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Album Review: Teea Goans – That’s Just Me

With her sophomore album That’s Just Me, traditional country crooner Teea Goans continues to build upon the remarkable promise she displayed on her 2010 debut The Way I Remember It.  Like its predecessor, That’s Just Me offers an eclectic mix of new material with a selection of well-chosen covers.

With a distinct, plaintive voice that sounds like it was tailor-made for classic country – vaguely reminiscent of Pam Tillis with a few shades of Carlene Carter – Goans inhabits the throwback arrangements with grace and ease.  Terry Choate produces the project, framing Goans voice with the sweet sounds of fiddle and steel, with cool touches like some bluesy guitar chords (such as on “The Big Hurt”) added in for good measure.

That’s Just Me features fine covers of good’ns such as Larry Gatlin’s “I’ve Done Enough Dying Today,” as well as “Nobody Wins,” a top-notch Kris Kristofferson composition that was a hit for Brenda Lee in 1973.  Also cited is the Bob Montgomery-penned “Misty Blue,” which Wilma Burgess, Eddy Arnold, and Billie Jo Spears all had Top 5 hits with in 1966, 1967, and 1976, respectively, and which Goans likewise covers with aplomb.  The melody finely showcases Goans pristine vocal control and nuance.  The album closes with a beautifully raw, sparsely produced rendition of “Over the Rainbow” from the classic 1939 film The Wizard of Oz.  It would be an understatement to say that the song has been covered endlessly, but Goans impresses by delivering beautifully heartfelt vocal reading that comes across as uniquely her own.

As satisfying as the cover songs may be, That’s Just Me reaches similarly great heights with its inspired original material.  When Goans joins forces with Jamie Dailey of acclaimed bluegrass duo Dailey & Vincent on “That’s Just Me Loving You,” it’s hard to a imagine a sweeter-sounding vocal pairing.  The two voices meld seamlessly on a duet that makes you want to savor every note, and then attack the replay button.  Goans cuts loose with infectious abandon on jovial uptempo cuts such as the Western Swing-influenced number “Pour a Little Love On It” – a definite album highlight.  Similarly catchy uptempo cuts “Loving Proof” and Overboard” are given more percussive, modern-sounding arrangements than most of the album’s other cuts, while nodding heavily to traditional genre conventions, and thus still melding comfortably with the rest of the album.  Featuring consistently solid songs that are tastefully produced and beautifully sung, there simply isn’t a weak track to be found on That’s Just Me, making for an effortlessly lovable collection of tunes.

Every bit as straightforward, sincere, and unpretentious as its title would imply, That’s Just Me is a simple refreshing country delight, the likes of which are few and far between these days.  It’s not so much a genre exercise as a reminder of why we fell in love with country music in the first place.

TEEA’S SCORE:  9
(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10)

Top Tracks:  “Pour a Little Love On It,” “Misty Blue,” “That’s Just Me Loving You”

Buy:  That’s Just Me

 
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Posted by on August 11, 2012 in Album Reviews

 

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Lady Antebellum – “Wanted You More”

The following article is a guest contribution by Jonathan Keefe of Slant Magazine and Country Universe

Songwriters:  Matt Billingslea, Dennis Edwards, Jason “Slim” Gambill, Dave Haywood, Charles Kelley, Jonathan Long, Hillary Scott

“Wanted You More” epitomizes what happens when popular music stops being about art and starts being about a focus-grouped product. It’s a song that credits an astonishing seven writers – including the three members of Lady Antebellum – yet manages to have no trace whatsoever of individual experience, emotion, or insight.

If any one of Dave Haywood, Charles Kelley, or Hillary Scott had looked to his or her phone and said, “Siri, can you write a song?” the result would have a more definitive and more definitively human point-of-view than what they and their cadre of hired-gun co-writers came up with here.

Utterly soulless stuff, “Wanted You More” doesn’t contain a single line or phrase to establish why its particular story is unique or, barring that, why it’s a story worth telling at all. Which, fine, not every song has to have an original premise or narrative. But Lady Antebellum, as has become their wont, show absolutely no initiative when it comes to expressing their banal ideas or to telling their tired stories in ways that make those ideas and stories theirs.

