Archive for the ‘Single Reviews’ Category

Single Review: Thompson Square, “Everything I Shouldn’t Be Thinking About”

Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

Thompson Square Everything I Shouldn't Be Thinking AboutThompson Square opts for form over content with their new single “Everything I Shouldn’t Be Thinking About.” The song’s verses function only as a vehicle to get to the earworm chorus, with the lyrical concept never quite reaching the third dimension.

If one is to enjoy “Everything I Shouldn’t Be Thinking About,” one must accept it for what it is – pure ear candy. And unlike the typically dull and tasteless radio fodder of today, “Everything” is sweetly flavored with an infectious beat, catchy guitar hook, hand clap section, and sing-along-friendly melody.

It’s unfortunate that the single is tainted by the influence of country radio’s incessant loudness war. It would be even better if the flavor were not diluted by the generic wall-of-sound Nashville production that surfaces in the chorus. Fortunately, Kiefer and Shawna Thompson manage to cut through the clutter with their confident yet playful performances.

Though Thompson Square has yet to release a truly great single, they’ve often been at their best when performing lighthearted fare that allows them to showcase personality. In that regard, “Everything I Shouldn’t Be Thinking About” succeeds by capitalizing on the duo’s strengths.

In a market dominated by forgettable frivolity, “Everything I Shouldn’t Be Thinking About” manages to separate itself from the pack by demonstrating perceptible effort to engage and arrest listener attention. Sure, you’ll get tired of the song eventually, but it’s a fun toe-tapper that’s interesting and enjoyable enough to garner replays, and that’s a compliment that precious few of today’s hits seem to warrant.

Written by Kiefer Thompson, Shawna Thompson, Brett James and David Lee Murphy

Grade: B

Single Review: Eric Church, “The Outsiders”

Saturday, October 26th, 2013

Eric Church OutsidersA fun and catchy anthem for rebels who aren’t rebelling against anything in particular.

If Eric Church is anyone’s successor these days, it’s probably Hank Williams, Jr.   There’s no specific ideology or established enemy in Church’s latest single, but it’s such a barn raiser that it’s very easy to side with him anyway.   “The Outsiders” taps into that quintessentially American desire to champion for the underdog, and it does it quite well.

I don’t think Church has ever sounded more confident and alive on record, and the guitar work is fresh and creative, especially when the bass takes the lead in the middle.  And the breakdown during the end?   The most interesting thing I’ve heard on a country song since I can remember.

All in all, it’s remarkably well done.  If his upcoming album is half as interesting and out by Christmas, then we may need to save a slot on our  Best of 2013 lists.

Written by Casey Beathard and Eric Church

Grade: A

Listen: The Outsiders

Single Review: Jake Owen, “Days of Gold”

Saturday, October 26th, 2013

Jake Owen Days of GoldIt sounds like even Jake Owen got bored singing songs about girls and trucks and summer days and nights.

How else to explain the rapid fire delivery and fierce banjo and guitar on “Days of Gold”, which has him spitting out every country summer song cliché as quickly as he can get them out of his mouth?

Truth is, if the exact same lyric was delivered in the typical, mid-tempo, paint by numbers presentation, I’d be ripping it to shreds right now.  But the sheer adrenaline of the track makes it work.   It would be a terrible cocktail to sip on, but as a quick shooter, it’s pretty good.

Written by Jaren Johnston and Neil Mason

Grade: B

Listen: Days of Gold

 

Single Review: Little Big Town, “Sober”

Thursday, October 24th, 2013

Little Big Town SoberThe “Pontoon” phenomenon may have been responsible for putting Little Big Town back on the map in such a big way, but it’s their new single “Sober” that deserves to be a career hit for the talented country quartet.

Though recent years have seen Karen Fairchild often tapped as the group’s go-to lead vocalist for single releases, “Sober” finally gives country radio listeners a chance to hear the distinctive vocal force that is Kimberly Schlapman. She interprets the song with poise and subtlety, bringing a sense of genuineness and humanity even to a line as simple as “I love being in love,” while her bandmates join in with their signature heavenly harmonies when the song comes to its chorus.

