Monday, December 31, 2012

Year In Review: The Top 12 Country Albums of 2012

2012 was a great year for country music.  Many artists released new albums this year, though many of the bigger names in the genre were still riding the highs of 2011 albums.  Blake Shelton, Miranda Lambert, Eric Church, Justin Moore and Luke Bryan are just some of the artists who did NOT release new albums this year.

The good side of this is that it left country music wide open for new, up and coming artists to take the spotlight.  We reviewed some of these artists album this year, though not nearly as many as we would have liked.  Some of them are featured in this countdown, while others just did not make the cut.

So without further adieu, the Top 12 Country Albums of 2012:

12.  Rachel Farley - The Truth EP - Released in the early part of the year, this young singer did not nearly get the chance to shine as her EP deserved.  She did, however, set herself up for success in 2013, opening for Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean.  At only 17, this artist is well on her way to a big national debut.

11.  Chris Lane Band - Let's Ride - Chris Lane is a small time artist from North Carolina, but the artist already fits in well alongside artists such as Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan.  "Let's Ride" features a great combination of rocking country and smooth love ballads.

10.  Colt Ford - Declaration of Independence - I have not been shy about my love of the unique sound of Colt Ford in the past.  His August release, Declaration of Independence, returned Ford to a sound that made his debut album popular, letting country stars sing while Colt sticks to the rapping.  Guest singers include Jason Aldean, Kix Brooks (Of Brook & Dunn) and Corey Smith.  The lead single, "Back", featuring Jake Owen, helped Ford score his first #1 Country Album.

9.  Toby Keith - Hope On The Rocks - Continuing with the pattern set by 2011's "Clancy's Tavern", Toby Keith kept strong his return to more traditional sounding country music.  Gone are the partying days of old, Keith's album features songs that are more reflective in nature.  The title track "Hope On The Rocks" is one of the strongest songs TK has released in recent memory.

8.  Love & Theft - Self Titled Album - The lead single "Angel Eyes" took country music by storm earlier this year, securing the duo's place in country music.  While not a new artist, L&T is likely new to most country listeners.  Look for their star to rise even more in 2013.

7.  Brian Davis Band - Under the Influence - Another locally known artist deserving of a much bigger stage.  BDB's "Under the Influence" rocking country sound will be familiarly comfortable among those who listen to the more modern outlaw side of the genre.  Fittingly, Brian Davis Band opened for Brantley Gilbert on his first headlining tour in the second half of the year.

6.  Lee Brice - Hard 2 Love - It was a big year for Brice.  His sophomore album was met with critical acclaim.  The first two singles "A Woman Like You" and "Hard To Love" enjoyed long play on the radio.  His third single, "I Drive Your Truck", changes from the love based pace that he is known for, but is still quickly rising up the charts.

5.  Thomas Rhett - Self Titled EP - One of my favorite albums of the year, this EP is only so low on the chart because of the shortened length.  The son of Rhett Akins, Thomas is enjoying success behind "Something To Do With My Hands", "Beer With Jesus" and opening for Toby Keith this previous Summer.

4.  Florida Georgia Line - Here's To The Good Times - FGL's debut album benefited from having an EP released earlier this year, one of our highest rated releases of the year.  The lead single, the summer tune, "Cruise", spent multiple weeks on top of the chart, and is still enjoying radio success in the cold months.  Look for this duo on the Luke Bryan's "Dirt Road Diaries" tour in 2013.

3.  Chase Rice - Dirt Road Communion - A cowriter on the aforementioned "Cruise", Rice did not get much, if any, radio play on his own.  Nonetheless, "Dirt Road Communion" remains one of the top albums of the year, and is still a regular in my playlist, despite being released in March.

2.  Jason Aldean - Night Train - After having giant years in 2010 and 2011, Aldean continued his success in 2012.  His fifth album, "Night Train" features a diverse variety of songs, from the lead single "Take A Little Ride", to the risky "1994" (penned by Thomas Rhett) to the risque "Black Tears" (written by Florida Georgia Line).  It is hard to find any song on Night Train that one can classify as a bad song.