All a verse like, “All the words unspoken/Promises broken/I cried for so long/Wasted too much time/Should have seen the signs,” accomplishes is rearranging a bunch of clichés that could have been pulled randomly from a hat, for all their disregard for having a sense of purpose or intent. Anyone with a rhyming dictionary could have put “Wanted You More” together, and Lady Antebellum have rather quickly devolved into an act defined by that kind of anonymity.

They just seem terrified by the idea of imposing themselves. Even the song’s hook (“I guess I just wanted you more”) is phrased conditionally. Scott and Kelley are singing about a failed relationship – and, in Scott’s case, singing about it a quarter-pitch sharp the entire time – with all the urgency of someone who can’t decide what to watch on TV. “I guess I’ll watch this re-run of Chopped/Since nothing else is on,” would have as much impact as a hook for a song because it would, at the bare minimum, express some sort of intention.

With nothing of any consequence to get worked up about, it’s no wonder that Lady A’s production and performances are so tepid. The songs on their self-titled debut may have wanted for originality, but at least the arrangements on those songs had some spark and the trio sang their material with real conviction and presence.  But “Wanted You More” sounds interchangeable with the “easy listening” Adult Contemporary of the early 90s. It wouldn’t sound out-of-place between deadly dull minor hits like Richard Marx’s “Hazard” or Karla Bonoff’s “Standing Right Next to Me” on a playlist for a dentist’s office or, perhaps more fittingly, a sleep clinic.

Whatever potential they may have once displayed, Lady Antebellum have turned into the most insubstantial, flat-out boring act in popular music. “Wanted You More” doesn’t even have the gumption of a “Hashtag Truck Yeah” or a “Corn Star” to be actively offensive or awful: It just finds Lady A at their most nothing yet.

LADY A’S SCORE:  2
(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10)

 
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Posted by on August 6, 2012 in Guest Contributions, Single Reviews

 

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Toby Keith – “I Like Girls That Drink Beer”

Songwriters:  Toby Keith, Bobby Pinson

At first glance, I was not expecting this to be good.  Far from it – I was expecting a throwaway ditty built around its title, with the verses being totally blah.  Instead, we get an authentic, humorous ode to the working class, with a fiddle and steel-enhanced production that wouldn’t sound out of place among the awesome country music of the nineties.

The clash between the liftestyles of the city girl and the country boy is hardly new, but Keith offers a take that doesn’t feel like a halfhearted rehash, but that doesn’t take itself too seriously either.  Keith pulls off all the right stops for a good fun country boy ditty, from a jaunty, catchy melody to clever lines about “your country club that ain’t really country.”  Some might look down on the country folk, but Keith responds, not through hollow chest-pounding “country good – city bad” declarations, but rather by simply demonstrating that he’s comfortable in his own skin – not to mention by actually singing instead of just shouting.

Toby Keith might not be breaking new ground with this release, but he’s got song structure and entertainment value nailed down.  I have a feeling I just might be buying that upcoming new Toby Keith album.

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

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Posted by on August 5, 2012 in Single Reviews

 

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Working Two Jobs – The 1-to-10 Interview with Emmylou Harris

Few names in country and folk music are met with such deep reverence as that of Emmylou Harris.  Over the course of her over forty-year career, Harris placed 45 singles in the Billboard Country Top 40, sold over 15 million albums worldwide, took home twelve Grammy trophies and three CMAs, and was enshrined in the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2008.

Along with her substantial accomplishments in music, every bit as worthy of recognition is what a big-hearted, giving person Harris constantly proves herself to be in supporting causes that are important to her.  These include animal rescue and adoption – something Harris has often shown to be near and dear to her heart.  A passionate animal lover, Harris will participate in the first annual Woofstock at the Fontanel Mansion in Nashville, Tennessee – a two-day charity event to be held on August 17-18

I was able to catch up with the lovely Miss Emmylou right between her getting back from playing festivals in Montana, and having to jet off to Norway the next day.  We spoke with her about her recent and upcoming pursuits during my fan-struck telephone conversation with her.

Ben Foster:  I think it’s such a great thing what you’re doing for all these dogs at Woofstock, and I can tell you’re someone who really genuinely and passionately cares about animals.  To begin with, I’d like to hear you describe your connection to animals, and what has caused you to be the passionate animal lover that we all know you to be.

