Author Archives: Dan Milliken

ACM Live Blog 2012

Show starts at 8/7 Central. Hang with us!

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WINNERS

Entertainer: Taylor Swift

Top Male Vocalist: Blake Shelton

Top Female Vocalist: Miranda Lambert

Top Vocal Group: Lady Antebellum

Top Vocal Duo: Thompson Square

Top New Artist: Scotty McCreery

Album of the Year: Miranda Lambert, Four the Record

Song of the Year: Lee Brice & Liz Rose, “Crazy Girl”

Single of the Year: Jason Aldean & Kelly Clarkson, “Don’t You Wanna Stay”

Vocal Event of the Year: Jason Aldean & Kelly Clarkson, “Don’t You Wanna Stay”

Video of the Year: Toby Keith, “Red Solo Cup”

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Single Review: Kellie Pickler, “100 Proof”

Here’s a kooky little love song. It lilts by so sweetly that you kind of miss the verse lyrics at first. After another listen, you realize that the night of marital bliss in the chorus apparently stems from that couple feeling smug compared to another, less successful couple from earlier that night. And the other couple are their friends! You’re cold, Kellie and Kyle.

Goofing aside, I’m just bewildered by the choice of single. It’s a pleasant album cut and sounds modern enough, sure. But as a bid to save Pickler at radio? And to get people excited about her brave new album? Seems too sleepy. I would’ve gone in guns blazing with “Unlock That Honky Tonk,” which pulls off all the swagger and hookiness “Tough” didn’t manage to. Even the gentle groove of “Rockaway (The Rockin’ Chair Song)” – just as lovey-dovey as “100 Proof” – might have made a deeper impression. I’m worried programmers are going to shrug this one off before listeners even get the chance.

Written by James T. Slater and Leslie Satcher

Grade: B-

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Single Review: Taylor Swift feat. The Civil Wars, “Safe & Sound”

Yeah, you’ve probably heard this track by now. But let’s just have a post where we talk about it anyway, y’know?

Because this kind of release begs some blog attention, simply for the fact of what it is: a meeting of highly buzzy but divergent artists, and the first soundtrack cut from a hotly anticipated movie (The Hunger Games, adapted from Book 1 of Suzanne Collins’s mega-popular young-adult series). On paper alone, it’s a reminder of why the award shows optimistically call the duet category “Vocal Event.”

And off paper? Solid soundtrack fare – hard to fault, doesn’t call much attention to itself. Swift bends to the earthier, eerier style of her collaborators, producing a lullaby whose minor cadences give lie to its lyrics’ assurance of peace and security. That tension plays especially well if you’re familiar with the book/movie’s storyline, but it works outside that context, too. Meanwhile, Swift’s ghostly sigh can’t quite match The Civil Wars’ for impact (ghostly sighing is like their #1 thing, after all), but her youthful timbre does nicely evoke the story’s protagonists, who are themselves young people ensnared in dark circumstances.

All in all, it makes for a pleasant preview of the T-Bone Burnett-helmed soundtrack, which – with expected tracks from Pistol Annies, Punch Brothers, The Decemberists, Carolina Chocolate Drops, The Secret Sisters, and Neko Case, plus another from Swift – could well end up being one of the year’s cooler albums. May the odds be ever in our favor.

Written by Taylor Swift, John Paul White, Joy Williams, and T-Bone Burnett

Grade: B

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Grammy Live-Blog 2012

Winners

Album of the Year: Adele, 21

Record of the Year: Adele, “Rolling in the Deep”

Song of the Year: Adele Adkins & Paul Epworth, “Rolling in the Deep”

Best New Artist: Bon Iver

“Best” Country Album: Lady Antebellum, Own the Night

Best Pop Vocal Performance: Adele, “Someone Like You”

Best Country Solo Performance: Taylor Swift, “Mean”

Best Country Duo/Group Performance:  The Civil Wars, “Barton Hollow”

Best Country Song: Taylor Swift, “Mean”

Best Americana Album:  Levon Helm, Ramble at the Ryman

Best Bluegrass Album: Alison Krauss & Union Station, Paper Airplane

Best Folk Album:  The Civil Wars, Barton Hollow

- – - – - 

11:33 Ben: I had a blast. Big thanks to Dan for doing a bang-up job leading the live blog, and thanks to everyone who partipated in the comments. See y’all at ACM season!

