Tag Archives: Dolly Parton

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

Pop Spotlight: Yes, I’m Talking About Kesha’s Rainbow. Sue Me.

Why am I talking about Kesha’s latest album? Even taking into account I said awhile back I was going to start spotlighting non-country stuff occasionally, why this? It’s not as if it’s got any shortage of coverage.

Truthfully? Because it’s held my attention more than any other album these past couple weeks, especially during my small break from writing.

So then, why is this long-awaited Kesha album the one I keep coming back to at the moment, especially over country records?

Well, honestly, my initial interest had, as I”m sure is a commonality among people who paid attention to this project, to do with the drama surrounding Kesha and the release of this record. I wanted to know all about #FreeKesha, and whether she’d really made music that sounded different from her ridiculously processed, virtually lifeless party music from before. And then I listened to this record and was pleasantly surprised by a lot of things, not the least of them being that she seems to understand country better than the majority of mainstream country artists. It’s reflected in the cheating song “Hunt You Down,” which is reminiscent rhythmically of “Walk the Line,” and certainly in her version of Dolly Parton’s “Old Flames (Can’t Hold a Candle to You),” which is both unique to her and a tasteful representation of the song. Her mother wrote this song, and Kesha grew up with classic country music. She’s obviously not country, but it’s plain to see that she does respect it, and it’s cool to see Dolly Parton joining her on this song like a nod of approval. The two sound surprisingly good together as well.

Admittedly, some of my fascination and connection with this album is personal. I don’t want to insinuate that I’ve experienced even half of what Kesha would have of us believe she went through, but at the same time, I can empathize to a certain, if small, degree, and a song like “Praying” just takes me out of a place of review altogether and just leaves me in a place of solidarity with her. This is just an incredible song honestly. You can tell she’s pouring her heart into it. The same goes for “Learn to Let you Go,” which is sort of the upbeat, less serious version of this one. She’s stronger in this one, but it’s still so honest. It’s the sincerity in these and some of the other straight pop songs that make this different from her previous material; this really is Kesha. You might not enjoy the style, but a lot of this is real. Music is supposed to make you feel something, and that’s what Kesha does for much of this album.

But she’s not always reflecting on her past either. “Boots” is a very cool, fun song that shows her having moved on and found love. “Woman” is sort of like a more mature version of one of her older songs, and “Bastards” and “Let ’em Talk,” although both serious, serve to provide a lighthearted way of saying we should ignore the well, bastards, in our lives, and move on from the hatred. This record ends like that with the very cool, very atmospheric “Spaceship,” where she asserts that in death, she’ll finally be able to escape all that hatred and fly off to her home in another galaxy. This one has got to be the most interesting as far as production, so if you are drawn to weird production, I urge you to check that one out.

So, if you like pop albums, this is absolutely the best one I have heard in 2017 without question. If you are more staunchly rooted in country, i still say check out “Hunt You down” and “Old Flames (Can’t Hold a Candle to You).” If you like interesting production , there may be a lot for you to enjoy here because there’s quite a bit of diversity and certainly some intriguing collaboration choices. Some of you might just hate this because well, it’s not your style, but it pleasantly surprised me, and it gave me passion to write, which is more than I can say for many country projects that have come out recently. Not in the business of rating pop albums because well, for one, I don’t listen to them as regularly as country and therefore don’t have as much to compare this to, and also because I’m no authority on pop music, but if I’m just rating this against stuff I’ve heard in 2017, without consideration of genre, this gets a solid, strong 8.

Standout Tracks: “Praying,” “Boots,” “hunt You Down,” “Spaceship,” “Old Flames (Can’t Hold a Candle to You)”

Buy the Album

Country Exclusive’s Essential Songs of 2015

I thought long and hard about this, and since Country Exclusive did not come into existence until halfway through the year, and therefore did not do as many reviews as other sites, I am not going to name a 2015 Song of the Year. There are surely songs that I did not review which would make this list if I had reviewed them; in fact, a few on this list were not covered here. As for the album list, I will have nominees and an Album of the Year, as I did cover most of the essential albums of 2015. But here is a list of songs from 2015 that I feel everyone should definitely check out! If you have overlooked any of them, please correct this now. They are listed alphabetically, and not by any sort of rank.

