Thursday, September 30, 2010

Top Ten Greatest Women of the Nineties, #7 - Martina McBride

In recent years, Martina seems to have slid into a safe and comfortable mode with regard to her musical style.  Her recent output has consisted largely of sometimes overwrought power ballads, as well as "I am woman - hear me roar" girl power anthems.  But back in her heyday, she provided nineties country radio with some of its most striking and memorable singles.

Martina first emerged on country radio in 1992 with a neotraditional honky tonk sound.  Her debut album The Time Has Come was met with positive critical reception, but it did not yield any major hits (though the title track reached #23, and the video for "Cheap Whiskey" received moderate screen time on CMT and TNN).

Martina's second album The Way That I Am gave her the breakthrough she was waiting for.  She scored her first major hit in 1993 with "My Baby Loves Me" - a women's bold and proud declaration of the unconditional and accepting love that she had found.  The single charted at #2, but Martina later found out three more radio spins would have propelled it to the top spot.



The album's third single barely missed the Top 10, as its dark subject matter made radio hesitant to play it.  "Independence Day" was the harrowing tale of a wife who, in order to free herself from her husband's abuse, burns the family home to the ground, perishing in the fire along with her husband.  The story was told from the perspective of the couple's eight-year-old daughter who goes down to the Independence Day fair, and returns to find her house engulfed in flames.  The lyrics cast light on the dark reality of domestic violence, while wisely refraining from rendering judgment on the situation.  "Independence Day" pushed the boundaries of what an artist could sing about on country radio, and paved the way for further artists who were willing to take similar risks.

The tragic story was vividly brought to life in the "Independence Day" music video, which was controversial due to its portrayal of domestic abuse, and its depiction of the burning house.  But Martina was rewarded for her taking such a career risk when the clip was named the 1994 CMA Music Video of the Year.  In addition, the song's writer, Gretchen Peters, received the award for Song of the Year.  In the years since its release, "Independence Day" has been remembered as one of Martina's signature hits.  It ranks as an era-defining classic, and it receives substantial radio airplay even today.



The title track to Martina's third album, 1995's Wild Angels, became her first-ever number-one hit.  It was at this point that she began adopting a more contemporary pop-friendly sound.  In "Wild Angels," the narrator gratefully looks back on a romance that has endured many difficulties only to come out stronger than ever.  They may "break each others' hearts sometimes, and "spend some nights on the jagged side," but somehow they always "wake up in each others' arms."  The woman does not dole out any superficial advice, nor does she offer any supposed secret to success.  Rather, she concludes that her relationship has survived only by blessing from above.  The songs raggedly honest lyrics combined with Martina's joyful and exuberant performance made it another one of the finest singles of her career.



After three less-successful singles, Martina returned to the top of the charts in 1997 with "A Broken Wing" - the first single from her 1997 album Evolution.  The song visited lyrical territory that was similar to "Independence Day," but delivered a different variation on a similar theme.  In "A Broken Wing," a woman escapes from an emotionally abusive relationship with a man who at times seems to love her, but continues shooting her dreams down.  The lyrics hint at the possibility that the woman committed suicide, but ultimately leave the question unanswered.  The song's heavy gospel flavoring made it stand out among Martina's late nineties releases.



In addition to her strong lyrical material, Martina also became known for a vocal style that was very new and distinctive in the nineties.  She developed a style of singing song verses in a hushed tone, and then letting her voice rise as she belted out the chorus.  Though the concept has since been beaten into the ground, it was fresh and new at the time.  The style was exemplified in her 1999 #2 hit "Whatever You Say."



Martina closed out the decade with the longest-running number-one single of her career - "I Love You," an ultra-catchy pop ditty of infatuation.  The five-week number-one smash appeared on the soundtrack to the 1999 film Runaway Bride, starring Richard Gere and Julia Roberts.  The promotion it received from its use in the film helped spur its massive success.  It also served as the lead-off single to Martina's fifth studio album Emotion.



Since the turn of the millennium, Martina has released four more studio albums, all but one of which have topped the Billboard Country Albums chart.  Her more recent singles have not been at the high artistic standard she was previously known for.  She remains a relevant figure in country music today, and her singles have continued to receive moderate radio spins.  Still, her artistic legacy rests primarily on her classic nineties hits that will not soon be forgotten.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Lady Antebellum, "Hello World"

I wanted to like it.  I really did.  I might as well try to make myself like it, since it will soon be all over radio, and I won't be able to get away from it.  But the songwriters have made it very hard for me to like.

Given that the song's writers (Tony Lane, David Lee, and Tom Douglas) have some high-quality hit compositions under their belts, it's a surprising disappointment that "Hello World" shows symptoms of lazy songwriting.  It's about a man who feels lost in a sea of modern technology who longs to reconnect with... something.  Such a song is not necessarily pre-doomed to failure, but in this case it could benefit from a more refined concept.  The first epiphany occurs when a little girl with chocolate on her face waves at him.  In the second verse he drives by a "Little White Church" (Do I hear hand-clapping?), and knows that God is there.  Finally, he comes home to his wife and children.  Each of these instances prompts him to say "Hello World."

Our perception of what takes place is hazy at best.  What has caused him to feel so hurt and broken in the first place?  How exactly is he affected by each seemingly revealing moment?  And what does the term "world" represent in this context?

The loosely constructed lyrics coast along on a lifeless melody, and Charles Kelley's unexpressive vocals fail to breathe any life into this snoozer of a tune.  I don't like using the "B" word, but I'm just going to come out and say it:  This song is boring. 

If Lady Antebellum's hits are to continue having any impact after their radio run ends, then the songwriting and performance will have to show more signs of effort.

LADY A'S SCORE:  4
(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10)

Monday, September 27, 2010

Celebrating 50 Years of Loretta

The year 2010 marks 50 years since the iconic Loretta Lynn signed her first recording contract, and released her debut single "I'm a Honky Tonk Girl."  The famed coal miner's daughter celebrated the milestone at a special invitation-only event on September 24 at her ranch in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee.

On hand for the event were several members of Loretta's family, including brother Herman; sisters Peggy Sue, Betty Ruth, and Crystal Gayle; and daughters Cissy, Peggy, and Patsy.  The evening's activities included a catered reception with speeches by Crystal Gayle, Marty Stuart, John Carter Cash, and others.  A concert performance by Crystal Gayle, which was open to the general public, followed later in the evening.

Before all this began, Loretta and Crystal sat down for a media question-and-answer session inside the Coal Miner's Daughter museum.