11:32 Tara: Thanks for hanging out, y’all! Tonight’s show kind of grew on me, with its surprising focus on the music (how quaint). And lest we forget: when Adele wins, we all win.

11:27 Dan: And we close the show with a spirited “Carry that Weight” with Paul McCartney, The Boss, Dave Grohl, and a bunch of guitar dudes I’m ashamed to say I don’t recognize. Slow night, but some really nice moments!

11:24 Dan: “A little bit o’ snot” is literally the best thing I’ve ever heard in an acceptance speech. I don’t know how you could hate Adele.

11:22 Ben: Does Adele need to come up with her own version of the Surprised Face?

11:21 Dan: So many upsets tonight!

Album of the Year: Adele, 21

11:20 Ben: I love the chirpy way Diana Ross talks.

11:13 Ben:  “Still to come:  Will Diana Ross present the Grammy for Album of the Year to Adele…” or to someone who is not Adele.  Gotta love how they at least attempt to build supense.

11:11 Ben: “Thank you so much.  This is ridiculous.”  Oh, how she makes me smile.

Record of the Year: Adele, “Rolling in the Deep”

11:1o Ben: Go ahead, Lady A.  Remind us of all the undeserved awards you won last year.

11:10 Dan: I wish I had liked that song more on first listen. Nicki’s a great talent, but that felt self-indulgent.

11:10 Ben: It’s…interesting.

11:08 Tara: From a visual standpoint, this is the coolest performance of the night. Jury’s still out on the song. I’m kind of scared?

11:06 Dan: I can’t believe the Grammys let Nicki Minaj get away with this “Roman’s Revenge” “Exorcism” spectacle. God bless ‘em.

10:53 Ben: Oh gosh. Kill the AutoTune. Please.

10:52 Dan: I have one word to the Grammys for each Chris Brown performance tonight: 1) F*** 2) you.

10:49 Tara: Stunning performance by J Hud. As frustrated as I am with some of the nominations and wins, tonight’s shining moments have come in the form of naked voices – and that’s really refreshing.

10:46 Ben: So genuine.  So sincere. So…wow.

10:44 Ben: Jennifer Hudson is the right person for the job.

10:43 Dan: Jennifer Hudson’s Whitney tribute starting now. Looking and sounding awesome on “I Will Always Love You.”

10:36 Ben: He’s clearly putting on no airs here.  Very down-to-earth.

10:35 Dan: I was rooting for Nicki, but this is well deserved. Justin Vernon is the real deal.

Best New Artist: Bon Iver

10:33 Ben: The first hour was blah, but this show has picked up a heck of a lot of steam.  I am loving this Bennett-Underwood duet.

10:33 Tara: Carrie proving why she won this award five years ago. That voice.

10:31 Dan: Tony Bennett and Carrie Underwood on “It Had to Be You” now. Quality, as you’d expect. I have to wonder how these old-guy-young-girl duets usually manage to avoid sounding creepy.

10:26 Ben: The Adele performance and the Glen Campbell tribute are, so far, this year’s “Grammy moments.”

10:23 Tara: Very sincere, sweet tribute. If we ignore the Lady A win, country music is cleaning up tonight.

10:22 Ben: My heart has a happy.

10:22 Dan: Glen sounds lively and buoyant, rephrasing “Rhinestone Cowboy” as a career retrospective and advice to the young ones. And between-line commentary. Just wonderful.

10:21 Dan: Blake Shelton does justice to “Southern Nights.” But here comes the man!

10:20 Ben: I think they’re sounding really great tonight.  Love hearing that mandolin!

10:17 Dan: Thank goodness – they’re sounding nice and string-bandish on “Gentle on My Mind.” I usually find Kimberly’s vocal style a little shouty, so it’s good they’re performing a song with a quick, percussive feel.

10:16 Dan: Glen Campbell time! Don’t blow this, Perrys.

10:10 Ben: THIS IS ADELE’S MOMENT.

10:09 Tara: Adele looking as gorgeous as she sounds. The nuance in her performance is just incredible.

10:09 Ben: Adele is looking great tonight.  That new haircut suits her well.  Oh yeah… sounding great too.

