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Tag Archives: George Strait

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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Chris Young – “Neon”

Songwriters:  Shane McAnally, Joan Osborne, Trevor Rosen

At this point, it’s almost hard to believe that just a few short years ago, Chris Young was a cowboy-hatted Nashville Star alum struggling to get airplay with singles that were generally solid, but ‘too country’ for the market.  Fast forward to 2012, and “Gettin’ You Home (The Black Dress Song)” has long since gained him admittance into the instant add club, and he has become a reliable hitmaker who continues to make country radio a little more listenable one steel-laden hit single at a time.

Though his song material has at times failed him, the title track and current single from his album Neon finds that rich neotraditional country voice sounding better than ever.  Young tackles the song’s verses with appealing subtlety, and then pours himself full-on into the chorus with a quiet intensity, while backed with fiddle and steel that just sounds pure country delicious.

Complementing the beautiful production arrangement and Young’s committed vocal performance, songwriters Shane McAnally, Joan Osborne, and Trevor Rosen provide a solid set of lyrics to complete the trifecta.  The lyrics combine imagery of Wyoming skies and Santa Fe sunsets with a few clever turns of phrase here and there, all without compromising the natural ease of flow.  It all leads to a familiar everyman destination that has been the setting of many a classic country song – the honky-tonk.  All the while, little details in the chorus place the listener right in the midst of the scene, with “a little Johnny Lee” playing on the jukebox in the corner.

With a contemporary spin on a classic country theme, and a melody that wouldn’t sound out-of-place during the glory days of the nineties, “Neon” sounds worthy of neotrad stalwarts such as George Strait and Alan Jackson, with a dash of Clay Walker thrown in for good measure.  Thus, “Neon” turns out a most refreshing, invigorating slice of contemporary country music in all its rich, twangy glory, making it arguably Young’s finest single to date.  If country radio retains any amount of good taste, this single should follow its predecessors right up the charts.

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

 
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Posted by on May 15, 2012 in Single Reviews

 

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George Strait – “Drinkin’ Man”

Songwriters:  George Strait, Bubba Strait, Dean Dillon

Long story short:  This is George Strait’s best single in years, and if it doesn’t at least crack the Top 20, I will be very unhappy.

Country music has a long history of drinking songs, though such have become less common in the antiseptic country radio climate of today.  But when a country drinking song attempts to portray the destructive effects of alcohol addiction, it can be easy for it to come across as high-minded or superficially judgmental. (See Tim McGraw’s “Nothin’ to Die For”) Strait’s “Drinkin’ Man” avoids that problem entirely by giving voice to the affected man himself through vivid first-person narration that shows naked honesty and self-awareness.  The lyric starkly portrays the feelings of guilt the man suffers, the consequences his habit reaps on his family and relationships, and the inner struggle he faces as his earnest desire to kick the habit collides with his deeply ingrained dependency. (“I look into the mirror, bottle in my hand/ I’d like to pour it out, but I just don’t think I can”) Likewise, the refrain “That’s a hell of a lot to ask of a drinkin’ man” captures the truth that no one can fully understand a struggling alcoholic’s plight except the affected individual himself.  And it’s a Dean Dillon collaboration – Who’da guessed?

Over the course of his thirty year career, George Strait has pulled off the near-impossible task of remaining commercially relevant throughout decades of changing tastes and trends, yet doing so with remarkably few concessions in his sound and style.  In the tradition of Strait’s very best work, “Drinkin’ Man” combines a straightforward, detailed, lyric with a tasteful production to create something universal and timeless.

It would be a sad thing indeed if the mainstream country format had deteriorated to the point that a career-best effort from George Strait could be ignored.  But, regardless of whether it finds the audience it deserves, “Drinkin’ Man” is a song that stands as a Jones-worthy classic, and a definite highlight in Strait’s long and storied career.

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

HEAR IT 

 
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Posted by on May 7, 2012 in Reviews, Single Reviews

 

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Album Review: Gretchen Peters – Hello Cruel World

Gretchen Peters is definitely not a suitable artist for the attention-deficit listener.  Indeed, Peters’ songs are not meant to be relegated to background music.  Her new album Hello Cruel World is a somber affair that is best experienced when one is able to devote full attention to it.  On a superficial level, it may seem to make for a rather plodding listen-through.  But for the listener willing to dig below the surface to grasp the carefully crafted emotional layers of each lyric, the rewards are bountiful.

