My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Troy Olsen

Album Review: ‘Country Strong’ soundtrack

The newest country-themed film, Country Strong is due out next January, with an early release just before Christmas in Nashville and LA. The music is much more mainstream than it was in Crazy Heart, the last such movie, and indeed two singles are currently in the lower reaches of the country charts. The tracks are all new recordings, some from actors in the film, others from a selection of country artists. A variety of producers have been used, and the music ranges from traditional to pop country.

Actress Gwyneth Paltrow, who plays a successful country singer in the movie, sings four of the songs. Her singing is perfectly competent, if a little colorless; it’s hard to say without seeing the film whether this is in character with the part she’s playing. The theme tune is one of the two radio singles. It’s a pleasant enough generic contemporary song, produced by Byron Gallimore, which makes it perfectly convincing as a hit single. Vince Gill and Patty Loveless sing backing vocals but are too far back in the mix to be heard. ‘Coming Home’ is a rather boring and awkwardly phrased pop-country ballad written by Bob DiPiero, Tom Douglas, Hillary Lindsey and Troy Verges, and drowned in strings. Gwyneth rocks out Gretchen Wilson-style in ‘Shake That Thing’ (written by Mark Irwin, Josh Kear and Chris Tompkins), and while this is yelled and tuneless, it should be pretty convincing in the context of the movie. She duets with Tim McGraw (who also has a role in the film) on the breakup-themed rock ballad ‘Me And Tennessee’, written by Paltrow’s real-life rock star husband Chris Martin, who also plays acoustic guitar on the track.

Oddly, McGraw does not get any solo cuts here; maybe Curb wouldn’t allow it. Starlet Leighton Meester (best known for her TV role in Gossip Girl) covers a Rascal Flatts song, ‘Words I Couldn’t Say’, which is less histrionic than the original, but not particularly interesting, and Leighton’s vocals sound rather processed and like a slightly more tuneful Taylor Swift. The best of the actors’ songs is the gruff-voiced Garrett Hedlund who is very effective on ‘Chances Are’, a very good song written by Nathan Chapman, Lori McKenna and Liz Rose, and produced by Frank Liddell and Luke Wooten. I understand Hedlund’s role is as a singer-songwriter, and he certainly sounds the part here on this drawled, half-rueful confession of a man’s inadequacies:

I used to give a damn
I used to try real hard but I’ll give in tonight, chances are
One foot on the narrow way and one foot on the ledge
Sifting through the devil’s lies for what the Good Book says
If I’m going anywhere
I’ll probably go too far
Probably away from you, chances are

This track was the real surprise package on this record.

Country fans will be most interested in the new tracks from established artists. We’ve already heard Sara Evans’ latest single, ‘A Little Bit Stronger’, a pleasant but rather bland positive ballad about coping with adversity, which has grown on me since it was first released as the lead single for both this album and Sara’s long-awaited next solo album (said to be entitled Stronger and possibly now due early next year). Her voice at least sounds lovely on this Tony Brown-produced and Luke Laird/Hillary Lindsey/Hillary Scott-penned number. Like Sara, Faith Hill has been silent for some time, and returns here with a forgettable AC-leaning ballad, ‘Give In To Me’, produced by Jay Joyce, which is soothing and sounds as though it will be background music for a love scene, and goes on a bit too long.

Chris Young and Patty Loveless team up on a duet written by Marv Green and Troy Olsen, and was produced by James Stroud, which must have been the original theme song. ‘Love Don’t Let Me Down’ was the original title for the movie, and it is a decent song, but not a particularly memorable one. It feels like a waste of this pairing of two of the best voices in country music. Trace Adkins reminds us he really can sing well on the reflective Natalie Hemby/Troy Jones song ‘Timing Is Everything’. Nicely produced by Kenny Beard with some lovely fiddle from Larry Franklin, this fine song about the role of chance in our lives is sensitively interpreted by Trace, and rather better than most of the material on his current album.