10:08 Ben: At least we can enjoy the long-awaited Adele performance as I’m reeling from the Lady A victory.

10:04 Ben: I already knew that Lady A’s new music was ovverrated as heck, but honestly… This isn’t even funny anymore.

9:59 Tara: I told you guys I had a feeling about this. What a disappointment, and what a waste of sheer talent.

9:59 Kevin: They must own the accounting firm that tabulates the votes.

9:59 Ben: Oh gosh. This is the part where I start throwing things at the TV.

9:59 Dan: AGGGGH

“Best” “Country” Album: Lady Antebellum, Own the Night

9:58 Ben: Country Album now. Let it be anyone but Lady A.

9:57 Tara: Katy Perry reminding me that I’ll take sleepy performances by legends over dynamic performances by substance-less pop stars any day.

9:57 Ben: Still lip-synching, I think.

9:55 Well, this second song maybe sounds a little more raw and pitchy. Maybe it was just on “E.T.”

9:54 And the most obvious lip-synching of the night: Katy Perry.

9:52 Ben: Happy face for Adele Adkins and Paul Epworth!

Song of the Year: Adele Adkins & Paul Epworth, “Rolling in the Deep”

9:37 Ben: I hate how the host network away has to stick the stars of their current programs in random spots just like ABC does with the CMAs.  I know they want to drive ratings, but it seems to take the focus off the music.

9:50 Ben: I must have missed the “OMG!” face.  Either that or I’m so used to it that it goes by without notice.

9:46 The Taylor Swift “OMG!” face returns. It was so ridiculous that you had to laugh.

9:46 Ben: My favorite performance so far by a long shot.  A wonderful and unabashedly fun performance.

9:44 Tara: A lovely 60 seconds of “Barton Hollow” followed by Taylor Swift’s best live performance in a while on one of 2011’s best country singles. Country music victory on the Grammys. Wonder what Lefsetz is thinking right now?

9:42 This is kind of surreal, seeing her perform the song that was probably inspired by the backlash over her last Grammy performance.

9:42 Ben: It’s great to see a Taylor Swift performance that actually feels representative of the country music genre.

9:41 Ben: Yay!  It’s our jam!  “Mean”!

9:40 Ben: I can’t get over how much John Paul White looks like Johnny Depp.

9:38 Ben: Finally!  The Civil Wars are here to restore order.

Best R&B Album: Chris Brown, F.A.M.E.

9:34 Paul McCartney crooning some very Valentine’s-Day-ish song. The Grammys are determined to send us to an early sleep.

From Twitter: Stevie is never allowed to die. @SaraJBenincasa

9:35 Tara: I’m so in, Dan. I can’t even pinpoint why the show is dragging so much – the performances haven’t been awful.

9:31 It’s only an hour and a half in and I think everybody is already super-duper bored. You guys wanna play Never Have I Ever?

9:20 Tara: The Beach Boys make my heart smile. But this is oh so sleepy…

9:20 Foster the People are faring slightly better with “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” but…this could be any bar band, really.

9:18 Maroon 5 start off the Beach Boys tribute/reunion with a rather tepid “Surfer Girl.” They need to turn up Adam Levine’s mic, but this just isn’t the right song choice, either.

9:15 Terrific acceptance speech from Krohl about keeping music organic and craft-centered.

Best Rock Performance: Foo Fighters, “Walk”

9:12 However it ends up going, I’m really excited to see the Glen Campbell tribute. Really cool of the Grammys to honor him and his music on the telecast.

9:09 Tara: Y’all, I paid more attention to the countrified Chipotle commercial than anything on the show so far. True story.

From Twitter: Have a Pavlovian response to Coldplay. Gotta go fail to make out with a gay guy in my dorm room. Bye. @JillMorris

9:01 Tara: Chris Brown: 0, Rihanna: 1. No?

8:59 Kevin: Rihanna’s Tina Turner look is a brilliant way to acknowledge Brown’s presence on the show.

8:58 Whatever your feelings about Rihanna’s music, she usually sounds really solid live.

8:52 Wasn’t wild about the audio job on that Foos performance, but it’s great to see they’re still on top of their game. Dave Grohl really is an icon.

8:48 Jack Black introducing the Foo Fighters is just the injection of life this show needs after that sleepy duet.