One question on many people's minds is how Loretta manages to stay so humble and grounded after having accomplished so much in her career, and having won so many awards.  "Honey, I look at these awards like they're somebody else's," Loretta answers.  "That way you can stay grounded.  I'm proud of my awards, and every one I get I'm even more prouder of.  Staying grounded - You just don't forget where you come from.  All I do is just close my eyes, and I know where I'm from.  You know, I just go back to that little one-room cabin where I lived 'til I was eleven years old."

Loretta also talked about the deep connection she feels to her legions of loyal fans.  "They're my friends; They're not my fans.  You know, I've met 'em over and over and over, so really that's it.  I still enjoy goin' onstage.  I enjoy it more now than I used to, 'cause used to I had to.  Now I don't have to, and I go when I want to, and I really enjoy it.  And my babies are big as me right now, my twins [Peggy and Patsy], so it's easy to work when they're grown like that than when they're little.  And I take the twins with me.  They work with me.  But when they were little I liked to stay home more, and now that they're grown, why stay home?  I still enjoy it, and I like it, so I get after it!"

In addition to talking about touring, Loretta discussed her connection to the show that made country music famous.  "Well the Grand Ole Opry was somethin' I listened to when I was a little girl.  Never dreamed that I'd ever go through the door of the Grand Ole Opry when I was little and we listened.  That was just radio at that time, and I listened to Roy Acuff and Ernest Tubb and Oswald and Rachel, and it was somethin' I never dreamed of doin'.  But the Grand Ole Opry is somethin' that every country singer dreams of bein' on.  It is the greatest show on earth."

Another hot topic was the all-star Loretta Lynn tribute album - the Sony release Coal Miner's Daughter - a Tribute to Loretta Lynn - which drops on November 9.  Loretta hand-picked each artist who would appear on it.  "It was hard to narrow it down, you know, because there was so many great ones.  I love Kid Rock.  He sung that song that I wrote called 'I Know How.'  I don't know if any of you have heard it or not, but you'll have to listen to it.  It's great!  He done somethin' with it I didn't do.  In fact, all the artists have done stuff to my songs that I didn't do, and I love it.  I really love it."

But were there any artists that Loretta wanted to have on the album that weren't able to do it?  "Oh yes," she replies.  "But when you just got an album, you know, you can't put everybody on 'em.  Me and my sister is gonna do an album together, me and Crystal.  We been sayin' that for years.  I said 'You know, there's no use talkin' about it.  Let's just go in the studio and do it!  We've got to get it done.'"  At this point Loretta turns to face her sister saying, "And Crystal Gayle, you need to help me do that!"
Loretta Lynn (left) and Crystal Gayle answer questions for the media

Members of Loretta's family pose for photographers.  From left to right:  brother Herman, sister Peggy Sue, Crystal Gayle, Loretta, sister Betty Ruth, daughter Cissy.

A collaboration between Loretta Lynn and Crystal Gayle - who wouldn't love to hear that?


Of all the hit songs Loretta has had over the course of her career, her autobiographical song "Coal Miner's Daughter" easily ranks as her most-remembered and best-loved hit.  But did she see it as a surefire hit when she released it?  No, she did not.  "You know I had six more verses to that song?  And I went ahead and I sung it to Owen Bradley, and he looked at me and he said 'Loretta, there's already been one "El Paso," there'll never be another one.'  He said 'Go in there somewhere and sit down and take six verses off,' and that's what I had to do.  So I just thought it was just another song with people talkin' about their lives, you know.  I didn't think about it ever bein' anything.  But it was a smash, and I'm real proud.  I'm proud to be a coal miner's daughter!  I am!"


Loretta says that she continues to write songs today.  "Well, you know when I think of a good title, I write it down, and me and Shawn Camp wrote quite a bit last year.  We haven't wrote this year,  and I don't even think somethin's wrong with me, but I just couldn't get into it this year!  I don't know why.  But a song title will come to me, and I'll write two or three lines, and get the melody to it.  But Shawn is a great writer.  He's a great writer, so me and him have to start back writin' again.  We wrote quite a few that I've recorded, and we got two or three more already wrote that I'm gonna cut.  He's s'posed to come tonight.  I don't know if he will or not.  He's probably mad at me 'cause I hadn't wrote with him," Loretta jokes.  "No, he ain't that kinda guy."

The upcoming tribute album features a re-recorded version of "Coal Miner's Daughter," which includes vocals from Miranda Lambert and Sheryl Crow.  "I love Miranda," Loretta says.  "I think she's just feisty enough that she can do anything she wants to do, and she's a great little singer - great country singer.  Now I'm not sayin' pop, 'cause me and her neither one are gonna go pop.  If we do, it'll shock me!  But Sheryl, you know, she cuts rock and she cuts pop, but we did 'Coal Miner's Daughter, the three of us."

Speaking of pop, how does Loretta feel about all of the pop-country that is heard on country airwaves?  "I love the old country music - don't get me wrong.  But I love the pop-flavor country songs that they come out with too.  I like the polished country music that they do today.  Now I'm not sayin' I can do it, but I love it.  But I love the old country, and I love the new."
Crystal Gayle shares her sister's opinion.  "There's a lot of really good artists out there.  As Loretta was saying, it is a little bit more of what the pop music of the seventies was, and I liked the pop music then.  Everything changes, and there's always a time and a place.  I definitely don't want them to forget in radio the true country as well."

"I'm so proud of my sister!" says Crystal.  "I'd turn that radio on, and there she was!  I knew every song by heart... until she told me to quit singin' 'em... I love my sister, and I love her music.  When you think of country music in Nashville, you think of Loretta Lynn.  Not just because of the music, but of her as a personality, and her love of country, and her promotion of country.  She's all over the world.  That has opened up the doors for country music through the years, and I just think it's great.  It's even greater that she's my sister!"

Marty Stuart (left) and John Carter Cash












At the following reception, Marty Stuart had further kind words for Loretta.  "She's one of the most awarded females in the history of country music.  This museum attests to this, so that she might share the many accolades she has with us... A few years ago, a journalist mentioned her - that she was the Queen of Country Music.  'Kitty Wells is the queen.  Tammy Wynette is the first lady'" ("I thought that was Connie Smith," Marty jokingly added) "'I'm just the coal miner's daughter,' Loretta said.  Kitty Wells might have been the queen to a lot of people, but I agree with the reporter."

It was a special night for Loretta, and for all of country music.  But, as Crystal Gayle rightly pointed out, this was just Loretta's first fifty years.  "We'll have to open a new museum for the next fifty."

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Margaret Durante, "Mississippi's Cryin'"

Margaret Durante made her first bid for country radio airplay last year with a lackluster cover of a Kings of Leon pop hit.  The passing of a year finds her signed with the newly-formed Emrose division of the independent Stroudavarious label.  She now hits country radio with the single "Mississippi's Cryin'," and will release a seven-song EP later this year.