1.  Kip Moore - Up All Night - Newcomer Kip Moore took radio by storm with the catchy "Somethin' Bout A Truck".  His soft, yet gruff, voice combined with a more traditional country sound makes his debut album the most played album on my playlist.  Much like Aldean's "Night Train" it is hard to find fault with any of the songs on the album.  "Beer Money", the second single from the album, is enjoying commercial success that is sure to make Moore a common sound on the radio in 2013.

Honorable Mentions:  Aaron Lewis, former lead singer of Staind, released his debut full-length country album, "The Road" late this year.  Also of note, after a long break and some time as solo artists, Big and Rich returned together to release "Hillbilly Jedi".

So there it is.  The top 12 albums in country music in 2012.  We are looking forward to sharing our thoughts on 2013 albums, including new ones from Tim McGraw, Gary Allan, Darius Rucker, Randy Houser, Brad Paisley, Band Perry and George Strait.

Until then, Happy New Year and we look forward to seeing you off the dirt road.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Album Review: Florida Georgia Line - Here's To The Good Times

The last review we did as "The Low Down For A Hoe Down" was of Florida-Georgia Line's EP "It'z Just What We Do".  How fitting is it, then, that our first review as "Off The Dirt Road" is FGL's debut full-length album, "Here's To The Good Times"?

It has been a whirlwind of a year for Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley.  Besides an EP in May, a #1 single, and spots on the Country Throwdown tour (with Justin Moore and Rodney Atkins) and the 2012 CMT on Tour tour (with Jake Owen), the duo managed to appear on Jake Owen's "Endless Summer EP" and land a cut on Jason Aldean's "Night Train" album with a song ("Black Tears") from their first EP.  FGL caps the year off with a full-length album, which picks up right where they left off with their summer EP, including all five of "What We Do"'s tracks, including their recent chart topper and debut single "Cruise".

None of the newest additions to the album stray very far from the groundwork the duo laid over the summer, and the lead single ("Cruise") defines the mood for the entire album.  Almost every song is perfect for driving down a dirt road with friends or cuddling up with a loved one on the tailgate of your truck at a bonfire.  The one song that strays from that mood is "Stay" which appears in the middle of the album.  The song, which takes on a more alternative rock feel, is about a topic almost everyone has had to deal with, heartbreak.

"I'd sell my soul just to see your face.  And I'd break my bones just to heal your pain".

It is hard to find fault with any of the tracks on the album.  The duo manages to create a mood the flows from start to finish without being repetitive, something that many artists struggle to do through an entire album.  "Here's To The Good Times" is sure to skyrocket the newcomers up the charts, winning many many new fans in the process.  Be sure to check them out in 2013, when they open up for Luke Bryan on the "Dirt Road Diaries" tour.  9/10

Rebooting, With A New Name

Hey everyone.I know it has been several months since we have done a review. This post it to let you know that we are coming back, starting tonight, with a new name and new reviews. First things first. I have decided to change the name of the blog. I feel that "Off The Dirt Road" better reflects the type of country music that we review. As I mentioned in May, while we have always reviewed country artists of all levels of fame, most of our fan base and our reviews have been for the smaller, up-and-coming artists. "Off The Dirt Road" is a better representation of that base. Second, I will be posting a review of the new Florida Georgia Line album tonight and over the next couple weeks, will take time to review some of the albums I have missed, including the latest offerings from Jason Aldean and Brian Davis. Finally, I am hunting for a new writer. Be on the lookout for an announcement on who that is in the near future. Thanks to anyone who has stuck with us, even during this extended period of no reviews.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Album Review: Florida Georgia Line - It'z Just What We Do

Florida Georgia Line is the latest in a line of Male Duos in country music to blend with rock music and hope to make it big.  Their debut EP, "Anything Like Me" was released in 2010 slipped through the cracks, which is a shame.  "It'z Just What We Do", the latest EP from the duo, should gain them more recognition, helped along by appearing with Gary Allan and Rodney Atkins on the Country Throwdown Tour.

