p>“Hearts don't fly, but they can run like hell when they have to.”
Lori McKenna's greatest gift as a writer is her ability to weave brilliantly constructed metaphors together with remarkably specific and often mundane details of small town, working class life.
“Salt”, the lead single from her upcoming album Massachusetts, perfectly showcases this talent of hers. There are so many vivid details that place the listener into the story of one particular breakup, and she slips them in so naturally that it sounds like it must be autobiography.
The best example of this comes in the second verse, where while recounting how she has nothing to show for the time given to this tortured relationship: “Six years of crying, that's all that you gave me. Not one more thing. Not even a baby. We were close one time…”
It's those vividly true details that ground her writing in reality, which in this particular song is a harsh reality. But the line this review opens with is in there as well. On its own, it would be little more than a beautiful turn of phrase, a set of words that lingers with you and you might quote in casual conversation to sound more insightful than you really are.
But when metaphors that beautiful are tied into the life stories of the most ordinary people, McKenna is able to achieve something so special and unique.
She finds the poetry and beauty hidden in the stories of people whose stories aren't usually considered important enough to share in the first place.
There are a lot of good writers out there, many of whom are writing big hits for themselves and for others. But I can't shake this feeling that Lori McKenna is the best out of all of them. Her gift is to get us to pay attention to people, places, and truths that are so easy to overlook. I hope more people start to do the same with her music.
It’s been thirty years since the world was introduced to the voice of Wynonna Judd, a simple guitar strum being nothing close to enough preparation for the otherworldly voice that opened the debut Judds single, “Had a Dream (For the Heart)”:
Thirty years later, after about a decade of Judds music and another two decades of solo work, that voice is still that voice. Wynonna has the ability to harness a true force of nature, having incredible depth and soul that remains under her complete control.
Less under control is her firebrand personality, an increasingly dramatic public image that has been overshadowing her music in recent years, but that’s mostly because she hasn’t been making nearly enough music. Really, once she sings two or three notes, who really cares about her public image?
But what happens when that image starts to dictate the music? What happens when producers convince themselves that they have to be
just as loud and dazzling as the lady behind the mic?
“Something You Can’t Live Without” is what happens.
You’ve got Wynonna singing a great song that clearly means a lot to her. She turns in a ferocious performance. All the musicians need to do is give her a bit of support while mostly staying out of her way.
Instead, not only is the backing music way too loud, there is a cardinal sin committed that is simply unforgivable. They actually put a digital effect on her voice.
You do that for bad singers. You do that for mediocre singers. Sometimes, you even do that for good singers. But to do it to one of the strongest vocalists popular music has ever seen is an insult.
I really like this record overall, simply because I can hear all that great Wynonna underneath the muck. But much like those synthesizer-drenched Dolly Parton songs from the eighties, it’s just bewildering that the muck is there in the first place.
Such natural, God-given talent needs organic music to back her up. I don’t care if it’s Memphis blues instead of Nashville country. Just let her surroundings be as real as she is, and save all the artifice for the reality show circuit.
Like “I Won’t Let Go” a few years back, “Changed” is built on a sweeping sentiment, rousing melody and very little else. That’s not an inherently bad thing; despite an ounce of detail about the confessor, “Changed” feels like a confession –it pleads and swells and submits. Add in an earnest and relatively restrained performance, and the song has legs.
Written by Gary LeVox, Wendell Mobley & Neil Thrasher
There’s something slightly jarring about the patrons’ terribly depressing hardships when the only payoff in the song is alcohol-infused hope. Maybe that’s the point, or maybe the bartender’s storyline is just a pinch undercooked. Regardless, it’s hard to knock the lovely, retro-Keith vocals and arrangement.
