Tag Archives: Cam

Let’s Hope Carly Pearce’s #1 Is Just the Beginning

The very first opinion piece I ever wrote for Country Exclusive, back in June 2015, was a short comment on Kelsea Ballerini’s #1 song, “Love me Like You Mean It.” This was the first debut single by a solo female to hit #1 on the country airplay charts in nine years, and I called it a double-edged sword because while nine years is a ridiculously long time without this occurring, Kelsea Ballerini’s song was pop and shouldn’t have been the one to break the drought.

Carly Pearce, with her decidedly pop country ballad “Every Little Thing,” has become the next woman to achieve this feat, only the second woman to do so in all the time I’ve been writing. While definitely pop-influenced–you can blame that on Busbee being the producer, because the live version is very country–this song actually has country elements, even featuring a dobro. It did get some early help from On the Verge, but it reached the top of the charts on its own, as well as selling well and resonating with the public.

So let’s learn from this and not let this be Carly’s first and only radio success. We cheered when Kacey Musgraves hit the top ten with “Merry go Round,” and now, only a few years and two albums later, radio won’t play her at all. Cam’s “Burning House” was a huge success, making it to #2, yet she hasn’t found that success with her subsequent singles. Carly Pearce’s #1 with “Every Little Thing” is a great achievement, but can she get radio to play her next singles without assistance from ON the Verge?

Also, in my recent review of her album, I mentioned that pop producers took too much control of this and forsook much of Carly Pearce’s individuality. This ought to be a lesson to Carly and those around her that she doesn’t have to record and release stuff like “Catch Fire” for the public to pay attention. So take a chance. Try releasing the far superior, actually country-infused “If My Name Was Whiskey” or “I Need a Ride Home.” Carly could develop into a very cool artist and perhaps find favor with both mainstream and independent fans, but she’s got to be given a chance and not treated like every other pop singer manufactured and molded for country radio. The success of her debut single proves that the appetite for songs like this is there; this is a ballad slower than molasses, featuring a dobro and talking about heartache. So yeah, pretty much the opposite of everything that’s supposed to work on country radio these days. And yet, somehow, it did. So let this be, as it should be, the beginning for Carly Pearce, and don’t let her fade into the background. And let this also be a stepping stone so that she can perhaps be a gateway for more deserving women, both more traditional and modern, to have their songs see the same success.

Congratulations to Carly Pearce and “Every Little Thing” for breaking through, this #1 is well-deserved.

Single Review: Cam’s “Diane”

Rating: 5/10

Cam has been getting a lot of attention for this song, and as someone who was excited by her potential and loved “Burning House” but wasn’t necessarily blown away by the rest of her debut, I went into this hesitantly. I hope for Cam’s sake and the sake of talented women seeking to make it on country radio that she can have success with this song–because the half of this song that is great is the half that Cam has some responsibility for.

So let’s just ignore the supposed ties to that old Dolly Parton song that literally every other outlet everywhere is discussing and take this as a song. It’s told from the point of view of the other woman, speaking to Diane and telling her that she didn’t know he was married and that she’d give back the nights he spent with her if she could. She’d rather Diane hate her than not understand what happened, but she knows Diane will probably choose to blame her instead of believing the whole truth “because that’s what a good wife would do.” Yes, a song in country that tells a story, and about adultery no less. I love the little details like how Diane will probably hate her anyway, but this woman is desperate to tell her the truth in order to keep Diane from being deceived. Cam sings it quite well too, with nice vocal delivery and heartfelt sincerity that elevate the lyrics.

