My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Trent Willmon

Album Review: Cody Johnson – ‘Ain’t Nothin’ To It’

After half a dozen self released albums since 2006, and building his career in his native Texas, 31 year old Cody Johnson makes his major label debut with this Warner Brothers record. It is an excellent album, showcasing a fine voice, great songs and perhaps offering mainstream country a way forward by mixing traditional country with some contemporary vibes. Cody’s long term producer Trent Willmon helms the project.

The lead single, ‘On My Way To You’ is a warm romantic ballad reflecting on, and not regretting, all the mistakes of the past. It is a very nice song, written by Brett James and Tony Lane, and is sung beautifully.

The title track, written by Leslie Satcher and David Lee, is a slow meditation on life and how to live, with some lovely fiddle.

‘Fenceposts’ is a lovely song about a young man inviting his sweetheart to settle down and make a life with him on their own farm. In ‘Understand Why’, written by Neil Medley and Randy Montana, a jaded Johnson seeks solitude after romantic failure.

A gorgeous low-key cover of Roger Miller’s ‘Husbands And Wives’ (familiar to younger fans from the Brooks & Dunn version) was recorded live. Radney Foster’s ‘Noise’ is a bit busy for my taste, but an enthusiastic take on Charlie Daniels’ ‘Long Haired Country Boy’ is great, with Johnson coming across like a young Travis Tritt. The sultry ‘Nothin’ On You’ (written by producer Willmon with Barrett Baber) channels Gary Allan. The energetic ‘Honky Tonk Mood’ is written by Chris Stapleton and Al Anderson, and is also very good.

‘Monday Morning Merle’, written by Lance Miller, Bart Butler and Brad and Brett Warren. It is a sad song about a man hiding a broken heart during his working week with the help of music:.

Wednesday spins the Beatles
Thursday is the Eagles
“Take It Easy” ’til that Friday rocks his world
After Saturday ol’ Jackson Browne
Is Sunday morning coming down
Then he’s right back to missing that girl
Turns up ‘Misery and Gin’
Here we are again
Monday morning Merle

Monday morning Merle
Lets that ol’ broken heart get back to work
He hides all the holes and the hurt
Under the dirt on his shirt
And the only way that he can get
Through the days and the regret
Is a song full of truth
With some words he never said
With those whiskey remedies
And those old school melodies you can’t forget

Brice Long, Carlton Anderson and Wynn Varble wrote ‘Where Cowboys Are King’, a fond tribute to Texas. ‘Y’all People’, about good-hearted country people, is dedicated to Cody’s fans, and could play well on country radio.

‘Doubt Me Now’, written by Casey Beathard and Mitch Oglesby, is a country rock defiance of those who have doubted the protagonist’s chances:

People like you got nothin’ better to do
Than throw rocks at things that shine
Well, you oughta be chasin’ your own dreams
‘Stead of shootin’ holes in mine

It annoyingly finishes with an electronic fadeout, but is a pretty good song until that point.

Johnson wrote two songs himself. ‘Dear Rodeo’ is a thoughtful retrospective on his first-love former career as a rodeo rider:

Dear rodeo
I’d be lyin’ if I tried to tell you I don’t think about you
After all the miles and the wild nights that we’ve been through
The Lord knows we had a few

Dear rodeo
I’d like to say that I took the reins and rode away
No regrets, no left-unsaids, just turned the page
Oh, but you know better, babe

Between them almost-had-’ems and the broken bones
The dream of a buckle I’ll never put on
I’m jaded
Whoa how I hate it
But somehow the highs outweigh the lows
And I’d do it all again
Even though
We both know
I’d still have to let you go

So dear rodeo
I tried like hell to tell myself it was all your fault
I held on tight with all my might
I just couldn’t hang on
And that’s hard to hang your hat on…

I’d like to think you miss me too
But I know you don’t
Oh, but that don’t change the past
And that don’t change the truth
I’m still in love with you

This is a definite highlight.

The album closes with Johnson’s other writing credit, ‘His Name Is Jesus’, a simple statement of faith.

This is a strong entry onto the mainstream scene, which I hope does well. Do check it out.

Grade: A-

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Album Review: Curtis Grimes – Undeniably Country’

undeniably-countryTexan neotraditionalist Curtis Grimes had a run on The Voice a few years ago, but his main musical success has been regionally. Produced by Trent Willmon, this new release is his most traditionally rooted by far, and it is well worth hearing.

