Thursday, October 27, 2011

Micro-Review: Kevin Fowler - Chippin' Away

Note: Have some extra time, so finally doing micro-reviews of some of the albums I never got around to reviewing.  Expect quite a few in the coming days.

I mentioned back in the Eli Young Band review, that I do not know what makes certain music "Texas Country". I will admit, though, that the two albums I have heard in that genre this year have been fantastic.  Kevin Fowler's "Chippin' Away" is another one that will likely not be recognized much outside of the Lone Star State, but with party songs like "Hell Yeah I Like Beer" and "Beer Money" coupled with the serious "Daddy's And Daughters" and the fun "Girl In A Truck" and "That Girl", the singer should be bigger than he is.  The only weak points on the album are "Big River" and "Do That With You Gone".  The closing track, "Knocked Up" is a live performance, and the content, while borderline inappropriate (sings about getting a girl not quite out of high school pregnant), will have you laughing. 9/10

Kevin Fowler's "Chippin' Away" is available here from

Album Review: Montgomery Gentry - Rebels On The Run

Montgomery Gentry, a duo known for their hard-partying music is back with their first album in three years.  "Rebels On The Run", the groups seventh studio album, is the first to be released on Average Joe's Entertainment (co-owned by Colt Ford).  The duo has never had a #1 album to date, maybe this will be their first:

Damn Right I Am - The lead-off track to the album is a rocking anthem about being proud of who you are and where you are from.  The song has political undertones, but does a good job of avoiding overdoing it.  The real highlight of the song is the guitar near the end.

Ain't No Law Against That - This is the type of song the Montgomery Gentry is known for.  A hard-rocking party tune.  Following in the footsteps of "One In Every Crowd" and "Hell Yeah", the song reminds me a lot of "Nobody Feelin' No Pain" off of the recently released Jake Owen album.  It is definitely a great drinking song that, knowing these guys, will end up as a future single.

Damn Baby - The third song on the album slows it down, but only a bit and leads off with the question every couple asks: "Damn baby/ Are we crazy?/ Crazy enough to think that maybe/ We might make it".  The pace of the song is just the right speed to serve as a solid transition between the second and fourth tracks.

Empty - One of the great things about Montgomery Gentry is that they do not focus a lot on heartbreak.  "Empty" is one of only two songs on the album with that theme.  The problem with this track though, is that the contrast in feeling is too great between the verses and the chorus.  The former feels genuine, but something about the way the latter is sung feels a bit forced.

Where I Come From - The first single from the album returns to the mood set by "Damn Right I Am", being proud of where you are from.  The song could almost serve as a sequel to "My Town", a song off of their album of the same name.  The music video tells a pretty emotional story:

Note: I would like to thank Montgomery Gentry for this video.  As a Soldier, it is nice to see a music video in which a Soldier is in combat AND survives.  There are music videos of Soldiers coming home but do not have them in combat (Trace Adkins' "All I Ask For Anymore") and videos of them in combat, but not coming home (Jason Aldean's "Tattoos On This Town"), but it is nice to see a video show combat and have a happy ending.

I Like Those People - A tribute to people who are real, and true to themselves and each other.  Musically, it sounds like it fits more to a barroom ballad, but the bluesy beat fits the mood of the song.  The song does not necessarily fit where it is on the album, but it still ended up being one of my favorites.

Rebels On The Run - The album's title track takes the duo back to their younger days: partying, loving, and making the most of their lives.  "We snuck in all the hometown games/ And played chicken with midnight trains/ Old timers swore/ We were insane/ Rebels on the run/  We made a beer bottle pact/ Behind Bernie's store that/ We would always be one for all/ And all for one/ Rebels on the run."  My money is on this being the next single from the album, and deservedly so.

Simple Things - MG cranks up the guitar on this track celebrating the "Simple Things" in life, like 4th of July parades, fishing, and driving down a dirt road with a girl.  Inevitably, the duo longs for days without cell phones as well.  Other than that personal disagreement (about things being simpler without the cell phones), I absolutely love this track.

Missing You - The other heartbreak song on the album, this one feels a lot more natural than "Empty" did.  The violin and keyboard provide a beautiful background to the tune, and the guitar solo about the 1:30 mark only adds to it.

So Called Life - The duo goes back to the rock, celebrating the ups and downs in life and adding a bit of funk in the process: "This ain't no rodeo/ No dog and pony show/ Ain't no roller coaster ride/ Ain't no highway/ Sure ain't no river baby/ It's just my so called/ Just my so called life".  The song is a great pedal-to-the-metal cruising tune.

