Brad Paisley has become a fairly reliable competitor in country radio’s annual summer song rodeo. He offers a 2014 entry that is listenable and likable, if not as memorable as last year’s “Beat This Summer.”
Written by Brandon Bush, Kristian Bush, and Tim Owen
It’s not entirely without precedent. When Diana Ross left the Supremes, their first single without her did better than her first solo release. Ringo Starr managed to score two #1 pop hits before John Lennon reached the top as a solo act. Peter Gabriel was supposed to be the indispensable talent of Genesis, but they did better when they gave Phil Collins the mic. Even country acts like Highway 101 and Restless Heart have seen the same phenomenon occur.
Written by Tae Lynn Elizabeth Dye, Maddie Marlow, and Aaron Scherz
“I ain’t your tan-legged Juliet. Can I put on some real clothes now?”
Maddie & Tae give voice to the girls who have become the ornaments in what seems like every uptempo country song of the last ten years. I really could quote the whole thing, line by line, and would have to if I wanted to share everything in the song worth quoting. It’s that good.
If you’re going to keep revisiting the same themes, you might as well take some risks with your delivery.
Kenny Chesney’s new single sounds fresher and more engaging than anything he’s done in a very long time. It’s easy to miss that he’s singing about what he always sings about: nostalgia for growing up in the country with American rock as the soundtrack.
What makes “American Kids” work more than a lot his attempts with this theme is that sounds like he learned something listening to those Mellencamp and Springsteen records. This record oozes charm and mature authority, like he’s finally lived long enough to look back and say, “Hey. We were kinda crazy back then. But we all turned out alright in the end.”
Written by Rodney Clawson, Luke Laird, and Shane McAnally
It’s always fascinating to see how a recording artist responds once her days as a consistent hit-maker have passed: While some chase the latest trends in an effort to remain commercially relevant, others embrace their newfound creative freedom and challenge themselves to add something meaningful to both their own artistic legacy and to the country genre itself.
With “The Way I’m Livin’,” the title track to her first album in six years, it’s apparent that Lee Ann Womack has taken the latter route.
For the better part of twenty years, Womack has been one of country’s most distinctive vocal stylists, thanks to her languid sense of phrasing and deceptively sweet vocal tone. On “The Way I’m Livin’,” Womack uses her instrument in entirely new ways. Shortening her vowels and clipping individual phrases, she brings a worldly, damaged point-of-view to the song’s sordid tale of “lyin’ and a’sinnin’.” Not even her feisty readings of standout hits “Ashes by Now” and “Does My Ring Burn Your Finger” hinted at her capacity for wallowing in vice the way she does here, and it’s downright revelatory.
Beyond the stellar vocal turn, though, what makes “The Way I’m Livin’” one of Womack’s finest singles is the complexity of the song itself. The imagery of the opening stanza, wherein Womack sings of meeting the Devil on the roadside and succumbing to temptation, may be familiar, but songwriter Adam Wright ensures that those images are fraught with implication. Whatever was in that “bottle of something sweet” the Devil may have offered, it was stronger than any Schnapps or other candied liqueur, and it set Womack’s protagonist on a wayward path.
Plenty of contemporary country songs, though, find women donning bad-girl drag. “The Way I’m Livin’” isn’t so one-dimensional. Too aware of both earthly and eternal forms of damnation to make for a braggart’s confession, the song is also too unapologetic to scan as a proper cautionary tale. The best Wright allows Womack to do is tell her mama not to worry, since she neither wants to nor can be saved. As the blues riffs and thundering percussion build behind her, Womack insists that, “If I ever get to Heaven, it’s a doggone shame.” She’s a woman in full control of her decisions, and she’ll be damned if she’ll hate herself in the morning.
Miranda Lambert’s tempting fate with her titles, calling her upcoming album Platinum and her high-profile collaboration with Carrie Underwood, “Somethin’ Bad.”
No word for a while yet on whether the album will sell a million copies, but as far as the single goes, it lives up to the promise of the two singers more than it does to its title.
It does so by trying not to be as ambitious as the caliber of the collaborators would make you expect it to be. This was a trap both ladies fell into when collaborating with other A-listers, making Lambert’s duet with Keith Urban and Underwood’s with Brad Paisley not as successful as they could’ve been.
This is just a plain ol’ good girls on their baddest behavior ditty. Well, not their baddest behavior. Underwood doesn’t key up anyone’s car and Lambert doesn’t kill anybody. But it’s all in good fun, and both ladies can perform the thing solo just fine when the other isn’t around.
And kudos to the production, I feel I should mention. There were a few moments I thought it was gonna go all eighties glam rock, but the record pulls back before it goes over the edge, and we get just the ladies and a rhythm track, which actually supports the lyric better. Somethin’ bad’s gonna happen, but….not yet. Good stuff.
Written by Chris DeStefano, Brett James, and Priscilla Renea