Single Review: Ronnie Dunn’s “Ain’t no Trucks in Texas”

Rating: 7/10

Although I loved and still love Brooks & Dunn, I have been less than impressed with Ronnie Dunn’s solo career up to this point. He recently signed with Nash Icon, a venture between Big Machine and Cumulus Media seeking to further the careers of older artists who are being left behind by mainstream country radio. This is a cause he has spoken often about, even releasing his last album independently after becoming disenchanted with Nashville politics. “Ain’t No Trucks in Texas” is the first we’ve heard from him since he signed with Nash Icon.

There is an electronic beat, but the instrumentation is definitely better than most of the crap on the radio being passed off as country. The song itself is a heartbreak song which reminds me of the 2015 version of George Strait’s “Oceanfront Property.” Basically, the premise can be summed up in this line: “There ain’t no trucks in Texas, and I ain’t missin’ you.” Ronnie Dunn lists off a lot of impossible things throughout the song. Not missing this girl is like not having football in the South, the blues in Memphis, etc. (My personal favorite is “they don’t get high in Colorado.”) Having said that, the list of stuff is pretty relatable and does paint some pretty nice pictures. A comparison to “Oceanfront Property” is not necessarily a bad thing; while “Oceanfront Property” was better, the majority of today’s radio audience will not know that song, and so “Ain’t no Trucks in Texas” will make that kind of impact.

Overall, this is better than most of Ronnie Dunn’s previous solo stuff. It’s a decent song with some substantial lyrics that actually get people thinking beyond some night in a field or club. It feels relatable to today’s radio listeners without compromising the lyrics, and without entirely compromising the sound. Not an awesome song, but definitely not bad.

Listen to Song

There is no YouTube video for this yet, but you can access it on Apple Music or Spotify.

Album Review: Ashley Monroe–The Blade

Rating: 8.5/10

If you have read Female Fridays, you already know how I felt about Ashley Monroe up to this point. Her previous album, 2013’s Like a Rose, was one of my favorite albums of the past five years, and I have been wanting to hear more music from her ever since. Like a Rose would have gotten a ten. So, as you can see, The Blade, while still good, did not quite live up to my expectations of Ashley Monroe. This was a very hard review for me to do, because there were individual songs that were tens to me, but unlike the last album, they stood out among other songs that were not as great. I will point out the stand-out tens as I go.

The album opens with the lead single, “On to Something Good,” which is actually my least favorite song on The Blade. It was not a great choice for a single and does not reflect the album as a whole. It is a pop country song, which is a new sound for Ashley after the entirely traditional Like a Rose, but this is to be expected after “Lonely Tonight”‘s success. The song itself is basically about moving on from hard times and finding the good things in life. I will say it took me severl listens to get this out of the song, as the lyrics are extremely vague and not Ashley Monroe quality. Next is “I Buried Your Love Alive,” another pop country song, this time dealing with heartbreak and “a memory I can’t kill.” This suits Ashley’s voice more, although the instrumentation draws you a little away from her voice, which should never happen. Ashley Monroe’s voice should always be the focal point in her songs. Next is “Bombshell,” and here the pop country sound that worked for Ashley in “Lonely Tonight” finally works again. This is a great song about finding the right time to “drop a bombshell” and leave someone. For me, this song itself is a ten.

Next is “Weight of the Load,” a Monroe co-write with Vince Gill, who as I mentioned in Female Fridays also had a hand in producing the album. This song is surprisingly mediocre for an Ashley Monroe and Vince Gill co-write–it’s not a bad song, I just expected more. It’s another pop country song about helping a partner shoulder life’s burdens. I could easily picture Kacey Musgraves singing it, and she would have probably arranged it more traditionally, so it would have been better. “The Blade” is another ten for me–a heartbreak song featuring a great melody, prominent piano play, and lyrics that paint a perfect picture. Ashley sings, of the broken relationship, “You caught it by the handle, and I caught it by the blade.” Incidentally, that’s Miranda Lambert on backing vocals.

“Winning Streak” is a fun, upbeat song where I focused more on the piano than the lyrics. Ashley sings, “If losing’s a game, I’m on a winning streak.” This would get played on radio if radio was country…right. “From Time to Time” tooke me a couple listens, but it’s one of my favorites now. I hesitate to give it a ten because it did take me a couple times, but this autobiographical song is one that can really connect if you listen. Ashley mentions the “tenth of September” in the opening line as the character’s birthday, and so I knew she was addressing herself. She is telling her younger self that someday everything will be fine, but that it is all right to remember. If I hadn’t caught the “tenth of September” line, I admit I would probably be confused about this song and/or think it was a generic song, but knowing it is autobiographical helps it a lot.

