Category Archives: Reviews

Album Review: Kasey Chambers–Bittersweet

Rating: 10/10

First of all, I want to give credit to Josh Schott of
Country Perspective
because until he reviewed this album yesterday, I had never listened to Kasey Chambers. I’d only heard the name and knew her to be an Australian country singer. Now, it says a lot about the quality of this album that after one day, I have listened to it and am here reviewing it. Kasey Chambers is a name you should know, and you can expect a future Female Friday fully devoted to her. But for now, let’s focus on her latest studio album, Bittersweet, which recently became available everywhere (Australia has had it since 2014.)

The album opens with “Oh Grace,” which almost exclusively features a banjo and Kasey’s remarkable voice. Here, Kasey sings as a man asking a woman, Grace, to marry him. He is poor and has nothing to offer her but love, but says that all he has is “yours for eternity, if I make you my wife.” It’s nice to hear a banjo used for good and not evil; rather than being a pop song with banjo added to pretend to be country, this is a country song where a banjo drives the beat. “Is God Real?” finds Kasey struggling with the question and deciding that she’ll pray to Him anyway. The concept of God is discussed throughout this album, and it’s refreshing and honest to hear, regardless of your views on the matter. “Wheelbarrow” is probably the most intriguing song on the album, and the bluesy instrumentation blends nicely with the lyrics and Chambers’s vocals to make it catchy. In this song, there is a whole new side of Chambers’s voice than the softer one presented on “Oh Grace,” and it’s hard to say which style suits her voice better.

“I Would Do” is a love song listing all the things Kasey would do for her man. I love the opening line: “Everybody plays the fool, I am no exception to the rule.” “Hell of a Way To Go” is a nice country rock song about dying of a broken heart. Next is “House on a Hill,” a beautiful song where Kasey sings with her father, fellow country singer Bill Chambers, about a house that is falling apart and about to be torn down. “It’s been through it all, and there’s cracks in the walls, they may as well just take me down too”–what a great line.

“Stalker” comes next, and after the darkness of “House on a Hill,” it works. It is a fun, upbeat song literally about being someone’s stalker. The lyrics can only be described as disturbing. On my first listen, it was extremely creepy. On my second listen, it was hilarious. I like to think Kasey put this on the album solely for shock value and/or to creep out everyone she knew–if your friend wrote this, you would sincerely hope it wasn’t meant for you. “Heaven or Hell” is one of my early favorites on the album; it deals with where we go when we die and also speaks to hypocrites, saying that our deeds will all come out one day. More excellent songwriting is present here–“Clever little liar with a righteous tongue, reputation to uphold. One of these days you’re gonna have to come out of the lies you’ve told.” The melody is catchy too, and the song is saved from being judgmental as well because she speaks to herself in the last verse, saying she’ll have to change her ways and “one of these days, you’re gonna have to get down on your knees and pray.” It’s like a Kacey Musgraves song but less confrontational.

“Bittersweet,” the album’s title track, is a duet with fellow Australian singer Bernard Fanning. Their voices work well together in this song as they speculate on their former love and whether they should get back together. I can’t say enough about the excellent songwriting on this album, and “Too Late To Save Me” gives us more of it. There is something so honest about a song that opens like this: “They hear me cry, they hear me roar, they call me late, they call me whore.” It’s a song about a prostitute trying to cope with her life and wondering if God can still save her. Again, the banjo drives the beat of this rocking song and the instrumentation goes well with the lyrics. “Christmas Day” is another song with a religious theme; here Kasey tells the story of Mary and Joseph from a more romantic perspective. It is less a Christmas song and more a country love song, and it works very well on the album. Bittersweet closes with “I’m Alive,” a bluegrass song where the banjo that backed many of the songs basically takes over. It’s a celebratory song that sees Kasey coming out on top and thankful to be alive after hard times. She mentions that she “drank like a bitch” and “made it through the hardest fucking year,” which again adds to the honesty of the album. I can’t remember the last time I’ve heard “whore” and “bitch” uttered in a country album, and there’s something very real about it that is missing in much of today’s country. I’m not saying you have to say things like that to be real, but their presence proves that what we’re hearing from Kasey Chambers is indeed real songwriting coming from her perspective rather than polished-up radio hits that tell us little more about the actual artist than that they want to sell records.

