Tag Archives: Blake Shelton

Album Review: Luke Bryan–What Makes You Country

Rating: 4.5/10

Okay, so honestly, this is the kind of album that really doesn’t give me much passion to write. It’s not great, it’s not terrible, it just exists. The vast majority of it is just kind of forgettable. That’s a pretty good summary of this, and I could take the quality songs from this and easily fit them into Memorable Songs.

But the fact that I can pull songs from this into that feature is improvement in and of itself. I feel I at least owe Luke a proper review because he’s showing some maturity and making at least marginally better music. His last album was mostly horrendous, and I’ve hated a good majority of his singles for the past five years. So when you go from spectacularly awful to okay, and even sprinkle in some quality, it should be commended. I’ve been one of Luke Bryan’s biggest critics–anyone who knows me at all will know this–and so I can’t ignore it when the guy’s making better music.

So let’s talk about the quality because you actually do get a few really solid tracks here. “Drinking Again” reminds you that one, Luke can actually use his charisma for good, as opposed to singing hookup songs in trucks, and two, that not all drinking songs are bad. This one’s fun and catchy and would make a good single. I daresay his fans would have enjoyed it more than the insufferable mess that is “Light it Up,” and hopefully, he will release this. “Most People Are Good” is just simply a nice song, and when the world’s going to hell all around us, we need stuff like this to remind us it’s not as bad as the media would have us believe. This is not going to be anyone’s Song of the Year or anything, but it’s a case of less is more, and it’s just nice to hear a song like this. Also, the production, as is actually the case for most of this record, is much closer to pop country than much of Bryan’s previous output, and although modern, this actually sounds like it should be allowed to be in the genre. “Land of a Million Songs” displays some of that too, as we have some prominent piano featured here, and the song itself is another highlight, an extremely well-written tune about doing anything to make it in the music business and constantly looking for things to say and adding verses to your songs. I can’t believe we’re getting a song like this from Luke; actually, it reminds me of a hidden gem we might have seen on one of Blake Shelton’s more recent albums–you know, before he released this current piece of shit. Side note here, isn’t it sad that Luke Bryan has actually produced a better album than Shelton this year?…but I digress.

Then we’ve got some decent songs–not anything necessarily to write home about, but definitely some more proof that Bryan strove for more maturity with this project. “Pick it Up” actually portrays a grown man–I didn’t know the same person who sang “Light it Up” was capable of this–hoping his son will learn from him and adopt some of his cool habits and good values. It’s kind of cheesy, but I’m sure it’s personal to Luke, and that’s more than I can say about every sex anthem by a river in a truck he’s ever produced. The title track isn’t bad either; it’s pretty catchy, and the overall idea is nice, asserting that anyone can be country, and it doesn’t matter where you’re from or what background you have. Good idea, but played out badly, as he then asserts he’s country because of pretty much all the clichés he normally uses in all his other songs. Still, I see what it was going for, and I’ll give him some credit. Same goes for “Sunrise, Sunburn, Sunset,”–it’s the same clichés as well, but at least there’s a story and a bit of depth to this.

There’s nothing that makes me cringe quite like any of Luke’s previous work, except the God-awful “Light it UP.” Even his loyal fans aren’t liking this too much, as they know it’s creepy and lame. His neurotic obsession with his cell phone would be enough to make me break it off if I were the girlfriend, but hey, that’s just me. Also, like him or not, Luke does have charisma, allowing him to pull off a lot of his previous material, and here, he just sounds completely checked out. The whole thing would really just be lifeless and boring but for the embarrassing lyrics. We don’t have anything else that horrible, but we do get some ill-advised R&B sex jam attempt in “Hungover in a Hotel Room” that just shouldn’t exist. It is just not sexy in the least bit and therefore does not accomplish its purpose at all. And there’s “She’s a Hot One,” which honestly sounds like a leftover from one of Bryan’s bro country albums that didn’t make the cut–and understandably, because it’s like a wannabe version of all those songs. I can’t be too disgusted by this one because it’s just…lame.

