This single review is written by Guest Contributor Jennifer Bernard.
“Draw Me a Map,”the second single from Up on the Ridge, contains lyrics which are cleverly evocative and packed with passion. The acoustic arrangement combined with the vocals of Dierks Bentley and Alison Krauss make for a soothing delivery of words that definitely dive below the surface. Specifically with lines such as “I’d beg forgiveness but I don’t know where to start” and “I’ve never been so at loss, I’m at a canyon I can’t get around or cross,” you can truly feel the anxiety and hopelessness that Bentley illustrates.
What strikes me while listening to this song is the vulnerability of the man in this situation. It is obvious that he regrets letting her go and now understands that she and him are meant to be (“You’re my destiny and destination”). It’s always refreshing to put pride aside and express how one feels on a deeper level which the ballad so strongly conveys. Krauss doesn’t have a major presence in this song which is both dulcet as it is symbolic. We understand that this song is about the man’s apology and the woman’s forgiveness. Furthermore, with Krauss in the background we are comforted knowing that she is there listening and possibly yearning for their relationship, too.
I’m a huge fan of metaphors, so there’s no mistaking that I appreciate this song’s metaphorical lyrics. No, he’s not asking her to physically draw him a map to help him find her. Rather, he’s desperate for her to tell him how he can come back in her life. It’s a song about a tender subject, so the simple vocals and music execute a harmonious match. Although the tune may not have an outstanding presence or be as memorable as its country ballad predecessors, all in all, this collaboration provides a unique touch to the album and is a nice addition to Bentley’s musical résumé.
If turnover has been slow in the Entertainer category, it’s been nothing less than glacial in the Male Vocalist race. Over the past ten years, only eleven men have received nominations. Four of those eleven – Dierks Bentley, Vince Gill, Darius Rucker, and Josh Turner – have been nominated only once.
Now, Toby Keith and Tim McGraw were regularly invited to the party in the first half of the last decade, with four and three nominations, respectively. But the race has essentially been dominated by the same five men: Kenny Chesney, Alan Jackson, Brad Paisley, George Strait, and Keith Urban, who combine for forty nominations in just one decade.
The recent history has been pretty boring. After two consecutive wins by Alan Jackson, we’ve had three consecutive wins each by Keith Urban and reigning champ Brad Paisley.
Will there be a new winner this year, or even a new nominee? Should there be?
Let’s take a look at last year’s race:
Darius Rucker was the new face to enter the race last year. No brand new nominee has been nominated again in this category since Keith Urban earned his first nomination in 2004. He’s been in the race ever since. I’d say Rucker’s close to a lock, along with Paisley. But just like in the Entertainer race, a case could be made for a decent shake-up, especially some of this category’s veteran acts have dipped at radio and retail.
Here’s who I would nominate this year. Share your picks in the comments:
Anybody else notice that this guy’s outselling the rest of the male solo artists? All the while, he’s been completely ignored at the country awards shows for his last two projects. He’s not overdue just yet, but he’s due.
He went out of his comfort zone to release a bluegrass-flavored album that was pretty darn good.
He just missed my list for preferred Entertainer nominees, but he’s at the head of the pack in this category. With his domination at radio, not to mention a stronger studio album than his previous two, I wouldn’t be shocked for him to become the third artist in history to win four of these.
His hit-making has certainly been kicked up a notch as of late. He may be destined to toil just under the radar of this category like Trace Adkins and Gary Allan before him, but it would be nice to see him get a nod.
A decent comeback at radio and retail, coupled with him being a great singer who’s been overlooked, makes me hope he finishes out this category.
I left off previous nominees Keith Urban, George Strait, and Darius Rucker because they haven’t put out new albums during the eligibility period, so it seems like a good time to let some new folks get a chance. I left off Kenny Chesney because he’s been doing nothing but stopgap releases for the past year, none of which sold to his normal standards. I left off Tim McGraw, even though he’s made some music I really like lately, because he hasn’t been doing as well as usual at radio and retail.
