Author Archives: Kevin John Coyne

Single Review: Kenny Chesney, “American Kids”

Kenny Chesney American KidsIf you’re going to keep revisiting the same themes, you might as well take some risks with your delivery.

Kenny Chesney’s new single sounds fresher and more engaging than anything he’s done in a very long time.  It’s easy to miss that he’s singing about what he always sings about: nostalgia for growing up in the country with American rock as the soundtrack.

 

What makes “American Kids” work more than a lot his attempts with this theme is that sounds like he learned something listening to those Mellencamp and Springsteen records.  This record oozes charm and mature authority, like he’s finally lived long enough to look back and say, “Hey. We were kinda crazy back then.  But we all turned out alright in the end.”

Written by Rodney Clawson, Luke Laird, and Shane McAnally

Grade: B+

 

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Single Review: Kacey Musgraves, “The Trailer Song”

Kacey Musgraves the Trailer SongA new Kacey Musgraves track with co-writes from Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally is not a bad way to start your day.

“The Trailer Song” has been a live staple for Musgraves, and it sounds like a lost cut from her Grammy-winning album.  It’s a humorous song, but it’s neither satire nor novelty. Continue reading

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Album Review: Dolly Parton, Blue Smoke

Dolly Parton Blue Smoke

Dolly Parton
Blue Smoke
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A big step up from her last few projects, Dolly Parton’s Blue Smoke is her most balanced album since Backwoods Barbie.   While it lacks cohesion due to so many different styles being used, there’s a solid entry from every kind of Dolly – country Dolly, pop Dolly, mountain Dolly, gospel Dolly, duet-with-fellow-legend Dolly.   While it isn’t likely to be anyone’s favorite Dolly Parton album because of this, it’s also unlikely that any fan of hers won’t find something here that reminds them of why they became a fan in the first place.

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Album Review: Miranda Lambert, Platinum

Miranda Lambert Platinum

Miranda Lambert
Platinum

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Miranda Lambert’s life experience has caught up with her talent.

Platinum is a confident, intelligent record that weaves the themes of nostalgia, femininity, and celebrity together over sixteen tracks.  It’s a cohesive set, with lead single “Automatic” making much more sense in the context of the full album.  It’s also remarkably, defiantly country, which shows more of a rock-and-roll attitude these days than rocking out does.

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100 Greatest Men: #26. Roy Acuff

Roy Acuff100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

Roy Acuff is responsible for not only some of the genre’s foundational recordings, but for helping to put Nashville on the map as a star of the Grand Ole Opry, a music publishing tycoon, and even a candidate for governor of Tennessee.

Not bad for a middle child from rural Tennessee, the son of a prominent family from the small town of Maynardville.  Though both of his parents were skilled musicians, his passion was baseball, and he got as far as minor league tryouts before sunstroke ended his budding career.   He chose to hone his skills with the fiddle, and began performing around the south as part of a touring medicine show.  Incorporating the southern gospel song, “Great Speckled Bird”, into his performances caught the attention of the record companies.   By the end of the thirties, he had several hits and a Grand Ole Opry cast membership to his credit.

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Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists: Carlene Carter

Carlene CarterIt’s easy to forget just how talented Carlene Carter is.  In the last eighteen years, she’s only given us two albums to remind us.  But with a career that stretches back to her 1978 eponymous debut album, all the way through her excellent new release, Carter Girl, she has been a consistently excellent entertainer and songwriter.

In addition to her latest release, her albums Musical Shapes (1980), I Fell in Love (1990), and Little Love Letters (1993) are all among the best country albums of their time.  Those three sets factor heavily into this list, but there are plenty of great moments on most of her other studio albums, too.  Her first four sets tend to fade in and out of print, but they’re worth snapping up when available.

It’s been more than five years since I’ve done a Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists post.  For the uninitiated, my rubric is simple: I just ranked my favorite twenty-five tracks and then counted them down with commentary.  No big stab at objective truth here.  This is just what I like the most from one of ‘em that I like the most.   Share your own favorites in the comments, and hopefully discover one or two new ones along the way.

