Tag Archives: Lori McKenna

Album Review: Liz Rose–Swimming Alone

Rating: 6/10

If you listened to the first two Taylor Swift albums–you know, back when she did sound rather country–you’ve heard a Liz Rose song. Liz Rose is most famous for having co-written most of the songs on Swift’s first two albums and helping to make her career, lending the skill of a professional songwriter to stories from a girl over thirty years younger and somehow making the partnership work to perfection. Liz Rose also has a songwriting credit on Little Big Town’s “Girl crush,” as well as many other mainstream hits, always seeming to find that balance between commercial success and critical acclaim. So when news came that she was releasing an album, that couldn’t be taken lightly; rather, it was like hearing about Natalie Hemby, Lori McKenna, and Brandy Clark before her, definitely something to be excited and intrigued about.

The difference? Liz Rose didn’t want to make this record “pitchable.” She didn’t come into it looking for subsequent records or tour dates–in fact, she said that after she wrote the album closer, “My Apology,” she felt like the story had ended, and this might be the only Liz rose record to ever grace our presence. Also, she’s not a performer, though her vocal talent here would counter that notion. Still, you have to come into this record knowing what it is to fully get it; it’s just a little story of Rose’s life told in song, and she just happened to have Nashville connections and a publishing company, so you stumbled upon a copy.

That’s the cool thing about this record. It’s dated, but not in the timeless, throwback way of Colter wall, more like in the way of your mom or aunt or grandma telling their stories about growing up in the 50’s and 60’s. It’s trapped there in that time period, and that’s why it’s crucial to understand where Liz Rose is coming from lest it just be an out-of-date, old-fashioned affair. One of the best songs here is the opener, “Grocery Money,” where Rose tells of her mother’s sacrifice and shares the details about growing up with little but somehow always having enough to get by. You’ll hear in “Five ‘n’ Dime” how she worked with her family at one of these stores, in “Woodstock” that she was pissed off to be too young in 1969 to go, and in “Tulsa” about an adventure with her best friend when she was thirteen and ran away from home to “God knows where, Oklahoma.” You’ll get a sense of her fearlessness and motivation to carve out a career for herself in the songwriting industry, an industry she entered at the age of thirty-seven, when you hear “Swimming Alone” and learn that she’s used to finding her own way. You’ll get a glimpse into her love life with “Letters From Prison,” telling the story of a teenage boyfriend who later sent letters to her office and wanted autographs of country stars to distract him from his “personal hell,” and “Ex-Husbands,” the humorous tale of her marriage history that is the highlight of this record and has the potential to get cut despite Rose writing the album to be “unpitchable.” There are also more touching moments, like the aforementioned “My Apology,” where Liz Rose apologizes to her parents, old lovers, and even herself for her mistakes, and “Yellow Room,” where she’s missing and saying goodbye to her father. all in all, it’s a very personal, very unique reflection of her life, much like a snapshot into the life of a relative or a friend, only told in musical form.

AT the same time, that’s also the thing that holds this record back. It’s very personal and cool, but in many places so much so that it won’t be relatable to many. That’s not what Liz rose was going for here, though; she just wanted to make a record for herself. I think people who grew up in these same times will find much to relate to and to love about this album anyway, and this is why I featured it. Personally, although it’s a really cool album and idea, and although the production makes it much more catchy and less boring than these types of singer-songwriter albums generally are, it doesn’t hold up for me beyond the initial interesting glimpse into the life of Liz Rose. The songs “Grocery Money,” “ex-Husbands,” and “Woodstock” stand out above the others, and as a fan, I would pick them off the record; indeed, that’s almost what I did in order to feature Liz rose and this album. I wanted to enjoy this more, particularly as someone who respects the songwriting of Rose, but at the end of the day, a lot of it just isn’t for me, and that directly speaks to the fact that I can’t really relate to these stories and times. But it’s a record that will be for a lot of people despite, or perhaps even because of, its personal nature. People from Rose’s generation especially will connect to this album, and in light of Liz Rose’s intent with this project, the result was a cool listen if nothing else.

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Album Review: David Nail–Fighter

Rating: 7/10

David Nail is one of those artists that flies under the radar a lot in Nashville, never really selling out to trends, always producing decent or solid albums–in short, he’s one of the artists out there proving pop country doesn’t always equal bad music. I’ve always been impressed with Nail and thought he had a lot of potential, particularly on his songs “The Sound of a Million Dreams” and “Turning Home.” That all shines through in his fourth album, Fighter, his best album to date and definitely what I look for in good pop country.

The album opens with “Good at Tonight,” an upbeat anthem featuring Brothers Osborne that would be a great second single choice. I am surprised by how much I enjoy this song because it’s similar to a lot of songs out there, speaking about living life to its fullest and seizing the moment. “I ain’t much for the morning but I’ve always been good at tonight.” The production makes this enjoyable–it features accordion and is something I can call pop country, as opposed to similar, overproduced straight pop songs. “Night’s on Fire,” the first single follows–this is the typical song about hooking up by a river. However, this one is not terrible, as it has really nice descriptions and focuses on the experience and the surroundings rather than just having sex. I didn’t review it when it came out because it’s just there; it’s mediocre and filler, but it does serve the purpose of proving there is a better way to portray this overdone story. “ease Your Pain” is about a man saying he can be there for a woman and well, ease her pain; I would probably enjoy this more if it didn’t compare love to a drug because I am personally sick of that metaphor. Still, it’s a solid pop country song.