As Dan observed in his single review of “Up on the Ridge”, there was a noticeable decline in Dierks Bentley’s music after his well received Long Trip Alone album. It is purely speculative to suggest, but one can’t help but wonder if Bentley himself felt staleness creeping into his music as well. It’s not farfetched for the idea to be true, since Dierks has proven himself to be an astute artist in the past. So, why wouldn’t he notice if there was, indeed, a shift?
Speculation aside, Bentley has taken a break from the routine of his last four albums to create an album that is far removed from what is popular on mainstream country radio and somewhat different than what he’s put on his own previous albums. However, he is still marketing to radio, as his first single, the title track, has been treated like any other Bentley single release. The album is not as adventurous, or as strong, as the Dixie Chicks’ unapologetically acoustic album, but it may be as close to the concept as we have gotten since their targeted mainstream acoustic project, Home.
It has been appropriately publicized that this album is not a pure bluegrass project. Instead, it is close in style to the bluegrass influenced tracks that Bentley has consistently included on each of his studio albums. Yes, mandolin, banjo, dobro and fiddle are ever present, but Bentley is not shy about using drums, exploring subversive melodies (“Up on the Ridge”, “Fallin’ for You”), or deviating from traditional bluegrass rules of engagement along the way. Moreover, Bentley does not possess the high lonesome tenor that is typically associated with bluegrass. He, however, proves himself to be a capable vocalist within the parameters of his unique style of it.
A handful of covers, songs by well respected songwriters, and some of Bentley’s own compositions makes this rootsy album a well rounded set. The best of the covers is bob Dylan’s “Senor (Tales of Yankee Power) and Kris Kristofferson’s Bottle to the Bottom”. While the otherwise solid “Bottle to the Bottom” features a somewhat pointless cameo by Kristofferson, the addition of the Punch Brothers on “Senor” is inspired art. A less successful cover is U2’s “Pride (in the Name of Love).” While Del McCoury’s distinctive tenor does well to do the heavy lifting, the over all recording still lacks the etherealness of the original. Ironically, as they are most closely associated with Americana, the Buddy Miller cover is the most mainstream friendly sounding song on the album. Unfortunately, it is also inferior to Miller’s version.
Among the strongest of Bentley’s songs is “Rovin’ Gambler” (once again, with the Punch Brothers), “Draw Me a Map” (featuring Alison Krauss on background vocals), “You’re Dead to Me” (co-written by and featuring Tim O’Brien”, and “Down in the Mine.”
Bentley wisely enlists the help of some of his creative friends such as the Punch Brothers (with Chris Thile of Nickel Creek fame), Del McCoury, Alison Krauss, Vince Gill, Jamey Johnson, Miranda Lambert, Tim O’Brien, and Kris Kristofferson. Complimented by Jon Randall’s organic production sensibilities, this impeccable support adds a welcome texture to the project. However, the collaborations work best when they are more subtle. For instance, while the prospect of Miranda Lambert and Jamey Johnson collaborating is, indeed, an appealing concept, the result does not rise to the occasion in practice. Both Lambert and Johnson deliver excellent performances with Bentley on “Bad Angel”, with Lambert’s voice being huskier than usual, but the parts together translate as more disjointed than natural. Likewise, the results of Del McCoury’s and Kris Kristofferson’s contributions were not as successful as one would hope for from such revered artists. On the other hand, the Punch Brothers (who played on several tracks), Alison Krauss, Tim O’Brien, Jon Randall, and Vince Gill (“Fiddlin’ Around”) were used less overtly to greater effect.
With expert musicianship by the best in the business, solid songs, and impressive vocal support, Up on the Ridge is a refreshing album from an artist who is taking a chance with this musical detour while still in the throes of a considerably lucrative career. Not only is taking such a chance commendable, Bentley has created a solid album to justify the diversion.
