Tag Archives: Ashton Shepherd

Single Review: Chase Rice, “Ready Set Roll”

He may have been the runner-up on one of the weakest seasons of Survivor (finishing second to
this strategic powerhouse), but Chase Rice has beaten tough competition from the likes of Jason Aldean’s “1994,” Parmalee’s “Carolina,” Ashton Shepherd’s “This is America,” Blake Shelton’s “Boys Round Here,” Krystal Keith’s “Daddy Dance with Me,” and Luke Bryan’s “That’s My Kind of Night” for the title of 2013′s worst country single.

For all of the countless complaints about the rise of “bro country” during the past year, what much of the criticism of this trend has ignored is its fundamental anonymity. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the notion of songs that champion tailgate parties or casual weekend hookups, as the kinds of experiences characterized in songs like Florida-Georgia Line’s “Cruise” or “Ready Set Roll” are familiar to an audience that is not insignificant in size or purchasing power.

The problem, then, with this glut of frat-boys in their Ed Hardy gear and pick-ups– and what Rice and “Ready Set Roll” epitomize– is their interchangeability. Rice and his co-writers (usual suspects Rhett Akins and Chris Destefano) write almost entirely in clichés (“Yeah, we can run this town / I can rock your world / We can roll ‘em down, fog ‘em up / Cruise around and get stuck”), such that none of the experiences they’ve written about here are the least bit distinctive. But for a deeply gross line that goes farther in the objectification of women than do most songs of this ilk (“Get ya fine little ass on the step / Shimmy up inside / And slide girl, by my side girl”), there isn’t a single line in “Ready Set Roll” that couldn’t be exchanged word-for-word with lines from “Cruise” or Jake Owen’s “Days of Gold” or Cole Swindell’s “Chillin’ It” or Eric Paslay’s “Friday Night” without changing those songs in any meaningful or even noticeable way.

Setting aside the shallowness of the subject matter and Rice’s struggles with even basic syntax, it’s that lack of any discernible point-of-view that makes “Ready Set Roll” such appalling poor songwriting, the nadir of a trend that has quite rightly drawn the ire of those who value country music for its history of distinctive narratives, personal insight, and pure escapism that is still respectful of both craft and its audience.

And, thanks to a dated, cheap-sounding production job and Rice’s limited vocal ability, “Ready Set Roll” doesn’t even work as a throwaway, escapist single. The use of a digitized text-reader voice to bookend the single is jarring and adds nothing of value to the track. The most pedestrian of hip-hop beats drowns out the requisite handful of rote country signifiers, and the mixing sounds like it was made on a circa-2004 version of Winamp.

As he sort-of-raps his way through the track, Rice affects a throaty growl that unfavorably recalls Brantley Gilbert, and he dutifully emphasizes every syllable on the 2 and 4 counts without regard for whether or not native speakers of American English would emphasize those syllables. As co-writer for “Cruise,” Rice proved that he might be capable of writing a memorable hook, but there’s not one thing he and his alliance of bros do well on “Ready Set Roll.”

Written by Chase Rice, Rhett Akins, and Chris Destephano

Grade: F

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Getting to Know Brandy Clark

Brandy ClarkAs a general rule, you can scan the credits of any new country album and assume that if Brandy Clark is a writer on one of the songs, it’s the best song on the album.  As Clark readies the release of 12 Stories, her debut album as an artist, it’s a great time for fans of that remarkable set to get caught up on Clark’s work to date.

Believe the hype.  Clark really is as good as everyone is saying she is.  Possibly even better, as these twenty tracks suggest.  Scroll down to the bottom, and you can listen to snippets from all of them as you read along.

The Singles

Even if you’re only a casual fan of country radio, you’ve probably already heard Clark’s distinctive brand of songwriting.  She’s penned huge hits for the Band Perry and Miranda Lambert in the past year, along with a should’ve-been hit for LeAnn Rimes and the upcoming release from frequent collaborator Kacey Musgraves.

Here’s a rundown of her radio releases so far.

