Tag Archives: Jack Ingram

Single Review: Jack Ingram, “Barbie Doll”

Country, blues and rock ‘n’ roll – mostly the lattter two – combine for a hearty serving of frat boy fun on Jack Ingram’s latest single. “Barbie Doll” has been a fan favorite since its initial release on Ingram’s 1999 set Hey You, but this latest iteration boasts a driving arrangement that may finally get the track on mainstream radio.

The song marries Ingram’s straightforward hook sense to Todd Snider’s rambling barroom-sage style, wringing as much talk as it can out of a pretty slight premise (“dude, that girl you’re checking out is a total B-word”) and culminating in a big group shout-a-long.

It would probably be annoying as hell coming from a Jason Aldean-type, but Ingram sells it, delivering the kind of loose, grinning performance that can only be honed by performing one’s art for untold numbers of drunk guys.

I must say that part of me misses the slow-burning spite of the song’s earlier arrangement, but this rocked-up reinterpretation works in its own way, and the track still sounds fresher than most Nashville product. Plus, this single edit omits the distracting Dierks Bentley cameo featured on the album. Plus, Todd Snider still co-wrote it.

So “Barbie Doll” 2.0 turns out, y’know, pretty darn fun. A little mindless, maybe a bit of a sellout, but hey – I’ll get drunk to it.

Written by Jack Ingram and Todd Snider

Grade: B+

Listen: Barbie Doll

Buy (be warned: only the inferior version with Dierks Bentley is currently available for purchase):

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2010 ACM Awards: Staff Picks & Predictions

Nashville takes over Vegas this Sunday for the 45th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards, and it could actually be an interesting night. Eight acts are vying for Entertainer of the Year, one trio is poised to sweep the show, and a certain artist’s performance may solidify her as Music Row’s Lady Gaga. We’ll find out for sure Sunday at 8 pm Eastern, but in the meantime, we’ve picked ‘em and predicted ‘em. Sound off in the comments below.

Entertainer of the Year

Should Win:

  • Kenny Chesney
  • Toby Keith
  • Brad Paisley – Tara
  • George Strait – Kevin
  • Taylor Swift
  • Carrie Underwood
  • Keith Urban
  • Zac Brown Band – Dan, Leeann

Will Win:

  • Kenny Chesney
  • Toby Keith
  • Brad Paisley
  • George Strait
  • Taylor Swift – Dan, Tara, Kevin, Leeann
  • Carrie Underwood
  • Keith Urban
  • Zac Brown Band

Kevin: While I suspect that this will be the end of her impressive awards show victory lap, Swift should easily win this award. Does she deserve it? Probably. If I was an ACM voter (traditional member or willing to go vote online), I guess that I’d vote for George Strait, though my favorite among those with a real shot at this is Carrie Underwood.

Leeann: I predict Swift, though I don’t know if the backlash against her will thwart my prediction. Then again, the fan voting debacle will likely still work in her favor. I’ll throw my personal vote to Zac Brown Band, since I’ve really dug their live performances that I’ve seen on television. They seem like natural entertainers.

Dan: Fan-voted = Taylor Swift, with a possible Underwood repeat. But Swift hasn’t been as interesting post-Grammys. So I’ll also go with our resident grassroots heroes, ZBB.

Tara: One of the most rewarding aspects of being a five-year Underwood fan has been watching her stage presence gradually become as killer as her vocals, resulting in a powerful combination. I’d love for this to be properly recognized, and rationale seems pointless now that the EOTY race is a glorified internet fan war…but I can’t ignore that Underwood spent most of 2009 off stage. I’m going with Paisley.

Top Male Vocalist of the Year

Should Win:

  • Kenny Chesney
  • Brad Paisley – Tara, Dan, Leeann
  • Darius Rucker
  • George Strait
  • Keith Urban – Kevin

Will Win:

  • Kenny Chesney
  • Brad Paisley – Kevin, Leeann
  • Darius Rucker – Dan
  • George Strait – Tara
  • Keith Urban

Dan: It feels like Paisley’s winning streak may be just about up, which is a shame, since this year has actually been stronger material-wise for him than the years for which he’s won. Honestly, as much as I hate to say it, Jason Aldean had a bigger year than any of these guys.

Tara: Paisley and Strait were the only two who impressed me in 2009, and Paisley’s material feels fresher and more interesting. But I agree with Dan that his winning streak has probably run its course, so I’ll go out on a limb and say Strait will be the one to edge him out.