Tim McGraw ft. Taylor Swift and Keith Urban, “Highway Don’t Care”
In theory, this is a cool track: Swift’s removed, floating performance makes sense in a song about loneliness, and Urban’s vigorous guitar work could mirror the discord in any relationship. But the melody just isn’t as driving as the three artists think it is, and the pairing of McGraw and Swift doesn’t have much grit, sonically or romantically. There’s little to grab onto past the second or third listen.
Written by Mark Irwin, Josh Kear, & Brad and Brett Warren
story subtle dimension. Best of all is the jolt that comes from one ever-relevant line in the chorus, smartly directed at the listener: “Happiness don’t drag its feet” is as sage a piece of advice as any given by our favorite ’90s storytellers.
Lee Brice’s current hit is quite possibly the best song he’s yet sent to radio – a compelling meditation on the process of dealing with grief over the loss of a loved one in death.
The point of the song is that each person has his or her own way of dealing with loss. In the case of our bereaved narrator – who the lyric implies has lost a brother in army combat – he deals with it through driving his brother’s truck. The song is filled with little details that add color to the story, from the half-empty bottle of Gatorade on the floor to his brother’s favorite country station playing on the radio. Though specific in nature, the scenario is relatable for any of us who have dealt with grief by surrounding ourselves with things that remind us of the one lost. A simple but delicately crafted story that draws out one of Brice’s most evocative vocal performances on record.
I hate to have to poke a stick at a single’s production for what feels like the hundredth time, but this song would have an even greater impact if given a more restrained arrangement. It’s a fine performance of a solid song, but the bass-heavy production in the chorus acts as an unfortunate distraction.
But in the end, the power of a great song prevails. Without a doubt, “I Drive Your Truck” is Lee Brice’s finest single to date.
Written by Lee Brice, Kyle Jacobs, and Matt McClure
she’s been making for two decades now, but the lead single from Sheryl Crow’s first full-fledged country album gets several things right.
“Easy” is a laid-back summer song that’s meant to go down… well… easy. Its aim is not to offer a deep compelling set of lyrics, but rather it’s mainly about creating the right feeling – channeling the ideal escapist vibe through the right set of hooks and melodies.
Crow herself describes “Easy” as “a song about ‘staycation’ — about staying home when you can’t afford to go to the Caribbean or wherever or on your yacht. And making your home feel like you’re getting away.” To that end, the smooth, lazy melody and tasteful production are a perfect fit. Crow’s delivery of the chorus conveys a subtle sense of excitement that quietly pulls the listener in, lending an organic feel to the track as a whole.
Unfortunately, Crow’s limited vocal range begins working against her as the song near its end, and her performance becomes shaky and strained as she reaches for notes that seem somewhat beyond her capabilities. It’s not quite enough to sink the record entirely, but it does give a rough, choppy ending to what is mostly smooth sailing up to that point.
Written by Sheryl Crow, Chris DuBois, and Jeff Trott
More noteworthy as a vocal showcase than as a lyrical composition.
“Ex-Old Man” singer Kirsten Kelly’s new single “He Loves to Make Me Cry” flies in the face of the country radio status quo with its smooth, bluesy arrangement. I genuinely have to give Kelly credit for stepping outside the box, and it is interesting to hear her show a bit more of her range and vocal texture than she did on her debut single.
But a great production alone does not a great record make. The lyrical concept of “He Loves to Make Me Cry” hinges its impact on the fact that tears can be a sign of joy and contentment instead of heartache, but fails to express that truth in a way that feels novel or revelatory. The fact that the lyrics aren’t sufficiently engaging causes Kelly’s belted-out delivery to come across as unnecessary and almost self-indulgent. Such a performance works only if the lyrical content warrants it, which in this case it doesn’t. After a while, her stretching out one-syllable words into three syllables just feels grating.
The single is, however, enough to keep me interested in Kelly’s music, as it demonstrates a willingness to be different which will
On first listen, the Pistol Annies’ new single “Hush Hush” immediately stands out as being their hardest rocking release to date. It sounds more like something one might expect to hear on one of Miranda Lambert’s solo albums than the Annies’ traditional-leaning debut. It seems the Annies are getting a harder radio push this time around – definitely a good thing since country radio has been largely in want of a good girl group for the past ten years.