The first truly amazing moment on the album is “Home.” This is a collaboration with Lori McKenna featuring excellent piano and acoustic guitar. It speaks of home in a bittersweet way, about leaving and coming back, etc. David Nail’s strength is his voice, and it really shines on songs like this. Also, this makes me look forward to Lori McKenna’s album tomorrow! Next is “Lie With Me,” a song about a man asking a woman to “lie” with him and pretend she is staying, even though he knows she is about to leave. This song could have been better, but it does suffer from some overproduction, especially in some very distracting cymbals. Next is “I Won’t Let You Go,” another excellent collaboration, this time with Vince Gill. Vince Gill is a great choice; both Vince and David Nail have strikingly strong, tenor voices, neither really traditionally country but both undeniable in talent and sincerity. This song is about the relationship between a man and his wife; “I know that this is hard to do, you loving me, me loving you, so long since we have felt brand-new, but I won’t let you go.” The production works well in this one and allows their voices to shine.

“fighter,” the album’s title track, is next. This is admiring a woman who stays beside him through struggles; it doesn’t stand out on the first listen, but it will on the second. There is also a soft fiddle on this track that really adds to it. “Babies” feels very personal to Nail and is about how he lived his life as a thrill seeker, but now “I’ve found a better kind of crazy now that I got babies.” It’s a refreshing moment of honesty that mainstream country really needs. “Got me Gone” is similar to “Night’s on Fire”–it’s not a terrible song, but it doesn’t really add anything to the album and could have been left off it. In fact, it probably does less than “night’s on Fire,” because that made a decent single choice, and this, while still being about a woman who turns him on, has really bland and boring production that probably wouldn’t serve that purpose either. “Champagne Promise” is the moment where a good song is ruined by production; this is a good pop song but is not country at all. Here, the narrator has realized that the woman will be nothing more than a “champagne promise,” a one-night stand. It’s really a pretty good song, but the production is just completely wrong. The album concludes with “Old Man’s Symphony,” an absolutely brilliant track featuring Bear and Bo Rinehart of Christian band Needtobreathe. This is an autobiographical song about David Nail’s father, a man who “plays the piano, any song you wanna hear.” Nail sings about living in his shadow and moving to Nashville, despite the whole town saying “I could never make it here if my dad never did. Guess there is a part of me that still agrees with them.” If you only pick one song to listen to from this album, please make it this one.

Overall, this is a really solid album from David Nail. His voice really stands out, and the collaborations are excellent. There are some production issues, and a couple songs could have been scrapped, but the songwriting is brilliant in some places, and at its worst, is forgettable. Even the radio-friendly filler from David Nail is better than most similar stuff from mainstream country, and the album can, for the majority, be called pop country and not straight pop. For the most part, David Nail has delivered us a nice example of good pop country music.

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The 49th Annual CMA Award Nominees, With Commentary

The nominees are in, after
the CMA flipped off the entire genre by allowing Steven Tyler and Kelsea Ballerini to announce them this morning on Good Morning America. Here are the nominees, predictions, and some personal commentary.

Musician of the Year

Sam Bush (mandolin) [yes, apparently mandolins are still in country music somewhere, who knew?]
Jerry Douglas (dobro)
Paul Franklin (steel guitar) [see above comment about mandolin]
Dan Huff (guitar)
Mac McAnally (guitar)
Prediction: Mac McAnally–He has won for the past seven years, and I doubt many artists voting have much of an idea what a “mandolin,” “steel guitar,” or “dobro,” is, so Dan Huff is the only one with a shot of defeating him.
Preference: none

Music Video of the Year

Interestingly, this category is female-dominated…I guess in videos, females are okay.

“Biscuits”–Kacey Musgraves, directed by Marc Klasfeld
“Girl Crush”–Little Big Town, directed by Karla Welch and Matthew Welch
“Girl in a Country Song”–Maddie & Tae, directed by TK McKamy
“Little Red Wagon”–Miranda Lambert, directed by Trey Vanjoy
“Something in the Water”–Carrie Underwood, directed by Raj Kapoor
Prediction: “Girl in a Country Song”
Preference: “Girl in a Country Song”

Event of the Year

Django and Jimmie–Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, Legacy Recordings [excellent]
“Lonely Tonight”–Blake Shelton featuring Ashley Monroe, Warner Bros./Warner Music Nashville [again, good job]
“Raise ’em Up”–Keith Urban featuring Eric Church, Hit Red Records/Capitol Records Nashville [decent]
“Smokin’ and Drinkin'”–Miranda Lambert featuring Little Big Town, RCA Nashville [no]
“Wild Child”–Kenny Chesney with Grace Potter, Blue Chair Records/Columbia Nashville [good]
Prediction: “Lonely Tonight”
Preference: Willie and Merle’s album would be a cool winner, but I’d be fine with “Lonely Tonight” as well.

