Articles by Tara Seetharam
There’s been many a discussion this past month about what makes an artist most effective: is it vocal nuance or personal connection? Is it songs with explicit absolute truth or implicit absolute emotion? They’re interesting topics to explore, but somewhere in between the analyses, we’ve lost sight of –and perhaps even appreciation of– the artists who have the potential to make our analyses futile. Because some artists actually have it all.
Let’s be real: “Groovy Little Summer Song” isn’t near James Otto’s most memorable, well-written material. It’s not as infectious as his mega-hit, “Just Got Started Lovin’ You,” nor as impassioned as the lesser-known “For You,” and his soulful phrasing seems to eat up some of the words. But “Groovy Little Summer Song” is an incredibly refreshing re-introduction to an artist who can deliver both rich, distinctive vocals and pure, raw sentiment. Otto may be simply asking a DJ to crank up a cool summer tune, but he still manages to color his performance with shades of believable soul, technical substance (the falsetto is a treat) and authentic summer bliss.
There’s a fascinating, frustrating divide between Underwood’s ability to conjure and express her emotion. It’s fascinating because when the divide comes down, the result is magic – but frustrating because it takes some digging around to find these moments of commanding personal conviction, which typically come in the form of live performances. As ironic though it may be considering her mass-exposed start on Idol, it often feels like the only way to really know what Underwood is all about is to pursue her.
It’s no secret that in country music, some expressions of patriotism are more prevalent, and arguably more acceptable, than others. It’s refreshing, then, to see Paisley offer a solid albeit frivolous departure from the conventional with “American Saturday Night,” a proud depiction of America as a nation whose identity is molded by not one, but numerous cultures:
You know everywhere has something they’re known for
Ah, but usually it washes up on our shores.
Evidently, country artists in Nashville are damn proud to be from the country – so proud that they each feel the need to record a song proclaiming just this and, no less, release it to country radio. I’ve lost track of the number of these singles put out in the past year, a handful of which I’ve found to be borderline offensive. As a city girl with a heck of a lot of love for the spirit of country music, I’d rather not be made to feel like I’m being excluded from a members-only club.
Certain country songs have a vibe so inviting that you’re immediately pulled in – such is the case with “Gimme That Girl.” Its sound is fresh and almost organic, laced with a catchy beat and a charming sexiness that few male country artists can pull off.
Thematically, the song doesn’t tread unchartered waters with its “I love you just the way you are” sentiment, and it doesn’t pack a punch like some of Nichols’ previous singles. But he nails the warm, rich vocal performance, infusing the lyrics with just enough kick and swing to make them come alive. There are even a few endearing, stand-out lines: “Dancing around like a fool/starring in her own little show/gimme the girl that the rest of the world ain’t lucky enough to know.”
I have a weakness for songs that mix in elements of fate, particularly love songs. Like no other genre, the best country music has the ability to make me not only believe in but feel invested in the journey of a man and woman.
But to make this type of song effective, an artist has to deliver a touching if not stirring melody, one that has enough distinction to match the message. On the contrary, while “History in the Making” describes what could be a once-in-a-lifetime moment, the melody and production feel a dime a dozen. It’s the kind of character-less, movie soundtrack song you’ve heard before in various forms, in various genres. Even with a line as loaded as “What if this was that moment, that chance worth takin’?”, the booming chorus doesn’t feel powerful so much as it feels forced.
It’s hard not to at least mildly enjoy “How Far Do You Wanna Go?”. It’s catchy. It has a feel-good vibe, and the authentic kind that’s missing from many of the upbeat singles released by mainstream country artists these days. It pulses with a palpable energy, making the song quite infectious – and very appropriately complementing the “let’s leave this town and never look back” storyline.