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Album Review: Aaron Watson – ‘The Road & The Rodeo’

Texas-based Aaron Watson is one of the best kept secrets of Texas country music, less Red Dirt and more what used to be mainstream country. His voice has a cracked warmth and character, and he is a talented songwriter to boot, writing most of the songs without outside assistance. Although I don’t feel the material here quite matches up to the best of his songs from previous efforts, it is generally very good. This album, Aaron’s tenth overall, was recorded mainly in Austin. I can’t see any producer credits, so assume Aaron filled that role himself.

The title track (written by Aaron with Mark Sissel) is just a minute-long introduction setting the scene and bringing in the themes of a life making music with a cowboy twist, all for love of music – “I don’t do it for the money, I can’t blame the fame”. This is the motif of the record. It segues straight into ‘The Road’, written by Elliot Park, a midtempo fiddle led warning not to mistake the route for the destination, voiced by a personification of the metaphorical road itself:

I’m a million miles before you
I’m a million miles behind
I’ll take you straight and narrow
I’ll ramble and I’ll wind
So curse my broken brimstone or kiss my bricks of gold
I’m not the reason
I’m just the road

The awkward phrase “knees and hands” (inserted thus to allow for a rhyme) jars a little, but this is a memorable song based on an arresting image.

The excellent closing track ‘After The Rodeo’ (the highlight of the album), written by Don Rollins and new Capitol/EMI artist Troy Olsen, tells the story of an over-the-hill cowboy contemplating retirement:

Does a shooting star miss the sky when it hits the ground?
And how long can a woman go on lovin’ you if you’re not around?
The years are flying faster now
So tell me how eight seconds feels so slow
And I wonder where old cowboys go after the rodeo

It is the road, though, that forms the principal focus. ‘The Things You’ll Do’ opens as an ebullient up-tempo look at life as at touring musician on the road, rough bars and bar fights, sleeping in vans and not getting paid are quenching his love for making music. The second verse translates the message to sacrifices made for love of a woman.

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Unexpected places

Les Rochers de Naye, SwitzerlandA week ago I was on top of a mountain in Switzerland. I was startled when in the cafe the music playing in the background turned to Lady Antebellum’s ‘Need You Now’. I was in fact vaguely aware that the single had been released to pop radio in Europe as part of a serious attempt to break the group outside North America, following in the footsteps of Taylor Swift’s international assault on the ears of the tone-deaf. It was still a surprise for me to hear it. On investigation, I find the song is currently rising up the Swiss charts. Many country artists try to break Europe, some with more commitment than others, and success rates vary, but it seems to be working for Lady A, with their AC/melodious pop-influenced sound. The more solidly country rooted Brad Paisley was touring in Europe the same week and actually sold out his first London show before ticket sales were formally announced – I missed out on that due to having already planned the vacation time.

It reminded me of the most unexpected place I ever came across country music (also on vacation). That was in the lovely medieval city of Bruges in Belgium, which I visited a few years ago (probably around 2002 or 2003). On my way to a bus stop I came across a little shop selling country and blues CDs. It was closed at that time, but I took note of the opening hours and returned later, to find it had a pretty left field selection, including some really obscure independent releases. I ended up spending most of my souvenir budget for that trip on a selection of albums, most bought unheard, although in some cases they were ones I had read reviews of previously.

One I remember buying was Real Thing, a 2001 album by songwriter Monty Holmes under the joky band name Monty And The Pythons, for which I had been looking unsuccessfully for some time, having enjoyed Monty’s previous album All I Ever Wanted, released under his own name a few years earlier. It turned out not to be quite as good, but still worth having. I also picked up Rodney Hayden’s debut, coincidentally also entitled The Real Thing (both albums included covers of Chip Taylor’s song of that title), and No Regrets, an early release by the Texan Jamie Richards, whose most recent effort I reviewed recently. These two are both great records I still listen to quite often, and would recommend to anyone who likes real country music.