This is a fantastic album, and Kasey Chambers is a name you should be familiar with. She’s Australia’s hidden gem, and this album proves it. As I said earlier, it should tell you a lot about the quality of this music that I found time to review it within one day of ever listening to a Kasey Chambers song.

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Album Review: Sam Outlaw–Angeleno

Rating: 9/10

Earlier this year, before the existence of this blog, several albums came out that are definitely worth reviewing. This is true in the case of Sam Outlaw, whose debut album came out in June. While the album, Angeleno, falls short of being a ten for me, it is still one of the better albums of the year, and definitely one of the most unique. For its uniqueness alone, it should not be overlooked. With a name like Sam Outlaw, one would expect outlaw country music, or at least an attempt at outlaw country, but instead this is more of the Nashville sound that came before outlaw country. (Outlaw chose this name because it was his late mother’s maiden name.) But I feel many people are probably turned off by the name alone, and if so, you have been missing some great music.

The album opens with “Who Do You Think You Are,” a mid-tempo love song featuring horns and acoustic guitars. It’s pretty good, but I’m not sure if it would hold my attention if this was the first song I heard from Sam Outlaw (it wasn’t.) Having said that, there’s nothing wrong with it either. Next is “Keep It Interesting,” another mid-tempo song which does hold my attention and is about a couple keeping their love alive by “Keeping it interesting.” And yes, by “it” I do mean sex. You can argue that “keeping it interesting” might mean several things, but I think the intent was sex. Evidence for this includes lines like “Your mama and your daddy might think it’s a sin.” This is a refreshing song that is one of my favorites on the album. Next is “I’m not Jealous,” an interesting take on a cheating song in which he tells the cheating woman, “I’m not jealous of them, I’m embarrassed for you.”” Love Her For Awhile” is the first song I heard from Sam Outlaw, and it’s hard to say what caught my attention about it. It’s very much a case of less is more. It’s a simple little song about not really being able to explain the feelings he has, but somehow knowing that he’ll “love her for awhile.” There is something very honest about this song that made me wonder who sang it, and when I found out it was Sam Outlaw, a name I’d heard but basically ignored, I went looking for his music.

The title track is a love song with a western feel that tells a story. It’s a good love song and tells a great story, but on an album of love songs, it doesn’t stand out for this listener as much as the others. By contrast, “Country Love Song” is one of the best love songs on the album. Here, Outlaw is on the road and wondering if a woman back home will still love him as much as she used to when he finally returns. He says, “I wish that I could send you a country love song.” Again, there is honesty in this song that really helps it. Next is “Ghost Town,” and if you only listen to one Sam Outlaw song, make it this. This is one of the best songs of the year. From the instrumentation to the melody to the lyrics to the vocals, I can’t do it justice in words. It’s about a man returning home and traveling through ghost towns, and through excellent pictures, we are told the story of both the narrator and the towns. This is country at its best.

Next is a drinking song called “Jesus, Take the Wheel (And Drive me to a Bar).” It’s not bad as drinking songs go, but I could have done without it. “It Might Kill Me” is a great heartbreak song in which his friends are telling him the pain will get better. In response, Sam Outlaw sings, “If it don’t kill you, it just makes you better. It might kill me, it might.” The instrumentation in this song is excellent, featuring a great balance of steel guitar. “Keep a Close Eye On Me” finds Sam asking God to watch over him and make him into a better person. “Oh, Lord, keep a close eye on me” is an excellent line.

“Old-Fashioned” speaks of a kind of love that is less common in today’s culture. This love is the kind where men and women stand by each other and help each other. I like the sentiment of this song, but I felt it needed more lyrics. After two short verses, we are left with really nice instrumentation, but I kept waiting for an end to the song that never came. Angeleno closes with the simple heartbreak song “Hole Down in My Heart,” the first upbeat song on the entire album. It sticks out like a sore thumb among the slow and mid-tempo songs before it, and I think it should have been balanced by another upbeat song. Instead of showing variety, the lone track feels like it was thrown in on the end and doesn’t go well with the rest of the album.

