Archive for the ‘Roundtable Reviews’ Category

Round Table Album Review: Brandy Clark, 12 Stories

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013

Brandy-Clark-12-stories

Brandy Clark
12 Stories

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Our Brandy Clark coverage continues with a round table review of her hotly anticipated debut album, which is out today.

She teased us earlier this year with “Stripes,” which I proudly awarded an A in my review of the song, calling it “a clever and original, not to mention humorous, twist on a tried-and-true country music theme.” It was more than enough to whet our appetites for the album to follow, which ended up going so far as to supersede expectations.

A foremost theme on the aptly-titled 12 Stories is the near-universal desire to escape from something, whether it’s an unhappy marriage, a dead-end job or the everyday stresses of life – even if the respite is only momentary. The stories are laced with striking first-person attention to detail, while often using surprisingly plainspoken language to tap into deep wells of emotion. Though Clark’s songwriting gifts are already well documented – see Kevin’s recent feature – it’s a special treat to finally get to hear what a strong singer she is, her songs beautifully realized through moving, expressive performances.

While the entire album warrants a recommendation, we at Country Universe are pleased to share some favorite tracks from one of our favorite releases of the year.

“Pray to Jesus”

So many of the hired-gun songwriters in Nashville today have adopted a “write what you know” ethos and have then shown a perverse kind of pride in proving that they know absolutely nothing of real value. In stark contrast, “Pray to Jesus,” the first of Clark’s 12 Stories, packs enough into its scant running time and plainspoken, salt-of-the-earth imagery that it probably merits a good 3000 words to delve into what, exactly, Clark knows. Shattering any lingering illusions of upward social mobility in modern America, she delivers a withering cultural commentary that’s noteworthy not for its irony or class condescension but for its empathy and bleak but still good-natured humor. - Jonathan Keefe

Written by Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally

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“What’ll Keep Me Out of Heaven”

Ultimately, the factor that makes Clark’s album so accessible is the realistic nature of each song. The stories are raw, real and relatable in one way or another–whether it’s being able to personally relate, knowing somebody who can, or at least being able to imagine the predicament. While it may not be about contemplating cheating, we can all relate to a black and white situation that still feels grey somehow. If not that, Clark’s portrayal of such a scenario manages to invoke sympathy for the song’s focal character, even as you’re mentally willing her not to carry out the act.

Every element of “What’ll Keep Me Out of Heaven”, including Clark’s intimate performance and a sympathetic production, works  perfectly together to create  the vulnerability  imperative for a believable cheating song. Vince Gill’s always winning background support is just the icing on the cake. - Leeann Ward

Written by Brandy Clark and Mark Stephen Jones

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“Hold My Hand”

12 Stories is a snapshot of life –dirty, messy, redeeming life—taken by a woman with a keen appreciation for its grey areas. Against that backdrop, “Hold My Hand” feels like the exception, a quiet moment of ex-girlfriend-fueled insecurity that isn’t all that complicated. But it’s no less observant: Clark brings to the song a visceral understanding of the female psyche, gently giving weight to the smallest of gestures. Her request for reassurance is a vulnerable one, of course, but leave it to her to make it with such purpose. - Tara Seetharam

Written by Brandy Clark and Mark Stephen Jones

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“Take a Little Pill”

Nashville has become pretty flippant about recreational drug use in recent years, but Clark’s take on self-medicating is much more harrowing. It’s a delicate topic if you try to approach it seriously, but she deftly shows sympathy for people trapped in a spiral of addiction while offering some barbs toward a society that encourages pill-popping as a solution for any problem. - Sam Gazdziak

Written by Brandy Clark, Shane McAnally and Mark D. Sanders

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“Hungover”

There’s a thread of hope and optimism in this song that makes you root for the woman who is slowly taking control of her life, in spite of the love she still has for the man she is slowly leaving behind.  The triumph of her just buying a ticket and going to her sister’s feels like an “Independence Day”- level climax, simply because the character was drawn so perfectly from the beginning. - Kevin John Coyne

Written by Brandy Clark, Shane McAnally and Jessie Jo Dillon

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“The Day She Got Divorced”