So why the lukewarm rating? Simply put, the arrangement/production of this thing is horrendous. It’s too frantic and upbeat for the words Cam is saying. There’s supposed to be all this cool harmony in the chorus, but it’s the result of effects rather than actual four-part harmony. I respect the fact that acoustic guitar drives the melody, and you don’t really hear electronic beats, but as I say, this song is moving along at such a rapid, frantic pace that it feels like Cam is just trying to keep up. It could have been a great song, it’s got a great country theme. I’m all for even modernizing it some to give Cam a fighting chance to make it on radio, but she can sing the hell out of stuff like “Burning House,” and if they’d stripped this down even a little, it would have flattered both her voice and the song. As it is, this arrangement has absolutely killed it and forsaken the melody. Further, it’s still not exactly radio-friendly, as it’s kind of vintage poppish with a little country flavor, so in essence, it’s probably not going to fly either on radio or with her more country-leaning fans. So it’s lukewarm all around, and maybe that’s the genius in tying it back to that Dolly Parton song, to attach it to an admittedly interesting talking point.

I hope I’m wrong for Cam’s sake, and for the sake of more songs buried in there like “Burning House” that need this single to be successful in order to see the light of day. But in the meantime, this is a case of a good country song on paper ruined at the hands of a pop producer, and my fear is that Cam will suffer for it.

Written by: Cam, Jeff Bhasker, Tyler Johnson

Album Review: Vince Gill–Down to my Last Bad Habit

Rating: 7.5/10

Vince Gill has had one of the most successful careers in country music history, earning numerous awards, as well as inductions into the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the Grand Ole Opry. Unlike other artists his age, he is aging gracefully. He isn’t pulling an Alabama and releasing a “Southern Drawl” in misguided hopes for radio play. He is still making the records he wants to make, and his signature tenor voice has been unaffected–if anything, it has only grown stronger on this record. Even if you don’t like Vince Gill’s discography, you probably like Vince Gill himself; he seems to be one of the most respected and well-liked people in the business. In fact, it took me some time to review this record because I am an unashamed Vince Gill fan. But I have finally hit on the problem with this album–it’s not a bad album by any stretch, and there are a few songs you will keep coming back to, which I will point out. If you aren’t a Vince Gill fan, you may really enjoy this album–but if you are familiar with his work, this will mostly just make you want to listen to better Vince Gill material.

As I said earlier, Vince is making the albums he wants to make; he has a songwriting credit on every track and was a producer. It is for this reason that I can’t immediately dismiss the production on this record, but I do want to address it now, lest I should have to on every song–the production is heavily influenced by r&b, although not the trend-chasing r&b of Thomas Rhett, more like an age-appropriate version. I might call this 80’s R&b country, and since this was obviously Vince’s decision, I won’t critique it, except where it especially helps or hinders certain songs.

“Reasons for the Tears I Cry,” the album’s opener, is a heartbreak song. Vince Gill’s voice is as strong as ever as he sings, “I got reasons, reasons for the tears I cry.” This immediately introduces the adult comtemporary/r&b country production which sets the stage for much of the record. This production works really well for the title track, another heartbreak song in which Vince says that he gave up smoking and drinking and his old friends for a woman–all the things she’d left him for. But, “the one thing that I’ll always be addicted to, oh I’m down to my last bad habit, you.” This is one of the standout songs that works because of its slow-burning, bluesy production. “Me and my Girl” is more country-influenced, and is just an easygoing love song that is pleasant to listen to; this one gets better with more listens and is another one you will find yourself taking away from the album.

“Like my Daddy Did” is a song about a man asking a woman to marry him–but she’s afraid that he will walk out on her like her father did. This is one case where I love Vince’s voice and the songwriting, but I think it would have made a great country song; it makes a pretty good adult contemporary song. “Make You Feel Real Good” is one of the fun, upbeat songs signature of Vince Gill; this one is about a man attempting to seduce a woman. “Baby doll, you know I would make you feel real good.” This one is more country and just suits Vince Gill; it’s just fun. “I Can’t Do This” is a beautifully written song about a man watching his ex with another man; Vince’s voice delivers the emotion wonderfully, but it’s another moment where I wish for more country production. We’re all aware of what kind of emotion Vince Gill can evoke in a guitar, but this song features piano. Songs like this make a review difficult, because there’s nothing wrong with it–it’s just not what Vince Gill is capable of.