Seasoned songwriting talent that she is – whose credits include her signature “Independence Day” (Martina McBride), as well as “Let That Pony Run” (Pam Tillis), “You Don’t Even Know Who I Am” (Patty Loveless), and “The Chill of an Early Fall” (George Strait) among many others – Peters unerringly places song and story in the front and center.  With her soft smoky voice sounding as invigorating as ever, Peters sings in a pure straightforward manner, devoid of unnecessary vocal histrionics, yet expressive and authoritative.  Peters herself takes producer’s credit along with Doug Lancio and husband Barry Walsh, backing the songs with sparse, largely acoustic arrangements.  Though utilizing a less-is-more approach throughout, they also add special touches where appropriate, such as flourishes of harmonica in “The Matador,” eerie banjo plucking on “Paradise Found,” and subdued trumpet notes on “Camille.”  She even duets with Rodney Crowell on “Dark Angel,” with his distinctive touch bringing dynamic vocal interplay to the lyric.

For Peters, the album was born out of a time of tumult.  In the year 2010, Peters was affected by disasters such the Gulf oil spill and the Nashville flood, with that same year also bringing about her marriage to longtime collaborator Barry Walsh.  It is those experiences, both the joyful and the difficult, that provide inspiration for these eleven memorable songs that find Peters giving uninhibited vent to her thoughts and emotions, resulting in an album of notable insight and maturity.  The opening title track aptly sets the tone for the album, as the middle-aged female narrator looks back on the regrets and missed opportunities in her life, musing “Haven’t done as well as I thought I would/ I’m not dead yet, but I’m damaged goods/ And it’s getting late.”

Thus begins Peters’ fascinating musical exploration of human frailties, ripe with symbolism and poetic imagery, but not to the point of being impenetrable.  Tracks like “Paradise Found,” “Woman On the Wheel,” and “Natural Disaster” utilize accessible, plainspoken metaphors to portray pleasure as well as pain and emotional turmoil.  Peters alone writes nine of the album’s tracks, and collaborates with co-writers on an additional two.  “St. Francis,” a co-write with Tom Russell, with whom Peters collaborated on the fantastic 2009 duets album One to the Heart, One to the Head, uses the story of St. Francis of Assisi to address the thinking that this world doesn’t matter, and that there’s no need to respect and protect it, with the song having been inspired by the Gulf oil spill.  The excellent singer-songwriter Kim Richey can be heard providing harmony vocals on the track.  “Camille” is a writing collaboration between Peters and her awesomely talented “Wine, Women, and Song” cohorts Matraca Berg and Suzy Bogguss.  It delves into the character of a woman who attempts to numb emotional pain through indulgence in pleasure, only to carry a heavy burden of guilt and shame as a result.

Though moral issues and dilemmas are often addressed in her songwriting, Peters wisely steers clear of adopting a judgmental tone, instead inspiring thought.  This is evident in the lines such as “But who are we without the thrill, without the damage, without the kill” in “The Matador.”  On a similar note, she presents a realistically flawed heroine in “Five Minutes,” in which her character sips a glass of wine, or takes a brief drag on a cigarette to escape the burden of her past as she sees its repercussions affecting her children.  Peters never takes platform on issues, but rather, she presents topics in a way that raises a question, hones in on a certain truth, or simply causes the listener to see things from a different perspective.  Needless to say, it takes several listens to deeply grasp the song meanings – I can’t even count the number of times I listened through this album in writing this review.

A very deep album with profound, layered lyrics that grow even deeper with repeated listening, Hello Cruel World is a deftly constructed, deeply satisfying collection that effectively builds on Gretchen Peters’ already-formidable artistic legacy.  It is undoubtedly one of the best and most significant records we’ll get out of the year 2012.

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

Top Tracks:  “Hello Cruel World,” “The Matador,” “Dark Angel,” “Five Minutes”

BUY IT ON AMAZON

 
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Posted by on January 31, 2012 in Album Reviews

 

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This Time It’s Personal – A Conversation with Kellie Pickler

The following is a syndicated interview that originally appeared on Roughtstock.com.

Kellie Pickler first got her start in the music business when she finished in sixth place on the fifth season of American Idol.  Since then, she’s carved out a respectable country music career that’s yielded five Top 20 hits, including “Red High Heels,” “I Wonder,” and the Top 10 “Best Days of Your Life.”  Her new album 100 Proof, which features a more traditional country sound than her previous efforts, drops today.

I had the chance to speak with Kellie Pickler in Nashville recently.  In the interview that follows, she shares how her new musical direction came about while discussing how she’s grown as an artist in the years since her debut, and how music helps her find healing from painful childhood experiences.

Ben Foster:  You’ve got your first new album coming out since 2008, and you’ve said that you made this album as country as you were allowed to make it.  What made you want to steer your music in a more traditional direction?

