My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Steve McEwan

Album Review: Ashley Monroe – ‘The Blade’

the bladeAshley Monroe’s second Warner Brothers release has been among my most-anticipated albums this year. While it lacks the immediate charm of the wonderful Like A Rose, the Vince Gill/Justin Niebank-helmed set has substance and beauty which grows on repeated exposure to reward the listener. Ashley’s delicately pretty voice is perfect for the vulnerable emotions expressed in many of the songs.

Ashley co-wrote every song but one. That outside contribution is the title track, written by Marc Beeson, Jamie Floyd and Allen Shamblin. It is a truly outstanding song about the disillusonment of finding one has always loved more than one’s partner, and is now left high and dry:

I let your love in, I have the scar
I felt the razor against my heart
I thought we were both in all the way
But you caught it by the handle
And I caught it by the blade

That’s the risk you run when you love
When you love and you give it all you’ve got to give
Knowing all along there’s a chance
There’s a chance you’ll reach and they won’t
You’ll bleed and they don’t

For you, it’s over; for me, it’s not
I kept tryin’ and you just stopped
Now I know how you can sound so brave
Cause you caught it by the handle, baby
And I caught it by the blade

Gill and Niebank’s understated production perfectly backs up Ashley’s hushed vocal. The whole thing is quite stunning.

The exquisite ballad ‘Has Anybody Ever Told You’ (written with Tyler Cain) is a charming love song supported with lovely steel guitar.

Another highlight is one of two songs written by Ashley with Chris Stapleton and Jessi Alexander, the traditional country lament ‘If The Devil Don’t Want Me’, in which a broken heart fails to find comfort anywhere:

I’ve heard stories ’bout honky tonk angels
Pickin’ up pieces of broken strangers
I’m at rock bottom with a smoke and a sin
When the party is over, then I’m lonely again

If the devil don’t want me
Where the hell do I go?
If I can’t see the light
In the neon glow
If there ain’t enough whiskey
To kill the fire in my soul

This writing partnership also produced the rapid paced bluesy rock ‘Winning Streak’, backed with wild honky tonk piano, on a similar theme, down and out with not even the devil interested. This is less to my taste musically than the other song, but well written and performed.

Alexander also co-wrote the contemporary ballad ‘If Love Was Fair’ with Ashley and with Steve Moakler. Miranda Lambert joined Ashley and Jessi to write the closing track, ‘I’m Good At Leavin’’, another excellent country tune, this time about an unapologetic rambling soul and free spirit, given a Celtic style arrangement.

Justin Davis and Sarah Zimmermann of the dup Striking Matches joined Ashley to write two songs. The gently pretty ‘From Time To Time’ has a tender lullabyish mood, while the memorable up-tempo ‘Dixie’ has a retro feel and a dramatic southern Gothic storyline:

It was the mines that killed my daddy
It was the law that killed my man
It was the Bible Belt that whipped me
When I broke the Fifth Command
I don’t hate the weather
I don’t hate the land
But if I had it my way I’d never see this place again

When I cross that line, man I’ll sing a brand new song
Instead of sitting here by the railroad tracks whistlin’ Dixie all day long
And I’m so tired of paying, praying for my sins
Lord get me out of Dixie Land
Jesus’ name, Amen

When I tread out of these parts
Look me up on the other side
Cause I’ll be damned if I go down in Dixie when I die

‘Bombshell’, written with Steve McEwan and Gordie Sampson, is about facing the guilty decision to tell a lover she is leaving, and knowing there is never going to be a good time to do it. Very good indeed.

Producer Gill co-wrote ‘Weight Of The Load’, a nice song about sharing the burdens of doubt and fear. Ashley’s friend Brendan Benson of the rock band The Raconteurs helped her with the pretty folky ballad ‘Mayflowers’. The first single, the upbeat and catchy ‘On To Something Good’ is agreeable listening if one of the lighter tracks.

The one track I didn’t much care for was the repetitive minor-keyed moody ‘I Buried Your Love Alive’ (a co-write with Matraca Berg), and even this grew on me a bit.

Overall, this is a great album which should raise Ashley Monroe’s profile.

Grade: A

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Album Review: Martina McBride – ‘Waking Up Laughing’

waking up laughingIf Timeless was an encouraging reminder that Martina McBride was a real country singer underneath all the pop gloss, her next studio project was a disappointing regression in form.

Lead single ‘Anyway’ was much vaunted as Martina’s first venture into writing her own material, with the help of the Warren Brothers. Unfortunately, the would-be inspirational lyrics don’t get beyond the Hallmark level, and while no doubt heartfelt, overall it sounds like something written with more of an ear for big notes Martina could excel belting out than real depth of thought or emotion. She certainly sings the hell out of it, to the extent of oversinging at some points; this is not a song or performance with any notion of subtlety. The big contemporary piano-and-strings ballad was however what radio programmers expected and wanted from Martina, and it did much better than the singles from Timeless, giving Martina her first top 5 hit since 2003’s ‘In My Daughter’s Eyes’.

Another McBride co-write with the Warrens (plus pop-country writers Chris Lindsey and Aimee Mayo), the exceptionally forgettable, bland and overproduced ‘How I Feel’ peaked ten spots lower, at #15. It makes its predecessor sound a lot better in contrast.

Martina and the Warren Brothers also wrote (with Nick Trevissick) ‘Beautiful Again’ a frankly depressing tale of an abused girl turned single mother, set to an inappropriately perky and poppy tune. I didn’t like it at all, or find the protagonist’s cheery optimism in the face of all evidence to the contrary remotely credible. ‘Cry Cry (Til The Sun Shines)’ is well meaning but lyrically vapid. Other songs fitting the bland and boring template are ‘I’ll Still Be Me’ and ‘Everybody Does’.

The last single, the socially conscious ‘For These Times’, is a well sung and thoughtfully written Leslie Satcher song but the inevitable gospel backing vocals seem unimaginative. It crept into the top 40, but failed to get higher than #35.

Of the better songs, ‘If I Had Your Name’ (written by Hillary Lindsey, Gordie Sampson and Steve McEwan) isn’t at all bad pop-country, with a vicious little stab at her soon-to-be-ex. ‘Tryin’ To Find A Reason’ has a pretty tune and touching lyric about a relationship on the rocks. Martina’s interpretation is subtle, and Keith Urban guests effectively on harmony. ‘House Of A Thousand Dreams’ is a beautifully delivered mature reflection on a dilapidated home and marriage. ‘Love Land’ is a delicate story song, written by Tom Douglas and Rachel Thibodeau, about a teenage marriage which survives the tragedy of losing a baby. These four are worth hearing.

Overall, though, this album’s principal failing is not that it is bad (she has produced worse, particularly Emotion), but rather too often it’s just plain boring. Martina seems to have been trying to playing things far too safe placating her contemporary fans after Timeless, but the end result doesn’t really deliver on either count. It looks as if fans agreed with my assessment of Martina’s downward trajectory. Timeless was her last platinum release, with this album topping out at gold, while more recent efforts have sold even more poorly.

Grade: C