Tag Archives: Jessica Simpson

CU10 Flashback: Carrie Underwood, Shania Twain and Gender in Country Music

Shania Twain Carrie UnderwoodIn 2008, I was finishing up my degree in journalism and trying to understand what it meant to be a professional writer. I wanted to write about music, but the divide between fan and critic felt, at times, insurmountable.

That fall, I stumbled onto Country Universe through this post, and it changed my perspective. As both a writer and leader, Kevin was thoughtful, rational and personally invested in the country music genre. He showed a deep respect for the genre’s history, but wrote about new artists with tolerance and curiosity. Best of all, he held readers and writers alike to the highest standards of decency.

It’s for that reason that this post shines. Kevin’s ability to take a stand while cultivating constructive dialogue is unmatched. He cut through the divisive hype around Carrie Underwood –an artist who is as special to me now as she was back then—and underlined the real issue at hand: country music’s staggering, frustrating gender bias. Six years and a truckload of interchangeable male artists later, it’s more imperative than ever that we continue this discussion.  – Tara Seetharam

Discussion: Carrie Underwood, Shania Twain and Gender in Country Music

by Kevin John Coyne

August 29, 2008

I fear this post won’t quite live up to its ambitious title, and I realize that I’m stirring the tempest pot a bit by putting those two artists in the same sentence. But the tone that surfaces whenever Carrie Underwood is discussed here is something that I find increasingly frustrating, so I’m going to talk about it. Hopefully, I’ll get a meaningful conversation going along the way.

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Filed under Alison Krauss, CU10, Discussion, Flashback, Miranda Lambert, Women of Country on Women in Country

Say What? – Bob Lefsetz

question_markAnyone who reads Bob Lefsetz' “The Lefsetz Letter” knows that Lefsetz is a fairly new country music fan, but a passionate one all the same.  I frequently disagree with his current assessment of country music, particularly country radio (although recently  he has clued in to its frequent vapidness and monotony), but he's a fantastic voice out there championing country music.

In a recent letter, he made some interesting statements about his desired role for the future of country music (i.e. the classic rock of the future). After approvingly citing the recent Newsweek article which bemoaned the current state of country music, Lefsetz stated:
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blockquote>Country used to have an edge.  My buddy Pete Anderson would love to bring it back.  But I’m thinking we’ve just got to move the needle a little bit, and suddenly we’ve got the rock business we used to have, the one that triumphed in the seventies.

He went on to state:

If they just took off the cowboy hats and lost the banjos they’d be closer to Lynyrd Skynyrd than Dolly Parton or George Jones.  When are the country acts going to go after their rightful audience, boomers who lived through the seventies and younger people who want melody!

***

The future is in country, or something quite like it.

It’s not the final resting place for has-beens like Bon Jovi or wannabes like Jessica Simpson, but a phoenix ready to rise if it’s taken seriously, adds a bit of true cred, emphasizes electric guitars and is willing to have an edge.

As fans of country, new and old, how do you feel about this assessment of the future of country music?

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Jessica Simpson, “Pray Out Loud”

jessicaOne probably thought they knew what to expect from Jessica Simpson on her latest  single, “Pray Out Loud,” simply by reading the title: The big-voiced former Christian pop singer was going to put forth her best Martina McBride imitation and sing for the rafters. It was going to be over-the-top, joyous, cheesy, uplifting and worthy of its name and oft-repeated chorus “pray out loud.”  One may even, like me, have been planning on giving her permission to do so because if ever a song – and a time – was asking for it, it is this one. But, umm … no. On this single, Simpson shows … restraint. And a great deal of it. It’s completely baffling.

Simpson has never been a stellar interpreter of song, but the sheer lack of joy, enthusiasm and spirituality in her vocal is surprising.  Simpson was more convincing inviting us to “come on over” than she is imploring us to “pray out loud.”  Unfortunately, because the song is blessed with lyrics as original as “When you’re down / Don’t be afraid to pray out loud / Just close your eyes and let it out / Take all you fears and doubts / He’s listening right now / Don’t be afraid to pray out loud,” this severe lack of emotion is all that much more glaringly obvious.

It is likely that Simpson viewed this song as a means to connect with the same country demographic that propelled Carrie Underwood into stardom following the release of “Jesus Take the Wheel.”  However,  I’d be shocked if this single achieved a fraction of its predecessor’s success.

Songwriters: Jessica Simpson, Brett James, John Shanks

Grade: C

Listen: “Pray Out Loud”

Buy:

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Academy of Country Music Nominations Due February 11

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The nominations for this year’s Academy of Country Music Awards will be announced on Wednesday, February 11, and Country Universe will have a preview next week. As announced yesterday, the blond brigade of Julianne Hough, Leann Rimes, Jessica Simpson and Kellie Pickler will read the nominations from the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

From the Academy of Country Music website:

The Academy of Country Music, Dick Clark productions and Great American Country (GAC) announced today that for the first time ever, the three newcomer categories for the Academy of Country Music Awards—Top New Female Vocalist, Top New Male Vocalist and Top New Vocal Duo or Group—will be opened up to interactive fan voting through GACTV.com. The 44th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards will be broadcast LIVE from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas Sunday, April 5, 2009 at 8:00 PM live ET/delayed PT on the CBS Television Network.

