My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Shannon Wright

EP Review: Jamie Floyd – ‘Sunshine & Rainbows’

sunshine & rainbowsOne of my favourite songs last year was the wonderful ‘The Blade, as recorded by Ashley Monroe. I was intrigued to learn that Jamie Floyd, one of the song’s writers, was releasing her own version as part of a six track EP. Ms Floyd has a warm alto voice which is not as sweet or vulnerable as Ashley’s, but is still attractive. As a precocious child singer she had a record deal at the age of 11 which went nowhere, and now combines her songwriting career with waitressing.

Her version of ‘The Blade’ is hushed and emotional, and does justice to the song, although it doesn’t quite match the Monroe version, it’s still an excellent performance of one of the best songs of recent years, and well worth tracking down.

Almost as good is ‘The People You Knew’, which she wrote with Lori McKenna. This delicate piano-led ballad is wistfully sad about losing touch with a former best friend:

I can’t explain it but the world changed
You slipped away

The appealing title track, a co-write with Shannon Wright, has a gentle melody and a philosophical approach to life and loss. This is another lovely track, and eminently coverable – it would be ideal for Ashley Monroe.

Unfortunately I did not care for Jamie’s musical choices on the remaining tracks.

‘The Devil Don’t Live In Georgia’ has an arresting title and is a good song with a sultry Southern Gothic blues feel, but the production on Jamie’s vocal is electronically distorted in such a way that it is unlistenable for me. ‘Hey Love’ offers similar treatment to a boring pop song; I disliked this intensely. ‘Casino’ was written with former pop-country singer Jennifer Hanson and Lucie Silvas, a British born pop singer-songwriter who is now based in Nashville and married to a member of the contemporary country duo the Brothers Osborne. It is another pop/rock tune which isn’t my cup of tea but I found it less offensive to my ears than the other two.

So this album of two halves falls into the hard to grade territory: I’ll average it at B-.

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Album Review: Alan Jackson – ‘Angels and Alcohol’

81S0JZvN9pL._SX522_After a pair of non-commercial albums that found him venturing into gospel and bluegrass, Angels and Alcohol, which was released last week, is both a return to form for Alan Jackson and his strongest collection since he parted ways with Arista Records five years ago.

Like the vast majority of Jackson’s catalog, Angels and Alcohol was produced by Keith Stegall. In many ways it is reminiscent of their best work from the 90s; there are no concessions to current trends and no attempts to chase radio hits. The current single, “Jim and Jack and Hank”, which I reviewed earlier this month, currently resides at #47 on the charts. Despite being a fun and catchy uptempo number, it’s unlikely to rise much higher in the current commercial environment.

Although I stand by the B+ rating I gave the single, I would not include it among one of my favorites from the album, because there are other more substantive songs which which a fluffy lightweight song simply cannot compete. With all due respect to Alan Jackson the songwriter, who penned seven of the album’s songs, my favorites are the three he didn’t write. Troy Jones’ and Greg Becker’s “When God Paints” is a beautiful ballad, with lyrics that are rich with imagery about life’s simple pleasures. Even better is “The One You’re Waiting On” by Adam Wright and Shannon Wright, which finds the protagonist sitting in a bar, admiring his love interest from afar, knowing that he doesn’t stand much of a chance but wondering exactly what she is holding out for. “Gone Before You Met Me”, an uptempo number by Michael White and Michael P. Heeney is about a free spirit who has long since settled down, and when he finds he is still rambling, is relieved to discover that it was only a dream. Country music needs more songs like this.

Jackson’s own compositions are nothing to sneeze at, either. The opening track “You Can Always Come Home” finds him reassuring a child who is about to leave the nest, and the title track is a beautiful ballad that is vintage Alan Jackson. It would have been a huge hit 20 years ago, and even ten years ago it might have been given a fair shot by radio. The closing track “Mexico, Tequila and Me” finds Jackson switching back to Jimmy Buffett mode, and is reminiscent of “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere”.

I can’t find anything to complain about with this album. The current crop of singers who are doing their best to ruin country music (and largely succeeding), could learn a lot from Alan Jackson. There are no stretches or surprises here, just good old country music that will not leave Jackson’s fans disappointed. Sometimes that’s enough.

Grade: A

Album Review: Sunny Sweeney – ‘Provoked’

sunnysweeneyFollowing a three-year break from the recording studio, Sunny Sweeney is back, and as you may have deduced from the title of her new collection, she is in a feisty mood.  She’s been through a lot of changes both professionally and personally since the release of 2011’s Concrete:  divorce, remarriage and parting ways with Republic Nashville Records.  Those who, like me, were hoping that freedom from the shackles of a major-label contract would result in an album more like the excellent Heartbreaker’s Hall of Fame, will find much to be happy about.  The Luke Wooten-produced Provoked is not as rootsy as her debut, but it is less polished than Concrete and has plenty of traditional moments.  There are more than a few concessions to contemporary tastes, with perhaps an eye still on the charts, but the prospects of a radio hit are unlikely without major label backing.

