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Author Archives: Ben Foster

1-to-10 Taking a Break

Hello, everyone!  I have an announcement to make.

Due to my schedule, which has been getting busier, as well as various other commitments, it seems the time has come for me to step down my blogging activity a slight notch or two.  As you’re probably aware, I’ve been keeping up this site on my own while also contributing regularly to Country Universe and making occasional contributions to Roughstock.  Unfortunately, my schedule has become such that I’ve been unable to keep up my 1-to-10 site to the quantity standards that I maintained early on in its existence (which has been the case for many months now).  Thus, after having tossed around the idea for a good while, I have made the decision to place The 1-to-10 Country Music Review on indefinite hiatus.

Rest assured this does not mean that I intend to stop blogging, which I couldn’t do if I wanted to.  But since running a website on my own is currently no longer feasible, Country Universe will now be the primary focus of my blogging efforts, where I will continue to post single reviews, album reviews, and interviews as my circumstances permit.  So if Country Universe is not already on your reading list, please go check it out, because that’s mostly where I’ll be from now on.

This was certainly not an easy choice to make – I would be lying if I said that I didn’t have a tremendous sentimental attachment to my little 1-to-10 blog.  But in the end, I believe working mainly as a part of a team-effort blog will be a much better situation for me.  For now at least, I’m still going to leave the door open for me possibly reviving this site somewhere down the road, (“Retiring” just felt like too strong a word) though I can’t say I see that happening in the foreseeable future.

While I don’t intend to go off on a spiel as if I’d just won Album of the Year, I couldn’t conclude this announcement without offering a sincere thank you to all who have read and supported my site over the course of the two-and-a-half years I’ve been running it.  Last but not least, big thanks to Matt Bjorke of Roughstock, and to Kevin Coyne and the rest of the Country Universe team for taking notice of my work, and giving me some of the best and most-cherished opportunities of my still-young blogging career.  I can’t begin to say how much it’s meant to me.

Thanks to all!  Looking forward to plenty more blogging fun to come in the near future.

- Ben Foster

I’ll close with the first song that I ever reviewed on my 1-to-10 blog.  It all began with this song, so it might as well end with it.

 
8 Comments

Posted by on September 20, 2012 in News and Events

 

Album Review: Joey + Rory – His and Hers

Three albums into their career, Joey + Rory have developed some of their established signatures – steel-heavy neotrad country arrangements, genuine down-home sincerity, a sly sense of humor, and of course, overalls.  Many of the usual ingredients remain in place on the couple’s third album His and Hers, with perhaps the most immediately noticeable formula tweak being the increased vocal presence of Rory Feek, who sings lead on half of the album’s tracks instead of taking one obligatory lead vocal turn.  That’s all fine and good, but the problem is that His and Hers finds the Feeks peddling some surprisingly weak material.

That’s not to say that His and Hers is without its standouts.  Lead single “When I’m Gone” is easily one of the finest country ballads never to make it into heavy radio rotation in 2012, featuring a delicately detailed lyrical meditation on the grieving process, as well as one of Joey Martin Feek’s finest recorded vocal performances to date.  B-side side “Josephine” makes a similarly strong impression as Rory takes on the voice of a Civil War soldier writing a letter home to his wife.  The song paints a stark picture of wartime conditions, with the lines “You know, I killed a union boy last week, bet he wasn’t fourteen/ He looked just like our son, forgive me for what I’ve done, Josephine” being particularly striking.  Rory’s performs is fraught with urgency and desperation, which just about makes up for the fact that the chorus cries out for a stronger hook than “I love you, I love you, I love you, Josephine.”  The album closes on a solid note with the sparse steel-laden title track that follows a couple through marriage and subsequent divorce, elevated by a detailed lyric and an aching performance on Joey’s part, despite its narrative being nothing particularly novel.

Unfortunately, once you’ve savored the deep layered poetry of a gem like “When I’m Gone,” it makes the stale, forced humor of tracks like “Someday When I Grow Up” and “Let’s Pretend We Never Met” that much harder to stomach, or to see as anything less than embarrassing for an act of Joey + Rory’s artistic stature.  That’s not to say that the couple can’t pull off such cute wink-wink humor effectively (Past album highlights like “God Help My Man” show that they certainly can), but the attempts on this album often strain to be clever, and come across as self-impressed instead of self-aware.  Rather than moving forward, it sounds like they’re giving us more of what we’ve come to expect from them.