Kellie Pickler:  My grandparents had a big part in raising me, so the first style of music that I was ever introduced to as a kid was traditional country music.  My Grandpa Pickler taught me my first song, and that was Hank Senior, “My Bucket’s Got a Hole In It.”  I love the classics.  That’s where my heart is.  You know, I think country music is so wide right now, which is good.  There’s so many different styles of country music, and I think there’s room for all of it, including that traditional sound, which is where I’ve always wanted to be.  I’ve always wanted to make the kind of record that I made with this one.  When I first started out, I was nineteen and green when I first moved to Nashville.  I didn’t know anybody, and I didn’t have any friends or any family here.  You’re scared to take risks.  I was scared to take risks ‘cause I didn’t want to piss anybody off and get sent back home.  I definitely feel like I’ve paid somewhat certain dues where I’m in a place where I’m willing to jump, and if my parachute opens, it opens.  If it doesn’t, then it doesn’t!

Ben:  So basically you’ve reached the point where you’re taking control of your career and saying “This is the kind of music I want to make.”

Kellie:  Yeah, absolutely.  I think this is the best record I’ve made as far as being consistent from the first song to the last song.  I’m so proud of it.  I’ve never ever been more proud of anything I’ve ever worked on like I am this project.

Ben:  Which artists would you say have had the most influence over the sound and styles of this album?

Kellie:  Definitely Tammy.  I love Tammy Wynette.  She is one of the biggest reasons why I fell in love with country music, along with Kitty Wells and Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn.  I think it’s important for me, when I went into the studio this time, to really just put all of myself in this record as possible, and really shine a light on the people that even influenced me to even do this in the first place, and this is where I’m the most comfortable.  You know, it’s easier to be yourself than to try to be something you’re not.  I’m very much a people pleaser.  I want everybody to be happy; I want everybody to like me; I want to like everybody.  I’ve tended in the past to kind of compensate a little bit of who I am in order to get people to like me, to be honest.  It’s scary because I know for every artist – I think I speak for most every artist – when you go in the studio, it’s hard to go in the studio and not think first off “What is radio gonna play?  Is this gonna be something that we can get on the radio?  Are they gonna like this?”  Because radio is our biggest voice in country music.  It’s how people hear our songs.  It’s how people know about our shows.  It’s how people know that we’re still making music.  The only place I’ve ever wanted to be is on the radio – on country radio.  I don’t care about being on any other station except country radio.  I don’t wanna be on any other station except country radio, ‘cause this is my home.  This is where I wanna be, and this is where I belong.  I just went in the studio and I didn’t make a record for anyone else but myself.  It’s the first time I went in the studio and made my record.  I did it for me, and sometimes it’s okay to be a little selfish and put yourself first.

Ben:  Absolutely.  That makes some of the best albums.

Kellie:  I think so too!  I look at people like Dolly, and I look at people like Loretta, and I look at people like Tammy and Kitty Wells.  Had they played it safe, they wouldn’t be the icons that they are today.  I think that it was important for me to do the same thing they did, and that was just jump.  Jump out of the plane.  You never know – That parachute might open, and you might have a soft landing, or it could be rocky.  But either way, you’re gonna know that you took the risk to jump, and you’re not gonna have ‘what if’s.

Ben:  Since you’ve been talking about some of the artists who shaped your sound, that makes me curious to ask you what is your personal favorite country albums of all time, if you have one, and why?

Kellie:  Oh gosh.  Goodness gracious, that’s hard to say.  My grandma passed away several years ago, but she and my grandpa had this old record player, and my grandpa gave it to me about a year and a half, two years back, and I got all their vinyls, and so that’s what I listen to.  I still collect vinyl records, so it’s hard to go through and say what my favorite record is.  I do have a Hank Senior record that is pretty old, and it’s more of a live sound record that I listen to all the time when I’m getting ready, and it has some of his older hits that I love.  But there again, there’s so many Tammy records… one of my favorite Tammy records is of course the one where it has “Bedtime Story” and “The Divorce,” and there’s “I Don’t Wanna Play House.”  That is one of my favorite songs.  That might be my favorite Tammy song.  It’s one of my favorite Tammy songs, “’Til I Get It Right”…  I mean, there’s just so many great ones, you can’t pick one.

Ben:  In what ways is 100 Proof a truer reflection of yourself than your past two albums?