The Band Perry Pioneer

“Better Dig Two”

written by Brandy Clark, Shane McAnally, and Trevor Rosen

from The Band Perry album, Pioneer

The production nearly overwhelms the sharpness of the lyric here, but after a few listens, it’s easier to get past the clutter and enjoy the wicked wordplay.

Leann Rimes Lady & Gentlemen

“Crazy Women”

written by Brandy Clark, Jessie Jo Dillon, and Shane McAnally

from the LeAnn Rimes album, Lady & Gentlemen

That Aqua Net reference at the beginning was flagged by us upon release as “the best opening line in recent memory.”   It still holds up well today, sounding just as fresh and clever on Clark’s debut album.

Kacey-Musgraves-Same-Trailer-Different-Park

“Follow Your Arrow”

written by Brandy Clark, Shane McAnally, and Kacey Musgraves

from the Kacey Musgraves album, Same Trailer Different Park

Arguably the strongest song on Musgraves’ remarkable debut set, “Follow Your Arrow” is a remarkably progressive anthem of tolerance and individual expression.  It is slated to be the third single and in a perfect world, Musgraves will use that as a reason to perform it on the CMA Awards next month.

Miranda Lambert Four the Record

“Mama’s Broken Heart”

written by Brandy Clark, Shane McAnally, and Kacey Musgraves

from the Miranda Lambert album, Four the Record

Easily the best thing Lambert’s done in years, “Mama’s Broken Heart” is a whole lotta crazy without feeling even a little bit forced.  It manages to slip in some sly feminist commentary, too.

Mica Roberts Days You Live For

“Things a Mama Don’t Know” (with Toby Keith)

written by Brandy Clark, Mark Narmore, and Liz Rose

from the Mica Roberts EP, Days You Live For

The debut single from Mica Roberts featured her Show Dog label head, Toby Keith.  It’s a potent song about a woman who follows the wrong man across the country and doesn’t want to let her mother know how much she’s suffering as a result of this poor choice.  It’s always nice to hear Keith’s voice, but his presence gets in the way of the lyric, making for an odd switch between third and first person during the second verse.

The Album Cuts

Many of Clark’s best songs have never been sent to radio.  Here are some of her lesser-known tracks.

Sarah Darling Angels & Devils

“The Boy Never Stays”

written by Brandy Clark, Sarah Darling, and Josh Osborne

from the Sarah Darling album, Angels & Devils

Clark’s songs reel you in early, usually with an opening line that immediately grabs your attention.  “He’s the first taste of something you shouldn’t have.  He’s the first lie you tell to your mom and dad.”  Her masterful use of pathos is what sets Clark apart from most of her peers.

Nashville Boys and Buses

“Boys and Buses”

written by Brandy Clark, Shane McAnally, and Josh Osborne

digital download track from Season One of Nashville

There’s an incredible irony to the fact that Hayden Panettiere’s character on Nashville is supposed to be a flashy pop singer making disposable music for tweens.  The songs she actually sings on the show are often top-notch, better than much of what’s on the radio today.  “Boys and Buses” may have a chorus that would make Julie Roberts swoon, but it’s chock full of clever details and turns of phrase that are Clark’s hallmarks.

Kacey-Musgraves-Same-Trailer-Different-Park

“Dandelion”

written by Brandy Clark, Shane McAnally, and Kacey Musgraves

from the Kacey Musgraves album, Same Trailer Different Park

A sweetly mournful song about love gone wrong, built around the false hope of wishing on a weed.

Reba McEntire All the Women I Am

“The Day She Got Divorced”

written by Brandy Clark, Shane McAnally, and Mark D. Sanders

from the Reba McEntire album, All the Women I Am

When we reviewed this album three years ago, this track was noted as among the strongest.  We called it “vivid and real, with lyrical imagery that would make Jeannie C. Riley proud.”   One of the few great McEntire performances this century, it’s especially impressive that Clark’s own reading on her debut album is even better than McEntire’s reading of this dark and dreary divorce number.