A foremost issue is that the songs far too often come across as shallow, perfunctory takes on their chosen themes – a problem not limited to the ditties.  “Love Your Man” feels like a forgettable, hookless rehash of Tammy Wynette’s standard “Stand By Your Man.”  While Joey sings “Waiting for Someone” beautifully, it still doesn’t quite overcome the predictability of the song’s narrative.  Rory’s lead vocal turns come with the same problems, with “Cryin’ Smile” seemingly having little point except to reaffirm that people do cry happy tears sometimes.  A disjointed narrative and lack of lyrical detail leaves the ultimate point of “Teaching Me How to Love You” unclear, causing it to ring hollow.

The pleasantly crisp neotraditional arrangements remain intact as on the duo’s previous efforts, while the performances are as amiable as ever.  But when it comes to storytelling – a vitally important factor in making a great country album tick – it simply seems that Joey + Rory have little to say that is of any substantial interest.  That makes His and Hers a disappointing effort coming from an act who made such compelling, creative music in the past – a collection with nowhere near the enduring appeal of Joey + Rory’s previous efforts.  A shame indeed.

JOEY + RORY’S SCORE:  5
(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10)

BUY:  His and Hers

 
2 Comments

Posted by on September 14, 2012 in Album Reviews

 

2012 CMA Nominations

They’re out!  What are your thoughts on this year’s CMA nominations?  Discuss in the comments section.

Entertainer of the Year 

Jason Aldean
Kenny Chesney
Brad Paisley
Blake Shelton
Taylor Swift

Female Vocalist of the Year

Kelly Clarkson
Miranda Lambert
Martina McBride
Taylor Swift
Carrie Underwood

Male Vocalist of the Year

Jason Aldean
Luke Bryan
Eric Church
Blake Shelton
Keith Urban

Vocal Group of the Year

The Band Perry
Eli Young Band
Lady Antebellum
Little Big Town
Zac Brown Band

Vocal Duo of the Year

Big & Rich
Love and Theft
Sugarland
The Civil Wars
Thompson Square

New Artist of the Year

Lee Brice
Brantley Gilbert
Hunter Hayes
Love and Theft
Thompson Square

Album of the Year (Awarded to artist and producer)

Luke Bryan, Tailgates and Tanlines - Produced by Jeff Stevens and Mark Bright

Eric Church, Chief - Produced by Jay Joyce

Miranda Lambert, Four the Record - Produced by Frank Liddell, Chuck Ainlay, and Glenn Worf

Dierks Bentley, Home - Produced by Brett Beavers, Luke Wooten, and Jon Randall Stewart

Lady Antebellum, Own the Night  - Produced by Paul Worley and Lady Antebellum

Song of the Year (Awarded to songwriters)

Eli Young Band, “Even if It Breaks Your Heart” – Will Hoge and Eric Paslay

Blake Shelton, “God Gave Me You” – Dave Barnes

Dierks Bentley, “Home” – Dierks Bentley, Dan Wilson and Brett Beavers

Miranda Lambert, “Over You” – Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton

Eric Church, “Springsteen” – Eric Church, Jeff Hyde and Ryan Tyndell

Single of the Year (Awarded to artist and producer)

Jason Aldean, “Dirt Road Anthem” – Produced by Michael Knox

Blake Shelton, “God Gave Me You” – Produced by Scott Hendricks

Dierks Bentley, “Home” – Produced by Brett Beavers and Luke Wooten

Little Big Town, “Pontoon” – Produced by Jay Joyce

Eric Church, “Springsteen” – Produced by Jay Joyce

Musical Event of the Year

“Dixie Highway,” Alan Jackson and Zac Brown Band

“Feel Like a Rock Star,” Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw

“Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die,” Willie Nelson featuring Snoop Dogg, Kris Kristofferson and Jamey Johnson