Carlene Carter Little Love Letters

#25
Little Love Letter #1 and Little Love Letter #2
Little Love Letters (1993)
Written by Carlene Carter, Howie Epstein, and Benmont Tench

The first Carlene Carter album I ever bought was Little Love Letters.  I was instantly hooked by the clever framing of  “Side 1″ and “Side 2″ with these quick vignettes.  They’re funny, they’re heartfelt, and I could listen to a whole album full of them.

Carlene Carter Musical Shapes

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Too Bad About Sandy
Musical Shapes (1980)
Written by Carlene Carter

When I was younger, I just got a kick out of how dark and seedy this track seemed, with its celebration of the sweet low life and cold hard cash.  But now, I keep going back to the wisdom in the advice she gives her love-struck younger sister: “Honey, can’t be love if you’ve gotta ask twice.”

Carlene Carter Two Sides to Every Woman

#23
Swap-Meat Rag
Two Sides to Every Woman (1979)
Written by Carlene Carter

On the surface, it’s a bawdy number about free love.  Underneath the surface, it’s a wicked satire of the artifice that is American suburbia.  Plus she growls a lot, and it sounds cool.

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Album Review: Emmylou Harris, Wrecking Ball: Deluxe Edition

Emmylou Harris Wrecking Ball Deluxe Edition

Emmylou Harris

Wrecking Ball: Deluxe Edition

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Nonesuch has released an impressive deluxe edition of the landmark Emmylou Harris album, Wrecking Ball.  For those who are new to the set, this is the edition you should buy.  But it’s also worth the upgrade for those who already have this set in their collection.

Produced by Daniel Lanois, this album was a stunning departure for Harris, so much so that she personally requested that it not be eligible for the country charts.  That’s funny in retrospect, given that alongside legends like Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, and Neil Young, the album was anchored by compositions by up-and-coming songwriters like Gillian Welch, Lucinda Williams, and Julie Miller.  With further cuts by writers like Anna McGarrigle, Steve Earle, and Rodney Crowell, Wrecking Ball helped set a template for what would become a vibrant Americana scene over the years that followed.

Nice history lesson, right? But the reason this album sounded great then, and still does now, is because the songs are fantastic and the production is evocatively original.   It still sounds fresh today, and while Emmylou would hold on to remnants of this sound for next few projects, it has both its birth and its zenith on this record.  It might be her best album, period, and it’s definitely her most ambitious and interesting.

The deluxe edition’s best element is its second disc of demos and outtakes, which help tell the story of how some of these songs took shape.  I was most fascinated by the revved-up, rapid-fire “Deeper Well”, and the melancholy reading of the self-penned “Gold”, which she would include in a (slightly) more upbeat version on her 2008 album, All I Intended to Be.   It didn’t quite fit with the rest of Wrecking Ball. All of the outtakes and demos included indicate the album was released in its best possible form, and most are for the completist only.

The bonus DVD is a 1995 documentary called Building the Wrecking Ball. It’s an overlong puff piece that’s most entertaining for its showcase of mid-nineties “serious musician” garb.  Emmylou in sleeveless flannel aside, the doc also features what I consider the most maddening editorial choice films like this can make: playing the final album version of a song over mixed footage of said song being recorded and being performed live.  For me, it made watching it unbearable.

But the packaging is worth the upgrade, with a fantastic new essay by Gillian Welch and nearly typo-free lyrics for both the original album and the second disc of rarities.  Some nice photos, too.  Overall, it’s a more serious deluxe take than we’ve gotten on any Emmylou Harris album to date, putting those Rhino reissues of her earlier work to shame.

 

 

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Single Review: Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood, “Somethin’ Bad”

Miranda Lambert Carrie Underwood Somethin' BadMiranda Lambert’s tempting fate with her titles, calling her upcoming album Platinum and her high-profile collaboration with Carrie Underwood, “Somethin’ Bad.”

No word for a while yet on whether the album will sell a million copies, but as far as the single goes, it lives up to the promise of the two singers more than it does to its title.