Essential Songs of 2015

1. “After the Storm Blows Through” by Maddie & Tae
2. “Ashes” by Lindi Ortega
3. “Be my Baby” by Whitney Rose and Raul Malo
4. “The Bird Hunters” by Turnpike Troubadours
5. “Bienville” by Jason Boland & the Stragglers
6. “The Blade” by Ashley Monroe
7. “Bound to Roam” by The Black Lillies
8. “Bramble Rose” by Don Henley, featuring Mick Jagger and Miranda Lambert
9. “Burning House” by Cam
10. “Cost of Living” by Don Henley, featuring Merle Haggard
11. “David” by Cody Jinks
12. “Dixie” by Ashley Monroe
13. “El Dorado” by Randy Rogers & Wade Bowen
14. “Fall out of Love” by Turnpike Troubadours
15. “Ghost Town” by Sam Outlaw
16. “Good ‘ol Boys’ Club” by Kacey Musgraves
17. “Half Moon” by Lindi Ortega
18. “Has Anybody Ever Told You” by Ashley Monroe
19. “Heartland Bypass” by Jason Boland & the Stragglers
20. “House on a Hill” by Kasey Chambers
21. “If the Devil Don’t Want Me” by Ashley Monroe
22. “Just Some Things” by Jamie Lin Wilson, featuring Wade Bowen
23. “Knives of New Orleans” by Eric Church
24. “Long Drive Home” by Turnpike Troubadours
25. “Need for Wanting” by Courtney Patton
26. “Oh Grace” by Kasey Chambers
27. “Pageant Material” by Kacey Musgraves
28. “Record Year” by Eric Church
29. “Roots and Wings” by Miranda Lambert
30. “Shut up and Fish” by Maddie & Tae
31. “So This is Life” by Courtney Patton
32. “Somebody to Love” by Kacey Musgraves
33. “Something More than Free” by Jason Isbell
34. “Speed Trap Town” by Jason Isbell
35. “Standards” by Randy Rogers & Wade Bowen
36. “Suffer in Peace” by Tyler Farr
37. “Traveller” by Chris Stapleton
38. “Too Late to Save Me” by Kasey Chambers
39. “War of Art” by Courtney Patton
40. “When I stop Dreaming” by Don Henley, featuring Dolly Parton

There are many more, but I had to stop the list at some point!

Album Review: Don Henley–Cass County

Rating: 9/10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Listen to Album

Female Fridays: Featuring Kacey Musgraves

I debated about whether or not to do a Female Friday over Kacey Musgraves because she’s probably the most known female in country music besides Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert. But being known and being appreciated are two vastly different things, and I think Kacey Musgraves is certainly underappreciated by country radio and many times by country listeners themselves. It’s one thing to know her as the controversial singer of “Follow Your Arrow” and “Biscuits” and quite another to know her as one of the writers of “Fine.” So with that in mind, I decided that Kacey deserves a Female Friday.

How You Might Know Kacey

I’m sure you all know “Follow Your Arrow,” but I’m not going to post that for the aforementioned reasons. Many of you should also know her debut single “Merry Go ‘Round” which won a Grammy for Best Country Song in 2014.

Bio

From a 2013 interview with PrideSource, on her musical influences,

I’ve always loved Dolly Parton and I used to sing her songs when I was little. She’s a great storyteller and that’s probably where I got a lot of my influence from. I love Loretta Lynn and Willie Nelson and his truth telling. I love Glen Campbell and a lot of old-school country. I’m really all over the map, but the country I seem to like is a lot older.

From a 2013 interview with The Guardian, on her controversial lyrics,

“Certain kinds of people will always have an issue with my music,” says Musgraves. “But that’s fine, it’s OK. I don’t want to be the McDonald’s of music. I don’t want to not turn anyone off. If you were everybody’s cup of tea, you’d probably be boring.

“I don’t feel that the songs I sing and the music I make are very subversive, but I can see how it would be to some people,” she goes on. “The things I sing about are just what inspires me and what I’ve been exposed to in my life. It’s not like I’ve thought, Ooh, this is a button pusher!”

Kacey Musgraves (born August 21st, 1988, from Golden, Texas), grew up singing and songwriting. She sang western swing music in the clubs around Texas and listened to the aforementioned country artists, along with The Spice Girls and Tom Petty, among others. She dreamed of leaving Golden and eventually did, after placing seventh on Nashville Star in 2007, an experience for which she is glad few remember her. Kacey had self-released three albums before her appearance on the show. In 2008, while living in Austin, she was signed to independent label Triple Pop and recorded two songs, “Apologize” and “See You Again.” She eventually moved to Nashville and was signed to Mercury in 2012.