As for the rest, there’s literally nothing to say. It just runs together. The good thing here is that none of this is atrocious, and Luke Bryan has certainly proven he’s capable of atrocious. The bad thing is that although it’s a major improvement for Luke, it’s still not a good album. It’s just under exactly half good, and that’s simply because it drags along to fifteen tracks. “Win Life,” there at the end, isn’t a bad song, but by this point, you’re just tired of listening. They could have trimmed this down a little and risen this rating to a 5, even a 6. As it is, the ultimate flaw is it’s uninteresting. But that’s also a noticeable sign of growth because while the quality does stand out, the lesser material mostly just fades into the background. Coming from someone as polarizing as Luke Bryan, that’s improvement, and maturity, and he’s shown both on this album. I hope we get more interesting selections next time, but he’s definitely going in the right direction, even if he’s not quite there yet with this record.

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The Good

The Terrible

Album Review: Blake Shelton Sets the Bar Ever Lower with Texoma Shore

Rating: 3/10

Okay, so Blake Shelton didn’t make a whole album about screwing on tailgates or hooking up in clubs. IN that respect, this is indeed a more mature, grown-up effort–well, for the most part, but we’ll get to the exceptions later. And in that sense, it’s better and arguably more mature than the material being released by his counterparts. So it’s his best album in a few years, right? Maybe not back to vintage, country, pre-Voice Shelton, but still better?

Not even close–in fact, as mostly a Shelton apologist who has found songs to love even on his more recent efforts, let me make this clear; what we have here in Texoma Shore is Blake Shelton’s worst, laziest, most underwhelming album to date.

The problem? It’s literally the same song for most of this; he’s happy, in love with Gwen Stefani, and bent on expressing that in the most generic, boring, cookie-cutter ways possible. “I’ll Name the Dogs” is probably the only interesting song of this bunch; indeed, it had many hopeful for this new record, and it’s quite a good song, but it’s also pretty much a rip-off of “Honeybee.” Still, that could be excused, especially if there were more originality on the other songs. I could go into more detail, but literally, I’ve explained over half the album with my description of generic/boring love songs. I’m not against love songs certainly, and I’m happy that Blake and Gwen are happy, but these are uninspired, forgettable versions of the same thing, some of which have been done better by Shelton himself. Take “Why Me,” for example. Wouldn’t you rather hear “God Gave me You?” There’s more than one way to make a bad album, and although this is more mature than say, “Body Like a Back Road,” I can’t excuse the laziness that went into this project. It seemed like his last album, If I’m Honest, was every generic breakup sentiment rolled into a record without really saying anything at all, and this one is the same thing, only now it’s every generic sentiment of newfound love. Come on Blake, you can go deeper than the surface.

And let’s not assume this album has no “Body Like a Back Road” moments either. Seriously, Blake, what the fuck is this song “Money?” This is maybe even worse than Backroad” in the sense that that song is at least somewhat catchy, I suppose. This is literally some misogynistic bullshit about being white trash and saying that this girl is money, complete with Blake being the worst example of a rapper in the history of ever. Say what you want about “Boys Round Here,” but at least that song has a melody you can remember. This is not even good at being terrible, and frankly, singlehandedly takes this album down from generic and bland to bad. And there’s also the incredibly stupid “AT the House,” which is essentially every party/hookup song ever, except that instead of being on a tailgate or in a bar, they decide to keep it at home. No self-respecting country singer should ever utter the line, “go ahead and get your freak on,” but we do find that here, thereby making this just embarrassing.

But give credit where credit is due, and this album is not without some, if few, redeeming qualities. As I said before, “I’ll Name the Dogs” isn’t bad at all for what it is, even considering it’s a rip-off. “Got the T-Shirt” is a pretty good breakup song using some nice metaphors to tell the story; Blake also delivers this quite convincingly, and the melody is good too. This one is easily the highlight of the whole thing and probably the only one I’ll return to. “Turnin’ me On” isn’t bad either, and Blake has always had a knack for these types of songs–think “Sangria,” “Lay Low,” “Who Are You When I’m Not Lookin’.” There are some cringe-worthy lyrics sprinkled in here, but the atmospheric production it’s going for is interesting, and as I say, Shelton can pull these songs off well.

