The power of simplicity is on full display here.
Jake Owen’s new single is a powerful ballad because it’s not a power ballad. He pairs an intimate and quite painful lyrics with a piano and subtle backing vocals.
The power of simplicity is on full display here.
Jake Owen’s new single is a powerful ballad because it’s not a power ballad. He pairs an intimate and quite painful lyrics with a piano and subtle backing vocals.
How else to explain the rapid fire delivery and fierce banjo and guitar on “Days of Gold”, which has him spitting out every country summer song cliché as quickly as he can get them out of his mouth?
Truth is, if the exact same lyric was delivered in the typical, mid-tempo, paint by numbers presentation, I’d be ripping it to shreds right now. But the sheer adrenaline of the track makes it work. It would be a terrible cocktail to sip on, but as a quick shooter, it’s pretty good.
Written by Jaren Johnston and Neil Mason
Listen: Days of Gold
If a song has nothing to say beyond what’s said in its title phrase, what’s the point of writing the song in the first place?
Jake Owen’s new single “Anywhere with You” takes a concept many times used before, and does nothing with it. We’ve all heard the country song about the starry-eyed narrator willing to live or travel absolutely anywhere
so long as he/she is joined by his/her significant other. Jo Dee Messina perhaps pulled it off best and most memorably with “Heads Carolina, Tails California.”
Owen offers a take that never aspires to be anything more than perfunctory. With a dull-as-a-brick title hook of “I’ll go anywhere with you,” the song lets listeners know what it’s about, and asks them to accept it without scrutiny. The chorus’ listing of random U.S. states in particular feels like an obvious crutch. The thick, un-country, radio-chasing production similarly earns no points for originality.
In light of Owen’s recent successes at radio, “Anywhere with You” will likely be a sizable hit. But it still fails to offer any answer to the fundamental question of “Why does this need to exist?”
Written by Ben Hayslip, David Lee Murphy, and Jimmy Yeary
Listen: Anywhere with You
Coming on the heels of Top 30 debut hit “Wanna Make You Love Me,” Andy Gibson’s new single “Summer Back” continues to build him a reputation as a cliché machine.
Gibson is hardly the first nonthreateningly handsome thirty-year-old frat boy on the radio to be pining over a youthful summer fling. (Incidentally, Jake Owen is currently riding the charts with what might as well be the same song) Like many of its predecessors, the song fails to over any substantial narrative detail to help it rise above the feel of a generic paint-by-number template, while the spit-shine polish of the production likewise fails to lend any semblace of a distinct identity. Why was this romance so uniquely unforgettable? Why is this story even worth relating in the first place?
don’t believe a single thing he says in this song. Nothing about the story feels clever, urgent, revelatory, or sincere in any meaningful way. All I hear is another carefully calculated bid for radio airplay, which is exactly what I’m beyond sick of hearing.
Listen: Summer Back
Rick Springfield. Slightly less theatrical, but Owen doesn’t have all that soap opera experience to draw upon.
So, “The One that Got Away” is about a summer love that ends when the weather changes. It’s an old story. It’s been done on the beach. It’s been done at the seaside carnival. It’s been done on the farm. It’s been done in the fields.
It’s gotta be done with cleverness. Or distinctiveness. Or viagra non prescription sincerity. This fails on all counts, leaving us with a generic summer song that’s as easily forgotten as the love that it documents.
Written by Dallas Davidson, Jake Owen, and Jimmy Ritchey
Listen: The One that Got Away
Today, a single could be any one of the following: a CD sent to radio for airplay; a digital download released in advance of an album; a music video released to online websites and dwindling television outlets; and in a lovely throwback, a seven inch vinyl single sold in the indie record stores that have managed to outlast the chain stores that once threatened their existence.
Seven Country Universe editors and contributors each submitted their twenty favorite singles of the year. 59 different singles made the cut, and over the next four days, we’ll share with you the top forty. You can listen to a sample from each song by scrolling down to the bottom of the post.
Top 40 Singles of 2011, Part One: #40-#31
Individual Rankings: #18 – Kevin; #18 – Ben; #20 – Jonathan
A musical expression of gratitude from the incomparable Emmylou Harris to her late musical mentor Gram Parsons. Through her lyric and vocal, Harris conveys a wide array of emotions – obviously sadness, along with nostalgia for times past, wonderment and uncertainty, as well as determination to persevere in spite of heartache, while also highlighting the invaluable role of music in coping with a devastating loss.
