Saturday, August 27, 2011

Album Review: The Pistol Annies - Hell on Heels

The Pistol Annies are new on the scene, though the individuals have been around in various country music roles for years.  The “Supergroup” formed by Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe, and Angaleena Presley made their debut at the “CMA Ladies Night Out” this year and have now released their debut album “Hell On Heels”. 
Hell On Heels – The title track is the same attitude you would expect from a group fronted by Lambert, but in a completely different style.   The girls take turns singing about the various things they have taken from guys, from cars to houses to credit cards.  “I’m hell on heels/ Say what you will/ I done made the devil a deal/ He made me pretty/ He made me smart/ I’m gonna break me a million hearts/ I’m hell on heels/ Baby, I’m comin’ for you” the trio start out.  The girls definitely ready to destroy some guys, but instead of the rocking music, they change it up and set a slow, almost bluegrass type tune to it (actually, the tune reminds me of Godsmack’s “Voodoo”).  What results is a very seductive sounding sound that is unique and well done and a great introduction to the group.

Lemon Drop – A well written song about getting through the rough points in life knowing that, eventually, life gets better.  Whether it is their car, their clothes,  the house, or their careers, they know they have to rough it, but you get the impression that they will appreciate it when things change.  The lyrics are embodied in the metaphor of a lemon drop “My life is like a lemon drop/ I’m sucking on the bitter/ To get to the sweet part/ I know there are better days ahead”. 

Beige – While the whole album is slower than what we would expect, the Annie’s slow it down more as they tell about the less than perfect wedding they had.  More than four months pregnant, marrying “some boy”, everyone is judging the bride and not having fun at the reception, and no honeymoon.  The title refers to the color of the bride’s dress: “Now everyone in this place/ Knows I didn’t wait/ ‘Cause I was wearin’ beige”.  The slow cadence of the waltz makes this track less than a standout, but the tone of regret in the singers’ voices, as well as the vivid description of the scene, save the song.

Bad Example – A little more what you would expect from these girls, “Bad Example” tells about how you cannot know what the good path is, unless someone sets the wrong one, and these girls are that “someone”: “Somebody had to set the bad example/ Teach all the prim and propers what not to do/ Nobody ‘round here wants to ramble/ What the hell? That’s what I was born to do”.  My guess is that after “Hell On Heels” this will be a single very soon.

Housewife’s Prayer – When backed against the ropes, the mind goes to extreme’s, and that is what is happening to these girls here.  “I’ve been thinking about/ Settin’ the house on fire/ Can’t see a way out of the mess I’m in and the bills are getting’ higher”.  Times are tough for the singer and her family, and she is about to lose it.  The song is great for the times, as I am sure everyone has been at the point where they feel like they have nothing left to lose, and people of both gender’s will likely relate to the song.

Takin’ Pills – In contrast to the previous song, the girls are still down on their luck, but this one is not as relateable.  It tells about the difficulties of being on the road, trying to make it as a band.  “We owe 400 dollars to the boys in the band/ Gas light’s blinkin’ on a broke down van/ Living on truck stop burgers and fries/ Crossin’ our fingers for a “Vacancy” sign/ Who the hell’s gonna pay these bills?/ One’s drinkin’, one’s smokin’, one’s takin’ pills”.  The song is a little unbelievable coming from these three, especially to hear Miranda sing about the struggles of being a startup this late in her career, but the song is catchy enough to keep it from being a dud.

Boys From The South – Whether Texas, Florida, Carolina, or Tennessee, these girls love their country boys and they take us on a tour of the south, describing what the boys in each state might be doing right now.  Each verse ends with “There’s something about a boy from The South” before talking about the boys they interacted with when they were younger.

The Hunter’s Wife – The funny thing about this band is the songs you would expect to be fast end up being slow and vice-versa.  One cannot help but thinking that this song was written by Miranda, with her new husband Blake in mind.  Blake is an avid hunter, so it would make sense.  “And if I’s a bettin’ woman/ I’d lay my money down/ I’d bet he spends more time in them woods then he spends in this house/ I got myself a problem I can’t figure no way out/ It’s like I’m married to a shotgun carryin’ tobacco chewin’ no good blue tick hound”.  It is a very upbeat song for the topic and I often find my toe tapping to the beat.