Kellie:  I’d say that, of course this record is gonna be more me than the last one because this record is exactly where I am in my life right now.  A lot’s happened.  It’s been three years and four months since the last record came out, and I’m married.  I married my best friend, and he’s so good to me.  I’m so happy.  I think when people hear the songs on this record – the people that know me, not just acquainted, and I have played this record for a couple of my very close friends – they all said ‘There you are!  There’s Kellie.  That’s the Kellie we know.  That’s the Kellie that’s sitting in front of me.’  So I know, not because I just feel that way, but because the people that know me have stated that.  And my Grandpa Pickler, he knows me better than about anybody, ‘cause he had a big part raising me, and the songs are about my life.  There’s no song on this record that I sat down and thought ‘I gotta write a song for this album!’  No song was written for the intentions of being record, like “Mother’s Day” that my husband [Kyle Jacobs] and I wrote.  We didn’t write that song for anybody to hear; in fact I didn’t want anybody to hear it in the first place.  We just happened to write that song on Mother’s Day, and it was written for me to find closure, to heal.  It just, some way or another, it made its way on the record.  But for me, it’s never a premeditated plan of what this song’s gonna be about, and that it’s gonna be recorded, that it’s gonna be on the album.  There’s no thought except this moment right now I need to write this song and get what’s in my heart down on paper so that I can heal – start that healing process.  For me, music is so therapeutic, and there’s so much closure found in writing, and that’s why I write.  I don’t write for any other reason but to find closure, and it just happened to make the record.

Ben:  That personal touch really shines through on “Mother’s Day,” to me as a listener.  In the songwriting, and I also thought that was one of your most compelling vocal performances that I’d heard.

Kellie:  Thank you, thank you for saying that.  It was important for me to make sure that songs like “The Letter,” which is just an acoustic guitar and me, and “Mother’s Day” it was important for me to make sure that these songs were not over-produced.  I didn’t want any of these songs to be over-produced.  I want to sell this song by the power of the lyrics, and the power of the realness behind the lyrics – that they’re true stories about my life, and it doesn’t need to be overdone.

Ben:  I’d love to hear you talk about the people you got to work with for the album, such as the qualities Frank Liddell and Luke Wooten brought as producers, as well as some of the awesome songwriter’s you got to work with like Dean Dillon and Leslie Satcher.

Kellie:  Frank and Luke – it really started with them, as far as they were the ones that convince me ‘You’re not just a singer; you’re an artist, and that’s what we want to capture on this record.’

Ben:  There is a difference.

Kellie:  Yeah, there is, and I never really thought of it that way until Luke and Frank said that.  For them, the most important thing, like I said, was capturing the artist Kellie Pickler, not the singer, but the artist, and I think they captured my soul on this record.  I really do believe that.  And the fact that I got to write with Dean Dillon – He is to me like country music royalty.  He wrote one of my favorite songs.  He’s written so many of my favorite songs… “Set ‘Em Up Joe”!

Ben:  He’s one of the reasons George Strait is country music royalty.

Kellie:  Yeah!  I was so shocked that he even took the time to write with me, because I reached out to him.  I reached out to him, and asked for him if he would write with me because I’m a fan.  And Leslie Satcher, I reached out to her, and they were willing to take the time to work with me on my record, and they didn’t have to.  They don’t need me, Leslie and Dean.  They don’t need me.  I needed them.  I really did, and I still need them because I’ve learned so much from them, and I know the longer I’m around them, the more I’m gonna learn.  I value their opinion and their guidance.

Ben:  It’s great to see you moving yourself forward in your career.  That’s really awesome to see.

Kellie:  Thank you so much.  I feel too like I was so nineteen and green when I started.  Nobody knows themselves at nineteen.  You think you do, but you don’t, because you’re not supposed to.  But yeah, I’m excited, and that means a lot to me that you say that, ‘cause that’s what you wanna do as an artist.  You wanna touch people through your music, and have an impact on people’s lives.  I think music has so much more power than it’s given credit for.

 
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Posted by on January 24, 2012 in Interviews

 

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George Strait – “Love’s Gonna Make It Alright”

Songwriters:  Al Anderson, Chris Stapleton

Right from the get-go, George Strait’s Here for a Good Time album opener “Love’s Gonna Make It Alright” carried the distinct odor of a future single.

At first glance, the lyrics may seem a bit filler-ish.  But in large part, where the single goes right is in creating the perfect mood and backdrop for its straightforward story.  Smooth fiddling and steel picking give the song a vintage flavor that sounds strongly reminiscent of Strait’s beloved nineties hits such as “Write This Down” and “Check Yes or No.”  Strait’s vocal performance carries a palpable yet understated earnestness to it.  This only serves to affirm his status as one of country music’s finest lyrical interpreters.  With such fitting treatment, the song ends up a breezy, easygoing listening experience that will make for a good ‘kick back and sing along’ moment.  It’s hardly rocket science, but it exudes charm in its simplicity.

There’s really nothing about “Love’s Gonna Make It Alright” that would surprise or challenge listeners, and it has some potential to be lost among Strait’s similar-sounding material.  But like “Here for a Good Time” before it, it makes for a good catchy little interlude in Strait’s solid body of work.

It will do for now.  “Love’s Gonna Make It Alright” serves as a broadly pleasant diversion as we wait for the album’s finest material to see radio release.  Is a little “Poison” too much to ask for?

GEORGE’S SCORE:  7
(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10)

 
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Posted by on October 28, 2011 in Single Reviews

 

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