My expectations are generally modest when it comes to Gloriana, as I thought their first four or five singles sounded more or less the same. But in contrast with the mostly weightless fare that preceded it, “Can’t Shake You” is the first Gloriana single that deals with heartache, and it turns out to be the group’s strongest single to date.
The hook and the overall concept are simple but effective. The melody is compelling, and the vocalists sound genuinely committed to selling the story, with Rachel Reinert even turning in a beautiful falsetto in the second verse. The production is glossy enough to be radio-friendly, but featuring strains of steel and mandolin that imbue added character to the arrangement.
It may turn out to be a fluke. We’ll have to wait and see. They may very well slip back to fluff mode with their next few releases. But regardless of what their musical path is from here on out, “Can’t Shake You” remains one noteworthy instance in which Gloriana definitely got it right.
Written by Tom Gossin, James T. Slater, and Stephanie Bentley
Long lost in the torrent of tabloids, lost in the fickle four-lady shuffle of country radio, is the truth that LeAnn Rimes – whatever her circumstances – is an exceptional country artist. An artist who hit her commercial peak early, but whose creative peak is still sloping up with each passing year, as her natural talent imbibes the wisdom and weather of age. The chipper tween who Patsy-parroted through “Blue” was charming, but nowhere near as compelling as the guarded optimist of “What I Cannot Change.” And even she, in turn, sounds a little simplistic compared to the woman we now encounter in “What Have I Done.”
That title should tip off the song’s subject matter to anyone familiar with Rimes’s personal history. But that’s where the easy answers in this release end. Far from a one-note PR push, “What Have I Done” explores every gray shade of Rimes leaving “the only man that’s ever loved me,” painting a strikingly three-dimensional picture of the event and its aftermath.
It could be unwieldy. But the song manages to unfold all this reality gently, each line like a carefully measured breath in a meditation. There’s hardly a wasted word in “What Have I Done,” hardly a note of ornament. Even when Rimes curls the word “loved” at the end of the chorus, it doesn’t feel like a stunt. It feels like what the folk tradition demanded – what the song’s craft demanded. It’s as if in confronting her worst demons yet, Rimes has tapped into the life-spring of classic country: clean, composed catharsis.
Does it all still seem…a bit calculated? Of course; how could any release under such circumstances not? It also seems achingly sincere – and maybe the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive. If there’s anything “What Have I Done” has to teach, it’s that the truth is complicated. We don’t get to go through life having pleased everyone, or even having convinced everyone of our good intent, or even having convinced ourselves, at times. We just get to try, tugged at each moment by the thoughts and circumstances of the day, and watch what happens. The final judgment on Rimes’s attempts remains to be seen. But as for the judgment on her art – there’s no question.
Written by LeAnn Rimes, Darrell Brown & David Baerwald
be quickly forced out by layers of screaming bass and electric guitar. And yes, the lyrics are so forehead-slapping dumb as to make Toby Keith’s “Red Solo Cup” sound like a musical revelation.
Yes, from the opening cry of “Come on, cowboys and cowgirls, it’s time to par-tay!” to the stupid “Z” slapped onto the end of the title, this is just bad, bad, bad. Big & Rich quite seriously sound like they’re not even trying anymore. It feels like there isn’t even any point in poking fun at this dreck because Big & Rich are making fun of themselves.
Written by Big Kenny, John Rich, Rodney Clawson, and Vicky McGehee (Cue the requisite “It took four writers to come up with this?” jabs)
Ashley Monroe has a new album coming out December 18, and she’s offering the title track as a free download on her Facebook page. You just might find it to be the best non-purchase you’ve made in quite some time.
How to describe “Like a Rose”? Thoughtfully written, clear-eyed, quietly sincere, and country through and through – not that we would expect anything less from a song co-written by Jon Randall and Guy Clark. An absorbing, inspiring story of moving forward from a troubled past to a bright future – told in one simple snapshot of a narrator sitting at a cafe, waiting
Like Kacey Musgraves on her surprisingly well-received hit “Merry Go ‘Round,” Monroe shows that she’s not afraid to delve into the not-always-rosy details of life as she builds her characters back story. She’s had to cope with the death of one parent and the alcohol addiction of the other, as well as some romantic disappointment. But the overall tone is not despondent, but hopeful as the narrator prepares to move on to a new life, fully understanding that it is not her past heartaches that define her.
The arrangement supports the lyric beautifully, with sweet strains of dobro and steel guitar showing just how effective pure country instrumentation can be at enhancing the narrative of a well-constructed lyric. But it’s ultimately Monroe’s unaffected, sincere vocal reading that makes “Like a Rose” such a compelling record. The Pistol Annies connection has given Monroe’s profile a well-deserved boost, but “Like a Rose” gives one reason to be thankful that her solo career is not being abandoned. Now let’s hear that new album.
Written by Ashley Monroe, Jon Randall, and Guy Clark
He’s clearly still on top of his game vocally, and he delivers “How Country Feels” with gusto. You can almost hear him tapping his toe and bobbing his head just from hearing his performance. The production is pretty thick, but it has a catchy guitar hook going for it.