Trailer for Rent – One would think that the boys would learn from screwing girls over, especially these girls.  They are out to even the score, so they head down to the paper to place a four-line ad in the classifieds: “Trailer for rent/ No down payment/ Comes with some holes and dents where I got tired of his shit/ Call if your interested”.  The song has some very obvious old-style country tones to it that really make it an appealing song, even at a slow speed.

Family Feud – The trio close out the album in the wake of mama’s funeral.  The family is fighting over the goods that she left behind, since daddy is already gone.  The singer looks on in dismay at the scene, thinking about what mama and daddy would do if they were witnessing the scene, saying “She’s only been in the ground a day or two/ I’m glad mama ain’t around to watch this family feud”.  Each girl takes a round describing what they see and end with “What the good Lord giveth/ The family taketh away”. 

Overall, the Pistol Annies’ debut album is a great effort from three amazing voices.  My only serious complaint is the length of the album.  Clocking in at 30 minutes, the album leaves us wanting so much more from the promising trio.  I already look forward to seeing if they can build upon the solid premiere.  9/10

Also a reminder, looking for people interested in joining me for the group listening party for Brantley Gilbert's forthcoming album.  Details are in my previous post.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Special Announcement!

So, in my last review, I mentioned that there was going to be a special announcement coming up, and the time has come for the reveal.  To be honest, there are two.

1.  I am going to continue with the full-length reviews that I am doing, but there are more than just the one album coming out weekly.  For those smaller albums, as well as albums that came out earlier in the year, I am going to start doing "Micro-reviews".  A paragraph or two with some general thoughts and a rating.  Not as in depth as the reviews I have been doing.  Some of the first reviews in this style will be Jeff Bridges self-titled as well as the new album from Sunny Sweeney.

2.  As many of my readers know, I am a big proponent of the social network, Google+.  Well, the network has a "Hangout" feature that provides a unique opportunity.  I am going to do a "Group Listening Party".  Nine people have the opportunity to join me in a webchat and participate in a review session as we listen to the album together, and share our thoughts, the transcript of which will be posted here.  More details to come, but I am happy to announce the album and weekend that this will debut.  The weekend of September 16-18 (Exact date and time is TBA) we will connect to review an album that has too much personal meaning for me to be objective: The re-release of Brantley Gilbert's "Halfway To Heaven" Album.  In conjunction with this, I will likely do a micro-review of the album, but the majority of it will take place in the Group Listening Party.

There are only nine spots available, so if I have more than nine people sign up, I will do a lottery to determine the nine who join me.  The only requirement is that you have a Google+ account and that you add me to your Circles so that I can invite you.  If you do not have one, you can get one, here.  Sign-ups should happen through Google+.  Let me know that you are interested.  Exact time and date will be forthcoming, as will rules for the chat.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Album Review: Eli Young Band - Life At Best

The Eli Young Band is one that is not well known outside of the Lone Star State, and while they never exactly "rock out", their music is down to Earth and relatable.  They are considered "Texas Country", but, if I were to be honest, I would tell you that I do not know what separates that from regular Country, except that it comes from Texas.  All I know is that the band that brought us "Always The Love Songs" and "Guinevere" returns with their fourth studio album and in keeping with their tradition, they do not overpower us with their music, but put their focus on their lyrics.

Even If It Breaks Your Heart - This is about as upbeat of a song as you will find on the album.  This is not a bad thing, as the style of the band is slower than a lot of their contemporaries.  The song is a feel good song about chasing your ambitions:  "Some dreams stay with you forever/ Drag you around but bring you back to where you were/ Some dreams keep on gettin better/ Gotta keep believin if you wanna know for sure/ Ohhh, I can hear em playin/ I can hear the ringin of a beat up ol guitar/ Ohhh, I can hear em singin 'Keep on dreamin, even if it breaks your heart.'"  "Even If" is a great lead song that accurately frames the band's sound, preparing you for the rest of the album.

Crazy Girl - The first single off of the album, "Crazy Girl" is a waltz that currently sits at #14 on the country charts.  The singer is finding himself having to convince his woman that he did not leave because he is leaving her, he just needed to walk away from what was likely an argument.  The song is beautifully written, as are all of the band's songs, and I look forward to seeing it continue to climb the chart.