Vocal Duo of the Year

Brothers Osborne [meh]
Dan + Shay [no]
Florida Georgia Line [God no]
Maddie & Tae [yes]
Thompson Square [no]
Prediction: Florida Georgia Line
Preference: Maddie and Tae
Note: This is FGL’s only nomination…bro country really has taken a hit. Too bad that the Sam Hunt style has come behind it.

Vocal Group of the Year

Lady Antebellum [no]
Little Big Town [meh]
Rascal Flatts [no]
The Band Perry [God no]
Zac Brown Band [not bad]
Prediction: Little Big Town
Preference: Blackberry Smoke? Out of these, I suppose Little Big Town will have to do.

New Artist of the Year

Kelsea Ballerini [no]
Sam Hunt [if he wins, I will never watch the CMA Awards again, I swear to you all]
Maddie & Tae [good]
Thomas Rhett [God no]
Chris Stapleton [shocking and good]
Prediction: Sam Hunt
Preference: Maddie & Tae or Chris Stapleton
Notes: Glad to see Stapleton with a nomination here, but if Sam Hunt wins this, as he undoubtedly will, my days of watching the CMA’s are done indefinitely.

Single of the Year

“American Kids”–Kenny Chesney, produced by Buddy Cannon and Kenny Chesney, Blue Chair Records/Columbia Nashville
“Girl Crush”–Little Big Town, produced by Jay Joyce, Capitol Records Nashville
“I Don’t Dance”–Lee Bryce, produced by Lee Bryce, Curb Records
“Take Your Time”–Sam Hunt, produced by Zach Crowell and Shane McAnally, MCA Nashville
“Talladega”–Eric Church, produced by Arturo Buenahora, EMI Nashville
Prediction: “Girl Crush” or “Take Your Time”
Preference: “Girl Crush”
Note: If “Take Your Time” wins here, while it would be insulting to country in general, at least it would be for commercial success. This is the one award that Sam Hunt could win that wouldn’t make me immediately throw up.

Song of the Year

“American Kids”–Rodney Klawson, Luke Laird, and Shane McAnally [no]
“Girl Crush”–Liz Rose, Lori McKenna, and Hillary Lindsey [ok]
“Like a Cowboy”–Randy Houser and Brice Long [no]
“Like a Wrecking Ball”–Eric Church and Kasey Beathard [hell no]
“Take Your Time”–Sam Hunt, Shane McAnally, and Josh Osborne [for the love of all that is holy]
Prediction: “Girl Crush”
Preference: Out of these, “Girl Crush” hands down. While I like all of them except “Take Your Time”–if that wins, above Sam Hunt rules apply–I could have thrown a rock and hit better Song of the Year nominees. Jason Isbell, Alan Jackson, Kacey Musgraves, Ashley Monroe, shall I go on?

Album of the Year

Old Boots, New Dirt–Jason Aldean, produced by Michael Knox, Broken Bow [no]
Pageant Material–Kacey Musgraves, produced by Kacey Musgraves, Luke Laird, and Shane McAnally, Mercury Nashville [excellent]
Painkiller–Little Big Town, produced by Jay Joyce, Capitol Records Nashville [no]
The Big Revival–Kenny Chesney, produced by Buddy Cannon and Kenny Chesney, Blue Chair Records/Columbia Nashville [no]
Traveller–Chris Stapleton, produced by Dave Cobb and Chris Stapleton, Mercury Nashville [excellent]
Prediction: Painkiller or Pageant Material
Preference: Pageant Material or Traveller
Note: Again, good to see Stapleton with a nomination, as well as Dave Cobb, who produced Jason Isbell and Lindi Ortega’s remarkable albums as well. The CMA might actually get it right here and vote in Pageant Material which would be a great selection, although there are other albums that deserve to be nominated along with it besides these.

Female Vocalist of the Year

Kelsea Ballerini [no]
Miranda Lambert [duh]
Kacey Musgraves [good]
Carrie Underwood [good]
LeeAnn Womack [lol]
Prediction: Miranda Lambert–I’m not an idiot.
Preference: Carrie Underwood
Note: Ashley Monroe should have at least a nomination here, especially if LeeAnn Womack is going to be name-dropped in here to fill a quota.

Male Vocalist of the Year

Dierks Bentley [great job CMA]
Eric Church [ok]
Luke Bryan [at this point, at least Sam Hunt wasn’t here]
Blake Shelton [ok]
Chris Stapleton [interesting]
Prediction: Luke Bryan or Dierks Bentley
Preference: Dierks Bentley–if he won this, I might actually be able to watch the CMA’s again even if Sam Hunt won something.

Entertainer of the Year

Garth Brooks [good]
Luke Bryan [to be expected]
Kenny Chesney [ok]
Eric Church [good]
Miranda Lambert [but she’s 20% of the category, so won’t the viewing audience drop drastically?]
Prediction: Luke Bryan or Garth Brooks
Preference: Garth Brooks