Emmylou Harris:  I guess it goes to my childhood.  My father and my mother and my grandparents, aunts, uncles, pretty much everyone in my family were animal people.  My father was actually studying veterinary medicine at the University of Virginia when World War II broke out, and he signed up for the Marine Corps.  But all of my family kind of instilled a love and respect for animals, and we always had companion animals when I was growing up.

But then I became an adult, and I went on the road, and really didn’t think about having animals.  It just didn’t seem like it was a practical thing to do.  But then when I moved to Nashville I had a couple of cats, but it still seemed like a dog would be traveling a lot, which would not work out.  Little did I know how great it is to have a dog on the road with you.  I think it was 1992 I adopted a dog named Bonaparte from Nashville Humane.  We already had a small dog that was my daughter’s.  But I had gotten Bonaparte as sort of companion for her dog, and he just turned out to be this great traveling dog, so for ten years, whenever it was convenient, or whenever I was on a bus tour (which was a lot), he would travel with me.  Even when I was away doing an album, like when I was in New Orleans or when I went off to San Francisco, and I was going to be someplace I long time, I would bring him with me.  When he died very suddenly in 2002, he was only 11.  Even though we had other animals in our home, I was very close to this dog, and didn’t really think about getting another dog for myself.

But somehow I felt like I wanted to get more involved in animal rescue since he had been a rescue, so it was as a memorial to Bonaparte that I started Bonaparte’s Retreat.  I thought I could connect with Nashville Humane because I had a big backyard, that I could build a small rescue which runs as a common area.  Initially we were going to take three dogs.  I think we went up to six, but because I’m so limited by space I can only have so many dogs on the property.  But we’ve been going eight years now.  We’ve developed a relationship with some foster homes, foster parents in the community, so we probably deal with about twenty dogs at a time.  We pretty much put our effort into rescuing from Metro Animal Control because these dogs have such a short window of time before they’re put down, whereas Nashville Humane, although we still have a good relationship with them, they’re pretty much a low-kill shelter, and we know that those dogs are probably safe until we find a home, whereas the dogs at Metro by law only have a certain window of time.  If nobody adopts them, then a perfectly healthy dog that can give so much joy to a family somewhere gets put down.  It’s really quite heartbreaking.

Yeah, it’s very sad to see a dog’s life cut short like that.

Well, there’s no reason for it.  If we could extend the foster programs, if we could get more people to spay and neuter their pets, Nashville could become a no-kill city.  There are several around the country, and it’s just going to take a lot of effort and communication, and people coming together to decide they’re going to do that.  The people and communities that are involved in dog rescue are really trying to make that happen.

So what do animal lovers have to look forward to at this year’s Woofstock?

Well, this is our first year.  It’s going to be a daytime event.  The doors will open at ten.  It’s at Fontanel, which is Barbara Mandrell’s old home place, and they have concerts there at night.  We’re going to be at the front of the property, and we we’re going to have music starting at eleven.  I’m going to be playing, Buddy Miller, Shawn Camp, Ella Mae Bowen, and the Whites – I’m real excited about that – Mike Farris and I2 South.  Sam Bush is going to make an appearance.  Obviously there will be food and drink on the property.  I’m going to have Emmylou’s Closet, which are a lot of clothes that I don’t wear anymore for sale.  We’re going to have auction items.  We’re going to have lots of little kiddie pools around for the dogs to get cooled off.  There are walking trails; There’s a creek.  There are going to be a lot of different booths up of different animal products, and things that people can purchase.

We’re just hoping it’s going to be a really nice time for families to come to bring their dogs, and to just have a good time outside, and they’ll listen to some music.  Nashville Humane will be there, and Metro Animal Control will be there with dogs for adoption, as well as obviously Bonaparte’s Retreat.  We’re testing the waters.  We want to make this an annual event – something that people can say “Oh, when is Woofstock this year?”  We’ll always have music, and try to keep it local because we’ve got enough great musicians and great communities where we can showcase, and strut our stuff as well as our mutts!

Do you have any other upcoming projects that you would like to give your fans a little teaser for?