Kevin: I agree with Dan but suspect that there isn’t another nominee with enough momentum to upset the status quo in this race. If I’m wrong, I hope it’s because Urban or Strait pull it off.

Leeann: I think Paisley just might have another year of winning left in him.

Top Female Vocalist of the Year

Should Win:

  • Miranda Lambert – Dan, Leeann
  • Reba McEntire – Kevin
  • Taylor Swift
  • Carrie Underwood – Tara
  • Lee Ann Womack

Will Win:

  • Miranda Lambert – Kevin, Leeann
  • Reba McEntire
  • Taylor Swift – Dan
  • Carrie Underwood – Tara
  • Lee Ann Womack

Tara: It’s really a toss-up between Lambert and Underwood for me, with personal preference and investment swaying me towards the latter artist. I’m eerily optimistic that the ACM voters will stick to the truest sense of the award’s title – as I adamantly believe they should – and sidestep Swift.

Kevin: This is the first time in my twenty years as a country fan that I’m rooting for Reba McEntire to win Female Vocalist, though I wanted her to win Entertainer every year she was nominated in the nineties. Consider me smitten by “Consider Me Gone.” As always, I’d be happy with an Underwood victory and I wouldn’t mind Womack or Lambert, either. I’m guessing that Lambert will actually win, given her widespread appeal among ACM voters and the fact that she’s had a big radio and retail breakthrough during the voting period.

Leeann: The Academy seems to like Lambert pretty well. Since this has been her biggest year to date, it’s hard for me to imagine that she won’t be rewarded for it.

Dan: I’m going to cautiously predict that Swift’s CMA win will carry over to ACM, but Underwood has been reliably successful, and Lambert’s got stronger momentum than ever. The latter is also my favorite mainstream act at the moment, so it’s a no-brainer that I’m rooting for her to take it.

Top Vocal Group of the Year

Should Win:

  • Lady Antebellum
  • Little Big Town
  • Randy Rogers Band
  • Rascal Flatts
  • Zac Brown Band – Dan, Tara, Kevin, Leeann

Will Win:

  • Lady Antebellum – Dan, Tara, Kevin, Leeann
  • Little Big Town
  • Randy Rogers Band
  • Rascal Flatts
  • Zac Brown Band

Leeann: Lady A has the hype and momentum that makes it impossible for me to bet against them. I’d sure love to see ZBB prove me wrong ,though.

Dan: Little Big Town’s new single has me thinking I’ll probably be gunning for them again soon, but for now, I’m with Zac Brown Band.

Tara: I have a feeling the coming year(s) is going to be Lady Antebellum’s year o’ accolades, so I’d like to see the equally deserving Zac Brown Band pick this one up while they still have some momentum.

Kevin: This is becoming a habit. Predict LA, root for ZBB. This was so much easier when the Dixie Chicks were in the running.

Top Vocal Duo of the Year

Should Win:

  • Brooks & Dunn
  • Joey + Rory
  • Montgomery Gentry
  • Steel Magnolia
  • Sugarland – Kevin, Tara, Leeann

Will Win:

  • Brooks & Dunn – Dan, Tara, Leeann
  • Joey + Rory
  • Montgomery Gentry
  • Steel Magnolia
  • Sugarland – Kevin

Kevin: A sympathy vote might give B&D one more trophy, but it seems that both the CMA and ACM see this award as one that is passed down from one duo to the next, and not very often at that. I wonder if they will be calling this “The Sugarland Award” like it was once called “The Judds Award” and “The Brooks & Dunn Award.”

Leeann: I’d love to see Joey + Rory win, but I know it wouldn’t actually be fair if they did. So, I’m not officially picking them here. I’m pretty sure this one will go to Brooks & Dunn as a parting gift, though they’d be totally undeserving at this point. Really, Sugarland is probably the duo that makes most sense. It’s just too bad I’m not more personally invested in them, though I’ve warmed up a bit.

Dan: Sugarland have been off the radar since “Joey” trailed off months ago, and I still remember how ACM stuck with Brooks & Dunn that one year even after CMA had passed the torch. So I see the veteran duo winning again in a shrug. I’m indifferent, personally.

Tara: I keep going back on forth on this one. I want Brooks & Dunn to win, but I can’t rationalize it. I think the ACM voters may feel the same.

