The conflict of whether or not to reconnect with an ex-lover can be the perfect fodder for a great country song. Just ask Lee Ann Womack.
Musgraves’ narrator faces such a choice on her stellar new single “Keep it to Yourself,” but in this instance she sticks with her better judgment. Should her ex find those old feelings returning, she offers the advice found in the song’s title: “Keep it to yourself.” The hook is simple and direct, yet disarmingly effective.
Much has already been written about Kacey Musgraves’ gifts as a lyricist, and while such are definitely evident on “Keep it to Yourself,” the song is particularly noteworthy as a display of her power over a melody. The low, somber notes convey a weary, angst-ridden feeling in the opening verse before rising to the gentle plea of the chorus.
Even more impressive is the way the melody and performance manage to convey the intangible, allowing the listener read between the lyrics. The pleading tone in Musgraves voice suggests that she is begging her ex not to call her perhaps because she’s afraid that she just might not be able to muster the strength to say no the next time.
“Keep it to Yourself” is fresh in its approach, yet classic in theme and delivery. It comes across as moving and sincere, but not cloying or contrived. The gentle arrangement and strains of steel guitar enhance the story without interrupting it, while Musgraves’ vocal conveys deep vulnerability without veering into melodrama.
“Keep it to Yourself” is top-notch country storytelling through and through – an understated gem of a performance that represents much of what we wish mainstream country music could still be in 2014.
Written by Kacey Musgraves, Shane McAnally, and Luke Laird
Currently ticking the “Summer Romance Nostalgia” box at country radio is this almost-Top 10 debut single by new duo Dan + Shay.
Good news – the first forty seconds are actually listenable! The melody has an organic quality to it, and duo members Dan Smyers and Shay Mooney deliver the opening verse with likable harmonies against the gentle pluck of mandolin strings.
Then the song ticks past the forty second mark, and all subtlety and restraint are abruptly thrown out the window. A storm of production noise rolls in. Dan + Shay’s vocals are smothered in gaudy reverb effects as they scream their way through the cacophonous chorus.
And just like that, the summery ballad devolves into one big hot mess.
Written by Dan Smyers, Shay Mooney, and Danny Orton
Trite an uninspired, “Play it Again” is a Luke Bryan record without any of the aw-shucks earnestness that can make even his mediocre songs somewhat enjoyable.
Not much more to say than that, other than “songs about songs” are one of my favorite categories of songs, but this isn’t one of the better ones. There are a lot of great ones, but that’s another post.
I want to like Maggie Rose’s music more than I do. She has a good voice. She sings good songs. And her music actually sounds country. Should be a simple enough recipe, right?
But the problem I keep having is that I don’t quite feel her as a storyteller. “I Ain’t Your Mama” called for a little more bite in the performance, while “Better” could have used a little more lived-in angst to really hit home.
Her current single, “Looking Back Now,” is a striking story-song involving a female narrator who puts a couple of no-good men in the ground when they get a little too fresh. But in listening to Rose’s performance, I don’t get the feeling that I’m listening to a true story. It’s a little too obvious that she hasn’t lived it. And yet, when I hear the song performed by writer Lisa Carver, I’m with her every step of the way. I believe every word.
Rose will likely develop her interpretive abilities further over time, and I hope she does, because she could be a potentially cool artist. As it is, we’re left with records like this – records that are good and enjoyable enough, but that could have been even better.
Have we reached the point yet where a solid George Strait single should bring on waves of deep gratitude?
He’s been so good for so long that it’s easy to take him for granted. Maybe it’s radio’s sudden unwillingness to play him in heavy rotation, or the bittersweet sadness brought on by his farewell tour. But I’ve never been more aware that the music will eventually stop coming from him.
“I Got a Car” isn’t anything revolutionary or Single of the Year worthy. It’s just a good song elevated by a master storyteller who can make the most pedestrian conversation sound interesting. There’s so much back story in his voice, still strong but weathered by time, that adds layers of meaning here. This is a potential romance between two older people who are trying to start over again, and stumble upon a chance at real love and starting a family.
It wouldn’t sound like that if even the best of the new singers were singing it. Not because they aren’t good. They just haven’t lived enough yet. Maybe twenty years from now, somebody else will write about how much more interesting a song sounds because they’re singing it instead of whoever the new kid on the block is then.
I hope we’ll get a few more good ones from this guy before he’s gone.
“The Outsiders,” the title track and lead single from Eric Church’s new album, may have strayed too much into the realm of metal for its own good, but it served as a strong mission statement. Like him or not, Church is one of the few male country singers today who are willing to stray from the country-party-dude template, and even his songs that don’t quite hit the mark are more interesting than most singles currently on the radio.