Every Other Memory - Unfortunately, it seems that the singer's girl was not content to stay with him, as he is recalling the memory of her suitcase on the bed as she leaves.  This is one of the most upbeat breakup songs that I have heard, and it serves a great lesson.  Too often, we get down about the fact that we have been dumped, but the singer sits here and thinks about the good times:  "Every other memory/ I have of you is good/ And if I could only rewind time/ I hope you know I would"

On My Way - An upbeat song, but not one that stands out (though that could be the fact that it is 3:30 in the morning right now).  The singer finds himself in a traffic jam, anxious to get to his woman.  As he reaches the chorus, he starts describing all the ways that she is amazing, saying that she shines "like a heads up penny lying on the ground".

Skeletons - This is my favorite song on the album, and I am not sure why.  The singer is reminiscing on his past, and the decisions he has made.  "The mistakes I've made/ Are coming back to haunt me/ Like a ghost from the grave/ Always there to taunt me/ You say it's okay/ You say you still want me/ But you don't know where I've been/ I'm no stranger to my sins/ I've got skeletons".

I Love You - This is probably the only song that EYB does that feels overdone.  I have mentioned it before, but the idea of everybody doing what they do best, or what comes natural, but just as easily, the singer loves his woman.  As it is worn out, there is nothing particularly special here.

The Fight - This album is a great one for someone who is down on their luck, and this song is an example of why.  While the music itself is not uplifting, the message is, and it works well alongside the first track from the album: "You gotta fail, a thousand times/ Before you ever see it through/ You gotta spend your last dime/ Before you ever make a million" the singer says in the chorus, before concluding "But it's the way the sun will rise/ Through the darkest night/ Yeah it's always been worth the fight"

My Old Man's Son - Many artists have done tributes to their parents, but there is something about this one that feels different, and therefore separates it from the pack.  Perhaps it is that rather than just singing about how great his father is, the singer instead looks at himself and sees exactly how much like his old man he is, first saying "From the way I laugh/ To the way I hold a woman's hand" and in the second verse comparing "The way I shake on a deal/ The way I hold a steering wheel/  Everywhere I go/ Wherever I run/ I'll be my old man's son".

Recover - Another song about overcoming setbacks, "Recover" finally picks the beat up a bit more.  Whether it is a break up or some other obstacle, we are usually stronger than we feel at the time, and the singer reminds us that no matter what, we do not have to give up, because we can, and will, recover.  It fits in great with the ongoing theme set by "Even If It Breaks Your Heart" and "The Fight".

The Falling - This is another of my favorite songs on the album, but because it takes a common theme in country music, the idea of leaving, and gives an explanation for why he is that way. He apologizes for a one-night stand, but explains that it has to be that way for him, because "It ain't the falling in love I'm scared of/ It ain't the moonlight shining in your eyes/ It ain't the falling baby, 'cause the falling I've always liked/ I'm good at being lonely, 'cause lonely is all I've got/ It ain't the falling in love I'm scared of/ It's the sudden stop".  I love the honesty of the song, and the upbeat tempo, probably the fastest on the album, makes it catchy.  If I had to pick, this would probably be my choice to follow "Crazy Girl" as a single.

War On A Desperate Man - Along with "Falling" and "Skeletons" this song rounds out my top songs on the album.  The hopelessness and honesty in the singer's voice will resonate with everyone.  It reminds me of "Modern Day Prodigal Son" by Brantley Gilbert.  I really cannot write about this one and do it justice, so I highly recommend you give this song a solid listen.

Say Goodnight - EYB is ready to cuddle up, and likely do more, with his baby and call it a night, even though the sun is still in the sky.  The romance is building, the kisses, the touches, everything is leading to what they both know is coming, why wait or deny it is going to happen: "I just want to draw the blinds/ And say goodnight/ Oh, won't you let me pull you into me/ Go where all these kisses lead?/ Turn down the bed, turn out the lights/ And say 'Goodnight'"

How Quickly You Forget - The opening of this song reminds me a lot of the tune of "Skeletons".  The singer is trying to remind his lover of when everything was perfect.  Things are obviously a far cry from that, and the singer is realizing that.  This is not a spectacular song, but the way it is sung keeps it from being a low point on the album.

Life At Best - Closing out with the title track, EYB reminds us that while things are not easy, that is kind of the point.  The subject is looking at other people, most likely celebrities, in envy, but the band is here to point out it is not all peaches, because: "Life at best is a struggle/ Life at best can be trouble/ Store up on love, stay humble/ That's all it gets baby, life at best".  The song continues the theme that I have been pointing out throughout the review, that things are not as bad as they seem, and that we are able to push through the obstacles to reach where we want to be.

