Category Archives: Reviews

Album Review: Thomas Rhett–Tangled Up [a rant]

Rating: 0/10

**Language**

Now, I have reviewed bad albums. Luke Bryan’s Kill the Lights nearly made me wish that I had been born deaf rather than blind, saving me the horror of that experience altogether. But never before have I actually become angry when listening to an album for review–until now. Congratulations, Thomas Rhett. This, this is the most blatant, unashamed disregard for country music that I have ever witnessed, employing influences from nearly every genre except country and then labeling it “country” for some cash because in many cases, the “songs” concocted here would be laughed out of any other genre. I wrote that Don Henley made his album with obvious love and respect for the genre; one gets the feeling listening to this that Thomas Rhett went into this with outright hatred, disrespect, and defiance toward country music and its fans. Tangled Up is so named because of Thomas Rhett’s many influences, wich apparently include r&b, disco, funk, rap, rock, pop–anything but country–and his father was Rhett Akins, so he can’t even play the cluless Florida Georgia Line card here. He is so purposeful at avoiding anything having to do with country, and so arrogant and disrespectful about it, that all I can say is he should have went all the way and named this album Fuck Country Music, as this is the actual, unashamed theme…hey, at least he has a theme, I suppose. Maybe if he’d named it that, he could have thought of something for a cover, instead of leaving this to the fans in lieu of actually employing any creativity, self-expression, and/or brain power himself. If he’d gone with the above title, the cover could have shown him flipping off Hank or burning a Merle Haggard album…but I digress.

This thing begins with “Anthem,” a club song with electronic beats that is so blatantly non-country you get the feeling Thomas Rhett put this there on purpose out of pure, unbridled arrogance. The opening line is, “This is the beat that puts the fire on your feet, gives you the license to be a little crazy”–exactly, this is the beat that gives me the license to rip you and this album apart, Thomas Rhett. There is also a line that says, “This is the verse where you don’t know the words, and you don’t give a damn ’cause it feels good.” Goes nicely with my new theme, so points for that, I guess–too bad you didn’t name your album this, then I might have called it the perfect opener. “Crash and Burn” is next; now, I actually liked “Crash and Burn” when it first came out, but after it became apparent to me that Rhett ripped off Sam Cook’s “Chain Gang,” this song lost much of its appeal–and in the context of this album, it’s even worse, showing that one of the rare decent songs is still not country and was someone else’s idea in the first place. I wouldn’t blame you for liking “Crash and Burn” as a piece of music, but in the context of this album, it definitely sucks.

“South Side” is next, and if this gets released as a single, this will be one of the worst songs of the year. If there was a theme song for metro-bro, it would be this: the funk/r&b/rap song advising women to “shake your south side.” Um, no. “Die a Happy Man” is actually a good love song with some real emotion–just one huge, glaring problem: it’s an r&b song. There’s nothing remotely country about this. It’s also ironic that he name-drops Marvin Gay here–I was annoyed when they threw in names like Haggard and Strait, but this is almost worse. He will go on to name-drop Guns n’ Roses and Third Eye Blind in this album–bro country threw in all the country names to prove its country cred, metro-bro throws in as many non-country names as possible in its effort to mock country and traiditionalists. As if this album wasn’t non-country enough, next is “Vacation.” This horrifying display has fourteen songwriters, and I
already gave this brutal ruining of “low Rider” the ripping it deserves, and I don’t have much to add. Songs like “Vacation” are generally what Rhett would produce if he went to r&b, rather than decent ones like “Die a Happy Man,” so “country” is where he’ll stay, ruining my beloved genre with this musical disease that he has unleashed on mankind.