8:45 Ben: I like “Don’t You Wanna Stay” for what it is, but I don’t like the way it sounds in a live setting.  I have an acoustic version in my iTunes, and I so much prefer listening to it in that form.

8:42 Ben: Yeah, leave Kelly’s mic on.  Turn Jason’s off.  Works for me.

8:41 Kevin: For the blog: I think they turned off Jason’s mic.  Thanks for that.

8:41 Tara: “Don’t You Wanna Stay” isn’t an awful representation of country music on the Grammys, I suppose. I just. Don’t. Get. Jason Aldean.

8:39 I like “Don’t You Wanna Stay” but this performance does have a little of that “Ooo is that paint drying over there?” quality.

8:37 Ben: Yay, Reba! Nice little speech about how music brings people together.

8:37 Well okay. Hey, Reba’s here!

Best Rap Performance: Jay-Z & Kanye West, “Otis”

8:30 Tara: Not particularly impressed by this infamous Chris Brown comeback performance. All I know is Ken Ehrlich’s “victim” statement is deplorable.

8:27 Chris Brown performing now. Have y’all read this yet?

8:25 Ben: I love how she thanks her doctors for bringing her voice back.  She’s so adorable.

8:24 Ben: Adele.  Surprised?  No.  Happy?  Yes.

Best Pop Vocal Performance: Adele, “Someone Like You”

8:23 Ben: Alicia Keys and Bonnie Raitt make a very interesting musical pairing.  I enjoyed that performance.

8:23 Tara: Love the simplicity of this tribute. And damn, Alicia Keys can wail.

8:22 Alicia Keys and Bonnie Raitt (!) paying awesome tribute to Etta James with “Sunday Kind of Love.” No complaints here!

8:21 Ben: Snippet of “Something to Talk About.”  My toe instantly begins tapping.

8:19 Ben: I’m pumped.  Excited for The Civil Wars, and for Taylor Swift’s “Mean.”  Very well-deserved wins

8:19 Tara: So I’m pretty pumped about the pre-telecast country awards. Y’all?

8:15 Bruno Mars just wrapped up the second performance. Some nice mention of people getting off their “rich asses.” Hey, did you guys see Nicki Minaj and Japanese Taylor Swift?

8:11 Tara: I’m digging this “family of musicians” theme of the night. “Music is universal and healing,” says LL Cool J – absolutely.

8:10 Ben: That was cool how they showed the clip of Whitney singing “I Will Always Love You.”

8:10 “Are we excited to hear Adele’s beautiful voice tonight?!” They’re not even going to pretend this isn’t her show, y’all.

8:06 L.L. Cool J is the first Grammy host in several years, and he’s kicking off the night in beautiful fashion with a prayer in memory of Whitney. “There is no way around this; there’s been a death in the family.”

8:01 Kicking off with Bruce Springsteen is not the worst idea. Sounding lively on “We Take Care of Our Own.” It’s hard for that sentiment to set off some thoughts about last night’s events – I wonder if the whole night will be like this.

7:51 Watching this 60 Minutes on Adele. It’s really cool. I don’t have anything else to say about it, really – I just missed you guys!

7:05  Howdy, guys. Dan here. I’ll be running the blog tonight, though a lot of us CU writers will be chiming in. After last night’s loss, should be an especially dynamic show. It’s a good occasion to remember what a special gift music is. Show starts at 8 PM/7 Central – hope you can join us!

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Single Review: Zac Brown Band, “Keep Me in Mind”

This band is too good.

No, really – I think they might actually be too tight, too perfected. At least on record. That could be a bizarre complaint, but then, it’s also bizarre hearing a jam-band track that sounds this rehearsed.

As a composition, “Keep Me in Mind” offers some cool musical changes to pad out its slight theme. But the band moves through everything so smoothly that that padding also starts to seem slight. Even when they transition into a Luther-Vandross-R&B groove – audacious on paper – they do it with so little drama that you hardly notice it.

After a pleasant opening, the record starts to fade into the wallpaper, like a party guest whose presence you can take or leave and probably won’t remember either way. I’ll go for a less varnished live version if one comes out; for now, sounds like they’re all checking their watches.

