Tag Archives: mainstream country

Single Review: “Speak to a Girl” by Tim McGraw and Faith Hill

Rating: 5/10

Okay, I’m not coming at this as some purist who has a problem with 90% of Faith Hill’s catalogue because it’s more pop/adult contemporary than country. I’ve enjoyed a good chunk of music by both these singers, and they’ve made some excellent songs together. For proof beyond my word, I suggest “Like we Never Loved at All,” “I Need You,” “Angry All the Time,” and “Meanwhile, Back at Mama’s.” That’s not even mentioning the two they’re probably most known for, “It’s Your Love and Let’s Make Love.” So the news that they’re releasing a duets album could potentially mean we’re getting some great music, and if Hill’s inclusion inherently means a more pop sound, I would think that is expected by now. So let’s just establish the fact this is a pop song, judge it accordingly–or not–and move on.

The song itself is about all the things a man should do in order to make a woman fall in love with him. The song explains she doesn’t care about money; she wants a man who respects his mother and treats her right. A pretty cool line is “she wants you to say what you mean and mean everything that you’re saying.” all in all, it’s a nice message and if it does well on radio at all, it will be a blessed contrast from the way radio hits normally speak about women. The two, as always, sing well together.

Still, even though it’s a good message, it feels underdeveloped. it could have been more specific, less generic. The lyrics are a little shallow in places, and I have no idea why sometimes the writers chose “she just want” instead of “she just wants” because it just sounds ridiculous. I guess it’s trying to sound urban or cool, but it really got on my nerves. IN the end, it balances out to just be kind of forgettable which means it will probably be a massive hit in today’s radio climate. Then again, there is a female, and the words are about respecting females, so that’s two strikes against it.

I really wanted to like this song, but it’s just there and really doesn’t do much for me either way. I hope the album will be better.

Album Review: Mo Pitney–Behind This Guitar

Rating: 7.5/10

First of all, I know I’m quite late on this album review, and it was honestly because it took this long for me to think of anything to say about it. Some albums provoke an immediate reaction in me, and with others it takes time and several listens. I decided it was better to comment late and have the review more accurately fit my thoughts than to try and force a premature opinion. I will also say this is going to be a love it or hate it kind of album for many, due to reasons I will explain shortly.

Mo Pitney’s debut album comes almost two years after the lead single, “Country,” and for many listeners, only about half of this album was new. We can attribute this to Pitney being in the unenviable position of being signed to Curb Records–if that comment means nothing to you, you can read all about the previous dealings of Mike Curb here. To that end, a good portion of this album came out in singles ahead of its release.
Read: Single Review: Mo Pitney’s “Boy and a Girl Thing”
Pitney has sparked the interest of traditionalists in much the same way as William Michael Morgan, with all of the previously mentioned singles bringing a decidedly country sound. The weak point of most of these singles was the lyrics. Now we finally have a whole album, and a lot more to go on with Mo Pitney.

The album opens with “Country,” which is a complete exploration of that word, from what it means to live in the country to country music to soldiers fighting for their country. This song was underwhelming to me when it was released as the lead single because the lyrics were simple to almost bordering on cheesy. However, in the context of this album, it has grown on me quite a lot. I have discovered this slightly corny quality seems to be a trademark of MO Pitney. It is this trademark which will make the album a love or hate thing for a lot of people because it is pretty much present throughout the album.

“Cleanup on Aisle 5” sees the narrator standing in a grocery store after just running into his ex. It seems like he thought he was over her, but standing here with his box of Cheerios he knows that isn’t true. There is a sincerity in this song that also shines throughout the album, and that believability combined with acoustic guitars and light fiddle make this song stand out. “Come Do a Little Life” is a simple little love song in which a man is inviting a woman to spend the rest of her life with him. He describes all the things they can do together, from seeing a high school football game to going to the hardware store. It’s simple, but it works; in reality, you spend a lot more time doing mundane things like going to hardware stores than say, hooking up on tailgates. “Just a Dog” is easily the album highlight. We hear about how the narrator found the dog ten years ago on the side of the road in the rain, and thought, “It’s just a dog, right?” But he took her home, and then we hear about how he saved her when she got hit by a car, how she “lost her place on the couch” when he met a girl, and then how she helped him the night the woman left. In the end, we find out the dog has just died, and he is finally realizing how much more she was than “just a dog.”

