Single Review: Thomas Rhett Brings Music to an All-Time Low With “Vacation”

Rating: 0/10

Much like Luke Bryan’s atrocious “Strip it Down,” I had planned to wait until Thomas Rhett’s album release to pass judgment on this song. But much like “Strip it Down,” a couple of sentences on an album review isn’t going to do this little work of art justice. Fourteen songwriters are given credit for this work of brilliance because it is so similar to “Low Rider” that the original writers had to be cited. Yes, my friends, that’s what country is today–the taking of previously good pop, r&b, and/or hip-hop songs and making them into your own brutal mess that wouldn’t pass for good music in any genre except country. But why spend any time crafting any original thoughts when country radio will play anything? No, it’s better to take another decent song and add your own shit. Then you only have to do half the work, and the teenage fangirls will buy it. If you were Thomas Rhett, and this is all you had to do to make money, doesn’t it seem reasonable that you would do it too?

And speaking of the fangirls, I am told by Trigger and the good commenters of
Saving Country Music that the video is full of preteen girls dancing around in bikinis singing about drinking beer. This is something I can’t verify, as I am blind and can’t judge the video, but I have no reason to doubt them, and this fact is possibly even more disturbing than Luke Bryan releasing his “Strip it Down” video to Tinder. Can country get any more embarrassing and sleazy?…no, Chase Rice, don’t answer that in your next video. Again, I’ll quote Maddie & Tae–“We used to get a little respect, now we’re lucky if we even get to climb up in your truck [to dance around in your video], keep our mouth shut, and ride along, [and sing along], and be the girl in a country song.” Let me speak as a woman to other women here…do you see this as respectful, and is this how you want your daughters to see themselves? Do you want your daughters or future daughters to view this as normal behavior for, and treatment of, women and young girls? Things like this have gotten so normal in our culture that they are too often ignored, but Maddie & Tae are right, and it sickens me to see women, especially mothers, being okay with this sort of thing.

The actual song that these fourteen have concocted is some sort of party song where the premise is “let’s party like we on vacation.” Fourteen songwriters, and no one thought to mention that in country, “we” = “we’re.” The rest of the lyrics aren’t any better, and it is a waste of my time to quote any…feel free to listen to them yourself. Keep in mind, it took fourteen songwriters to come up with them, so I can only imagine the country gold we’d get if one of them had to manage alone. The instrumentation is, to keep this short, a headache-inducing blend of anything but country. It doesn’t have a token banjo to pretend. It’s blatantly flipping off the entire genre. In an earlier review, I said that in 2015, you can call anything short of straight rap country, and that’s probably coming. Well, here it is. Now, we’ve had rap in country before, most notably from Jason Aldean’s “Dirt Road Anthem,” which made the whole thing somehow acceptable for the first time. But again, there were token country instruments thrown in. This is a song where, if I turned on the radio, I wouldn’t even be able to mistake it for maybe, possibly being a country station. This is country losing its entire identity.

All this makes it arguably worse than “B.Y.H.B,” which I reviewed on July 14th as
the worst song I’d ever heard, from any genre Well, congratulations Thomas Rhett, you’ve topped this piece of shit in less than two months, because your masterpiece will actually get played on country radio. Why? Because Thomas Rhett released it, so it must be good. This is why the mindless fans of “music” like this are worse offenders than the artists. Artists make this shit because, as I mentioned above, this sells. This says Thomas Rhett and his team are good businesspeople, sellouts, not country, don’t care about music, etc. This says that our culture is actually so gullible and lazy that the majority of people will not only stream and purchase this song, they will consider it good country music. Right now, I have much more respect for pop and r&b fans than the fans of mainstream country radio, because this trash would have been laughed out of any other genre (evidence = Sam Hunt.) But apparently the “evolution” of country music means that terrible pop/r&b/hip-hop music now = good country….nice. This is a train wreck in any genre and a blatant mockery of the genre that Thomas Rhett professes.