This song feels like the lazy choice off Clark’s album, since, hey, even “Turn on the Radio”/”If I Were a Boy”-era Reba couldn’t ignore its greatness. Still, out of all the colorful women sketched on 12 Stories, I keep coming back to the one drinking extra-strong coffee, shrugging off household cleaning, and humoring an empty fling with her married boss. Perhaps it’s because of how impressively the song marries simple craft to complex feeling, arranging its crisp, little details into a vivid picture of mid-life disillusionment. Or maybe it’s all the fun quirks that mark a writing team in confident control of their powers: “dirty dinner dishes,” “wudn’t that sorry, wudn’t that sad,” and of course, the delicious, dramatic title phrase. I guess it’s all of the above, though. “The Day She Got Divorced” is like if a primetime soap like Nashville were written with the precision of a Mad Men and the personality of a Buffy. It’s the best. - Dan Milliken

Written by Brandy Clark, Shane McAnally and Mark D. Sanders

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“Just Like Him”

For all the bold, in-your-face fun of “Stripes” and “Crazy Women,” Clark’s characters are often disarmingly vulnerable. With “Just Like Him,” Clark gives voice to a woman who has grown up with a neglectful, overbearing alcoholic father, only to find her adult self in a relationship with the same sort of man. Arguably, the song’s most potent moment is when Clark heaves a heavy sigh and concludes “I can’t do this again” – a credit to her abilities as an interpretive singer.

The tale is beautifully augmented by a fully realized melody and by David Brainard’s near flawless production job, with strains of harmonica, piano and cello echoing the narrator’s hurt and disappointment. It’s a testament to the fact that the right melody, vocal reading, and production possess a power to elevate something already great into something truly unforgettable. - Ben Foster

Written by Brandy Clark, Shane McAnally and Jessie Jo Dillon

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Round Table Album Review: LeAnn Rimes, Spitfire

Wednesday, June 26th, 2013

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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CU Roundtable Review: Taylor Swift, “Ours”

Saturday, December 10th, 2011

Written by Taylor Swift

Listen:  Ours

Ben Foster:

With the sixth single from Speak Now (which only appears on the deluxe edition), Swift goes for a raw understated style in both production and vocal, and it suits her quite well.  Though regularly criticized for weak vocals, particularly in a live setting, “Ours” is an instance in which Swift is able to work with her vocal imperfections instead of against them.  She turns in a disarmingly compelling performance, such that even the technical imperfections serve to enhance the emotional qualities of the song, as opposed to being a serious liability as in times past.  The treatment allows Swift’s natural authenticity and sincerity instead to be the focus of attention.

By telling a story through easily accessible word pictures – How many of us can’t picture the vacant stares of strangers in an elevator? – the song comes across as an effective musical expression of the comfort of having something special that no one can take away.  In addition, the tastefully restrained production and vocal will make it a pleasant mood-breaker on typically bombastic radio playlists.  For Swift, “Ours” is the latest in a series of very good singles, which only heightens my interest in what her future efforts will bring.

Grade:  B+

Kevin John Coyne:

Sometimes when Taylor Swift is being praised as a great songwriter, it’s a back-handed compliment, as if it’s only being mentioned in comparison to her ability as a singer.  But “Ours” is further evidence that she’s a great songwriter, no qualifiers required.

“People throw rocks at things that shine” is just a great line.  A “Hey, let me go back five seconds and make sure I heard that” great line.

My big thing with Swift has always been that I’m too old to be her target audience, and her vocals aren’t interesting enough to sustain my attention.  But the gap is narrowing, and as she’s getting older, her observations are seeming more astute.

“Ours” is charming, breezy, and sustains my attention.  I don’t see myself hitting repeat in the way that I did with “Mean”, but I’m certainly enjoying it enough to revisit it again.  That’s about as high as my praise gets for country music in 2011.

Grade:  B+

Noah Eaton:

This past March, Taylor Swift added her refreshing perspective to a long line of recent radio songs concerning the issue of bullying and peer-pressure in consequence of embracing ones individuality with “Mean.”

If that was her “Firework”, this is her “Hey There Delilah”.

“Ours”, the fifth single from “Speak Now” (and the first from the Deluxe Edition) showcases a notably more understated production; a slight departure from the defensive posturings and romantic exigency that have peppered most of her back catalog to date.

Much like the aforementioned and unabashedly sincere 2007 Plain White T’s smash, where frontman Tom Higgenson opines in the bridge that their friends would all make fun of them if they attempted to walk across the country to rendezvous, but would just laugh along with them because “none of them have felt this way”…….Swift sheds light on the silence of strangers in the opening verse of “Ours” and asserts, if her love interest was here, they’d “laugh about their vacant stares.”

However, unlike “Hey There Delilah”, which concerns a star-crossed romance spanning a thousand miles and how absence makes the protagonist’s heart grow fonder, “Ours” illustrates a relationship separated not by mile markers, but by life’s obligations and peer pressure. Nowhere is this made more explicit than in the song’s chorus, which features the stand-out interjection: “People throw rocks at things that shine” and that, in effect, life makes love look hard.