While today’s country radio all too often finds capable voices saddled with poor material, it’s a joy to hear these four gifted voices poured into such a worthy song. The writing team of Hillary Lindsey, Liz Rose and Lori McKenna build the ballad around an effective, accessible metaphor, elevated by a gorgeous piercing melody that lingers after the song’s end

“Sober” is one of those rare mainstream country releases in which everyone involved brings their A-game. Lindsey, Rose and McKenna write a gorgeous song, and Little Big Town proves to be the ideal act to bring it to full realization. Likewise, Jay Joyce’s elegantly restrained mandolin-driven production impresses in creativity, taste, and in overall effectiveness in supporting the song and performance without getting in the way.

Here’s hoping that country radio can still find a place for such a delicately polished gem as this. It’s a high-water mark for an act whose catalog is already more than respectable. Little Big Town has rarely if ever sounded better.

Written by Hillary Lindsey, Liz Rose and Lori McKenna

Grade: A

Listen: Sober

Single Review: Zac Brown Band, “Sweet Annie”

Monday, September 30th, 2013

Zac Brown Band Sweet AnnieZac Brown Band’s laid back approach can make it easy to miss when they are actually digging deeper with their lyrics.

Their music often sounds designed to fade into the background, particularly on their radio singles, which usually land somewhere between faceless and mildly interesting, but rarely compelling in any meaningful way.

“Sweet Annie” manages to break out of their normal groove in a surprising way:   Zac Brown’s vocal performance.  Usually, he sings in a way that is designed to blend in with the instruments and backing vocalists.  On “Sweet Annie”, he gets in touch with his inner Ronnie Milsap, pushing himself with an emotive vocal that reinforces the message of the song.

It’s a perfect fit, given that the song is all about a man who has been stuck in the same rut for too long, and is now trying to convince his love that he’s going to change his ways and leave the bottle behind.  When he really lets loose at the mic, the band follows his lead, with a surprisingly prominent fiddle playing two punch to Brown’s one.

Written by Zac Brown, Wyatt Durrett, Sonia Leigh and John Pierce

Grade: B+

Single Review: Ty Herndon, “Lies I Told Myself”

Sunday, September 29th, 2013

Ty Herndon Lies I Told MyselfI’d imagine that to young fans who have discovered country music in the last couple of years, the new Ty Herndon single will sound remarkably dated.

That’s a lot like how I felt when I watched the latest Bellamy Brothers music videos in the early nineties.  I wondered why they were holding on so tight to a sound that had gone out of style a decade ago and thinking that building a song around a Wayne’s World catchphrase would make them relevant.

Ty Herndon’s new single, “Lies I Told Myself” sounds exactly like every other song he put out in the late nineties, as if production values and song structures were frozen in time and the last fifteen years had never happened.

I’m now old enough to think that this is a good thing.   The clean and simple presentation does what a country record is supposed to do: let the singer showcase the song.  Herndon’s got a solid song here, one that documents how a man can be his own worst critic if he allows his insecurities to keep him from chasing his dreams.

It’s a bit thought-provoking and a bit inspiring.  But mostly it’s just a solid song that’s easy to understand and is sung by someone who knows how to deliver a performance without the bells and whistles.

Grade: B+

Lies I Told Myself from Ty Herndon on Myspace.

Single Review: Florida Georgia Line, “Round Here”

Saturday, September 21st, 2013

RoundHere_Florida Georgia LineI smell a holding pattern.

Yes, I get it. The boys of Florida Georgia Line have got to make their $$$, and the way to do that these days is to give radio what they want. But if you’re going to serve up radio filler, you could at least serve up a different variety of radio filler than what you’ve previously been putting out.

Case in point:  “Round Here” is the third consecutive rural party anthem that Florida Georgia Line has released, and of those three, “Cruise” is the only one that has been any good at all.

Yes, I still believe the hook and melody of “Cruise” had something great going for it – even though the song’s place in country music history is being blown grossly out of proportion by Billboard’s nutty new chart rules. But the same cannot be said for “Round Here,” which grasps at a trite, overused phrase for its title, and burrows down into the usual formulas. Bloated production and affected vocals only make things worse.

The bottom line:  Kiss some radio butt if you must, but don’t make a one-trick pony out of yourself. Remember Gretchen Wilson?