Above all else, however, “The Road” is a song of thankfulness for having had such a friend in the first place, even if for only a brief time. – Ben Foster
Shut Up Train
Little Big Town
Individual Rankings: Kevin – #13
Far from the first country song to build a train metaphor around a heartache, this one is distinguished by a strong vocal performance and the creative approach of having the protagonist talk directly to the train. – Kevin John Coyne
Let it Rain
David Nail featuring Sarah Buxton
Individual Rankings: Sam – #15; Dan – #19
Nail’s moody streak continues, this time with a ringing cheater’s lament. He’s so appalled at himself that he calls on the heavens to rain down judgment. But it’s Buxton who strikes the gavel in the end, as her voice shreds with the pain of a woman whose world will never be the same. – Dan Milliken
Individual Rankings: #12 – Sam
The pop-country version of Taylor Swift is a bona fide superstar. However, when she strips down the production and shows off her quieter, folksy side like she does on “Ours,” she really shines. Based on the quality of her past singles “Ours” and “Mine,” she’ll have a real winner if she ever gets around to writing “Yours.” – Sam Gazdziak
Individual Rankings: #12 – Jonathan
It’s often hard to separate Caitlin Rose’s music from her Manic Pixie Dream Girl persona– that she sings like Zooey Deschanel with a far better sense of pitch doesn’t help, either– but “Shanghai Cigarettes” makes it clear that she learned a lot about songcraft from her mother, frequent Taylor Swift collaborator Liz Rose. – Jonathan Keefe
Individual Rankings: #11 – Tara
Two parts neo-traditional charm, one part that voice and a dash of breezy sensuality. Goes down smoother than anything since James Otto rode the airwaves. More, please. – Tara Seetharam
Fixin’ to Die
Individual Rankings: #14 – Jonathan; #19 – Dan
One of the elements that distinguishes contemporary country from traditional genre forms is a heavy use of percussion, and G. Love ups the ante in that regard on “Fixin’ to Die.” By marrying a straightforward acoustic blues arrangement to a rhythm section lifted almost entirely from J-Kwon’s “Tipsy,” G. Love effectively thumbs his nose at the idea of a rural vs urban divide. – Jonathan Keefe
Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise
The Avett Brothers
Individual Rankings: #10 – Sam
The Avetts’ I and Love and You was one of the best albums of 2010, and this song was one of its highlights. For a band that can deliver some raucus punk-bluegrass tunes, they can also put together hauntingly pretty songs too.- Sam Gazdziak
Barefoot Blue Jean Night
Individual Rankings: #7 – Dan
Contrived, utopian visions of Southern partying are practically an entire country sub-genre now. “Barefoot” checks all the formulaic boxes, but for once the formula’s impossible details (“the girls are always hot and the beer is ice cold!”) are matched to an equally dreamlike, shimmering production, exposing what a fantasy the whole thing is. You can’t buy the premise, but you grant the underlying escapism.- Dan Milliken
Down by the Water
Individual Rankings: #11 – Sam; #17 – Leeann
As has been noted, “Down by the Water” seems influenced by an R.E.M. sound. However, the brightly placed harmonica and accordion, along with aggressive background vocals by Gillian Welch, make the melodic composition a memorable song on its own merits. – Leeann Ward
Next: Top 40 Singles of 2011, Part Two: #30-#21
We’re halfway through the summer months, which means we’ve heard the handful of summer-oriented singles played on the radio approximately 17,283 times by now. In keeping with CU’s retro theme, let’s hit the singles we missed upon their initial release (sorry y’all!).
Luke Bryan, “Country Girl (Shake It For Me)”
Written by Luke Bryan & Dallas Davidson
Whereas Jason Aldean would likely have soaked this dance number in aggression, Bryan melts away its sexist edge by layering it with goofiness and playful energy. The result is a shamelessly catchy ditty that makes me want to shake it for the squirrels. File that under: Things I never thought I’d say. Grade: B
Jake Owen, “Barefoot Blue Jean Night”
Written by Dylan Altman, Eric Paslay & Terry Sawchuk
Look, I’m all about overdramatizing memories, so the atmospheric, arena rock set-up of the song doesn’t feel inherently ridiculous to me. But in order for a larger-than-life arrangement to have any traction, you’ve got to paint your memories with at least a nugget of lyrical depth. Grade: C+
Jerrod Niemann, “One More Drinkin’ Song”
Written by Richie Brown & Jerrod Niemann
Sounds like part George Strait, part Garth Brooks, part Niemann (+). Feels like a lack of creativity (-). Grade: B-
Zac Brown Band (Feat. Jimmy Buffett), “Knee Deep”
Written by Coy Bowles, Zac Brown, Wyatt Durrette & Jeffrey Steele
Like the innocent little brother of “Toes,” “Knee Deep” lacks spunk but radiates the same sea-breezy blissfulness. Bonus points for the crisp craftsmanship. Grade: B
Dierks Bentley, “Am I The Only One”
Written by Jim Beavers, Dierks Bentley & Jon Randall
If you can refrain from doing the obvious –holding this song up against the splendor of Up On The Ridge–, it falls a little less flat. Then again, I kind of dig the boozy lethargy, especially in Bentley’s performance– it’s like he really doesn’t give a damn about anything so long as he gets his party on. (Seriously, though, if I don’t even watch “Idol” on a Friday night, who does?) Grade: B-
The CMA Awards are upon us again, and I must say that this is the most underwhelming lineup I’ve ever seen, and I started watching the show back in 1991. We’ll be back to live blog the festivities on Wednesday night. In the meantime, enjoy our personal picks in each category, along with who we think will actually win.