Overall, Eli Young has released a fantastic album, but the lyrics are not going to be genuinely appreciated the first time through.  I had to listen to them several times to realize how good they truly are.  This feel-good album should be highly recommended, and deserves the opportunity to shine outside of just Texas.  I hope that this album provides Eli Young Band an opportunity to break into the spotlight.  8.5/10

I will be making an announcement regarding an opportunity for you to interact with this blog here soon, so stay tuned.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Album Review: Luke Bryan Tailgates & Tanlines

With two prior albums (both reaching #2 on the country charts), four EPs and two #1 singles (plus having wrote Billy Currington's #1 Hit "Good Directions) under his belt, it is safe to say that Luke Bryan has moved beyond "Rising Star" and into "Established" in the country realm.  His laid back attitude, coupled with a mix of love ballads and party anthems have earned him a place in the spotlight.

His third full-length album, "Tailgates & Tanlines" has already produced a hit single which currently sits at #4 on the charts.

Country Girl (Shake It For Me) -  Luke kicks off the album with the aforementioned single, and it is already a hit in the bars and on the radio.  The party anthem tells of Luke's anxiousness to watch his girl put on a show for him, shaking what she has for everyone, but most importantly, for him:  "Shake it for the young bucks sittin' in the honky tonks/ For the rednecks rockin' 'till the break of dawn/ The DJ spinnin' that country song/ Come on, come on, come on/ Shake it for the birds, shake it for the bees/ Shake it for the catfish swimmin' down deep in the creek/ For the crickets and the critters and the squirrels/ shake it for the moon/ shake it for me girl/ Country girl shake it for me, girl".  The song is definitely catchy and easy to sing along to, and likely will be a #1 here shortly.  Enjoy the music video:

Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye - Much like Chris Young's "Tomorrow", Luke is knowingly at the end of the relationship, but is ready for one more night before it is over.  Admittedly, the only thing they do right is make love, and that is exactly how they are going to say goodbye: "Take off your leavin' dress/ Let's do what we do best/ I guess everybody's got their way of movin' on/ Girl rest your head one more night in my bed/ Love me like you loved me when you loved me/ and you didn't have to try/ Let's lay down tonight/ and kiss tomorrow goodbye".  The song is a much faster, more upbeat song than "Tomorrow" and fits well as a combination of Luke's styles.

Drunk On You - A song that could easily be what is song later in the night from "Country Girl", "Drunk On You" is a summer love ballad that will likely be a single come next April/May.  It tells of a party out in the woods, with trucks, crown, and most importantly, a beautiful woman, and Luke is enjoying every minute of all of it, describing himself as "A little drunk on you/ And high on summertime".  It is a great bonfire song along the lines of Brantley Gilbert's "My Kinda Party".

Too Damn Young - One of the things this album does really well is start to paint a story.  This song follows "Drunk On You" perfectly, as the sun comes up over a dock where Luke and his girl spent the night.  Bryan reminisces on the night, realizing that he had been foolish to believe his feelings of the night: "Every time my feet are dangling in the water/ I can't help but think about her lying there, with her wet hair" he sings, later finishing the chorus with "She kissed me like she meant forever/ We were too damn young to know any better"

I Don't Want This Night To End - Once again, a beautiful woman is the object of Luke's attention, this time singing about the girl riding shotgun as they cruise through the town and the country throughout the night, wanting to prolong it as much as possible.  "You got your hands up/ You're rockin' in my truck/ You got the radio on/ You're singing every song/ ... / Girl, all I know is I don't want this night to end".  The song is reminiscent of Brantley Gilbert's "Back In The Day" and would probably go well in the mix.  The guitar near the end is fantastic and is easy to learn and sing along to.

You Don't Know Jack - Country has always been known for teaching lessons, and this song is no exception, starting out with a man begging for a dollar, whom Luke promptly turns down.  Before long, the man is explaining that he is right for thinking that he is going to use it to buy alcohol, but "You don't know Jack/ Double shot, eighty proof, on the rocks/ Until you've lost it all/ And you can't go back/ To your life, and your kids, and your ex-wife/ With just a telephone call/ If you think it's just a bottle/ In an old brown paper sack/ You don't know Jack".

