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Single Review: Trisha Yearwood, “Prize Fighter” (with Kelly Clarkson)

Trisha Yearwood Kelly Clarkson Prize Fighter

“Prize Fighter” (with Kelly Clarkson)
Trisha Yearwood

Written by Jessi Alexander, Sarah Buxton, and Ross Copperman

Yes, it’s been more than seven years since Trisha Yearwood has released a proper single.  Yes, it was worth the wait.

“Prize Fighter” is uplifting, inspirational, and powerful.   It showcases Yearwood’s still flawless voice, an instrument that is effective at every setting between whisper and shout, and is always properly calibrated to the material it delivers.    It’s a credit to Kelly Clarkson that she can even keep up with Yearwood, and her contributions to the track are complementary, if not entirely necessary.

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Single Review: Big & Rich, "That's Why I Pray"

Scattershot social commentary, too wide in scope and too narrow in perspective.

Here’s how it works:

Let’s list a lot of bad things, then say “that’s why I pray” after every three or four cialis professional no prescription of them are rattled off.    Do A, then B.  Repeat until you’ve got a four minute song.  Leave space for a musical bridge to nowhere.

It doesn’t work.  Their plodding harmonies and the lifeless production make their list of concerns sound more like talking points than a prayer list.   It’s disappointing, especially since they’ve used religious imagery so potently in the past, specifically on tracks from their debut album like “Holy Water” and “Live This Life.”

Then again, that was before Big & Rich became  BIG & RICH!   The talent is still in there somewhere, but they’ve either run out of genuine things to say or they’ve completely forgotten how to say them effectively through song.

Written by Sarah Buxton, Blair Daly, and Danelle Leverett

Grade: D

Listen:  That’s Why I Pray

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Top 40 Singles of 2011, Part One: #40-#31

For nine decades and counting, country music has been defined by the single, with only the format and definition changing over time.

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

#40
The Road
Emmylou Harris

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

#39
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

#38
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

#37
Ours
Taylor Swift

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

#36
Shanghai Cigarettes
Caitlin Rose

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

#35
You
Chris Young

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

#34
Fixin’ to Die
G. Love

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

#33
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

#32
Barefoot Blue Jean Night
Jake Owen

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

#31
Down by the Water
The Decemberists

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

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Single Review: David Nail, “Let It Rain”

“Let It Rain” kicks off with Nail’s cheating character claiming he’s more crushed by the pain he’s caused his wife than by his own feelings of shame – but does anyone really believe that? The chorus is nothing if not a pity party, centering on a singular theme: “She don’t love me anymore.”

But it’s an effective pity party. Nail delivers the song with tortured self-loathing, using the shades of soul in his voice to wring out his emotion. His character may not garner any sympathy (“When the shades start coming down/The guilt you feel’s the last thing on your mind”), but his pain is believable, in a pathetic sort of way.  Sarah Buxton’s earthy background vocals serve as a gorgeous complement to the rawness of his plea, though they’re a little difficult to make out against the bombastic production.

Then again, sweeping self-pity is exactly the kind of thing that calls for a dramatic, Gary LeVox-style arrangement. A power ballad with a purpose? I’ll bite.

Written by David Nail & Jonathan Singleton

Grade: B

Listen: Let It Rain


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The Best Country Albums of 2010, Part 1: #20-#11

Countless albums were released in 2010, in mainstream country music, Americana, bluegrass, and all the other loosely associated sub-genres that make up the country universe.  Of those albums, our writers particularly enjoyed the following twenty.  All four writers submitted top ten lists for the year, and amazingly enough, there were exactly twenty different albums among them.  So if you’re wondering if your favorite album just missed the list…it didn’t.  But we’d love to hear why we were wrong in the comments.

Enjoy part one now, and look for the top ten on Friday.


#20
A Crooked Road
Darrell Scott

Tomorrow’s hits today, should the current crop of hitmakers want something as good on the radio as “Long Time Gone” or “It’s a Great Day to Be Alive,” or just want to have an album cut for the ages like “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive.” Scott’s a singer’s songwriter, delivering his songs with enough personality to elevate them above demos but leaving enough room for improvisation, so that any singer can put their own spin on it.

This twenty-track collection is stunningly strong, with his observations about politics and religion and history intriguing, but his take on human relationships being downright enlightening.  – Kevin Coyne Continue reading

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Single Review: Keith Urban, “Put You in a Song”

There’s no denying Keith Urban’s immense talent, which was brightly showcased on his first three major label albums, particularly Golden Road and Be Here. The music sounded articulate and fresh while being extremely accessible.