Overall, Angeleno is a great listen and showcases the Nashville sound at its best. If “Hole Down in My Heart” and “Jesus, Take the Wheel (and Drive me To a Bar)” were removed, this album would be a ten. This album is one of the most unique releases of 2015 and features some of the best songwriting of the year. Don’t ignore this album because of the name Sam Outlaw.

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Album Review: Kip Moore–Wild Ones

Country Rating: 5/10
Rock Rating: 7/10

This album was a hard one to review. Kip Moore is naturally more of a rocker than a country singer, and Wild Ones is much more of a rock album. Having said that, it’s a pretty good rock album. To rate it higher on a country Web site is therefore unfair; however, to not recognize the quality of the music is also a disservice. Hence, I gave this two ratings. If country singers actually put out country music, this problem doesn’t exist, but that’s not the case in 2015. Instead, we get pop and rock and r&b disguised as country, and more often than not, the music is just as bad in its real genre. This is not the case with Kip Moore, and for that, he and his album should be commended.

The album’s title track is a decent rock song about partying on the weekends “with the ones your mama said to run from, the ones your daddy kept you from.” The drums drive the beat of this song, and I can tell thought was put into the production. Also, they are not partying on some dirt road or even in a club; the location is actually not mentioned, and focus is more on the “wild ones” having fun. Next is “Come and Get It,” a song in which Kip is telling a woman to “come and get” his love. He asks her, “Girl, what’s the matter with you, can’t you see it when it’s standing right in front of you?” Again, the production is a plus, with drums rising throughout the song. In “Girl of the Summer,” Kip once again shows some originality by taking a familiar theme (missing a summer love) and giving it some life. Next is “Magic,” a love song in which he compares a woman’s love to a fairy tale. It is pretty original and the production helps it, but I could have done without this song being on the album. To me, it doesn’t add anything to Wild Ones at all, either from a country or rock perspective.

“That Was Us” has more of a pop rock feel. In this slow song, an old theme is once again introduced (reminiscing about old times with friends.) However, these characters actually have names, and a story is actually told. In the third verse, two friends are stopped by the cops on their way to kill a man who has been abusing their female friend. Next is “Lipstick,” a song about how Kip has traveled literally everywhere in the country to be with his woman and “Kiss your lipstick.” The production makes this a great rock song, but the point is lost because it is more about all the places he has been (three verses of listing places) than about coming back home to the woman. “What Ya Got on Tonight?” finds Moore on the road again, seeing many beautiful women but still missing someone at home and asking her, “what ya got on tonight?” Production is once again a plus, but not much to say about the lyrics.

Next is “Heart’s Desire,” a song with better lyrics where he knows he has messed up and lost a woman, and he wants her to understand she is his “heart’s desire.” “Complicated” also features well-written lyrics, telling the story of a love that is realistic, unlike the fairy tale in “Magic.” “It don’t always go just like you hoped it would, but sometimes complicated’s pretty damn good.” Also, this song sounds like an actual blend of country and rock. The lead single, “I’m To Blame” has grown on me somewhat, but it still feels like it’s missing something–perhaps a guitar solo. I do like the attitude in the song and the acknowledgement that there are consequences for our actions. “That’s All Right With Me” is another verse of the same song; a song where Kip makes no apologies for being country and being himself. However, I’d rather it resemble “I’m To Blame” than some of the other songs where people try (and fail) to prove their country cred. I think I would have liked this and “I’m To Blame” better if they were not back-to-back on the album. “Running For You” is a pop rock love song where Kip Moore promises to come “running for you” whenever she needs him. Finally, “Comeback Kid” paints the picture of a man struggling to rise from hard times and asking a woman to not give up on him. This song has some great lyrics, including “I’m a Hail Mary pass on homecoming night, six points down, the clock ticking by, come hell or high water, I still believe I can win, Just call me the comeback kid.” I could be wrong, but this song feels somewhat personal to Kip Moore, and that makes it one of the better songs on the album.