Harvest Time - Honestly, my least favorite Luke Bryan songs are the ones like this.  I guess because I did not grow up on a farm, I cannot relate.  Regardless, it is Autumn, time for football, but more importantly, it is time for the tractors to line up, get fueled up, and begin harvesting the crops.  For me, this is one of the forgettable tracks, as nothing really stands out.

I Know You're Gonna Be There - Luke is out for revenge against the girl who broke his heart.  He knows that she is going to be at the bar he is going to, so he is looking to make her jealous.  He puts on a new shirt, shines up his boots and brings a girl he is going to kiss when he knows she is looking.  Everybody has been there, but, if they are honest with themselves, they admit what Luke does at the end "I'm gonna put on my new shirt/ Shine up these old boots/ Truth is when I see ya/ I don't know what I'll do".  The song is very relatable, even if it does not impress musically.

Muckalee Creek Water - Bryan has returned home, and when he does, he gets immersed in it, both literally and figuratively.  The instant he dips his feet in the creek where he grew up, "Let the stock market do what it's gonna do/ Let the dollar go down and gas soar through the roof".  He does not care, he is able to be himself here.  The southern rock tone makes for a good recovery from the last two tracks.

Tailgate Blues - Slowing it down again, the song sounds like it draws musical inspiration from Travis Tritt's "Great Day To Be Alive", but with the opposite attitude.  Luke's woman has left him.  Instead of doing what most country stars do and running to a bar, he retreats to the woods and the bed of his truck instead.  I relate to this method more, preferring to be alone to reminisce than to drown the sorrows, so I actually like this song, and enjoy the twist on the "My baby left me..." genre of country.

Been There, Done That - Sounds like Luke has learned his lesson after his ordeal in "Do I" on his previous album.  Realizing that there is nothing left, and that she has manipulated him into the man she wants him to be instead of the man he really is, the singer realizes he is done and is moving on: "Cause I ain't, I ain't comin' back/ I've already been there, done that/ And I'm done with you messin' with my mind/ The last time was the last time baby".  Luke has a unique way of staying upbeat in the normally down in the dumps songs that is refreshing.

Faded Away - Luke spends a lot of time reminiscing on past loves on this album, and this song continues that theme.  As such, this song fades into the background, much like the girl in the song does.

I Knew You That Way - Closing out the album with another slow song about past love, Bryan at least uses vivid imagery to paint a beautiful picture of it.  It is rather disappointing that he did not at least try to end the album with a high note like he started it.

Overall, "Tailgates & Tanlines" is not an impressive album.  It suffers in a number of places.  Several of the songs feel repetitive, and all of the songs feel slow after the opening "Country Girl".  I kept waiting for the pace to pick back up, as it did on his previous album, "Doin' My Thing", but ended up disappointed.  The beginning of the album made me wish that it had been released earlier in the year for two reasons: 1. They felt more "summer-ish" which did not fit with a mid-summer release, and 2. It is going to be overshadowed by some of the stronger albums released already (Blake Shelton, Eric Church, Justin Moore).  On the positive side, the flow from one song to the next felt more natural than most albums.  Also, as I pointed out, many of the songs felt like they were telling a story.  Luke does a great job of expressing his feelings, but after rocking the opening track, the rest of the album left me wanting more.  6/10

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Album Review: Brad Paisley - This Is Country Music

I am going to be honest, I typically do not like Brad Paisley.  I admit, he is a phenomenal guitar player, and puts on a great live show, but his music lately (Namely "American Saturday Night", "Play" and parts of "5th Gear") often lacked an authentic country feel, and yes, this is coming from someone who likes Colt Ford.  Paisley's music often feels too "Poppy" to be country music, much like Taylor Swift (though her music at least comes from the heart).

All of that said, I was extremely excited for this album.  After hearing the first two singles, incidentally the first two songs on the album, it appeared that Paisley had finally returned to country music.  Unfortunately, I am just getting to reviewing it, even though it has been out since May.

This is Country Music - The title track of the album, as well as the first single, really sets the tone for the rest of the album.  Paisley begins talking about all of the things the music is not supposed to be or do, but this genre does.  "You're not supposed to say the word 'cancer' in a song/ and telling folks that Jesus is the answer
can rub 'em wrong/ It ain't hip to sing about/ Tractors, trucks, little towns or mama/ But this is country music/ and we do".  The song does a good job at providing a snapshot of what the genre is, even ending with the naming of several country songs that every fan of the genre should know.  It also highlights Brad's superior guitar skills several times.