Considering how comparatively stripped-down the production of this track is compared to previous outings of hers, it’s curious to see Swift maintaining her defiant pose here and pointing her finger out at naysayers. As cohesive and believable as the lyrics are here, the chorus can’t help but feel underdeveloped and tame, especially since Swift declares that the stakes are high and the water’s rough. The way she mouths those lines with relative ease would lead you to believe it’s actually low tide as she speaks.

Despite the somewhat rushed and dispassionate chorus, Swift maintains here a penchant for construction and conviction that made her previous singles “Sparks Fly” and “Mean” stand-outs as well. There is a keen continuity that ties each of its parts together into one attractive package, with the opening verse implying her time is theirs, before clocking in her hours by the second chorus and exclaiming her love interest is now hers, and finally tying up the loose ends with an effective bridge that reassures him, as she inevitably places her nose to the grindstone again and is pummeled by a barrage of additional peer pressure, that her faith for him is exemplified with this here song.

With the lugubrious winter overcast enshrouding most of the nation presently, “Ours” is certain to resonate with countless anxious lovebirds yearning for reassurance and clarity, and should prove to produce yet another Country radio hit to add to her burgeoning collection. What remains to be seen is whether this can also replicate the success of “Hey There Delilah” on Adult Top 40 and Mainstream Top 40 radio, and deliver her first decisive crossover hit this album cycle……….or if it’ll be subjected to yet another round of vacant stares.

We’ll just have to let the jury decide that, shall we?

Grade:  B+

Jonathan Keefe:

From the first lines of “Ours,” Swift dismisses the points-of-view of anyone outside the limited, insular sphere of her immediate romantic concerns. Thus, when she spends the rest of the song trying to mine dramatic tension from everyone else’s disapproval – which, but for the line about, “Any snide remarks from my father about your tattoos will be ignored,” are far more vague and impersonal than in her best songs – it rings completely hollow. The mixed metaphors and disjointed, non-sequitur statements in the chorus just don’t make me believe that she has any reason to be so defensive about the relationship, and Swift’s believability is one of her best attributes as a artist. With something like “Enchanted” still waiting on Speak Now, “Ours” should’ve remained a for-diehards-only bonus track.

Grade:  C-

Tara Seetharam:

It may not be as evocative as “Sparks Fly” or as fresh as “Mean,” but “Ours” is a solid, graceful way to close out Speak Now. The beauty – or perhaps irony – of Swift’s catalogue is that despite her flawed performances, there isn’t anyone who could sing her material as effectively as she does.  She builds herself into the fabric of “Ours,” literally (“I’ll…give you faith with this song”), emotionally (the subtle laughs) and lyrically (“lip gloss smiles” is signature Swift).

That’s the thing – told by a lesser artist, this story would be obnoxious; told by Swift, it’s deliciously dramatic. She nails the blindly passionate, narrow-minded youthful perspective but does it so charmingly that you forget to be annoyed. And while it’s hard to tell if the drama is warranted, there’s no doubt “people throw rocks at things that shine” is one of the best lines of 2011, as truthful as it is cleverly written.

Grade:  B

Leeann Ward:

Everyone has already said it, but”Ours” is impressively understated in both Taylor Swift’s vocal deliveryand its folky production. The instruments don’t compete with each other and, even better, Swift doesn’t compete with the instruments.  Instead, there is no point in the song where her voice is grating, rather, it is actually quite pleasant  and even softly nuanced throughout the song.

Furthermore,we hear her continue to grow as a songwriter. While it’s still not perfect,there are flashes of near brilliance in lyrics such as “People throw rocks at things that shine” and the vivid depiction of something as typicallymundane as awkward moments in an elevator that make her prefer to take thestairs in the end.

It hasn’t been lip service up to this point from me when I’ve praised Swift’s ability to capture young people’s feelings, even if they are such that I can’t personally relate, but I agree with the others who feel that this song provides solid hope for the growth that so many people have believed she would make as she got older and more mature herself.

The mix of the gentle and satisfying production (save the minor distraction of the moody, plinky piano), a pleasant melody and her best vocals makes for Swift’s strongest song to date.

Grade: B+

CU Roundtable Review: The Band Perry, “All Your Life”

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

Listen:

All My Life

Leeann Ward:

As wrong as it may be, the consistently gorgeous arrangements and Kimberly Perry’s compelling vocals almost make up for the lyrical deficiencies found on The Band Perry’s debut album. As it has been with all their singles so far, The Band Perry’s story of style being greater than substance continues with this promising group’s latest single as well.