Provoked contains a generous 13 tracks, eleven of which were co-written by Sunny.  The album opens with the excellent “You Don’t Know Your Husband”, a collaboration with Angaleena Presley and Mark D. Sanders.  It’s a Loretta Lynn-style confrontation over a man, although Sunny is cast in the role of the other woman rather than the agrieved wife.  It’s followed by  “Bad Girl Phase”, which was written by Brandy Clark, Jesse Jo Dillon and Shannon Wright and released as a single a ilttle over a year ago.  It’s got more of a rock edge than we’re used to hearing from Sunny but to her credit she makes no attempt to tone down her twang on this number or anywhere else on the album.  It’s a catchy number that I like more each time I hear it, but the production is a bit cluttered and at times threatens to drown out her vocals.

Following “Bad Girl Phase”, the album enters a somewhat lengthy dull phase, through the more contemporary “Second Guessing”, “Carolina on the Line” and “Find Me”, none of which are particularly memorable.  But just when one might be about to give up on the album, things pick up nicely with the uptempo “Can’t Let Go”, a Randy Weeks number that reminds me of something The Judds might have recorded in their early days.

The album’s best moments are primarily in the second half, beginning with “My Bed”, a duet with Will Hoge that Sunny wrote with Angaleena Presley and Ashley Monroe.  “Sunday Dress” finds her jilted, presumably at the altar, and unwilling to face the prying eyes of her small-town neighbors.  “Used Cars” is a nice mid-tempo number about finding love even when one is a little past one’s prime.  Her feisty side emerges again on the album’s last two tracks; on “Backhanded Compliment” ,she takes issue with those who either knowingly or inadvertently make catty or thoughtless remarks and the confrontational “Everybody Else Can Kiss My Ass” is a working class honky-tonker of the kind that Johnny Paycheck used to pull off with gusto.

Provoked is an intelligent, well-written collection of music that will probably be ignored by the mainstream but it has all the makings to be a cult hit. It’s been a long time since I’ve enjoyed an album by a current female artist this much.  I highly recommend it.

Grade:  A

Album Review: Alan Jackson – ‘The Bluegrass Album’

the bluegrass albumDisappointingly, it seems as though Alan Jackson may be at the end of his hitmaking career, with the poor performance of the singles from his fine last album. But unlike many fading stars, Alan has not tried trimming his music to fit the latest trends, rather he is taking the opportunity to experiment with some deliberately less commercial forms of country music, with a religious album earlier this year, and now his long-awaited bluegrass album. His collaboration with Alison Krauss some years ago was a disappointment because it wasn’t bluegrass (or very interesting); this one is very definitely the real thing – pure bluegrass, with some excellent songs from one of the most reliable artists around.

Sensitively produced by longtime producer Keith Stegall and Alan’s songwriter nephew Adam Wright, with most of the songs written by Alan in traditional bluegrass style, the result is the delight I had hoped for when I first heard of the project. A solid bluegrass band, including star names Sammy Shelor on banjo, Rob Ickes on dobro and Adam Steffey on mandolin, plays beautifully throughout, with Don Rigsby and Ronnie Bowman providing harmonies and backing vocals. The tempo is generally slow to medium with no real barn-burning numbers, which is the only slight disappointment – but the music we do get is all so good we can’t really complain.

Most of the songs were specially written for this album, and show Alan has lost none of his creativity. He revives one of his older songs. ‘Let’s Get Back To Me And You’; this seemed like a throwaway in 1994 (on Who I Am), but the acoustic arrangement gives it new life and I much prefer it to the uninspired-sounding original.

I really like the reflective opener ‘Long Hard Road’, in which a man considers his mistakes and sins. This road is metaphorical, but in ‘Blacktop’ Alan recalls childhood on an old dirt road, and his pleasure when it was replaced with a modern surface.

‘Mary’ is a touching love song to a beloved wife with a warm vocal; it sounds very like something Don Williams would have recorded in his heyday, and Alan sounds rather like Don vocally here, too. ‘Tie Me Down’ offers the voice of a rambler persuaded to settled down when he meets that one special girl, and is another nice song.