Old Alabama - If "This Is Country Music" piqued my interest in Paisley again, "Old Alabama" hooked it.  Paisley sings about his girl, and how she is not sophisticated at all: "She'd rather wear a pair of cutoff jeans/ Than a fancy evening dress/ and with her windows rolled down/ her hair blowin' all around/ she's a hot southern mess/ She'll take a beer over white wine/ And campfire over candlelight/ and when it comes to love/ her idea of/ a romantic night/ Is listening to old Alabama".  Paisley even goes so far as to bring the subject of the band, Alabama, in to perform on the song and throws several licks from some of their hits in.  Overall, the song is fantastic, and the guest appearance only enhances it further.  Enjoy the video, which guest stars NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon:

A Man Don't Have To Die - Interestingly, this might be my favorite song on the album.  It feels the most genuine in the hard economy.  The song starts out in a church, where the congregation is tiring of the "Hellfire and Brimstone" sermons, they already know what hell is: "It's six months short of thirty years/ When the boss man lays you off/ No thankin' you/ No pair of shoes/ No shiny new gold watch/ It's payments that you can't make/ on a house that you can't sell/ See a man don't have to die to go to hell".  All the congregation is asking for is for the preacher to inspire hope, not fear.  It is something that I am sure everyone can relate to, and that is what makes this song feel like real country.

Camoflauge - Paisley shows that he is still not afraid to have fun, and he does so with several songs on the album, starting here.  It is an ode to Paisley's favorite "Color".  Comedian Larry the Cable Guy even pipes in with a couple of "Git R Done"s.  At the end, Paisley turns slight political: "Well the Stars and Bars offend some folks/ And I guess I see why/ But nowadays there's still a way/ To show your Southern Pride/ The only thing as patriotic as the old Red, White and Blue/ Is Green and Gray and Black and Brown and Tan all over too".

Remind Me - After hosting several CMA awards with Brad, Carrie Underwood joins him for the romantic "Remind Me", the third single from the album.  The couple has drifted apart and are trying to rekindle the love they had.  Underwood does a great job, even able to overshadow Brad and his guitar, but the two work well together, and the track is quickly climbing the charts for good reason.

Workin On A Tan - This is one of the songs that demonstrates what I do not like about Paisley, it feels out of place, especially sandwiched between the two songs it is.  It felt like it was placed here simply to
show off the guitar-playing ability of the lead singer.  The song talks about a girl on spring break, putting all of her priorities aside to go to the beach and get a bronze look.  Nothing about this song fits in well with the album, except maybe if it had been placed after "Camoflauge".

Love Her Like She's Leaving - Similar to "Waitin' On A Woman", Paisley is getting marriage advice from someone who has been there, this time at his wedding reception.  The advice is solid: "Love her like she's leaving/ Like it's all gonna end, if you don't/ Love her like she's leaving/ And I guarantee she won't"  The song is a great love ballad and I can see it being a future single from the album.

One Of Those Lives - Who has not had a bad day?  How often do we stop and think that, while things have not been too hot lately, there are many people in our lives who have it so much worse.  This song points that out, talking about a phone call from his wife on a bad day, telling him that their friends have been told their son's cancer is back: "Man it's been one of those days/ Where I've been thinkin' 'Poor Me'/ I've got no right to complain I guess/ 'Cause right now all I can see/ Is a little angel in a Yankees cap/ It makes me realize/ It's just been one of those days for me/ but for him it's been one of those lives".  Paisley shows genuine gratitude
for the positives in his life in light of this news, and it serves as a great reminder for what we can do in our own lives.

Toothbrush - The little things grow into big things, and Paisley tells us of this in a slightly goofy, but fun song.  "Love starts with a toothbrush" he tells us.  Before long, that has become getting hitched, getting a house, getting pregnant and eventually raising a son.  The chorus tells us "Anything that's anything/ Starts out as a little thing/ Just needs a little time to grow"

Be The Lake - Another fun song, Paisley is watching his girl dry off on the shore.  He thinks he has it made, but realizes that he cannot possibly get close enough. "Wish I could be the beach towel that you lay down on/
Or that two piece fitting you so right it's wrong/ or the sunshine kissin on your skin/ Wish I could be the lake that you're swimmin in".  The song does not stand out, but like so many of his songs, Paisley has created a song that is fun to drive to.