My Top Ten Country Songs (August 2015)

I wrote this list and then looked back and realized how female-dominated it was. This month brought good releases from Lindi Ortega, Maddie & Tae, and Whitney Rose, as well as my discovery of Kasey Chambers (her album actually came out at the end of July.) Kip Moore released some good music, but most of it was rock. I haven’t actually listened to Pat Green’s latest album, Home, yet, as it came out while I was traveling. The other albums I listened to were Luke Bryan’s train wreck Kill the Lights and Michael Ray’s forgettable debut–I didn’t even bother to review this. The result is an August list rife with females.

10. Kip Moore–“Comeback Kid”–His latest was
clearly a rock album, but this song was an honest and personal moment from Kip that I really enjoyed nonetheless.
9. Kasey Chambers–“House on a Hill”–I debated whether or not to include Kasey Chambers on this list because her album actually came out at the end of July, but I didn’t discover her till August, and without her, this list would look entirely different. This duet with her father, Bill Chambers, about an old house which is about to be torn down is just one of the standouts on her
fantastic album Bittersweet.
8. Whitney Rose–“The Devil Borrowed My Boots”–“The devil borrowed my boots last night” is the best excuse for bad behavior I’ve heard in a long time, and
Whitney Rose delivers this with the same enjoyment I have when listening.
7. Kasey Chambers–“Oh Grace”–A beautiful song featuring banjo and Kasey’s remarkable voice telling us the story, from his point of view, of a man with nothing to offer Grace except his life.
6. Lindi Ortega–“Half Moon”–A lyrically brilliant song in which Lindi reflects on the “half moon hanging in the sky” and later compares herself to it. It is
one that needs to be heard to fully appreciate.
5. Kasey Chambers–“Heaven or Hell”–Another lyrically brilliant song in which Chambers speculates on where we go when we die, calls out hypocrites, and later reflects on her own standing with God.
4. Kasey Chambers–“Too Late to Save Me”–This song about a prostitute coming to terms with her life and actions is my favorite on Kasey’s album. Featuring great instrumentation, honest songwriting, and up-front lyrics like “they call me late, they call me whore,” this song is a must-listen.
3. Maddie & Tae–“Shut Up and Fish”–I’m sure you all were wondering where Maddie & Tae were, and that’s because they made it so far down on the list.
“Shut Up and Fish” is an excellent song in which the girl gets tired of an overly clingy date and ultimately pushes him in the lake. Please let this be a single.
2. Lindi Ortega–“Ashes”–There are other songs on here that are better lyrically, but Lindi’s voice sells this and puts it so high on the list. Her voice soars through this heartbreak song perfectly, and not only is it the best song on Faded Gloryville, it’s my favorite Lindi Ortega song to date.
1. Maddie & Tae–“After the Storm Blows Through”–Lindi was at the top all month until this song blew “Ashes” out of the water. I originally wrote that I thought these ladies were singing to each other, but a commenter on another site wrote that this was written about Maddie’s friend, whose father passed away. This beautiful song of friendship features great country instrumentation and chilling harmonies. It’s another must-listen.

Honorable Mentions

  • Lindi Ortega’s “I Ain’t the Girl” and “Someday Soon”
  • Kip Moore’s “Come and Get It” (I actually love this song, but it’s not country, so it doesn’t qualify.)
  • Maddie & Tae’s “Waitin’ on a Plane” and “Smoke”
  • Whitney Rose’s “Heartbreaker of the Year”
  • Kasey Chambers and Bernard Fanning’s “Bittersweet”

I’d love to hear your favorite songs from August!

Album Review: Whitney Rose–Heartbreaker of the Year

Rating: 7.5/10

Canadian country singer Whitney Rose released her second album, Heartbreaker of the Year, to the U.S. on August 21st. Produced by Raul Malo of The Mavericks, this album brings a unique sound that Rose describes as
“vintage pop-infused-neo-traditional-country.” It’s certainly unique and a sound that may not appeal to everyone, but as far as “vintage-pop-infused-neo-traditional-country” goes, it’s a pretty good album. It took some time for me to wrap my mind around Whitney Roses’s style, and this review was easily the hardest I have done so far. This rating is more of a comment on the songs themselves than the style. Whitney’s description is a good one, and it is a style that really has to be heard to either be appreciated or disliked.