With its acoustic based instrumentation, Kimberly’s pretty vocals and a sing-able melody, “All My Life” sounds like a typical love song on the surface. The girl isn’t asking for everything, just that the object of her obsession (check out the song’s bridge) loves her all his life. As it was with “If I Die Young”, however, the sentiment of the song makes perfect sense, but the nitty gritty of the lyrics are somewhat distorted or, perhaps, too fanciful. While there’s nothing wrong with asking if someone will love you all your life, it’s baffling how jars of sand or fireflies in a lamp delivered by someone in a tux proves anything.    Grade: B

Tara Seetharam:

Not unlike the band’s previous three singles, “All Your Life” has an earthy sparkle that makes it hard to easily dismiss: it feels as earnest as a Taylor Swift song and sounds as charmingly simple as a Dixie Chicks song circa 1999. But the lyrics teeter between sleepy and trite, with Kimberly’s sprightly vocal nuances –at once natural, textured and emotive– serving as the most interesting part of the “love” story.

That is, until the vanilla turns to rocky road two and a half minutes in. Just as the piano-driven breakdown of “You Lie” is enough to keep me from switching the station, “All Your Life” delivers a sucker punch with an eerie, twisted bridge, sonically and lyrically: “You could be the centerpiece of my obsession if you would notice me at all.” In retrospect, the confession gives the rest of the song an intriguing and slightly psychotic undertone – you get the feeling Kimberly wants to follow up benign lyrics like “Would you walk to the end of the ocean just to fill my jar with sand?” with “Well, would you? WOULD YOU?”

And just like that, with a little injection of campiness, the song comes to life.  Grade: B

Jonathan Keefe:

Their singles have really been all over the place, haven’t they? “Hip to My Heart” was just wretched, but “If I Die Young” was a once-in-a-career kind of hit. “You Lie” fell on the wrong side of just all right, and now “All Your Life” is a bit better than average.

The melody, especially in the refrain, is the real selling point here, and the light-handed arrangement and solid vocal harmonies help to make this one a pleasant listen. Still, a couple of nicely turned phrases in each verse aren’t enough to overcome the song’s fundamental cliches, and Kimberly Perry wanders off pitch more than a couple of times.

The bigger issue for me is that the single lacks a strong hook: “All Your Life” needed one standout line or distinctive production flourish to make it something more than just kind-of pretty. Grade: B-

Kevin John Coyne:

There are a lot of things that work about the Band Perry.  I’m not hearing much of them on this particular track.

I love the bridge breakdown that recalls Nickel Creek at their trippiest, and I genuinely appreciate a country single actually sounding country.

But the lyrics and the vocal performances?  Pure amateur hour.    Grade: C-

Dan Milliken:

As others are noting, two things click: 1) The organic arrangement; 2) The cool bridge, which uses minor tonality better than any country single in recent memory.

Otherwise, though, it sounds like something Colbie Caillat would have written as a teenager. The case of Kimberly is a weird matter, too – certainly she’s got range, but you get a lot of ungainly pronunciations like “o-SHUH–hun.” Eh.   Grade: C+

Ben Foster:

I love The Band Perry’s sound and style, as well as Kimberly’s voice, so I would definitely like to be pulling for them.  The lyrics are where they tend to lose me.  In this case, the deficiencies don’t come in the form of the wonky, off-beat “I oughta kill you right now and do the whole wide world a service” Band Perry kind of way.  It’s just kind of blah, and a bit on the cheesy side.  The bridge is more interesting, but I still don’t like how the song lets me sit through two boring verses before it makes any real attempt to engage me in the lyrics.

And yet, I still find the restrained country-bluegrassy arrangement so absorbing.  While Kimberly’s vocal performance is not technically perfect, I still find it compelling and believable in its own way (and preferable to the buzzy, processed auto-tune effects that I hear on other artists’ records).  Overall, the single is good enough that I’ll probably come back to listen periodically, but I would still like to see the band making greater artistic strides with their lyrics on future releases.  Without a solid lyric that’s strong from start to finish, they’re still one base shy of a home run.  Grade:  B-

Written by Brian Henningsen and Clara Henningsen

CU Roundtable Review: Martina McBride, “I’m Gonna Love You Through It”

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

Written by Ben Hayslip, Sonya Isaacs, and Jimmy Yeary

Leeann Ward: 

After changing record labels and subsequently releasing the refreshingly sassy “Teenage Daughters”, not to mention interviews that hinted that she hadn’t been completely happy with the direction that her music had taken in recent years, it seemed that blessedly gone might be the days of overwrought, cloying power ballads with generic productions for Martina McBride. The release of “I’m Gonna Love You Through It”, however, laid that hope to rest for those of us who had tired of such songs a zillion Martina songs ago.

