In just over half a decade, the now-24-year-old Texan Kacey Musgraves has gone from placing seventh on the 2007 season of Nashville Star and releasing a trio of independent albums to finally being granted some well-deserved mainstream exposure. It was beyond a pleasant surprise when her beautifully written, critically lauded debut single “Merry Go ‘Round” became an honest-to-goodness Top 10 hit at country radio – a format not known for being friendly to intelligent, honest women. Whether the industry will continue to support her remains to be seen, but Kacey Musgraves’ major label debut effort positions her as a ray of hope for country music at a time when such are very few – an artist who, if given the platform, just might have the potential to change country music for the better.
Appearing as a co-writer on every track along with a co-writer pool that consists of Brandy Clark, Shane McAnally, Josh Osborne, and Luke Laird, Musgraves displays a songwriting voice characterized by clear-eyed insight and a tone of simple, plainspoken honesty. She neither preaches nor judges; she simply observes. ”Merry Go ‘Round” foreshadowed this trait quite accurately. On her debut hit, Musgraves mused on the human tendency to try to escape heartache through a variety of vices such as drug use or illicit sex, but noting that ultimately that “same hurt in every heart” still remains – each distraction is like a medicine that covers up the symptoms, but doesn’t cure the cold. On “Follow Your Arrow,” she sneers at small-town gossip while laying bare the futility of living to please others, noting that “You’re damned if you do; you’re damned if you don’t.” On the witty upcoming single “Blowin’ Smoke,” she takes on the voice of a working class woman who chats with her co-workers on a smoke break about plans to leave her current line of work in pursuit of bigger dreams, but admits that “We’re just blowin’ smoke.” The set is ripe with a strong sense of self-awareness that country radio has been sorely lacking for years now.
Musgraves clearly understands the value of escapism in country music, as evidenced by songs like opening track “Silver Lining,” in which she makes creative use of familiar metaphors to illustrate the point that if one wants good things to happen, one must accept the bad things that come along with it. ”My House” is a delightful ode to life on a house with four wheels, and to having someone with which to share it. ”Any place beside you is the place that I call home,” Musgraves sings, backed by a charming harmonica-laced arrangement. Every bit as enjoyable is the witty “Step Off,” which plays like a Jason Mraz song with a banjo.
But oh, how rewarding it is when Musgraves channels pure vulnerability – a gift that finds its fullest expression in the pleading ballad “Keep It to Yourself,” in which Musgraves begs a former lover to let her move on, the lyric anchored by a melody that pierces deeply. And while “It Is What It Is” has been nicknamed The Slut Song, such a moniker says nothing of the raw desperation that Musgraves conveys through her quivering performance.
Same Trailer Different Park sets itself apart from the pack by honoring genre traditions while slyly subverting modern conventions. For a genre that takes pride in being the realm of “real” music, Kacey Musgraves is
one of precious few mainstream country artists to actually live up to that ideal, and for country radio programmers to let her slip through their fingers now would be an awful shame. To call Same Trailer Different Park one of the year’s best mainstream country albums would not do it justice – it’s one of the year’s best albums period.
Top Tracks: “Merry Go ‘Round,” “Keep It to Yourself,” “Follow Your Arrow”
On first listen, the Pistol Annies’ new single “Hush Hush” immediately stands out as being their hardest rocking release to date. It sounds more like something one might expect to hear on one of Miranda Lambert’s solo albums than the Annies’ traditional-leaning debut. It seems the Annies are getting a harder radio push this time around – definitely a good thing since country radio has been largely in want of a good girl group for the past ten years.
The production may be a bit more polished, but the song’s sentiment is anything but glossed-over. ”Hush Hush” offers a darkly comic look at the volatile holiday gatherings of a dysfunctional family, while also slyly winking at every family’s need to sweep dirty secrets under the rug and put their best foot forward. “Hide your tattoo, put on your Sunday best, pretend you’re not a mess, be the happy family in the front pew,” the three Annies sing during the song’s closing bridge.
Though something of a sonic departure for the Pistol Annies, “Hush Hush” does not get away from the characteristics that made them an outstanding group in the first place,
nor does it forsake its identity as a country record with an arrangement that simultaneously rocks and twangs. ”Hush Hush” is smart, self-aware, packed with personality, and best of all, it turns widely-relatable frustrations into a reason to chuckle. At a time in which many country hits take place in an imaginary backwoods utopia, the Pistol Annies here serve up another welcome slice of reality.
Written by Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe, and Angaleena Presley
There’s certainly no false advertising going on here, though it would still be easy to guess what we were getting even if the song title didn’t make it so plainly obvious.
I almost wonder if each new Currington single release is determined by the flip of a coin. Heads – release a beer drinking song; tails – release a sexy come-on love song. Apparently this time it landed on tails.
“Hey Girl” has some infectious guitar work going for it, but it’s not enough to elevate the song beyond what it is – regular dime-a-dozen radio filler with a total lack of a lyrical hook.