Others well worth the purchase included Shawn Camp’s Lucky Silver Dollar, and Jason Allen’s Something I Dreamed, plus a highly entertaining, mostly up-tempo album by a young man named Elbert West. From female artists there was a pretty good record by a Hispanic singer named Lydia Miller including early versions of ‘Singing To The Scarecrow’ (later cut by Sara Evans) and ‘Man With A Memory, Woman With A Past’ (subsequently recorded by Joe Nichols), Lisa O’Kane’s rather good, slightly jazzy-country ‘Am I Too Blue’, and a fine record from Leslie Satcher, one of the best songwriters in Nashville showing she has a lovely voice as well.

Although it isn’t one of my favorites from this haul, recent events have led me to return to Living In Your World, an uncompromisingly hard country/Bakersfield style CD by a then-unknown Arizona singer-songwriter named Troy Olsen which was produced in California by James Intveld, and featuring Jay Dee Maness (late of the Desert Rose Band) on steel. This showed some promise, but I didn’t hear of him again until recently; he’s spent a number of years honing his craft and eventually got signed to a major label deal with EMI. His debut single for the label, ‘Summer Thing’, is a generic and frankly boring summertime-themed number, and to be honest it would probably have passed me by altogether if I hadn’t recognised his name. Based on that early record, acquired by chance, I do at least feel confident that here is an artist who is genuinely a country singer rather than a pop singer in a cowboy hat, albeit one without the most distinctive of voices, and hope that the material improves – and that he hasn’t had to make too many compromises for the sake of a major label deal.

Where have you been most surprised to hear a country song played in public, or found a country record on sale?

Album Review: Tim McGraw – ‘Southern Voice’

Southern VoiceTim McGraw has never impressed me as one of the great country voices, but where he frequently has impressed me is in his choice of interesting material, the kind of songs which are worth hearing in anyone’s hands. His tenth studio album is produced by the same production team of McGraw, Byron Gallimore and Darran Smith (the lead guitarist in Tim’s band the Dancehall Doctors) as Tim’s last three, with backing from the Dancehall Doctors on all but one track, occasionally augmented by additional musicians or string sections. The sound is definitely quite rock-influenced, and a long way from traditional country, but the production is a good deal more restrained than on much of what is emerging from Nashville at the moment. Overall, there isn’t much variation in tempo or melody, but the material is mostly interesting and adult. There isn’t much to appeal to the children and emotional adolescents at whom current radio playlists seem aimed, and this is a good thing. I don’t like everything here, but it is a serious attempt at making an artistically satisfying album.

It gets off to a discouraging start. Opening track ‘Still’, written by fellow-Curb artist Lee Brice with Kyle Jacobs and Joe Leathers, is a very well-written song with a nice reflective feel and effective restrained vocals in the verses about seeking refuge from the stresses of the world in memory and imagination, and finally in church, but the chorus is musically rather pop-sounding, with strings and detectable vocal processing in places. The next track, ‘Ghost Town Train (She’s Gone)’, a heavily allusive song written by Troy Olsen and Marv Green about a woman leaving, is a bit dull and emotionally unconvincing with a lot of soulless “oh nos” despite some nice fiddle lines from Dean Brown.

Things really start to pick up with ‘Good Girls’, the first of the well-chosen story songs which dominate the song selection. The downbeat melancholy tale of a woman’s murderous response to her husband cheating with her best friend was written by the Warren Brothers with Aimee Mayo and Chris Lindsey, and is well played out although I don’t much like the tune on the chorus.