Written by Zac Brown, Wyatt Durrette and Nic Cowen

Grade: B-

Listen: Keep Me In Mind

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Retro Single Review: Tim McGraw, “Maybe We Should Just Sleep On It”

1996 | Peak: #4

A sound sentiment stuffed in a sound-impaired package.

The generic “moody” 90′s production does some of the damage, as does a patchwork melody that can’t seem to connect its phrases. But you can also  hear McGraw still ironing out his vocal technique, as his likably nervous tremor in the verses meets a series of clumsy trills and some pitchy “baby”s and “maybe”s.

That great title sentiment shines bright, though, almost overcoming the facelessness of the story and the aforementioned sonic issues. Just not quite.

Written by Jerry Laseter and Kerry Kurt Phillips

Grade: C

Next: It’s Your Love (with Faith Hill)

Previous: She Never Lets It Go to Her Heart

 

 

 

 

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Retro Single Review: George Strait, “Let’s Fall to Pieces Together”

1984 | Peak: #1

One of those great country titles that says it all upfront.

Unfortunately, it’s also one of those country titles that carries an entire song. The melody here lands just shy of memorable, and ditto to the story, which never takes its characters deeper than their first encounter at the jukebox. (Instead it does that annoying second-verse thing where it just rephrases the chorus and spells out a few obvious inferences the listener has already made.)

It’s the kind of song destined to be played at such jukeboxes, though, and the title pops out enough to ensure you’ll pick it. You just might not remember doing so later.

Written by Dickey Lee, Tommy Rocco, and Johnny Russell

Grade: B

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Ridiculous Things: Miranda’s New Album Cover

(See the full image here)

Although I might append a “-ly Cool” to that “Ridiculous” depending on the day you asked me.

But yeah, let’s talk about this. She’s playing up her primary marketing persona to such an extreme as to make its artifice glaringly, even amusingly obvious. In a way, that doesn’t bug me – it’s not like any of us ever actually believed her to be a vengeful pyro/ex-girlfriend/abuse victim.

But “Kerosene” and “Gunpowder & Lead” are great records because they tap into the hearts of women who have been those things – or at least, because they construct believable hearts for those women as characters. So while it’s cool, in a Tarantino way, to imagine a cute blond getting all aggro, we know that firepower can’t be the whole story; it has to be based on something. For the most part, Lambert seems to have gotten that.

But the silly reference to burning up some guy’s luggage in “Baggage Claim” bugged me a bit, and now we get bold graphics like this. I’m thinking things could either go very right or very wrong here. This is a striking photo, but I’d hate for Lambert to become a parody of herself.

What do y’all think?

(Note: If the album cover shows up as a Mosaic, click “Show Album.”)

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2011 CMA Nominations

It’s always interesting to see how music industry awards reflect (or don’t reflect) larger narratives in the industry itself.

If you’re interested in the narratives behind this year’s CMAs, look no further than the two men who’ve made the biggest strides on the ballot: Blake Shelton and Jason Aldean. Both show up in Entertainer and Male Vocalist, plus Album and Single, plus assorted other stuff. But the marketing approaches that have gotten them there are vastly different.

Shelton’s is the traditional wisdom: cover all media ground with an inoffensive product until the people buy in. So he’s a core act at radio; he’s on a popular TV show (The Voice); he hosted the ACMs; he was in a ton of magazines for his marriage; he Twitters a lot.

Then there’s the Aldean approach: make a distinct product, generate enough radio support to plant the seeds, then go straight to the fans, tour relentlessly, build up word-of-mouth – let the industry come to you. I think it’s the more effective approach, personally. Look at Eric Church, who has a fraction of Shelton’s ubiquity but beat him in first-week album sales and is still beating him cumulatively - no TV spotlights, no gossip mags, no Twitter.

And look at how many acts on this ballot started on indie labels. Aldean, Taylor Swift, Zac Brown Band, Thompson Square, the freaking Civil Wars. Major-label power still matters, but it seems to mean less all the time. Media saturation still matters, but it seems to mean less all the time. Music is the only thing that always counts, and even the highly political CMAs are starting to have trouble ignoring it.

Just my thoughts, anyway. What say you to this list?