Curtis is clearly an enormous Keith Whitley fan, showing his natural good taste. In ‘If You Ask Me’, a beautifully sung but otherwise ordinary statement of country philosophy-cum-love song, he is clearly referring to him when he says “The best of country music died in 1989”.

‘Everything Hank Did But Die’ was one of the songs recorded by Keith Whitley and never released (probably because it was thought to be a little too close to home to do so posthumously). Curtis sounds very much like Keith in his vocal stylings on this track, and it is great to finally hear a full produced version of the tune (Keith’s demo can be found on youtube.)

Old Hank was my hero, since I was a kid.
And I grew up relivin’ all the crazy things he did.
Whiskey drinkin’, honky tonk singin’, stayin’ out all night,
Livin’ hard and dyin’ young was just a way of life.

I’ve done everything Hank did but die
And it ain’t because I did not try
Sometimes it amazes me that I got out alive
‘Cause I’ve done everything Hank did but die

I didn’t know how dangerous that lost highway could be
Till one too many whiskey binges brought me to my knees
I saw the light that very night
Ol’ Hank is still the King
But I found out that I don’t have to kill myself to sing

Great song, excellent performance.

Much in the same vein is the somber ‘Had A Thing’, a superb self-written song in which he considers pain, sin, the life of a musician, and final salvation:

I had a thing for whiskey, women and weed
Seemed to be ‘bout all I’d ever need
Three vices with a visegrip on
Wouldn’t numb the pain for me…

I had a thing for a guitar and old dime bars
They can pay the rent or tear a home apart…

I had all I ever wanted
Thought I wanted a whole lot more
It takes a heavy toll on a Lone Star troubadour
When the price you pay ain’t worth the things you lose along the way
You come crawlin’ back to lay in the bed you made

I had a thing for sad old country songs
Tuggin’ on your heartstrings one by one
Puttin’ into words the way it feels to be alone

But having reached this low point, enduring religious faith saves him in the end, as the melody syncs into an outro of ‘Amazing Grace’.

He continues the religious mood with ‘Born To Die’, a nice song about Jesus.

The pacy shuffle ‘Right About Now’ is a highly entertaining song written in the second person, addressed to a stubborn man who prefers clinging to his hurstpride to backing down:

Well you were in the right and she was in the wrong
And sometimes a man’s gotta stand on principle…
You really kinda miss her but
You don’t wanta let her know
All you gotta do to bring her back is apologize
But hey, what’s a fella got if he ain’t got his pride

Right about now she’s out on the town
Without a reason not to be havin’ her a good time
And right about now
One of your pals is buyin’ her a third (fourth, fifth) round of applepie moonshine
You bit the bullet
You stuck to your guns
And I bet by golly you’re proud
You sure got somethin’ to be right about now

He ends wryly with the thought that the woman he has made cry has got the last laugh:

If you think she’s about to do you wrong
You just might be correct
You drew that line and she crossed it
I think you got yourself an Ex

‘Ten Year Town’ tackles Nashville and the state of country music:

I came out here so I could write and sing
Not rap on stage wearing skinny jeans

The lead single, ‘From Where I’m Standing’ is a mellow sounding romantic ballad written by Thomas Rhett, Chris Janson and Jaron Boyer, which is much better than one might expect with those origins. It’s attractive melodically, although the lyrics are a little cliche’d. ‘Put My Money On That’ is a bit generic and the album’s weakest entry, but it is pleasant enough listening.

The only real disappointment is that there are only eight tracks.

Grade: A

Listen here.

Album Review: Randy Houser – ‘How Country Feels’

how country feelsRandy Houser’s third album, while his most consistent to date, is still a very mixed bag. Derek George’s production is generally unsubtle and loud, and acceptable but uninspired on the quieter tracks. Houser’s career seemed to have hit the roadblocks, when he left Show Dog-Universal for independent label Stoney Creek. However, ‘How Country Feels’ his first single for the new label proved to be a hit, and became only his second top 10 single to date. It isn’t a very interesting song, but regrettably that seems to be what it takes for commercial success these days.