Kevin: Much like the field finally cleared for him in the Male Vocalist race two years ago, I expect that this is Paisley’s year to win with his sixth nomination. I think Taylor Swift deserves to win, though. There’s no getting around the fact that she’s the biggest thing out there right now.
Leeann: I won’t be shocked (or really even disappointed) if Taylor Swift picks it up, but I really feel it’s finally Brad’s year.
Dan: Swift is the face of the genre right now, and she’s putting out better-written material than many of the veterans in this category. It looks like a race between her and Paisley, and I think she may actually get it.
Tara: It wouldn’t be inappropriate for Swift to take this award, and I would much (understatement) prefer her to win this over the vocalist award. But to me, Paisley is the all-around entertainer, and I think it’s his year to be recognized.
Leeann: I have no doubt that Paisley will win again, as he has had a strong year and the CMAs tend to prefer him for this award. While I think Urban is technically a very worthy opponent, the combination of Paisley’s warm voice and stronger album makes me continue to root for him. I’d also be just as happy if Strait won, however, and feel that his and Paisley’s albums were the strongest of the year.
Dan: Looks like an easy Paisley win, but I’ll give Strait the nod for all-around strength this past year.
Tara: I don’t anticipate that Paisley’s winning streak will be broken. I’m pulling for him on the strength of his material, but wouldn’t mind one bit if Urban took the award. Just please, CMAs, don’t give it to Rucker!
Kevin: Paisley’s poised to pick up his third trophy, with his only real competition being five-time winner George Strait. I’d give a fourth trophy to previous winner Keith Urban over the rest of the field. He really sang rings around the rest of ‘em when comparing their latest albums.
Dan: I tend to find Underwood boring, but I do think she released some of her better singles this past year. Swift just isn’t a strong enough vocalist to merit this prize, and I’d rather see Lambert win in a year where she has more momentum going, which could well be next year.
Tara: It will no doubt spark controversy when Underwood takes her fourth trophy and joins the ranks of Reba McEntire and Martina McBride, and that’s another discussion all together – but looking at the nominees for this year, it’s clear she deserves to win. In terms of sheer vocal talent, few artists in the genre come close to her. I’d love to see Lambert take this award (and Underwood would too!), but like Dan, I don’t think it’s her time just yet.
Kevin: I won’t believe a different winner in this race until I see it. I was underwhelmed by the latest albums from Lambert, McBride, McEntire, and Swift, and quite frankly, Underwood is the only lady of the five to put out more than one single this year that I actually really liked (“Just a Dream”, “I Told You So.”) I remain in her corner.
Leeann: Carrie will deserve to win this award when she wins it this year. I, however, still prefer Lambert’s voice and feel that her output (album) is the most interesting of the nominees.
Vocal Duo of the Year
Tara: Sugarland continues to excite me, and I think they deserve this award again.
Kevin: I love Joey + Rory, but Sugarland have really been blowing me away lately. I’d pick them for Entertainer if they’d been nominated.
Leeann: I’d technically love for Joey + Rory to win, but I know full well that Sugarland is the duo that truly deserves to win based upon their impact this year.
Dan: Sugarland. But I want to talk to whoever is picking their singles.
Vocal Group of the Year
Kevin: I find Zac Brown Band more interesting, and I think they have a real shot at winning this. I suspect Lady Antebellum has a bit more industry support, though, so I’ll give them the edge.
Leeann: Lady A will win because they’ve got more industry support and popularity with radio, but the Zac Brown Band has certainly put out more interesting music and have a refreshingly unique sound that deserves to be rewarded.
Dan: Pretty much what Kevin and Leeann said. “Chicken Fried” notwithstanding.