The album begins with “Little Piece of You,” a love song where Whitney sings of a man with an “old school soul” and a “heart of gold” and wonders where he found all those “little pieces” of himself. It’s an interesting theme and this is one of the album’s better songs lyrically, but it leans much more toward the “vintage pop-infused” side. Because of this, I’m not sure if it was the best choice for the opener. Next is “My First Rodeo,” an upbeat song that again is more “vintage pop-infused.” This one is more catchy and might have been a better opener. There is also more country blended into this song. Speaking of country, the next song, “The Last Party” is the most country song of the bunch. It is a classic country heartbreak song, complete with plenty of steel guitar for traditionalists. The piano in this song adds a nice touch as well, and the harmonies between Whitney Rose and Raul Malo work really well. Having said that, the lyrics simply could have been better.

“Only Just a Dream” is a better balance of vintage pop and country featuring more prominent piano play. Whitney sings about a man she loves, but he is “only just a dream.” Again, the harmonies work really well in this song. The bluesy title track follows; here is a unique heartbreak song where Whitney is asking if she can “pat the back of the heartbreaker of the year.” She treats the whole thing like a pageant; his mother must be crying and his hometown must be proud. In contrast to “The Last Party,” this song gets everything right–the instrumentation, Whitney Rose’s vocals, and the witty lyrics. It’s definitely a standout on this album.

“Be My Baby” is next. This is a cover of the song by The Ronettes and is a duet with Raul Malo. Their interpretation of the song is remarkable and it’s one of the better songs on the album. Their voices blend nicely together too, and it’s also great to see a cover like this as opposed to a cover of some pop or hip-hop song. “The Devil Borrowed My Boots” is a country song that would have done well on radio ten years ago. Whitney tells us about the night before, which she spent drinking, smoking, and starting trouble in a bar. There’s a catch, though–it wasn’t her. “The devil borrowed my boots last night,” she sings. This is a clever hook, and this is my personal favorite song on the album. This song has an infectious rhythm, and it’s easy to tell Whitney enjoyed singing it as much as I enjoy listening to it. If you only listen to one Whitney Rose song, make it this one.

“Ain’t it Wise” is a love song that is more “vintage pop-infused.” The song basically says, “Ain’t it wise to love someone” in different ways all the way through it, and for me, the lyrics are forgettable. The melody is a plus, and it’s not a bad song, but it doesn’t stand out. Next is “Lasso,” a song about a man who has Whitney “caught in his lasso.” This song is catchy, and the instrumentation is a nice blend of that “vintage-pop-infused-neo-traditional-country.” My only complaint here is that the vocals are sometimes drowned out by the production. I’d probably enjoy this song more if I could understand more of it. This is a problem in parts of her other songs too; I just feel the need to mention it especially in this song. The album ends with another cover, this time of the Hank Williams standard “There’s a Tear in my Beer.” (Yes, a modern country singer covered Hank Williams.) Now, I’ll be the first to say I am not a fan of the original version of this song; that’s just personal taste, not critical review of Hank Williams or that song. However, Whitney’s version is a completely different song; it sounds almost like a lullaby. It is the perfect example of taking a song and making it your own. Her cover is a good 2015 version of this; I say that as a reviewer. I actually like this song now; I say that as a fan. Once again, the cover choice by Whitney Rose was a smart one.

Overall, this album is unique and the style might take some getting used to. However, Whitney Rose’s album is a true “evolution” of the country sound, and for that, she should be commended. This is, for the most part, a good pop country album. There are some great examples of her songwriting on here–her songwriting can be found on every track besides the covers. She picked smart covers and interpreted them well. Something I didn’t mention enough is her unique voice; much like Lindi Ortega and Kasey Chambers, Whitney has a sound that’s all her own. If you’re not familiar with Whitney Rose, this is a good place to start.

