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Favorite Singles of 2010 – Part 2 of 2

LeAnn Rimes, “Swingin’”

How would you treat an eighties hit that’s mostly loved for being cheesy and outdated to the point of being charming?  LeAnn updates it into a wild and funky jam session.  Add a fiery and energetic vocal, and it all just works like magic.

Taylor Swift, “Back to December”

Yes, it’s about a boy.  But that doesn’t stop “Back to December” from being one of the most emotionally hard-hitting songs of Taylor’s career.  It’s also one of her most personal and openly honest compositions yet, as she lays bear her faults and regrets regarding a painful breakup.  While she still harbors a desire to be reconciled to her lover, she is willing to accept the cold hard reality that there may be no going back.

Laura Bell Bundy, “Drop On By”

It’s no surprise than Laura Bell Bundy has strong interpretive abilities – honed on Broadway, no less – and this single showcases such abilities at their strongest.  She delivers this longing lover’s plea in a sultry whisper of a performance.  Add a genre-blending arrangement that combines country, blues, and jazz, and the result could hardly be finer.

Zac Brown Band and Alan Jackson, “As She’s Walking Away”

A scene plays out in which a young man (Zac Brown) trips over himself in an attempt to converse with a woman.  An older and wiser man (Alan Jackson) then offers the encouraging advice “Don’t be falling in love as she’s walking away.”  The interplay between the two vocalists makes it seem as if the scene is playing out right before our eyes.  The band’s tight harmonies backed by fiddle and guitar only do more to make this such a broadly charming single.

Rascal Flatts, “Why Wait”

Normally, Rascal Flatts would be on the “Worst” list, but this year they were able to trade places with George Strait.  “Why Wait” is an infectious throwback to the days when Rascal Flatts could deliver a great pop-country hook like nobody else.

Randy Rogers Band, “Steal You Away”

A great hook is definitely not a bad thing.  But when an act can rise above the need for a catchy hook, and instead pull all of the weight with sincerity and great lyrics, the result is something even more special.  The Randy Rogers Band’s “Steal You Away” is a shining example of that fact.

Sugarland, “Stuck Like Glue”

The term “ear candy” may sometimes be used in a derogatory manner, but Sugarland’s ditty “Stuck Like Glue” is ear candy in its absolute finest form.  It could have been an embarrassing disaster in the hands of anyone less goofy than Jennifer Nettles, but she breathes enough energy and personality into it to make it ridiculously charming and infectious.  This is NOT a guilty pleasure.  I can say with no guilt at all that I love this song, and consider it one of the best and most memorable singles of 2010.

Little Big Town, “Little White Church”

Little Big Town makes a comeback thanks to their ability to take strong lyrics, add uber-cool production with funky guitar licks and hand claps, and turn it all into a killer performance like this.  Bonus points for rhyming “No more chicken and gravy” with “Ain’t gonna have your baby.”

Miranda Lambert, “The House That Built Me”

This is one song that did not top the charts because of the identity of the artist (In fact, Miranda previously had a rather spotty relationship with country radio).  It did not top the charts because of some pop-country hook that made the radio gods think it would have wide appeal.  Rather, this song topped the charts because it connected with people.  Though 2010 was not a stellar year for mainstream country music, the success of Miranda’s “House” was one instance in which a great song and a great performance were given their deserved recognition.  Thus, “The House That Built Me” is the song has come to define Miranda Lambert’s career.  In later years, when we think of country music in the year 2010, we will think of Miranda’s “The House That Built Me.”

Those were my favorites.  Please leave a comment below, and tell me about yours.

 
10 Comments

Posted by on January 1, 2011 in Commentary

 

Favorite Singles of 2010 – Part 1 of 2

Sure, we put up with a lot of crap over the past year on country radio, but there was still some great country music made, and a small handful even found its way onto radio.  Now that we’re done venting our hatred for the bad singles, it’s time to celebrate the good ones.  The following is the first of two lists that look back on the greatest and most memorable singles that we heard over the past year.

There are my favorite singles of the year, listed in no particular order, and I want to hear about yours too.  Please leave a comment.

Easton Corbin, “Roll with It”

Summer songs are generally made of the same fiber, but Easton’s performance of “Roll with It” exudes more than enough laid-back charm to lift it high above the competition.  While country radio was playing the heck out of “Water,” “Roll with It” was a breath of fresh air.