Top New Artist of the Year

Should Win:

  • Luke Bryan
  • Joey + Rory – Kevin, Dan, Tara, Leeann
  • Gloriana

Will Win:

  • Luke Bryan – Kevin, Dan
  • Joey + Rory
  • Gloriana – Tara, Leeann

Kevin: It’s categories like this that make me feel out of touch with contemporary country music. I love Joey + Rory, but can’t see them winning. Who’s bigger now, Bryan or Gloriana? I’m taking a guess here.

Leeann: I’m like Kevin. I love Joey + Rory, but don’t imagine they’ll have enough votes to win. So, between Bryan and Gloriana, I’ll flip a coin and predict the latter.

Dan: Given the fan vote, I imagine this award will boil down to whether or not Taylor Swift has been urging her peoples to back Gloriana like she did with the AMAs. She hasn’t tweet-commanded it, and that’s as much research as I’m willing to do on the subject. So I’ll go with Bryan.

Tara: My best guess is that there’s enough fan overlap for Swift’s votes to lift Gloriana to victory.

Album of the Year

Should Win:

  • Brad Paisley, American Saturday Night
  • Lady Antebellum, Lady Antebellum
  • Miranda Lambert, RevolutionTara, Dan, Leeann
  • Carrie Underwood, Play OnKevin
  • Zac Brown Band, The Foundation

Will Win:

  • Brad Paisley, American Saturday Night
  • Lady Antebellum, Lady AntebellumKevin, Dan, Leeann
  • Miranda Lambert, RevolutionTara
  • Carrie Underwood, Play On
  • Zac Brown Band, The Foundation

Kevin: I’m expecting a Lady Antebellum sweep. They’re just ridiculously popular right now. But I could see any one of these five winning. I revisit the Underwood set more than any of the others.

Leeann: I can’t ignore Lady A’s popularity right now, but I’d love to see Lambert be recognized for one of my two favorite albums on this list, Paisley’s album being the other one.

Dan: Revolution doesn’t have the punch or consistency of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, but it’s got some brains, and I like that. I’m expecting a Lady A sweep too, though.

Tara: If my co-bloggers are right about a Lady A sweep, I’ll be pleased to see the trio’s underrated debut album take this award. But frankly, every album in this line-up is substantial, authentic and layered. I’m backing Revolution because it’s the sharpest of them all, created by the artist who has the firmest grasp on her potential.

Single Record of the Year

Should Win:

  • Lady Antebellum, “Need You Now” – Tara, Kevin, Leeann
  • Billy Currington, “People Are Crazy”
  • David Nail, “Red Light”
  • Zac Brown Band, “Toes” – Dan
  • Miranda Lambert, “White Liar”

Will Win:

  • Lady Antebellum, “Need You Now” – Tara, Dan, Kevin, Leeann
  • Billy Currington, “People Are Crazy”
  • David Nail, “Red Light”
  • Zac Brown Band, “Toes”
  • Miranda Lambert, “White Liar”

Kevin: There’s only one career-changing single in the running here.

Leeann: Ditto to Kevin. But also, it’s my favorite in terms of melody.

Dan: I swear I’m not just being a spoilsport. I know “Need You Now” sounds great, and in many respects it was the single of the year. But I can’t get past how boring Lady A’s lyrics always are. There’s just not a single original phrase in that song, and it puts a damper on my experience listening to it.

Tara: It’s never been my personal favorite, but “Need You Now” finds the trio excelling at what it does best – honing in on specific, raw emotion and expressing it potently and believably. In a category as weak as this one, and with a performance as haunting as Scott’s, “Need You Now” is the clear winner.

Song of the Year

Should Win:

  • “Cowboy Casanova” – Mike Elizondo, Brett James & Carrie Underwood
  • “Need You Now” – Dave Haywood, Josh Kear, Charles Kelley & Hillary Scott – Tara, Kevin, Leeann
  • “People Are Crazy” – Bobby Braddock & Troy Jones
  • “White Liar” – Natalie Hemby & Miranda Lambert
  • “You Belong With Me” – Liz Rose & Taylor Swift – Dan

Will Win:

  • “Cowboy Casanova” – Mike Elizondo, Brett James & Carrie Underwood
  • “Need You Now” – Dave Haywood, Josh Kear, Charles Kelley & Hillary Scott – Dan
  • “People Are Crazy” – Bobby Braddock & Troy Jones
  • “White Liar” – Natalie Hemby & Miranda Lambert
  • “You Belong With Me” – Liz Rose & Taylor Swift – Tara, Kevin, Leeann

Kevin: I like the writing of “Need You Now” more than the performance, even if it’s just a college dorm knock-off of “I May Hate Myself in the Morning.” I range from indifference to active dislike for the rest of these entries.