The single's main asset is a set of lyrics that are packed with emotion.  The song describes the painful breakup of a relationship.  As this woman watches her man drive away, dark clouds gather in the sky as the whole state of Mississippi starts "cryin'."  The tormented narrator gropes for reasons why her man has left her, but she and Mississippi have figured one thing out - he "ain't comin' back."  The geographical reference to Mississippi, along with some weather-related imagery, make the song even more interesting without distracting from the story that it tells.

The instrumental arrangement could have used a little more polish, as the existing line-up does little to compliment Margaret's vocals.  However, Margaret's performance has enough focus, power, and emotional connection to cut through the clutter. The loose production is a very minor detail in comparison with the many qualities that make this single great. 

The song reaches an emotional height at the bridge when Margaret implores "Where you goin' baby?/ What's in Tennessee?/ You never said a word about Memphis, so who is she?"  At that point, Margaret's tearstained vocal delivery just might have the listener crying along with her and Mississippi.

"Mississippi's Cryin'" might not make many waves commercially, but Margaret's showstopping performance still makes it a strong single that is well worth a listen.

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

(To hear this song, click "Cool New Music")

Friday, September 24, 2010

Tim McGraw, "Felt Good On My Lips"


Hearing this new Tim McGraw song makes me long for the days when his music had well-constructed lyrics, strong production, and a semblance of a country identity.  It's hard to believe that this dud of a single is coming from the same guy who was one of the most consistently entertaining male country artists of the nineties.

"Felt Good On My Lips" follows the typical songwriting formula in which loosely connected verses each culminate in a common title hook.  In the first verse, the song's narrator describes the origin of his lover's name, which I frankly couldn't care less about.  It's a strange-sounding name of Spanish origin, but he has to admit that it felt good on his lips.  After the first chorus, he describes a drink that also feels good on his lips.  By the time he reaches the final verse, he gets his first kiss.  Surprise!  Her cherry lip gloss feels good on his lips too.  Sure as heck didn't see that one coming.

Tim is basically delivering another variation on nostalgia-themed songs like his past hit "Something Like That."  It's the kind of song that Kenny Chesney and Brad Paisley have practically built their careers on.  That concept has at times been known to work well, but "Lips" is done in by the fact that it waits to darn long to get interesting, and ultimately never does get interesting.  The song goes absolutely nowhere with its rote descriptions of Spanish names, bubbly beverages, and cherry lip gloss.  We are given no insight into the development of this romantic relationship, the qualities that make this woman special, or how these experiences have shaped this man as a person.

A disjointed melody runs the song further into the ground with the help of some messy and chaotic production choices.  Though Tim McGraw has released a few stinkers in recent years, I was still holding out hope that he might soon pull out of the quality rut he had fallen into.  But hearing yet another downright stupid Tim McGraw song makes me wonder if this time he has finally jumped the shark for good.

TIM'S SCORE:  3
(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10)

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Top Ten Greatest Women of the Nineties, #8 - Mary Chapin Carpenter

Though she can only be called a "country singer" in the loosest sense of the word, this folk songstress with an Ivy League degree was one of the biggest country stars of the early nineties.  Throughout her career, Mary Chapin Carpenter brought sophistication to country radio while acting as the voice of the nineties woman.

Her 1987 Columbia debut album Hometown Girl was a popular record on college radio stations, but it wasn't until her label began marketing her as a "country" arist that her career really began to take off.  Mary Chapin was ambivilent toward the thought of being pigeonholed into any particular genre, but her being labeled as a country artist allowed her to reach a much wider audience than ever before, especially since country music was increasing in popularity.  She released her first mainstream country album, State of the Heart, in 1989, which placed her among country's famed Class of '89.  Between 1989 and 1995, Mary Chapin Carpenter scored an impressive run of seventeen Top 20 country hits.

Mary Chapin Carpenter began making a name for herself at the 1990 CMA Awards show, during which she performed her snarky composition "You Don't Know Me (I'm the Opening Act)."  The song took stabs at those in country music who had let their success go to their heads.  Performing the song was a gutsy move for a new artist, seeing as she risked alienating key individuals in the music business - individuals who would determine the fate of her career.  But the audience was able to appreciate the humor in the song, and gave Mary Chapin Carpenter a standing ovation.

In 1990, Mary Chapin released the album Shooting Straight In the Dark, which produced her biggest hit up to that point with the #2 "Down at the Twist and Shout."  She gave some extra authenticity to the Cajun-flavored record by having an actual "band from Louisianne" accompany her on the track.  "Down at the Twist and Shout" won Mary Chapin Carpenter the 1992 Grammy Award for Best Female Country Vocal Performance.

Mary Chapin's 1992 album Come On Come On was a runaway success.  Seven of the album's twelve tracks became hits.  The album's first single was the Top 5 hit, "I Feel Lucky," one of Mary Chapin Carpenter's best-known ditties.  With "I Feel Lucky" Mary Chapin once again netted a Grammy for Best Female Country Vocal Performance.

She repeated the win yet again with her 1993 hit "Passionate Kisses."

Mary Chapin's 1993 #2 hit "He Thinks He'll Keep Her" was arguably her finest and most memorable single.  The lyrics were inspired by a 1970s Geritol commercial in which a man highlights his wife's many accomplishments, and draws the conclusion "My wife... I think I'll keep her."

"He Thinks He'll Keep Her" tells the story of a wife who fulfills her many duties to her husband's satisfaction, but does not consider her life truly fulfilling.  It was the first country song in history to be nominated for the Record of the Year Grammy Award without having crossed over to the pop charts.  The music video was taken from the CBS-TV special Women of Country, featuring appearances from Emmylou Harris, Kathy Mattea, Patty Loveless, Pam Tillis, Trisha Yearwood, and Suzy Bogguss.

Mary Chapin's 1994 album Stones In the Road yielded the most successful radio single of her career with the #1 smash "Shut Up and Kiss Me."  With "Shut Up and Kiss Me" Mary Chapin Carpenter became the first singer in history to win the Best Female Country Vocal Performance Grammy Award for four consecutive years.

Country radio began to cool toward Mary Chapin Carpenter in the latter half of the decade.  In 1996, she contributed the track "Grow Old with Me" to the John Lennon tribute album Working Class Hero.  She released the album A Place In the World that same year, which yielded a few more minor hits, and sold respectably.

Since the turn of the millenium, Mary Chapin Carpenter has recorded several more studio albums that have been at a high artistic standard.  She returned in 2001 with the album Time* Sex* Love*, which explored themes such as the need to take life at one's own pace without indulging in materialism.  In 2004, she released Between Here and Gone, the album that was to be her swan song for Columbia Records.  Her 2007 album The Calling was released under the indie label Rounder Records imprint Zoe.