Urban’s last couple of albums, however, have been heavily influenced by electronic production where electric keyboards and drum machines largely filled the spaces instead of his prior muscular, yet more organic, production choices. Of course, this isn’t to say that there still weren’t some really good moments on both of those albums, as should only be expected by such a talented force, but they just seemed to lack the heart that was displayed on the previous two records.

Keith Urban’s new single, “Put You in a Song”, is the lead single from his yet to be released album, Get Closer, and it seems that brighter sounds are here again. While it’s not exactly one of his strongest songs, it’s a big step back in the right direction. It’s clever, sprightly, and above all, devoid of any electronic instrumentation to muddy it up.

It’s true that Urban has never really been known for being a traditionally oriented country artist, but he can be counted among the best of the pop country artists with some terrific pieces of pop country ear candy to show for it. Therefore, “Put You in a Song” is not anything more than a fun pop country ditty, but it is pop country done well.

Best of all, “Put You in a Song” sounds more like it would fit on Be Here rather than Love, Pain and the Whole Crazy Thing or Defying Gravity, which is hopeful for the upcoming album that will be released on November 16.

Written by Keith Urban, Jedd Hughes & Sarah Buxton

Listen: Put You in a Song

Grade: B+

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Bargain Hunter: Johnny Cash, Sarah Buxton

In the Amazon docket today is the last recorded album by a country legend and the long-awaited first by a promising upstart.

Johnny Cash’s American VI: Ain’t No Grave is going for $3.99. Upon first listen, his voice and the arrangements actually sound a bit more alive than on previous sets in the series. Plus he covers the Hawaiian classic, “Aloha Oe.” Represent.

Sarah Buxton’s much-delayed debut album – featuring current single “Outside My Window”, plus “Space”, “Stupid Boy”, “That Kind of Day”, and the bridge of “Strawberry Wine” “Innocence” – has been released in two different versions.

First up, a regular version for $5.99, featuring an Amazon MP3 exclusive track called “Crazy Dream”:

And then a version including the regular album plus “The Pajama Sessions,” which appears to be acoustic versions of all the songs on the album. That one’s going for $10.99.

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ACM Top New Artist Winners

header_acm-awards1The winners have been announced for three of the Top New Artist categories at this year’s ACM Awards:

  • Top New Male Vocalist: Jake Owen
  • Top New Female Vocalist: Julianne Hough
  • Top New Vocal Duo or Group: Zac Brown Band

Jake Owen’s victory is something of an upset, as he was nominated against James Otto and Jamey Johnson, two men who received multiple Grammy nominations. Johnson still has a shot at some ACM awards this year, as he’s nominated in three other categories: Single, Song and Album of the Year. Owen is nominated for Vocal Event for his part in Sugarland’s multi-artist “Life in a Northern Town.”

Julianne Hough was chosen over Sarah Buxton and Ashton Shepherd, while Zac Brown Band won over the Eli Young Band and the Lost Trailers.

Owen, Hough and Zac Brown Band will compete for the Top New Artist award during the three-hour telecast on Sunday, April 5. We’ll be live-blogging, of course. Look for our predictions and personal picks later this week.

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The 44th Annual ACM Awards Reaction, Part One

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The Academy of Country Music revealed its nominees for the 44th annual awards show slated for Sunday, April 5. Album of the Year nominations will be announced in March, likely to coincide with the presentation of the Best New Artist nominees.

Brad Paisley- Paisley is the leader of the pack with six nominations. His video clip, “Waitin’ on a Woman,” (with legendary television star, Andy Griffith) is Paisley’s bid at a fourth Video of the Year victory. “Waitin'” is also in the running for Single and Song of the Year, and Paisley is a considerable threat to dethrone four-time champion Chesney for Entertainer of the Year.

George Strait- In a separate ceremony, Strait will be recognized as the Academy of Country Music’s Artist of the Decade, but his support runs deep even in the present day. He will bid for Entertainer of the Year and Top Male Vocalist, as well as Video of the Year for “Troubadour,” his first clip since 2006’s “The Seashores of Old Mexico.”

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44th Annual ACM Awards Nominations Announcement

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The Academy of Country Music announced nominees for their 44th annual awards ceremony this morning at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville. Julianne Hough, Kellie Pickler, Leann Rimes and Jessica Simpson were on hand to present this year’s nominees. More analysis to follow.

Entertainer of the Year

  • Kenny Chesney
  • Brad Paisley
  • George Strait
  • Carrie Underwood
  • Keith Urban

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