Leeann: I think Lady A will sweep these awards, but I doubt that Swift will walk away with nothing. Since she’s most lauded for her songwriting skills, I predict that the Academy will continue the trend in this category.

Dan: “You Belong with Me” combines a memorable melody with telling details. Subject matter notwithstanding, it’s the only one of these songs I take seriously as a composition.

Tara: Unlike Kevin, I think “Need You Now” is better performed than written, but it’s still a great composition. I wouldn’t mind if Swift took this award, though.

Video of the Year

Should Win:

  • Randy Houser, “Boots On”
  • Lady Antebellum, “Need You Now”
  • Brad Paisley, “Welcome to the Future”
  • Miranda Lambert, “White Liar” - Kevin
  • Taylor Swift, “You Belong With Me” – Dan, Tara

Will Win:

  • Randy Houser, “Boots On”
  • Lady Antebellum, “Need You Now”
  • Brad Paisley, “Welcome to the Future”
  • Miranda Lambert, “White Liar”
  • Taylor Swift, “You Belong With Me” – Dan, Tara, Kevin

Tara: The “You Belong With Me” video is brilliant in that it embodies everything that makes Swift relevant and appealing. I just really wish Paisley’s video had been better directed, because its message is so compelling.

Dan: That Swift video is mega-charming. But Lambert’s is a close second.

Kevin: I’m rooting for the only video I don’t reflexively skip past while channel surfing.

Vocal Event of the Year

Should Win:

  • Blake Shelton feat. Trace Adkins, “Hillbilly Bone”
  • Brooks & Dunn feat. Billy Gibbons, “Honky Tonk Stomp”
  • Carrie Underwood feat. Randy Travis, “I Told You So” – Tara, Kevin, Dan, Leeann
  • Kenny Chesney with Dave Matthews, “I’m Alive”
  • Jack Ingram with Patty Griffin, “Seeing Stars”

Will Win:

  • Blake Shelton feat. Trace Adkins, “Hillbilly Bone” – Dan, Tara
  • Brooks & Dunn feat. Billy Gibbons, “Honky Tonk Stomp”
  • Carrie Underwood feat. Randy Travis, “I Told You So” – Kevin, Leeann
  • Kenny Chesney with Dave Matthews, “I’m Alive”
  • Jack Ingram with Patty Griffin, “Seeing Stars”

Kevin: Nice to see Griffin on the ballot, but “I Told You So” is among both my favorite Underwood and favorite Travis singles.

Leeann: Frankly, I’m not crazy about any of them, as long as the B&D collaboration doesn’t get the token vote.

Dan: Wish I liked “Seeing Stars” more. I’d actually probably go with presumptive favorite “Hillbilly Bone” if the song itself didn’t feel like such a Music Row toss-off. There’s charm in the idea and performances, but again, limp lyrics.

Tara: Underwood and Travis’ collaboration is the strongest and most exquisite of the bunch, but it feels a little like old news, with the news of the day being the inescapable (but nonetheless solid) “Hillbilly Bone.”

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2010 ACM Nominations

You know the drill. For each of the categories, we’ll look at who’s broken in since last year, who’s been excused, and then make a totally judgy statement about what it all means.

Entertainer of the Year

  • Kenny Chesney
  • Toby Keith
  • Brad Paisley
  • George Strait
  • Taylor Swift
  • Carrie Underwood
  • Keith Urban
  • Zac Brown Band

Who’s In: Who isn’t?

Who’s Out: No one.

Snap Judgment: My best guess about the surprise expansion of this category is that ACM thinks the Oscars are onto something. They’re not. But while the Oscars risk having a Best Picture nomination lose some of its prestige, I don’t think the same quite holds true for ACM Entertainer, since an artist can already be nominated multiple times throughout a career anyway (and most are). So this could actually work, I guess. If nothing else, it’ll be interesting.

