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.

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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.

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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.”


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.”

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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Billboard Country Airplay and Country Albums Chart (September 5th)

Billboard Country Airplay

1. Frankie Ballard–“Young and Crazy” (up 1)
2. Sam Hunt–“House Party” (up 1)
3. Dustin Lynch–“Hell of a Night” (up 1)
4. Thomas Rhett–“Crash and Burn” (up 2)
5. Chris Janson–“Buy Me a Boat” (up 2)
6. Keith Urban–“John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16” (up 2)
7. Zac Brown Band–“Loving You Easy” (down 6)
8. Brett Eldredge–“Lose My Mind” (up 1)
9. Kenny Chesney–“Save It for a Rainy Day” (up 1)
10. Michael Ray–“Kiss You in the Morning” (down 5)
11. Eric Church–“Like a Wrecking Ball” (up 1)
12. Maddie & Tae–“Fly” (up 1)
13. Chase Rice–“Gonna Wanna Tonight” (up 1)
14. Florida Georgia Line–“Anything Goes” (up 1)
15. Cole Swindell–“Let Me See Ya Girl” (up 1)
16. Luke Bryan–“Strip It Down” (up 7) [biggest gainer]
17. Old Dominion–“Break Up With Him” (up 2)
18. Dan + Shay–“Nothin’ Like You” (down 1)
19. Jake Owen–“Real Life” (down 1)
20. Lady Antebellum–“Long Stretch of Love”
21. Kip Moore–“I’m To Blame”
22. Blake Shelton–“Gonna” (up 4)
23. Cam–“Burning House” (down 1)
24. Carrie Underwood–“Smoke Break” (entering top 30) [most added song this week]
25. Chris Young–“I’m Comin’ Over”
26. Big & Rich–“Run Away With You” (down 2)
27. Brothers Osborne–“Stay a Little Longer”
28. Parmalee–“Already Callin’ You Mine”
29. Tim McGraw–“Top of the World” (re-entering top 30)
30. Jason Aldean–“Gonna Know We Were Here” (entering top 30)

  • new #1: “Young and Crazy”
  • next week’s #1 prediction: “house Party”
  • “Kick the Dust Up” mercifully fell out of the top 30 from #11. I hope I never hear that shit again.
  • Kelsea Ballerini’s “Dibs” fell from #30 to #31
  • Hunter Hayes’s “21” fell from #29 to #33
  • when you look at 13-17, suddenly 13-15 and 17 look like gems thrown in next to the atrocity that is “Strip it Down
  • Carrie Underwood’s “Smoke Break” enters with Jason Aldean’s “Gonna Know We Were Here” to fulfill the “crap must enter with each good song” quota

Billboard Top Country Albums

1. Luke Bryan–Kill the Lights (This makes me want to throw up)
2. Elvis Presley–Elvis Forever [debut]
3. Sam Hunt–Montevallo
4. Zac Brown Band–Jekyll + Hyde
5. Pat Green–Home [debut]
6. Eric Church–The Outsiders
7. Alan Jackson–Angels and Alcohol
8. Jason Isbell–Something More Than Free
9. Little Big Town–Painkiller
10. Florida Georgia Line–Anything Goes
11. Jason Aldean–Old Boots, New Dirt
12. Brantley Gilbert–Just as I Am
13. Various Artists–Now That’s What I Call Country, Volume 8
14. Michael Ray–Michael Ray
15. Luke Bryan–Crash My Party
16. Kacey Musgraves–Pageant Material
17. Zac Brown Band–Greatest Hits So Far…
18. Chase Rice–Ignite the Night
19. Willie Nelson/Merle Haggard–Django and Jimmie
20. Blake Shelton–Bringing Back the Sunshine
21. Cole Swindell–Cole Swindell
22. Kenny Chesney–The Big Revival
23. Carrie Underwood–Greatest Hits: Decade #1
24. Tim McGraw–35 Biggest Hits
25. Miranda Lambert–Platinum

  • Michael Ray follows in the footsteps of Canaan Smith, Kelsea Ballerini, and Easton Corbin, falling from his debut at #4 to #14
  • Texas artist Pat Green’s Home debuts at #5
  • at least Luke Bryan no longer has three albums on this chart

Source: Billboard

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