“If Love Was Fair” is a pop country song that I feel doesn’t work for Ashley. The song focuses too much on rhythm and not enough on her voice or the lyrics. It could have been a better song, but it is actually pretty forgettable. Following this is “Has Anybody Ever Told You,” a love song that goes back to traditional country and does feature Ashley’s beautiful voice, which actually hurts “If Love Was Fair” even more. Next is “Dixie,” which immediately makes you think it will be another ode to the South. The opening line begins with, “If I ever get out of Dixie” and we are hit with lines like “I’m so tired of payin’, prayin’ for my sins, Lord, get me out of Dixieland, in Jesus’s name, amen.” This song should get a twelve. The lyrics are great, the instrumentation is great, and the fact that a country singer had the audacity to cut this gives it extra credit–not to mention it has the deceivingly innocent title “Dixie.”

Next is “If the Devil Don’t Want Me,” another ten. It’s a traditional country song that asks where she’ll go if the devil doesn’t want her and she can’t see the light. “May Flowers” is a pretty good traditional country love song, and maybe I’m the only one, but this song gets on my nerves because I hear Merle Haggard’s “If We Make it Through December” in the music and melody. The album ends with the excellent “I’m Good at Leavin’,” a co-write with Miranda Lambert about being the woman who is good at walking away rather than staying at home and being a wife.

There were a lot of great tracks on this album, but it fell short of a ten because there were mediocre tracks mixed in. So, not as awesome as Like a Rose, but definitely worth checking out.

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Female Fridays: Featuring Ashley Monroe

Her new album, The Blade, is out today (I will have a review of it shortly.) In light of that, it seems natural to feature Ashley Monroe on this Female Friday.

How You Might Know Ashley

She’s the beautiful voice that completes Blake Shelton’s “Lonely Tonight.” Also, she was one-third (my favorite third) of the Pistol Annies–other Annies include Miranda Lambert and Angaleena Presley.

Bio

Ashley Monroe (born September 10, 1986, from Knoxville, Tennessee), has been paying her dues for many years. At age eleven, she won a talent competition in Pigeon Forge singing “I Want to be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart” and landed a job in a theater performing several nights a week. Her idyllic life was turned upside down two years later, when her father died suddenly. Ashley mentions her father’s death often in her songs (“Like a Rose,” “Monroe Suede”.) Music was her outlet, and she became a very talented songwriter as she dealt with his death.

Ashley moved to Nashville soon after, and after a long search for a major label, Columbia Records finally took a chance on her, allowing her to start work on her debut album at nineteen. Two Singles were released, “Satisfied” and “I don’t Want To”–a duet with Ronnie Dunn–but neither charted well, and Ashley’s album went unreleased. Ashley and Columbia parted ways in 2007. (The album, Satisfied, was eventually released in 2009.)

It would be six years before Ashley would release another solo album. During those years, Ashley worked both as a songwriter and backing vocalist. Chances are, if you like country and listen to it often, you know a song that Ashley Monroe worked on. Songs that bear her writing include Jason Aldean’s “The Truth,” Miranda Lambert’s “Heart Like Mine,” and Carrie Underwood’s “Flat on the Floor.” Her backing vocals can be heard on Miranda’s “Me and Your Cigarettes,” and Wade Bowen’s “If We Ever Make it Home,” among others. In addition, she independently released an EP with Trent Dabbs (with the unoriginal title Ashley Monroe and Trent Dabbs), sang with Jack White’s Third Man House Band, and collaborated with The Raconteurs and Ricky Skaggs on a single called “Old Enough.” In 2012, she even performed a song called “Bruises” with Train and toured with the group.

The most pivotal event in Ashley’s career during this time was the formation of the Pistol Annies in 2011. Miranda Lambert and Ashley, now friends, formed the group with Angaleena Presley, making their surprise debut at the ACM Girls Night Out on April 22, 2011, with “hell on Heels.” They were an instant success and produced two remarkable albums, Hell on Heels (2011) and Annie Up (2013.) The success of the Annies rebuilt Ashley’s solo career and sparked Angaleena’s, unfortunately leading to the disbanding of the Annies in 2014. However, Ashley was signed by Warner Bros, and finally released her second solo album in 2013. The album was titled Like a Rose and was produced by Vince Gill. Like a Rose was one of the best albums I have heard in the last five years, and it was met with much deserved critical acclaim. She finally got the breakthrough she had worked so long to achieve with Like a Rose, proving that hard work and dedication really can and does pay off. My only complaint with it was it ended too soon–it only contained nine tracks, and I immediately wanted to hear more. Today I get that wish, as her third album, The Blade, is finally here. I will reserve comments on that for the review, although I will say it was also produced by Vince Gill, so one would expect it to be awesome.