Tara: It’s definitely a race between Zac Brown Band and Lady Antebellum, and I can understand why my co-bloggers are rooting for the former. But even if Lady Antebellum’s talent needs a little cultivating, their music strikes a very personal chord with me, and I’ll be thrilled when they take this award. Can you believe Rascal Flatts might actually walk away from an awards show empty-handed?
Kevin: A weak lineup that speaks volumes about why country music is where it is today. I think Zac Brown Band should win. They’ve really been the real breakthrough act of the five. But I suspect in this battle of “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” co-writers, Jamey Johnson will emerge victorious.
Leeann: While I’m tempted to root for Jamey Johnson, I think Zac Brown Band has a chance of keeping me intrigued over the next few years (even if they fall out of the mainstream), though I don’t think they’ve reached their potential just yet. I predict that Darius Rucker will actually win, however, as he’s been the most successful in the last year.
Dan: Time will tell whether Johnson is able to remain a strong artistic force, but I’d say he has as good a chance as any of these five if he can keep from getting self-important. Rucker is the biggest star on the ballot, though, and I suspect he’ll squeak the win over Johnson and Zac Brown Band.
Tara: Johnson and Zac Brown Band are both deserving recipients of this award, but I personally prefer the band’s music. With the commercial success Rucker’s seen in the past year, though, I think it’s his award to lose. Not too sure how I feel about that.
Album of the Year
Leeann: While Johnson’s album hasn’t really stuck with me over the past year or so, I still think it’s the best album out of the bunch. I think Swift will win, however, due to the volume of sales and hit singles.
Dan: All of these albums have strengths, but That Lonesome Song is the only one that makes me optimistic about country music’s future. I expect it to triumph, though Swift’s has a great shot, too.
Tara: Paisley’s album, to me, strikes that sweet balance of traditional and contemporary. I think it’s a strong, interesting and relevant album that epitomizes why Paisley is so deservingly successful. But Johnson will deserve this award when he takes it, and I recognize and appreciate his positive influence on mainstream country music.
Kevin: I expected more nods overall for Jamey Johnson. I think that the eligibility period hurt him, with the project less fresh in voters’ minds. But the CMA values traditional country more than any other awards organization, so I expect him to win this. I enjoy the Sugarland album far more than any of the other four, so I’m rooting for that one.
Single of the Year
Dan: I’ve just got a bad feeling about that Currington single. “I Run To You” does have some smokin’ production, but “In Color” is the only one of the five I can still stand.
Tara: Ouch. I’m pleased that “I Run to You” is nominated as it’s a personal favorite, but I don’t think any song other than “In Color” is deserving of this award. Again…ouch.
Kevin: This is the weakest lineup in the history of this category.
Leeann: Johnson’s song feels old to me now, but it’s the best song in this underwhelming category, though I’m sure David Letterman disagrees. While I like the production on “People Are Crazy” the best in this line-up, the hook (not to mention the frustratingly weak story development) is just lame.
Tara: I would absolutely love to see Travis take this award; Underwood’s success with the song proves that the best-written country songs are timeless. I think “In Color” has more pull, though.
Kevin: I think Johnson will win, but kudos to Carrie Underwood for recognizing the value of the Randy Travis-penned gem and making it a hit all over again.
Leeann: This is not one of my favorite Randy Travis songs, but for nostalgia’s sake, I’m rooting for him to win this one. I even think it has a chance of winning, since it was a hit song for one of today’s country music’s most popular artists. I think the Paisley composition is, by far, the weakest though.
Dan: I like probable-winner “In Color” marginally more than “I Told You So.” Any of the other three winning would hurt me way down deep.
Musical Event of the Year
Kevin: Will the CMA really pass up the chance to give a trophy to Randy Travis for the first time in 21 years? I hope not.
Leeann: Paisley’s and Urban’s collaboration was originally accidentally left off the ballot, but the superstar pairing is the most likely to win. Conversely, I suspect that the inclusion of the collaboration with Ricky Skaggs and Ashley Monroe was likely an accident, but I’d still love to see this dark horse nomination win. It’s certainly the most interesting song of the category. I might have gone for the Underwood/Travis pairing if Travis’ inclusion didn’t seem so random. I liked Underwood’s original version better, as Vince Gill’s harmony seemed more natural.
Dan: It’s totally between “I Told You So” and “Start A Band”, but I’m pulling for the underdog Raconteurs record, too. I like my collaborations a little spontaneous like that, and it’s always great to see outsiders included in the CMA fold.
Tara: While I have a particular soft spot for “Down the Road,” which I thought was one of the best singles of 2008, it should come as no surprise that I’m pulling for the beautiful, rough-and-pure “I Told You So.” I think it will easily win.