Written by Rodney Clawson, Thomas Rhett and Chris Tompkins

Grade: C-

Single Review: Luke Bryan, “That’s My Kind of Night”

Thursday, September 19th, 2013

ThatsMyKindofNight_ Luke BryanLet’s start with the positives.

It has a banjo. I like banjo.

It has hand claps. I like hand claps.

It has an energetic vocal performance. I like that.

Unfortunately, it also has unabashedly dumb, mind-numbing lyrics that insult the history of the country genre and the intelligence of its fans, shamelessly recycling cliché after cliché right from the opening verse – as if the rest of the world should care about the narrator’s ice cold beer, jacked-up truck, hot country girlfriend, and his musical-whiplash-inducing country-hip-hop mix tape. Feeding on yesterday’s leftovers that were never any good to begin with is something that I do not like at all.

Sorry, Luke, but Zac Brown was right. Thanks for the dignified genre representation, Entertainer of the Year.

Written by Dallas Davidson, Chris DeStefano and Ashley Gorley

Grade: D-

Single Review: American Young, “Love is War”

Sunday, September 8th, 2013

American Young Love is WarThere’s a country radio station in NYC proper for the first time in nearly twenty years. The last one went off the air before I was old enough to drive, so when I found out it existed, I immediately checked it out.

Then I immediately checked out. It’s not listenable to me. It’s playing all of today’s hits and those from the past couple of years, and sometimes a song that I like will come on, but it’s always sandwiched between filler that hurts my ears.

The thing about filler is it’s always been around, even in any of the handful of golden eras the genre has seen. My favorite era had “Independence Day” and “Gone Country” on the air at the same time, but you were gonna hear “Wink” and “If Bubba Can Dance (I Can Too)” in between.

Today’s hits aren’t all that great to begin with, but the filler is plum terrible, and it’s so jarringly loud that it won’t allow you to let it fade into the background.  I’ve heard Justin Moore’s “Point at You” twice while getting into the car this week, and if I hadn’t switched to my iPod before switching from park to drive, my road rage would be notable even by New York City standards.

I say all this because American Young’s new single, “Love is War”, is the kind of filler that would keep me tuned into the country station, waiting to hear what was played next.  It sounds good from a distance.  Awesome arrangement, great instrumentation, twangy in a Civil Wars on their game/Band Perry on their meds kind of way.

It’s a really bland song though, with generic lyrics that don’t really say anything new or anything interesting about a topic that requires that you have new and interesting things to say if you’re going to write about it at all.   Love is war, it’s a battle, it’s a battlefield, yada, yada, yada.  George Jones and Pat Benatar noticed that, too.

But I would totally be on board with more of country radio sounding like this, even if it’s just the filler.

Grade: B

Single Review: Chris Stapleton, “What Are You Listening To?”

Saturday, August 31st, 2013

chrisstapletonBest known as the former frontman of The SteelDrivers and a prolific songwriter, Chris Stapleton is carving out an impressive niche on country radio, far from the band’s bluegrass sound. His first single blends blues and soul, nodding to the record era with Tony Brown’s subdued, crackling production.

Songs about songs are common these days, but this one twists the formula. While music serves as catharsis for both characters, it mostly helps materialize Stapleton’s desperation over that painful distance – figuratively and literally – between him and the emotions of someone who’s no longer his. It’s a clever way to convey heartbreak, and an impassioned one in his hands. With his voice alone, he spins the bridge’s simple question of whether his ex is on an outbound plane or a sunny interstate into striking anguish.

That’s Stapleton’s real offering to country radio: a reminder that the power of a vocal performance can’t be underestimated, even in a genre whose heart and soul is so closely tied to narrative. Hum the base melody of “What Are You Listening To?” and it’s as mild as a children’s lullaby. Hear it with Stapleton’s embellishments, and it’s as crushing as his pain – dipping and breaking and pulling and surging until you’re right there inside his circling thoughts.

Stapleton isn’t the first to bring vocal heft to modern country radio – see: Zac Brown, Chris Young and Randy Houser - but his attempt feels more honest and less tainted by the parameters of his audience, especially in the acoustic performance below. In a year lacking smart, thoughtful releases by male artists, that authenticity makes “What Are You Listening To?” all the more remarkable.

Written by Lee Thomas Miller and Chris Stapleton  

Grade: A-

Listen: What Are You Listening To?

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