Gretchen Wilson Right on Time

“Get Outta My Yard”

written by Brandy Clark, Shane McAnally, and Kacey Musgraves

from the Gretchen Wilson album, Right on Time

Wilson’s latest album opens with this cut.  It practically screams for a more aggressive performance, the latest reminder what Wilson’s outlaw image never really shows up at the mic.  If Lambert’s looking for another rave-up, she might want to anchor her next set with this one.

Kacey-Musgraves-Same-Trailer-Different-Park

“It is What it is”

written by Brandy Clark, Luke Laird, and Kacey Musgraves

from the Kacey Musgraves album, Same Trailer Different Park

The late night phone call concept has been done well before, but never quite this emotion-free.  She doesn’t need him now and isn’t likely to hate herself in the morning for loving him tonight.  “Maybe I love you,” she wonders, or “maybe I’m just kinda bored.”   This is the best track on Musgraves’ album that hasn’t been flagged as a single yet.

Pam-Tillis-Lorrie-Morgan-2013-Cover

“Last Night’s Make Up”

written by Brandy Clark, Jessie Jo Dillon, and Shane McAnally

from the Lorrie Morgan and Pam Tillis album, Dos Divas

You know that a writer is capturing universal truth when a song can be as convincing by a voice weathered by time as it would be if sung by someone as young as the writer herself.  This tale of morning after regret is one of Morgan’s finest moments, on par with her signature ballads from the nineties.

Darius Rucker True Believer

“Love Without You” (featuring Sheryl Cr0w)

written by Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally

from the Darius Rucker album, True Believers

The Crow backing vocal is easy to miss until she starts singing some of the lines in the end, but Rucker hasn’t had his own talent showcased this well too often, so it helps that she stays out of the way for most of the track.  The subtlety of the lyric and the quiet production allow him to shine as an interpreter.

Guy Penrod Breathe Deep

“The Maker of Them All”

written by Brandy Clark and Billy Montana

from the Guy Penrod album, Breathe Deep

A stunning and uplifting celebration of how all of us are creations of God, using sharp contrasts to make the point of how many diverse and seemingly contradictory things are part of a greater plan designed by one maker.  “The hands that have to fight.  The hands that pray for peace at night. The Lord is the maker of them all.”

Jill King Rain on Fire

“Something Worth Stealing”

written by Brandy Clark and Jill King

from the Jill King album, Rain on Fire

“There’s love,” King sings, “and then there’s runaway desire.”   There are a lot of songs about the actual cheating, but they usually document the heat of the moment.  This indiscretion is coldly calculated, no matter how hot the flames of passion underlying it might be.

David Nail the sound of a million dreams

“That’s How I’ll Remember You”

written by Brandy Clark, Shane McAnally, and Madeleine Slate

from the David Nail album, The Sound of a Million Dreams

“Summertime in Brooklyn, mustard on your lip. I knew I loved you by the bottom of the fifth.”   Not too many country songs capture moments that perfectly detailed, and this has got to be the only one where the moment takes place at a Brooklyn Cyclones game.

Ashton Shepherd Where Country Grows

“Tryin’ to Go to Church”

written by Brandy Clark, Shane McAnally, and Ashton Shepherd

from the Ashton Shepherd album, Where Country Grows

One of the most charming tracks from Shepherd’s second set, she rattles off the reasons she can’t quite make it to church in her exaggerated twang.  My personal favorite: “Here comes that husband-stealin’ heifer and I reckon I’m gonna have to fight.”

Buffy Lawson I'm Leaving You For Me

“Waitin’ on a Train”

written by Brandy Clark, Jessie Jo Dillon, and Shane McAnally

from the Buffy Lawson album, I’m Leaving You For Me

The debut solo album from former Bomshel Buffy Lawson features this gem that compares waiting for a man to love her in return to “standing in an airport, waiting on a train.”

Trent Jeffcoat When I Find Me That Mountain

“When I Find Me That Mountain”

written by Brandy Clark and Trent Jeffcoat

from the Trent Jeffcoat album, When I Find Me That Mountain

Clark doesn’t engage her faith much on her debut album, but if this and “The Maker of Them All” are any indication, she’s got a great country gospel album waiting inside of her.