Mary Chapin Carpenter often struggled with depression throughout the early 2000s.  She suffered a near-fatal pulmonary embolism in 2007 while touring to support The Calling, but she eventually made a full recovery.  Her most recent studio album The Age of Miracles was released earlier this year.

Mary Chapin Carpenter has never sounded like your typical run-of-the-mill country singer, and her more recent efforts have strayed even further from traditional country music.  Nevertheless, her memorable and well-crafted lyrics have earned her an honored place in country music history, not to mention a well-deserved spot on this countdown.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Keith Urban, "Put You In a Song"

The new tune from Keith Urban is a shamelessly catchy and inoffensive ditty if ever there was one.  He doesn't try to reinvent the wheel on this track, but what he does he does well.

In "Put You In a Song," Keith takes on the role of a lovestruck man who crosses paths with a girl who's "lookin' so fine."  He wishes he could put her in a song, or more specifically, 'put her in his car, and drive, and turn her up loud.'  Make sense?  Not a whole lot.

There may not be much lyrical furniture here, but what really makes this track is the energy and excitement in Keith's performance, not the mention the wildly hooky melody that just begs you to sing along.  When Keith shouts "I love this girl!" to the whole wide world, he sounds like he means it.  The upbeat musical arrangement, featuring catchy guitar hooks paired with the beat of a cowbell, is perfectly on par with the energy in Keith's vocals.

There's no storyline to speak of, and there are no profound life lessons.  "Put You In a Song" doesn't pretend to be anything more than what it is - three and a half minutes of rockin' fun.  It's definitely not cut out to be a country classic, and it probably won't even be one of Keith's best-remembered tunes.  Yes, it will probably get old after a while.  By the time it's done shooting up the charts, I'll probably hate it, and need some time away from it.  But for now, I'm just going to do what the song says - Put it in my car, and drive, and turn it up loud!

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

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Album Review: Billy Currington - Enjoy Yourself

Country heartthrob Billy Currington seems to have found his niche as the hillbilly slacker - a fact that is evidenced throughout his newly-released fourth album Enjoy Yourself.  The album's lead-off single, "Pretty Good at Drinkin' Beer" perfectly set the tone for the album to follow.  If you've heard that song, you've practically heard the whole album.

Enjoy Yourself is an easily digestible slice of calm and inoffensive contemporary country.  The vast majority of the songs have a laid-back shuffle tempo, with production that resembles soft 80s-style pop-rock with a touch of country twang.  The set includes a Chesney-esque trip to the beach ("Perfect Day") along with a Paisley-esque ode to the joys of fishing ("Bad Day of Fishin'").  As a whole, the album has a lyrical message that could easily be summed up in three simple words - Take it easy!

To Billy's credit, this style does suit him well, and he pulls it off very convincingly.  He performs each song in a laid-back delivery that aptly fits the subject matter of the songs.  The main problem with this album is that it fails to strike a balance of lyrical themes, instead gravitating toward one lazy little ditty after another.  While lazy ditties are not inherently crappy, hearing an album that's chock-full of them is like listening to the same song over and over again.

There are a couple of breaks in the monotony.  The romantic soft-rocker "Until You," provides one serious moment.  One standout track is "Love Done Gone," which features a horn arrangement sent against a catchy "ba-da-da-ba-ba-baaa" hook.  On "Like My Dog," a narrator wishes that his woman loved him the same way his dog loved him (In that, for example, his dog doesn't play dead when he wants to pet him).  In a way, that song almost seems to stand out just for the fact that it takes hokey-ness to a whole new level.

While most of the songs on this album could be described as "pretty good," there's really nothing on this album that can be called great.  There's not much in the way of lyrical profundity, and there are no songs that really make you think.  Since Billy has substantial vocal talent, it would be nice to see him aim a little higher artistically.

 Enjoy Yourself is a mildly pleasant album, but it is not an engaging one.  You might find a few good guilty pleasures on here, but not much else.  If you're looking for some country music that has some real meat in it, you won't find it here.

BILLY'S SCORE:  5
(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10)

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The Judds, "I Will Stand By You"

I never thought the day would come when I would hear a Judds song that I didn't like.  I especially wouldn't expect it when the Judds are preparing to make a highly-anticipated comeback for one last album and tour.  Sadly, that is exactly what has happened.  Wynonna and Naomi have released their first new single in a decade.  How I would love to drool all over it, give it a big fat ten, and proclaim it their best work in ages!  But unfortunately, there are not many good things that I can say about "I Will Stand By You."

"I Will Stand By You" is helped by some tasteful production choices.  It is similar to the Judds' eighties hits in that it is backed by mostly acoustic production, but it has been slightly modernized with a stronger beat.  On the down side, the song has a dull melody, it doesn't quite suit Wynonna's voice, and the harmonies are not as tight as they once were.

What of the song itelf?  Lame.  Really lame.  It's a string of cliches that say "I'm one tough cookie!"  It hits all the bases from "I am as ready as I'll ever be" to "I am stronger still when I'm on my knees."  There's no narrative to bind all these sentiments into something cohesive.  Furthermore, it's hard to take encouragement from a series of vague platitudes that do not relate to real-life situations.  Nothing about these lyrics feels real or relevant.  Wynonna and Naomi are better than this.

Whenever a ledendary act makes a comeback, the new music must bear comparison with past work.  It's been 24 years since the Judds released their classic "Grandpa (Tell Me 'Bout the Gold Old Days)," but that song is far from forgotten.  On the contrary, generations of country music lovers remember it and cherish it down to this day.  That exposes the main problem with this new single - It is easily forgotten five minutes after it ends.

If this is going to be Wynonna and Naomi's final time recording together, then they should be going out with a bang.  Do something that will really blow us away!  It would obviously have no chance at radio anyway, so they should focus on giving us something special to remember them by.  The idea of the Judds recording one last album sounded so promising, but such a weak single is hardly an enticing preview.  That makes this Judd-head very disappointed!

THE JUDDS' SCORE:  4
(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10)

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Sunday, September 19, 2010

Loretta Lynn, Miranda Lambert, and Sheryl Crow, "Coal Miner's Daughter"

There's been a lot of buzz surrounding the highly-anticipated Loretta Lynn tribute album. (You can start pre-judging it right now on Country Universe)  The 12-track collection will feature appearances from artists chosen by Loretta herself.  These include Alan Jackson, Martina McBride, Faith Hill, Carrie Underwood, Kid Rock, Paramore, and the White Stripes, among others.  The first single from the project has been released, and it is a new version of Loretta's signature classic "Coal Miner's Daughter" - a collaboration between Miranda Lambert, Sheryl Crow, and Loretta herself.