“Everywhere” is the only song with more contemporary instrumentation, but I think it mixes the traditional and the modern rather nicely. Pitney sings about someone being everywhere with him; it could be a person, or it could be God, based on the ambiguity of the lyrics. “Boy and a Girl Thing” is next, and this one is the track I tend to skip. It’s the song where the cheesy element goes too far, citing all the ways a boy and a girl react to each other throughout the different stages of their lives. I liked it better as a single than I do in the album’s context. Another highlight is the upbeat, fun “I Met Merle haggard Today.” This song is about just that, and it’s simply a song that is just fun to listen to. “Take the Chance” advises people to take a chance when they meet someone. It’s honestly the lesser version of “As She’s Walking Away” by the Zac Brown Band and Alan Jackson; it’s the same message, but it’s very forgettable. It isn’t a bad song, but it could have been left off without effect.

“When I’m With You” is another fun, upbeat track about being with a woman; it doesn’t matter if they go anywhere or just sit together under the stars because it’s just about being with each other. The sincerity in Mo Pitney’s delivery helps the next track, “Love Her Like I Lost Her,” in which the man has a vivid dream about his girlfriend dying in a car crash. He calls her in the middle of the night to make sure she’s all right, and vows from now on to “love her like I lost her.” “Behind This Guitar” seems to be autobiographical, telling how Pitney grew up with music and is now living out his dream. He thanks all the people who helped get him to this point, and says, “I’m not the only one behind this guitar.” The album closes with “Give Me Jesus,” which many have cited as the worst moment of the whole thing. It’s a very simple song of faith, and personally, I would say even if you don’t have this faith, the honesty here is refreshing. It’s not a song like “Real Men Love Jesus,” where Christianity is some kind of checklist item of country cred. It’s genuine, and regardless of your beliefs, genuineness is desperately needed in country music right now.

Overall, this album is quite good. It remains country throughout, and there is a genuine sincerity about the whole thing. For me, it’s better as a collection of songs than as a whole album though, as the slight corniness starts to weigh the album down. Although there really isn’t a wrong step, aside from possibly “Boy and a Girl Thing,” there really isn’t much that stands out. “Just a Dog” is the exception to this. at the same time, I can see how many people would disagree, and find a lot to really love about this album. It’s one you really need to listen to for yourself, and definitely one that shows a lot of potential in Mo Pitney.

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Country Music vs. Good Music: Does Genre Matter?

There has been a lot of talk lately about genre lines and how important they really are. Does it matter that an album sounds country if the lyrics are bland? Is hearing songs rife with fiddle and steel on the radio really an improvement in itself, or have we gone so far that country-sounding music is praised over good music in general? Do we overlook artists like David Nail and Eric Church, both of whom have put out solid country albums in the past year, while propping up more traditional artists like Mo Pitney and William Michael Morgan just because they sound a certain way? All of this boils down to one question: Does genre really matter at all?

Well, that is a difficult question to answer, and there are differing viewpoints on all sides. This is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to write because of the sheer number of people who may disagree, and I could ignore it, but I feel inclined to address it, and to be honest with myself and all of you. Honesty is absent everywhere in music right now, and that is one of the driving factors behind Country Exclusive’s existence, so I am going to do my best to provide it.

The simple answer is no, genre doesn’t matter. Good music is good music regardless of who is singing or what genre it is labeled. This is why I gave Carrie Underwood’s Storyteller two different grades–one as a country album, and one as simply an album. It makes a pretty good pop album. Kelsea Ballerini made a decent pop album too and then sent the singles to country radio–and not the best singles either, I might add, but that’s a different story. I wrote that Courtney Marie Andrews defied genre lines in Honest Life, and while not being the most country album, it is the best album I have reviewed to date. Good music can and does come out of every genre, and that is what we should be looking for the most.

To add to that, I want to say that country can be good without having fiddle and steel. I have written in several Red dirt album reviews a sentiment like, “This isn’t the album to buy if you want fiddle and steel,” followed by praise of the album. Red Dirt has a raw honesty that often surpasses genre, and this is evident in the massive sonic difference between Jason Eady and Reckless Kelly, both of whom have produced an inordinate amount of great music during their respective careers. There’s good pop country too, like the aforementioned Carrie Underwood and David Nail. Eric Church produced one of the better albums of 2015, both musically and lyrically, and you won’t find fiddle or steel anywhere on it. I have written a great deal about Maddie & Tae, advising strict traditionalists to give them a chance because they were bringing country back to radio, even if it was pop country. I praised Aubrib Sellers and her debut album which she labeled “garage country.” I’m far from a country purist, ready to criticize something immediately because it isn’t what country “should” sound like.