Listen to Album

Album Review: Maddie & Tae–Start Here

Rating: 10/10

If you have read Female Fridays, you already know how I felt about Maddie & Tae up to this point. They are one of the main reasons I came back to country after losing all hope for the genre. I have recently become a reviewer of country music, but I am a fan first–those of us on independently-run sites are–and as a fan, I confess I had a lot of hopes for this album. I hoped it would be full of the country I heard on the EP. I could not bear to see another beacon of light for country become a singer of EDM (Zac Brown Band, talking about you), or some other trend. I am so glad to say this album reinforced my faith in Maddie & Tae and even gave me a shred of hope for country music.

The album opens with “Waitin’ on a Plane,” which is about a girl leaving town to chase her dreams. She’s sitting in seat 7A waiting for the plane to leave, thinking of the life she’s leaving and the future. Immediately I’m reminded of the Dixie Chicks’s “Ready to Run.” It’s not just the type of song, it’s their harmonies and style as well. People who said we’ll never hear anything like the Dixie Chicks again, think again, it’s here in Maddie & Tae. Next is their hit “Girl in a Country Song,” the anti-bro country anthem that put Maddie & Tae on the map. I wasn’t reviewing when this song came out, so I’ll say it now; this song is brilliant, and even more so in the context of an album. At the time of its release, many wondered why Maddie & Tae used hip-hop influences in their song and whether they would really be as “traditional” as they claimed. This song is the only one on the album with this type of influence, proving that along with the excellent, witty lyrics–which name-drop songs in clever, as opposed to obnoxious, ways–the instrumentation is there on purpose. They adopted the style to make fun of the trend while at the same time appealing to radio; if that song had been rife with steel guitar, it would never have gotten to radio, much less hit #1.

“Smoke” is a love song in which they are comparing a guy to “smoke.” I can’t help but think of the song by A Thousand Horses with the same name. In that song, a girl is “like smoke” because she is an addiction; in Maddie & Tae’s song, the “smoke” metaphor comes from this as well, but also lines like “You’re just like smoke blowin’ on the wind, one minute you’re by my side, and then you’re gone again.” This song has much better songwriting and paints a better picture of the guy described. “Shut Up and Fish” is one of my personal favorites; here, the narrator is fishing with “a city guy,” but all he wants to do is make out. He’s interrupting her while she’s trying to fish, saying, “It don’t get any better than this.” She responds, “Yeah, it could, if you would shut up and fish.” She ends up pushing him in the lake. I have unashamed bias toward this song because I am a female who both hates clinginess in guys and loves fishing. This song would be a great single.

The three other songs from the Maddie & Tae EP follow. “Fly,” their current single, is a nice inspirational song about not giving up and learning to fly. The lyrics could be a little better, but their harmonies are excellent, and this song should really connect with young girls everywhere. “Sierra” will connect with them as well–it’s a song where Maddie & Tae vent their frustration on a girl who ditches her friends, breaks boys’ hearts without caring, and generally acts like she’s better than everyone else. This might seem like just another song written by some teenage girls, but compare “Sierra, Sierra, life ain’t all tiaras” to Kelsea Ballerini’s “you can take your new blonde out to get your drink on” and tell me who writes better lyrics. “Sierra” would be a nice third single. “Your Side of Town” is an upbeat song with prominent country instrumentation that I could see as a single as well. It’s a song where they are telling some guy who broke one of their hearts to stay on his side of town and stay away from them.

“Right Here Right Now” has a little pop influence and is a youthful love song about taking the first step “right here right now tonight.” I love that I can write “a little pop influence”–it seems Maddie & Tae understand the difference between pop country and straight pop, an area in which the bros in their thirties and forties could take a lesson. “No Place Like You” is the actual country version of Kip Moore’s “Lipstick.” It actually tells the story of going to different places but still missing home and the one you love. This is actually country and does not go too far with the name-dropping, but rather balances out the place names with other details. “After the Storm Blows Through” is the most country song on the album and easily the best. This song about being there for a friend “after the storm blows through” features fiddles, acoustic guitars, and chilling harmonies. I feel like Maddie & Tae are singing to each other here, but I could be wrong. At any rate, this song gave me chills every time I listened to it and is one you definitely need to hear. The album closes with “Downside of Growing Up,” which is just that–an honest look at growing up that will be relatable to many young people.

