a modern country hit. But what ups this track from being a total snooze is the believability of Chesney’s performance, and how he make it all seem effortless, which it probably is at this point.

This concept continues to work for Chesney because he knows his way around a good-time song. He swaggers through the lines as if they’re something great, and I almost believed him the first time through. That takes talent with a song like this.

Grade: B-

Songwriters: Shane Minor & David Lee Murphy

Single Review: Jamey Johnson – ‘Playing The Part’

Jamey Johnson’s new single ‘Playing The Part’ (co-written with Shane Minor) should whet fans’ appetites for his new album, due next month. This mid-tempo track sounds like a more natural progression from That Lonesome Song than the other two tracks which have so far surfaced (‘Macon’ and ‘My Way To You’).

In some ways it sounds like a more commercial companion piece to the brilliant ‘High Cost Of Living’, although it isn’t in quite the same class as that dark-tinged masterpiece. The disillusioned protagonist is based in Hollywood rather than Nashville this time, but once again a dream has soured on him, leaving him to reflect wistfully on

A time
When the only LA I knew was Lower Alabama
Back when me and Hannah
Was wishing on a southern star

Clearly, whatever has gone wrong is at least partly his own fault, as he wonders with more self-blame than self-pity,

Promises break like an egg on the hot asphalt
What the hell was I thinking
Drinkin’ like I’d never get caught

The story is not fully fleshed out, and we are left wondering about the details – did Hannah leave him when he drank too much? What exactly was his Hollywood dream – actor, writer, director? But I think we get the gist of the story, enough to explain the emotion resulting from the situation. We gather that he achieved his goals, but found that the prize was not worth the price he had to pay, as he concludes in the second verse.

These high dollar women and the fame and the fortune
Ain’t worth the ticket I bought

It is a really effective snapshot of a man who has lost his way in life, no longer sure why he came in the first place, and pretending to be someone he’s not,

Acting like I’m playing the part

The emotions of this man are regret and an inward sense of failure, even though others may ring true. Jamey’s rough voice has an intrinsic believability factor which makes the character he is playing here as convincing as on the personally inspired songs on That Lonesome Song.

The song proper is over after two and a half minutes, with a long instrumental break seguing into some odd (but not unpleasant sound effects, including a child’s music box; no doubt this will be stripped off the radio edit. I’m not sure what the point is of these, but perhaps it will make sense on the context of the full album.

It is a very good song, which avoids the problems the superior ‘High Cost Of Living’ had making its way on radio playlists (i.e. no radio-scaring references to prostitutes or drugs other than legal medication for depression). It may still be too downbeat for contemporary radio tastes, and with too little to appeal to juvenile listeners who have yet to experience this kind of disappointment and cannot relate to it, so it may not be a big commercial hit. But personally, I definitely like it the best of the songs we’ve heard from the new album.

Grade: A-

Listen here.