Unless 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.
Dierks 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.
Hunter 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
A month of single reviews into 2014, I’ve never been more aware of just how many songs there really are about partying with a girl out in the country.
“Bottoms Up” is one of three songs in this week’s top ten alone that follow this plot line, and I suppose it’s the best of the three, if only because of the sparse atmosphere of the first half of the record. Gilbert’s vocal feels detached, as if he can’t really believe he’s singing this. His voice being more weathered than his contemporaries makes that detachment sound more cool than disinterested.
So, yeah. He does this remarkably popular theme better than most. But when a theme is this played out, even doing it well doesn’t make it worth listening to.
Pretty Little Liars actress turned country newcomer Lucy Hale cites Shania Twain and Martina McBride as major musical influences, and to a degree it’s perceptible on her debut single “You Sound Good to Me.” The track begins with a light, airy fiddle hook, and segues into an effervescent uptempo pop-country love song with an atypically sparse production arrangement by country radio standards (murky background vocals aside).
Unfortunately, things go very wrong in one important area – the vocal. Hale’s performance sound constantly strained and often pitch-challenged as she struggles to reach high notes and keep up with the brisk tempo. Worse yet, Hale’s voice rings generic and faceless, lacking any hint of distinctive personality or flair and instead sounding like that of any random karaoke bar patron.
It doesn’t help that the song itself is hardly anything special – standard Music Row radio filler courtesy of three of the industry’s current favorite hired-gun songwriters. There’s none of the distinctive cleverness, spunk or massive pop hooks that marked the best work of Hale’s role models. If such a song is going to work on any level at all, it needs a strong vocal performance to carry it. Without that crucial element, “You Sound Good to Me” quickly sinks like a stone.
Written by Ashley Gorley, Luke Laird and Hillary Lindsey
Using the word rewind in 2014 is a bit dated and quaint, don’t you think?
But it’s better than “re-fall” and “re-fly”, the uses of which nearly derail in the bridge what has been a satisfactory journey so far. The concept might be old school, but the Rascal Flatts boys are still very much in the present, turning in a nice variation on their trademark harmonies that allow Gary LeVox to let loose a little bit. He’s not as nasal as he’s been in the past, and when he goes for the power vocals toward the end, he sounds a lot more raw than I can ever remember hearing him.
There’s something slightly melancholy about Rascal Flatts these days. A major commercial act that was never known for its artistry has begun to fade. Their relevance is on shaky ground, almost sadly dependent on the whims of radio and consumer interests. I don’t know why their sound slowly went out of style, any more than I can tell you why they were moving four million units an album at their peak.
But against today’s landscape, there’s something comforting about the way that they’re still doing things. They may not be at the top of the game, but at least they’re still playing.
Written by Chris DeStefano, Ashley Gorley, and Eric Paslay
Harlan Howard, when asked once about his Judds classic, that “Why Not Me” was a weak title, so he had to repeat it over and over again to make it work.
A similar approach is taken in “Yeah”, which is essentially Nichols’ one word answer to everything said and done throughout the song. The passiveness of our narrator has a certain charm to it, striking a balance between being respectful of the girl and also not wanting to say or do the wrong thing and derail where the night is heading.
As always, Nichols delivers a charismatic vocal, though this one is hampered a bit by being overly processed. I can’t say “Yeah” to Music Row’s bizarre desire to have its guys sound like a slightly twangy Mr. Roboto. But the end result is still better than a lot of what’s out there, even if it will be little more than an afterthought when Nichols’ best performances are collected for posterity somewhere down the road.
“Dust” tells the story of an interesting woman who is leaving her past behind her in the…dust.
I’m most surprised, and impressed, by the complete absence of a guy in this song. This girl’s leaving to get her life started, and sheds a tear for what she leaves behind, but knows her future is waiting in front of her. I guess it could be a guy she’s shedding a tear for, but it’s just as likely that she’s going to miss her family and the town she grew up in.
I’m still waiting for Taylor Swift to write a great song that has nothing to do with a guy, so I’m happy to hear a male act put one together, and one with only a token physical description (“baby blue eyes”) to boot.
That being said, the whole sound of the record is Bon Jovi lite. That would’ve been an insult to a country band not too long ago, but today, it means that the song is professionally done and not too cluttered. Nothing identifiably country about it, but then again, nothing identifiably bad, either. I’ll take it.
Written by Kyle Jacobs, Jon Jones, Josh Osborne, and James Young
Well, it’s not all about partying out in the corn fields.
Bush Hawg have still put out a cliché-laden record, mind you, but they’re more of the “real flag-wavin’, God-lovin’ Americans live only in the country” variety. It’s almost adorably last decade, really. Maybe next time around, they’ll go back a few years more and give us a Bubba song. Been a good long while since we’ve had one of those.
This band also had the good taste to cover “Fortunate Son” on their EP, so there’s hope for them yet. This one’s a dud, but maybe we’ll get a chance to see where they go from here.
It’s hard for me to not like a song that uses “Funky Cold Medina” and “Strawberry Wine” as adjectives.
But mission accomplished, thanks to a plodding mid-tempo groove that never gets out of first gear, and a grating vocoder effect that should’ve been left behind with “Felt Good on My Lips.”
Come on, Tim McGraw. You’re Tim McGraw. You took Bruce Robison and Rodney Crowell songs to number one. Can’t you find some other should’ve been hits from days gone by, instead of recording weak sauce like this?
Tim McGraw used to be the gold standard. I’m looking for that guy, that guy, that guy.
Written by Mark Irwin, Jimmy Slater, and Chris Tompkins