Joey + Rory, “That’s Important to Me”

The fact that country radio consistently ignores this talented duo is nothing short of criminal.  A song like “That’s Important to Me” could have gone terribly wrong if not handled this well.  But instead of being a trite and meaningless cliche-pile, Joey + Rory go for naturalness and authenticity with much more personal-sounding lyrics.  “That’s Important to Me” exemplifies the country sincerity that makes Joey + Rory such a lovable duo, and the soft piano and dobro make it even more of a treat.

Laura Bell Bundy, “Giddy On Up”

Yes, you read that right.  This can be a polarizing single.  Maybe you loved it; maybe you couldn’t stand it.  But I can guarantee one thing:  Once you heard it, you didn’t forget it.  On paper it might seem like just another typical caught-her-man-cheating song, but Laura totally sells the vocals.  Her performance is bold, sassy, spunky, and bursting with charisma and personality.  And while things like horn sections in a kiss-off country song might not float everybody’s boat, it’s another sign that Laura is an artist who dares to stand out from the pack.  Isn’t that the kind of artistic quality we usually ask for?

Mary Chapin Carpenter, “I Put My Ring Back On”

A gently-rocking tune that sounds reminiscent of Mary Chapin Carpenter’s heyday as a country radio hitmaker.  It has a positive message of persevering in a relationship, and being realistic in one’s expectations, delivered through one of Mary Chapin’s finest vocal performances.  Besides that, it’s catchy.  If this song had been released in 1993, I’m willing to bet it would have been a huge hit.

Dierks Bentley, “Draw Me a Map”

Dierks gives a plaintive and emotional delivery of a great song.  The stripped-down bluegrass instrumentation, not to mention the angelic voice of Alison Krauss, adds further to the song’s emotional impact.  The song seems even more appealing when you consider the risk that Dierks took in having this song shipped to country radio at a time when the airwaves are dominated by loudness and inanity, thus daring radio to play something different and better.

Sara Evans, “A Little Bit Stronger”

Sara’s performance on this track is toned back, but at the same time layered with aching emotion. The song portrays a woman who is nursing a broken heart, but who has the strength to shake off feelings of self-pity, refusing to act as the victim. With each step she takes in pushing her ex-lover out of her mind, she gets “a little bit stronger.” It’s a winning blend of heartache with progressively dawning optimism.

Jerrod Niemann, “What Do You Want”

There are plenty of reasons to love this single, from the subtle pulsing production to the raw and honest lyrics.  But what really makes this single is Jerrod’s vocal delivery, which is fully connected to the tortured emotions expressed in the song’s lyrics, making “What Do You Want” one of the most potent releases of the year.

Taylor Swift, “Fearless”

“Fearless” perfectly captures the elation of a young romance, and this young barely-over-twenty starlet is the perfect one to deliver such a song. The breezy mandolin-laced production makes the song a joyously relaxing experience. When a song like this comes on the radio, you just sigh, lean back, close your eyes, and let it take you to a better place.


Luke Bryan, “Rain Is a Good Thing”

A big thanks to Luke Bryan for giving country radio a much-needed blast of personality with this crazy fun single.  All that fiddling would typically reel me in on its own, but quirky and clever lyrics are also a plus. (You can let the kids think that it really is just about rain)

 
8 Comments

Posted by on December 30, 2010 in Commentary

 

Least Favorite Singles of 2010

It’s the time of year when the country blogosphere is flooded with everybody’s lists of the best and worst singles of the year, and now I proudly throw mine into the mix.  I want to end this year on a positive note by writing about some of the best singles of the year… so let’s get this out of the way first.

I’m not necessarily saying that these are the worst singles ever released in 2010, but these are the ones that got on my nerves the most, or that just turned out to be the biggest disappointments.  Yes, I know that many of these songs were substantial hits, but really that fact says nothing about their quality.  In most causes, it merely secures their place on this list through my being overexposed to them. 

I know that not everyone will agree with my choices.  If you disagree, you’re welcome to say so, but please mind your manners.

So here we go, in no particular order:

Justin Moore, “Backwoods”

(Released in 2009, but peaked in 2010)
Imagine having a conversation with a friend who dislikes country music.  You could build the strongest possible case to convince him that country music is the best… and then you could nullify your entire argument just by playing this song.