“Like It’s the Last Time” is typical bro country–“boots,” “jeans,” “truck,” “party lights,” you get the picture. Thomas Rhett, this is so 2013. But seriously, I can’t believe how welcome bro country is after what I’ve just been subjected to–it’s almost as if he put it there as some sort of sick, arrogant irony to show all us traditionalists bro country was not the worst thing that could befall us, and only the beginning of the war on our beloved country music. “T-Shirt” is possibly the most obnoxious song on this entire thing–it’s some sort of r&b/funk song about how the girl looks good in his T-shirt. Rhett does some really annoying Sam Hunt style spoken word here that only adds to the unoriginality, non-countriness, and general horror of this track. “Single Girl” sees Rhett asking a single girl if she wouldn’t rather be with him than be alone. This is not headache-inducing, but it’s boring, bland, and yes, non-country. Also, if he planned on singing any of this album to her regularly, I’m sure she’d rather die alone. “When You Stop Lookin’ Back” is about not looking back on the past, but rather moving on and looking forward. This does feature some acoustic guitar and perhaps could be called “r&b country,”–for about half the song–but half a song on an entire album is not enough to save this album or to call it country. “Tangled” is like a bad Maroon 5 song, complete with Thomas Rhett sounding like a terrible Adam Levine. I don’t even know what else to say.

I’m going to single out “Playing With Fire” here, as it’s the only song that I actually think is a good song in its rightful genre. It’s a pop song featuring Jordin Sparks about being in a relationship that isn’t right for them, but they can’t help “playing with fire.” For a pop song, it’s actually pretty good, and Jordin Sparks really helps this track. But just like “Die a Happy Man,” that doesn’t help a country album. There is not a shred of country in it, and at this point it would take Rhett singing Alan Jackson’s entire discography to make up for the monstrosity I have been forced through so far. “I Feel Good” brings us back to mindless party bullshit, and this song features LunchMoney Lewis, which actually makes this album worse–I didn’t think that was possible, so good job, Thomas Rhett. I should mention that this song name-drops “Georgia,” so I guess we’re supposed to automatically give this a “country” designation. The album concludes with “Learned it From the Radio,” an appropriate metro-bro anthem where Rhett explains that he learned all of his douche behavior, including how to drink and kiss girls, from the radio. I believe it, I really do.

Forget “Murder on Music Row,” where no one found the weapon. This album is Thomas Rhett holding up the weapon and dancing around in the street. If you like Thomas Rhett, so be it; your musical taste is your choice and none of my business. But when this r&b/funk/disco/pop music is so shamelessly allowed to be sent to “country” and to compete with George Strait, Don Henley, and Clint Black for album sales, it becomes my business, and I’m not going to sit by silently.

May King George personally come and kick Thomas Rhett’s ass if this collection of shit prevents George from having a #1 album this week!

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P.S. I love my readers and country music too much to post a video in any sort of support of this album.

P.P.S.

Album Review: George Strait–Cold Beer Conversation

Rating: 8/10

After arguably the biggest career in country music, King George retired from touring in 2014, taking a well-deserved break and earning numerous awards in the farewell process. However, many fans mistakenly believed George Strait was done altogether–but George never claimed this, insisting he would indeed go on making albums. Enter
Cold Beer Conversation, announced Tuesday in one of King George’s most badass moves to date. Unfortunately for fans, this album can only be purchased on iTunes or by entering Walmart…so is the exclusivity worth it?

Without a doubt.

The album opens with “It Was Love,” a pop country song which is my least favorite on the entire album.
The lyrics are too generic, featuring two teenage kids in love and even referencing a Friday night football game in the opening line. However, unlike most of these songs, this one does tell more of a story, and it is actually pop country. It has grown on me after a couple listens, and I think it will continue to do so. The title track, “Cold Beer Conversation,” is a lighthearted track about two guys sharing a beer and talking–they talk about their women, the past, etc. The instrumentation helps this song a lot, giving it an easygoing feel that matches the tone of the conversational lyrics. The album’s lead single, “Let it Go,” is another fun song about not letting life bring you down. It’s a nice little beachy song that will get stuck in your head quickly. The fun songs continue with “Goin’ Goin’ Gone,” an upbeat drinking song. Mainstream artists, take note–this guy has a job and leaves on Friday to drink. He admits that “come Monday mornin’ I just might be overdrawn”–in short, life is not just one big party without consequences–but at this point, he doesn’t really care because it’s Friday night, and he’s had a hard week. This is a real person drinking, not a frat boy.

