Written by Brandy Clark, Jessie Jo Dillon, and Jennifer Nettles
A remarkable performance elevates an unremarkable song.
If “Sugar” given a perfunctory performance by a lesser vocalist, I might not enjoy it at all. It’s a bit fluffy, especially for a Brandy Clark co-write. The chorus is a tad repetitive, and I’m tempted to poke a stick at its use of the “sugar and spice and everything nice” cliché.
Although there is already a long list of great albums that have been released this year, Southern Gravity, Kristian Bush’s first solo album apart from Sugarland, just may end up being the most pleasant surprise of 2015.
First of all, lets address some of the elephants in the room. Frankly, the biggest surprise of the album is the discovery that Kristian Bush can actually sing. Without the long shadow of the Powerhouse Jennifer Nettles, Bush has a chance to find his literal and figurative voice and it’s a good one.
Additionally, whether it was deserved or not, Bush had developed the reputation of being the intense, mysterious half of Sugarland. So, another surprise is that the album is relaxed and accessible and avoids drowning in over thinking or overproduction. With that said, the final surprise is that the album is more country than we had heard from Sugarland in quite some time.
This is the strongest album Reba McEntire has released in more than twenty years.
Listening to Love Somebody is hearing a legend of the genre rediscover her own voice. She’s always been an excellent singer, but after making her name as both a heartbreak queen and the common folk’s Everywoman, she had tremendous difficulty navigating the post-Shania Twain landscape of female empowerment anthems.
2014 was a banner year for country music albums. In addition to the predictably solid entries from the Americana, folk, and bluegrass scenes, some excellent albums also surfaced from the unlikeliest of sources: mainstream, radio-friendly contemporary country artists!
Here are our twenty favorite albums from 2014. Fingers crossed that 2015 is as good or better than this year has been.
KJC #8 | LW #16
A confident, intelligent solo project that washes away all of the bitter taste left by Sugarland’s preceding studio album, The Incredible Machine. Nettles manages to remind us what was so appealing about the trio-turned-duo in the first place, while also staking out her own musical territory that has room for independence anthems alongside wry, humorous commentary on society and, of course, palpably vulnerable heartbreak numbers. – Kevin John Coyne
Recommended Tracks: “Me Without You”, “Know You Wanna Know”, “Jealousy”
Does failure to reach a consensus indicate a year that lacked quality, or a year that had enough interesting singles that subjective taste is enough to prevent a consensus?
This was the dilemma faced by the Country Universe staff as we compiled our Best Singles of 2014 feature. We followed our usual routine. Each writer submitted their list of the twenty best singles of the year, and our numbers guru Jonathan Keefe used his time-test algorithm to produce a collective ranking.
But this year, there was only one single that appeared on four out of five lists. The rest: three or less. Rather than shorten the list to showcase only those songs chosen by multiple writers, we decided to stick to the usual forty slots, and let quite a few songs embraced only by one writer to have their place in the sun.
The result is probably the most diverse singles list we’ve ever published, and provides a great counterpoint to our upcoming albums list, which showed far more consensus than any previous albums list has.
Today, we start with the lower half of our top forty singles. Look for the upper half tomorrow, and our albums list on Wednesday.
“Truck Stop Gospel”
Raspy-voiced newcomer Parker Millsap takes it to church on one of the year’s best-drawn character sketches, adopting the persona of a truck driver whose cab doubles as his pulpit. – Jonathan Keefe
Written by Brandon Bush, Kristian Bush, and Tim Owen
It’s not entirely without precedent. When Diana Ross left the Supremes, their first single without her did better than her first solo release. Ringo Starr managed to score two #1 pop hits before John Lennon reached the top as a solo act. Peter Gabriel was supposed to be the indispensable talent of Genesis, but they did better when they gave Phil Collins the mic. Even country acts like Highway 101 and Restless Heart have seen the same phenomenon occur.
Lionel Richie’s new country duets project, set for a March 27 release, sounds like the kind of thing that could either go very right (Jennifer Nettles, “Hello”) or very wrong (Rascal Flatts “Dancing On the Ceiling,” anyone?). We get a taste of the new project with this re-working of Richie’s classic pop duet with Diana Ross, “Endless Love,” sung this time as a duet with Shania Twain.
First, the bad news: It’s too long. The first three minutes sound lovely, but the song reaches an overdramatic climax that goes on longer than it should. Also, the pop-flavored backbeat sounds a bit gaudy – You get over it after a few listens, but the single would be better without it. Still, the biggest problem is swelling production that attempts to lend drama to the performance, but instead beats the listener over the head with needless distraction. The production problems are mostly confined to the final minute of the song, but they still lessen the song’s impact instead of adding to it.
Now the good news: Though filling the shoes of Diana Ross is certainly no easy task, Twain acquits herself more than adequately. Richie for his part still sounds great, but ultimately the star is Twain. Twain’s performance is colored with a deep sense of longing, recalling the finest love ballads of her own hitmaking heyday, such as “Forever and For Always,” with the two voices melding together beautifully on the harmonies.
The song had so much going in its favor. It’s extremely irritating that it’s bogged down by production that gets so stupidly loud and over-the-top. It would have been better if the production had stayed completely out of the way, and given the two vocalists more room to sell the song with their fanstastic performances. Overall, this is still an enjoyable duet, but considering they spend the latter part of the song just shouting to be heard, it does fall a degree short of reaching its full potential.
Written by Lionel Richie
Listen: Endless Love
Dear Jennifer Nettles,
This nonsense has to stop.
Is there anyone left in Nashville with a functioning memory of country music?
Trisha Yearwood put out “Georgia Rain” in 2005. This is almost the same song. The theme, storyline, geography, and even the weather are all identical.
The only differences? It’s not written as well or sung as well. Not even close.
Helpful hint to all aspiring female singers: Don’t get in the ring with Trisha Yearwood. The very best female vocalists on radio today – Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert, Jennifer Nettles – they shouldn’t get in the ring with Trisha Yearwood, unless they really are on the top of their game.
“Georgia Rain” isn’t even Trisha Yearwood at the top of her game. It’s one of her less notable singles. But wow, does it wipe the floor with Joanna Smith and her “Georgia Mud.”
Then again, if I’m the only one who even remembers “Georgia Rain”, Smith has nothing to worry about. With the tasteful arrangement that is identifiably country, she might even be hailed as a visionary. At least it’s not a rock record, right?
Listen: Georgia Mud
The 201 Greatest Singles of the Decade, Part 4: #140-#121
“Who Says You Can’t Go Home”
Bon Jovi featuring Jennifer Nettles
Packed as country music has been lately with rocked-up little singalongs, perhaps it was only natural that one of the leading bands in rocked-up little singalongs should cross over for a bit to show everybody how it’s done. It was newcomer Nettles, though, who stole this show, driving Bon Jovi’s ditty home with an infectiously joyful performance. – Dan Milliken
“God’s Gonna Cut You Down”
Peak: Did not chart
The arrangement is cool enough, but it’s Cash’s stoic, slicing vocal performance that makes his version of this song so memorable. – Tara Seetharam Continue reading