Author Archives: Leeann Ward

Single Review: Tim McGraw with Catherine Dunn, “Diamond Rings and Old Barstools”

Tim McGraw Catherine Dunn Diamond Rings and Old Barstools

“Diamond Rings and Old Barstools”
Tim McGraw with Catherine Dunn

Written by Barry Dean, Luke Laird, and Jonathan Singleton

Tim McGraw should be applauded for finally meeting the potential that many of us had hoped for after he left the oppressive Curb Records. His most recent album, particularly his last couple singles, have dialed back the loudness, embraced a more traditional and organic sound, reconnected him with the warm vocals with which he had all but lost, and the last two singles have even presented more thoughtful lyrics than he’d been singing in the last few years.

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Single Review: Trisha Yearwood, “I Remember You”

Trisha Yearwood I remember You

“I Remember You”
Trisha Yearwood

Written by Kelly Archer, Ben Carver, and Brad Rempel

After the anthemic “Prize Fighter”, Trisha Yearwood softens things with the emotional “I Remember You.” With just an acoustic guitar and simple strings, “I Remember You” is a gorgeous tribute to the memories of someone who has passed from this life to the next.
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Single Review: Ashley Monroe, “On to Something Good”

Ashley Monroe On to Something Good

“On to Something Good”
Ashley Monroe

Written by Barry Dean, Luke Laird and Ashley Monroe

Happily, Ashley Monroe has announced a new album that will, once again, be produced by Vince Gill with the help of Justin Niebank. The lead single from the album is “On to Something Good.” Sadly, the single only makes me very cautiously optimistic instead of very optimistic.
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Single Review: Josh Turner, “Lay Low”

Josh Turner Lay Low“Lay Low”

Josh Turner

Written by Ross Copperman, Tony Martin and Mark Nesler

Good for Josh Turner for sticking with his neo-traditional country sound, even though he’s in the oft talked about minority nowadays. I don’t listen to country radio anymore, but I imagine that some people will think that “Lay Low” sounds stale and boring amongst the bombastic and party anthem “escapism” of country radio playlists these days.

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Single Review: Garth Brooks, “People Loving People”

Garth Brooks People Loving People“People Loving People”

Garth Brooks

Written by Michael Busbee, Lee Thomas Miller & Chris Wallin

There is no nuanced way to say it. Garth Brooks’ long anticipated comeback single is really bad with a little bit of good to keep it from being really, really bad.

We’ll start with the good. The message and concept of the song is admirable and hits my personal sweet spot of songs that promote love, peace and goodness in the world. He posits that it’s simply people loving people that will make the world better. It’s a simplistic view of things, but a sweet one that I can get behind on a basic level. In fact, the lyrics are well constructed and not even too cloying to sell the sentiment, which is a difficult line to balance.

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Single Review: Jason Aldean, “Burnin’ It Down”

Jason-Aldean-Burnin-It-Down“Burnin’ it Down”

Jason Aldean

Written by Rodney Clawson, Tyler Hubbard, Brian Kelley,  and Chris Tompkins

Country music isn’t historically prudish. It covers the topical gambit of love, drinking, cheating, murder and, yes, even passion. Conway Twitty, Alabama, Charlie Rich, even Alan Jackson ,as well as many others,  haven’t shied away from memorably singing about sexual intimacy. But their songs maintained a respect for the intimacy, which Jason Aldean’s “Burnin” it Down” grossly fails to do. Instead, the song is high octane graphic with no sense of real intimacy and nothing left up to the imagination.

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Song Talk: Papa Don’t Preach!

It’s fun to think of our favorite endearing songs about dads. We’ve even done it here at Country Universe a time or two. But let’s face it, dad’s aren’t always right and they’re not always wise. Here are a few songs that show villainous fathers.

While I’m so fond of my dad that I almost feel guilty about writing this Song Talk installment, my guilt is eased by knowing that he would actually be amused by the topic. So, here we go! Feel free to add your selections in the comments.

Lefty Frizzell Saginaw Michigan

Lefty Frizzell, “Saginaw, Michigan”

I was listening to this song the other day and it’s what inspired this list. It’s the classic scenario of the dad thinking that his daughter’s suitor isn’t good enough for her, but the twist at the end takes a hilarious turn!