FGL opens the EP with "Cruise", a viable candidate to replace "Dirt Road Anthem" as this year's perfect summer driving song.  The first single from the band, "Cruise" is radio friendly and hopefully will get the duo noticed by fans outside of the South.  The summer fun continues with "Get Your Shine On" and "Tip It Back".  Both are perfect bonfire songs, with "Shine" being part love song and "Tip It Back" being a great drinking song.    The latter of the two is sure to hook fans of Montgomery Gentry, as there is a similar sound to the duo's back and forth singing.

"Tell Me How You Like It" changes the pace some, bringing a unique sound to a romantic song.  FGL is down for anything, just waiting for the word from the girl.  Wrapping up the short EP is "It'z Just What We Do", the title track.  The duo is unapologetic as they party, combining rap, rock, and country, the duo creates a great bar song, no matter what part of the country you are in.  If FGL releases another single before a full-length album, I would bet on this being it.

Full of summer party anthems, FGL's EP hit the shelves just in time to have maximum impact.  Florida Georgia Line's "It'z Just What We Do" is exactly what the duo needs in order to put them on the radar and the radio.  Be sure to catch them on the Country Throwdown Tour this summer.  The EP is available on iTunes,  Amazon and the Google Play Store 8/10

One of the things that I have always taken pride in with "The Low Down For A Hoe Down" is our focus on the smaller artists, the ones who are up and coming.  I have always felt that the people I connect with are the ones who enjoy the unknown artists.  And the readers have proven that.  Today, 10 months after starting this blog, we reached 10,000 unique readers and our three most-read posts are our reviews of Chase Rice, Rachel Farley and Brantley Gilbert, none of whom are platinum selling artists.  All of them are currently either not touring or opening acts.  The fact that our readers are drawn to these reaffirms my faith in the true country music fans, so we will continue to bring you artists you may not have heard of in hopes that their music will spread.  We will continue to review big artists too, but our primary focus will be on the currently unknowns.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Album Review: Rachel Farley - The Truth

Rachel Farley is a young female singer that first grabbed my attention about two years ago.  A group of friends and I drove down to South Carolina to see our favorite artist, Brantley Gilbert.  The venue was a bar in Florence and there were two openers.  To this day, I cannot tell you who the middle act was, but the first performer was this young woman.  I remember us being very impressed by this unknown artist, but knowing she had a lot of potential.  Flash forward two years and that woman, Rachel Farley has released another EP and is still just as impressive as that Carolina night.

It would be unfair to try to compare Farley to any of the leading female singers in country music today.  She does not have the innocent tone of Taylor Swift, nor the violent attitude of Miranda Lambert, Carrie Underwood or Kellie Pickler.  But that does not mean she is inferior to any of these.  She is truly a unique voice, and one that has a pure country tone to it.  In fact, she starts the EP off with a theme more commonly found among the outlaw boys of country.  "Ain't Easy" leads "My granddaddy ran moonshine/ Till the day he died/ Left behind his children/ And a .45/ That outlaw stuff/ Runs through my blood/ I was raised to be tough/ I was born to run".  These are not uncommon sentiments from the likes of Brantley Gilbert, Jamey Johnson or Montgomery Gentry, but it is refreshing to hear it from a woman.

Not only is she an outlaw, she falls for them too.  "Damn I Do" is about her falling for the guy that everybody says she should not.  Despite what those around her say, the guy makes her feel alive, so she is going with it anyway.  This leads nicely into "Place To Land".  The two songs work well back to back as Farley tells about how when she is tired from her Gypsie life, she always has that safe place to land.

Wrapping up the album, Farley make it clear what every country boy knows: if you mess with a country girl, you are going to have to face daddy.  Obviously someone did not get the memo as the guy is now facing the shotgun of a pissed off father.

Rachel Farley is not known now, but if she keeps making music like this EP, she will end up right there with the current leading women of the genre.  I, for one, cannot wait for a full length album from this genuinely outlaw woman. 9/10

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Album Review: Chase Rice - Dirt Road Communion

If the name Chase Rice sounds familiar in your household, chances are it is not for Country music, but it should be.  If the name sounds familiar, it is likely because the young North Carolina native placed second on "Survivor: Nicaragua", the shows twenty-first season.  Rice has just released his first full-length album, a follow up to his EP, "Country As Me".