New single ‘Running Outta Moonlight’, written by Dallas Davidson, Kelly Lovelace and Ashley Gorley, is quite catchy but too loud, and while not dislikeable, rather bland lyrically with its generic picture of outdoor romance in the South. However, its very flaws make it a good bet to repeat the performance of ‘What Country Feels’. Much the same goes for the equally loud ‘Growin’ Younger’, written by Randy with Justin Weaver and Brett James, with its positive but unoriginal message about living life to the full, and I could see this as a successful single later this year.

The nadir of the album is reached with ‘Absolutely Nothing’, a half-spoken, largely tuneless, incredibly bland and completely pointless song about doing nothing. It’s the kind of thing that was probably fun at an uninspired writing session, but has no interest for anyone else (the guilty parties are Lee Brice, Joe Leathers and Vicky McGehee). Luckily, it is the only track (of 15) which has absolutely no merit.

There is a handful of genuinely outstanding songs which make this project worthwhile (or are at least worth downloading separately). Perhaps the best of all is ‘The Singer’, written by Trent Willmon and Drew Smith. It is a tender portrait of the (ex?) wife of a successful but troubled musician:

She loved the singer
She just couldn’t live the song

Almost as good is Randy’s own ‘Power Of A Song’, written with Kent Blazy and Cory Batten. This gentle but powerful ballad sounds as though it was inspired by ‘Three Chords and the Truth’, telling the story first of a man planning on leaving his wife and kids and turned around by hearing a song on the radio:

That’s the miracle of music
Loves’s the only thing as strong

The second verse is a contrasting, and even more powerful, story of a woman who never thought she would have the courage to leave a violent relationship – and this time the song gives her the strength not to turn round, 40 miles out. Oddly, this great song has a copyright date of 2004, but somehow has never been cut before. I’m garteful Randy revived it for this album.

The third great song is ‘Along For The Ride’, a pensive philosophical number with gospel-style paino and a bluesy feel to the vocals which Randy wrote with Zac Brown and Levi Lowrey. The last standout is the closer, ‘Route 3 Box 250D’, even though it is a co-write about rural life with Rhett Akins and Dallas Davidson. What makes it work is that it is an emotionally invested, detailed story about a specific family situation which feels very real, which does not shy away from the dark side. The story of growing up in a trailer in Mississippi with a violent stepfather with the only refuge fishing on a neighbour’s pond until the child’s prayers are answered when rescue comes from an uncle is deeply moving, as the protagonist reflects,

That’s where I became a man
Long before my time

The lyrics note bleakly, “Hollywood don’t make no movies” about the kind of life he led, but actually there is the kernel of a film, or perhaps a novel, in this song.

I liked ‘Shine’, written by Neil Thrasher, Trent Summar, Wendell Mobley. Set to an engaging banjo-led arrangement (but still a bit too loud), it tells the story of a rural moonshiner giving some hope to the residents of a town badly affected by the economic downturn of the past few years.

‘Top Of The World’, written by Jason Sellers, Rob Hatch, Lance Miller and Vicky McGehee, is a pretty good mid-tempo love song with a catchy tune, and I also quite liked ‘Goodnight Kiss’, written by Hatch and Sellers with Randy. ‘Wherever Love Goes’ is a pleasant contemporary country duet with labelmate Kristy Lee Cook, written by Sellers with Neil Thrasher and Paul Jenkins.

‘Like A Cowboy’ and ‘Let’s Not Let It’ are decent songs both co written by Randy, hampered by heavy handed production. ‘Sunshine On The Line’, written with Dallas Davidson, has a fairly generic lyric about good times with a pretty girl in the summer, but is saved by the energetic Southern rock performance.

This is an uneven record, which always makes giving a grade somewhat notional. The best songs deserve A status, and I recommend cherrypicking those to download. I suspect these are the ones that won’t get played on radio, but it is good to see that artists with one eye on the charts are stil able to include songs of substance on their albums.

Grade: B

Album Review – Blake Shelton – ‘Cheers, It’s Christmas’

220px-CheersItsChristmasOn Cheers, It’s Christmas, his foray into holiday music, Blake Shelton is offering up fourteen tracks that mix traditional fare with newly-penned tracks and collaborations with everyone from Kelly Clarkson to Reba McEntire. And like Red River Blue, Scott Hendricks produces the set along with Brett Rowan.