On the deluxe version, you will find “What I Do,” another verse of “I’m to Blame” (this one is helped by its track placement), “Backseat,” an actual good song about hooking up in a backseat because it focuses on the nerves and the girl, (again, old theme, new life), and “Burn the Whole World Down,” a song where the narrator is running away because a girl won’t commit. This song should have made the main album in my opinion because it is one of the better ones overall.

If there had been even two or three more songs with country leanings, this would have been a decent country album. This, however, is clearly a rock album. Having said that, as a rock album it’s good. The production is great for most of the album and there are some well-written songs too. Wild Ones is in the unique position of being a good non-country album to come out of mainstream Nashville. The most significant problem with it it is that it is being marketed as country.

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Single Review: Carrie Underwood’s “Smoke Break”

Rating: 6.5/10

Carrie Underwood announced Thursday evening (8/20) that she will release her long-awaited fifth studio album Storyteller on October 23rd. This is her first full-length album of new music since 2012’s Blown Away. The first single off Storyteller is entitled “Smoke Break” and is quite different from recent Carrie Underwood singles.

In 2014, Carrie Underwood released Greatest Hits: Decade #1 while she took time out of her career to have a child. Singles from that album included the Christian song “Something in the Water,” as well as “Little Toy Guns,” which dealt with domestic abuse and how the parents’ words were affecting their daughter. “Smoke Break” is a much lighter song, which can be expected. After the serious issues of her previous singles, Carrie delivers an ode to the hard-working people who deal with life’s daily problems and sometimes feel like they need a smoke or drink to get through. It is not clear whether the characters discussed actually smoke and drink from time to time, or whether they simply would like to. This can be regarded as bad songwriting or good songwriting, depending on your viewpoint. I view it as good songwriting because it is ambiguous and thus more relatable. This song relates to those who do take a drink or have a “smoke break” sometimes to deal with the pressures of life, as well as to those who wish they could drink or smoke but for whatever reason (pressure from family, religion, etc), feel that it would be wrong to do so. The characters portrayed are also relatable. The woman works three jobs trying to feed her four children and struggles with being a “good wife and a good mom and a good Christian.” The man in the second verse is struggling to climb the corporate ladder and be a “good man, good son, do somethin’ good that matters.”

This song is a country rock song, and Carrie Underwood sounds more country singing it than she has in years. I do feel that perhaps she is trying to sound country on purpose, though. This song is very different from standard Carrie Underwood material, and I would have thought a title and lyrics like those of “Smoke Break” came from Miranda Lambert. Some have pointed out that part of the chorus of “Smoke Break” sounds like Lambert’s “Automatic,” a comparison that is not hard to make. However, the thing I noticed when I heard the song and before ever hearing these comments or similarities, was that Carrie seems to be trying to be more like Miranda. This song is Miranda Lambert material, and it’s no coincidence that Carrie Underwood suddenly sounds more country when she’s singing it. I think after losing at all the award shows for years, she and her team might be trying to make her into another Miranda Lambert. I am not saying I blame them, but that won’t help, because in the end, Miranda Lambert will still be a better Miranda Lambert, as “Smoke Break” proves. In the end, “Smoke Break” is fluff, similar to Miranda Lambert and Little Big Town’s “Smokin’ and Drinkin’.” I would give Lambert’s song a 5. This song is better because it is more country and the lyrics have more depth, but it’s not especially great. I hope Carrie’s album is better. I liked Carrie when she was herself, and I don’t want to see her become an inferior Miranda at the expense of her music. “Smoke Break” is not bad, but Carrie Underwood is better than this.

Album Review: Luke Bryan–Kill the Lights

Rating: 2.5/10

When an album is preceeded with “Kick the Dust Up” and
“Strip it Down,”
you can only assume the album will be more of the same. So when I listened to Kill the Lights, I was expecting an album of trend-chasing, radio-ready singles and hoping for at least one or two good country songs thrown in at the end as an afterthought. I should expect more from an artist like Luke Bryan, but that’s unfortunately not the case. I can be thankful, I guess, that the album does offer a few good songs at the end, although this leaves me wondering why Luke Bryan uses his status and potential to churn out shit like “Kick the Dust Up.” Oh, wait…because quality doesn’t equal airplay. So unfortunately, most listeners will not get to the end and hear the good on this album.