Dirt Road Communion - The title track, "Communion" follows a familiar country path, reminiscing about growing up on the dirt roads back home.  With a sound that falls somewhere between Jason Aldean and Brantley Gilbert,  with a little Lee Brice thrown in for good measure.  The formula works, providing a rocking song that is likely to get attention for the newcomer.

How She Rolls - Keeping the pace up, Rice gives a rocking tribute to his woman.  Sounding a lot like Matt Kennon ("The Call"), Chase describes everything about this country girl: "My baby's a hands in the air/ Don't have a care/ When her songs on the radio/ A little crazy with a blue-jean tear/ Gets a Ray-Ban stare/ Just about everywhere we go/ She likes to get down/ Sippin on Coke and Crown/ Jesus and Gypsie Soul/ Yeah that's how she rocks/ That's how she rolls"

The Little Things - Another tribute to his woman, Rice slows this one down with a short love song about what is truly important to her.  "No she doesn't need/ A four-carat diamond ring/ Or a big house to come home to/ No she doesn't need/ A Hollywood movie scene/ Or a sunset every day in Malibu/ No all she needs/ Are the little things".  Rice mentions what those little things are, roses just because it is Tuesday, watching "The Bachelor" every Monday, and letting her drive his truck (even after previous mishaps). You can almost see the singer with a grin on his face as he sings.

Pbj's and Pbr's - Rice returns to what he does best, rocking.  "Pbj's & Pbr's" is him reminiscing about his college days, being broke, barely making it to class (if they went at all).  Chase even includes a shout out to another country singer: "That Sigma Ki gig every other Thursday/ Wouldn't make a penny, but we tried to play/ We cut a song for all of them college honeys/ Give ole Luke Bryan a run for his money".  The title refers to the diet of a college student-musician.

Whoa - A change of pace for the Carolina singer, the heavy bass beat in the beginning leads to the inevitable rap verse near the end of the song.  "Whoa" is simply the reaction Rice has to seeing a beautiful girl.  Thankfully, the rap does not feel out of place and he pulls it off without sounding forced.  "Whoa" is a song that will probably not get a lot of playtime, but is definitely catchy.

Room 205 - Every once in a while a song comes around that is so deep, and tells such a story, that you have to listen to it a few times to gather what is going on.  This is that song for Chase Rice.  The song is told from the perspective of a motel room that has seen a lot of things.  I really do not want to go into detail, it is better to just let you listen and take it in for yourselves.

Pop A Top Off (Good Time On) - Returning back to the idea of partying and drinking, Rice sings from the perspective of the singer on stage of a concert.  Quite obviously fitted to be the opening song for his concerts, the guitar in the last third really stands out.

Shades Of Green - A song about the struggling economy and being thankful for what you have and where you are from, "Shades of Green" is familiar without being repetitive.  The song is about exactly what the title says, the different greens in life that are more important than money.  "It's the color of the tractor in my barn/ A fifty acre pasture old horse farm/ And rows of pines as far as I can see/ It ain't the money in the bank that we ain't got".

You Ain't Livin ' Yet - This song follows in the tradition of "Shades of Green" in theme.  "You Ain't Livin' Yet" is about the large difference between "livin'" to a city boy and "livin'" to a country boy.  Once again, Rice does a good job of avoiding the same song that every other country makes, while sticking to the same ideas as Josh Thompson's "Ain't Seen Country Yet" and Jason Aldean's "Country Boy's World"

Country Boy's Kryptonite - The title should give away what the song is about.  Every country boy is a sucker for a hot country girl.  We just cannot get enough.  He does not stick just to the women though, the second verse dives into muddin' and NASCAR.  "I can't resist it, I'm addicted/ Even Superman would lose this fight/ Yeah, and all of this, is my weakness/ It's all a country boy's kryptonite"

Every Song I Sing - Every song has a story behind it, and more often than not, it involves a woman.  The first song on "Dirt Road Communion" that actually involves a breakup, it is also probably the one filled with the most emotion on the album.  This is probably one of my favorites simply because it feels the most vulnerable.

Only A Country Girl - After my favorite track, "Country Girl" is probably my least favorite on the album.  It is not that it is a bad song, but it just feels a bit cookie cutter.  Jeff Bates immediately comes to mind when I hear this song about how special a country girl is.