Country music lost one of its legendary talents today with the passing of Jack Greene, who succumbed to complications from Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 83.
Affectionately nicknamed the “Jolly Green Giant” for his lofty stature, Jack Greene was one of country music’s biggest stars in the late sixties and early seventies, remembered for his classic hits such as “There Goes My Everything” and “Statue of a Fool.” At the very first CMA Awards ceremony in 1967, Jack Greene was one of the biggest winners of the night, winning Male Vocalist of the Year, Single of the Year for “There Goes My Everything,” and Album of the Year for his LP of the same name. He had been a member of the Grand Ole Opry since 1967, and was a regular presence on the show up until his retirement in 2011.
“I can’t tell you where I’m bound/ Maybe I’m just spinning round and round…. And there may come a day when I have nothing left to say,” sings Gretchen Wilson on her new single “Still Rollin’.” Such words feel unfortunately indicative of the level of creativity the song displays.
Everything about “Still Rollin’” is forgettable. The production sounds like a karaoke track. The melody has scarcely any rise and fall to it, and the cliché-filled lyrics plod in circles with no discernible point. The song centers around a mediocre non-hook (“I keep on rolliiiiiiiiiiiinnnnnn’…”) that only makes it grating instead of memorable.
But the main thing that sinks the song is the vocal. When Wilson sings with the right amount of bite and sass, it can make even a “Redneck Woman” rehash like “Work Hard, Play Harder” enjoyable. That quality is entirely absent here, and her delivery instead comes across as dull and dispassionate.
How am I supposed to care about the new Gretchen Wilson song if
Me You,” instead going for a light R&B groove with a synthesized hand clap. (It’s anybody’s guess when we’ll see the return of the fiddler and steel guitarist who have been seemingly M.I.A. since circa 2009.) To the single’s credit, this particular sonic backdrop affords some much-needed breathing room for Shelton’s vocals, the quality of which have generally remained consistent even when the song quality hasn’t.
Unfortunately, it’s not quite enough to overcome the heavy air of complacency that hangs over the song itself. It’s evident in the irritating little cliché phrases that keep popping up throughout the song, as well as in tacky rhyme schemes like “Now you’re standing in the neon looking like a high I want to be on,” and in self-impressed pickup lines like “You can’t shoot me down ’cause you’ve already knocked me dead.” The plodding verses create a bar meeting scenario that lacks any first-person details more memorable than a “pretty pink lemonade shooter” as Shelton’s narrator romances a nameless, faceless female. The chorus has an enjoyable melody, but the title hook reeks of stale, forced cleverness.
The single offers neither any substantial listener reward nor a compelling reason to hit the replay button, serving little discernible purpose except to hold Blake Shelton’s slot on country radio while he sees to his judging gig on The Voice. For a reigning CMA Entertainer of the Year, it’s a terrible shame that the music itself is not far more satisfying, and hasn’t been for a long time now.
Written by Rodney Clawson, Chris Tompkins, and Jimmy Robbins
Today is the fiftieth anniversary of the tragic plane crash that claimed the lives of Opry stars Hawkshaw Hawkins and Cowboy Copas, pilot Randy Hughes, and most famously, the now-iconic Patsy Cline.
Several events have been held to commemorate the tragedy, including a recent Country Music Hall of Fame panel discussion as well as the “Gone, But Not Forgotten” music festival that was held March 2 in Camden, Tennessee (the town in which the crash site is located). The anniversary has also been the subject of some fine articles that are well worth reading, such as this piece
Today seems like a particularly appropriate time to revisit the music of the three stars who perished that night, all of whom left behind strong musical legacies whose value has not diminished with time.
Embedded below is a video that features Patsy Cline singing her classic “Leavin’ On Your Mind,” the final single she released before her death, after which she had a pair of posthumous classic hits with “Sweet Dreams” and “Faded Love.”
Seventeen-year-0ld Red Bow Records newcomer Rachel Farley is already making inroads at country radio with this recently released debut single, which was the #1 most added song on the Billboard and Mediabase charts for the week of its release.
The lyrics of “Ain’t Easy” don’t say a whole lot that hasn’t been said before. Lines such as “Fight like hell
and love like an angel, pray like a saint and run like a rebel
,” aren’t especially novel, though the rural rebel theme is one more often visited by male artists than females.
But the performance goes a long way toward lifting the song to a higher level. Farley sells the lyric with a vocal delivery of far more depth, fullness, and expressiveness than one would typically expect from an artist still in her teens, delivering the verses with a low simmering intensity and imbuing added punch to the chorus. Had I not known, I would never have guessed that Rachel Farley was only seventeen years old based on this performance.
The production is not particularly country, but it strikes a fitting balance of being forceful without being overpowering – a welcome trait for any country radio hit to have. That along with the confident vocal causes the single to feel like more than the sum of its parts.