Entertainer

  • Jason Aldean
  • Brad Paisley
  • Blake Shelton
  • Taylor Swift
  • Keith Urban

Who’s In: Jason Aldean, Blake Shelton, Taylor Swift

Who’s Out: Lady Antebellum, Miranda Lambert, Zac Brown Band

Male Vocalist

  • Jason Aldean
  • Kenny Chesney
  • Brad Paisley
  • Blake Shelton
  • Keith Urban

Who’s In: Jason Aldean, Kenny Chesney

Who’s Out: Dierks Bentley, George Strait

Female Vocalist

  • Sara Evans
  • Miranda Lambert
  • Martina McBride
  • Taylor Swift
  • Carrie Underwood

Who’s In: Sara Evans

Who’s Out: Reba McEntire

Vocal Duo

  • The Civil Wars
  • Montgomery Gentry
  • Steel Magnolia
  • Sugarland
  • Thompson Square

Who’s In: The Civil Wars, Thompson Square

Who’s Out: Brooks & Dunn (historical moment!), Joey + Rory

Vocal Group

  • The Band Perry
  • Lady Antebellum
  • Little Big Town
  • Rascal Flatts
  • Zac Brown Band

Who’s In: Nobody

Who’s Out: Nobody

New Artist

  • The Band Perry
  • Luke Bryan
  • Eric Church
  • Thompson Square
  • Chris Young

Who’s In: The Band Perry, Eric Church, Thompson Square

Who’s Out: Easton Corbin, Jerrod Niemann, Zac Brown Band (won)

Notes: Bryan and Young are both on their second nominations here, but for once there’s no obvious frontrunner. Thompson Square pick up the category-filler nom from Jerrod Niemann. This reminds me: where has Easton Corbin gone?

Album

  • Blake Shelton, All About Tonight
  • Jason Aldean, My Kinda Party
  • Taylor Swift, Speak Now
  • Brad Paisley, This Is Country Music
  • Zac Brown Band, You Get What You Give

Notes: Shelton’s is a low-selling EP. Uhhh.

Single

  • Sara Evans, “A Little Bit Stronger”
  • Zac Brown Band, “Colder Weather”
  • Jason Aldean with Kelly Clarkson, “Don’t You Wanna Stay”
  • Blake Shelton, “Honey Bee”
  • The Band Perry, “If I Die Young”

Song

  • “Colder Weather” – written by Zac Brown, Wyatt Durrette, Levi Lowrey, and Coy Bowles
  • “Dirt Road Anthem” – written by Brantley Gilbert and Colt Ford
  • “If I Die Young ” – written by Kimberly Perry
  • “Mean” – written by Taylor Swift
  • “You and Tequila” – written by Matraca Berg and Deana Carter

Notes: Nice to see there are still some Matraca Berg fans out there amid the Brantley Gilbert ones. Interestingly, Swift’s first nomination in this category.

Musical Event

  • “As She’s Walking Away” – Zac Brown Band featuring Alan Jackson
  • “Coal Miner’s Daughter” – Loretta Lynn, Sheryl Crow and Miranda Lambert
  • “Don’t You Wanna Stay” – Jason Aldean with Kelly Clarkson
  • “Old Alabama” – Brad Paisley with Alabama
  • “You and Tequila” – Kenny Chesney featuring Grace Potter

Notes: I’m troubled by the fact that “Don’t You Wanna Stay” is nominated for Single and “As She’s Walking Away” isn’t.

Music Video

  • “Honey Bee” – Blake Shelton
  • “If I Die Young” – The Band Perry
  • “Mean” – Taylor Swift
  • “Old Alabama” – Brad Paisley featuring Alabama
  • “You and Tequila” – Kenny Chesney featuring Grace Potter

Notes: The worst Brad Paisley video ever to be nominated here, I think.

Musician

  • Paul Franklin
  • Dann Huff
  • Brent Mason
  • Mac McAnally
  • Randy Scruggs

Who’s In: Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas

Who’s Out: Brent Mason, Randy Scruggs

.

Related Posts

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2010 CMA Nominations

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Single Review: Lady Antebellum, “We Owned the Night”

Give them a good hook, as in “Need You Now” or “Just a Kiss,” and they’re blandly pleasant. Take away the hook and they’re just straight bland.

I feel sad for the young people whose lives Lady A are soundtracking. This music just isn’t built to last beyond a few elevator rides, and it’s going to sap all the fun out of those kids’ nostalgia sessions.

Grade: D+

Listen: We Owned the Night

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