The production may be a bit more polished, but the song’s sentiment is anything but glossed-over. ”Hush Hush” offers a darkly comic look at the volatile holiday gatherings of a dysfunctional family, while also slyly winking at every family’s need to sweep dirty secrets under the rug and put their best foot forward. “Hide your tattoo, put on your Sunday best, pretend you’re not a mess, be the happy family in the front pew,” the three Annies sing during the song’s closing bridge.
Though something of a sonic departure for the Pistol Annies, “Hush Hush” does not get away from the characteristics that made them an outstanding group in the first place,
nor does it forsake its identity as a country record with an arrangement that simultaneously rocks and twangs. ”Hush Hush” is smart, self-aware, packed with personality, and best of all, it turns widely-relatable frustrations into a reason to chuckle. At a time in which many country hits take place in an imaginary backwoods utopia, the Pistol Annies here serve up another welcome slice of reality.
Written by Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe, and Angaleena Presley
There’s certainly no false advertising going on here, though it would still be easy to guess what we were getting even if the song title didn’t make it so plainly obvious.
I almost wonder if each new Currington single release is determined by the flip of a coin. Heads – release a beer drinking song; tails – release a sexy come-on love song. Apparently this time it landed on tails.
“Hey Girl” has some infectious guitar work going for it, but it’s not enough to elevate the song beyond what it is – regular dime-a-dozen radio filler with a total lack of a lyrical hook.
“I can’t tell you where I’m bound/ Maybe I’m just spinning round and round…. And there may come a day when I have nothing left to say,” sings Gretchen Wilson on her new single “Still Rollin’.” Such words feel unfortunately indicative of the level of creativity the song displays.
Everything about “Still Rollin’” is forgettable. The production sounds like a karaoke track. The melody has scarcely any rise and fall to it, and the cliché-filled lyrics plod in circles with no discernible point. The song centers around a mediocre non-hook (“I keep on rolliiiiiiiiiiiinnnnnn’…”) that only makes it grating instead of memorable.
But the main thing that sinks the song is the vocal. When Wilson sings with the right amount of bite and sass, it can make even a “Redneck Woman” rehash like “Work Hard, Play Harder” enjoyable. That quality is entirely absent here, and her delivery instead comes across as dull and dispassionate.
How am I supposed to care about the new Gretchen Wilson song if
Me You,” instead going for a light R&B groove with a synthesized hand clap. (It’s anybody’s guess when we’ll see the return of the fiddler and steel guitarist who have been seemingly M.I.A. since circa 2009.) To the single’s credit, this particular sonic backdrop affords some much-needed breathing room for Shelton’s vocals, the quality of which have generally remained consistent even when the song quality hasn’t.
Unfortunately, it’s not quite enough to overcome the heavy air of complacency that hangs over the song itself. It’s evident in the irritating little cliché phrases that keep popping up throughout the song, as well as in tacky rhyme schemes like “Now you’re standing in the neon looking like a high I want to be on,” and in self-impressed pickup lines like “You can’t shoot me down ’cause you’ve already knocked me dead.” The plodding verses create a bar meeting scenario that lacks any first-person details more memorable than a “pretty pink lemonade shooter” as Shelton’s narrator romances a nameless, faceless female. The chorus has an enjoyable melody, but the title hook reeks of stale, forced cleverness.
The single offers neither any substantial listener reward nor a compelling reason to hit the replay button, serving little discernible purpose except to hold Blake Shelton’s slot on country radio while he sees to his judging gig on The Voice. For a reigning CMA Entertainer of the Year, it’s a terrible shame that the music itself is not far more satisfying, and hasn’t been for a long time now.
Written by Rodney Clawson, Chris Tompkins, and Jimmy Robbins