Craig Campbell Never Regret

“You Can Come Over”

written by Brandy Clark, Jessie Jo Dillon, and Mark Narmore

from the Craig Campbell album, Never Regret

A true hidden gem, this one tells the heartbreaker in question, “You can come over but you can’t come in.”  A talk on the front porch, a ride in the truck.  Those are just fine.  But walking through his front door will just lead to her leaving again.

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Single Review: Ashton Shepherd, “Where Country Grows”

Y’all Y’all Country Pride Y’all.

Yee-Haw.

Grade: C

Listen: Where Country Grows

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Single Review: Ashton Shepherd, “Look it Up”

Karmic retribution for every boring vocabulary lesson I ever bored my students with during my years as an English teacher.

I’d call this Jo Dee Messina’s B-material, but I’m pretty sure she’d have passed on this one, even though she’d sing it a lot better. I get that Ashton Shepherd is bringing country back to country, but a dull vocal isn’t improved by exaggerated twang. It just sounds forced.

The lyrical content suggests that Shepherd is aspiring to be a modern day Loretta Lynn. But the problem that surfaces with “Look it Up” is the same one that plagued most of Gretchen Wilson’s similar attempts and just about all of the recent Lynn tribute album.  Shepherd apes Lynn’s attitude without contemporizing it, and ends up with a song that is outdated before it’s even been officially released.

Grade: C

Listen: Look it Up

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The 201 Greatest Singles of the Decade, Part 2: #180-#161

The 201 Greatest Singles of the Decade, Part 2: #180-#161

180 Flatts Melt

#180
“These Days”
Rascal Flatts
2002
Peak: #1

It’s the pairing of aching nostalgia and all the power that comes with a Flatts country-pop ballad that makes this song so potent. – Tara Seetharam

179 Ashton

#179
“Takin’ Off This Pain”
Ashton Shepherd
2007
Peak: #20

Like a wide-eyed hybrid of Loretta Lynn and Jennifer Nettles, Shepherd burst onto the scene snapping her newly ring-free fingers at the clueless sap not treating her right. Next Decade, please take note: you’ve got a star in waiting. – Dan Milliken Continue reading

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ACM Top New Artist Winners

header_acm-awards1The winners have been announced for three of the Top New Artist categories at this year’s ACM Awards:

  • Top New Male Vocalist: Jake Owen
  • Top New Female Vocalist: Julianne Hough
  • Top New Vocal Duo or Group: Zac Brown Band

Jake Owen’s victory is something of an upset, as he was nominated against James Otto and Jamey Johnson, two men who received multiple Grammy nominations. Johnson still has a shot at some ACM awards this year, as he’s nominated in three other categories: Single, Song and Album of the Year. Owen is nominated for Vocal Event for his part in Sugarland’s multi-artist “Life in a Northern Town.”

Julianne Hough was chosen over Sarah Buxton and Ashton Shepherd, while Zac Brown Band won over the Eli Young Band and the Lost Trailers.

Owen, Hough and Zac Brown Band will compete for the Top New Artist award during the three-hour telecast on Sunday, April 5. We’ll be live-blogging, of course. Look for our predictions and personal picks later this week.

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The 44th Annual ACM Awards Reaction, Part Two (Fail Blog)

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In honor of FAIL Blog (the perfect workday distraction), here’s my take on the Academy of Country Music Awards nominations. Opinions expressed belong solely to the author, and do not represent the views of other contributors to Country Universe.

WIN- Carrie Underwood, Entertainer of the Year

A Grand Ole Opry induction, four No. 1 singles and best-seller status on the concert trail. Serious credentials for the reigning female vocalist, ensuring her a well-deserved Entertainer nod.

WIN- Miranda Lambert, Single of the Year (“Gunpowder and Lead”)

Lambert’s vengeful stand against domestic violence is amply rewarded with an appearance in the Single category. Her spicy snarl is an intimidating match for a clever, caustic lyric.

