A lot of country music lovers want to claim Mumford & Sons and Philip Phillips as their own.
There’s a joy, a rootsiness, and killer musicianship in the best records of those acts, despite them not being what we’d traditionally consider country artists. Lady Antebellum has never had much connection to what’s historically been considered country music, either. So it’s not entirely surprising that their path from pure, glossy pop to a more grounded, earthy sound, still takes its cues from the top forty music scene.
I give them credit for stretching themselves a bit on “Compass”, though you can certainly hear the strain it’s taking for them to do so. Their approach to harmonization doesn’t quite fit with the sound of the record. To use the Dixie Chicks as an illustration, they’re using Taking the Long Way harmonies against a Home musical backdrop.
They need to go back and study the three-part harmonies on the latter album if they want to continue in this direction. It’s too much of a hodgepodge right now to work.
Written by Mikkel Eriksen, Ross Golan, Emile Haynie, Tor Erik Hemransen, Ammar Malik, and Daniel Omelio
It’s been a long week, girl. It’s time to let loose. Let’s get together everything we need, and take a dirt road out into the country. Don’t forget your flip-flops, and don’t worry, we’re going to be all alone. Hope there’s a great song on the radio. Maybe a nice sunset, too.
Pardi has the most nasal twang I’ve heard in a good long while. I look forward to hearing him sing about something else.
Written by Brett Beavers, Bart Butler, and Jon Pardi
Darius Rucker celebrates the radio with his current hit, simply titled “Radio.”
It’s tolerable enough, more tastefully produced than your average country radio hit, but it never quite overcomes the fact that its territory is one that other artists have covered much better in the past. (Exhibits A, B, C) The lyrics fail to rise above rote scenes of a nameless, faceless narrator driving down the highway with his nameless, faceless friends, and parking his truck beneath the stars to get cozy with his nameless, faceless girlfriend. The whole of the song is weighed down by a general sense of non-distinction, reflected in its generic one-word title.
Unfortunately, the dynamics aren’t strong enough to compensate. The melody is dull and lifeless, and Rucker’s performance is forgettable. The end result is a song that might not be bad enough to be an immediate station-changer, but nor is there anything here that would inspire me to ‘turn it up, turn it up to 10…’
Written by Darius Rucker, Luke Laird and Ashley Gorley
Cole Swindell has turned in an excellent record by many measurable standards. It’s well-paced, he’s got some charisma behind the mic, it’s identifiably country, and intelligently structured. Any song these days that has a clear beginning, middle, and end, and also manages to get it all done in under four minutes, feels like manna from heaven.
But all of this is in service to the most played-out, increasingly insufferable, and remarkably unnecessary country song concept: guy and girl hanging out in the country, love and liquor in tow.
It’s a bit like an exquisite painting of dogs playing poker. Great technique, ridiculous subject.
One hallmark of a great singer is the ability to suspend the listener’s disbelief.
The storyline of “Cop Car” is very far-fetched, one of those Nashville compositions that takes fantastical lengths to try and tell the story of a young couple falling in love. In this case, they’re doing so right after being arrested for trespassing, while in handcuffs in the back seat of a police car.
Keith Urban’s heartfelt delivery and careful choice of what lines to emphasize keep the proceedings grounded. He’s so effective at capturing the feeling of falling in love that the specifics of the event surrounding the moment are appropriately secondary to the emotions at play.
I don’t believe the story, but I believe him.
Written by Zach Crowell, Sam Hunt, and Matt Jenkins
Is “Whatever She’s Got” really just David Nail doing whatever he’s got to do to stay in the game?
Nail is one of the most distinctive and substantive new voices to emerge in recent years, especially among the crop of younger male artists. He’s had more false starts than most, going through two labels in eleven years and having moderate to major hits, but not building up enough momentum to string a few together.