Oh yeah!  Actually Rodney Crowell and I just finished a duet record, and it’s going to be coming out sometime early next year.  It’s a duet record that we talked about probably since the first day we met, and sat down and sang old George Jones songs together.  That’s going to be coming out, and I guess that’s the only thing I have definite.  I know that there’s talk about re-releasing Wrecking Ball with extra tracks, and I will say that on October 24 at Marathon Music Works in Nashville, Daniel Lanois, Brian Blade, and Malcolm Burn and myself – the original musicians on Wrecking Ball, we’re actually going to perform Wrecking Ball, along with some other music.

How exciting!  That was quite a landmark album for you back in ’95.

Yeah, it sure was.

And we sure do love Rodney Crowell, so that duet record sure is something for us to look forward to.  Speaking of Rodney, you recently got to participate in his KIN project with Mary Karr.

I love that record!  I love that record.

Oh yes, he’s an amazing songwriter.  Lots of great songs and great artists.

Yeah, it really is.  I’m excited about the record, but also the idea of us going out and doing shows together. We actually just did a benefit in Montana.  He sat in on my set at the Red Ants Pants Festival – it’s in White Sulfur Springs, Montana.  So we just did that.  I just got home from that on Sunday, and I’m leaving for Norway tomorrow.

It sounds like you sure are keeping busy.

Well, I am keeping busy, and I feel like I kind of have two jobs now, you know with the dog rescue, and the music which I still love, and being able to put my time and effort and energy into something else that I’m really passionate about.  I feel really really blessed to be able to do it, but it does keep me busy!

Speaking of your music, earlier this year you celebrated your 20th anniversary as a member of the Grand Ole Opry.  What does that milestone mean to you?

Well you know, when you look on those milestones, you say “Twenty years?  Was it really twenty years?”  When you keep busy, it can seem like just yesterday.  But that was wonderful because I had all pals there.  Rodney was there, and the Whites, and I got Shawn Colvin.  I’ve been wanting to get her on the Grand Ole Opry because she does just about the best version ever of Lefty Frizzell’s “That’s the Way Love Goes,” and I said “Girl, you have got to come sing that on the Grand Ole Opry!”  It was a really wonderful night, and I do love to perform at the Opry, especially when it’s at the Ryman.  There’s something so special about that venue.

In March of this year, how did it feel to be given the Cliffie Stone Pioneer Award for being a pioneer in the country music genre?

Well, it’s always good to be a pioneer!  As long I don’t have to be in the covered wagon!  So that was a really great honor.  It was.

In looking back on all that you’ve accomplished over the course of your career – having hits on the charts, winning awards, being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, what moments stand out as being most meaningful to you?

You know, I don’t really know if you could pick one.  Obviously, everything kind of started with meeting Gram Parsons, and going out on that first tour, and being sort of thrown in the water – or being out in the water with no paddle, learning about country music, playing in a country band.  It really set me on the path that I’m still on today, and I’ve just been able to work with so many great musicians, all of the band members I’ve had, and you know Rodney’s one of them.  Then being able to actually get to work with heroes like Bob Dylan and Neil Young and Mark Knopfler and Roy Orbison.  Sometimes I have to pinch myself.  But really I’m just grateful that I still love music, that I still have the opportunity to go out there and work, and that the fans are still coming to see me.  You know, I must be doing something right.  I don’t know how, but I just want to keep doing it until I can’t do it anymore.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the music scene today.  What artists do you enjoy listening to, mainstream or otherwise?

Well you know, I just kind of listen to my buddies that are around town.  I’m a huge fan of Buddy Miller obviously, somebody that I’ve been fortunate enough to work with.  We go out with Patty Griffin and Shawn Colvin,and do the three girls with their Buddy, so I’m always up on what they’re doing.  They’re just really a lot of good music happening right now that’s maybe a little outside the mainstream, but that’s okay because I think everybody’s able to hear all this stuff now.  You don’t just have to listen to what’s on Top 40 radio to really hear some great music.

Absolutely, and it’s so great to see talented artists finding ways to succeed without the support of radio even.

Oh, and I did want to say that in September I’m going to do a TV show with Mumford & Sons that I’m really looking forward to because I love their stuff.

Oh wow!  That’s so exciting

It’s called Crossroads.  I don’t know what we’re going to do, but we’re doing to do something!

They did a great version of “The Boxer” on Jerry Douglas’s new record, didn’t they?

Oh yeah, I was talking to Marcus and he told me about that.  I can’t wait to hear it.

Well, we’ll look forward to seeing that!  That must be a very exciting thing you’ve got coming up.