The track kicks off with Loretta singing the famous opening lines:  "Well, I was borned a coal miner's daughter/ In a cabin on a hill in Butcher Holler..."  In the middle portion of the song, Miranda and Sheryl trade off verses, and then Loretta returns again to sing the ending of the song.  In several parts, we hear all three women blending their voice together in gorgeous harmony.  Though the instrumentation is nearly identical to that of the original recording, hearing these three vocalists collaborate on the song does give it a fresh new feel.

But while the track is enjoyable to hear, the arrangement doesn't make a whole lot of sense.  "Coal Miner's Daughter" is entirely Loretta's song - her autobiography set to music.  It seems odd to hear Loretta singing her autobiographical classic with two younger singers who can't relate to it in the same way.  Then again, how do you make a Loretta Lynn tribute album without including Loretta's signature song?  And if Loretta herself is the one singing it, then there's really nobody paying tribute to her.  With that in mind, should Miranda or Sheryl have recorded a solo version of the song?  The song does seem to make more sense as a solo, but including Loretta on the track does lend it some authenticity.  It likely would have been difficult for the producers to find a way of doing this that would please everybody.

So, would there have been a better way to handle this?  I can't say, and I'm not up to doing that much thinking right now.  But what I do hear is a country music legend who still sounds just as good as ever, along with two talented artists paying reverential tribute to an artist they love.  This track could just be interpreted as a simple jam session between three friends.  In that case, we might as well just sit back and enjoy it.

LORETTA, MIRANDA, and SHERYL'S SCORE:  7
(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10)

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Top Ten Greatest Women of the Nineties, #9 - Lorrie Morgan

Lorrie Morgan is one artist who can say that, in the truest sense, country music is in her blood.  She is the daughter of a late Grand Ole Opry legend - "Candy Kisses" singer George Morgan.  For Lorrie, a night at the Opry was a common childhood experience.  At the tender age of 13, she took the stage at the Opry for the very first time, performing the Marie Osmond classic "Paper Roses," and receiving a standing ovation from the crowd.  On June 9, 1984, Lorrie was inducted as a member of the Grand Ole Opry.  At not yet 25 years old, she was the youngest singer ever to receive that honor.  As Lorrie's career gained momentum, she proved that such an honor was justly deserved.

Lorrie made her breakthrough to the country music mainstream as a member of the famed Class of '89 (along with Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, Clint Black, Travis Tritt, and Mary Chapin Carpenter).  Her top ten debut album Leave the Light On yielded several substantial hit singles.  She had her first #1 hit in 1990 with "Five Minutes."  Also in 1990, she won the CMA Vocal Event of the Year award for her work with her late husband Keith Whitley.

In 1991, Lorrie returned with her sophomore album Something In Red.  Like her debut, the album reached the Billboard Top 10, and yielded three top ten singles.  On that album, Lorrie paid tribute to one of her musical heroes, George Jones, with her version of his classic "A Picture of Me (Without You)."  She was rewarded with another Top 10 hit.

The album's title track chronicled chronicled the stages of a developing romance through a woman's clothing choices.  Though the single missed the Top 10, it is considered one of Lorrie's finest singles, and ranks as one of her best-remembered hits.

In 1992, Lorrie's third album Watch Me was released on BNA Records, a new division of RCA.  The reached platinum certification, like her first two, thus making Lorrie the first female country music artist in history to have three consecutive albums certified platinum.  Watch Me produced the most successful chart hit of Lorrie's career - the three-week number-one smash, "What Part of No."

Lorrie's 1994 album War Paint yielded no signficant radio hits (The first and most successful single, "My Night to Howl," stalled at #31).  Still, the album reached Top 10 selling status, and was certified Gold in the U.S. and Canada.  By 1995, Lorrie had earned the right to release a super-early Greatest Hits package.  The 11-track album included seven of her solo hits, her duet with Keith Whitely ("'Til a Tear Becomes a Rose"), and three previously unreleased tracks.  One of those new recordings ("I Didn't Know My Own Strength") became Lorrie's third and final chart-topping single.

In 1996, Lorrie released her fifth studio album Greater Need, which featured more stunning vocal performances.  In included the Top 5 hit, "Good As I Was to You," which portrayed an emotional confrontation between a wronged woman, her unfaithful ex-lover, and his new love. (I was unable to embed the music video in this post, but click here to view it on YouTube)

Lorrie had her final Top 10 hit in 1997 with the  #3 "Go Away" - a quirky and humorous song about a woman's tendency to change her mind.  Lorrie's sassy vocal delivery fit the lyrics perfectly.

Lorrie's 1999 album My Heart yielded her final Top 20 single, "Maybe Not Tonight," a duet with then-husband Sammy Kershaw.  By then, her popularity on country radio had declined significantly.

Though Lorrie is no longer heard on country radio, she has continued to tour and record.  In 2001, she released a duets album with Sammy Kershaw (I Finally Found Someone).  She released the highly personal album Show Me How in 2004.  Her most recent release is last year's A Moment In Time, a collection of classic country covers.

At this point, I would like to step from the critic's shoes to the fan's shoes, and say that Lorrie is one artist on the countdown who is particularly special to me.  She, along with Garth Brooks, takes credit for introducing me to country music.  When I was knee-high, my mother used to play her Something In Red album in the living room.  My twin sister and I would listen to her music, and dance around the room in our diapers (Am I oversharing?  I hope not) Hearing that album always brings back memories.  It is largely because of Lorrie Morgan that I became a country music lover, and that this blog exists.  So believe me when I tell you that... Oh my gosh!  Lorrie is like so totally awesome!!!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Album Review: Joey + Rory - Album #2

The sophomore effort from Joey + Rory kicks off with some Nashville music scene commentary in the opening title track.  They demonstrate an awareness of what is at stake with the release of album number two.  It is a make-or-break moment in which an artist fears the dreaded "sophomore slump."  Fortunately, Joey + Rory do not slump on Album #2 - They soar.

The album offers a pleasant surprise in that we get to hear Rory sing lead on a few of the tracks.  He duets with Joey on the title track, and on the romantic ballad "Born to Be Your Woman."  He gets a solo of his own on "My Ol' Man," - one of the finest tracks on the album - in which he cites several examples of the way he has been shaped by the influence, example, and discipline of his father.

Though the album has its share of serious moments, it also includes some genuinely funny ditties.  One of the most notable examples is "Baby, I'll Come Back to You," which namechecks every country singer from Dolly Parton to Brad Paisley, and includes humor that only country music fans can appreciate.  Joey delivers a humorous take on the theme of cheating with "God Help My Man."  But the funny songs don't crowd out those with a deeper meaning.  On "Where Jesus Is," a song that is based on a Bible verse, Joey shows a spiritual side without sounding preachy.  Another highlight is "The Horse That Nobody Could Ride" - a narrative that demonstrates the wisdom of using persuasion rather than force.

