Category Archives: Single Reviews

Single Review: Miranda Lambert, “Automatic”

Miranda Lambert AutomaticHave 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

Grade: C

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Single Review: The Band Perry, “Chainsaw”

The Band Perry ChainsawA 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

Grade: C

 

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Single Review: Mandy Barnett featuring Alison Krauss, “Blue Blue Day”

Mandy BarnettThe 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.

An absolutely exquisite record.

Written by Don Gibson

Grade: A

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Single Review: Thomas Rhett, “Get Me Some of That”

Thomas Rhett Get Me Some of ThatBetter than it has any right to be.

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

Grade: B-

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Single Review: Tyler Farr, “Whiskey in My Water”

Tyler Farr Whiskey in My WaterTyler Farr’s debut single, “Redneck Crazy,” became a hit in spite of the fact that it was about a good ol’ country boy stalking his ex-girlfriend, along with public drunkenness, loitering and probably half a dozen other punishable offenses. As good ol’ country boys do when they get dumped.

Based on that performance, it’s understandable to come to Farr’s second single, “Whiskey in My Water,” with lowered expectations. However, not only does the song not include any felonies, but it also happens to be a pretty strong mid-tempo love song.

Farr has a gritty, somewhat limited vocal range, and when he’s given a set of lyrics that references trucks and dirt roads within the first 20 seconds of the song, it’s easy to dismiss the song. “Whiskey,” written by Farr, Philip Larue and John Ozier takes the limited toolbox that country songwriters are using now and puts a few sweet lines together.

“Every day I pray I thank God I got her/She’s the moon in my shine, the whiskey in my water,” he sings. While it may be a clichéd lyric, it indicates a level of emotional attachment to the woman in question that goes beyond the mere lust that most male country stars sing about these days.

Farr’s debut album was a hit-or-miss affair and very much in keeping with the country-rap, frat boy atmosphere that is all too pervasive. However, many of the better songs, including this one, featured Farr as a co-writer. That may be a sign than there’s more to his music than chicks, trucks and beer.

Written by Tyler Farr, Philip Larue, and John Ozier

Grade: B

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Single Review: Frankie Ballard, “Helluva Life”

Frankie Ballard Helluva LifeA surprisingly philosophical take on the “drinking in the country with a girl” theme that is apparently the only thing that new male artists are allowed to sing about.

I’m seriously thinking that it’s a contractual obligation now, along with the radio tours and the publishing partnerships.   Frankie Ballard’s “Helluva Life” is most interesting when he’s singing about what he’s thinking about while he’s doing the only things that guys his age are singing about.    There’s a potentially compelling  voice that’s trying to  shine through, one that is wondering more about tomorrow than where the party is tonight.

The conversational vocal style and tasteful arrangement create a nice groove, a sound that I could really get into if Ballard applies it to more mature material.

Written by Rodney Clawson, Josh Kear, and Chris Tompkins

Grade: B

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Single Review: Jerrod Niemann, “Drink to That All Night”

jerrod niemann drink to that all nightAny time a country single not only reminds you of Rebecca Black’s “Friday”, but also falls short of it in charm and vocal delivery, something has gone horribly wrong.

I really am starting to run out of adjectives and assorted observations.   This has a tired theme coupled with the dreaded vocoder effect.   You’ve heard it all before, just like you’ve read my thoughts on it all before.

I will say that if the verses were sung instead of country rapped, a bit more like he does on the chorus, the whole thing might’ve been more listenable.  As is, this record is kind of painful to listen to, like the dull headache you get from a long and irritating day in musical form.

It’s not good, y’all.  It’s just not good.

Written by Derek George, Lance Miller, Brad Warren, and Brett Warren

Grade: D

 

 

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Single Review: Nickel Creek, “Destination”

Nickel Creek DestinationUnless the Dixie Chicks suddenly decide to put out some new music, Nickel Creek just nailed down the title for most exciting reunion of the year.  In February.

The progressive bluegrass sound that Nickel Creek pioneered more than a decade ago has surfaced all over mainstream music in recent years, with everyone from Mumford & Sons to the Civil Wars walking through the doors they flew open with their innovative musicianship.   So the coolest thing about “Destination” is that they’re not picking up where they left off.  Rather, this is what one could imagine Nickel Creek doing once everybody else caught up to what they used to be doing: moving on, and pushing forward with fresh new sounds.

“Destination” is the most alive record I’ve heard so far this year. There’s a rush of energy that was always present in their live act, as opposed to their more measured sound on record.   Enjoy it now.  You’re going to be sick of hearing records that sound like this by artists not quite as good for the next few years, where the songwriting won’t be as sharp, the harmonies won’t be as haunting, and the mandolin won’t be as proudly prominent.

The real thing is back.  Accept no substitutes.

Grade: A

 

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Single Review: Dierks Bentley, “I Hold On”

Dierks Bentley I Hold OnDierks Bentley has done a lot of growing up since his young man’s anthem, “What Was I Thinkin’”, launched him to stardom.

“I Hold On” has the energetic groove that Bentley always does so well, but there’s a refreshing lyrical depth that makes this song stand out among its lesser peers on the radio today.  His sentimental attachment to his old pickup truck because he worked on it with his departed father is reminiscent of Alan Jackson’s now-classic “Drive (For Daddy Gene)”, and there’s a nice mix of nostalgia and pride in him hanging on to the beat up guitar that he strapped on during all those rowdy club dates early in his career.

The song is so personal that even the patriotic clinging to the flag seems more genuine than cloying, though it does slow the song down a bit, at least until he pivots to promising to hold on to the love he’s found with his one true flame.

It’s not perfect, but it’s better than most.  I’m always on board with country music for grownups.

Written by Dierks Bentley and Brett James

Grade: B+

 

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Single Review: Hunter Hayes, “Invisible”

Hunter Hayes InvisibleHunter Hayes scored a killer Grammy performance slot to debut this song, which has all of the necessary components to become a career record.

Showing solidarity with the outcasts in high school halls is as timely as ever, and his youth helps him be the ideal vessel for the heartwarming message.   There are moments which come perilously close to the maudlin, with shades of Billy Gilman’s “One Voice” or the Mark Wills hit, “Don’t Laugh at Me.”    Thankfully, he’s sounding a lot more like a young Keith Urban than a young Bryan White, and the song is just vague enough that it can become a personal anthem for pretty much anyone who feels unnoticed or noticed in all the wrong ways.

This is going to be a big hit, I’m sure, and probably score some songwriting nominations along the way.  Now is as good a time as any to listen to it with fresh ears and appreciate its understatement.   Where he could have laid on thick, he chose not to.  That’s always been a rare choice to make when dealing with material this heavy, so that alone is reason to be grateful.

Written by Bonnie Baker, Katrina Elam, and Hunter Hayes

Grade: B+

 

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