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Blaine Larsen, “It Did”

July 24, 2009 Leeann Ward 3

You may already recognize this song from Brad Paisley’s 5th Gear album. But then again, you may not, since it’s not especially memorable, anyway. Much like Paisley’s “Then”, “It Did” sentimentalizes that life just keeps getting better and better with each progressing milestone (courtship, wedding, baby).

Paisley’s version is superior in production quality while Larsen’s warm voice outshine’s Paisley’s vocals. However, in either case, the melody and lyrics are particularly bland with Larsen’s unimaginative pop infused production managing to turn an already unengaging song into something next to insufferable. Furthermore, this song just wasn’t worth recycling in the first place.

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Michelle Branch, “Sooner Or Later”

July 24, 2009 Dan Milliken 11

…Or as I’m going to call it, “Michelle Branch copying Taylor Swift copying Michelle Branch.”

For real, though. It’s like the thing has passed through so many levels of self-consciousness that most of the personality just got rubbed out of the mix at some point, leaving behind only a flimsy song and recycled production.

It’s not unpleasant listening, but it’s difficult to avoid comparing to Swift’s similar (and superior) “You Belong With Me,” and even harder to enjoy in the context of Branch’s own body of work, which has seen both pop and pop-country with much more passion, maturity and distinction.

Remind me why we can’t have The Wreckers again?

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Picking the CMA Nominees: Entertainer of the Year

July 23, 2009 Kevin John Coyne 80

Just last week, the second ballot for the 2009 CMA Awards was sent to voters. Now, they are charged with the task of picking five nominees for each category.

How about we help them out? I’ve listed the five artists that I believe are most deserving of an Entertainer of the Year nomination. Share your own top five and your reasoning in the comments.

Over the course of the next two weeks, we’ll do the same with all of the other major categories.

Entertainer of the Year:

The nominees should be:

Brad Paisley

Much like George Strait before him, Paisley has carved out a career that is defined by its consistent success. He’s an increasingly large draw on the road, and his latest album shows that his creative juices are flowing again.

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Jamey Johnson, “My Way To You”

July 23, 2009 Dan Milliken 10

Very interesting. It’s almost like Jamey Johnson decided to try his hand at a typical radio ballad – unspecific narrative about finding fulfillment in a significant other/God, rock bent, oversized electric guitar solo – just to show that he could make even that sound pretty cool.

Good thing the idea worked out. Expectations have become so bloated for Johnson that his career could suffer quite a dip if the follow-up to That Lonesome Song doesn’t manage to woo both critics and consumers again. This single’s savvy blend of commercial trimmings and un-commercial delivery suggests that won’t be a problem.

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Collin Raye, “She’s with Me”

July 23, 2009 Leeann Ward 0

Collin Raye has always had a voice best suited for ballads. However, at times, he has been known to stretch his vocal boundaries with unique results that have ended up feeling like a signature vocal trademark that, ultimately, works for him. Likewise, he is most associated with his glut of sensitive love songs or overwrought message ballads with strong melodies if not saccharine lyrics.

“She’s with Me” is yet another Ballad, but it deviates from Collin Raye’s typical penchant for overdoing it. Instead, it is a slow, vocally restrained song with a message, but one that is worth exploring.

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Rodney Atkins, “15 Minutes”

July 22, 2009 Tara Seetharam 3

Atkins’ latest single is pure, straight-up fun without being hokey or over-the-top – a tricky thing to do in country music. Against a pleasing, honky-tonk arrangement, Atkins delivers a clever hook about a misguided attempt at giving up smoking, women and drinking, resulting in the worst 15 minutes of his life. It’s simply a well-crafted bar sing-a-long that doesn’t take itself too seriously:

“Well you could get hit by a truck tomorrow
So you might as well raise a little hell tonight.”

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Diamond Rio, “God is There”

July 22, 2009 Kevin John Coyne 10

I’ve never been a fan of Contemporary Christian music, mostly because of the bombastic arrangements. I like my religious songs Emmylou or Willie style, with organic production and, if I’m really lucky, a bit of struggle before the redemption.

So it was with great enthusiasm that I dove in to Diamond Rio’s “God is There.” I’ve always loved the sound of this band’s records, even when the material was slight. When the material was solid, like the back-porch bliss of “Meet in the Middle” or tongue-twisting charm of “How Your Love Makes Me Feel”, nothing sounded better.

“God is There” opens promisingly, with a sparse piano accompanying Marty Roe’s voice. It sounds so similar to their best single ever, “You’re Gone”, that it got my hopes up. The opening verse tells of a young girl struggling with an unplanned pregnancy, feeling abandoned and alone.

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Billy Ray Cyrus, “A Good Day”

July 21, 2009 Tara Seetharam 5

It’s easy to lose sight of Billy Ray Cyrus the “artist” when 90% of his exposure of late has been alongside pop star Miley Cyrus – whose artistic credibility actually, surprisingly, sometimes surpasses his own. But when Cyrus taps into his core, with songs like “A Good Day,” he reminds us that he’s got a substantial amount of talent, particularly a strong, decent voice.

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Catching Up with Joey + Rory

July 20, 2009 Leeann Ward 22

Three weeks ago, I had a chance to chat with one of my favorite new acts, Joey +Rory. It has been over a year since their break through on CMT’s Can You Duet and several months since the release of their album The Life of A Song. So, Country Universe thought it would be a perfect time to catch up with them to see what’s been happening since the whirlwind of their recent success.

Not surprisingly, it was a pleasure to speak with them. They were very honest and down to earth. Along with telling us how they’re handling their new found fame, they didn’t shy away from expressing their feelings on current country music, songwriting and what they are and are not listening to these days.

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Dierks Bentley, “I Wanna Make You Close Your Eyes”

July 20, 2009 Dan Milliken 5

Forgettable. Bentley had a very good come-on song in the frank “Come A Little Closer” a few years back; this one feels like a forced effort to recreate the magic. The writing is pleasant but dull, lacking the sexual urgency that made “Closer” come alive, and the vocal is uncharacteristically flat.

Not sure there’s much else to say, really. It’ll climb into the top five, bother me for awhile, then disappear. That’s the thing about playing it safe once you’re an established star: you might keep denting the charts, but you’ll cease to leave much of a dent in your audience.

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