Fan voting for these three categories will begin at GACTV.com on Friday, February 13, and will close on Thursday, March 5. The winner in each of the three categories will be announced March 9, and will move on to compete in a brand new Academy of Country Music Awards category, Top New Artist. Voting for the Top New Artist category will begin on March 16, and will close on April 5, with the winner being announced live during the 44th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards.

The official website is cryptic regarding the validity of voting procedures. Under the Best New Artist categories, the Board of Directors state that winners will be determined by a vote of members and/or viewer voting, so the Academy could possibly have a hand in the voting in case inconsistencies arise.

The Academy’s voting criteria was called into question last year when the Entertainer of the Year award was a fan-voted affair, and today’s announcement continues the questionable practice of allowing the general public to voice their opinions for one of the industry’s highest honors. This year, the rules do explicitly state that Entertainer of the Year will be awarded based on both membership vote and fan participation.

Critics’ fave Jamey Johnson also suffers from the academy’s shortsighted criteria.  Due to an absolutely archaic rule, Jamey Johnson’s That Lonesome Song (current sales: 270k at 26 weeks) is ineligible for the Album of the Year category.

The Album must have attained minimum sales of 300,000 units and/or maintained an average of 20,000 unit sales per week since release as reflected by SoundScan during the qualification period. Any album commercially released prior to the preceding calendar year, but achieving its highest charted position in any accepted country music industry publication chart and greatest commercial success during the calendar year, is eligible unless it has appeared on a final ACM ballot in this category.

Conceivably, Johnson can be nominated for Album of the Year next year. By that time, That Lonesome Song will have sold over 300,000 copies and could sneak above its current chart peak in 2009  (it debuted at No.6 in August and now rests at No. 7 on the weekly chart). Understood? With record sales dwindling due to the economy and the current technological shift within the music industry, the criteria must be changed. Unless the rule is amended, only ten albums are eligible (the latest releases from Kenny Chesney, Alan Jackson, Toby Keith, Lady Antebellum, James Otto, Darius Rucker, Sugarland, George Strait, Taylor Swift and Zac Brown Band). This is a small pool from which to determine the genre’s best album of the year. The current slate of criteria for the ACM only serves to dilute a meaningful country music milestone and forgo artistic value in favor of commercial prowess and internet savvy.

Fun fact: In its final week of eligibility for last year’s ACM Awards, Miranda Lambert’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend sold 7,894 copies for a total of 304,999 since its May 1, 2007 debut. Lambert’s sophomore set went on to best platinum-selling albums from Kenny Chesney, Rodney Atkins, Taylor Swift and Brad Paisley to claim the ACM award for Album of the Year. As of February 7, 2009, the album has sold 679,391 copies and remains the second-oldest album on the Country Albums chart (Taylor Swift’s Taylor Swift).

 

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Discussion: SoundScan Sound Off

salesIn this era of rampant piracy and economic recession, things aren’t looking good for the music industry.   We don’t post too often about the business side of the music business here, as we tend to keep the focus on the music.   But the reality is that these numbers matter.  If Little Big Town’s second Equity album had performed as well as the first, the label might still be in business.

It’s not all doom and gloom, as many artists go on to make their best music once they leave major labels.   But this Christmas, you can guarantee that some artists and record executives will be bracing for the New Year, while others are embracing it.

Here’s a look at some totals for albums released in 2008, ranked by total sales (rounded to the nearest thousand):

  1. Taylor Swift, Fearless – 1,519,000
  2. Sugarland, Love on the Inside – 1,179,000
  3. George Strait, Troubadour – 693,000
  4. Alan Jackson, Good Time – 628,000
  5. Toby Keith, 35 Biggest Hits – 530,000
  6. Kenny Chesney, Lucky Old Sun – 479,000
  7. Faith Hill, Joy to the World – 341,000
  8. Lady Antebellum, Lady Antebellum – 337,000
  9. James Otto, Sunset Man – 332,000
  10. Rascal Flatts, Greatest Hits Volume 1 – 330,000
  11. Darius Rucker, Learn to Live – 284,000
  12. Julianne Hough, Julianne Hough – 260,000
  13. Toby Keith, That Don’t Make Me a Bad Guy – 224,000
  14. Jewel, Perfectly Clear – 203,000
  15. Dierks Bentley, Greatest Hits: Every Mile a Memory –  195,000
  16. Jamey Johnson, That Lonesome Song – 183,000
  17. Heidi Newfield, What Am I Waiting For – 162,000
  18. Jessica Simpson, Do You Know – 153,000
  19. Brad Paisley, Play – 137,000
  20. Kellie Pickler, Kellie Pickler – 129,000
  21. Montgomery Gentry, Back When I Knew it All – 127,000
  22. Tim McGraw, Greatest Hits Vol. 3 – 127,000
  23. Emmylou Harris, All I Intended to Be – 119,000
  24. Zac Brown Band, Foundation – 118,000
  25. Randy Travis, Around the Bend – 89,000
  26. Ashton Shepherd, Sounds So Good - 84,000
  27. Jimmy Wayne, Do You Believe Me Now – 81,000
  28. Trace Adkins, X – 72,000
  29. Billy Currington, Little Bit of Everything – 65,000
  30. Blake Shelton, Startin’ Fires – 60,000
  31. Hank III, Damn Right Rebel Proud – 47,000
  32. Lee Ann Womack, Call Me Crazy – 45,000
  33. Joey + Rory, Life of a Song – 44,000
  34. Patty Loveless, Sleepless Nights – 38,000
  35. Craig Morgan, Greatest Hits – 34,000
  36. Craig Morgan, That’s Why – 31,000
  37. Randy Owen, One on One – 22,000
  38. Randy Houser, Anything Goes – 17,000