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44th Annual ACM Awards Nominations Announcement

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The Academy of Country Music announced nominees for their 44th annual awards ceremony this morning at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville. Julianne Hough, Kellie Pickler, Leann Rimes and Jessica Simpson were on hand to present this year’s nominees. More analysis to follow.

Entertainer of the Year

  • Kenny Chesney
  • Brad Paisley
  • George Strait
  • Carrie Underwood
  • Keith Urban

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44th Annual ACM Awards Projections

header_acm-awards1

On Wednesday, February 11, the Academy of Country Music will unveil the nominees for their 44th annual awards ceremony. Last year, the usual suspects prevailed. Brad and Carrie repeated in the Vocalist categories, Brooks & Dunn claimed their 14th Vocal Duo prize and Kenny Chesney earned his fourth consecutive Entertainer of the Year award. As a prelude to the nominations announcement, here’s my projected slate for this year’s ceremony. (Favorites are in bold.)

Entertainer of the Year

  • Kenny Chesney
  • Brad Paisley
  • Sugarland
  • Carrie Underwood
  • Keith Urban

Prognosis: The “no girls allowed” edict will likely be lifted.  Underwood is the genre’s most prominent ambassador, and Sugarland’s rise to the high ranks has both commercial and critical support.

Note of interest: “The winner shall be determined by a combination of votes from the membership of the ACM and viewer voting.”

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The First Annual Country Universe Readers’ Choice Awards

carrie-underwoodCarrie Underwood is the top winner of the inaugural Country Universe Reader’s Choice Awards, earning first place in all four of the races in which she was eligible. In addition to being named Artist of the Year and Female Vocalist, her #1 hit “Just a Dream” won for Single and Music Video.

Also popular with readers this past year were:

- Sugarland, who won Vocal Duo/Group by the widest margin of any of the winners, and placed second for Artist and Album.  Additionally, lead singer Jennifer Nettles placed second for Songwriter.

- Jamey Johnson, who won for Songwriter, and placed second in the Male Vocalist race.  His hit “In Color” came in third in both the Single and Music Video races, and he also placed third in the Artist race.

- Brad Paisley, who won easily for Male Vocalist and came in second for Music Video with “Waitin’ on a Woman.”

- Patty Loveless, who topped both Sugarland and Lee Ann Womack to finish first in the Album race.

Among up-and-comers, Lady Antebellum and Joey+ Rory proved most popular, finishing first and second in the Rising Star race and second and third in the Vocal Duo/Group Race.  Lee Ann Womack and Trisha Yearwood also did well, with both women placing behind Underwood in the Female Vocalist race. Yearwood’s hit “This is Me You’re Talking To” placed second for Single, and Womack’s Call Me Crazy finished third behind Loveless and Sugarland for Album. And with wide disagreement in the Songwriter race beyond Johnson and Nettles, the red-hot Taylor Swift makes her only appearance on the list, placing third.

Our five winners of the Album Giveaway each received an Amazon Mp3 Gift Certificate for the cost of the album they chose from the various top ten lists of our writers.  The winners, and the albums they selected:

  • Araceli Pinto Corrales – Lee Ann Womack, Call Me Crazy
  • Andrew Lacy – Patty Loveless, Sleepless Nights
  • Zachary Jodlowski – Joey + Rory, The Life of a Song
  • Michael Kattman – Reckless Kelly, Bulletproof
  • Laura Britton – Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson, Rattlin’ Bones

Thanks to all of you who voted, and everyone else for your loyal readership!  Read on for the winners, along with the editors’ choices in each category. Percentages reflect the total amount of points received, with the maximum possible percentage of 50%, which would require a first-place vote on every ballot.

If you didn’t submit a ballot this time around, share your preferences in the comments!

The First Annual Country Universe

Readers’ Choice Awards


carrie-underwood

Artist of the Year

Readers’ Choice:
1. Carrie Underwood (22%)
2. Sugarland (19%)
3. Jamey Johnson (14%)

Editors’ Choice:
1. Jamey Johnson
2. Brad Paisley
3. Carrie Underwood

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