Work Hard, Play Harder - Closing the album is another party rock tune, this one as a tribute to those who work hard, sometimes for what feels like almost nothing.  The song is timely, especially the first verse in light of the Occupy Wall Street protests currently taking place: "I put my forty in plus overtime/ Oughta be proud of this check of mine/ Open it up and I'll be damned/ I worked half the week for Uncle Sam/ He's up there having him a spending spree/ A big ole party and its all on me".  The song is a great way to end the album, starting and ending with the type of songs the duo is known for.

"Rebels On The Run", while not the strongest album the duo has put out, continues to build upon the foundation the band has laid in the past.  The album is full of potential hits, and hopefully will debut as their first #1 country album.  7.5/10

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Album Review: Toby Keith - Clancy's Tavern

Toby Keith is one of the most polarizing performers in country music.  Many stand by him and his patriotic views.  Others, like me, tire quickly of the political country (a point I have made before on this blog).  Nobody, however, can deny that Toby has been extremely successful.  This, Keith's 15th album (not counting Christmas or Greatest Hits), will likely become the ninth album to reach #1 on the country albums chart.

Made In America - Keith leads off with not only the ONLY political song on the album, it is probably the least divisive political song he has released.   "Made In America" also became Toby's 20th #1 single.  The song is about  his father, who is American to his core: "He's got the red, white, blue flyin' high on his farm/ 'Semper Fi' tattooed on his left arm/ Spend a little more in the store for a tag in the back says 'USA'/ Won't buy nothin' that he can't fix/ With WD-40 and a Craftsman wrench/ He ain't prejudiced/ He's just/ Made in America" Keith sings in the chorus.  The anthem is a good picture of who Toby is and will resonates with a lot of country music fans.

I Need To Hear A Country Song - Toby follows up with a song about heartbreak.  He does not want to go through what he is going alone.  He wants to share his experience, even if it is not with someone physically in the room.  Many can relate to the words: "I need to hear a loser cryin'/ Songs about a love that's dying/ Lyin' Cheatin' to the bone/ Three chord, stone cold country song".

Clancy's Tavern - The title track is actually a follow-up of sorts to the song "Honkytonk U" from 2005.  This, a waltz with an Irish drinking song tone, is more of a tribute to his grandmother than the previously mentioned track.  Although it is not the second music video to come from the album, it is the second single.  The song is a breath of fresh air, breaking away from the standard sound of country music.

Tryin' To Fall In Love - The title of the song betrays it's mood.  I expected another slow song about attempts at love, but what I got is a fun, upbeat song.  "If women come a dime a dozen/ I ain't got a penny/ Some guys are gettin' way too much/ Some guys don't get any/ But if I had a nickel for every time I've had enough/ I'd still be busted and heartbroken/ Still tryin' to fall in love".

Just Another Sundown - Toby moves back to the heartbreak songs here.  The song is not one that stands out, but the acoustic melody really adds to the feeling.

Beers Ago - "Beers Ago" is an example of the my only real complaint about this album, the mixing does not flow well.  "Beers" is what Toby does really well, a fast-paced, fun country song.  The problem is that it is sandwiched between "Sundown" and "South Of You", both songs about heartbreak.  Unlike most artists, this is Keith's own fault, as he not only recorded the album, but he produced it as well.

South Of You - As mentioned, Keith comes back to the heartbreak song once again.  This one, honestly, feels a little more suited as a Kenny Chesney song, as Keith sings about getting away from the girl by sailing out to the islands.  There is nothing inherently wrong with the song, but it does not feel like what we are used to from Toby.

Club Zydeco Moon - Not sure what it is about Toby, but he seems to have a weak spot for strippers (See "Bullets in the Gun" off his previous album of the same name).  This song comes across as an alternate ending for that song, sort of describing what would have happened if they had not run off together to Mexico.  The answer?  More heartbreak, with Toby eventually avoiding the bar where he met the girl.

I Won't Let You Down - Rather than a heartbreak song, Toby is finally singing about making love work.  The song is great advice for women, men are not perfect.  If you do not expect us to be, we will not let you down.  It is not about convincing girls to lower their standards, but it is about letting us surprise you with what we ARE capable of, instead of being disappointed by what we are not.

Red Solo Cup - A song that Keith himself accurately describes as "Adorable and very very stupid", this song will get stuck in your head and show no signs of leaving for days.  The song is a tribute to what Toby describes in the opening line as "the best receptacle/ For barbecues, tailgates, fairs, and festivals/"  The song is  several run-on sentences, but is so much fun that it is sure to be a hit.  The music video features cameos from Jeff Dunham, Larry Bird, Craig Ferguson, Carrot Top, Ted Nugent and fellow country star Eric Church.