I Like Drinking, Cause It's Fun - This one might be my new anthem.  Sometimes you do not need a reason to be drinking.  Sometimes you do not have a heartbreak, or a hard day at work.  You just want to drink "Cause it's fun!".  Does not matter if it is beer, tequila or wine, drinking is just fun.

Shakin' The Wheels - This fast tune contrasts nicely with the idea of a truck not actually going anywhere, but the couple in the song sure are moving fast.  The instrumentals nearly overpower the lyrics, but it works with the content of the song.

Jack Daniel's & Jesus - Another raw, vulnerable track.  Chase pours his heart out about being lost in life, much in the vein of Brantley Gilbert's "Modern Day Prodigal Son".  This purity places this just above "Every Song I Sing" because I have lived there.  In fact, you would be hard pressed to find someone who has not.  If there were only one track to listen to on this entire album, this one would be it.  It is hard not to be moved by Rice's honesty.

Happy Hour(Worktape) - Wrapping up the album with a track that was unedited, Chase sits down with just his acoustic guitar, lamenting on being stuck in the same routine, just without the girl he used to enjoy it with.  He swears he is never coming back, the memories are just too rough, but he has said that before.  "I guess Happy Hour/ Ain't so happy without her" Rice sings in the chorus.  After a short silent period (and maybe a few drinks) his mood picks up.  The girl walks in and asks if she can join him.  He plays along for about a second, then tells her to kiss his ass.  He definitely ends it with a upbeat take on the heartbreak, wrapping the album up nicely.

"Dirt Road Communion" is Rice's first attempt at a full-length album, and he does not disappoint.  He recorded this album without a label and without radio support, but you would never guess it listening to it.  Chase is not a household name, but if he keeps putting music out like this, he will be in no time.  8.5/10

This album is available through Amazon MP3 and iTunes.  You can follow Chase Rice on Twitter

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Album Review: Luke Bryan - Spring Break 4... Suntan City

About this time every year, Luke Bryan releases a short, four song EP of party songs.  Many of these songs are ones that Bryan admits would never get much radio play, but he enjoys making them and the freedom he gets without the pressures from the record label.  2012 brings us the fourth iteration of the series, "Suntan City".  Previous "Spring Break" EPs have brought us such songs as "I'm Hungover", "Wild Weekend" and "It's A Shore Thing".

Suntan City - Bryan kicks of the EP with the best track on the album, the title track "Suntan City".  This one really sets the mood, talking about how people from all over the country head to the beach during Spring Break for a week or so of partying.  "Hey there cutie with the Kentucky coozie/ Have you ever hung with a Georgia Boy?/ Why don't you and your friends ease on over here/ and chug a beer with Miss Illinois".  Easily the strongest track on the album.

Spring Break-Up - Following up with a song about Spring Break promiscuity, Luke talks about moving on from one girl while trying to pick up another.  Problem is, the first one is not getting the message.  Bryan tries to tell her that there should be no hard feelings, but he "Don't need (her) number/ Don't wanna be (her) Facebook friend".

Little Bit Later On - Definitely a goofy song, this is one of the songs that Bryan was talking about when he said they are not necessarily recording for radio.  Much of the song is spoken rather than sung, as the Spring Breakers work on trying to make plans for the night.

Shake the Sand Off the Sheets - The only slow song on the EP, "Shake the Sand Off the Sheets" is a love song, talking about getting ready to climb into bed together.  The romantic tone definitely highlights Bryan voice, which allows it to fit nicely without feeling out of place on the party album.

While "Suntan City" is not the best of the Spring Break EPs Luke Bryan has released, it definitely holds its own and accomplishes what it set out to do.  The party EP has enough good tunes to satisfy fans and bridge the gap between "Tailgates and Tanlines" and whatever project Bryan releases next.  At only about $3.50 for the four tracks, it is definitely worth the money.  7.5/10

This album was purchased from the Google Play store.  It can also be found on Amazon and iTunes

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Album Review: Dierks Bentley - Home

It is hard to believe that Dierks Bentley has been in the Country Music world for nine years, but since 2003, the Arizona native has been giving us music to party by as well as music that causes us to reflect.  Six studio albums and eight #1 singles later, Bentley is back with more of what he does best, and his latest album does not disappoint.  "Home", the follow up to 2010's bluegrass filled "Up On The Ridge" has already produced one #1 song ("Am I The Only One") and the second single, the title track "Home", is rapidly climbing the charts.