“I Lived It,” the album closer, is the other one we’re all supposed to appreciate, but I’ll take the unpopular stance of not liking this song at all. I separate it from the generic crap found on the rest of the record because it’s more country-sounding and depicts examples from small-town living, presumably from his childhood in Oklahoma. I think a lot of people might like this, but for me, it fails in the context of the album because the chorus talks all about how growing up like that made him the person he is today. Okay, so if that’s true, why are you lending your voice to shit like “Money” and singing lines like “go ahead and get your freak on?” It’s like the moment where he admits he’s capable of more, and his past albums have proven that, so why not deliver?

Blake Shelton has been quite a polarizing character with traditional country fans over the past several years, especially since his stint on The Voice. He’s definitely released some bad singles, but I would argue that even on the albums where he turned further and further away from his country roots, there were always some great songs buried in there. This? Well, “Got the T-Shirt” is the best, but even that’s just pretty good. The other brighter spots are decent. There’s nothing to blow you away like a “Lonely Tonight” from his previous records. This is a disappointing, underwhelming effort from Blake Shelton, and even if it’s more mature than the stuff being put out by most of the mainstream, it represents Shelton setting the bar even lower for himself. And that’s a shame because he can make so much better music.

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Artists I Wish Would Take a Hint From Brad Paisley

Brad Paisley was one of the first artists that got me into country music. He may not be your favorite–and that’s okay–but you can’t argue with songs like “Who Needs Pictures,” “we Danced,” and certainly “Whiskey Lullaby.” He was one of the people that I heard on the radio in the late 90’s and early 2000’s that made me fall in love with this genre. He really disappointed me on his last two albums; they weren’t terrible, but they just weren’t Brad Paisley. You could tell he was trying to be something he was not. His guitar play was noticeably lacking, and he seemed to be veering toward chasing radio success. On his latest album, Love and War, he has gone back to being himself, and that’s just refreshing. There was a discussion on SCM about whether or not Brad will make it into the Hall of Fame, and all that remains to be seen, but he can’t do anything better than be himself, and that’s what he has done on his latest record. It got me thinking and talking about a lot of the artists that got me into country in the first place. A lot of them made some fine music earlier in their careers but have since started to kill their legacies by chasing short-term success and promoting mindless singles to radio. They could learn from Paisley, as well as Tim McGraw, who has also returned to form recently. Zac Brown Band could easily be talked about on either side of the conversation here, but I’ll reserve judgment until May 12th and hope I can include them in with Paisley and McGraw. Anyway, let me know if there are any artists you’d add to this list, as these are just the ones whose decline in quality over the years has personally bother me the most.

Dierks Bentley

Why, why can’t we get back the Dierks Bentley of “Up on the ridge” and “Riser?” Yep, “riser” was released in 2015; even then, he hadn’t sold out. There’s not even any point in him selling out this way–he was getting airplay anyway. Black is certainly not the most terrible album I’ve heard in recent memory, but it’s one of the most disappointing because I really thought we could count on Dierks Bentley. This is what he is capable of.

Blake Shelton

I own a Blake Shelton album called Loaded: the Best of Blake Shelton. Ironically, that album was released just prior to the beginning of his stint on The Voice, and so, essentially, it really is the best of Blake. Anyway, that record is great. But people won’t remember that; he’s done his best to eradicate all that in the past five years with the majority of his singles. I remember when I first heard “Austin,” and it blew me away. Same goes for “Don’t Make Me.” Blake does a lot for traditional country and music of substance from his chair on The Voice, and I just wish he’d take his own advice because if he did, I think he could be remembered for more than his reality show and his obnoxious tweets.

Keith Urban

Those of you that are shocked I own a Blake Shelton album, brace yourselves for this…I own no less than six–yep six–Keith Urban records…I’ll give you a moment to digest the fact that I’m not a Sturgill apologist, yet I own six Keith Urban records…now then. Keith Urban was a prime example of what good pop country is supposed to be–right up till the single “Little Bit of Everything” and his American Idol run (coincidence, Blake?). He used to write much of his material as well, and whether you enjoyed it or not, he was real. Keith Urban might be the most disappointing artist in the mainstream for me because he is just simply better than the crap he is releasing to radio–and it’s not as if he was ever especially traditional in the first place, so I don’t exactly see radio not playing him if he went back to more meaningful material. It literally boils down to laziness in his case, and that’s unfortunate.