The album turns serious for “Something Going Down,” and all I can say is, Luke Bryan, this is how to sing “Strip it Down.” I am so glad this was not overproduced, as George’s vocals really shine here like nowhere else on the album. As you can see by the reference to “Strip it Down,” this narrator is seducing a woman–only these lyrics are focused on the woman, as opposed to virtually everything else in the room. I cannot say much else–you will have to hear it, and I will post it. “Take me to Texas” is a nice ode to Strait’s home state; Strait sings, “when I go, take me to Texas.” The fiddle is appropriately featured in this song, and Strait sings with a lot of heart, which adds to it. “It Takes All Kinds,” co-written by Strait, is a straight-up western swing song. The premise is that “it takes all kinds” to make the world work–but here’s the thing: I believe this is directed at modern country stars. Evidence of this includes lines like “some wear a backwards baseball cap, if that’s you, I’m cool with that, Me, I’m more a cowboy hat, it takes all kinds.” In light of this, I can’t help but smile at the line, “Some got a beer they like to drink, some got a thought they like to think, some got a chain with a few more links, it takes all kinds.”

“Stop and Drink” is another fun drinking song, with the premise “Little stuff like that will make you stop and drink.” The “little stuff” is pretty much everything in life from the heat to Wall Street. Mainstream artists, once again, take note–this is a fun, country drinking song. “Everything I See” is a song about the memories of a lost loved one; the reference to the “sunny day in June” makes one think this was written about George’s father. This song is certainly relatable, but it is overproduced and loses a lot of the emotion that was probably originally there. “Rock Paper Scissors” is next–here, the rock is the ring, the paper is the note, and the scissors were used to “cut his face out of every picture”; she then left the rock, paper, and scissors on the table. This is just an upbeat, catchy song. However, I could do without the line about him blowing up her phone because that line has been done to death.

“Wish You Well” sees Strait in Mexico, drinking away a lost love. He’s “six Mexican beers between ‘wish you were here’ and ‘wish you wel’.” It’s another song that can get stuck in your head like “Let it Go” and is helped by the instrumentation. Next is “Cheaper Than a Shrink,” which was apparently a Joe Nichols cut previously. This is one of my favorites; here, Strait explains that he drinks because “it’s cheaper than a shrink. You don’t have to think. You just pour and drink.” This, this is a country song if I ever heard one, and the instrumentation and Strait’s signature twang really add to this. It seems like George was really enjoying himself when he recorded this. The album concludes with “Even When I Can’t Feel It,” a song featuring nice piano and fiddle in which Strait says that he believes in God “even when He’s silent” and love “even when I can’t feel it.” It’s a nice way to close the album.

Overall, this is another good album from the King of Country. I am excited to see writing credits from Strait, as this is relatively new territory for him. I do think there were moments of overproduction, particularly on “Everything I See.” But for those hesitant to go to iTunes or Walmart, it is definitely worth it. I will post the iTunes link here, but you can only listen if indeed you have iTunes. So I will also post more videos than usual so that you can hear more songs.

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Album Review: Clint Black–On Purpose

Rating: 7/10

All I can say is, poor Clint Black. He’s always been the underrated member of the “class of ’89,” competing with Garth Brooks and others for attention and popularity even at the height of his career. Now, after ten years without a release from him, his new album, On Purpose, released by Thirty Tigers, was big news–until George Strait came along three days ago and announced a surprise album. Although Clint is in the unfortunate position of being in the shadow of Strait, Thomas Rhett, and even Don Henley, let’s not think of that; rather, let’s celebrate the fact that three good releases came out today to compete with the train wreck that Thomas Rhett has unleashed on the world and stained with the title “country.”

The album opens with “Time For That,” a nice song about taking time for the simple things in life. I notice two things immediately; Clint’s vocals are as great as ever, and this album could have come out in 2002. The former is the best part of the record; the latter is ultimately the worst, as although it is certainly country, and although I like the country from ten years ago, it feels like Clint Black is stuck between appealing to classic country fans and mainstream listeners, thus limiting his market. This wouldn’t be so significant if it wasn’t the first release in ten years–many Clint Black fans were hoping for more of his earlier sound. Next is “Better and Worse,” where Clint Black sings, “I’ve been better, I’ve been worse” and says, “Not everything’s gonna go my way.” This is a good summarization of the album; Clint Black has been better and worse in his career, and this song is made better because it captures Clint’s stage in life and state of mind well. The instrumentation in this song is also fun and decidedly country. “Summertime Song” is a nice ode to songs that we sing along to–it’s a nice song, but nothing really stands out. “One Way to Live” is a nice song about living a life of love and not going through life alone–“I can think of a thousand ways to die, but only one way to live.”