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Album Review: Zona Jones – ‘Prove Me Right’

Prove Me RightThere must be something in the water in Beaumont, Texas. Not only was it the hometown of George Jones, Mark Chesnutt was born there, and the city was once also home to Tracy Byrd. Another Beaumont resident, Zona Jones, put his career as a lawyer on hold a few years ago when he released his excellent first album Harleys & Horses on indie label D Records. I enjoyed that record enough to keep a eye out for his follow-up, which has at last appeared on his friend Tracy Lawrence’s Rocky Comfort Records. Zona is not quite in the same league as the aforementioned sons of Beaumont, but he does have a good voice very much in the George Strait style, which is particularly effective on mellow ballads like the majority of the material on this album. Half the songs were produced by no less than James Stroud, the remainder by Zona himself with Mike Jones, but the overall feel of the album is fairly consistent, and it is solidly country from start to finish.

He opens with a cover of Aaron Tippin’s ‘Could Not Stop Myself From Loving You’, which he delivers nicely enough, but his phrasing is too reminiscent of the original while lacking Tippin’s hypnotic quality. Tippin’s co-writers on that track, Mark Nesler and Tony Martin, also wrote my favorite song on the album, ‘Go Away’. This excellent song feels like a sequel to Steve Earle’s modern classic ‘My Old Friend The Blues’, a link I think is made explicit in the salutation, “my old foul-weather friend”. The protagonist is tired of feeling bad about his loss, and begs:

“Go away, blues don’t hang around
Let me love again somehow
I tried but I could not make her stay
So be like her and go away”

Another really enjoyable number is ‘Drinkin”, a drinking song (obviously) from the pens of John [Scott?] Sherrill and Neal Coty, which sounds cheerful even as the protagonist tries to drown his miseries:

Damn it, I think I drank myself sober
And I still can’t drink myself over you

At least I’m a couple sheets to the wind
With any luck, honey, I’ll forget again
That I don’t know where you are or where I am”

The title track (a Radney Foster/Stephanie Delray composition) is a hopeful look at the prospects for love. Also good is ‘She Showed Me’, written by Troy Olsen and Kerry Kurt Phillips, neatly set around a conversation with an ex. The narrator smugly thinks she’ll be begging for another chance, but as it turns out he could not be more wrong – she is happily married with two children (underlining the guy’s cluelessness given the time that must have elapsed since they were together).

One of the songs which stands out the most is the uptempo jerky rhythm of ‘Never Took My Eyes Off You’, written by Dave Frasier, Ed Hill and Josh Kear, and although this track (alone on the album) feels a little over-produced and the lyric is rather slight, it is still fun with definite singalong potential as the protagonist can’t pay attention to the football game or great view on his dates with his love interest.

Similar but better is ‘Day Off’, a lively paean to relaxation time written by Al Anderson, Bob DiPiero and Leslie Satcher. For such a heavyweight writing team, the lyric verges on the absurd at times – while it is indeed true that we all welcome a check in the mail, few of us are in the need to break out of a Mexican jail. But as fluff goes, this is entertaining fluff, as Zona tells us with a little growl in his voice:

“Everybody needs a little too much fun
Everybody needs a little coming undone
Take a brain vacation, I’m telling you, hoss
Everybody needs a day off”

The love ballad ‘You Should’ve Seen Her This Morning’ is nice enough if not very memorable, as the protagonist boasts the joys of domestic bliss to his bar friends whose heads are turned when his woman walks in, claiming sweetly, “If you’re thinking ‘Wow, she looks beautiful now’, you should’ve seen her this morning.” ‘Two Hearts’, another pleasant love song, is repeated from Harleys & Horses.

The album is rounded out by three more covers, Strait’s ‘Blame it On Mexico’ and ‘When You Love ‘Em Like Crazy’ (recorded as ‘When You Love Her Like Crazy’ by Mark Chesnutt are both sung well but not as ood as the originals. I am not as familiar with the sweetly delivered ‘Bluer Than Blue’, written by Randy Goodrum, which was a big pop and AC hit in 1978 for Michael Johnson, who was to go country in the 80s. This last song (for which there is a video) has a very pretty tune and has grown on me over repeated listens.

I think the songs were a little stronger on Zona’s first album, but nonetheless this is an enjoyable record. It is available on iTunes or from Zona’s website.

Grade: B