“Safe and Sound,” Taylor Swift featuring the Civil Wars

“Stuck on You,” Lionel Richie and Darius Rucker

Music Video of the Year (Awarded to artist and director)

Eric Church, “Springsteen” – Directed by Peter Zavadil

Kenny Chesney, “Come Over” – Directed by Shaun Silva

Miranda Lambert, “Over You” – Directed by Trey Fanjoy

Little Big Town, “Pontoon” – Directed by Declan Whitebloom

Toby Keith, “Red Solo Cup” – Directed by Michael Salomon

Musician of the Year

Sam Bush
Paul Franklin
Dann Huff
Brent Mason
Mac McAnally

 
4 Comments

Posted by on September 5, 2012 in News and Events

 

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Joanna Smith – “We Can’t Be Friends”

Songwriters:  Brandy Clark, Shane McAnally, Shelley Skidmore

In a market which often pressures artists to offer superficially uplifting lyrical fare – be it a Martina McBride-esque power ballad or an ode to beer and tailgates – it’s refreshing to hear a new artist who’s not afraid to do a little achin’.  For those unacquainted, Joanna Smith has released two singles to country radio in the past two years, with 2010’s “Gettin’ Married” and 2011’s “Georgia Mud” topping out at #55 and #57 respectively.

Her upcoming single “We Can’t Be Friends” makes for her third stab at the charts, and definitely her best effort so far.  “We Can’t Be Friends” is a beautiful, detailed lyric that addresses the post-breakup healing process from an angle that has not been used in recent memory.  Smith’s narrator firmly, but sadly insists that the only way to move on is to end contact, with maintaining a casual friendship not being a possibility, because she knows that even the slightest encounter will be enough to cause old feelings to rise to the surface once again.  “It’s not that I don’t love you,” she assures – “It’s that I love you way too much.”  Such naked, sincere honesty, not to mention smart, clear-eyed insight, is something that country radio could definitely use a good strong shot of.

That said, the song’s impact could have been bolstered had Smith managed to bring a greater sense of presence to the song, and perhaps imposed herself upon the lyric through some unique, personal vocal touches.  Of course, Smith is still a new artist, and this is a skill that she may very well be able to hone over time.  The important thing, however, is that she doesn’t get in the way of the song, but lets the lyric pull the weight in connecting with the listener, which makes “Friends” a quietly compelling record nonetheless.

Her previous singles hinted at a well of untapped potential, but “We Can’t Be Friends” strongly suggests that Joanna Smith just might have the talent and the taste to be a formidable artistic force in the country music industry – one who could shape up to be a most welcome presence in the country music mainstream, should country radio give her the time of day.  Either way, “We Can’t Be Friends” definitely makes one want to hear more from this bright young talent.

JOANNA’S SCORE:  8
(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10)

HEAR IT

 
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Posted by on September 3, 2012 in Single Reviews

 

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Josh Turner Talks Live Across America

The following is a syndicated article that first appeared on Roughstock.com.

The experience of putting on a live show is something that many a country singer cherishes, and Josh Turner is certainly no exception.  His new Cracker Barrel release Live Across America – which drops today – attempts to encapsulate for his fans the experience of attending a Josh Turner live show.  The platinum selling country music star, whose current single “Time Is Love” just became his sixth Top 10 hit, recently sat down with a small group of media journalists (including yours truly), to talk about his experiences in touring across the country, and in making this live record.

On the live show experience and his connection to the fans:  My show has grown over the years.  We started out just playing some really small venues, playing bars.  We didn’t have a lot of technology and a lot of equipment that we could carry along with us.  We were all traveling on one bus.  It was just humble times.  As I’ve had hits, as I’ve sold records, as I’ve continued to make somewhat of a profit, we’ve been able to take more stuff out on the road to improve our show – to try to make it better not only musically, but visually for the fans.  Luckily I’m to a place now where we’re carrying lights out; we’re carrying video; we’re carrying as much equipment as we need to put on the show that we put on now.  As traditional as I am, I feel like my show is pretty high energy.  We have a lot of wireless units that we use to where not only me but my band guys can move around onstage – They’re not tied to a cable somewhere.  We have three big video walls going on behind us that’s showing video footage and video content.  I feel like it’s pretty high energy.