It does so by trying not to be as ambitious as the caliber of the collaborators would make you expect it to be.  This was a trap both ladies fell into when collaborating with other A-listers, making  Lambert’s duet with Keith Urban and Underwood’s with Brad Paisley not as successful as they could’ve been.

This is just a plain ol’ good girls on their baddest behavior ditty.  Well, not their baddest behavior.  Underwood doesn’t key up anyone’s car and Lambert doesn’t kill anybody.  But it’s all in good fun, and both ladies can perform the thing solo just fine when the other isn’t around.

And kudos to the production, I feel I should mention.  There were a few moments I thought it was gonna go all eighties glam rock, but the record pulls back before it goes over the edge, and we get just the ladies and a rhythm track, which actually supports the lyric better.  Somethin’ bad’s gonna happen, but….not yet.  Good stuff.

Written by Chris DeStefano, Brett James, and Priscilla Renea

Grade: B+

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What are You Listening to? – 2014 Edition

There have been a lot of new releases in the past few weeks.  What tracks are resonating with you the most?

Here are three of my current favorites, all of which have been recorded before:

Carlene Carter Carter Girl

Carlene Carter, “Me and the Wildwood Rose”  

from the album Carter Girl

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“Me and the Wildwood Rose” was always one of my favorite Carlene Carter tracks.  Back when the original recording was released in 1990, it had a wistful nostalgia for the grandmother that she had lost.  In 2014, all of the other folks mentioned in the song, including her little sister “the Wildwood Rose”, have also passed on.  The new version is so heavy with grief, it is only Carter’s effervescent spirit that keeps it from being too heavy.

Rodney Crowell Tarpaper Sky

Rodney Crowell, “God I’m Missing You”

from the album Tarpaper Sky

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Speaking of grief, Rodney Crowell’s “God I’m Missing You” is a gut-wrencher.  Widows don’t often get the chance to speak in pure poetry:  “Time stretches to shape you right out of thin air. But it can’t hold the image. If I blink, you’re not there.  God I’m missing you.”  For me, it’s the highlight of an excellent album, with his best songwriting since The Outsider.  Lucinda Williams recorded it before him, and she does it well.

Dolly Parton Blue Smoke

Dolly Parton, “Banks of the Ohio”

from the album Blue Smoke

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Parton’s latest set is a welcome return to form, and it features compelling covers of songs by Bob Dylan and Bon Jovi.  But the highlight for me is “Banks of the Ohio”, an oft-recorded standard that she breathes new life into by framing it with a narrative device that has her retelling the story being told to her.  This allows for Parton to speak in the male voice of the murderer, and still infuse the song with her trademark empathy.  (She’s never shied away from a suicide number, but homicide really isn’t her style.)

So we still have to wait from some country lady besides Olivia Newton-John to fully embrace the murderess within her, but until then, the stunning harmonies and heartfelt vocal of Parton has newly minted this treasured classic.

That’s what I’m listening to. What are you listening to?

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Single Review: Sheryl Crow, “Shotgun”

Sheryl Crow ShotgunOf all the rock artists who’ve parked themselves into the country genre to jump start their careers, Sheryl Crow is the most frustrating.

I love the return to her nineties sound, and “Shotgun” sounds like it could be an outtake from Sheryl Crow, the kind that would end up as a “Non-LP” track on the CD single for “If it Makes You Happy” or “Everyday is a Winding Road.”

But that highlights the two problems with Crow’s detour into country music.  For one, her sound hasn’t changed much.  It’s the boundaries of what’s considered country that have done all the moving.  And two, her songwriting is as tepid as ever, with a radio single from 2014 that wouldn’t have been good enough to make the actual album eighteen years ago.  Honestly, she hasn’t written a great song since The Globe Sessions.

Country radio would be better served by skipping this one and adding “Home” or “Members Only” instead.   They’d sound no less out of place than “Shotgun” and would be better than most of what’s currently on the dial anyway.

Written by Sheryl Crow, Chris DuBois, Kelley Lovelace, and John Shanks

Grade: C

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