Toby Keith, “Every Dog Has Its Day”

The metaphor is poorly executed from beginning to end, but it’s the “fat dog, skinny dog…” rattle-off part that nearly drives me to self-injury.  Now that Toby’s the head honcho of his own record label, there’s nobody to keep him from releasing whatever godawful tripe he chooses.

Brad Paisley, “Water”

Brad Paisley is known for his clever novelty hits, but his cleverness standards have really been slipping over the past year.  With only simple and boring descriptions of scenes involving water, this has got to be one of the dullest summer songs ever heard (and that’s saying a lot).  And of course, it’s Paisley, so country radio played it and overplayed it until they had thoroughly beaten it into the ground.

Jason Aldean, “Crazy Town”

Who says a song about chasing stardom in Nashville couldn’t be good?  Lacy J. Dalton gave us a great one with “16th Avenue,” and Trisha Yearwood struck gold with “Wrong Side of Memphis.”  But “Crazy Town” is done in by several fatal flaws, most notably: (1) It’s clogged up with inane details and throwaway lyrics (2) Too much shouting, not enough singing.  It’s obnoxious loudness with no real meaning.  The result?  Darn near unlistenable.

Rodney Atkins, “Farmer’s Daughter”

The vocal is weak as ever, and the storyline is pathetically predictable. It’s main purpose for even being released is just to tempt fans into buying the repackaged version of Rodney’s It’s America album (Thanks, Curb Records).

Darius Rucker, “Come Back Song”

Though vocally gifted, Darius hasn’t found a whole lot of worthy material in the course of his country music career, and this has got to be one of his worst yet.  Yeah, pal, I sure feel for you having to sleep all alone in your king-sized bed, and pouring your coffee down the drain because ‘you didn’t know you needed her so.’  Sorry, but I think your “Come Back Song” just might have the opposite of its intended effect.

George Strait, “The Breath You Take”

How sad it is that a George Strait song should find a place on this list – sad, but not undeserved.  “The Breath You Take” is a misguided pairing of trite lyrics with a super-syrupy string-laden arrangement that makes it sound like a funeral dirge.  As far as King George songs go, this one is weak.  Really weak.

Reba McEntire, “Turn On the Radio”

Go ahead, Reba fans – Grab your torches and pitchforks.  Here is another critic to dares to criticize your idol for not acting her age.  Yes, it is catchy, but what really keeps me from enjoying it is the fact that it’s clearly a thinly-veiled attempt at staying commercially relevant.  No, I don’t want her to sing about backaches and menopause, but I do want to hear her sing material that is mature enough to be worthy of an artist of her age and talent.  She needs to quit dumbing it down.

Brad Paisley, “This Is Country Music”

Well, what do you know?  Our reigning Entertainer of the Year is this list’s first repeat offender.  On his current single, a laundry list of cliches meets a dull melody and weak chorus, and everybody loses.  Instead of highlighting what makes the country genre special, Brad ends up exemplifying much of what’s gone wrong with it in recent years.

Jason Aldean, “My Kinda Party”

Jason Aldean joins Brad in the two-strike club.  How one-dimensional can he get?  This dud of a single is nothing but overblown rock guitar riffs and a set of lyrics recycled from “She’s Country.”  “Ol’ Hank” is having a fit in his grave right now.

Gretchen Wilson, “I Got Your Country Right Here”

Of course, the list of one-dimensional backwoods party anthems would never be complete without the obligatory Gretchen Wilson inclusion.  On this single, Gretchen indulges her affinity for name dropping Southern rock icons, while continuing to rehash the same tired old “Redneck Woman” concept that ceased to be interesting several comeback attempts ago.

Tim McGraw, “Felt Good On My Lips”

The lyrics are dominated by inane descriptions, and the “Oh-oh-oh”s and “Whoa-oh-oh”s only elevate the song from just plain boring to downright irritating.  The disjointed melody makes “Felt Good On My Lips” sound like two entirely different songs slapped together.  As for Tim’s vocals, you can barely even hear them over all the gimmicky studio wizardry on this track.  Easily the worst single of Tim’s career.

Craig Morgan, “Still a Little Chicken Left On That Bone”

Painfully stupid lyrics feebly attempting to make some sort of a point.  All I can say is “Ouch.”

I’ve had my turn; Now it’s yours.  What were your least favorite singles of 2010? 

 
6 Comments

Posted by on December 26, 2010 in Commentary

 
 
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