His new song, “Give Me Back My Hometown,” is much more melodic than the first single, though it too stretches the boundaries of country in its own way. “Hometown” starts off simple enough, but it builds up steadily in both volume and drama in a way that’s reminiscent, if anything, of U2’s “With or WithoutYou.”
The song, written by Church and Luke Laird, is well-written and nuanced, as Church laments that the memories of a small town that have been tainted by the absence of a loved one. It also gives Church a chance to stretch his vocals to the top end of his range, and while that may not necessarily be one of his strong suits, it’s encouraging to hear someone acknowledge that small-town living isn’t for everyone.
With songs like “The Outsiders,” “Drink in My Hand” and that unfortunate collaboration with Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean that will not be named here, Church has carved out a reputation as a hell-raising outlaw. While he sings those anthems well enough, he really separates himself from the competition by his willingness to dive into mature, serious topics as well. It’s a nice change of pace to hear something other than a perpetually partying, small-town man-child every now and again.
Have you heard about the Miranda Lambert third single rule?
It goes like this. The first single will be alright, the second will be better, but you won’t get a great one until the third time around.
“Me and Charlie Talking”, then “Bring Me Down”, then “Kerosene.”
“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”, then “Famous in a Small Town”, then “Gunpowder and Lead.”
“Dead Flowers”, then “White Liar”, then “The House that Built Me.”
“Baggage Claim”, then “Over You”, then “Fastest Girl in Town”, then “Mama’s Broken Heart.”
Yeah, it took until the fourth single the last time around. Still, I’m optimistic that like so many times before, lead single “Automatic” won’t be the best thing waiting on an upcoming Miranda Lambert album.
The song starts off promising, with a lovely personal memory about taping songs off the radio because you couldn’t afford to buy them yet. But the argument that other technological advances have made us less appreciative and more emotionally hollow doesn’t ring true.
Paying at the pump is better than waiting in line. GPS beats Rand McAnally. Cell phones are better than pay phones. And anyone who is reminiscing about manually rolling down car windows wouldn’t be so sentimental if we took their power windows away.
I’m all for nostalgia when done right, but even when it’s great, like on Tim McGraw’s “Back When”, the focus isn’t so much on yesterday’s technology as it is on yesterday’s time spent together with others. What “Automatic” misses is that it’s not about technology; it’s about time.
Everybody reaches an age where they wonder where the time went, that it seemed we had so much more time when we were younger. Truth is, the adults were just as busy back then. We just didn’t notice it because we had all of the time in the world.
Written by Nicolle Gallyon, Natalie Hemby, and Miranda Lambert
A cool sounding record that is ultimately undermined by a juvenile delivery.
As is often the case with the Band Perry, the arrangement is interesting. This is one of their more distinctive records in that sense, with enough changes in mood and sonics to give you aural whiplash.
But the vocal is so childish that it makes “Picture to Burn” sound like restrained maturity. They’ve got the vocal chops, and they’ve got the creativity, but they don’t seem to be able to balance the two very well. So yes, it’s interesting. But it’s not very enjoyable to listen to.
Written by Shane McAnally, Josh Osborne, and Matt Ramsey
The awesomeness of this release has a definite air of inevitability. If Don Gibson wrote it, and Mandy Barnett and Alison Krauss sing it, it’s pretty hard to imagine it not being great.
Though Gibson’s 1958 hit version of the song belied the melancholy lyric with a brisk tempo and toe-tapping arrangement, Barnett recasts the song as gentle, brooding ballad. It’s a move that succeeds as a creative exercise as well as an effective treatment of a beautifully written song. Barnett puts a distinctly personal spin on the classic tune, making it a beautiful centerpiece to her must-have new album I Can’t Stop Loving You: Songs of Don Gibson.
The sparse, vintage-style arrangement is an ideal setting to showcase Barnett’s depth, control, and inimitable sense of presence as a vocalist. Alison Krauss’s background vocal imbues an added layer of longing to the performance, reaffirming her status as one of Nashville’s most reliable harmony singers.
The mind-numbingly dull lyric has nothing new to offer, with details that sound more like a pitch for an Axe commercial than an actual documentation of a realistic human experience. The band also phones it in, with nothing more distinctive than a Karaoke backing track.
But Rhett sells it anyway. It’s nice to hear a guy who can actually sing being allowed to do so, without any production tricks or clumsy attempts at spoken word. Sincerity is always a plus in my book, and “Get Me Some of That” is better than similar records because Rhett sounds engaged, not detached.
I don’t really want to listen to it again, but if I had to pick one brocountry album to hear all the way through, I think Rhett’s might be the one that’s the least likely to be painful.
Written by Rhett Akins, Michael Carter, and Cole Swindell