“Doing it Now For Love” feels like a personal song to Clint–he sings about “doing it now for love” instead of money or fame. I think this is Clint’s way of saying this is what he’s doing now: just singing for love and nothing else. “You Still Get to Me” is a nice, bluesy track featuring Clint’s wife Lisa Hartman–it’s probably my favorite track on the album and in an album full of nice, but not outstanding, tracks, this one is a little better. In fact, this bluesy influence is present in places throughout the album, and it’s a direction I am surprised to enjoy from Clint Black. I would be interested to hear more songs with this influence from him in the future–right now it just seems like he’s trying it out and isn’t really sure if he wants to go through with it. “Right on Time” is one of the better songs on the album; here the narrator sings about waiting for the right woman to come along, saying she’ll come “right on time.” He says that until then, “I’d rather just wait here alone.” The instrumentation here is nice, blending electric guitars and fiddles. “Still Calling it News” is another of the better songs–here, Clint calls out the media and politicians in what can only be called a catchy song. It doesn’t matter what side you’re on, as Clint is criticizing the headlines and attitudes rather than their viewpoints–“It’s getting pretty old, but they’re still calling it news.”

“Making You Smile” is about a man who thinks his woman is in love with someone else, that there’s someone else “behind that look in your eyes” and “making you smile.” It’s like Zac Brown Band’s “Goodbye in Her Eyes,” but without as much emotion and intensity. It’s still a nice song, but it could have been better. “Stay Gone” is an interesting song which seems to be about dealing with the devil and praying that he will stay gone. Clint’s vocals are really nice in this song, and the rock guitars add some intensity which works well. Next is “Breathing Air,” a love song in which Black is telling the woman that he will be there as long as he is breathing. The rocking song “Beer” is just that: a song about different beers from various places around the world. I could have done without this, as it adds nothing at all to the album. I’ll give it this; it is quite catchy and fun. Next is “The Trouble,” one of the better songs musically and really overall; this is about a woman who is “the kind you wanna run away from, the kind you wanna run into.” The album concludes with “The Last Day,” a nice song about living each day as if it is your last.

All in all, this is a solid album from Clint Black. It’s nothing remarkable–nothing really stood out, and there were no “moments” of awesomeness. However, there was nothing wrong with it either, and I’m glad to see Clint Black making good music again. This feels like a personal record from Clint, and I’m glad that he is back to “doing it now for love.”

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Album Review: Don Henley–Cass County

Rating: 9/10

Since the moment Don Henley announced that he was making a country album, much of the country music community has been wondering if, and even assuming that, this album would be another country album by a rocker seeking some cash and attention–Steven Tyler anyone? I never wondered about this; Don Henley has no reason to make a country album other than genuinely wanting to make a country album. And now that Cass County has arrived, it’s proven that this isn’t just another rocker looking to exploit the country format, this is a true country album by an artist with obvious love and respect for the genre’s roots and tradition. In short, Don Henley lived up to my expectations with this record, and if you had reservations, I’m here to tell you you needn’t have worried.

Let me say I am reviewing the deluxe version, which is important because some of the songs are not in the same order on the main version. I will state which songs are not on Cass County, but it’s important to know that the ones that are might not be in the same place on the album.

The album opens with “Bramble Rose,” and right away, you can tell this is traditional country, with steel guitar making a grand appearance on the opening beat. This is about a woman whose love has “grown as sharp as a bramble rose.” It’s a nice opener–also, it features Mick Jagger and Miranda Lambert, making perhaps the most unlikely musical threesome I have ever heard. I come away from it more impressed by Miranda Lambert’s vocals than I have ever been–and this from one of the biggest Miranda Lambert fans you’ll ever meet–and wondering what Mick Jagger would sound like in country. Don Henley has several duets on this album, and this is something common to all; all the singers sound their best. It’s like Don brings out something in them that they don’t try to bring out themselves, like he believes in them more than they do. Speaking of duets, the album’s impressive lineup continues with “The Cost of Living,” a duet with none other than Merle Haggard–yes, the guy that just critiqued all modern country, so there’s an endorsement for this album in his name alone. The song itself is about living with the hand you are dealt and not letting life’s troubles get you down; “It’s the cost of living, and everyone pays.” I now want a Don Henley and Merle Haggard duets album, as this sounded better vocally than anything on the already great
Django and Jimmie.