Kacey Musgraves has released two excellent, critically acclaimed albums, Same Trailer Different Park (2013), and Pageant Material (2015), along with a single called “The Trailer Song” (2014.) Additionally, she can be found singing backing vocals on Dierks Bentley’s 2013 single “Bourbon in Kentucky,” was featured on Josh Abbot Band’s 2011 single “Oh, Tonight,” and is credited with writing many other songs, including several for ABC’s Nashville. Same Trailer Different Park won a Grammy for Best Country Album in 2014, as well as an ACM for Album of the Year. Pageant Material is nominated for this year’s CMA Album of the Year. Kacey’s debut single, “Merry Go ‘Round,” won a Grammy for Best Country Song and charted inside the top ten on Billboard Country Airplay, a remarkable achievement for a woman, a debut single, and a song of such substance. “Merry Go ‘Round” has been certified platinum and “Follow Your Arrow” has been certified gold. “Follow Your Arrow” also became the 2014 CMA Song of the Year.

But it was “Follow Your Arrow,” as well as Pageant Material‘s lead single, “Biscuits,” that typecast her as the controversial singer who supports gay rights and/or anti-religious lyrics. “Follow Your Arrow” does exactly that, with its “Kiss lots of boys, or kiss lots of girls, if that’s what you’re into,”–but that’s not all Kacey is about. She’s been classified by many as the singer who supports casual sex, (“It is What it Is,”) homosexuality, (“Follow Your Arrow,”) anti-religious lyrics and/or lyrics concerning hypocrisy, (“Biscuits”), and smoking pot (“Follow Your Arrow,” “Pageant Material,”) and that’s drawn both criticism and praise. Many praise her for her outspoken, progressive values while others typecast her as only singing about these things and don’t even bother to check out the rest of her discography. That is highly unfortunate, especially if you claim to love country–Kacey is a traditional country artist if I ever heard one, and she shouldn’t be overlooked either because of her values or because of some ill-conceived belief that “controversy” is all she sings about. In fact, her current single, “Dime Store Cowgirl,” is the most personal and least socially controversial song Kacey has ever sent to radio, so hopefully it will get a chance.

Why Kacey Belongs on Country Radio

Kacey Musgraves started out with a top ten hit, but now she has been all but blacklisted from country radio. Why? She’s too “country.” She’s too “controversial.” She supports drug use, gay rights, etc. Well, for one, they played “Merry Go ‘Round” and that was country. Secondly, so she’s controversial…at least there’s something to her lyrics besides “calling dibs” on some “boy.” Thirdly, so it’s okay for Luke Bryan to promote “Strip it Down” on Tinder, for the bros to objectify women–and sing about casual sex, I might add–and for virtually everyone in mainstream country except Carrie Underwood to glorify excessive drinking, but Kacey Musgraves can’t talk about getting high? Talk about hypocrisy. And one more thing: Kacey Musgraves is actually doing something that radio programmers want to do–she’s bringing in a younger audience with her “controversial” brand of country. And guess what? Unlike the people coming to “country” through Kelsea Ballerini, the bros, Sam Hunt, and Taylor Swift–with some exception for early Taylor Swift–these people are being introduced to actual country. We traditionalists advocate balance. We don’t want everything to sound like Hank Williams and Loretta Lynn–we just want some actual country on country radio. Kacey Musgraves is an answer; she brings in a younger demographic while keeping her completely traditional sound.

Tracks I Recommend

For this, I’ll pick the standout tracks from each album separately, in order of awesomeness. I recommend both albums equally; each had highs and lows, and I listen to each one far too much.

Same Trailer, Different Park

1. “It Is What it Is”
2. “Merry Go ‘Round”
3. “Back on the Map”
4. “Silver Lining”
5. “I Miss You”
6. “Follow Your Arrow”
7. “Blowin’ Smoke”

Listen to album

Pageant Material

1. “Pageant Material”
2. “Good Ol’ Boys’ Club”
3. “Somebody to Love”
4. “Dime Store Cowgirl”
5. “Fine”

Listen to album

This was the most country moment of last year’s CMA’s, complete with Loretta Lynn herself.