The traditional songs are pretty standard, and Shelton turns in gorgeous readings of “White Christmas,” “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow,” “The Christmas Song,” and “I’ll Be Home For Christmas.” Each are framed in a lush string heavy melody that doesn’t bring anything new to the tracks, but keeps them simple and classy. Shelton supercharges his rendition of “Winter Wonderland” with a heavy electric guitar, and instead of working against the song, it helps to showcase the much-recorded song in a new light.

The heart of Cheers, It’s Christmas, though, are the duets. “Jingle Bell Rock,” complete with loud guitars and crashing horns, features Miranda Lambert on backing vocals and their voices blend together nicely. Unfortunately the cheesy “Blue Christmas,” which features Pistol Annies pointlessly doo-wooping throughout, is a mess. The production is too loud and all meaning feels stripped from the song.

Shelton keeps the proceedings nice and simple on “Silver Bells,” one of my favorite Christmas songs. He’s joined by Xenia, a contestant from his team on season 1 of The Voice. Surprisingly, their voices blend well despite having two completely different vocal styles. The same is true for the holiday re-working of “Home” which features the tune’s original singer (and season 3 Voice mentor) Michael Bublé, although it’s kind of odd to hear the tune with the new, slightly awkward lyrics.

Shelton turns surprisingly traditional on “Oklahoma Christmas,” a duet with fellow Okie McEntire. While very good the exaggerated twang and somewhat predictable lyrics (written by Rob Byus, Jenee Fleenor, and Trent Willmon) put a slight damper on the proceedings. He revives Keith Whitley’s “There’s A New Kid In Town,” easily the album’s strongest track lyrically, as a duet with Clarkson. An astonishingly understated and tasteful rendition, their voices gel together wonderfully.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I heard Shelton co-wrote a duet with his mom Dorothy Shackleford, but it turned out really well despite her somewhat shaky vocal. “Time For Me To Come,” in which a mother calls up his son to come home for the holidays, has a lot of old-fashioned charm and works well coming from someone who’s so busy with both his music and television careers. Shelton also co-wrote “Santa’s Got A Choo Choo Train,” a somewhat bluegrass-y number that’s a bit cheesy, nicely understated, and sounds like something Brad Paisley would’ve done about eight years ago. Shelton’s third co-write “The Very Best Time of Year” is the album’s weakest track, spilling out a mess of yuletide clichés.

Cheers, It’s Christmas is an uneven effort at best, with Shelton’s classy and rowdy sides fighting for dominance. But it’s also his best album in years, showcasing a bona fide superstar who isn’t afraid to keep it country when it counts the most. Since he’s so big right now, I have a hard time feeling the intimacy he strives for on the majority of the tracks, but he’s never sounded better and exuded so much personal confidence.

Grade: B

Album Review: Sonny Burgess – ‘Have You Got A Song Like That?’

Texan Sonny Burgess is one of those relatively obscure artists who are still making traditionally-rooted country music. This is his third album, and although it was released some months ago, has only recently come my way. It is produced by successful songwriter Kerry Kurt Phillips, who does a fine job. Sonny’s voice is light but pleasant.

Things get off to a solid start with the amusing honky tonker ‘Beer-i-cide’, a song about the perils of drunken (and music-fuelled) behavior, written by Sam Tate, Kathleen Wright and Greg Barnhill:

Well there’s a biker in the corner who thinks I stole his girl
And man I swear he’s itchin’ for a fight
If this bar would just stop spinning like some gin soaked tilt-a-whirl
I’d show him who’s the big dog here tonight

There’s a tiny little Johnny telling me to walk the line
Tiny Waylon’s yellin’ “hit him from behind”
I put that bottle to my lips before I follow him outside
And it’s got the whole bar betting that I’m committin’ beer-i-cide

Well now I guess I should be leaving cause they’re turning off the lights
And my eye’s gone down enough that I can see
I might stumble home a broken man but there’s one ray of hope
That six-pack waitin’ in the fridge for me

And now Hank senior’s on my shoulder singing “Bless your cheatin’ heart “
Meanwhile Johnny’s telling Waylon “told you so”
I take that bottle from my lips to kiss my next ex-wife goodbye
I’ve used all the rope she’s given
I’m committing beer-i-cide

And I really will be sorry, least until tomorrow night
When once more I’ll be here sitting
Still committing beer-i-cide

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