Chill-axin' - Another song that sounds better suited for Kenny Chesney, Keith closes out the main part of the album with a song about getting away from it all, whether to the beach or out to the country.  The song feels really awkward following "Red Solo Cup" and the album probably would have benefited from flipping the order of the last two songs.

Overall, it is nice to hear Toby Keith step away from much of his political grandstanding that has dominated the artist for several years.  This creates an album everyone can enjoy, regardless of political affiliation.  The only problem that this album presents is a poor distribution of songs.  The album would have been much improved if they had sat back and listened a little closer to the flow between the songs.  If not for that, the album would have gotten a much higher rating: 7/10

Note:  The deluxe edition of the album features Toby Keith's band, the Incognito Banditos, doing live covers of four songs: Waylon Jennings' "High Time (You Quit Your Low Down Ways)", Buck Owens' "Truck Drivin' Man", Three Dog Night's "Shambala" and Chuck Berry's "Memphis".

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Album Review: Lauren Alaina - Wildflower

As mentioned in the Scotty McCreery review, Lauren Alaina is the other country artist to come out of the tenth season of American Idol.  Taking second, Lauren released her debut album a week after McCreery and both artists show a lot of promise.  I am sure it is no coincidence either that Alaina's album was released on the same day as Martina McBride's: Lauren made her debut to the country world by being introduced by McBride at CMA Music Fest this year, where they performed Martina's hit "Anyway".

Alaina is just sixteen years old, but her powerful voice lends a maturity to her coming-of-age songs that we did not find in Taylor Swift's early releases.  Because of this Lauren has a chance to surpass Swift, maybe not in quantity, but in quality.

Georgia Peaches - At sixteen, most would expect Alaina to lead off the album with something safe about home, and she does.  Few would expect a rocker song a la Carrie Underwood or Miranda Lambert.  Alaina does this too (albeit without the bitterness of heartbreak that Carrie and Miranda do so well).  What results is probably the catchiest song on the album.  Georgia Peaches is a fantastic introduction to Lauren, and is already the second single from the album.  This one could easily crack the top ten on the charts.

Growing Her Wings - Another upbeat song while avoiding mixing in too much pop.  The song is the first of many songs about growing up as a teenage girl that show up on this album.  "Wings" is about a girl whose parents are afraid to let her soar the way she wants to.  "They got her whole life on lock down/ Doing time behind her bedroom door/ I guess it's alright for right now/ but outside her window there's so much more"

Tupolo - Alaina slows it down a bit for "Tupelo" and adds a bit of a tropical type beat to it.  The song is nothing new, as many artists have sung about young love, driving in a car or truck, just getting away for a bit.  That said, the song serves as a great way for Alaina to transition to slower tracks and adds a little bit of depth to her repertoire of singing skills.

The Middle - "Middle" is a song full of great advice.  It opens with reminiscing, most likely on someone's advice who has passed.  The meat of the song is about making each moment count.  Our gravestones have two dates, birth and death.  But as the song says "The beginning and the end mean so little/ What matters most is what's in the middle".  The song is as slow as you can expect it to be, and adds to the range of Alaina's voice.

Like My Mother Does - The first single to come from the album, "Like My Mother Does" is a beautifully written song about how much she is like her mama.  The singer is okay with this though, because that is exactly who she wants to be.  It is also a great opportunity for Lauren to show her pipes, as she channels Martina McBride and belts out some long high notes.  Enjoy the video:

She's A Wildflower - Another coming-of-age song about trying to find her place in the world, "Wildflower" picks up the pace into what is definitely Alaina's comfort zone.  The song does not stand out in the country world, as many have done this type of song, but Alaina owns it.

I'm Not One Of Them - Alaina continues her sassy girl image with a song that a lot of girls should listen to and take to heart.  "One Of Them" is a song about having respect for yourself as a woman instead of chasing after guys with a flashy smile and big wallet.  Find someone who is worth your time and gives you something back. "You're gonna have to do better than that/ If you want my love/ You've got to give me some back/ Give me something real/ Not another come on/ Baby Come on/  There's a lot of girls who might just fall for what you got/ But I'm not one of them".  This song should definitely follow "Georgia Peaches" as a single.

The Locket - Alaina does a fantastic job of telling a story.  This song, which sounds like the movie "The Notebook" in song form.  This song just might bring a tear to your eye as you listen to the tail of lifelong love.  The simple music gives Lauren a chance to show off her vocal ability in a moving way.