“No, Thank You,” is a fun little country rock song saying “no, thank you” to, well, pretty much everything that is “too good to be true” because he’s “been there, done that.” “Waiting Tables” displays excellent country storytelling, as we learn about the life of a 23-year-old single mom who works as a waitress and hopes for better days. “Take a Picture of This” tells another great story, this time of a married couple who captured their life in pictures, but now they are getting divorced after many years together. “Too Far Gone,” only featured on the deluxe version, is a traditional country song rife with piano and steel. It’s about a man who knows his woman loves someone else, but he is “too far gone” to accept this. Don Henley really captures the emotion in this song and makes it one of the better tracks on a great album.

“That Old Flame,” the first song released from the album, has more of a country rock feel and features the always remarkable Martina McBride. The two sing about reconnecting with an old flame and wondering if they miss each other or simply their youth. “There is danger in the embers, you have only yourself to blame, if you get burned and try to rekindle that old flame”–this is just good songwriting, and this song is simply catchy. “The Brand New Tenessee Waltz,” only on this version, goes back to traditional country and features some of the best instrumentation on the album, including a nice fiddle appearance. “Words Can Break Your Heart” is next, a song about just that, a relationship being torn apart by harsh words. I especially love the line, “It only takes a breath or two to tear your world apart.” The cover of “When I Stop Dreaming,” featuring Dolly Parton, is one of the best songs of the whole bunch and one that I will post here. Dolly Parton sounds better than she has in years, and I’m pretty sure she hasn’t hit that high note in a long while. If anyone had any doubts about this album being real country, this song should shatter them in about 2.6 seconds.

“Praying For Rain” is next, and here is where Don Henley’s vocals shine most. I have talked about the other singers, but it’s important to know that Henley himself put a lot of effort into this, and I hear it most in this song–this is where Don Henley takes Jason Aldean’s “Amarillo Sky” and shows Aldean how to sing it correctly. The next two tracks are only found on this version. The first is a simple little song called “Too Much Pride,” about the dangers of this, and the next is a nice cover of “She Sang Hymns out of Tune,” which is probably the only song I could do without, and that’s only because I am not a fan of the song; Henley certainly does it well, though. “Train in the Distance” sees the narrator looking back on his youth and reflecting on his dreams. It’s one I can’t really explain, and you need to hear it to really appreciate it. “A Younger Man” is one of my favorites; here, the narrator is singing to a woman who is in love with him, but he tells her “You’re looking for a younger man, not me.” Apparently, she’s an “angel from the future,” while he is “an old devil from the past.” This is really a standout on an already great album. The album concludes with “Where I Am Now,” a great rocking track after all the seriousness of the last two songs. It’s an excellent way to close this album–and both versions close with it, so obviously Don Henley agrees.

okay, Cass County is a very good album, and all of you who thought Don Henley came to country for the wrong reasons should be pleasantly surprised. I highly recommend this album for traditional and contemporary fans alike–the majority is more traditional, but there are nice country rock tracks too. In fact, I’ll post one of each. Cass County is definitely worth checking out!

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Album Review: Turnpike Troubadours Make Oklahoma Proud With Their Self-Titled Album

Rating: 10/10

If you are not very familiar with the Red Dirt scene, allow me to introduce the Turnpike Troubadours, a Red Dirt band from my home state of Oklahoma. Their new, self-titled album, released Friday (September 18th), is their first release since 2012’s Goodbye Normal Street, and it was well worth the wait. This is an excellent place to start with the Turnpike Troubadours and with the Red Dirt scene in general.