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5 Questions with Adam Gregory

At only twenty-three years old, Adam Gregory has been performing for ten years in his native Canada. After arriving in Nashville in 2007, he signed a recording contract with Midas Records, who then reformed last year under indie powerhouse Big Machine Records. Earlier this year, Gregory reached the Top 40 with his first single, “Crazy Days,” and last month he released his second single, “What It Takes.” His yet-untitled debut album in the United States is slated for release in Spring 2009. Gregory called Country Universe earlier this week to provide a glimpse into the life and career of the Nashville newcomer.

Who is Adam Gregory as an artist? And which artists have inspired this direction?

I consider myself as just a guy who sticks to his roots and follows his own path and tries to find meaning in every song. I’ve co-written a lot of songs on the album, so I hope to put my own imprint and give it that extra attention because it’s coming from me and who I am. We think it’s a refreshing sound. We have something new to offer. It’s not a country twang. It’s more of a modern-day sounding music. But I grew up listening to Vince Gill. He’s such a great singer, and so humble. And of course, Garth Brooks and George Strait. He (Strait) has maintained a personal life and family and still had a great career. That’s what I aspire to do.

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Jessica Simpson, “Remember That”

Jessica Simpson’s second country single is a good deal better than her first.  It’s still conversational in style, but instead of trying to convince a guy to come on over, she’s trying to convince a friend to turn away an abusive boyfriend.

The steel guitar still sounds like window dressing, but her performance is closer to sincere than it is to cloying this time around.   When singing the chorus, she sounds quite a bit like co-writer Rachel Proctor, who had the memorable hit “Me and Emily” that explored similar themes.   The ending tag, “Take it from me, I’ve stood there in your shoes”, is gratuitous, but overall, it’s a decent single.

Written by Victoria Banks and Rachel Proctor

Grade: B-

Listen: Remember That

Buy: Remember That

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Jessica Simpson, Do You Know

Jessica Simpson
Do You Know

Jessica Simpson is all country. At least by her own account. She has fully embraced the sound of Nashville pop-country, along with all the elements of its image. The conversations flavored with “Y’all” and “Bless your heart” and all those sweet, southern sayings. The wardrobes of jeans, t-shirt and a perfectly worn pair of cowboy boots. And the songs feature just enough steel and country sass to fit well with all that has become mainstream country music. Is the image a true reflection of Simpson as a person? Likely. Are the songs there? Unfortunately not, for the most part, on Do You Know.

The first single, “Come On Over,” became a Top 20 success on country radio; however lyrical content is not its strong suit. In fact, it fully discloses the major problem that courses through the entire album. Do You Know sounds good, thanks to Brett James and John Shanks, who aim to please fans with a mix of innocuous country licks amidst the melodic tricks of pop music. However, the stories in the songs are rarely there, and even when the material matches the rest of mainstream country music today, the production choices are, at best, questionable.

For example, “You’re My Sunday” speaks to a lazy-day love with the silence and sensitivity found in the best of relationships, and then Simpson starts to hollering in the chorus and the peaceful, easy feeling dies a painful death. Plus, the music tends to drown out the message. And on “Might As Well Be Making Love,” Simpson tries to strangle every note on a song that otherwise is a tender ode to reconnecting with her man.

Even when the music matches the mood, the results are fair to middling. “Pray Out Loud” is a song about faith and fearlessness in the face of struggle, but the mid-tempo number hardly shows a pulse. Same goes for “When I Loved You Like That,” a fairly non-descript track that tries to cover too much terrain without having a central theme. On an album supposedly full of important ideas, they are often absent altogether.

The most notable (and honestly, the most focused) track is the title cut, a song written specifically for Simpson by country legend Dolly Parton, who lends her distinctive vocals to the title track, “Do You Know.” Although her harmonies seem a little out of place in such a contemporary setting, it’s the best one on the album. The lyric is unique and unyielding in its power, and Simpson is (finally) in fine voice.

Simpson is a capable singer, but her wailing ends up failing her on a number of tracks that could use a gentler touch. Does she belong in country music? Her country music “roots” and her comfort level within the genre suggest that one day she could, given great country songs and better artistic advice. But those qualities aren’t featured here. At least by my own account.

Click to hear Jessica Simpson, Do You Know.

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