Top Male Vocalist of the Year

  • Kenny Chesney
  • Brad Paisley
  • Darius Rucker
  • George Strait
  • Keith Urban

Who’s In: Darius Rucker

Who’s Out: Toby Keith

Snap Judgment: No surprises here; it’s the same pool the CMA picked this past fall.

Top Female Vocalist of the Year

  • Miranda Lambert
  • Reba McEntire
  • Taylor Swift
  • Carrie Underwood
  • Lee Ann Womack

Who’s In: Reba McEntire

Who’s Out: Martina McBride

Snap Judgment: Martina shaft! Drama drama!

Top Vocal Group of the Year

  • Lady Antebellum
  • Little Big Town
  • Randy Rogers Band
  • Rascal Flatts
  • Zac Brown Band

Who’s In: Zac Brown Band

Who’s Out: The Lost Trailers

Snap Judgment: I imagine Love And Theft’s and Gloriana’s managers will be spending the morning trying to figure out who the hell Randy Rogers Band is. Seriously, I don’t know how RRB keeps squeezing into this race. Not complaining, though!

Top Vocal Duo of the Year

  • Brooks & Dunn
  • Joey + Rory
  • Montgomery Gentry
  • Steel Magnolia
  • Sugarland

Who’s In: Steel Magnolia

Who’s Out: Big & Rich

Snap Judgment: What’s this? Five duos who actually did something in the last year? Get outta here.

Top New Solo Vocalist of the Year

  • Luke Bryan
  • Jamey Johnson
  • Chris Young

Who’s In: Chris Young, Luke Bryan (both re-entries from previous years)

Who’s Out: Jake Owen (won last year), James Otto

Snap Judgment: I’m just pretending this is the Top New Male category, since ACM’s annual changing around of award names and criteria can be kind of silly. This is going to be an interesting race to watch, especially since all three of these guys are nominated their second time here. It’s the last chance any of them will have to win it.

Top New Vocal Duo of the Year

  • Bomshel
  • Joey + Rory
  • Steel Magnolia

Who’s In: This category was merged with New Vocal Group last year, so none of these duos (being duos) were there.

Snap Judgment: Seriously, doesn’t this whole “actually having semi-active vocal duos” thing kind of weird you out at this point? (P.S. Vote for Joey + Rory!)

Top New Vocal Group of the Year

  • Eli Young Band
  • Gloriana
  • The Lost Trailers

Who’s In: Gloriana

Who’s Out: Zac Brown Band (won last year)

Snap Judgment: Love And Theft HQ must be a grim, grim place today.

Album of the Year

  • Brad Paisley, American Saturday Night
  • Lady Antebellum, Lady Antebellum
  • Miranda Lambert, Revolution
  • Carrie Underwood, Play On
  • Zac Brown Band, The Foundation

Snap Judgment: Not a bad lineup, but the ACM’s lenience in the Album category never ceases to amaze. Lady Antebellum came out two full years ago.

Single Record of the Year

  • Lady Antebellum, “Need You Now”
  • Billy Currington, “People Are Crazy”
  • David Nail, “Red Light”
  • Zac Brown Band, “Toes”
  • Miranda Lambert, “White Liar”

Snap Judgment: I’m used to scratching my head in this category. Whatever.

Song of the Year

  • “Cowboy Casanova” – Mike Elizondo, Brett James & Carrie Underwood
  • “Need You Now” – Dave Haywood, Josh Kear, Charles Kelley & Hillary Scott
  • “People Are Crazy” – Bobby Braddock & Troy Jones
  • “White Liar” – Natalie Hemby & Miranda Lambert
  • “You Belong With Me” – Liz Rose & Taylor Swift

Snap Judgment: …It’s like, do people even pay attention to lyrics anymore?

Video of the Year

  • Randy Houser, “Boots On”
  • Lady Antebellum, “Need You Now”
  • Brad Paisley, “Welcome to the Future”
  • Miranda Lambert, “White Liar”
  • Taylor Swift, “You Belong With Me”

Snap Judgment: Actually not a bad pool. The Lady A video is pretty boring, though.

Vocal Event of the Year

  • Blake Shelton feat. Trace Adkins, “Hillbilly Bone”
  • Brooks & Dunn feat. Billy Gibbons, “Honky Tonk Stomp”
  • Carrie Underwood feat. Randy Travis, “I Told You So”
  • Kenny Chesney with Dave Matthews, “I’m Alive”
  • Jack Ingram with Patty Griffin, “Seeing Stars”

Snap Judgment: Eh.