The slow inspirational ‘Blue Side Of Heaven’ is written from the viewpoint of a dying man addressing his loved one, and has a very pretty melody and tender vocal. ‘Blue Ridge Mountain Song’ is a touching story song about true love, discovered young, and sustained alone forever by the bereaved husband after her death far too soon.

‘Appalachian Mountain Girl’ picks up the tempo, and lyrically sounds as though it could be a long-lost traditional number rather than one of Alan’s newly penned contributions.

Adam Wright composed another song sounding like an authentic old song in the rhythmic and ironic ‘Ain’t Got Trouble Now’, which is highly enjoyable. Adam and wife Shannon wrote the resigned but thoughtful ‘Knew All Along’ about coming to terms with the death of a parent.

‘Way Beyond The Blue’ is a bluesy number written by Mark D Sanders, Randy Albright and Lisa Silver. A cover of the Dillards’ ‘There Is A Time’ (from the iconic Andy Griffith Show) is one of the more up-tempo tracks, and while pleasant and a nice change of pace, is actually one of the less memorable moments for me. A plaintive ‘Blue Moon Of Kentucky’ is taken at the original waltz-time tempo, and unexpectedly interrupted by a rundown of Alan’s thanks to the musicians and others involved with making the record.

An unusual but very welcome choice of cover is an intimate version of John Scott Sherril’s ‘Wild And Blue’, best known from John Anderson’s hit version from the early 80s. Alan’s version is far tamer, sounding almost cosy compared to Anderson’s raw intensity, but the lovely acoustic arrangement and Alan’s kindly vocal (nicely backed by the harmony singers) emphasize the safe harbour the protagonist offers his troubled lover, where Anderson’s edgier vocal interpretation gave the woman’s desperation a more central role.

Releasing the record on Alan’s own ACR Records with distribution by EMI has allowed Alan free reign artistically, which is excellent news for the discerning listener. The artwork, however, while quite stylish, comes across as cheap, with no photographs apart from one tiny one of the entire team in the recording studio on the back page of the booklet in which no one is actually identifiable – you can only guess which Alan in by the hat, and good luck with anyone else. Luckily, it’s the music that matters, and this is an excellent, timeless album which offers solace for those fleeing in horror from today’s commercial mainstream. It is an essential purchase.

Grade: A

Album Review: Alan Jackson – ‘What I Do’

Written by Jordan Stacey.  – J.R.

After having a very successful run in the early 90’s most “hat acts” faded away toward the end of the decade in favor of the crossover artists like Shania Twain. Alan Jackson however, was able to keep his success going and while there’s no telling what it was that kept him in the spotlight, I would credit his continued output of high quality material along with his masterpiece album Drive. Throughout the rest of the decade he put out many albums that attracted a lot of attention. However with his major hits Drive and  Greatest Hits II on one side, and his artistic adventures Precious Memories and Like Red On A Rose on the other, What I Do was kind of ignored in the grand scheme of things.

Sure, the first two singles went Top 5 and the other two both made it to #18, but when talking about Alan in the 00’s What I Do is unjustly left out of most conversations; even his weakest album, When Somebody Loves You, gets more press writing.  What I Do, like every single Alan Jackson album, was certified gold by the RIAA.  It would eventually go platinum as well.  To date, Jackson has released 13 studio albums, all of which have gone gold or better, including his covers and gospel albums.  It’s also worth mentioning that 12 of these have sold over 1 million copies (and several going into multi-platinum status), with 2005’s adult contemporary-leaning Like Red On A Rose stopping short of platinum, but still moving over half a million copies to earn its own certification.  Such is the star power of Alan Jackson, and the consistency of good to great material in his catalog throughout his career.

This particular album was released September 9, 2004, and is one of the strongest albums Alan recorded in the past decade. It’s one of the albums I reference when I am talking about how traditional country should have evolved. There’s your drinking songs (‘Strong Enough’), your love songs (‘If Love Was A River’), your religious song (‘Monday Morning Church’), honky tonk song (‘Burnin’ The Honky Tonks Down’) and your country ditty (‘The Talkin’ Song Repair Blues’).

Now while I think very highly of this album, I do know why it is the least talked about album. It hits every note it’s supposed to, it sounds great, with Alan delivering every song in his signature delivery. However that’s the problem, there was nothing new on this album; it’s a strong collection of songs that we’ve unfortunately all heard before. Most of these songs sound like you could insert them on the four previous albums he’d released and they’d fit right in. Consistency is great, look what it’s done for George Strait; he’s rarely experimented with his sound and he’s now one of the most successful country singers in history. Alan though has done more or less the same throughout his career but this is the first album where it’s so strongly felt.  Fifteen years into your career is about when taking risks should be done – which he did on his next three albums.

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