“Kick the Dust Up” opens the album, and I am not going to waste my time explaining why this is horrible. If you’ve heard it, you know it’s terrible bro country garbage, and if you like it, you aren’t going to be persuaded by my bashing of it, so let’s move on. Next is “Kill the Lights,” which is another boring bro country anthem, infused with more pop elements so that it is hard to tell whether he’s trying to keep his core fans or appeal to Sam Hunt fans. It mixes the worst of both of those trends to make a completely obnoxious song that will probably be a massive radio hit. Also, the chorus sounds remarkably close to his 2013 hit “That’s My Kind of Night” in terms of rhythm. I hated that song the first time, and this version isn’t any better. I already explained my problems with “Strip it Down,” and actually, hearing it in the context of the album, it’s not that bad. This speaks to the quality of the album rather than the quality of “Strip it Down.” It is another trend-chasing song, only now he is chasing the “Burnin’ it Down” trend established by Jason Aldean. Three songs, and I haven’t heard any country whatsoever–unless you count the references to back roads, present in all three songs, which I don’t.

The scene shifts from the back roads to a club with “Home Alone Tonight,” a duet with Little Big Town’s Karen Fairchild. This had potential to be one of the better moments on the album, but it boils down to a song about taking a “payback picture” and sending it to their exes, followed by a text saying they aren’t going “hhome alone tonight.” Instead, they are going “shot for shot for shot” with a stranger and then hooking up. Karen Fairchild should be embarrassed to be included in this song; this is the same voice that gave us “Girl Crush,” and now she is using it for evil.

From there, Kill the Lights moves up from terrible to songs that are more mediocre and forgettable. “Razor Blade” is a straight pop song that deals with a woman who “won’t cut you like a knife, like a knife, that little look in her eyes will cut you like a razor blade.” “Fast” is a boring song infused with hip-hop beats about how life goes by too fast. Six songs in, and still no country. Next is “Move,” a rocking song about watching a girl move in the moonlight. Aside from being a bro country dance mix, this song loses hope when Luke Bryan does a spoken-word bit in the middle; also he says “M-o-v-e” way too many times. Having said that, it’s much less annoying/offensive/obnoxious than his previous bro country material. Next is “Just Over,” a breakup song that uses the word “over” to explain that he thought she would “come over, stay over, wake up hung over, still head over heels for me” but “it’s just over.” This is decently written, but its main problem is production; eight songs in, and no country. However, he could release worse singles than “Just Over.”

“Love it Gone” brings in the first country touches. This is a song about “loving gone” all of his woman’s troubles. This is still a forgettable song to me, but at least it sounds like pop country. “Way Way Back” reverts back to pop and sings of getting “way way back” to the early days of a relationship. Apparently their relationship started on a back road though, as he goes to this yet again.

All of a sudden, “To the Moon and Back” comes on. I hear acoustic guitars and stripped-down instrumentation. Here is a country love song about loving a woman “to the moon and back.” I hope this will be a single. It should be noted that this is the first time Luke Bryan sounds like he is not bored singing. This is the Luke Bryan that sang “Do I,” “Rain is a Good Thing,” and “All My Friends Say.” “Huntin’, Fishin’, and Lovin’ Every Day” is next, and you will either hate it because it has clich├ęs, or you will like it because it has country instrumentation and sounds believable. Personally, I enjoy this song because Luke sounds like he believes what he is singing. It talks about country life, but not in the cartoonish way that “Kick the Dust Up” does. It proves a song can be lighthearted and talk about country life without being offensive. Last is “Scarecrows,” a song that reminds me of Florida Georgia Line’s “Dirt.” It reflects on the mark left on those old back roads, saying, “we’ll always be here wherever we go, just like the scarecrows.” This is a heartfelt country song and one of my favorite Luke Bryan songs to date. You will never hear “To the Moon and Back” or “Scarecrows” if you do what I would have done and ignore this album because of “Kick the Dust Up” and “Strip it Down.” I only heard these songs because I reviewed it, and they proved that Luke Bryan is capable of so much more than the crap he releases to radio. So, I would not recommend this album by any means, but do listen to the last three songs.

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