“Ain’t Easy” isn’t exactly groundbreaking, but what does get right makes me eager to hear more from the artist behind it. There aren’t many debut singles that elicit such a response in me these days.
Jason Aldean’s new single “1994″ sounds like what you might get if you threw “Johnny Cash,” “She’s Country,” and “My Kinda Party” into a blender with a dash of Colt Ford, and added fourteen Joe Diffie namedrops. While the name of nineties country star Joe Diffie is rarely cited as often as the usual Cash, Haggard, Nelson, Jennings, or Jones, Aldean ostensibly seeks to balance things out by chanting “Joe, Joe, Joe Diffie” at the end of each chorus, while throwing in references to assorted Diffie hits such as “Pickup Man” and “Third Rock from the Sun.”
But just as “Johnny Cash” had nothing to do with its namesake except for the statement that “the Man In Black is gonna rock your ass again,” the references to Joe Diffie and to the year 1994 serve as little more than window dressing,
and are essentially the song’s only characteristics that do not feel completely expected. The lyrics comprise little more than a hodgepodge of radio-baiting backwoods clichés, with Aldean loudly declaring himself to be “just a country boy with a farmer’s tan” who’s “’bout to bust out my honky tonk attitude.” The lyrics are so haphazardly thrown together that’s it’s hard to tell what the song is even meant to be about. The aggressive rock overtones are nothing new for Aldean, while the cheesy “hick-hop”-style verses only affirm that Aldean’s rapping skills have not improved since “Dirt Road Anthem.”
It will be a huge hit because everything Aldean releases is a hit. But “1994″ doesn’t work as a tribute to Diffie, and doesn’t work as art appraised on its own merits, and ultimately takes up residence somewhere in the valley between “unlistenable” and “unintentionally hilarious.” Either way I’d rather listen to Diffie.
Written by Barry Dean, Luke Laird, and Thomas Rhett
Though Tim McGraw’s music was among the best to be heard on country radio in the late nineties and early two thousands, recent years have seen his choice of material embarking on a gradual downward slide before bottoming out entirely with last year’s Curb Records swan song Emotional Traffic. With McGraw’s recent output being what it is, and with him now being in the clutches of Scott Borchetta, it’s hard to approach Two Lanes of Freedom with high expectations.
Produced by McGraw with longtime collaborator Byron Gallimore, Two Lanes of Freedom is several degrees better than Emotional Traffic, but still heavily bogged down by cheap gimmickry, and by McGraw’s increasing tendency to over-dramatize. The opening title track, for instance, could have been enjoyable by virtue of melody and performance, but it’s all but leveled by distorted “Oh-oh-oh” chants that surface in each chorus, and that comprise a bloated, self-indulgent ending fade-out. Love-gone-wrong ballads “Friend of a Friend” and the Taylor Swift duet “Highway Don’t Care” (featuring Keith Urban on guitar) are decent songs, but both are marred by over-the-top string sections and gaudy electric guitar solos.
It should hardly come as a surprise that Two Lanes of Freedom includes serious lapses in songwriting quality, with the nadir of the project being the indefensible “Truck Yeah,” and the middling current single “One of Those Nights not faring significantly better. ”Southern Girl” is plain sloppy, recycling pandering formulas similar to those behind “Southern Voice,” and capping it off with auto-tuned chants of “Southern girl, rock my world….” Can any songwriter expect to be taken seriously when rhyming “girl” with “rock my world”?
At its best, Two Lanes of Freedom offers sporadic glimpses of the subtlety and sincerity that marked McGraw’s best work. But even when McGraw brings the goods as a vocalist, the quality of the song material often comes up frustratingly short. Though a paean to the country music industry and its history could in theory be great, it’s unfortunate that “Nashville Without You” leans on the clutch of listing classic country song titles from “Crazy” and “He Stopped Loving Her Today” to “Smoky Mountain Rain” and “Fancy” – particularly considering that it’s one of the album’s most tastefully produced cuts. ”Book of John” is a bit better, telling a finely detailed story of a character poring over photo album memories of a deceased loved one, but its title hook grasps at a gratuitous connection to the Biblical gospel of John, to which the bulk of the song’s content is unrelated. The best-written song of the lot is “Number 37405,” which explores the consequences of a man’s decision to drink and drive with the gentle plainspoken tone of “Red Ragtop,” and without the preachy condescension of “Nothin’ to Die For.” The lyric smartly refrains from offering an ultimate resolution to the story, while McGraw and Gallimore mercifully dial back the production. It’s the closest representation the album has to offer of the Tim McGraw that once was.
Though Two Lanes of Freedom has its moments that are genuinely not half bad, the unevenness of the project as a whole offers little reason to believe that the Tim McGraw who gave us Everywhere, Set This Circus Down, and Live Like You Were Dying is likely to fully resurface anytime soon – and even if Tim McGraw were to make a return to form, it’s highly unlikely that Scott Borchetta would be the one to facilitate it.