Kenny Chesney

He is better than this too, even if you’re sick of beach music. His last record was absolutely boring and lifeless. Even Chesney sounds bored. I miss the days of “There Goes my Life” and “Old Blue chair.” Like Brad and Keith, even if Kenny isn’t your favorite, he used to at least be himself.

Eli Young Band

I remember when Eli Young Band were a cool Texas band releasing equally cool new music instead of shit like “Turn it On.” Yeah, that is basically all.

Honorable Mentions

  • Josh Turner–His last album wasn’t quite disappointing enough to piss me off on this level, it was mainly just boring, but if he releases more like this, he’ll make the list.
  • Little big town–I wish they’d get back to themselves, but I didn’t enjoy them enough when they were themselves to be as annoyed by them now. Also, The Breaker was a small step in the right direction.
  • the Band Perry–I don’t think them coming back to themselves is even possible at this point, so I don’t see the point listing them here.

Album Review: Miranda Lambert–The Weight of These Wings

Rating: 9/10

Miranda lambert’s sixth studio album has been one of the most anticipated releases of 2016. aside from simply the fact it’s Miranda Lambert, the album has received much attention and speculation because it will be the first after her very public divorce from Blake Shelton in 2015. Many are wondering what Miranda will have to say and whether she will be honest in her approach, unlike Blake’s ironically titled If I’m Honest which we were subjected to in May. We were treated to the first single, “Vice,” in July, an interesting choice that isn’t radio friendly in any sense and held promise for the album. Last month, we received the news that this would be a double album, always a tricky undertaking, and that the track list includes twenty songs co-written by Lambert, along with songwriting credits for Texas artist Adam Hood, rising Americana artists Brent Cobb and Anderson east–who also happens to be Miranda’s current boyfriend–and former Pistol Annies member Ashley Monroe. Also included on the album would be covers of Shake Russell’s “You Wouldn’t Know Me” and Danny O-Keefe’s “Covered Wagon.” With all of this intriguing news, the anticipation and speculation surrounding this record has been understandably high. So putting aside my well documented status as a Miranda Lambert fan, I came into this album eager to hear it, and to see if it would live up to its mostly promising expectations.

The Nerve

The first disc, “The Nerve,” opens with “Runnin’ Just in Case.” The atmospheric production works well with this song of life on the road; Miranda sings, “It ain’t love that I’m chasin’, but I’m runnin’ just in case.” The last lyric of the song feels like a theme throughout this album and Lambert’s state of mind, “Happiness ain’t prison, but there’s freedom in a broken heart.” Rambling life will be a recurring theme on this album, but while the opener feels melancholy and desperate, “Highway Vagabond” tells the life of a drifter with carefree lyrics and upbeat production. It doesn’t really stand out on its own, but it works well in the context of the album. There is some overproduction here, as well as on the next track, “Ugly Lights,” a song about turning into the clichéd brokenhearted person sitting in a bar to drown her troubles. The overproduction is especially unfortunate here, as the lyrics are brilliant. I hope with more listens I can get past it for the sake of the writing, but so far that hasn’t happened. Next is the cover of Shake Russell’s “You Wouldn’t Know Me,” and I prefer this version. It really fits Lambert’s voice as well as the album, proving Miranda’s ability to pick smart covers, a skill which can be as important as good, honest songwriting.

Any Miranda Lambert enthusiast knows there is always one song on each album written solely by Lambert; on earlier albums there were far more, but you will still always find one that she wrote by herself. On this record, it’s the lighthearted “We Should be Friends,” advising all those with hearts as empty as diesel tanks, closets stocked with borrowed dresses, and stained white T-shirts that they should be her friend. It’s a nice upbeat moment in a mostly dark album yet still feels quite honest. Usually the solo writing credit will be found on a darker track, so this is a nice change. “Pink sunglasses” follows, and I really can’t understand the point of this, except possibly that she mentions being disguised in the sunglasses, and that they make things seem a bit better. Still, although it sort of fits the theme, it is just unnecessary. It suffers from overproduction too, and I won’t get past it on this song because this song is just not worth it lyrically. It is absolutely no coincidence that Lambert did not have a hand in writing this; in fact, the other one she did not write or choose as a cover is “Highway vagabond,” which I mentioned earlier didn’t especially stand out…but I digress. “getaway driver” introduces the moment we all knew was coming, a song co-written with Anderson East. This is the first quiet moment on the album; Lambert sings from the point of view of a man who helps his woman escape her life like a “getaway driver.” It still connects with the rambling feel of this album, but in an understated way; it’s one of the standouts of this disc. Next is the single, “Vice,” and let me take this moment to insert my status as a Miranda Lambert fan and say I wasn’t thrilled about “Vice” at first. As a reviewer, I recognized it to be an excellent single choice, but I wasn’t overly sold on the production. I’ll gladly take that back; in context, it works flawlessly, adding another dimension to the rambling theme as Lambert runs from town to town chasing whiskey, sex, and music. I wouldn’t call it country; in fact, so far I would call “The Nerve” closer to Americana, but there is a raw, unpolished feeling about it that works.