For the connection that we have with the fans, I’m excited that I get to share it with them because they come out, and they pay a certain price for the ticket, and I want to give them their money’s worth so that when they come to a Josh Turner show, they’re not just coming for the songs.  They’re coming for an experience.  I’m excited to be at a level of my career where I can give them that, and where they can go away just in awe, and wanting to come back the next time I come around.

On the challenges of recording live:  Well, it’s your typical challenges, technical difficulties.  It depends on what kind of production companies you end up with on the road, the kind of venue we’re at, if it was an outdoor thing, depending on the weather.  There was a lot of variables.  The good thing is technology has come to a place where it’s a little easier to get a recording.  These performances that we chose are just kind of from those nights and those venues were the crowd was really into it, but they weren’t so wild and rambunctious to where you couldn’t hear the music like you should.  It was from good-sounding venues, depending on what kind of song it was.  We just really kind of chose the ones where we were all feeling good and playing good, and the magic was happening, and we didn’t have any technical difficulties and all that.  Probably these were the nights where we tried not to think about the fact that we were being recorded.  It’s a little different recording a live show because when you’re in a studio, you know when the tape is rolling, or when the machine is rolling, and so there’s always that feeling of “All right, I gotta do it the best that I can do it – I can’t mess this up” kind of thing.  But with a live show, you know it’s not gonna be perfect, but you still try to do your best that you can do.  You’re not only singing, and not only playing, but you’re also entertaining, so that kind of gives it a different flair.  There was a lot of challenges to this, but the good thing was we didn’t have to go out of our way, or schedule extra days to make a record.  We were recording live as it was happening, and as we know it out on the road.

On the experience of touring with keyboardist wife Jennifer, who appears on the album:  I’m excited for her because she gets to hear her work and her talent on a recorded piece of material.  It’s tangible now.  I’m excited not only for her but for my whole band because I feel like I have a really good band.  They got to show off their talents on this record, and they get something to show for it now, my wife included.  I can sit here and talk about how great I think she is or they are, but now we have that proof right here on that record.

It’s great for me to go and do a show, and to be playing to a crowd, and then turn right around and see my soul mate back there playing piano and singing harmonies with me.  We go to the stage together; we leave the stage together; we meet three little monkeys at the bus door, so there’s nothing better for us right now.  It’s something that I realize is fleeting, and that probably won’t last forever, so we’re just cherishing it while it lasts.  There’s nothing better than being able to play music, especially at this level, with your spouse.

On memories associated with touring in different cities:  There are some stories with some of these cities, but we play so much on the road that it’s hard to remember everything.  If I go to a city one time, I pretty much remember it.  I think it’s part of my photographic memory.  The one interesting thing about this record, for the “Why Don’t We Just Dance” track, we recorded that in a casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and needless to say, that was one of the more energetic crowds we had.  We were out there doing our show, and I think it was right before this song or somewhere within this show, little comments and little things that the fans would scream out between songs or even during songs was pretty entertaining, pretty comical.  There was this one fan in New Jersey at some point during the show that was yelling out for me to take my shirt off or something like that!  It was just crazy.  Little stuff like that we kind of had to edit out – obviously wouldn’t want that to be on a Cracker Barrel record! [Laughs] It’s just funny for me because I know that it was there, and we had to take it out.  Little things like that just kind of make me laugh, and all of these places that we play were pretty special, and I think that’s why the performances from these towns ended up on this record because the fans were just into it one way or the other!

On his favorite live albums:  I guess one of the first live albums I ever heard was Johnny Cash, Live at San Quentin.  That really inspired me to kind of delve into more of Johnny Cash’s repertoire and his catalog – what he had done prior to that and even beyond that.  When I came across that record, it was many years after it had been made.  I found it on vinyl at an antique store somewhere back home.  It was cool because you got to hear a show that happened a long time ago.  You got to hear the bantering between the songs, and you got to hear all the imperfections within the songs, and you got to hear the energy from the crowd, and you knew that they were inmates and that this was a special time for them.  It was an experience to able to sit and listen to something like that.  Obviously the technology has come a long way since 1968, and obviously none of these songs were recorded in a prison, but Johnny Cash, Live at San Quentin was probably one of my favorite ones.  Another one that I always liked was Lyle Lovett’s Live in Texas.  That was another one of my favorites too.  I love Lyle Lovett, and I think he’s a great artist.