Eastwood - Clint Eastwood lends a brief spoken word ("You want western? I'll give you western"), and I believe some guitar, to this otherwise entirely instrumental track that sounds like something you might find in a John Wayne (or, obviously, Clint Eastwood) montage.  The song is obviously made to show off Paisley's guitar-picking ability, and it does so very well.

New Favorite Memory - The other complaint I would have against Paisley is that too many of his songs feels like HE has done them before.  In this case, it sounds like a rehash of "Little Moments".  The song is nice,
but does not stand out against a slew of other great songs, though it feels more heartfelt than typical Paisley.

Don't Drink The Water - The only person who likes to have more fun with his music than Paisley is fellow Country Star Blake Shelton, who joins Brad on this track.  Brad is down in the dumps after his woman leaves, but is headed to Mexico to wash the memories away.  Everyone, including Mexico veteran Shelton, has the same advice, but Brad is not worried: "Don't drink the water/ I told him 'That's Okay'/ I ain't goin' down/ to Mexico/ To drink the water anyway". As you would expect, the track is a lot of fun and humorous.  Blake and Brad work well together and we may even see this as a single in the future.

I Do Now - The fun of Mexico must have worn off, because he misses the woman who has left.  There is a lot in life that Brad did not understand before, like drinking their problems away in a bar in the middle of the day, but he does now.  He would give anything to go back to the wedding day "Lift the veil and look you in the eye/ and say 'I do now'".  Paisley has realized everything he did wrong, and just wishes he could take it back.  Once again, the genuineness missing from so many of his songs is there and you cannot help but feel sorry for him, even though he makes it clear that he made the mistakes that led him to this point.

Life's Railway To Heaven - Paisley adds a gospel-like feel to the final song on the track, comparing life to a train going through bumps, hills and valleys on it's way to heaven.  At the end of a long album, this track is rather forgettable because it does not fit in much with any of Brad's music (Except for "When I Get Where I'm Going" from Brad's "Time Well Wasted" album).  This does not mean that the song is bad, just not memorable like so many of Paisley's songs.

Overall, I was impressed with "This Is Country Music" and felt that the title track spelled it out correctly.  For the first time in several years, it feels like Paisley has made something that can genuinely be called country without sacrificing anything from his style or his guitar ability.  While the album has been out for a couple months now, if you have not picked it up yet, it is worth spending money on.  8/10

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Album Review: Trace Adkins - Proud To Be Here

Four-time Grammy nominated singer Trace Adkins has found a system that works. Take what is probably the most recognizable voice in music, throw in some fun songs, some love songs,some about his family,  and some patriotic songs and you have a recipe for a successful album. "Proud To Be Here", Trace's tenth effort (not counting three greatest hits compilations) is no different, but that does not mean that his music is stale. Adkins has always found ways to make fresh music, no matter what.

Proud To Be Here - Adkins leads off with the title track, a genuine, heartfelt track saying how grateful he is that he is still alive. Having read his autobiography, I understand how lucky he is when he sings "I'm just proud to be/ On the right side of the dirt/ I've been loved/ and I've been hurt", later adding "I've been living on borrowed time for years". Adkins, among other things, took a shotgun blast from point blank in the chest from his wife and lived, so he truly is "Proud to be here". The song will resonate with anyone who can look back on their life and see how many times things could have gone differently.

Million Dollar View - As mentioned, one of the things that Trace is known for is his songs about the love he has for his family.  This track is the first of such songs.  It comes off as a bit of a re-hash of Lonestar's "Outside Looking In" as Trace sings about how of all the beautiful views he could see in the world, the one in his house is the most valuable.

Days Like This - It is a beautiful day, both weather-wise and mentally, and Trace is determined to let nothing ruin it.  "So don't bring me a paper/ don't turn on the news/ If it'ill fire me up/ Keep it away from my view/ If the world's gone to hell/ Let it go, I'll blow it a kiss/ Don't want to think about things like that/ On days like this".  Given the state of affairs in the world, one can hardly fault him for tuning it out for a day.

That's What You Get - Adkins has a lot to offer a woman, and he goes about explaining it in this upbeat love song, stopping for flowers and other gifts before adding: "That's what you get/ For loving me/ Two strong arms and a heart that won't stop for anything/ The kind of man a woman needs".