Yeah, its’ always good to collaborate with people.  Keeps you fresh!

And you sure do have some talented buddies!

Yeah, I do.  I’m a lucky girl!

For more information on Emmylou Harris, visit www.emmylouharris.com

For more information on Woofstock, visit www.woofstockatfontanel.com

 
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Posted by on August 1, 2012 in Interviews

 

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David Nail – “Someone Like You”

Songwriters:  Adele Adkins, Dan Wilson

David Nail is a great singer.  “Someone Like You” is a great song.  It logically follows that a solid record would result.

Is it better than Adele’s original Grammy-winning pop hit version?  No.  That would be setting the bar mighty high.  Nail doesn’t take substantial creative liberties with Adele’s song either, not bothering to shoehorn in any fiddle or steel, but keeping it as a simple piano ballad very much in the vein of the original.  And who knows, maybe that’s the way to go – too much of an overhaul could have wound up a disaster.

The crucial point is that Nail renders Adele’s lyric with nuance and sincere emotion, adapting the song to his own vocal style without mimicking any aspects of Adele’s delivery (though it does feel slightly jarring to hear “…you’re married now” sung in an American accent).  He doesn’t over-sing the song, which is probably the biggest mistake one could make.  His performance is colored with deep shades of regret similar to that which made Adele’s performance of the song connect with such a wide audience.

Nail has released his version of “Someone Like You” as a music video, and has included his recording of it on his recently released 1979 EP.  As of now, the track has not been released to radio.  But if David Nail were to be the vehicle for such a fine song to find its way onto country airwaves, I would raise no complaint.

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

 
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Posted by on July 28, 2012 in Single Reviews

 

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Jake Owen – “The One That Got Away”

Songwriters:  Jake Owen, Jimmy Ritchey, Dallas Davidson

It would be all too easy to call out the new Jake Owen single for the fact that it doesn’t sound remotely like country music in any form, but the song exemplifies a much greater loss in modern country music – the fact that country storytelling has gone almost entirely by the wayside.

“The One That Got Away” is an unorginal song that tells an unoriginal story with an unoriginal hook.  Two teenage lovers share a summer fling for three months before parting ways, after which the guy wishes he had the girl back.  That’s my summary of the song’s story, but you don’t learn anything more from the song itself than from the preceding summary.  The song’s characterizations are so wafer-thin that it feels an account of two nameless and faceless individuals, while the song’s hook amounts to nothing more than a trite phrase that Owen doesn’t use in any novel way.  The loose narrative consists of vague paint-by-number summertime images that have been many times before, and that don’t enhance the story beyond the black-and-white template, making for a song consistently uninteresting in content.

The song’s greatest and most substantial failure is that it makes no significant attempt to connect with the listener on an emotional basis.  Nothing about the story feels urgent or revelatory, and nothing about the delivery feels impassioned or sincere.  That just leaves one wondering why the song even needed to exist in the first place.

If you want a really great song about the love ‘that got away,’ one you could go for is George Strait’s “I’d Like to Have That One Back.”  It’s way better.

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

 
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Posted by on July 25, 2012 in Single Reviews

 

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Her & Kings County – “Family Tree”

Can you say polarizing?  The new single offering from Her & Kings County is bold, in-your-face, shamelessly campy, and almost sure to simultaneously elicit grins from some listeners, and grimaces from others.  “Family Tree” bursts out of the gate with hand claps, banjo picking, and – wait for it – rapping, all the while displaying a love-us-or-hate-us abandon not heard since Laura Bell Bundy rode the airwaves.

Here’s my ten-cent take:  If you’re going to be crazy, you should do it like you mean it.  Seriously – I would take the self-aware stupidity of Toby Keith’s “Red Solo Cup” over the unintentional genre parody of the “countrier than thou” generation any day.  In a market when half of the singles on country radio practically scream “Like me!  Like me!  Like me!” it’s refreshing to hear an act that honestly sounds like they just don’t care.

“Family Tree” simply radiates more personality and good-natured, light-hearted fun than just about anything else on country radio.  If this is what it takes to break the monotony on radio playlists, there will be no complaints here.

HER & KINGS COUNTY’S SCORE:  7
(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10)

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Posted by on July 24, 2012 in Single Reviews

 

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