“Vice” dissolves effortlessly into the slow burning “Smoking Jacket.” Lambert sings of wanting a man with a smoking jacket whose “heart is tragic” but “he makes his magic every night on me.” She also adds, “I don’t need a diamond, I like wearing his smoke rings.” “Pushin’ Time” is the most country so far, opening with just Miranda and her guitar. The song itself is about reckless love and not being able to take it slow; “sometimes love acts out of spite, and good things happen overnight.” This is another highlight of the disc and the entire album. Lambert’s country rock cover of Danny O-Keefe’s “Covered Wagon” works well after the quiet moments, and once again, it’s a perfect cover choice; it’s another track about life on the road, this time obviously in a covered wagon. “The Nerve” closes with the quiet, introspective “Use my Heart.” This features some of the best songwriting on the album, and here we find the inspiration for the disc names; “I can write the line, but I can’t sing the song. I can call my mama, but I won’t go home. The thought of loving you just makes me sick. I don’t have the nerve to use my heart.” This is also the first songwriting appearance by Ashley Monroe, who it seems has never lent her pen to a bad song. So far, with the exception of “pink Sunglasses,” the record has flowed smoothly and seemed to lack filler. But double albums can be risky, so with that in mind, we move on to the second disc.

The Heart

“The Heart” opens with decidedly more country production than “The Nerve.” It will continue to be mostly country throughout. “Tin Man” is an excellent track which sees Lambert explaining to the tin man that “if you ever felt one breaking, you’d never want a heart.” From this first track, it feels as though “The Nerve” is Lambert running from the pain, while “The Heart” sees her confronting it head on. “Good Ol’ Days,” co-written by Brent cobb and Adam Hood, is a lighthearted track on the surface, but it holds more meaning than just an ode to days gone by; Lambert asks “when will the road run out” and says she’ll go back if only she can find the truth. “Things That Break” sees Miranda lamenting the pain she causes, saying “I’m hard on things that matter, hold a heart so tight it shatters, so I stay away from things that break.” There is a vulnerability in this song that reaches out and just slaps you in the face. “For the Birds” feels like the companion of “we Should be Friends.” Both are lighthearted moments surrounded by darkness, but whereas ‘we Should be Friends” is about her personality in general, this one is more about what she stands for.

“Well Rested” is hard to explain–it’s somewhere between heartbreak and personal reflection and features some of the best vocals on the whole thing. All of you who love steel guitar should listen to this one immediately. “Tomboy” is a fun song about just that; “Daddy tried to raise a southern belle, he got a tomboy.” It doesn’t really go with the album, but at the same time, it goes deeper than just listing the characteristics of a tomboy; she’s “hard to love and hard to please,” and explaining “she’s got a soft spot you’ll never see.” Steel guitar lovers, I take my earlier comment back. Listen to “To Learn Her” first. This is a straight-up classic country song. It’s a beautifully written song telling men that “to love her is to learn her.” It is no surprise that Ashley Monroe’s pen is once again found here, as this is the shining moment of “The Heart.” This could easily have been on a Monroe record. after this traditional song, “Keeper of the Flame” feels appropriate–it’s an ode to the songwriters who came before Lambert, and her promise that she won’t let their legacies die. Because of this, I wish it would have been more traditional, but the country rock production works pretty well.