“My Favorite Movie” is one of the weaker love songs, this one about a love that is real but it is better than anything on Hollywood screens. It’s easier to dismiss a song like this than “I Can’t Do This,” because here the lyrics aren’t great either. “One More Mistake I Made” is the most adult contemporary of the bunch, even featuring a trumpet. If this entire album hadn’t been such a sonic shift for Gill, this song might have been an interesting experiment–as it is, it’s a piece of great songwriting that is made completely bland by production. “Take Me Down” features Little Big Town and is about a woman who can “take me down every time you come around and make me surrender for you.” The driving production fits this perfectly; this song reminds me of something Fleetwood Mac might have recorded. Good to see Little Big Town contributing to something worthwhile, after their wasted collaboration with Miranda Lambert on “Smokin’ and Drinkin’.” This is what they should be doing.

Next is another collaboration, this one with Cam on a song called “I’ll be Waiting For You.” This is another standout of the record; their voices blend flawlessly, and a song like this reminds you of Vince Gill’s skill at love songs. This one is also very country. Definitely listen to this song. I am pleased that both of the collaborations were highlights of this record. “When it’s Love” is a solid song about, well, knowing when it is love–“When it’s love, it’s like a wild raging river, when it’s love, feel like you’ve been delivered. You might as well just surrender when it’s love.” This song could have been helped by different production, but it’s still solid. Then the album closes with the stunning “I Feel a Sad One Comin’ On (a Song for George Jones),” and here is the Vince Gill I’ve been waiting for. Here is his guitar crying, and the sadness of “Go Rest High on That Mountain” and “I Call Your Name.”

It’s this song at the end that ultimately brings down the record; there were great songs on it, but now they pale in comparison when you hear the potential of Vince Gill. And as a Vince Gill fan, every time I get to this point, all the goodwill I felt toward this record is replaced by desire to listen to other Vince Gill work. However, as a reviewer, I cannot deny that this album is actually quite good in and of itself. Regardless of the r&b influence, it features excellent vocals throughout and great songwriting throughout a good portion of it. The collaborations are standouts, as is the title track. It’s almost unfortunate the Jones tribute is at the end, cheapening the rest of the album–but that’s exactly what it does. Give these songs a listen. As a collection of songs, they ar quite good. But as an album, Vince Gill can deliver much better.

Listen to Album

The 51st Annual ACM Award Nominees, With Commentary

This morning, (2/1), the nominees for the 2016 Academy of Country Music (ACM) Awards were revealed on CBS the Morning and ETOnline.com. The ACM Awards will take place on April 3rd at the MGM Grand Ballroom in Las Vegas and air on CBS. For the first time in several years, Blake Shelton will not be one of the hosts–this year it will be Blake’s former co-host, Luke Bryan, along with Dierks Bentley. This seems an unlikely pair to say the least, but we’ll see on April 3rd. Here are the nominees, along with predictions, preferences, and some personal commentary.

Video of the Year

“Biscuits”–Kacey Musgraves, directed by Mark Klausfeld, produced by Nicole Acacio
“Burning House”–Cam, directed by Trey Fanjoy, produced by Trent Hardville
“Girl Crush”–Little Big Town, directed by Karla Welch and Matthew Welch, produced by Amanda Prunesti
“Mr. Misunderstood”–Eric Church, directed by Reid Long and John Peets, produced by Megan Smith
“Riser”–Dierks Bentley, directed by Wes Edwards, produced by Jennifer Rothlein
Prediction: “Burning House” or “Riser”
Preference: none

New Male Vocalist of the Year

Good to see the ACM’s breaking down this category again, as for the past several years it has been simply “New Artist.”

Brett Eldredge [no]
Chris Janson [no]
Thomas Rhett [really?]
Chase Rice [hell no]
Chris Stapleton [thank God]
Prediction: Chris Stapleton
Preference: Chris Stapleton…I would prefer Chris Stapleton anyway, but out of these, do I really have a choice?
Note: When is Thomas Rhett going to stop getting nominated for New Artist awards?

