Tag Archives: Rhett Akins

Album Review: Kristian Bush, Southern Gravity

Kristian Bush Southern Gravity

Kristian Bush
Southern Gravity

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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.

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Single Review: Lee Brice, “That Don’t Sound Like You”

Lee Brice That Don't Sound Like You

“That Don’t Sound Like You”
Lee Brice

Written by Rhett Akins, Lee Brice, and Ashley Gorley

I really like Lee Brice. He’s got an interesting voice, and his phrasing is always original. It’s like he sneaks up behind his notes and surprises them.

“That Don’t Sound Like You” succeeds purely on Brice’s merits as a vocal stylist. The song itself is iffy.

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Single Review: Jason Aldean, “Tonight Looks Good on You”

Jason Aldean Tonight Looks Good On You

“Tonight Looks Good on You”
Jason Aldean

Written by Rhett Akins, Dallas Davidson, and Ashley Gorley

Great artists start trends, and when everybody else is catching up to what they started, they’ve already moved on to something fresh.

Jason Aldean is not a great artist.

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Single Review: Frankie Ballard, “Young & Crazy”

frankie ballard young & crazy

“Young & Crazy”
Frankie Ballard

Written by Rhett Akins, Ashley Gorley, and Shane McAnally

“Young & Crazy” is like a used car that’s been refurbished by a crack team of mechanics.   From a distance, it can look brand new, but get a little closer, and you can see it’s been constructed with spare parts.

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Single Review: Jason Aldean, “Just Gettin’ Started”

Jason Aldean Just Gettin Started

“Just Gettin’ Started”
Jason Aldean

Written by Rhett Akins, Chris DeStefano, and Ashley Gorley

Competently performed.  Creatively stagnant. Completely unnecessary.

Grade: D

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Single Review: Reba McEntire, “Going Out Like That”

Reba McEntire Going Out LIke That

“Going Out Like That”
Reba McEntire

Written by Rhett Akins, Ben Haslip, and Jason Sellers

Reba McEntire is one of the genre’s all-time greatest storytellers.  Her best material captures both the strength and vulnerability of the everyday woman, and “Going Out Like That” fits in well with her legacy of songs that are empowering without sacrificing believability.

McEntire is also one of the genre’s all-time greatest stylists, and that’s where her new single falls short.  The song is delivered in mostly a monotone, with few of her signature curlicues.   She just never gets out of the starting gate for some reason.  The song doesn’t require it to be effective, but a little more variety would’ve been nice.

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Single Review: Thomas Rhett, “Get Me Some of That”

Thomas Rhett Get Me Some of ThatBetter than it has any right to be.

The mind-numbingly dull lyric has nothing new to offer, with details that sound more like a pitch for an Axe commercial than an actual documentation of a realistic human experience.  The band also phones it in, with nothing more distinctive than a Karaoke backing track.

But Rhett sells it anyway.  It’s nice to hear a guy who can actually sing being allowed to do so, without any production tricks or clumsy attempts at spoken word.   Sincerity is always a plus in my book, and “Get Me Some of That” is better than similar records because Rhett sounds engaged, not detached.

I don’t really want to listen to it again, but if I had to pick one brocountry album to hear all the way through, I think Rhett’s might be the one that’s the least likely to be painful.

Written by Rhett Akins, Michael Carter, and Cole Swindell

Grade: B-

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gq2ZJ418ad8

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Single Review: Jason Aldean, “When She Says Baby”

Jason Aldean When She Says BabyWhen Jason Aldean wraps his voice around compelling material, the results are magical.

But more often than not, Aldean is delivering mediocre material.  “When She Says Baby” is a great example of how he can take a pedestrian, paint-by-numbers song and make it a little more interesting.  He plays with the speed of the lyrics in the chorus, all while keeping in time with the music behind him.  He adds a working man’s frustrated exhaustion as an undercurrent when the lyrics bemoan the daily grind, and effortlessly switches to the relief of a man who has a great woman to come home to, just as soon as the lyric switches to being about her.

But when a guy can do so much with so little, even a moderately pleasurable listening experience like this one leaves but one question lingering after the music fades:  “Why did he record this?”

Written by Rhett Akins and Ben Hayslip

Grade: C

 

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RiaoAZ-_siQ

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Single Review: Chase Rice, “Ready Set Roll”

He may have been the runner-up on one of the weakest seasons of Survivor (finishing second to
this strategic powerhouse), but Chase Rice has beaten tough competition from the likes of Jason Aldean’s “1994,” Parmalee’s “Carolina,” Ashton Shepherd’s “This is America,” Blake Shelton’s “Boys Round Here,” Krystal Keith’s “Daddy Dance with Me,” and Luke Bryan’s “That’s My Kind of Night” for the title of 2013’s worst country single.

For all of the countless complaints about the rise of “bro country” during the past year, what much of the criticism of this trend has ignored is its fundamental anonymity. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the notion of songs that champion tailgate parties or casual weekend hookups, as the kinds of experiences characterized in songs like Florida-Georgia Line’s “Cruise” or “Ready Set Roll” are familiar to an audience that is not insignificant in size or purchasing power.

