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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

 
3 Comments

Posted by on August 11, 2012 in Album 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

 
4 Comments

Posted by on January 31, 2012 in Album Reviews

 

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Eli Young Band – “Even If It Breaks Your Heart”

Songwriters:  Will Hoge, Eric Paslay

Over the years, there have been countless country songs that have delved into the experiences of an aspiring country music star trying to make it in Nashville, and there’s an endless variety of possible angles from which to approach the theme.  There have been songs like Lacy J. Dalton’s “16th Avenue” and Pam Tillis’ “Band In the Window” that have celebrated the spirited determination of those who make the pilgrimage down to Nashville.  There have been songs like Trisha Yearwood’s “Wrong Side of Memphis” which channels drive and determination into a fierce and fiery musical experience.  But perhaps the best song to compare the new Eli Young Band single to is the Dixie Chicks’ 2001 single “Heartbreak Town,” written by Darrell Scott, in that both songs address the rough and difficult nature of the road to stardom.

“Even If It Breaks Your Heart” lacks the spot-on commentary and vivid attention to detail that helped make the aforementioned Dixie Chicks song such a strong across-the-board winner, but instead makes it mark through pulsing energy and raw emotion, thanks in large part to Mike Eli’s earnest lead vocal.  The song begins over quiet acoustic guitar strumming as Young sings “Way back on the radio dial/ The fire got lit inside a bright-eyed child/ Every note just wrapped around his soul/ From steel guitars to Memphis all the way to rock and roll.”  From there, the song quickly picks up muscle.

The message of “Keep on dreaming” may ring as somewhat trite, but the hook of “…even if it breaks your heart” effectively hones in on the narrator’s determination to reach his goals regardless of the cost.  Eli’s delivery is colored with a sincere lived-in emotional quiver, which supplies the greater part of the song’s impact.  The production is predictably loud, but the driving arrangement fits well with the song’s theme, while also retaining just enough focus and clarity to avoid coming across as needless noise.  Incidentally, the steel guitar player shows up to remind us what radio format we’re listening to.

Though the song stumbles in telling its story – a little more detail with regard to the narrator’s heartbreak would have been helpful – the spirit of the song shines through above all else, which is enough to redeem the group from the misguided condescension of “Crazy Girl.”  “Even If It Breaks Your Heart” is a fine display of interpretive ability on Eli’s part, and will likely impart some much-needed emotional punch to the mainstream country radio scene.

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

 
3 Comments

Posted by on January 7, 2012 in Single Reviews

 

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