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Eli Young Band, “Radio Waves”

July 6, 2009 Dan Milliken 1

Eli Young Band’s latest sounds like a hit from top to bottom, with crisp pop-rock production, likable vocals, and a brisk tempo that allows the song to breeze by pleasantly, even as the chorus just misses its intended melodic mark.

As I’ve said before, they’re basically just playing Rascal Flatts’ game with a little less drama, and the result here is pretty enjoyable, the kind of musical comfort food you expect from summer radio when it’s behaved.

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Brooks & Dunn, “Indian Summer”

July 5, 2009 Kevin John Coyne 3

The unintended consequences of requited love. Such is the story told by a sympathetic narrator about a young woman who has to leave town after the consummation of her love for the high school football hero. Ronnie Dunn gives a nuanced performance of an interesting story song, revealing toward the end that he isn’t quite the impartial narrator that he appeared.

The arrangement is reminiscent of the Eagles at their Henley-best, with the only thing holding back the track being that Dunn’s sincerity isn’t matched by his enunciation. It’s often difficult to make out the details of the verses, which makes following the storyline more of a task than it should be.

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Tim McGraw, “It’s a Business Doing Pleasure With You”

July 4, 2009 Kevin John Coyne 11

Tim McGraw sounds fresh and rejuvenated on “It’s a Business Doing Pleasure With You”, an energetic and quite cleverly written song about a man who is going into debt trying to underwrite his woman’s material desires.

“You’ve got more purses than Versace, more rings than Liberace”, McGraw wails, with tongue firmly planted in cheek. McGraw’s always been a great example of how you don’t need to be a powerful vocalist with a multi-octave range to effectively deliver a great performance. He mixes up a perfect balance of frustrated annoyance and helpless infatuation, all while keeping pace with a complicated lyric that features far more brand names than it does common nouns and verbs.

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Win an Autographed Copy of Charlie Robison’s Beautiful Day

July 4, 2009 Leeann Ward 3

As a recent convert to Charlie Robison’s music, I am pleased to announce that Country Universe is giving away an autographed copy of his new album, Beautiful Day, thanks to the generosity of dualtoneRecords.

Despite the album’s seemingly positive title, Beautiful Day is mostly the exploration of the emotional upheaval that resulted in the aftermath of his high profile divorce from Dixie Chick, Emily Robison. In this superb album, you will detect a variety of emotions including sadness, resignation, tentative hopefulness and whatever other feelings that naturally occurs after ending a union that was meant to last forever.

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Prayers for Ferlin Husky

July 3, 2009 Kevin John Coyne 0

Country Universe is sending out good wishes and prayers for the health of country music legend Ferlin Husky, who has been hospitalized with serious ailments.

Husky is best known for the gospel classic “Wings of a Dove”, which spent ten weeks at #1 in 1960. His other chart-toppers are “Gone”, which also spent ten weeks at #1, and his debut single, “A Dear John Letter.” He was the featured artist on that record, with Jean Shepard being the lead artist, and it spent a cool six weeks at #1.

Husky’s popularity at his peak was not limited to the radio dial, as he appeared in eighteen films and several television shows. At 83, he remains an active performer. Here’s hoping he heals up soon and gets back on the road, where he still has fans waiting to hear him sing his classics, five decades after he began his long and successful career.

You can watch Husky perform some of his classics after the jump.

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Trailer Choir, “Rockin’ the Beer Gut”

July 3, 2009 Leeann Ward 8

“Rockin’ the Beer Gut” is a somewhat intriguing, but mostly, repulsive title and theme for a song. While I’m all for singing for the working class, I can’t say this aspect of it needed much coverage in a country song or any song for that matter.

A song like this at least needs a catchy melody, unique production or riveting lyrics. Instead, the melody and production are painfully predictable and the lyrics are inane with no redemptive cleverness (which not so coincidentally name check’s the group’s label boss, Toby Keith).

If I felt like stretching, I could credit Trailer Choir for embracing women who aren’t afraid to rock their “beer guts” and wax philosophical about society’s unreasonable body image expectations, but I’m just not feeling quite so generous today. Furthermore, I don’t quite believe this song is the one to get the discussion rolling.

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Brad Paisley, American Saturday Night

July 2, 2009 Leeann Ward 16

Anyone who has been following my reviews and commentary will know that popular mainstream country music has really been wearing thin on me. As much as it may seem to some people that I enjoy harping on mainstream artists, I truly do not. The fact is that it is pretty disheartening to me, because mainstream country music is where I came into this music that I regard so highly. Therefore, its marked decline is discouraging to say the least.

One of the few mainstream artists that I’ve been able to enjoy in the past few years has been Brad Paisley. His last regular album, 5th Gear was a disappointment for me, however. So, I anticipated this new album, American Saturday Night with both excitement and trepidation, especially since I was not impressed with the lead single, the generic “Then.” I knew that if I ranked it with 5th Gear, Paisley would end up being yet another current artist that I’d have to write off, which would tragically leave me with one less mainstream artist I could embrace—something my short list could not afford. To my relief, not only does Paisley’s new release not rank as low as the aforementioned album, but it may even surpass, Time Well Wasted, the Paisley album that I’ve touted as his best for the past few years.

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Larry Gatlin and The Gatlin Brothers, “Johnny Cash is Dead (And His House Burned Down)”

July 2, 2009 Kevin John Coyne 3

As song titles go, “Johnny Cash is Dead (And His House Burned Down)” doesn’t have quite the eloquence of “The King is Gone”, does it?

Not that subtlety would suit anything about this record anyway, which is as bluntly written and performed as you’d expect from the combination of title and artist here. Plenty of other late stars are name-dropped along the way, including Marty Robbins, Waylon Jennings, and Chet Atkins, with predictable lamenting that the “empty cowboy hats” of today can’t replace those who we’ve already lost.

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Gary Allan, “Today”

July 2, 2009 Leeann Ward 12

I’ll say it again. Gary Allan has one of the most interesting and compelling voices in country music right now. Furthermore, he is able to convey emotion with an ease that should be the envy of his peers. Thankfully, he has also been particularly good at selecting equally engaging songs that have been worthy of his gifted talent. Unfortunately, “Today happens to rank among the few songs that do not rise to the challenge.

With a moody piano to serve as the foundation for the swelling strings and over all dramatic angst, Allan sings of the pain of loosing his former lover to another man. He knows that his chance has officially passed as he laments her wedding day: “Today is the happiest day of her life./I should be happy for her today./So, tell me, why are these tears in my eyes?/I know I should be happy for her./But I lost everything/I lost everything I ever wanted today.”

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Sara Evans, “Feels Just Like a Love Song”

July 1, 2009 Kevin John Coyne 38

Sara Evans is an excellent singer in desperate need of a better production team. She sings the fire out of a fairly decent pop-country song here, but the arrangement is an overwhelming distraction, with far too much clutter in the mix.

It’s to her credit as a vocalist that she’s not drowned out completely, but she’s ill-served by the production philosophy that bigger is better. The opposite is true with both pop and country music, so it never ceases to amaze me how difficult that concept is to grasp for too many of those who make pop-country records.

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