Start Here is an excellent album. I have never heard anything resembling Dixie Chicks harmony and style before, but I hear it now in Maddie & Tae. The first country group I ever liked was the Dixie Chicks. I remember Wide Open Spaces was one of the first country albums I ever owned, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. That’s what Maddie & Tae can do. They can bring young people back to country. They can bring the ones who think of “country” as Sam Hunt and Kelsea Ballerini back to real country music. Pop makes an occasional appearance on this album, but mostly, we hear fiddles, acoustic guitars, and mandolins. Their songwriting is excellent, especially for a debut album–they co-wrote each of these tracks. Maddie & Tae have brought hope to country music, and Start Here is one of the best albums of 2015.

Listen to Album

Female Fridays: Featuring Maddie & Tae

Their first full-length album is available today, so today is all about Maddie & Tae. As usual, the album review will come later.

How You Might Know Maddie & Tae

Unlike the others I have featured, most of you probably do know Maddie & Tae, and if you’re just a casual mainstream country listener, you should still know their breakthrough hit “Girl in a Country Song.”

Bio

From Maddie & Tae’s Web site:

“We are Country,” says Maddie. “We love all music, but we’re girls from where Country comes from. It’s who we are; it’s how we live. And that’s the music we want to make. It makes us happy, but like what we write about, it’s also who we are.”

“Honesty’s always the best policy,” says Tae. “We’re telling our stories and hope people can relate.”

Madison Marlow (born July 7, 1995, from Sugar Land Texas), and Taylor Dye (born September 18, 1995, from Ada, Oklahoma), became Maddie & Tae when they met in high school through a mutual vocal coach. After high school, they moved to Nashville and gained a publishing deal with Dot Records, which is, shockingly, an imprint of Big Machine. That’s right, the duo who released “Girl in a Country Song” is on the same label as Taylor Swift and Florida Georgia Line. On St. Patrick’s Day in 2014, Maddie & Tae sat down to write “Girl in a Country Song” after Maddie expressed a heartfelt sympathy for the girls mentioned in bro country songs who are good for little more than sitting on tailgates in cut-off jeans. Together with Aaron Scherz, the duo wrote what would become an anti-bro-country anthem and a breakout hit for Maddie & Tae. It went to #1 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart in December 2014, becoming the second debut single by a female duo in history to do so.

Maddie & Tae released an excellent EP in November 2014, featuring the songs “Sierra,” “Your Side of Town,” and the current single, “Fly,” which has reached #12 on Billboard Country Airplay and will most likely go recurrent shortly after the album release. It is worth noting that Maddie & Tae came on the scene during a time when I had all but alienated myself from country music. I talked about this in my
Random Thoughts column this week. The Maddie & Tae EP, with its fiddles, banjos being used correctly, and country lyrics, was the thing that started to bring me back to country. I hoped an EP was not all we would get from them, and thankfully, now we have a full-length album. Their long-awaited debut album, Start Here, is finally here today, and a review is coming.

Why Maddie & Tae Belong on Country Radio

I’ll keep this short, since they’ve already had radio success. Mainly, I just want to see that success continue. They deserve to be on country radio because they bring a youthfulness and relatability, the kind that Kelsea Ballerini and Taylor Swift bring. However, Maddie & Tae are actually country, as Maddie points out in her quote. Kelsea Ballerini is “calling dibs” on being the girl in the truck; Maddie & Tae are calling out the bros for their sexist lyrics. Kelsea Ballerini is using slang and straight pop instrumentation; Maddie & Tae are using catchy country lyrics backed by fiddles and mandolins. Most of all, Tae talks about honesty in the above quote, and isn’t that what country is all about? These two are going to be integral in bringing the teenage fan base back to country, and they have the ability to make actual country cool.

Tracks I Recommend

I recommend the entire Maddie & Tae EP. But all those songs are on the album, so just wait for the review.

Here’s a song which I hope will be a single and which could probably do a lot better at radio than “Fly.”