I don’t know about y’all, but Dierks Bentley has been on this swift downward trajectory for me ever since his killer trio of “Every Mile a Memory”, “Long Trip Alone” and “Free And Easy (Down the Road I Go)” back in ’06/’07. I don’t know whether his team got spooked by Long Trip Alone‘s low sales and tried to force crowd-pleasers out of him or if he just ran out of interesting ideas on his own. Either way, it’s been a bummer.
I believe in second chances, though, and there’s no better way to prime me for one than to announce a roots-based or traditionalist project. (Like, even Kellie Pickler is getting me kind of curious.) So I was pumped to hear that Bentley was planning on releasing a full bluegrass album, especially one with actual radio singles. And here we are at the first one, the upcoming album’s title track.
Now, as Bentley is an A-minus-list country star who cut some of his teeth at Nashville’s Station Inn, it’s no surprise that he managed to corral the very finest pickers for this project, and it’s no surprise that those pickers sound very well-arranged here. “Up on the Ridge” has a dark, shimmering newgrass production that doesn’t quit, and that alone will easily make it one of 2010’s most memorable singles.
Unfortunately, that production is forced to prop up some pretty weak efforts by the headlining artist. The song – an extended invitation to join its singer for a sexy camping trip – sounds like it was written merely as a means to get to its cool-sounding title. The melody and lyrics are serviceable but stagnant, offering none of the excitement of similarly-themed singles like “Fishin’ in the Dark”, “Hey Bobby” or even “Mud on the Tires.” Even Bentley’s vocal sounds awkard and disconnected as it mulls over throwaway lines about his dog howling at an owl (or something). So while the record has a cooler style than, say, “Sideways,” its substance suffers from many of the same shortcomings.
Worse still, the juxtaposition of the awesome guest players and the thoroughly bland song and performance by Bentley makes the single sound like a premature vanity project, something no one would’ve wanted to contribute to if the chief creator weren’t a star. That’s probably not the case, as Bentley seems like a great guy and a genuine friend to the bluegrass community. But it’s abundantly obvious who’s doing the heavy lifting here; I can only hope that the rest of the album showcases Bentley’s own talents much better.
Even in Grammy’s darkest hours, CU brings its picking powers!
– Superhero television show about our blog from the 50’s.
We won’t be live-blogging this time around, but will be reacting to the show in a full post tomorrow, and welcome your reactions in comments on this post. The awards telecast starts at 8 pm Eastern, and I imagine there will be some red carpet action in the hour prior.
Record of the Year
Beyonce, “Halo” – Kevin
Black Eyed Peas, “I Gotta Feeling”
Kings of Leon, “Use Somebody” - Tara
Lady GaGa, “Poker Face” - Dan
Taylor Swift, “You Belong with Me”
Black Eyed Peas, “I Gotta Feeling”
Kings of Leon, “Use Somebody” – Kevin, Dan, Tara
Lady GaGa, “Poker Face”
Taylor Swift, “You Belong with Me”
Kevin: Am I wrong for preferring Eric Cartman’s rendition of “Poker Face” over the original? This is a pretty lightweight slate of contenders. I really like “Halo”, but I suspect Kings of Leon will win, simply because it’s the only rock song in a lineup of pop hits.
Dan: “Poker Face” just feels very representative of popular music in 2009. I wouldn’t whine if it got passed over so that “Bad Romance” could take this award next year, though.
Tara: I would’ve pulled for “Single Ladies” in a heartbeat had it been submitted, but “Use Somebody” is just as deserving of this award. It’s a fantastic song even outside the context of its moment in pop culture, and it’s the kind of larger-than-life song that the voters have picked to win in the past.
Album of the Year
Beyonce, I Am…Sasha Fierce
Black Eyed Peas, The E.N.D.