On the influence of his musical heroes:  Johnny Cash, obviously, and Randy Travis, Hank Williams, Vern Gosdin, and John Anderson are my five big heroes in my musical life.  Not only have I learned from their success, but I’ve learned from their mistakes.  I don’t think it’s right to look at somebody and say ‘I want to be just like them,’ because you’ll never be just like them.  For me, the biggest thing my heroes taught me was how to be Josh Turner – the good and the bad of it.  That’s what I’ve strived to do from day one.  When I get up onstage, that’s exactly what I’m doing.  I’m not trying to be Johnny Cash.  I’m not trying to be Randy Travis.  There’s already a Johnny Cash, and already a Randy Travis.  I’m trying to be the best Josh Turner that I can be, musically and personally.  I think this record really kind of shows a lot of that, because this record, as opposed to the last live record that I did for Cracker Barrel (Live at the Ryman, 2007) has more of the hits throughout my career in it, and it really was cool to be able to have a recorded live version of these songs, and hear how the crowds react to it, so I’m excited about it.

On covering Waylon Jennings’ “America”:  The name of the record obviously is Live Across America, and basically that’s what this record is.  It’s twelve tracks.  Each one of them was recorded in a different city, so it really gives the fans kind of a little taste of what it’s like to travel from city to city to city, and sing these songs.  It’s an interesting record because it’s a little bit of a journey for the fans because it gives them a taste of what it’s like for us.  It’s not really a patriotic record, but it’s definitely an American record.  Each one of these scenes is very different.  The crowds are very different.  The energy that I get off these different crowds is very different.  The venues are very different, but it’s all under that American umbrella.  When I was trying to think of a song that kind of summed all that up, I didn’t want to choose your standard straight-up patriotic kind of song.  I was looking for something else – something that kind of told the American story in a cool kind of way.  That would still fit in with what we’re doing, so the first song that came to mind was this Waylon song “America.”  We kind of created our own arrangement of this song, and obviously it’s more broken-down than Waylon’s version.  I wanted it to be a little more intimate.  I wanted it to be as if I was telling this story, and I was really pleased with the way it turned out.

On the inclusion of “So Not My Baby” (an unreleased album track from Everything Is Fine)“So Not My Baby” just has kind of an interesting story to it, because I heard that song years ago, and I fell in love with it.  I felt like it was a hip way to say that.  I felt like it had the potential to be a single, and at being a hit – I still feel like it should have been.  It was on my Everything Is Fine album.  I actually tried to record it twice on the Your Man album.  For whatever reason – Either we ran out of time, or it just was not coming together – It just didn’t stick for whatever reason.  It just kind of haunted me.  I knew that it was a good song, and I knew we had everything we needed to create a track on it.  For whatever reason, it just wasn’t working.  I guess the time just wasn’t right.  So when the Everything Is Fine album rolled around, on the very first session, very first day, my producer Frank Rogers and I said, “You know what?  We need to go in there right now and just start on this song, because if it takes three hours, it takes three hours.  That’s exactly what we did.  We went in and we really just wrestled this thing to the ground, and it turned out great.  We put harmonica on it, and it just turned out to be a great dancing songs.  We played it live out on the road for a long time, and it always got a great reaction.  Then when it came time to make this record, they were letting me choose three more acoustic tracks.  “America” was one of them.  “Me and God” was the other.  I wanted to bring back “So Not My Baby” because it shows off my vocal range.  It’s a good dancing song, and it’s a cool way to tell that message.