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Song Talk: Music that Moves Me

Sarah JaroszMy local Public Radio station has a wonderful series called Music that Moves Me, which was conceived and originally produced by the inimitable Suzanne Nance who has now (sadly for us, but happily for her) moved on to bigger things in a big Chicago market. For this series, people across Maine submitted touching or funny stories about how a particular song or specific music has moved them in their lives. As a result, this series inspired me to make a playlist of songs that move me whenever I hear them. The songs that move me the most are those that promote sensitivity and kindness in the world or in me.

Here are just a few of the songs that move me. What are some of yours and why?

Sarah Jarosz, “Ring Them Bells”

Jarosz beautifully interprets this Bob Dylan Chestnut with the help of Vince Gill. There’s just something in her voice that makes me feel that she’s emotionally connected to the song and it’s inclusive message, which, in turn, connects me to the song.

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Single Review: George Strait, “I Believe”

I-BelieveWriting a song about a current event that pulls at the heartstrings is a difficult thing to accomplish without seeming opportunistic, not to mention that the part of current fades away over time and can potentially make a song seem irrelevant as a result. It’s inevitable, however, that such songs will be written, since one of the most emotional ways to respond to a tragedy is to process feelings through music.

So, a country song about the horrific event that occurred in Newtown, Connecticut, last December, a mere 7 months ago, is tasked with the delicate undertaking of striking that sensitive balance of honoring rather than exploiting. Although it seems impossible to do, Alan Jackson did it with “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” for the worst national tragedy in my lifetime. And while this may not turn out to have the same broad recognition as that untouchable musical moment, George Strait’s tribute to those who lost their lives in Newtown successfully does the same.

“I Believe” quietly displays a strong faith that expresses the solace felt by believing in a higher power that can help heal the most broken of hearts. Supported by gentle production, Strait tenderly sings of the lost “26 angels” with palpable reverence and hope. Strait’s voice is as solid as ever, including strong and mournful falsetto notes, which perfectly emotes the sincerity and compassion that a song of this magnitude requires. There are no lyrical or note-bending histrionics by Gentleman George here – just a tribute from a humble man conveying a simple sentiment of real heartbreak, buoyed by faith and hope.

Written by Dean Dillon, Bubba Strait & George Strait

Grade: A

Listen: “I Believe”

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Round Table Album Review: LeAnn Rimes, Spitfire

As you may have noticed, the Country Universe staff loves to find ways to participate in joint writing projects. So, while it won’t be the exclusive way that we review albums, we thought we would give a new, more collaborative album review format a try. As an offshoot of our Round Table Single Reviews, which could become repetitive when we all agreed on a particular track, we are test-driving Round Table Album Reviews, which will give us all a chance to weigh in on different tracks and aspects of a single album. With this format, even if we all generally positively (or negatively) agree on an album, as happens to be the case here, we still have room for a variety of perspectives.

Spitfire

LeAnn Rimes
Spitfire

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It’s certainly no secret that LeAnn Rimes has lived a tumultuous life, a fact which has been sensationalized by various media outlets throughout her career. While her male counterparts are frivolously singing about cruising backroads, partying life away and generic love, Rimes has channeled her life circumstances into an emotional and fiery work of art, just as true artists tend to do. As a result, music critics have taken notice and have rewarded her efforts with high praise and acclaim.

As Dan observed in his review of the album’s lead release, Rimes is “an artist who hit her commercial peak early, but whose creative peak is still sloping up with each passing year.” Rimes’ Spitfire demonstrates that the trend continues with the best album of her career and, certainly, what will be one of the shining albums of 2013. - Leeann Ward

“Gasoline and Matches” (with Rob Thomas, featuring Jeff Beck)

In an album rife with weighty reflection and introspection, the nearly frenetic “Gasoline and Matches”, originally written and performed by Buddy and Julie Miller, is a welcome reprieve. It’s as intense as the rest of the album, but in a decidedly different way.

Lyrics like “You pull my pin and you trip my wire/Yeah, well, you come in and set my heart on fire/You knock me out, you rock me off my axis” signal that this isn’t just some run-of-the mill love song, but rather, a cleverly constructed, fiery romper. What’s more, is there a more endearing proposal line than “Baby, we should get related”? Maybe so, but it perfectly fits the cheekiness of this song.

