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.
A reminder of the magic that can happen when a strong lyric meets a fresh, engaging production and a vocal performance that cuts right to the bone.
Based On a True Story…
Bear in mind that Blake Shelton isn’t just another country singer. He is the reigning Male Vocalist of the Year for both the ACM and CMA Awards, as well as the CMA Entertainer of the Year. Due to his position as a judge on “The Voice,” he is one of the most recognizable country stars around. Therefore, his new album Based on a True Story… isn’t just another album release. It’s an event. It’s a highly anticipated occasion. So how does Shelton kick off this record?
Same Trailer Different Park
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.
Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell
Old Yellow Moon
The single biggest obstacle between a critic and a critical review of Old Yellow Moon is the reverence demanded by a collaboration of such artistic and historical significance. So why don’t we get that part out of the way first?
Two Lanes of Freedom
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.
How Country Feels
Randy Houser impressed the critics with 2010’s They Call Me Cadillac, but country radio yawned, and neither of the album’s two singles cracked the Top 30. Houser’s Stoney Creek Records debut thus comes across as a mea culpa of sorts, as Houser shrugs his shoulders in defeat, and gets ready to do some good old-fashioned pandering.
Playlist: The Very Best of Sara Evans
While Sara Evans is reportedly in the studio hard at work on her forthcoming seventh studio album, Sony Legacy has released a new fourteen track retrospective of her sixteen-year career – the latest installment in the label’s Playlist series. Coming nearly five and a half years after Evans’ 2007 Greatest Hits package, Playlist: The Very Best of Sara Evans intersperses several of her biggest hits with a few less expected inclusions. While there is some great material to be heard, there are a few missed opportunities as well.
Fall Into Me
By now, Katie Armiger’s country music career comprises six years, four studio albums, and still zero bona fide radio hits. Her label Cold River Records has nonetheless stuck with her since 2007, with her previous outing, 2010’s Confessions of a Nice Girl, producing her first chart singles in the #55 “Kiss Me Now” and the #42 “Best Song Ever.” Her new album Fall Into Me has yet to reverse her fortunes at radio – Lead single “Better In a Black Dress” topped out at #42 on Billboard Country Airplay – but it no doubt contains more than enough tasteful, likeable pop-country material to keep current fans interested.
The original rockabilly queen returns with a vengeance on her sassy, spirited new album Unfinished Business, following up last year’s solid Jack White-produced comeback set The Party Ain’t Over. This time around, Jackson swaps out White for Americana star Justin Townes Earle as producer as she takes on another set of classic cover tunes mixed with some newer material.