Bentley kicks the album off with a couple of party songs.  "Am I The Only One", the first single and #1 from the album is a rocked out version of Hank Jr's "All My Rowdy Friends Have Settled Down".  "Gonna Die Young" continues this vibe, which picks up later in the album with "5-1-5-0".  The latter is a reference to the police code for a crazy person and makes for one of the most fun songs to drive and sing along to.  All three of these bring the style that made "Sideways" such a hit for Dierks.

As known as he is for his rocking songs, Bentley might be known even more for his mid-tempo love songs.  Tracks like "Tip It On Back" and "In My Head", two of the likely-to-be underrated tracks on the album, are great examples of this.  "When You Gonna Come Around", featuring Karen Fairchild of Little Big Town, furthers this niche, providing a beautiful duet.

The song that is sure to get everyone talking, however, is "Thinking Of You".  Not only is it a beautiful love long, sure to resonate with both musicians and military alike, it also features Bentley's three year-old daughter, Evie, who sings the chorus on her own at the end.  Just listening to her sing will bring a smile to everyone's face.  She even joined him on stage for one of his shows to sing with her pops.

One other track especially worth mentioning (though they all are), is "Home".  The second single from the album is a reflective track, along the lines of "Every Mile A Memory" and so many of his other hits.  This one will be a #1 song soon, and deservedly so.  The track feels genuine.

The album, "Home", is filled with solid tracks that are sure to appeal to everyone.  Fans of all ages will hear something on this record that they will find themselves singing all day long.  The songs are catchy, but never feel fake.  Dierks does not step outside of the comfort zone, as he did with "Up On The Ridge", but the album is still an enjoyable listen from end to end.  Country music is off to a good start in 2012, and Dierks is sure to continue to be a heavy force in the genre for several years.  8.5/10

The album can be found at here.

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Friday, February 3, 2012

Album Review: Kellie Pickler - 100 proof

Kellie Pickler is another in a long line of country artists who gained fame through "American Idol", having finished sixth in the show's fifth season.  She has fallen off the radar recently, having not released an album since 2008, much slower than the typical country artist.  However, she seems to have found her style in those years.  "100 Proof", Pickler's third album features a much more traditional country sound than the "pop" of her previous albums"

Where's Tammy Wynette: If there was any doubt as to the direction the "I Wonder" singer was going to take with this album, Pickler shatters it with the very first song.  The toe-tapping first song tells of Pickler, unsure what to do about her man, desperately searching the radio for the advice of the Late Country Legend, Tammy Wynette.

Unlock That Honky Tonk:  Kellie is in the mood to party, and a locked bar is not going to stop her.  She does not care that it is only Tuesday.  Her fiery attitude calls for people to wake up the owner, wake the bartender and drag themselves in.  "Unlock that Honky Tonk" she sings.  "Boy, turn the neons on /  Go get the good stuff out / I'm bringing a party crowd".

Stop Cheatin' On Me: Slowing it down, Pickler lays down the rules, with a voice that immediately brings to mind that of June Carter Cash.  She has one simple rule to make this relationship work, "Stop cheating on me / It ain't that hard to do / Stop cheating on me / Or I'll start cheating on you".   The "I can play that game, too" attitude is sure to resonate with a lot of women, and the slow two-step beat is sure to get a lot of playtime in the bars.

Long As I Never See You Again:  The "Red High Heels" singer is at the end of a long period of getting over a breakup.  She no longer turns to the bottle for comfort.  She indicates that she is still fragile after the ordeal though, with the contradictory statement, "I'll go my way / We can still be friends / I'll be alright / Long as I never see you again".  My only complaint about this beautiful song of strength is the stop and start at the beginning of the chorus, which distract the listener with the lack of flow.