Unfortunately, the lyrics are pretty uninspiring. The lyrical hook of “Let me show you how country feels” is so-so at best, and the height of the lyrical cleverness is its rhyming “hollers and hills” with “feels.” Plus, you’d think a song called “How Country Feels” would feel a little more… you know… country.
Taken as a piece of ear candy, it isn’t bad. I just hope “How Country Feels” doesn’t start a trend of Randy Houser playing it
You know how some kids are all excited to go into battle, and then they join the army and find out what war’s really like?
“Somebody’s Heartbreak” is the lovestruck equivalent of that misguided innocence. Hayes is volunteering to get his heart broken by the girl he fancies, figuring it’s better to have love and lost than to have never loved at all.
It’s charming. It’s country. It’s sweet but not saccharine. It’s a teenage country record that’s equal parts teenage and country.
The young guy’s ridiculously talented, and I hate to send ill will his way. But honestly, I can’t wait ’till this guy really
An ode to being a chains-free, red wine-drinking hot mess could be tacky and unnecessarily snarky. In Armiger’s hands, it’s tasteful, swampy and empowering. Grade: B+
Brett Eldredge, “Don’t Ya”
It’s been awhile since we’ve heard a voice as soulful as Eldredge’s massage a melody as enticing as this one. “Just Got Started Loving You” this song is not, but with its sly lyrics and irresistible chorus, it comes close. Grade: B+
Justin Moore, “Til My Last Day”
Written by Brian Dean Maher, Justin Moore & Jeremy Stover
Written by Lindsay Chapman, Natalie Hemby & Blu Sanders
You can’t blend two of the greatest voices of our generation without a decent result. Unfortunately, that’s all this is – a pleasant, sweetly sung sleeper that doesn’t do much to elevate either of these enormous talents. Grade: B-
Miss Willie Brown, “You’re All That Matters to Me”
Written by Robert John “Mutt” Lange
A manic, over-the-top love letter that’s simply not wacky enough to be the self-parody that its music video suggests. Grade: C
Jason Aldean ft. Luke Bryan and Eric Church, “The Only Way I Know”
Written by Ben Hayslip and David Lee Murphy
Three of the fastest-rising male artists in country music are also three of the most distinct male artists in country music, each having built his fanbase on a unique persona and brand of swagger. Oddly, this collaboration seems to meld their personalities together into one that’s less interesting than all three.
But that’s not the bigger issue at hand. The song sinks because of its empty lyrics, its jarring theme of “humble pride” against a needlessly aggressive arrangement, and its subtle implication that a work ethic cut from a different cloth than the narrators’ is a lesser one.
Thankfully, this should be the last single this year from Carrie Underwood.
I say thankfully because a good “Best Singles of the Year” list needs some variety. Underwood’s been stacking the deck this year, putting out one outstanding single after another, and it’s really bad form to leave no room at the top for the rest of the competition.
“Two Black Cadillacs” revives the Southern Gothic murder ballad subgenre that was once far more prominent in country music. This is not to be confused with the wrongfully abused variety of murder ballad, which has only surfaced in the past twenty years.
A pure revenge fantasy mind you, as unbelievable and fantastical as anything Porter Wagoner ever dreamed up. Underwood’s the perfect narrator for the tale, her pithy descriptions punctuated by melancholy strings that would sound just as comfortable on American Horror Story as they do accompanying our favorite American Idol.
She lets her bias slip with a giddy “bye bye,” revealing she’s fully on board with the just desserts being served. It works because the scenario is simply implausible, which allows the listener to indulge in the darkness that would horrify us if it was actually reality.
It’s a testament to Underwood’s versatility as a singer and her credibility as a public persona that she can pull off something so wicked and not get an ounce of dirt on her squeaky clean image. But most of all, it’s a credit to her ambition as an artist. For someone so frequently accused of getting to the top without having to
There’s certainly nothing wrong with a good sexy country song, as such have a storied history in the genre. But there is something to be said for subtlety. The best attempts are often lightly clever, emotionally raw, or perhaps delivered with the tongue planted firmly in the cheek.
Everything about “She Cranks My Tractor” practically beats the listener over the head, from the pounding bass to the T.M.I. lyrics. It’s like three minutes of Lynch bellowing “Yee haw! Farm sex!!!” The titular metaphor feels corny and tacky (Can you imagine playing this in front of your non-country-fan peers?), and the lyrics lay on the details so thick as to make the listener feel voyeuristic. It’s
represents the “adolescent pop” side of country music… and yet somehow still manages to sound more country than half of what’s on country radio today.
I can’t get over how cool this record sounds. The dobro, the mandolin, the hand claps… I find it nearly irresistible. ”Telescope” tackles the tried-and-true country music theme of cheating with a clever concept and a great hook, while Panettiere rides the catchy beat with an assured performance – subtle when necessary, forceful when appropriate.
My inner critic will step in just long enough to say that the production and background vocals are laid on a bit too thick in some places, particularly toward the end the song, but not to the point of sapping my listening enjoyment. I can totally get into this.