Why Ashley Belongs on Country Radio

Now would be the perfect time to start playing Ashley Monroe on country radio. Everyone knows her from “Lonely Tonight.” Plus, a commenter on another site described her voice as “pure gold” and that’s the best way to put it. She is a great songwriter, but even when she didn’t write the song, she has a way of telling a story when she sings. It’s probably from dealing with the pain of her father’s death and having to grow up so young. At any rate, when Ashley Monroe sings, you want to listen, to sad songs especially, but really to anything. I have praised other women for their songwriting, but with Ashley, the strength lies in her voice. Not to mention her voice is authentically country. She could put pop beats or rock beats or whatever behind it–she doesn’t, she generally stays traditional with traces of pop here and there–but she would still sound country. We need a woman like that on the radio.

Tracks I Recommend

This is not counting The Blade, as I am doing an entire album review over that. In light of that, I feel it would be a disservice to pick apart Like a Rose, as it is all awesome. So just go listen to it. As for Satisfied, everything on it is great as well, but it is more of an acquired taste, especially for those who like less twang or are just starting with Ashley. So just go listen to Like a Rose and proceed from there. With that album you cannot go wrong.

Listen to Like a Rose

Billboard Country Airplay and Country Albums Chart (August 1st)

Billboard Country Airplay

1. Jason Aldean–“Tonight Looks Good on You” (up 1)
2. Brantley Gilbert–“One Hell of an Amen” (up 3)
3. Little Big Town–“Girl Crush” (up 1)
4. Michael Ray–“Kiss You in the Morning” (up 2)
5. Canaan Smith–“Love You Like That” (down 4)
6. Luke Bryan–“Kick the Dust Up” (up 2)
7. Blake Shelton–“Sangria” (down 4)
8. Frankie Ballard–“Young and Crazy” (up 1)
9. Zac Brown Band–“Loving You Easy” (up 1)
10. Brad Paisley–“Crushin’ It” (up 1)
11. Sam Hunt–“House Party” (up 2)
12. Dustin Lynch–“Hell of a Night”
13. Thomas Rhett–“Crash and Burn” (up 1)
14. Eric Church–“Like a Wrecking Ball” (up 1)
15. Chris Janson–“Buy me a Boat” (up 1)
16. Brett Eldredge–“Lose my Mind” (up 1)
17. Keith Urban–“John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16” (up 1)
18. Chase Rice–“Gonna Wanna Tonight” (up 3)
19. Maddie & Tae–“Fly”
20. Jake Owen–“Real Life”
21. Cole Swindell–“Let me See ya Girl” (up 1)
22. Kip Moore–“I’m to Blame” (up 1)
23. Kenny Chesney–“Save it For a Rainy Day” (up 4) [biggest gainer]
24. Old Dominion–“Break up With Him” (up 2)
25. Dan + Shay–“Nothin’ Like You” (down 1)
26. Lady Antebellum–“Long Stretch of Love” (down 1)
27. Florida Georgia Line–“Anything Goes” (up 1)
28. Cam–“Burning House” (up 1)
29. Big & Rich–“Run Away With You” (up 1)
30. Brothers Osborne–“Stay a Little Longer” (re-entering top 30)

  • new No. 1: “Tonight Looks Good On You”
  • next week’s No. 1 prediction: “One Hell of an Amen”
  • Little Big Town will not reach No. 1 sadly
  • Maddie & Tae will stall out soon, the bros are pushing them out
  • Easton Corbin’s “Baby, Be my Love Song” fell out of the top 30 from No. 7