Eighteen Inches - Another example of great storytelling, "Eighteen Inches" is about a girl who runs away with her boyfriend to California.  The title refers to how disconnected logic and emotion are:  "'Cause when you're young and in love, yeah/ You might do some things/ That don't seem all that smart/ 'Cause there ain't no greater distance than the/ Eighteen inches from your head to your heart"

One Of Those Boys - The guys version of "I'm Not One Of Them", "Boys" is about the perfect guy in Alaina's eyes.  She describes him as country, wanting to have fun, but respectful to her and her father.  "He ain't gotta have money or a brand new truck/ But he better shake my daddy's hand/ When he comes to pick me up/ Gotta be a little reckless, a whole lotta fun/ And he's gotta know my midnight curfew/ Don't mean 12:01".

Funny Thing About Love - The only song on the album that Alaina helped to write, "Funny Thing" is about how love never makes sense.  Lauren opens with "You used to want me/ But I didn't want you/ And now I want you, oh/ But you don't want me".  I can think of several times I have wondered about why love does not make sense, and I am sure everyone will relate to this song.

Dirt Road Prayer - Alaina wraps up the album with a slow song about where she can always turn when she is overwhelmed or needs advice, to God.  Lauren prays for her family members before turning to herself, asking to make the time go slower as life has been flying, and praying for guidance over the boy she thinks might be the one.  The song is a beautiful way to end the album, and contrasts perfectly with how it opened, demonstrating the wide range of abilities Alaina has.

"Wildflower" is definitely one of the best debut album's I have heard in a long time.  The vocal ability makes one sometimes wonder how she finished runner-up in American Idol.  Either way, those die-hard country fans who are worried about the future of country music need look no further than Lauren Alaina and Scotty McCreery to see that the future is in safe hands.  8/10

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Album Review: Scotty McCreery - Clear As Day

American Idol has been good to country music.  Bucky Covington, Josh Gracin, Danny Gokey, Kellie Pickler and Carrie Underwood have all come to Nashville through the singing competition.  The most recent season brought us two more, Lauren Alaina (whose album review is forthcoming) and Scotty McCreery, the High School Senior who won the tenth season.

Listening to the album, it is hard to believe that the voice belongs to a guy who just turned 18 this week.  The voice is deep and mature, his lyrics heartfelt and relatable.  He has already charted at #15 on the country charts with his debut single "I Love You This Big" and this album is expected to debut at #1 on the Billboard 200.

McCreery kicks the album off with "Out Of Summertime", an upbeat song about the one that got away because they ran out of time.  Scotty channels the feel of a Jake Owen summer tune perfectly and the song serves as a great intro to those unfamiliar with the artist.  "I Love You This Big", the song he performed on the "Idol" finale, follows and will likely serve as the love anthem for 2011.  Here is where the deep voice that made fans fall in love with the singer is really showcased.  The attitude with which he performs is years beyond his youth.  Enjoy the video:

The "Idol" winner keeps rolling with "Clear As Day" a simple song about reminiscing about a girl he met in the parking after a football game.  The song is generally positive, recalling the night they met "clear as day", until the end, when it takes a somber turn.  "The Trouble With Girls", McCreery's second single, keeps the slow pace.  The title is a bit misleading, as it is about all the things he loves about girls, ending the chorus with "Yeah the trouble with girls/ Is nobody loves trouble as much as me".  The song, as slow as it is, is catchy and the lyrics stick in your head.

"Water Tower Town" is a song pretty much every country singer has done, a song about the town they grew up in.  That is not to say anything bad about it, as the Garner, North Carolina native says that the song perfectly describes where he grew up.  Look for this to be a future single.  "Walk In The Country" is a great cruising song, originally written by Keith Urban in an old band he was a member of.  This song deserves to be blasted in a truck with the windows down.  "Better Than That" is another catchy tune about all the amazing things in life and how they still do not compare to his girl's love.

"Write My Number On Your Hand" is a little odd, with a ukulele providing the main musical accompaniment. "Dirty Dishes" is one of the best songs on the album.  The family sits down to eat and Mama says an unusual prayer "I wanna thank you Lord/ For noisy children and slammin' doors" she prays.  She includes being grateful for clothes scattered on the floor, a husband busy with work, a messy kitchen and dirty dishes.  The family looks at her funny and her husband asks if she is alright before she explains.  The song is a must listen for anyone, especially mothers, who deal with the day to day life of raising kids and sometimes get so fed up and frustrated.

Legendary songwriter "Rhett Akins" penned "You Make That Look Good" for McCreary, and the upbeat song about how a girl can make anything look good (even a mud-covered Ford) is one of many catchy tunes on the album.