New Female Vocalist of the Year

Kelsea Ballerini [no]
Cam [yes!]
Mickey Guyton [good]
RaeLynn [oh God no]
Prediction: Cam or Kelsea Ballerini
Preference: Cam
Note: Only four artists here…what happened to including more women? This is the only category to be missing an artist….and if we can nominate Thomas Rhett, surely we can nominate Ashley Monroe or Jana Kramer. Many more if they knew how to think outside the box…Jamie Lin Wilson anyone? Having said that, I’m impressed with the inclusion of Mickey Guyton, it is well deserved.

New Vocal Duo or Group of the Year

A Thousand Horses [ok]
Brothers Osborne [good]
Maddie & Tae [yes]
Old Dominion [please]
Parmalee [no]
Prediction: Maddie & Tae
Preference: Maddie & Tae
Note: I am sorry that Maddie & Tae and Brothers Osborne must be in the same category with the likes of Old Dominion. Maddie & Tae really deserve this award and should win it…they deserve to be the Duo of the Year, but this would involve de-throning Florida Georgia Line.

Vocal Event of the Year

“Hang Over Tonight”–Gary Allan featuring Chris Stapleton, produced by
Gary Allan and Greg Droman, MCA Nashville
“Home Alone Tonight”–Luke Bryan featuring Karen Fairchild, produced by Jeff Stevens and Jody Stephens, Capitol Nashville
“Raise ’em Up”–Keith Urban featuring Eric Church, produced by Nathan Chapman and Keith Urban, Hit Red Records/Capitol Nashville
“Smokin’ and Drinkin'”–Miranda Lambert featuring Little Big Town, produced by Frank Liddell, Chuck Anilay, and Glenn Worf, RCA Nashville
“Wild Child”–Kenny Chesney with Grace Potter, produced by Buddy Cannon and Kenny Chesney, Blue Chair Records/Columbia Nashville
Prediction: “Raise ’em Up”
Preference: “Wild Child” out of these, but there are better nominees by far.
Note: Why is “Hang Over Tonight” being nominated for anything? This was not successful commercially or critically, has stalled Gary Allan’s entire career, and cost him millions of fans…but let’s nominate it for an ACM, makes perfect sense. “Home Alone Tonight” is trash, “Smokin’ and Drinkin'” is just there, and the others are decent. Terrible list altogether. The CMA nominated Willie and Merle’s collaboration album at least.

Single Record of the Year

Interestingly, or stupidly, the Song of the Year and Songwriter of the Year nominees are not out yet and should be announced “in the coming weeks”…Song of the Year has traditionally been about critical acclaim, and Single Record was for commercial success, but lately they have become somewhat interchangeable.

“Burning House”–Cam, produced by Jeff Bhasker, Tyler Johnson, and Cameron Ochs, Arista Nashville/RCA Records/Kravenworks [excellent]
“Buy me a Boat”–Chris Janson, produced by Brent Anderson, Chris DuBois, and Chris Janson, Warner Music Nashville [no]
“Die a Happy Man”–Thomas Rhett, produced by Dan Huff and Jesse Frasur, The Vallory Music Co. [to be expected, but hell no]
“Girl Crush”–Little Big Town, produced by Jay Joyce, Capitol Records Nashville [yes]
“I’m Comin’ Over”–Chris Young, produced by Corey Crowder and Chris Young, RCA Nashville [decent]
Prediction: No idea…this could go to Cam, Thomas Rhett, or Little Big Town, if we’re talking commercial success. All three would deserve it based on this.
Preference: “Burning House” or “Girl Crush”
Note: The only thing I’m certain of here is that Chris Young has absolutely no chance.