“Bad Boy” starts off interestingly, with Miranda singing half a line and then asking, “can I ask one more question, what’s the intro?” I love that this is in there–it’s the exact opposite of every polished record coming out of Nashville. This one is more similar in production to “The Nerve,” standing out as “Pushin’ Time” did on that disc. This is an ode to the bad boys and the women who want them, but once again, it’s not shallow; it feels like this disc’s companion to “Smoking Jacket.” I prefer “Smoking Jacket,” but this still doesn’t really feel like filler. There is no way to describe the production on “Six Degrees of separation” except strange. I wouldn’t call it overproduced necessarily, but it just doesn’t go with Lambert’s voice or the lyrics. It’s like someone thought it would make the song more depressing to add some sort of alternative stoner rock feel. It doesn’t come off as depressing or angry, it just comes off as annoying. The song itself is about running from heartbreak but never being able to escape the memories. Lyrically, it’s pretty good, but I can’t imagine getting past the train wreck that is the production. Then “Dear Old Sun” arrives, and we’re back to country/acoustic rock. This is simply a nice little ode to the sun and the morning light. The album concludes much as it began, with the rambling “I’ve Got Wheels.” It connects the whole record seamlessly as Lambert sings, “When I can’t fly, I start to fall, but I’ve got wheels, I’m rollin’ on.”

Overall

Double albums always run the risk of containing too much filler, and that was definitely a concern with this project. However, except for “Pink Sunglasses,” and to a much lesser extent, “Tomboy” and “Bad Boy,” all the tracks feel like they belong here. Honestly, I would have given this album a ten without the unfortunate inclusion of “Pink Sunglasses,” and perhaps even with it if the obnoxious production of “Six Degrees of separation” and some overproduced moments hadn’t been present. lyrically, it’s mostly a great effort, and I am impressed that Miranda not only co-wrote most of this, but also used the opportunity to showcase little-known songwriters outside the mainstream. I didn’t even mention Irish singer Foy Vance, who co-wrote “Pushin’ Time,” but that was one of the most impressive names found here. As I mentioned, there some production issues, but overall, that was solid as well. I don’t think there is too much material here; “The Nerve” is the edgy Americana half where Lambert runs from her pain and problems, while “The Heart” is the heartfelt country reflections that find her confronting and dealing with the heartache. As I have said many times, the best music is honest and makes you feel something, and that is what this album does. It brings you in and shows you what Miranda Lambert is going through right now, while at the same time holding you at arm’s length, reflecting Lambert’s refusal to do interviews about this release and keeping her privacy while speaking through the music. It’s an album I absolutely recommend, the best album we’ve seen come out of the mainstream in 2016.

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Single Review: Miranda Lambert’s “Vice”

Rating: 8/10

Well, it has been a long time, and it is good to be back. I think it appropriate that my first review in several months should be of possibly my most personally anticipated single of 2016. It is no secret to anyone who reads this how I feel about Miranda Lambert, and besides this, her next album has been especially anticipated by many following her divorce from Blake Shelton and his subsequent, obnoxiously public relationship with Gwen Stefani. None of this matters at all and should mostly be left to gossip sites, but it must be pointed out here because it will most likely have a direct effect on Lambert’s musical direction. With that in mind, we have the lead single from what will be Miranda’s sixth album, “Vice.”

“Vice” opens with a needle on vinyl and then just Miranda singing. The first thing I notice is how vulnerable she sounds. She sings about a woman who goes through different vices, including drinking and waking up in places she doesn’t know how she came to. She knows she keeps making mistakes, but she can’t seem to help it. There is an honesty in this song that country music lost years ago, and the fact it’s coming on a lead single is unbelievable. “Standing at the sink looking in the mirror, I don’t know where I am or how I got here. The only thing that I know how to find is another vice.” I can’t think of the last time I heard such raw honesty in a lead single. She wasn’t looking for radio play when she co-wrote this. As for the production, it’s not something we’ve yet heard from Miranda Lambert; it’s neither the strong country of Revolution nor the pop rock sound dominating Platinum. It’s something in between, like the raw country rock sound of Eric Church’s Mr. Misunderstood or parts of Lindi Ortega’s Faded Gloryville. It works on this song, and it is definitely a better direction than Platinum, although I still prefer the sound of Revolution. Having said that, I am interested to hear the upcoming album. Unlike the general overproduction on Platinum, “Vice” maintains something raw and real. This is a good different direction for Miranda Lambert. If “Vice” is any indication, the album could be a truly honest one and a standout in the mainstream this year.