- – -

What are y’all’s thoughts?

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Single Review: James Otto, “Groovy Little Summer Song”

There’s been many a discussion this past month about what makes an artist most effective: is it vocal nuance or personal connection? Is it songs with explicit absolute truth or implicit absolute emotion? They’re interesting topics to explore, but somewhere in between the analyses, we’ve lost sight of –and perhaps even appreciation of– the artists who have the potential to make our analyses futile. Because some artists actually have it all.

Let’s be real: “Groovy Little Summer Song” isn’t near James Otto’s most memorable, well-written material. It’s not as infectious as his mega-hit, “Just Got Started Lovin’ You,” nor as impassioned as the lesser-known “For You,” and his soulful phrasing seems to eat up some of the words. But “Groovy Little Summer Song” is an incredibly refreshing re-introduction to an artist who can deliver both rich, distinctive vocals and pure, raw sentiment. Otto may be simply asking a DJ to crank up a cool summer tune, but he still manages to color his performance with shades of believable soul, technical substance (the falsetto is a treat) and authentic summer bliss.

It helps that country radio rarely hears groovy little summer songs, making this one a breath of fresh air against its island-flavored and often one-dimensional peers. Otto’s summer is a little slower-burning and smoother than that of Kenny Chesney, Zac Brown Band, Jack Ingram or…Rascal Flatts. It’s a little more contemplative and a little more intoxicating. Country radio’s tried-and-true themes could stand to gain a splash of emotive soul.

As we sift through the crop of mainstream country acts this year, let’s remember to keep an eye on Otto. Like Sunset Man, his upcoming album has the potential to make him a contemporary example of an artist whose strengths are multi-faceted. And we need more of the kind.

Written by Al Anderson, Carson Chamberlain, and James Otto

Grade: B

Listen: Groovy Little Summer Song

 

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Review: Jack Ingram featuring Patty Griffin, “Seeing Stars”

Jack Ingram wistfulIt’s taken a long time to put words together for this review, mostly because the prospect of Patty Griffin being billed on a mainstream single is too exciting not to cloud critical judgments a little. I mean, seriously – “featuring Patty Griffin.” From the same label that just won Taylor Swift a Female Vocalist award. It’s far too much cool for a body to digest in one sitting.

After that initial shock fades, though, “Seeing Stars” doesn’t linger much. There’s an admirable core message about maintaining optimism through down times, with the chorus comparing the act to spiritual faith and the verses implying (impressionistically, which is a nice touch) that once one chooses to see optimistically, new opportunities begin to appear in unexpected corners of life, perhaps along with understandings of why past dreams didn’t work out.

The grace and nuance of that message never totally finds its match in the spotty melody, however, and Ingram’s understated vocal doesn’t always stick out in the mix. It’s a nice single, to be sure, but for such an interesting lyric, it’s hard not to wish for a slightly stronger package.

On the other hand, though…Patty Griffin.

Written by Jack Ingram & Chris Tompkins

Grade: B

Listen: Seeing Stars (feat. Patty Griffin)

Buy:


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George Strait Honored As Artist of the Decade

george-strait1There is really no new way to pontificate on the fascinating longevity of George Strait’s career. Many, including myself, have speculated regarding the many possible reasons behind his staying power, but it is more than likely that many of the factors that we have already considered could be easily applied to other artists with lesser careers to show for it. Therefore, the consensus that can be agreed upon by most everyone is that George Strait is consistent. In the last three decades, without being loud or splashy in any way, Strait has consistently remained a vibrant country music artist, both on the charts and in concert sales. As a result, he is one of the most respected, if not intriguing, artists in the business.

On May 27, the Academy of Country Music honored George Strait as their Artist of the Decade in a two-hour CBS special. The show consisted of many of today’s biggest artists paying homage to Strait by singing the songs of the Man of Honor.

Unlike most tribute shows, this show moved along at a reasonably fast clip with few over-dramatic or slick moments to weigh it down, which was highly appropriate considering the man who was being honored that night.

The show opened with a rousing version of Strait’s Cajun flavored “Adalida” ably performed by Sugarland. Jennifer Nettle’s exaggerated drawl, while very different from Strait’s laid back vocals, gave the song energy and seemed to be a wise way to invigorate the crowd. Other energetic performances included a rocked-up version of “All My Exes Live in Texas” by Jack Ingram, which was fun but lacked the whimsical charm of Strait’s western swing flavored interpretation. Alan Jackson did a faithful steel laden cover of “The Fireman”, which is always sung at events such as these, though it’s certainly not one of Strait’s most interesting classics.