Album of the Year

I’m Comin’ Over–Chris Young, produced by Corey Crowder and Chris Young, RCA Records [lol]
Montevallo–Sam Hunt, produced by Zach Crowell and Shane McAnally, MCA Nashville [never]
Mr. Misunderstood–Eric Church, produced by Jay Joyce, EMI Records Nashville [yes]
Tangled up–Thomas Rhett, produced by Dan Huff, Jesse Frasur, and Chris Destafano, The Vallory Music Co. [absolutely horrifying]
Traveller–Chris Stapleton, produced by Dave Cobb and Chris Stapleton, Mercury Records [yes]
Prediction: Traveller
Preference: Traveller
Note: Glad to see Eric Church with a nomination here, and disappointed in the lack of women. Thomas Rhett’s Tangled Up is even worse than Montevallo which is saying something…some good nominees, but a bad category overall. At least Stapleton is now a front runner, after his upsets at the CMA’s. But Kacey Musgraves should definitely have a nomination here. The fact that Chris Young’s boring effort is here is completely laughable.

Vocal Duo of the Year

Brothers Osborne [good]
Dan + Shay [no]
Maddie & Tae [yes]
Joey + Rory [good]
Florida Georgia Line[no]
Prediction: Maddie & Tae…going out on a limb.
Preference: Maddie & Tae
Note: I don’t think Florida Georgia Line will do it again…they’ve slipped in popularity. Also, never underestimate the power of the sympathy vote for Joey + Rory, cancer is a powerful thing. I’m glad to see Joey + Rory with a nomination too, but they shouldn’t get the win…that right belongs to Maddie & Tae, and enough splitting of the votes may happen here that we will see them take it.

Vocal Group of the Year

Wow, what an awful category.

Eli Young Band [no]
Little Big Town [yes]
Old Dominion [for the love of God]
Rascal Flatts [no]
Zac Brown Band [not after this year….”Beautiful Drug” is not worth any recognition, even if the group is]
Prediction: Little Big Town…they’ve become the Miranda Lambert of the Vocal Group category.
Preference: Little Big Town
Note: Can we give it to Turnpike Troubadours?

Male Vocalist of the Year

Jason Aldean [no]
Dierks Bentley [good]
Eric Church [yes]
Brett Eldredge [lol]
Chris Stapleton [yes]
Prediction: Eric Church or Chris Stapleton
Preference: Chris Stapleton, but I’d be happy with Eric.
Note: No Blake Shelton…interestingly, Blake Shelton was shut out entirely from this extravaganza.

Female Vocalist of the Year

Kelsea Ballerini [no]
Jana Kramer [good]
Miranda Lambert [duh]
Kacey Musgraves [good]
Carrie Underwood [good]
Prediction: Miranda Lambert–like with the CMA’s, I’m not an idiot.
Preference: Carrie Underwood
Note: Glad to see Jana Kramer with a nomination…if we could have replaced Kelsea with Ashley Monroe, this would have been a pretty fair list.

Entertainer of the Year

Jason Aldean [no]
Garth Brooks [good]
Luke Bryan [duh but no]
Eric Church [good]
Miranda Lambert [good]
Prediction: Luke Bryan, with an outside chance of Garth Brooks
Preference: Garth Brooks

Album Review: Cam–Untamed

Rating: 7/10

2015 has come with much discussion about the lack of female representation on the country airwaves. As the concern has grown, we have seen several new female artists breaking onto country radio, most notably Maddie & Tae, Kelsea Ballerini–who is anything but country–and Cam. After Saladgate in May, Bobby Bones and On the Verge selected Cam’s “Burning House” for promotion, and the results have been unprecedented. This second single off Cam’s debut EP, Welcome to Cam Country, has been certified gold and is currently #6 on Billboard Country Airplay. These are remarkable achievements for any new artist, especially for a female country artist. Cam’s label has given her the completely laughable release date of December 11th, a statement of lack of faith in Cam’s music that will ultimately hurt the album’s sales and chances on end-of-year lists. Cam fans should be outraged, and if Cam were a more established artist, she would be fighting this release date. With all that said, despite the terrible release date, I was excited to see more from Cam, as “Burning House” made Country Exclusive’s
Essential Songs of 2015
list. I was hoping this album would give us more incredible music from Cam. So, did it live up to my expectations?