“Whatever She’s Got” is certainly his biggest hit to date, as it’s his first to reach gold status. It’s so beneath his talent, though. As generic as they come, it’s hard to believe it’s being sung by the voice behind “The Sound of a Million Dreams.”
But it’s working for him, I guess, and his upcoming album has a Brandy Clark co-write and a duet with Lee Ann Womack. Here’s hoping that “Whatever She’s Got” gets him a good enough foot in the door that he can actually walk through it this time, and sneak some material worthy of this talent in with him.
When Jason Aldean wraps his voice around compelling material, the results are magical.
But more often than not, Aldean is delivering mediocre material. “When She Says Baby” is a great example of how he can take a pedestrian, paint-by-numbers song and make it a little more interesting. He plays with the speed of the lyrics in the chorus, all while keeping in time with the music behind him. He adds a working man’s frustrated exhaustion as an undercurrent when the lyrics bemoan the daily grind, and effortlessly switches to the relief of a man who has a great woman to come home to, just as soon as the lyric switches to being about her.
But when a guy can do so much with so little, even a moderately pleasurable listening experience like this one leaves but one question lingering after the music fades: “Why did he record this?”
Brad Paisley’s had a lot of hit love songs over the years, many of which I’ve found irritating because they are either blithely condescending (“To the world, you’re nothing, but to me, you’re the world!”) or downright insulting (“I love the little moments where you do something stupid!”)
On “The Mona Lisa”, he opts for humility instead, and knocks it out of the park. He compares his own purpose in life to being the frame that holds the Mona Lisa, serving as nothing but the backdrop for the jaw-droppingly awesome lady he just feels lucky to have. Couple that with an incredibly fresh production, which showcases his guitar prowess and a remarkably alive vocal performance, and you’ve got one of his greatest singles to date.
A breakthrough single that’s as notable for what it isn’t as for what it is.
“Friday Night” is nothing special in terms of lyrical content, and while Paslay is a competent singer, there’s nothing on the track that indicates he’s the next Keith Urban, or even the next Blake Shelton. But he’s learned a few lessons along the way about what not to do. The arrangement is simple, the musicianship clean and crisp, and the banjo drives the hook, rather than loud electric guitars or cumbersome percussion.
But I think what I like the best about “Friday Night” is its brevity. Clocking in at just under three minutes, Paslay’s single ends a little abruptly, just when you think it’s going to devolve into an endless chorus with louder vocals and busier instrumentation. It’s a production approach that makes a great song go on for too long, and a tolerable one become insufferable.
So kudos to Eric Paslay for not wearing out his welcome the first time around.
Written by Rob Crosby, Rose Falcon, and Eric Paslay
So… this is coming from pop idol Britney Spears’ 22-year-old younger sister who starred in a teen sitcom on Nickelodeon, and who became a tabloid favorite thanks to a controversial teen pregnancy. By all immediate expectations, her debut country single should be a disaster, and I should be making a stale pun out of the song’s title, right?
Only it isn’t a disaster. It’s well written, competently sung, and backed by a confident, un-fussy production that unmistakably identifies it as a country record. No disastrous attempts at power notes, no wall of thrashing guitars – just simple, gimmick-free, no-frills storytelling with generous amounts of country instrumentation. A pleasant surprise coming from a figure who could easily coast along on name recognition.
It’s unfortunate that “How Could I Want More” is hindered by a few clichés (“Treats me like a princess,” “Let’s me have it my way,” etc.), but the gaps are filled in with a fully realized melody and a tastefully restrained vocal. One might even hear shades of Deana Carter in Spears’ vocal stylings – poised, subtle, sincere, and with a hint of twang.
We’ll have to wait and see if Spears’ full-length debut country album, due out later this year, will bring her any closer to the potential suggested by this single. But if “How Could I Want More” is a sign of an artist taking her cues from country’s finest storytellers of the nineties, I will gladly welcome the younger Spears sibling into the country fold with open arms.
Written by Jamie Lynn Spears and Rivers Rutherford