In probably one of the most disappointing performances of the night, Dierks Bentley, who is typically an intriguing vocalist, offered a weak and strained “Blue Clear Sky”, which, sadly, happens to be one of my favorite Strait songs. John Rich did not fare much better with his lifeless, uninspired rendering of one of Strait’s most revered hits, “Amarillo by Morning.” Instead of sounding like a professional, he more easily fit in with the Nashville Star contestants that he judged last summer who, incidentally, only sounded like decent karaoke singers at their best. In the not-as-bad-as-Rich-or-Bentley-but-still-not-very-memorable category was Brooks & Dunn. Their cover of “The Cowboy Rides Away” was fine, but it also lacked Strait’s easy charisma.

While most of this tribute show stuck rather closely to Strait’s own interpretations, there were a couple performances that tried to change things up a bit. As mentioned earlier, Jack Ingram added light rock to “All My Exes Live in Texas” and the other innovator was Jamie Foxx with a soulful cover of “You Look So Good in Love.” As someone who cannot fully appreciate R&B, it was difficult for me to get into his performance, though I could at least tell it was solid. Along with the R&B slant, Foxx changed Strait’s original regret filled monologue to an amusing “what does he got that I don’t?” diatribe. And we won’t even get into Foxx’s insistence that Strait’s singing is “sexy.”

As a diversion to the songs of George Strait, the past Artists of the Decade were honored throughout the show as well. Faith Hill did a respectable cover of Loretta Lynn’s “You Ain’t Woman Enough”, Martina McBride aptly covered Garth Brook’s “The Dance” and Montgomery Gentry rocked out with Alabama’s “Mountain Music.” One of the best performances of the evening, however, was Keith Urban’s tribute to Marty Robbins, which was in the form of a fabulous medley of three of Robbins’ beloved hits, including “Singing the Blues” (one of my favorite Robbins songs) “El Paso” and “A White Sport Coat (And A Pink Carnation)” (my all time favorite Robbins song). Urban’s performance proved that he is a master at singing country music, which only left me longing even more for hints of country sounds to show up on his most recent albums.

The person who was involved in the best performances of the show was Lee Ann Womack. With Jamey Johnson providing the speaking parts of “Give It Away”, Womack gave the female perspective of the song. The two voices melded perfectly together to reveal a possible duet partnership for the future that would surely be welcomed by many. In addition to her duet with Johnson, Womack sang a surprise song for Strait that was specifically written for the night called “Stand There And Sing.” While it would not necessarily be a standout song in a non-Strait centric environment, it was a moving tribute to George Strait’s simple charismatic entertaining style of “just standing there and singing”, which is something that he’s often criticized for doing.

As is supposedly the tradition of the Academy’s tribute shows, the previous Artist of the Decade passes the torch onto the newly anointed artist, which is what Garth Brooks did for George Strait. Brooks appropriately acknowledged the irony of this act, as he regaled the audience with the story of what inspired him to become a country music singer/entertainer, which just happened to include George Strait. After “the torch” was passed, George Strait showed us all why he so richly deserved the honor. He humbly thanked and praised the show’s participants for their contributions and for giving up their precious time to pay tribute to him. Then he sang “Ocean Front Property” and ended with “Troubadour” with the help of the entire cast of the show.

After a season of awards shows that have been disappointing at best, this tribute show was happily refreshing. Because they had great songs to work with from a man who can’t help but respected, the show was bound to be an easy success. Much like George Strait himself, the show was laid back without feeling stale. Everyone seemed genuinely honored to be there, even if some of their performances missed the mark here and there.

At times, I admittedly take George Strait for granted. I all too often forget what a huge fan of his I was in the nineties when I first entered the world of country music. Fortunately though, I spend more time in awe of his thirty year career and the grace with which he conducts himself. In “Troubadour” Strait concluded by singing, “I was a young troubadour, when I rode in on a song./And I’ll be an old troubadour when I’m gone“, which he followed by saying, “Not anytime soon, I hope.”

I heartily echo that hope.

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Jack Ingram, “Barefoot and Crazy”

Bryan Adams with a mild twang.