Furthermore, along with the addicting bass riff and bluesy guitar solo from Jeff Beck, Rimes and Matchbox Twenty’s Rob Thomas rise to the song’s proverbial gauntlet with a rousing performance where they match each other’s intensity phrase for phrase, which all culminates into a truly riveting listening experience. - Leeann Ward

Written by Buddy Miller and Julie Miller

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“Who We Really Are”

I don’t know that I’ve ever seen an artist’s entire “reason to be” shift so dramatically over the course of one career.   When Rimes first surfaced, the novelty was she was a young girl with amazing pipes who could belt out classics past and present.  Her success was based on the very opposite of song interpretation, with the focus being completely on the singer – “Wow, can you believe a little girl just hit that note!”  The songs were incidental, and usually better interpreted by other artists in years gone by.  In that sense, she foreshadowed what would make most of the “American Idol” also-rans popular while on the show, but irrelevant once they were voted off.

“Who We Really Are” perfectly illustrates how she’s become something else entirely: a subtle, nuanced singer who gets out of the song’s way, allowing the writing to take center stage.  This only works if a singer is able to pick (or write) great material in the first place, and is able to communicate the song’s meaning in a way that is clarifying for the listener.  She succeeds wildly here, earning what might be the greatest compliment a singer can get when recording outside material:  It sounds like she wrote it.   - Kevin John Coyne

Written by  Darrell Brown and Sarah Buxton

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“I Do Now”

What music fan hasn’t had this experience? You heard a song as a kid, fell in love with the feeling and melody, grew up ten years and suddenly realized, “Oh; this is about heroin addiction.”

That’s not quite Rimes’s character here, thankfully. But in one of the most upbeat admissions of wrongdoing since “Dang Me,” she does fess up to her share of cheating and drinking, all while bopping around to a beat so groovy that they had to give it a 50-second solo at the top of the track. Turns out Rimes used to find the classic Hank and Merle weepers pretty groovy, too – until she started living through them.

But you can’t keep a good girl down: even after she’s driven away her man, then alienated everyone else trying to drink away her shame, she manages to get her act together, coming full circle to a new love who helps set her free, just like in the oughta-be classic “Cowboy Take Me Away.” Getting older and wiser can mean seeing more of the darkness in the world, Rimes seems to acknowledge – but if you hold out for it, you get see more of the light, too.  - Dan Milliken

Written by LeAnn Rimes, Darrell Brown & Dan Wilson

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“God Takes Care of Your Kind”

The most obvious choice LeAnn Rimes could have made for her performance on “God Takes Care of Your Kind” would have been a vengeful, “woman scorned” act, turning the song into a tale of fiery accusations and Old Testament style retribution. But Rimes has spent her last four albums avoiding those obvious choices that most of her contemporaries likely would – and far too often do – make. What makes the final kiss-off of “God Takes Care of Your Kind” so cutting isn’t the rusty barbs knotted in its lyrics but the fact that Rimes’ delivery couldn’t be more casual in its dismissal.

She references deep betrayal in the chorus (“I let you in where I never let anyone/You cut me open just to watch the blood run,” for those wondering if modern country songs could still trade in sexually loaded metaphors). But, drawling out her lines over a slinky rhythm section, she doesn’t sound the least bit pressed by any of it. Instead, she’s relaxed and confident, resting easy in the blessed assurance that the Good Lord has her back. - Jonathan Keefe

Written by Darrell Brown, LeAnn Rimes and Dean Sheremet

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“A Waste is a Terrible Thing to Mind”

Amidst all the astute, specific storytelling on Spitfire, “A Waste is a Terrible Thing to Mind” sticks out for its broad strokes of emotion. There’s no vivid thought process to trace here; it’s just a lament about the cost of foolishly ignoring love, built around a turn-of-phrase that sits dangerously close to contrived.

But its craft is elsewhere: Like the potent country song it recalls, it drowns the narrative in emotion – through the swell of the melody, the cry of the steel guitar, the guilt in Rimes’ voice – until the words becomes an accessory. Rimes plays into this effect with a performance that’s as stirring as the arrangement it complements, restrained and self-loathing all at once. If Spitfire is an indication of the vision-driven artist we weren’t sure Rimes could become, “A Waste is a Terrible Thing to Mind” is a reminder of the artist whose voice could always light fire and relevance under the most classically constructed country songs. - Tara Seetharam

Written by David Baerwald, Darrell Brown and LeAnn Rimes 

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