Category Archives: Album Reviews

Album Review: Punch Brothers, The Phosphorescent Blues

Punch Brothers The Phosphorescent Blues

Punch Brothers
The Phosphorescent Blues

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In reviewing their 2010 album, Antifogmatic, I noted that Punch Brothers were “rapidly evolving into a string-band version of Radiohead.” That assessment comes to full fruition on The Phosphorescent Blues, at once the band’s most obtuse and most accessible album.

Opening with the 10-plus minute suite of “Familiarity,” Punch Brothers have never been so forward with their hybrid of classical sophistication with prog-inspired Bluegrass, as the track ebbs and flows between “Amen!” exclamations right out of high mountain gospel and intricate vocal harmonies that would fit seamlessly on Brian Wilson’s SMiLE. The band’s technical virtuosity is on full display on the instrumental performances of wondrously complex arrangements by DeBussy and Scriabin.

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Album Review: Carrie Underwood, Greatest Hits: Decade #1

carrie underwood greatest hits decade 1

Carrie Underwood
Greatest Hits: Decade #1

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Hits compilations have become an odd thing in the digital age, as they give both hardcore and casual fans little reason to purchase. The new tracks can be downloaded if you’re interested. The hits that you would’ve wanted, you’ve probably downloaded anyway.

So kudos to Carrie Underwood for putting together a collection that’s worth purchasing in physical form, with beautiful artwork and liner notes, and for putting together a track listing that doesn’t cut corners in any way. Every single hit is included, and she’s had a ton of them so far, all consistently good and quite a few that have been great.

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Album Review: Jon Pardi, Write You a Song

Jon Pardi Write You a Song

Jon Pardi
Write You a Song

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A surprisingly entertaining debut effort, Jon Pardi’s relentless enthusiasm infuses even mediocre material with enough energy to make it listenable. Of course, that’s the advantage of a debut album. Even if the material isn’t fresh, the artist is.

So the real promise for Pardi’s future is his ability to write and record songs that are a cut above the average radio fare of the day. He does this on the best tracks of Write You a Song, most significantly on the title track, where a traveling musician leaves behind a one night stand in every town, but basically says, “Hey! When you hear that song of mine on the radio, I wrote it about you!”

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Album Review: David Nail, I’m a Fire

David Nail I'm a Fire

David Nail
I’m a Fire

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If he’s a fire, it’s one that doesn’t burn nearly enough. Three albums in, Nail continues to pair great potential with middling results. Despite having better pipes than most of his contemporaries and a knack for finding some genuinely interesting material each time out, his albums as a whole never quite take off.

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Album Review: Zoe Muth, World of Strangers

Zoe Muth World of Strangers

Zoe Muth
World of Strangers

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Few artists can make “weary” sound as engaging as Zoe Muth. Even though she rarely picks up the tempo past a casually swinging shuffle, Muth captivates with her artfully turned phrases and dry sense of humor. “Mama Needs a Margarita,” in which Muth adopts the persona of a young mother tired of being left home alone to eat “straight from the jar” alongside her infant, stands as one of 2014’s finest songs.

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Album Review: Little Big Town, Pain Killer

Little Big Town Pain Killer

Little Big Town
Pain Killer

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Rather than focusing on their unrivaled vocal skill, Little Big Town and producer Jay Joyce approach Pain Killer like a game of “Chicken”: Listening to the album, it appears that no idea that occurred to the band or to Joyce during their recording sessions was deemed too outlandish or too gauche.

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Album Review: Garth Brooks, Man Against Machine

Garth Brooks Man Against Machine

Garth Brooks
Man Against Machine

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Garth’s first proper studio album in thirteen years is chock full of all of his best and worst traits, but thankfully errs more often on the side of subtlety over excess.

He’s always been good at straddling the fence between heartfelt sincerity and saccharine sentimentality, and the strongest moments are the ones that explore parenthood. “Mom” is a maternal celebration that would make Boyz II Men teary-eyed, while “Send ‘Em on Down the Road” captures the terrifying truth that finishing the job of parenthood means letting go, no matter how much you want to hold on.

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Album Review: Blake Shelton, Bringing Back the Sunshine

Blake Shelton Bringing Back the Sunshine

Blake Shelton
Bringing Back the Sunshine

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He’s been coasting on his celebrity status and his brand of aw-shucks humor for years, so it’s encouraging that Blake Shelton’s Bringing Back the Sunshine seems less phoned-in than its predecessors.

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Album Review: Angaleena Presley, American Middle Class

Angaleena Presley American Middle Class

Angaleena Presley
American Middle Class

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Presley’s upbringing in the hollows of Eastern Kentucky provides her with an endless well of believable first-person details that she uses to create the quirky, cockeyed fictions on American Middle Class. Hers are the types of stories that bait autobiographical readings— always a critical dead-end, even when Taylor Swift insists on dropping hints as to who her songs are about— but what Presley does best is create a sustained mood.

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Album Review: Brad Paisley, Moonshine in the Trunk

Brad Paisley Moonshine in the Trunk

Brad Paisley
Moonshine in the Trunk

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Paisley’s last four albums have established a pattern of something slightly progressive or challenging (American Saturday Night, Wheelhouse) followed by a course-correction back toward baseline (This is Country Music, Moonshine in the Trunk).

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