Just Fishin' - Another song about his love for his family, Trace's first single from the album about the story behind the scenes as he takes his daughter fishing, spending time and connecting with her: "She ain't even thinking about/ What's really going on right now/ But I guarantee this memories a big'un/ And she thinks we're just fishin'".  The song is beautifully written and the video stars his actual daughter, check it out below:

It's A Woman Thang - In what may be one of the most catchy, but controversial songs (it comes off a bit sexist), Trace sets out to explain that guys should just stop trying to understand things their ladies do, but half way through, he thinks about trying: "Maybe I should watch some Oprah/ Bubble bath, sit on the sofa/ Maybe take a 'Cosmo' quiz or two/ Maybe all I need's a hug from/ Fred or Bubba, or 'Big Dubya'/ Maybe I'll come to see your point of view/ NAH, IT'S A WOMAN THANG!".  Trace has the reputation of this sort of song dating back to "Honky Tonk Badonkadonk" that allows him to get away with this sort of song, but not many other artists could have.

Love Buzz - Adkins is acting strange, and people begin to suspect him of hitting the bottle a little hard.  To the contrary, he has not touched the alcohol, but his baby has given him the "Love Buzz".  The off-cantor style of the song lends to the idea of being drunk and fits the lyrics perfectly.

It's Who You Know - Religion is a theme that plays a important role in country music, and Trace adds to it, explaining "You can walk on water/ You can walk on the moon/ You can walk through Memphis wearing blue suede shoes/ When the walkin' is over/ At the end of the road/ It ain't what you've done, son/ It's who you know".  The song is not overtly religious until the preacher clip at the end, which I think detracts from the song.

Poor Folks - Adkins is living the simple life, and wondering what the "poor folks are doing tonight".  He is not talking about money though.  He is talking about the ones that have everything, and yet "ain't got nothin', on us", because he has a love that is more valuable than anything their money can buy.  The medium paced song is good, but nothing special.

Always Gonna Be That Way - This is probably the most stale song of the album.  It feels like it has been done so many time before: Alan Jackson - "It's Just That Way" and George Strait - "It Just Comes Natural" to name a few.  Nothing ever changes, and eventually, Trace (like Alan and George) point out that goes for his love for his woman.  The song is not bad, just feels overdone.

That concludes the album, but there are 4 bonus tracks:

Damn You Bubba - I like this song, because the guy he is singing about, Bubba, reminds me a bit of me.  Bubba is the guy in the bar who walks into a bar and is the center of the attention.  He does not have to do much to get the women to notice him, much to the dismay of Trace, who is trying hard to pick up a woman.  He is arrogant makes all the guys jealous.  As it turns out, Bubba and Trace are brothers, and Trace just got the short end of the stick.  The song is fun, but will not likely be a hit for a while.  The end has a bit of a "Big Lebowski" reference as well:  "You call yourself 'The Bubba?/ Who does that, really?"

More Of Us - Trace rolls religion, politics, and patriotism and rolls them all into one song.  Trace believes (and not without reason) that his beliefs are being trampled on by the government, and it is time to show them that "There's more of us/ Than there are of them".  As I mentioned in the Justin Moore review, I am over the whole idea of "Political Country", and one cannot help but wonder if Trace's label owner, Toby Keith, did not have something to do with this being on the album.

If I Was A Woman - After joining Blake Shelton on the song "Hillbilly Bone", Blake returns the favor as they sing about how "If I was a woman/ I'd love a man like me".  They then launch into a fun game of "one-upping" as they try to prove why they are the better man.  The song is highly entertaining, and the two singers work well together when they are having fun.

Semper Fi - Trace ends the bonus tracks with another tribute to the military, this time singling out the Marines.  Having the military background that I do, I could not help but chuckle at the first lines of the song about getting the first haircut.  Trace is on the ball throughout the song though, and these military tributes have become one of Trace's signatures: "Semper Fi/ Do or Die/ So gung ho to go and pay the price/ Here's  to leathernecks/ Devil Dogs and Jar Heads/ And here's to Paris Island in July/ Semper Fi".  The second verse is great, as Adkins demonstrates his gratitude for the things he has not had to experience because the young kid next door volunteered instead.  Semper Fi is a great song that any military man or woman can relate to, without crossing the line into being political.

Overall, there is a lot to like about "Proud to Be Here" and while it is not stale, per se, the album does suffer a bit as there is nothing particularly new about Trace's music.  7/10