Tough:  The first single from the album.  "Tough" has a very similar sound to "Unlock That Honky Tonk".  Pickler uses the title word in multiple ways, both describing herself as "tough" and telling guys that if they do not like it well, then "tough".  This song is sure to be popular among fans who also enjoy Miranda Lambert's style of singing.

Turn On The Radio and Dance:  Finally, Kellie is ready for some genuine love.  She describes driving down by the lake, where it is just the two of them so they can be alone and just be together.  Nothing necessarily sexual, just kick off the shoes, "Turn on the radio and dance" she sings, describing her perfect moment with her man.

Mother's Day:  Anyone who knows Pickler's backstory knows why on the night before Mother's Day, she prays "That there's some way / That life could skip a day / To Monday".  She is obviously grateful for what she has, but misses having a mom in her life.  The simplicity of her and the acoustic guitar make this one of the most emotionally powerful songs on the album.

Rockaway (The Rockin' Chair Song): Told from the perspective of an old lady, sitting in a rocking chair, reflecting on a lifetime of love with her husband.  The bridge of the song describes the perfect ending to the longtime love "I whisper this rocking chair prayer at night/ If your's is ever empty/ Let mine not be far behind".

Little House On The Highway: A song about the life of an artist on the road, Pickler sings opens singing about how hard it is to stay awake, describing her band as a "Three Ring Circus" and finding stations to listen to.  It is definitely the most fun song on the album, and I would not be surprised if it were released as a single in the future.

100 Proof: The title track to the album slows the beat down and uses alcohol to describe the strength of their love.  Pickler compares their relationship with that of a friend's, who just got into a fight.  In the meantime, Kellie and her man are going home to get drunk on each other's love, which is "100 proof".

The Letter (To Daddy):  Pickler sings about the transformation in her father, an alcoholic who finally gave up the bottle and now makes up for lost time.  The song is short, but genuine.  Much like "Mother's Day", the power is in it's simplicity.

"100 Proof" is a step in a completely different direction from the albums Kellie Pickler has previously written.  This new formula definitely fits the young singer well, and provides a traditional sound for those clamoring for the "good ole days" of country music.  Every song comes across as genuine and heartfelt.  I hope Pickler stays with this style.  9/10


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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Album Review: Tim McGraw - Emotional Traffic

We kick off 2012 with one of the most popular and lasting names in country music, Tim McGraw. Tim has had a long journey to release his eleventh and latest album, "Emotional Traffic". It has been more than two years since "Southern Voice" was released. Adding to that, McGraw is in the midst of a breach of contract lawsuit with his record company, Curb Records. Also since "Southern Voice", McGraw had a starring role in "Country Strong" that kept his focus away from music for a while. Tim has had eight #1 albums and twenty three #1 singles, including the first single off this album "Felt Good On My Lips"

Halo - The album kicks off with a powerful and emotional ballad. The only thing stronger than the guitar on this track are McGraw's vocals as he sings about a love that has faded despite every attempt to try to save it. "Cry, Cry, baby I can't change the weather" McGraw sings, describing that feeling of helplessness at a lost relationship. The guitar is what really sells this song, ending with a beautiful guitar solo.

Right Back At Ya - McGraw picks the pace up with the second track, a fun love song with a beach tone to it. The song is about positive karma, McGraw is going to do everything he can to reciprocate the love he has felt from his woman, singing "Right back at ya, babe/ Just like a boomerang/ Everything good you threw my way/ Right back at ya, babe/ Best that you get ready/ There's a whole lotta loving/ That is gonna be coming/ Right back at, ya babe"

One Part, Two Part - Returning to the theme of lost love, McGraw describes how there was a lot of good in the relationship, there was always more bad that got in the way. He sings it in a fun way that makes the song enjoyable and almost makes you forget that he is singing about a breakup.

I Will Not Fall Down - McGraw is in his mid-40's and he knows that he is not as young as he used to be. He acknowledges that in this song, but adds that he is not going to give up. "I will not fall down/ I will not fall down/ I will not fall down/ Without getting up/ That's when I need your love" McGraw sings in the chorus, noting that he cannot do it alone.

One - This song opens by painting a picture reminiscent of McGraw's past hit, "Something Like That". The only bad thing about this song is the awkward editing where McGraw sings the bridge, it sounds like it comes in about a half-second early. The style of this song is perfect for singing in the car as the words are easy and fun to sing along to.