Lady GaGa, The Fame – Kevin, Tara
Dave Matthews Band, Big Whiskey and the Groogrux King
Taylor Swift, Fearless - Dan
Beyonce, I Am…Sasha Fierce
Black Eyed Peas, The E.N.D.
Lady GaGa, The Fame
Dave Matthews Band, Big Whiskey and the Groogrux King - Kevin
Taylor Swift, Fearless - Dan, Tara
Kevin: I’d like to see dance music get some respect in the big category, even if there are a half-dozen Madonna albums at this point that would’ve been worthier winners than The Fame. Again, I think the Top 40 votes are going to be split, leaving Dave Matthews Band the winners.
Dan: In little over a year, Fearless has grown from success story to cultural artifact. It’s that rare pop album that seems to have a personality all its own, like Jagged Little Pill in a yellow sundress (and sung about as well). I could see anyone but the Peas taking this, but I think Swift’s support in both Nashville and the Top 40 crowd will take her to the top.
Tara: I have to say I was fairly shocked to see Swift’s truckload of Grammy nominations, so I’m having a little trouble wrapping my mind around the Academy’s thought process – but, I suppose a Swift win in this category is inevitable. However, I fully back Lady GaGa, who is the perfect storm of creativity, vision, swagger and raw vocal talent (remember that, pop world?). Continue reading →
Since this was a solo blog, doing a Grammy Wish List has been an annual tradition. I’m not too excited about this year’s Grammys, to be honest. 2009 was a weak year in my opinion, and the shortened 11-month eligibility period didn’t help matters. But a tradition is a tradition, so here are my picks in the eleven categories that I care about this year:
* denotes my personal wish:
Record of the Year
Beyoncé, “Halo” *
The Black Eyed Peas, “I Gotta Feeling”
Kings of Leon, “Use Somebody”
Lady Gaga, “Poker Face”
Taylor Swift, “You Belong With Me”
It’s always nice to see a country radio hit in there, but I honestly can’t stand “You Belong With Me.” I dig the Kings of Leon song, but the record that I enjoy the most here is “Halo.” Some pundits have suggested that Beyoncé threw her chances at this trophy by submitting “Halo” instead of “Single Ladies”, but I like that song even less than “You Belong With Me.” Love “Halo”, though.
Song of the Year
Lady Gaga & RedOne, “Poker Face”
Hod David & Musze, “Pretty Wings”
Thaddis Harrell, Beyoncé Knowles, Terius Nash & Christopher Stewart, “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)”
Caleb Followill, Jared Followill, Matthew Followill & Nathan Followill, “Use Somebody” *
Liz Rose & Taylor Swift, “You Belong With Me”
Great to see Liz Rose in there, too, but I still can’t stand the song. I think “Use Somebody” is a great composition that could easily be a hit in other formats if the right artist covered it. Are you listening, Sugarland?
Best New Artist
Zac Brown Band *
The Ting Tings
Zac Brown Band don’t quite live up to the hype, but they come a lot closer than last year’s nominee, Lady Antebellum.
Best Country Album
Zac Brown Band, The Foundation
George Strait, Twang *
Taylor Swift, Fearless
Keith Urban, Defying Gravity
Lee Ann Womack, Call Me Crazy
There isn’t an album here that is built for more than cherry-picking. Strait’s set has the most cherries.
Best Female Country Vocal Performance
Miranda Lambert, “Dead Flowers”
Martina McBride, “I Just Call You Mine”
Taylor Swift, “White Horse”
Carrie Underwood, “Just a Dream” *
Lee Ann Womack, “Solitary Thinkin’”
The only women who brought their A-game to this category are Swift and Underwood. “White Horse” might be the better song, but Underwood’s is the better vocal performance by a country mile.
Best Male Country Vocal Performance
Trace Adkins, “All I Ask For Anymore”
Billy Currington, “People Are Crazy”
Jamey Johnson, “High Cost of Living”
George Strait, “Living For the Night” *
Keith Urban, “Sweet Thing”
I love the Strait song, so it’s my pick, but this is one of the only strong categories this year and I wouldn’t mind seeing any of these five win.
Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocals
Brooks & Dunn, “Cowgirls Don’t Cry”
Zac Brown Band, “Chicken Fried”
Lady Antebellum, “I Run to You”
Rascal Flatts, “Here Comes Goodbye”
Sugarland, “It Happens” *
No A-game here, but Sugarland’s B-game is better than the rest.
Best Country Vocal Collaboration
Dierks Bentley & Patty Griffin, “Beautiful World”
Kenny Chesney & Mac McAnally, “Down the Road”
Brad Paisley & Keith Urban, “Start a Band”
Carrie Underwood & Randy Travis, “I Told You So” *
Lee Ann Womack & George Strait, “Everything But Quits”
Some amazing pairings here, but Underwood and Travis are the only ones with the material to match the talent.
Best Female Pop Vocal Performance
Adele, “Hometown Glory”
Katy Perry, “Hot N Cold”
Pink, “Sober” *
Taylor Swift, “You Belong With Me”
Pink is an awesome songwriter, and easily the most substantial female pop star to come along in the last decade. “Sober” is one of her best.
Best Pop Vocal Album
The Black Eyed Peas, The End
Colbie Caillat, The Breakthrough
Kelly Clarkson, All I Ever Wanted
The Fray, The Fray
Pink, Funhouse *
It’s not quite as good as I’m Not Dead, but it comes close.
Best Dance Recording
The Black Eyed Peas, “Boom Boom Pow”
David Guetta and Kelly Rowland, “When Love Takes Over”
Here are the top selling country albums of the calendar year 2009. The number in parentheses is the album’s rank on the overall list encompassing all genres. The totals are rounded to the nearest thousand:
Taylor Swift, Fearless (1) – 3,157,000
Zac Brown Band, Foundation (15) – 1,243,000
Carrie Underwood, Play On (19) – 1,150,000
Rascal Flatts, Unstoppable (21) – 1,123,000
Lady Antebellum, Lady Antebellum (24) – 948,000
Jason Aldean, Wide Open (27) – 940,000
Darius Rucker, Learn to Live (31) – 849,000
Taylor Swift, Taylor Swift (36) – 766,000
Keith Urban, Defying Gravity (38) – 715,000
Sugarland, Love On the Inside (41) – 678,000
Kenny Chesney, Greatest Hits II (54) – 547,000
Tim McGraw, Southern Voice (55) – 547,000
George Strait, Twang (62) – 499,000
Brad Paisley, American Saturday Night (69) – 462,000
Jamey Johnson, That Lonesome Song (71) – 460,000
Carrie Underwood, Carnival Ride (74) – 457,000
Taylor Swift, The Holiday Collection (79) – 425,000
The 201 Greatest Singles of the Decade, Part 6: #100-81
Alison Krauss & Union Station
A shimmering moment of infatuation chased with unease. Krauss is entangled in thoughts of her beloved but at a distance, and temptation lurks for both of them. – Dan Milliken
#99 I’m Holdin’ On to Love (To Save My Life)
A terribly catchy slice of country-pop that, true to Twain, doesn’t sacrifice authenticity for appeal – Twain simply embodies the snappy energy that pulses through the song. – Tara Seetharam Continue reading →
The 201 Greatest Singles of the Decade, Part 3: #160-#141
#160 “Last Call”
Lee Ann Womack
Womack’s second-best Aughts song about late-night temptations is still better than a lot of people’s first-best songs about anything. Even in avoiding her drunken ex’s advances, she sounds positively heartbroken, suggesting she’d gladly make the other decision if she didn’t know better. – Dan Milliken
#159 “She’s Not Just a Pretty Face”
Her motivation for her music has always been escapism, but I love the personal touch she slips into this one. Her late mother is the one who she’s referring to when she sings “at night, she pumps gasoline.” – Kevin Coyne