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Brad Paisley, “Welcome to the Future”

July 7, 2009 Tara Seetharam 9

In a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly, Paisley said about his newest single: “It’s really rare that you feel musically that something you do is more important than just entertainment. And I feel like this song is maybe more important than just entertainment.”

This statement will be met with many a raised eyebrow, and understandably so, as it comes from the artist who previously breathed musical life into ticks, alcohol and MySpace. But interestingly, it’s the same intuitive, sharply clever perspective behind Paisley’s novelty songs that allows him to so tastefully tackle the socially-conscious “Welcome to the Future” – a solid, moving track that is both musically and, as Paisley said, thematically relevant.

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Celebrating the King of Pop: 1958-2009

June 29, 2009 Tara Seetharam 30

No words, printed or spoken, seem to do justice to the life and career of the late Michael Jackson, the brilliantly talented, irreplaceable entertainer who united the world with his music and spirit. The only fitting way to pay tribute to this musical icon is to celebrate his music – because his is the rare, exquisite kind that transcends the boundaries of genre, color, gender and time, and will continue to impact lives for generations to come.

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CMA Music Festival 2009: Memory Grab Bag

June 20, 2009 Tara Seetharam 10

I have to start with a disclaimer: I attended my first CMA Music Festival in Nashville, Tennessee, as a fan –a crazy, passionate, kid-in-a-candy-store fan– and nothing more. So rather than offer you a full review of the festival, which I don’t think I can adequately do, I instead present you with a narrow but meaningful sampling of my favorite memories from the week.

Dierks Bentley and Brad Paisley rock rain-soaked stadium until 2 a.m.

After a three-hour rain delay at LP Field Thursday night, Darius Rucker, Dierks Bentley and Brad Paisley played well into the morning to make up for the lost time. Despite the delay being somewhat poorly handled by management, an impressively large crowd of dedicated fans, draped in ponchos and drenched in humidity, waited around until after midnight for the concert to resume.

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Jimmy Wayne, “I’ll Be That”

May 23, 2009 Tara Seetharam 0

After Wayne’s strangely soft rock-esque single “I Will,” it seemed anything a bit more country and a bit less melodramatic would move him in a positive direction. Meet “I’ll Be That”: a catchy summer track that does just that.

It’s not a particularly interesting song, but by design, it’s not supposed to be. “I’ll Be That” serves its purpose as a pleasing sing-a-long with a decent hook, packed with sweet albeit unoriginal promises: “The one that’ll stand and fight for you/A safe place you can run to/The truth in the words ‘I do’/I’ll be that to you.” Stacked against the crop of male regulars on country radio, Wayne has one of the better, more soothing voices, so the song automatically gets an added boost. Of course, it’s a little difficult to pick Wayne’s voice out from the over-produced chorus, but as clamoring radio releases go, it could be worse.

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Taylor Swift, "The Best Day"

May 19, 2009 Tara Seetharam 15

Oh, the irony of this review. The self-appointed Taylor Swift detractor is assigned the one and only song in Swift’s catalogue that moves her to tears. I think that’s what they call karma?

In all seriousness, “The Best Day” is a beautiful, curious illustration of the artist underneath the pop star that is Taylor Swift. Honest and youthfully elegant, it’s not the kind of song that shot Swift to superstardom, but it may just be the kind of song that perpetuates her career after the hype of teen angst and pop-remixes subsides.

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Luke Bryan, "Do I"

May 6, 2009 Tara Seetharam 9

After a string of mega-party anthems, it’s refreshing to see a different side of Luke Bryan, a more sensitive, wistful side that longs for the once “perfect simple kind of loving” that escaped a relationship.

But as relatable and tender as the lyrics of “Do I” may be, the song –the first single off Bryan’s second album– is ultimately not quite as poignant as the story it’s telling. Instead, it falls victim to the kind of standard, monotonous chorus you think you’ve heard before (and probably have, in some form or another) and feels generally flat. It lacks character, soul – almost everything that elevates a simple country song from bland to moving.

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Martina McBride, "I Just Call You Mine"

May 4, 2009 Tara Seetharam 8

Finding a “Martina McBride” among the class of mainstream country artists is rare. When she’s on her game, she effortlessly balances relevance and reverence with timeless material.

That’s why it’s so frustrating to see her dip from this standard, as she does on the lukewarm “I Just Call You Mine.” It’s pleasant and effective, and McBride’s soaring vocals are flawless, even tastefully soaring a little less than usual. But as her signature power ballads go, this one falls just a tad short of stirring emotion.

In theory, I empathize with the subject: most of us know someone, romantic partner or otherwise, who exemplifies the “good” in the human spirit, someone so uniquely special that you’re honored to have him or her in your life. But it’s a tricky thing to realistically describe without feeling weighted down with grandiose professions, and this is especially true when the backdrop is a swelling and not entirely original melody. Perhaps the song would be more interesting if we were given some context: what, specifically, makes this person “a standing ovation after years of waiting”?

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Rascal Flatts, <em>Unstoppable</em>

April 25, 2009 Tara Seetharam 23

There are two ways to view Rascal Flatts: as the group that just won its seventh consecutive Academy of Country Music award for “Best Vocal Group” and is currently out-selling every country group in the industry, or as a pop-country group filling a country music niche. If you choose the former, you’ll likely deem the group’s sixth studio album, Unstoppable, a categorical failure.

But here’s the thing: if every album was judged against context –against its reception instead of its actual merit– all of the original value would be lost. While Unstoppable is not the show-stopping, brilliant piece of work you’d expect from the most successful country group in the industry, it is a decent album, solid in delivery and emotion. It may not do much by way of moving the group forward, thematically or artistically, like the previous album hinted at – but I guess if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Just don’t expect to gain any new fans.

Unstoppable is consistent in all the ways you’d expect vocalist Gary LeVox, guitarist Joe Don Rooney and bassist Jay DeMarcus to be consistent. LeVox’s polarizing tenor riffs play lead, the production is smooth and heavy, and the songs fit almost squarely, though effectively, within the thematic duo of heartache and inspiration. If this is your cup of tea, the boys are on point.

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Introducing Tara Seetharam

April 21, 2009 Tara Seetharam 22

It is my distinct honor and pleasure to introduce the newest writer for Country Universe, Tara Seetharam. As you’ll soon discover, we are quite blessed to have her. On behalf of the Country Universe staff, please join me in welcoming Tara! – Kevin J. Coyne

Hi all! It is such a thrill to step foot into this community of talented and well-versed writers. I am humbled and can’t thank the staff enough for so graciously taking me in.

I graduated about a year ago from the University of Texas with a degree in journalism, and I am currently residing in Houston and working in corporate communications. Writing and music are two of my greatest joys in life, so the opportunity to use this site as a medium to interlace the two is an absolute blessing.

When I tell people that I live and breathe country music, I’m almost always met with surprise. Some are better at hiding it than others, but I typically receive an inquisitive stare, a “Really?” or a confused smile. It leads to about 20 seconds of awkwardness, with me trying to sum up my passion for the genre in an eloquent explanation, and generally failing. Because quite frankly, how do you prove to a near stranger that yes, an Indian-American can love country music from the depths of her soul?

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