The most frustrating thing about this recording is that the song actually has a good story underneath the boring, glossy production. We get to see a loving husband who sensitively stabilizes and loves his wife through grueling breast cancer treatments that ultimately result in her losing both breasts. The story deserves to be told, as this composition admirably does, with such stark reality and detail, but McBride has used up her capital for these types of songs. It’s difficult not to feel desensitized at this point.    Grade: C

Jonathan Keefe:

Well, so much for feeling optimistic about her song choices after “Wrong Baby Wrong” and “Teenage Daughters” broke a decade-long streak of artistic stagnation. As far as McBride’s “important” “issue” songs go, this one is far less maudlin than “Concrete Angel,” less saccharine than “God’s Will,” and less self-congratulatory than “Anyway,” but it still goes for the easiest, cheapest kinds of emotional manipulation, and the knowledge that she’s capable of better will never make one of these songs anything but a let-down.

The verse about the mastectomy is, at the very least, the kind of detail-oriented, personal songwriting that each of those other three singles sorely lacked, and I’m sure this song will find a vocal audience among breast cancer survivors who will use this as an anthem of empowerment. To which, sure. But it’s not like McBride deserves a medal or any awards-show hardware for wailing about how cancer is bad but loving your spouse with cancer is good. We hear you loud and clear, Martina, but we already agreed with you.    Grade: C-

Sam Gazdziak:

Considering the number of people who have battled cancer and the family members who have supported them, Martina McBride’s new single can resonate with pretty much everybody. “I’m Gonna Love You Through This” is a touching concept, but it’s only moderately successful as a song.

There are some well-written details in the lyrics, particularly the references to the woman wearing baggy shirts and yearning to feel like a woman again. There are likely countless breast cancer survivors out there feeling the same way, and while they may not want to discuss those feelings with their family, maybe hearing McBride singing about it will help them to come to terms with their loss.

Given the song material, though, it’s difficult to stay on the side of “touching” without crossing over into “maudlin.” While the lyrics yank on heartstrings, as expected, the production is what really takes it over the top. The string section is syrupy enough, but when McBride bursts into full-blown Diva Mode, it just gets to be too much.

I can appreciate the song from a technical standpoint, but I have no desire to hear it again.  Grade: C+

Kevin Coyne:

The concept is better than the finished product here.

The song gets a lot of the details about cancer right, but that’s what makes the message of the chorus sound so trite.   I think they would’ve been better off picking a character in the song and singing it in the first person.  The experience of the wife receiving that unconditional love while they struggle with an illness, for example.  Or even better, the contrast between the brave front the supportive spouse is presenting to his wife and the fear and terror he’s feeling inside.

The typical post-Wild Angels criticisms apply: she sings too loud, and the band plays even louder.  It’s the contemporary country spin on the chicken or the egg: Is the band trying to be heard over Martina, or is Martina trying to be heard over the band?     Grade:  B-

Ben Foster:

It’s not inherently a bad song, even though cancer songs are easy to dismiss as pandering.  The throwaway chorus is the weakest part of the lyric, but the verses include an added level of detail and specifity that set the lyric above some of Martina’s past inspirational anthems.  The woman is 38 years old.  She has three children.  She loses her breasts to the cancer.  That helps make the story seem like an actual story instead of a vaguely-developed concept.

The production is what kills it.  It’s so typical.  So expected.  We hear the cello run through the opening verse, the rising string section, and then a predictably overdramatic finish with Martina belting it out for all it’s worth.  Lyrically, this song is better than many of the Martina power ballads that have preceded it, but the arrangement causes it to run together with all the rest.  Sonically, it’s nearly indistinguishable from Martina’s 2007 hit “Anyway.”

This single is particularly disappointing coming in the wake of the witty and off-beat “Teenage Daughters,” which dramatically heightened my expectations for Martina’s new album, and makes “I’m Gonna Love You Through It” seem like a definite step backwards.  I’m still holding out a glimmer of hope that Martina’s new album as a whole will favor edgy, interesting material in the vein of “Teenage Daughters,” and that “I’m Gonna Love You Through It” will prove to be only an isolated misstep.  But I can’t say I’m overly optimistic.  Grade:  C+

Listen:  I’m Gonna Love You Through It

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