Album #2 retains the neotraditional-style production that has always characterized Joey + Rory's sound.  Though it does lean toward traditional country sounds, it still has enough polish to sound modern, rather than sounding like a relic from a bygone decade.  A few bluegrass-flavored tracks add some extra variety to the album's sound.

The album has a couple of weak moments, one of which is "You Ain't Right" - an awkward attempt to celebrate the unique and peculiar, and an attempt that merely inspires a raised eyebrow.  "This Song's for You," while enjoyable, could be perceived as pandering, and it does not fare well in comparison with the other tracks.

But despite its weaknesses, Album #2 is overall a strong effort overflowing with heart, wit, and sincerity.  If you love country music as real as it comes, this album's for you.

JOEY + RORY'S SCORE:  8
(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10)

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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Jewel, "Ten"

Fifteen years ago, a young acoustic-based songstress named Jewel released Pieces of You, one of the greatest albums ever heard.  In the years since, she has experimented with a variety of musical styles, with varying degrees of success.  Sadly, her experience in writing and recording for a major label nearly drowned out the inner songwriting voice that once allowed her to write such memorable verses.  Fortunately, her new single "Ten" inspires hope that she may find that voice once again.

Granted, "Ten" is based on an old adage - a songwriting tactic that often proves to be a recipe for disaster. (George Strait's "The Breath You Take" is a classic example of how it can go wrong) We've all heard the age-old advice that we should "count to ten" before letting anger take control of us.  Jewel applies those words of wisdom in the setting of a marital dispute.  But what does Jewel do in order to give a fresh take on an old saying?

It's simple.  Jewel makes the song interesting by giving us insight into the thoughts and feelings of the character who, in the heat of conflict, is about to leave her man for good.  She chooses to stop and count to ten.

"One - I still want to hate you
Two, three - I still want to leave
Four - Searching for the door
Five - Then I look in your eyes
Six - Take a deep breath
Seven - Take a step back.
Eight, Nine - I don't know why we even started this fight
By the time I get to Ten, I'm right back in your arms again"

By the time Jewel reaches the final chorus, she finds herself counting once again - only this time she is not counting in an effort to calm herself down.  This time she is counting her blessings, as she has now realized what a good thing she has.

Is Jewel claiming that any marital dispute can be solved in ten literal seconds?  Probably not.  The lyrics could have something of a figurative meaning.  'Counting to ten' could refer to letting any necessary amount of time pass in order to defuse anger.  In real life, many a troubled relationship could be salvaged if couples heeded this advice, and counted to ten.  The song has a message, and it's a message that can be practically applied.  This is relevant.  This is real.  Jewel delivers this message through her soft signature warble, backed by banjo- and mandolin-laced production that sounds great on its own without getting in the way of the lyrics. 

"Ten" easily rivals "Stronger Woman" as the finest single of Jewel's country career.  If country radio is ever to embrace Jewel, this is the song that they should start with.  "Ten" is a ten!

JEWEL'S SCORE:  10 (The song is aptly titled!)
(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10)

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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Top 10 Greatest Women of the Nineties, #10 - Kathy Mattea

Weren't the nineties a great decade for country music?  Country Universe just had a great celebration of the nineties with their 400 Greatest Singles of the Nineties countdown.  I am now going to have a celebration of my own on the 1-to-10.

Country music has always boasted an abundance of female talent.  But particularly in recent years, such talent has often gone unnoticed as country radio has become increasintly biased in favor of male artists.  The main purpose of this feature is to recognize the talented ladies who were the standard-bearers of country women during country's most commercially successful and culturally significant era - the 1990s.

I have created a list of the Top 10 greatest women who thrived in country music during the nineties.  Since I spend a lot of blogging time taking down one turd-pile after another (which I admit I do derive some sick pleasure from), this will be a refreshing oppurtunity to talk about the good stuff.  It also gives me a chance to write about some great artists who are no longer in the country music mainstream, some of whom have not released new music in quite some time.  My rankings takes into account which ladies had the greatest overall industry presence during the decade, as well as those who released the most memorable material.

The countdown kicks off with Kathy Mattea, who was first established as a major star during the eighties.  Her success continued well into the nineties, with her being at the top tier level of stardom at the dawn of the decade.  She hit the Top 10 in 1990 with "Where've You Been," a touching ballad about the longing a man and a woman have for one another.  Thanks to this song, Kathy netted a Grammy award for Best Female Country Vocal Performance.  The song also helped her earn a CMA nomination for Entertainer of the Year, a category that has always been difficult for female artists to break into.  To this day, "Where've You Been" is considered one of Kathy's signature hits.

She had another Top 10 hit that year with "The Battle Hymm of Love," a duet with Tim O'Brien.  "The Battle Hymm of Love" ranks as one of the most uniquely memorable wedding songs ever heard in country music.  The fiery conviction in the lyrics is brought to new heights by the spectacular performance of the two vocalists.

Kathy developed an impressively eclectic musical style throughout the decade.  Being partly of Scottish decent, she developed a great interest in the traditional folk music of Scotland, making several trips to Scotland in the early nineties.  She studied the links between Scottish folk and American country music.  This led to her recording the rootsy and ambitious album Time Passes By.  Though it was not a runaway success at radio, it did produce two Top 10 hits (the title track, and "A Few Good Things Remain"), and was met with critical acclaim.

She returned to a more commercial sound with her 1994 effort Walking Away a Winner.  The title track boasted a strong vocal performance and aggressive production, becoming the final Top 10 hit of her career.

Kathy's commercial success waned as the decade wore on, but she continued to deliver high-quality recordings.  Her 1997 album Love Travels found her striking a balance between folk and mainstream country influences.  It did not produce any major hits, but the title track and "455 Rocket" both cracked the Top 40.  In addition, "455 Rocket" won a CMA Award for Music Video of the Year."

After the nineties ended, Kathy continued to record.  Her new millenium efforts so far have included several more studio albums, as well as a critically-acclaimed bluegrass album, Coal.

The tenth spot on the countdown was the most difficult one to fill, as each of the other nine ladies seemed to be a shoo-in.  Though Kathy had great commercial success in the first half of the decade, it was her creative expression and exploration of styles that ultimately earned her a spot on this list.  Granted, her Entertainer of the Year nomination gave her a bit of an edge as well.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Mary Chapin Carpenter, "The Way I Feel"


On her current album, The Age of Miracles, Mary Chapin Carpenter delves into some heavy lyrical material, but closes the album with a lighthearted tune about finding freedom on the open road.