The album opens with “The Bird Hunters,” which unashamedly features a fiddle for much of its five minutes. In fact, I’ll go ahead and say it now–I don’t think I’ve ever heard such a concentrated amount of fiddle on any other album. If you had a shortage of fiddle in your life, I suggest you purchase this album immediately…but I digress. Aside from that piece of awesomeness, the song itself is beautifully written, describing two friends hunting in Cherokee County; the narrator hunts, but his mind is on a woman whom he left in Tulsa after deciding not to marry her. It seems that this narrator was not cut out for city life, but he still misses, or at least thinks about, the woman he left behind. This is a fantastic opener and sets the tone of the album perfectly. “The Mercury” is my early favorite; here, frontman Evan Felker sings of the wild nights and women at Tulsa’s Mercury Lounge. “It’s 1 A.M., and wild and loud, like sittin’ in the middle of a funnel cloud,” pretty much sums this up. The instrumentation in this song is great, the perfect blend of fiddles and rock guitars. Next is “Down Here,” the current single, which sits at #4 on the
Texas Music Chart. This is a nice, somewhat lighthearted song in which the narrator is trying to offer a friend some encouragement during a hard time. It was a good choice for a single, and it will certainly get to #1–it hit #10 after only five weeks on the chart. It’s probably my least favorite song on the album, but when my least favorite is a solid song and a perfect single choice, I really can’t complain.

“Time of Day” is another lighthearted track about a man promising to give a woman all he has if “you give me just a minute of your time of day.” It’s a catchy song that would make a good future single. “Ringing in the Year” features some more of that great Red Dirt sound found in “The Mercury”; here, a man is missing a woman and wondering if she ever thinks about him. There’s an honesty in this song that can really connect with you if you listen to the lyrics–“Won’t you miss your whiskey in the wintertime, my dear, the way I’ve been missin’ you this fall, And cheap champagne don’t dull the pain of ringing in the year, wonderin’ if you think of me at all.” “A Little Song” is just that–an acoustic “little tune” written for a woman whom the narrator has apparently wronged, and “I wrote a little rhyme to make it right.” It’s very much a case of less is more–a simple little song that nevertheless leaves its mark on the listener. It’s more of that raw honesty from “Ringing in the Year.”

“Long Drive Home” is a musically excellent song saturated with fiddles and rock guitars. But if you think instrumentation is this ban’ds only strength, think again–the line “You still can’t forgive the times that I wish I could forget” is brilliant, perfectly capturing the narrator’s thoughts on the broken relationship described in this song. It’s another one of my favorites on this album. Now, I’ve heard a lot of fiddle, but not very much steel guitar–but just when I was wondering where I might find it, I am treated to an excellent re-recording of “Easton and Main.” This song was on their first album and tells us how the man “left my heart in Tulsa, on the corner of Easton & Main, on the Cain’s Ballroom floor, soaking up a bourbon stain.” Okay, so I found the steel guitar, and on “7 Oaks,” I pretty much find everything else. From the excellent keyboards to more of those great fiddles to a harmonica, this is just fun to listen to. The song itself tells of the hard times on a farm–“There ain’t no silver left in these pockets, and there ain’t no cornbread, and there ain’t no wine, that train don’t stop around here anymore, it done moved on down the line.” They are singing about being bankrupt and yet this is far more entertaining and fun to listen to than any tailgate party song I have ever come across. It would be incredible to hear live, as would “Doreen,” a song that tells the story of Doreen, who seems to be cheating on the narrator while he is on the road. At this point, I have no words sufficient for the instrumentation; everyone here should make it their goal to hear this band live. I can’t do it justice in writing, and I have a great feeling that this album can’t do the live versions justice either.

The album slows down for “Fall out of Love,” a brilliantly written song reflecting on why people fall out of love. Evan Felker sings of a broken relationship with more of that raw honesty, and if you’re not blown away by the line, “You bet your heart on a diamond, and I played the clubs in spades,” then I don’t know what will impress you–and credit to R.C. Edwards for crafting such a line, making a rare but valuable contribution on the album with this song. The album concludes with a re-recording of “Bossier City,” a fun, upbeat song about going to Bossier City to party and gamble, without the girlfriend’s knowledge. It features the fiddles with which this album so boldly began, closing the album excellently and appropriately.

In case you have not figured it out, the Turnpike Troubadours have given us a fantastic album. It was certainly worth the wait and is one of the best albums of 2015. they continue to make great country music and have made Oklahoma and Red Dirt proud. I highly recommend this album.

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