Better Than I Used To Be - Tim slows it back down for what is now the second single from the album. In what is probably the most transparent song on the album, McGraw admits that he is not perfect. Far from it actually. He acknowledges that he has come a long way from his past, but there is still a lot of room for improvement. The song is a good progression in maturity from ten years prior and "My Next Thirty Years" and is sure to reach number one.

Touchdown Jesus - Between "Friday Night Lights" and "The Blind Side", it is no secret that McGraw is a football fan. This song about redemption compares Jesus to a running back, you give either of them a little bit of room to work, and they will take it all the way for the touchdown. I am sure this song is going to get a lot of air time in the churches on Sunday mornings.

One That Got Away - This is an interesting song, one about the irony of being an outcast as a kid, but now that he is famous, everyone wants to know him. This song is sure to resonate with a lot of people, not just singers, who were outcasts in high school, but have dreams of something bigger. "Everyone wants a glimpse of the one that got away/ Everybody wants to see you/ Everybody wants to be you too/ It's funny how they put you down/ But now they think you're alright/ Everybody loves you tonight/ You're the one that got away". This song is perfect for me, as I am currently reading a book that is similar to this "And The Geeks Shall Inherit The Earth" by Alexandra Robbins. This is probably my favorite song on the album.

Felt Good On My Lips - The first single and #1 from the album is a fun one. Tim finds himself in a situation with a girl he did not know, whose name he could not pronounce, listening to music in another language, with a drink guys would not be caught dead with, but they feel good on his lips, so he is having a good time. The song is a great summer song with a great tune and fun lyrics.

Hey Now - Keeping the party theme going, "Hey Now" tells about a party that is winding down, but a girl puts on a new album. At first, McGraw is outraged as he was about to leave, but she starts dancing and Tim realizes maybe it is not so late after all. When she goes to leave, he decides he is going to extend the party for her too. The song is not the strongest on the album, but is a fun one for parties.

Only Human - Another song about maturing moments in life, Rapper Ne-Yo appears as a guest on this song about finding out you are not invincible. Ne-Yo sings "I tried to touch the sky/ Fell right to the ground/ Did my best to fly/ But I just kept falling down/ So many hopes and dreams shattered/ Expectations broken, battered" in the second verse". The song is one of realization, and fits well with the aging McGraw.

Die By My Own Hand - The "I Like It, I Love It" singer wraps up the album with another song about love lost. This time, McGraw admits that the girl in question changed him, but it is hard to change a music man, and before she could save him, she got fed up and left. He does not blame her, saying he "Should have seen it coming/ [He'll] always die by [his] own hand".

McGraw definitely shows a level of maturity on this album that he has not shown previously. At 44, he has had a long career and been around long enough to have learned many lessons along the way. Almost every song on this track is evidence of those lessons. This album will not resonate with everyone, especially much of the younger crowd, but it is one of the best efforts Tim has put forth in years. 9/10

This album is in stores on Tuesday, January 24th.  You can pre-order the album through Amazon, here

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

During the Break - A Word on SOPA/PIPA

Hello readers,

I know this is a blog to review country music, but I wanted to take a moment on this day to say a word about the SOPA and PIPA acts that are working their way through both parts of Congress.

Many of you may have noticed that today, Wikipedia is unavailable, Google has a censor block over it's name, and many other sites are inaccessible. This is for a reason. The SOPA and PIPA acts that Congress is trying to force down our throats is an abomination. So many sites that we consider vital to our lives: Facebook, Twitter, Google, YouTube and many more would be castrated, if not utterly decimated by these bills. These bills are nothing more than an attempt to censor the internet, thinly veiled as fighting piracy.

I urge all of you to write, call, tweet, facebook, use whatever means you have available to contact your representatives and tell them that you oppose this bill. We have had almost 3,000 unique visitors to this blog, and if these bills pass, this blog will be no longer.

Thank you for your time. Look for new reviews to start next week as Lynzee reviews Kellie Pickler's "100 Proof" and Tim tackles the new album from Tim McGraw, both released on the 24th.