I can imagine this sounding really great cranked up loudly, should you have an open road to tear down in the early days of summer. That said, this is virtually indistinguishable from anything you could hear on an oldies station that focuses on eighties light rock.

If that description piques your interest, then this is the song for you. If your interest in such music begins and ends with “Summer of ’69”, there’s little reason to check this one out.

Grade: C

Listen: Barefoot and Crazy

Buy:

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News: Reba McEntire signs with Valory Music

Wow.

Country superstar Reba McEntire has ended her 25-year association with MCA Nashville and signed with the Valory Music Co. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The move reunites 2007 Billboard Woman of the Year McEntire with Scott Borchetta, now president & CEO of Big Machine Records and the Valory Music Co. Borchetta was senior VP of promotion at MCA Nashville during most of the ’90s.

“I am thrilled to be joining the Valory team,” McEntire says. “Scott and I worked together on some of the biggest singles of my career, and I am excited to renew our partnership.”

“It is as if a day hasn’t even passed,” Borchetta adds. “The toughest thing about leaving MCA Nashville again was leaving behind this relationship that I value so much.”

The announcement comes roughly a year after the launch of Valory. The label is home to Jewel, Emerson Drive and Jimmy Wayne, among others. Sister label Big Machine is home to Taylor Swift, Trisha Yearwood and Jack Ingram, among others. Both labels are distributed by Universal Music Distribution.

McEntire’s debut single on Valory will ship to country radio in early spring 2009, with her new studio album to follow later that summer. The artist crowned her MCA tenure with a three-disc boxed set, “50 Greatest Hits,” released late last month.

Perhaps what’s most surprising about this is that Reba’s coming off of her most successful album in years, the all-genre #1 Reba Duets.   This isn’t quite on the scale of Madonna’s Live Nation deal, which also encompassed touring revenues, or Garth Brooks’ ‘take the masters with you’ approach, or even the start-your-own-label path of Toby Keith.  But it’s certainly huge news that one of the biggest country stars of all-time is choosing to leave her label home of 25 years, all while still at the top of her game.

And what to say of MCA, the label that was once king of kings on Music Row?  Trisha Yearwood already left, and now Reba McEntire has followed her out the door.   Will George Strait and Vince Gill be far behind?  Can Universal’s majors get by on Sugarland alone?   What if Shania Twain crunches the numbers and realizes the label group needs her far more than she needs them, especially given their spotty record at getting her on the radio?

Perhaps the entire Music Row structure truly is the Titanic, and Sony BMG has all the first-class seats.

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Jack Ingram, “That’s a Man”

As a preview of his new album, Jack Ingram jumps back on the country radio wagon with “That’s a Man.” It’s a song with examples core values and admirable character that serve as a constant reminder for the narrator and his desire live up to this standard.

With his victory as Top New Male Vocalist at the ACM awards, Jack Ingram demonstrated the industry respect that has marked a hit-and-miss commercial career. His voice echoes a certain grit and determination, and there’s a passion to each performance that’s earnest and honest and always heartfelt. But Ingram can’t turn any tricks on this three-act track that centers on the main idea, but never reaches any conclusions. It tells the story of a single mother, a returned soldier from the war and a fighting-an-uphill battle farmer who face everyday struggles. While the listener can sympathize with the plight, these tales all fail to connect with each other. Each of these subjects would’ve been worthy of a song if only they had been fleshed out for a full three minutes, instead of being packed into one inspirational song of good-hearted intentions.

A criticism with country music songwriting today is that many of the lyricists in Nashville are tossing out heart-tugging cliches designed to draw a response from passive listeners who latch on to easy images and ideas. They build a song that’s supposed to stand on these often-emotional themes without one cohesive thread running through it. For an artist of integrity such as Ingram, he confounds those who’ve placed his faith in his creative impulses by releasing a song that settles for less.  Each storyline is admirable, but the song itself is a little scattered.

Written by Ed Hill, Steven Jones & Mark D. Sanders 

Grade: B-

Listen: Like a Man

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Jack Ingram, “Maybe She’ll Get Lonely”

What can I say? Everything about this single is adequate. The song is good enough, the production gets the job done and it’s sung with some energy and conviction. It just doesn’t add up to much more than a competent, professional record. There’s no real spark, like his previous single “Measure of a Man” had. In the end, this is just radio filler.

Written by John Kennedy, Jamie Paulin & Jeremy Stover
Grade: B-

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