On what he considers his signature song:  “Long Black Train.”  It’s not a commercial song.  I was surprised when they even decided to release it.  It was actually my second single.  A lot of people think it was my first, but it was actually my second single.  The first single died at #45.  So when they came to look at the possibility of the next single, they were looking at “Long Black Train,” and I thought they were crazy.  But I really am proud of them for choosing that song, because they were like “We need to choose the song that really sums up who Josh Turner is,” and they chose “Long Black Train.”  I was still kind of thinking in the back of my mind that ‘This is not gonna be good!’  Because even when I wrote it, I didn’t’ think anybody would want to hear it.  I thought it was too old-fashioned and too old-timey, and it is.  It’s not a song that you would automatically say ‘Oh, that’s a radio-friendly song.’  I was just really surprised at how well the song did.  I was surprised at the impact that it had on people, the impact it had on my career.  I wrote it by myself, and when I think of signature songs, I think of “Hello Darlin’.”  I think of “Coal Miner’s Daughter.”  I think of “I Told You So.”  I think of “Folsom Prison Blues.”  I could go on and on with artists who wrote a song by themselves, and it became their signature song, and “Long Black Train” is that song for me.  I can’t do a show, and not sing it.  Fans still love it, and thank goodness!

 
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Posted by on August 28, 2012 in Interviews

 

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Dierks Bentley – “Tip It On Back”

Songwriters:  Ross Copperman, Tully Kennedy, Jon Nite

There’s nothing wrong with a good party song.  They can be quite enjoyable.  But they’re also very prone to being done to death after a while.  When three of the four singles from your current album are all party songs that sound more or less the same, you’ve got a problem.

“Tip It On Back” offers nothing new that we haven’t already heard many times from Dierks Bentley.  It’s the same old book with a brand new cover.  It’s a little more grating than “5-1-5-0,” but not quite as punch-yourself-in-the-face bad as “Am I the Only.”  It’s near the same notch on the scale as “Sideways,” minus the cringe-worthy barroom singalong.  The hook is mediocre and forgettable.  The melody is flat and monotonous.  The production is chunky and flavorless.

At the very least, “Tip It On Back” will serve as Bentley’s placeholder on radio playlists until he gets something better out, but he can do much better than this, and he has so many times.  Here’s hoping he can find/write some better material soon, and do some branching out in theme and content.  Dierks Bentley is too talented to be pigeonholing himself like this.

DIERKS’ SCORE:  4
(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10)

HEAR IT

 
2 Comments

Posted by on August 15, 2012 in Single Reviews

 

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Taylor Swift – “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”

Songwriters:  Taylor Swift, Max Martin, Johan Shellback

McKayla Maroney says this better than I could:

By now it should hardly come as a surprise that Taylor Swift’s songs sound pop, but it’s easy to be almost taken aback by how fiercely un-country this song is, banjo in the country mix notwithstanding.  As a pop song, it could be worse – at least in terms of structure.  It boasts a sparse production and a strong melodic hook that makes a memorable impression, particularly in the chorus.  It will fit in comfortably on Top 40 playlists between toe-tapping hits by Katy Perry and Hot Chelle Rae.

There’s just no way around the fact that this is a huge step backward for Swift in terms of lyrical construction.  This song could be seen as everything Taylor Swift’s detractors detest about her wrapped up into a neat little package, with the juvenile aspect of her persona being played up to the point that it borders on self-parody.  While the “What!?” hook sounds cute at first, the “ooh ooh oohs” and the snipey spoken word portions are grating upon arrival.  As a whole, the lyric is one-dimensional, unimaginative, and – while I hate to use everbody’s favorite Swift perjorative – yes, this is very immature.  Swift has done this kind of song many times before, and she’s done it with much more perspective, insight, and cleverness than she shows here.  Considering she’s getting into her twenties now, it would be nice to see some forward artistic progression.

There are things that “Never Ever” gets right, but they’re not enough to offset all that it gets wrong.  While there’s a potentially good catchy pop song buried in here somewhere, it ultimately ends up getting smothered in cheese.  If this represents the direction of Swift’s upcoming album Red, then perhaps we would be better off joining Swift’s ex in listening to “some indie record that’s much cooler than mine.”

TAYLOR’S SCORE:  4
(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10)

HEAR IT

 
11 Comments

Posted by on August 14, 2012 in Single Reviews

 

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