The North Carolina native ends with two slow songs.  "Back On The Ground" is a song about slowing down and staying grounded.  Reminiscing about how he could not wait to get out of the town and on to his life, the singer realizes that he needs to come back home once in a while just to relax and not let his fame go to his head.  "That Old King James" is about a Bible that was passed down from his grandpa to his mom and now to him.  All three generations looked to it for hope, whether it was in World War II, raising the singer, or when the singer is feeling down.

Scotty McCreary's album is a solid effort for the American Idol winner on his first time out.  The many catchy songs will likely lead to him having a number one single before he gets to his second album.  Country music fans of all ages will be shocked by, and fall in love with, the voice emanating from this 18 year-old singer.  7.5/10

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Album Review: Rodney Atkins - Take A Back Road

Rodney Atkins has come a long way over the course of his last few albums.  After party hits like "These Are My People" and "If You're Goin' Through Hell" off of the album named for the latter, and then "15 Minutes" off of his "It's America" album, Atkins has matured, both emotionally and lyrically.  His new album, "Take A Back Road" still has fun, but Atkins has mellowed out, learned from life, and is ready to share what he has learned with anyone that will listen.

The album kicks off with the title track.  "Take A Back Road" is about a situation we have all been in.  Rodney finds himself in a rush hour traffic jam, when King George [Strait] comes on the radio with an old hit and he finally gets fed up with not moving.  He does not care that it is the long way, he wants to move, so it is time to hit the dirt country roads.   The only thing that he would allow to slow him down?  A tractor.   The catchy tune is enough to warrant Atkins his sixth career #1.  The video is below:

No matter what album you listen to, it is clear that Atkins is about his family.  The next two songs, "He's Mine" and "Family" show that, no matter what, family is family.  "He's Mine" is a lesson many fathers could learn: love your son whether he is being good or bad.  It is not without reasoning, either.  Rodney explains that, chances are, he is a chip off the old block: "He's mine/ That one/ Got a wild haired side and then some/ It's no surprise what he's done/ He's every last bit of my old man's son/ If you knew me then there'd be no question in your mind/ You'd know he's mine".  "Family" is an upbeat song about a family reunion, and the amusement of it all: "A few new babies/ Same ol' crazies/ I've known them my whole life and they still amaze me/ Don't get to choose them/ But you'd hate to lose them/ You gotta love them/ 'Cause they're your family"

The album is in no shortage of advice either.  Between "The Corner" and, later on, "Tips" and "Lifelines", Atkins dishes out what he has learned over the course of his life in generous helpings.  "Feet" is a slightly odd addition to this family of songs, talking about how he and his wife may not go to sleep without resolving their anger, but they always let each other know they are still there by touching feet, even with their backs to each other.  "She's A Girl" rounds out this list by explaining that, oftentimes, a woman's behavior is inexplicable, other than writing it off with "she's a girl, ain't she?"

If Atkins is full of advice, he is also not afraid to admit that he does not have EVERYTHING figured out.   "She'd Rather Fight" shows (in a comical way) that despite being married, he still does not quite understand women.  After a day of fishing, Atkins is ready to get home and get it on, but his wife is not a happy camper.  "She ain't as happy as I am to be home/ If looks could kill I'd be cold as a stone/ I'm already ready, to kiss and make up/ Looks like tonight I'm outta luck/ 'Cause she'd rather fight than you know what".

"Cabin In The Woods", "Just Wanna Rock N' Roll" make up my least favorite, and probably most forgettable duo of the album. They sound like they were split from the same song.

 "Growing Up Like That" is an upbeat song about how lucky he was growing up.  At first listen, the song was did not stand out, but the catchy beat and rhythm of the lyrics make the song enjoyable.  Rounding out the album is the first single, "Farmer's Daughter".  The song is a fun one about a kid working on a farm and eventually falling in love with the title character.  It is one of the most enjoyable songs on the album, leaving the listener with a positive feeling towards the record in general.  Here is a bonus second music video, for "Farmer's Daughter":

As I mentioned, it is clear that Rodney Atkins has matured over the course of his last three albums.  It is noticeable in his tone as well as the lyrics.  Unlike most country artists, Atkins does not saturate us with his music by releasing an album every year (this is his fourth album in the last eight years, and first since March 2009), leaving his music to be enjoyed for a long time.  "Take A Back Road" is not his strongest effort, but it is one that I will keep coming back to over the next couple of years.  7.5/10

Later this week, I will review the debut album from American Idol winner Scotty McCreery.