The album opens with crickets and a harmonica, which immediately got my attention. The song that follows is the title track, “Untamed,” which is pretty much a female bro country track: dirt roads, moonshine, etc. I think most people hearing this song will hate it, but surprisingly I don’t–in and of itself, it’s not a bad song. The production and instrumentation are decidedly country, and the lyrics aren’t bad either–it’s just that I’ve heard this particular song before at least a thousand times. Having said that, if I hadn’t, I’d probably enjoy “Untamed.” As it is, it’s tolerable. Next is “Hung Over on Heartache,” a nice blend of pop, rock, and country that fits Cam’s unique style rather well. I feel the lyrics could have gone a little deeper, but this song grows on me with each listen, and it’s interesting to hear an upbeat heartbreak song. “Mayday” and “Burning House” are next, and I group them together because their track placement is brilliant. “Mayday” is a pop country song in which the woman is trying to tell the man she’s no longer in love, but she’s finding it difficult. She’s trying everything she can to leave, but she can’t seem to. The relationship is compared to a sinking ship; Cam is begging the man to “abandon ship with me.” “Burning House” is the mirror opposite of this–here, the narrator is trying desperately to hold onto a love that is slipping through her hands. “I’ll stay here with you until this dream is gone,” Cam sings. I still prefer the acoustic production on “Burning House,” but the pop country style really works for ‘Mayday,” and together, these songs show two distinct and real sides of failing relationships. If you already loved “Burning House,” you will love it even more after “Mayday.”

“Cold in California” is the first song that is completely ruined by production. Lyrically, it’s beautiful; it’s a song in which Cam sings of missing a man who left her to pursue his dreams in California. But this song leaves the good balance of pop and country for an overproduced, distracting pop sound that pulls this listener away from the lyrics. Following this are the other three songs from Cam’s EP. Country Exclusive didn’t exist when the EP came out, so I will share my thoughts on these now. The first single, “My Mistake” is a pretty solid pop country song–not anything remarkable, but certainly not filler. This song about a one-night stand after meeting in a bar should have done better at radio and was a good single choice. “Runaway Train” was my favorite from the EP besides “Burning House.” The production here is an excellent blend of country, rock, and pop that suits Cam excellently. This is the sound I would like to see her develop. “Half Broke Heart” has grown on me quite a lot since the EP–this is a heartbreak song in which the narrator is upset over the sudden ending of a relationship that had started with no strings attached. “I wasn’t looking for a ring, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t sting when you cut and run so soon,” Cam sings. I think this might make a good future single.

The next song is the only truly terrible moment on the album, and I have no idea why the singer of “Burning House” would stoop to recording it. It is a pop song called “Want it All” that is so unremarkable I’ve listened to it three times and can’t quote a single word. Cam sounds as bored singing it as I am being subjected to it. It’s filler of the worst kind. The last two songs are two of the best, however. The hilarious, upbeat “Country Ain’t Never Been Pretty” could be an instant hit if Cam released it. It’s the perfect blend of pop and country, comparing city girls who are “singing about the country” and “putting out them hits” to women who actually live in the country on farms. “Instead of hairspray and curls, you got hay and dirt, slam your unpainted nails in a barn door. But it’s all right to look kinda shitty, cause country ain’t never been pretty”–this is excellent, and a great message to send to young girls who are listening to Cam. “Village” closes the album on a somber but hopeful note–it’s a song about a dead brother telling his sister he is still there watching over her. “Your whole heart’s a village, and everyone you love has built it, and I’ve been working there myself.” This is the closest thing to the acoustic production of “Burning House” on the entire album, and you can really appreciate the rawness of the lyrics.

Overall, Cam has given us a solid debut album. Some songs are more traditional, but more of them are a good, tasteful blend of pop, country, and sometimes rock. However, I think this style suits Cam, and the production only hurts a couple songs. I think Cam has found a great balance of radio relevancy and traditional appeal. “Want it All” is inexcusable, and many will feel the same about “Untamed,” but most of this album is pretty good. Some of it is great. I think Cam will only get better, and I look forward to more from her. In the meantime, give this album a listen.

Listen to Album