The majority of the song's appeal lies in its pleasant melody, aided by Mary's soft laid-back vocal delivery, and backed by typical Carpenter-style folk-country production.  This is not the kind of song that you rock out to on the interstate. (If you're looking for "Life Is a Highway, Part 2," look elsewhere) Still, the slow and mellow tempo is well-suited to the carefree mood that the song creates.  If you're just looking for some simple background music to listen to during your morning drive to work, "The Way I Feel" will fit the bill perfectly.

But wait - who is this song coming from again?  This is Mary Chapin Carpenter, the same respected singer-songwriter who brought a new sophistication to country radio during her 90s heyday.  She is renowned for her clever and introspective lyrics that remain relevant today.  The lyrics of "The Way I Feel" do not measure up to her previous standards.  There's just nothing particularly interesting or special about lines such as "When I'm all alone on a midnight highway/ There's nothing like two hands on the wheel."

It's not necessarily bad, and it does have a pleasant sound to it, but when one's songwriting catalog includes timeless classics like "He Thinks He'll Keep Her," the expectations are a little bit higher.

MARY CHAPIN'S SCORE:  5
(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10)

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Friday, September 10, 2010

Dierks Bentley, "Draw Me a Map"

Apparently, country radio didn't particularly care to hear about "how we live up on the ridge."  That was suggested by the fact that "Up On the Ridge," stalled at #21 on the Billboard country chart, which is the weakest chart showing of Dierks Bentley's career.

Can Dierks rebound with his new single?  It's hard to guess.  Releasing a song like "Draw Me a Map" to country radio can be a risky move for a bona fide hitmaker who is in the prime of his commercial career.  Sadly, this is an era in which great songs are often dismissed by radio gatekeepers simply because they are too country for pop-oriented country radio.  "Draw Me a Map" is backed by a stripped-down acoustic arrangment that runs a significant risk of being deemed "too country."

But despite the fact that it might not be what radio is expecting, the arrangement is a pleasure to hear.  The simplified instrumentation allows us to hear the rich background vocals of Alison Krauss.  Though she supplied vocals on "Up On the Ridge" as well, she was unfortunately drowned out by layers of production.  The prominent sounds of the fiddle and dobro sound beautiful, but they do not get in the way of the vocals and lyrics.

While the lyrics do not inspire any deep thoughts, they too tell a story in a simple and straightforward manner.  In a plea for reconciliation, Dierks begs his lover to figuratively "draw me a map that leads me back to you."  There are no bland throwaway lines, nor any over-used cliches, which would result in an instant loss of points on this blog.  Dierks' vocal delivery tells a story in its own right.  You can hear the desperation in his voice, as he seems to wonder if it is too late too make amends, and if the troubled relationship cannot be salvaged.

While there are plenty of things to like about this single, perhaps its greatest quality is the artistic edge behind it.  He may have been playing it safe with his previous single, but Dierks is now challenging country radio programmers to play something drastically different from the usual mediocrity.  "Draw Me a Map" could be a big step toward making country radio interesting again, and it could blaze a trail for other artists to take similar risks.  Here's hoping that more country stars will follow this "Map"!

DIERKS'S SCORE:  10
(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10)

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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Ken Domash, "Ding Dang Darn It"

You can't judge a song by its title... or can you?  I wouldn't have high expectations for a song called "Ding Dang Darn It," but listening to it only makes me want to utter a few soft-core expletives myself.

Idiotic title hook aside, "Ding Dang Darn It" caters to the same demographic that pushed "Honky Tonk Badonkadonk" into the Country Top 5, or that had even an ounce of toleration for "Rockin' the Beer Gut."  What is it about, you ask?  It's about a man sitting wide-eyed at a bar, watching as an attractive female stands on the counter and shakes her behind in his face.

Where to begin?  It's just another song about a man who has no respect for women, and a woman who has no self-respect.  There's no creative touch other than a reference to Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video, and there's nothing to reward the listener for sitting through these three minutes of pure tripe.  I could set this review to music, and it would make a much better song than this.

Some nifty fiddle work provides a slight asset, but "Ding Dang Darn It" remains a cheap gimmick song that no discerning listener will take seriously.

KEN'S SCORE:  3
(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10)

WATCH THE MUSIC VIDEO

Monday, September 6, 2010

Sara Evans, "A Little Bit Stronger"

Poor Sara.  One day she's as high-profile and popular as a country girl can possibly get.  The next day she's virtually tossed out (along with LeAnn Rimes, Jo Dee Messina, Gretchen Wilson...) in favor of Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift.  Her "new" album has been sitting on a shelf at RCA Nashville for the past year after the first single tanked on country radio.  Now she's back for another stab at the charts, likely hoping that she can finally get RCA to release the dang album. (This single will also appear on the upcoming soundtrack to the film Country Strong)

Instead of belting out the song McBride-style, Sara delivers a performance that is soft and low-key, but still entirely believable.  Her voice sounds just as beautiful as ever, and it has been sorely missed on country radio.  The percussion in the chorus is a slight distraction, but Sara is a strong enough vocalist to avoid being drowned out.

The song itself is a beauty.  It was written by Hillary Scott of Lady Antebellum fame, who provides backup vocals on this track.  The song's character is a strong and confident woman who maintains a positive outlook in the wake of a difficult breakup.  She acknowledges that she is hurting, but tells herself that every time she looks in the mirror and puts a smile on her face, she gets a little bit stronger.

It's easy to imagine why Sara would show a connection to these lyrics, seeing as she went through such a nasty divorce just a few years ago.  One this track, Sara reminds us why she was one of the most consistently entertaining female vocalists of the early 2000s.  She is a more-than-capable singer, and this is an excellent song.  If Sara is ever to reclaim her radio stardom, this song gives her a strong chance of achieving it.

Welcome back, Sara.  You've been missed.

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

To hear this song, click "Cool New Music."

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Album Review: Little Big Town - The Reason Why

Despite having been in a commercial rut for the past three years, Little Big Town seems to be making a notable comeback with their first new album since 2007.  The Reason Why has already become the first number-one album of the group's career, aided by one of the strongest singles of 2010 ("Little White Church," their first Top 10 hit in four years).

The musical stylings of The Reason Why remains rooted in contemporary country while incorporating moderate rock influence throughout.  On most of the tracks, the rock elements complement the songs rather than detracting from them.  The only exception is "Runaway Train," in which the screeching electric guitars nearly drown out all four voices, distracting from the vocals and the lyrical narrative.  The album features an eclectic mix of rousing country-rock tunes interspersed with simple stripped-down acoustic numbers.