The problem, then, with this glut of frat-boys in their Ed Hardy gear and pick-ups– and what Rice and “Ready Set Roll” epitomize– is their interchangeability. Rice and his co-writers (usual suspects Rhett Akins and Chris Destefano) write almost entirely in clichés (“Yeah, we can run this town / I can rock your world / We can roll ’em down, fog ’em up / Cruise around and get stuck”), such that none of the experiences they’ve written about here are the least bit distinctive. But for a deeply gross line that goes farther in the objectification of women than do most songs of this ilk (“Get ya fine little ass on the step / Shimmy up inside / And slide girl, by my side girl”), there isn’t a single line in “Ready Set Roll” that couldn’t be exchanged word-for-word with lines from “Cruise” or Jake Owen’s “Days of Gold” or Cole Swindell’s “Chillin’ It” or Eric Paslay’s “Friday Night” without changing those songs in any meaningful or even noticeable way.

Setting aside the shallowness of the subject matter and Rice’s struggles with even basic syntax, it’s that lack of any discernible point-of-view that makes “Ready Set Roll” such appalling poor songwriting, the nadir of a trend that has quite rightly drawn the ire of those who value country music for its history of distinctive narratives, personal insight, and pure escapism that is still respectful of both craft and its audience.

And, thanks to a dated, cheap-sounding production job and Rice’s limited vocal ability, “Ready Set Roll” doesn’t even work as a throwaway, escapist single. The use of a digitized text-reader voice to bookend the single is jarring and adds nothing of value to the track. The most pedestrian of hip-hop beats drowns out the requisite handful of rote country signifiers, and the mixing sounds like it was made on a circa-2004 version of Winamp.

As he sort-of-raps his way through the track, Rice affects a throaty growl that unfavorably recalls Brantley Gilbert, and he dutifully emphasizes every syllable on the 2 and 4 counts without regard for whether or not native speakers of American English would emphasize those syllables. As co-writer for “Cruise,” Rice proved that he might be capable of writing a memorable hook, but there’s not one thing he and his alliance of bros do well on “Ready Set Roll.”

Written by Chase Rice, Rhett Akins, and Chris Destephano

Grade: F

httpv://youtu.be/ul5cm-6_NML

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Album Review: Blake Shelton, Based On a True Story…

Blake-Shelton-based-on-a-true-story

Blake Shelton
Based On a True Story…

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Bear in mind that Blake Shelton isn’t just another country singer.  He is the reigning Male Vocalist of the Year for both the ACM and CMA Awards, as well as the CMA Entertainer of the Year.  Due to his position as a judge on “The Voice,” he is one of the most recognizable country stars around.  Therefore, his new album Based on a True Story… isn’t just another album release.  It’s an event.  It’s a highly anticipated occasion.  So how does Shelton kick off this record?

Backwoods, legit, don’t take no s***
Chew tobacco, chew tobacco, chew tobacco, spit.

Those words of wisdom come from “Boys ‘Round Here,” the opening track and one of the worst country songs of recent memory, even by the relative low standards of country-rap.  Sexist, crude and jam-packed with country stereotypes, it’s an embarrassment to everyone involved, including Shelton, the songwriters (Rhett Akins, Dallas Davidson and Craig Wiseman) the Pistol Annies who sing background vocals and even the guy who says “red red red red red red red red redneck.”

That’s the low-water mark for the album, though it’s certainly a harbinger for what comes after.  For all the references to country songs and country living scattered throughout, it’s largely pop music, with some R&B and adult contemporary elements thrown in the mix.  In other words, it’s an ideal country album for people who like Shelton as a famous personality but don’t really care for country music.  The two most traditional-sounding songs (as well as two of the best songs) are available in the download- only deluxe version, so anyone who wants to avoid anything sounding like actual country music can easily do so.

There are plenty of other country singers who are employing pop sounds to reach a wider audience, so Shelton isn’t alone in that regard.  The problem with True Story is that the songs are so pedestrian and unmemorable. “Sure Be Cool if You Did” and “My Eyes” are essentially the same song about picking up a woman, though at least the cheesy pickup lines are different. “Small Town Big Time” is essentially the same song as half of Jason Aldean’s back catalog – the bad half – with some Auto-Tuned verses thrown in for

good measure.

“Country on the Radio” deserves special mention because it attempts to justify all of the hokey, redneck-centric songs that have clogged up the country charts for the last few years.  Why are they all about dirt roads, pretty girls on tailgates and homemade wine?  Because that’s how country folks roll, of course.  That’s not exactly a compliment – country songs are so simplistic and shallow because country people really are that simplistic and shallow.

“I Still Got a Finger” is one of the few instances where the feisty Blake Shelton of old – before he became famous outside of country music circles – makes an appearance.  Still, it has the feel of being forced, as if it was made to highlight Shelton’s smartass, uncensored Twitter personality without being too rude for a large audience.

“Grandaddy’s Gun,” written by Atkins, Davidson, and Bobby Pinson, is one of the highlights of True Story.  Without pushing one side of the gun control debate like an Aaron Lewis or Charlie Daniels would do, Shelton sings about the sentimental value of an old battered shotgun and demonstrates that he is still an outstanding country singer when he wants to be.  He does the same on “Mine Would Be You” from the dependable Jessi Alexander, Connie Harrington and Deric Ruttan.

Shelton infamously said in his “old farts and jackasses” interview that kids don’t want to listen to their grandpa’s music and that country music has to evolve in order to survive.  If that’s true, then this is the evolution of country music. It’s slick and mainstream-friendly, with Top 40 appeal.  It features pop songs about how wonderful country living is. It’s occasionally raucous, but not enough to offend a focus group. It has some traditional country elements, but those are on album tracks that can easily be skipped over or not downloaded. If you happen to remember the great Blake Shelton songs like “Ol’ Red” and “Austin,” you’re clearly too old for this new country music.

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