Dan: I enjoy the Strait video most, but Swift’s is the flashiest, and that tends to win out.
Tara: Strait’s video is poignant and tastefully done. I never understood the appeal of Swift’s Shakespearean video, but apparently a whole generation of country music fans does. My money’s on Swift.
Kevin: I think the Swift fairytale will get the most votes, but the Strait clip hypnotizes me every time it’s on. Who knew a simple slide show could be so powerful and such a perfect fit for a song?
Dan: I should really start paying more attention to this kind of thing. But I know Paul Franklin’s been doing steel for everyone from Lyle Lovett to Rascal Flatts in the past year. Respek!
Tara: Franklin’s the one I’m most familiar with, and I agree with Kevin and Dan that he deserves it. I’ll admit I’m not entirely sure how to gauge who’ll win this year, but I suppose I’d go with McAnally again.
Kevin: I guess that McAnally will repeat his victory from last year. The other previous winners won quite a bit of time ago – Dann Huff in 2001 and 2004, Brent Mason in 1997 and 1998. My sympathy goes to Eddie Bayers, who is nominated for the tenth time and has yet to win. I have no choice but to pull for Paul Frankin, though, who has lost this award sixteen times. Here’s hoping that seventeen’s a charm!
Leeann: Please don’t let it be Dann Huff! That’s all I ask. Of course, I’m partial to the steel guitar, not to mention that it’s a shame that a steel guitar player has to work so hard to win a country music award.
It’s that time of year again! For each major category, we’ll look at who’s broken in since last year, who’s been booted out, plus some initial thoughts. As always, we invite you to share your own opinions in the comments. Without further ado:
Who’s In: Taylor Swift
Who’s Out: Sugarland
Snap Judgment: With Carrie Underwood and Sugarland a little out of the spotlight recently, it’s no shock to see the regular foursome of Chesney, Paisley, Strait and Urban prevail. Swift was a logical inclusion given her across-the-board dominance, but I gotta say that I’m surprised to see her acknowledged for it by the historically traditional-leaning CMA.
Who’s In: Darius Rucker
Who’s Out: Alan Jackson
Snap Judgment: Pretty predicable. Rucker has shown he can get serious spins at radio, which is probably what won him this slot over Jamey Johnson.
Who’s In: Reba McEntire
Who’s Out: Alison Krauss
Snap Judgment: Again, no big surprises. Martina always hangs in there somehow, doesn’t she?
Who’s In: Joey + Rory
Who’s Out: The Wreckers (finally!), oddly not Big & Rich
Snap Judgment: I guess there has to be at least one defunct act in this category every year, huh?
Who’s In: Zac Brown Band
Who’s Out: Emerson Drive
Snap Judgment: I’m baffled to see the Eagles still here. I expect there will be a lot more shake-up in this category next year, with Love and Theft, Eli Young Band and The Lost Trailers all experiencing a rise in profile recently.
Who’s In: Completely new line-up!
Snap Judgment: A strong group. Johnson, Rucker and Zac Brown Band are selling better than many of the veteran acts, so they’re the serious contenders this year, but all five nominees show great artistic potential.
Snap Judgment: Probably as good a line-up as you could’ve hoped for. Never thought I’d live to see a CMA category where I thought Keith Urban had the weakest offering!
Snap Judgment: Sigh.
Snap Judgment: I mean, it’s not like Randy Travis ever had his own hit with “I Told You So” or anything.
Snap Judgment: How in the world did that Raconteurs record sneak in there? Props, CMA!
Snap Judgment: Not bad. Houser’s doesn’t have much, but the only one I outright dislike is Currington’s. It’s just another excuse for him to sit around looking scruffy on a beach.
A work of fantasy, where Owen meets a girl who is happy to not only tolerate all of his idiosyncrasies, but actively embrace them. He doesn’t have to do any of the heavy lifting here. She simply appears and wants to go with him because he’s a real country boy with large tires on his truck and a spit cup for his chew.
Usually, we hear a young guy with a thin voice singing a song like this with too much intensity, making an implausible situation sound completely impossible. But thankfully, Owen actually sounds like a guy who would have a big truck with a spit cup in it. His confident vocal betrays no eager excitement, just a cool and collected acceptance of the situation. Of course she wants to go with me, it says, and she’s welcome to do so, as long as she doesn’t get in the way of my spit cup.
It would have been an insufferable record in the wrong hands, but Owen’s performance makes it quite enjoyable. The arrangement doesn’t hurt either, with a cool acoustic intro and a southern rock flavor throughout.
Written by Jake Durrance and Jake Owen
Listen: Eight Second Ride