There are a few noteworthy album highlights.  One highlight is the soft acoustic ballad, "You Can't Have Everything," in which Kimberly Schlapman takes on the role of a wife reflecting on the many blessings in her life, wishing that the her husband's love was one of them.  The harmonies soar beautifully on "Kiss Goodbye" a ballad about learning to let go of lost love and move on.  Just try to listen to the sing-along-worthy "All the Way Down" without getting totally hooked on it.

The vocal arrangements effectively showcase LBT's signature harmonies while still allowing each vocalist to shine individually.  In typical LBT fashion, the four members rotate lead vocal duties on different tracks.  All are capable frontmen, but the album's most memorable moments often come when Karen Fairchild handles lead vocal duties.  "Little White Church" is one of the finest displays of her vocal abilities, in which she firmly demands commitment from her man, and lets him know that she means business.  On the other hand, she can deliver a sorrowful ballad like "Shut Up Train" with equal sincerity.

The album does suffer from a couple of forgettable tunes, such as the bland-but-listenable "Life Rolls On," and the lackluster cover of Julie Roberts' "Rain On a Tin Roof."  Nevertheless, it is an overall solid effort that could be just strong enough to push Little Big Town back to top-drawer status.

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

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Friday, September 3, 2010

Jaron and the Long Road to Love, "That's Beautiful to Me"

(I still think that is the dumbest stage name ever)

Jaron Lowenstein is, and always has been, a coffee house pop singer.  After his star faded in the pop genre, he did what all prudent pop stars do to further a career - he shifted his appeal to the country market.  He scored his first Top 20 country hit with the vengeful, sinister, and darkly humorous ditty "Pray for You." (I think I'll call my local radio station to request it and dedicate it to... you know who you are)

He now goes from sinister and funny to sweet and saccharine with his follow-up single, "That's Beautiful to Me."  This piano-driven pop ballad follows the simple concept of describing all the many ways one's other half is beautiful.  One problem is that we get a bit of a "Been there, done that" vibe from this song.  Sammy Kershaw practically put a patent on this lyrical theme with his 1993 classic "She Don't Know She's Beautiful," and set a standard that few have been able to reach.  Joe Nichols has trod this territory more than once with songs like "Another Side of You" and "Gimmie That Girl."  "That's Beautiful to Me" bears a strong resemblance to these predecessors, but it doesn't bring anything new or interesting of its own to the table.  It even comes close to recycling some lines, such as those that describe a woman with a becoming lack of makeup.

Ultimately, it's the song's awkward lyrical construction that causes it to fall apart.  Jaron gushes and rambles about what makes his woman so special.  Descriptions range from smarmy and cheesy sentiments such as "Your kindness and sweetened soul lingers like perfume" to cheap throwaway lines line "You're so cool and I'm high tea."  Compare that with "She Don't Know She's Beautiful," in which each verse builds on the next in a focused manner.

Since Jaron's music remains devoid of country instrumentation, he claims that his country credibility lies in his storytelling.  But there's no storytelling going on here.  There's no central idea and no logical progression of thoughts to make this song meaningful, and there's no real reason for me to spend my money on this when I already have "She Don't Know She's Beautiful."  Better luck next time.

JARON'S SCORE:  5
(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10)

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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Music Video Round-Up - September 2010

                                                              
Just in case you thought all those single reviews were getting stale, I am now introducing a new feature.  The Music Video Round-Up will be a monthly feature (if I can remember to do one each month!) in which I post several new music videos that have come out in the previous month, along with some candid thoughts about each one.  For now, the quality of the song itself is totally irrelevant - I am solely judging how good the video is.  As always, readers are encouraged to share their thoughts in the comment section.  I'd love to hear your thoughts on these videos.

Now let's get down to business!

Miranda Lambert, "Only Prettier"

I usually love music videos that have a clever and unique setting.  Miranda's new video is set in a 1950s sock hop.  Why not throw in some cameo appearances by Kellie Pickler, Hillary Scott, and Laura Bell Bundy?  That can't hurt.  Add some dancing, and more of the same quirky humor that makes the song itself so darn fun, and we've got a keeper.

MIRANDA'S SCORE:  8

Sugarland, "Stuck Like Glue"

Wha-oh, wha-oh, so-so cute.  Jennifer Nettles does a fantastic job of channeling her ditzy lovestuck character in this hilarious clip.  She, along with Kristian Bush as her accomplice, kidnap the object of her affections (played by Ryan McPartlin, a.k.a. "Captain Awesome" of Chuck fame) and subject him to her endless attempts to impress him.  The best part is near the end when Jennifer and a bevy of dancing beauties perform a choreographed routine during the reggae breakdown portion of the song.  Who knew Jennifer could move like that?  Could Dancing with the Stars be in her future?  That I can't say, but a sweep at next years CMT Music Awards seems quite likely after this awesome video.

SUGARLAND'S SCORE:  10

Reba McEntire, "Turn On the Radio"

What a disappointment!  This video was just one big missed opportunity!  As you well know, I was not a fan of this song, though I will admit it has grown on me lately.  But one thing I recognized about it was its potential to be an awesome fun music video.  This video come anywhere close to its potential.  It mainly consists of Reba pacing around a room and taunting her ex-lover (who is tied to a chair, and looks young enough to be her son).  A shelf stacked high with radios sits in the room.  The only remotely interesting part of the video is when Reba turns all of the radios on near the end of the song.  Throughout the whole boring video, you feel like you're waiting for something to happen.  But nothing happens.

REBA'S SCORE:  4

Taylor Swift, "Mine"

Whoops!  Taylor's new single leaked.  Whoops again!  The video leaked too.  Taylor's new video is a fine example of the well-constructed storytelling found in much of her music.  The clip builds on the basic story of the song and elaborates on it.  We see several flashbacks of her character's troubled childhood, in which she witnesses the breakup up her parents' marriage.  This explains why she has a tendency to run from love.  At the point when grown-up Taylor and her husband have a fight, she once again recalls a memory of her parents fighting as she 'braces herself for the goodbye.'  As her husband reassures her of his love, we see more flashbacks of the happy memories she has shared with her other half.  The video gives us insight into the thoughts and feelings of Taylor's character, making it all the more engaging.  I've probably said this before, but this might be one of Taylor's best videos.

TAYLOR'S SCORE:  9

(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10... as always)

POLL RESULTS
Which of these vidoes do you like best?

Sugarland, "Stuck Like Glue" - 50%
Miranda Lambert, "Only Prettier" - 21%
Reba McEntire, "Turn On the Radio" - 16%
Taylor Swift, "Mine" - 11%

It's Sugarland by a landslide!  Thanks to the 42 readers who voted in this poll.