Billboard Top Country Albums

1. Sam Hunt–Montevallo (really?)
2. Zac Brown Band–Jekyll + Hyde
3. Kacey Musgraves–Pageant Material
4. Little Big Town–Painkiller
5. Eric Church–The Outsiders
6. Various Artists–Now That’s What I Call Country, Volume 8
7. Brantley Gilbert–Just as I Am
8. Willie Nelson/Merle Haggard–Django and Jimmie
9. Jason Aldean–Old Boots, New Dirt
10. Florida Georgia Line–Anything Goes
11. Easton Corbin–About to Get Real
12. Luke Bryan–Spring Break…Checkin’ Out
13. Luke Bryan–Crash my Party
14. Chase Rice–Ignite the Night
15. Carrie Underwood–Greatest Hits, Decade #1
16. Blake Shelton–Bringing Back the Sunshine
17. Kenny Chesney–The Big Revival
18. Darius Rucker–Southern Style
19. Canaan Smith–Bronco
20. A Thousand Horses–Southernality
21. Zac Brown Band–Greatest Hits So Far…
22. Cole Swindell–Cole Swindell
23. Kelsea Ballerini–The First Time
24. Tim McGraw–35 Biggest Hits
25. Tyler Farr–Suffer in Peace

  • Sam Hunt’s awful Montevallo replaces Easton Corbin About to Get Real at No 1
  • Easton Corbin falls from No. 1 to No. 11
  • look at the staying power of Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson as opposed to say, Canaan Smith or Easton Corbin…just saying

Source: Billboard

Album Review: Jason Isbell–Something More Than Free

Rating: 9/10

Jason Isbell follows up the critically acclaimed Southeastern (2013) with Something More Than Free. He has been praised for his excellent songwriting, and while it is justified, I felt that Southeastern was dry in places because of it. This is probably just personal taste–I don’t tend to like dark albums–but though I knew him to be talented, I found that album to be pretty boring. There are a lot of Isbell lovers out there, so please understand this is in no way a reflection of his talent, just personal taste. However, I found Something More than Free to raise the bar that many felt Southeastern set–because while the excellent songwriting is still there, it is not at the expense of the melody, and these songs are much more relatable. I found much more I could connect with in this album. People who already love Isbell–and there are many–will love this album. Those who weren’t sold before–and there were many of them as well–should check this album out.

The album opens with “If it Takes a Lifetime,” which finds the narrator searching for happiness and determined to find it if it takes him a lifetime. The track is lighthearted and immediately refreshing after the general darkness of Southeastern. Next is “24 Frames,” an excellent track about how short life is and how before you know it, it could all be gone. While the message is deep, the lyrics are light, so it does not leave you feeling utterly depressed; it’s a great balance. Next is “Flagship,” and I know a lot of people like this song, but it just does not connect with me, and here’s where the album falls from a 10 to a 9. “Flagship” is a love song, and it is marked by Jason’s excellent songwriting, but for me, the lines are so “deep,” for lack of a better word, that they aren’t relatable. I like the acoustic guitar, but I am a little bored by the melody.

“How to Forget” is an upbeat song about forgetting an old love. The melody is catchy and reminds me of something a 70’s Southern rock band might have sung. “Children of Children” is autobiographical but still relatable. Here, Isbell tells of being raised by his mother, who had him when she was a teenager. “All the years I took from her, just by being born”–what an excellent line. “Life You Chose” is an upbeat song asking an old flame if she is happy in her current life. “Are you livin’ the life you chose, are you livin’ the life that chose you?”–another excellent line that will hit many differently. The title track is an excellent song where Jason sings about thanking God for the work and looking forward to the day when he will have his reward. He says he works for “something more than free.”

If you only listen to one song on this album, please make it “Speed Trap Town.” This is about a teenage boy saying goodbye to his father in a hospital bed. I will post the opening lines here, as that is what hooked me.

She said it’s none of my business, but it breaks my heart
Dropped a dozen cheap roses in my shopping cart
Made it out to the truck without breaking down
Everybody knows you in a speed trap town
Well, it’s a Thursday night, but there’s a high school game
Sneak a bottle up the bleachers and forget my name
These 5A bastards run a shallow cross
It’s a boy’s last dream, and a man’s first loss

“Hudson Commodore” is a song about an independent woman in the Great Depression. I payed more attention to the music in this song than the lyrics. This is not a bad thing, as the 400 Unit is an excellent band. The same is true for “Palmetto Rose,” a Southern rock tribute to South Carolina, which Isbell calls the “iodine state.” This is a close second to “Speed Trap Town.” The album closes with “To a Band that I Loved” which is just that–a song about a band that Jason loved. It’s a good way to close this excellent album.

This album is great, and if you like Americana or Southern rock, or if you just like good, relatable songwriting, you should check it out.

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