However, this idea of good music first has been taken too far. William Michael Morgan got a #1 at radio with “I Met a Girl,” which, while indeed lyrically weak, actually sounded country. It’s a step in the right direction as much as the songwriting on Eric Church’s album or the CMA wins of Chris stapleton. Why? Because something actually resembling country can be heard on country radio for the first time in years. But if genre doesn’t matter, why are we even celebrating? Surely Morgan’s “I Met a Girl” is just more shitty music with fiddle and steel.

It’s because truthfully, genre can’t be ignored completely. If you went to a bookstore and found the books arranged in categories of “good” and “bad,” this wouldn’t help you find a book at all. It’s because these terms are subjective. If you wanted to read crime fiction, you would go to the section marked crime fiction, and from there, you could decide which books you wanted to read. If you found romance in the crime fiction section, you would say the book has been put in the wrong place. Of course, there are books that have elements of both and can therefore be classified as both. Now, let’s apply this to music. Crime fiction might be country, romance might be pop, and the two might blend to make pop country. A book containing many different elements might be labeled just “fiction” or “literature”–in music, this could be Americana, with its blending of many styles. There are probably good books in all the different genres, but since you came looking for crime fiction, you aren’t going to be satisfied with a good romance novel. In the same way, if you want to hear traditional country, you won’t find it in the pop country of Carrie Underwood, the country rock of Eric Church, or the Americana of Jason Isbell.

Therefore, when an artist like Morgan comes along, who actually sounds traditional, it’s right to be excited that he’s getting airplay. It’s right to fight to hear more country on country radio–in fact, many of us ran to underground country simply because of the lack of country on country radio. And it’s right to want to see mainstream Nashville and country radio embrace people like Sturgill Simpson and Margo Price. We can run to Americana and give up on the mainstream altogether, but no matter how you look at it, Americana isn’t country. Some of it is excellent, but it still isn’t country. It isn’t the music we fell in love with, the music we miss. We should praise music of substance regardless of how it sounds, but the lack of country on country radio is just an important a problem as the lack of substance in the music.

I daresay the majority, if not all of us, fell in love with country music, at least in part, by listening to country radio. Maybe you grew up with the legends like Haggard and Nelson. Maybe you remember Keith Whitley and Randy Travis, or maybe you miss the sounds of Alan Jackson, George Strait, and Vince Gill. Maybe you’re like me, and the first country you ever heard was the Dixie Chicks. Regardless, you heard all of them because they were played on country radio and available to the masses, just like their pop country counterparts. Pop country has always been around, but never has it replaced and eradicated the traditional as it has in recent years. Wherever your nostalgia comes from, you fell out of love with country radio after it lost the sound and substance you were drawn to. Today, even though the substance is slowly returning, there is still a noticeable lack of the sound. People growing up with country radio today might associate country with Luke Bryan or Thomas Rhett, both of whom lack the sound and the substance. Or maybe they’ll associate country with Carrie Underwood and Eric Church–they will recognize the substance but lose the sound. But until Morgan and Pardi, there hasn’t been a traditional sound being carried to the masses in years. Pop country isn’t a bad thing, but the complete elimination of the traditional is a terrible thing, and a dangerous thing for country as we know it. Therefore, when an artist like Morgan breaks through and gets a #1 single, we should all be celebrating. There is still much work to be done in Nashville, both in sound and substance, but Morgan, and others like him, are bringing hope for everyone who thought traditional country was lost. He’s not pop country, he’s not country rock, he’s not Americana. He’s just country. And I miss country. I fell in love with country. Country is my passion as a fan and my focus as a reviewer. It’s what I’ll always love the most, even though I praise and listen to plenty of good music from other genres, and it seemed, not long ago, that the music I loved would be lost forever in the mainstream. I am nothing but glad that Morgan and Pardi have broken through, and that young people out there listening to country radio once again have the opportunity to fall in love with real country the way I did. As I said, there is still a lot of work to be done, but let’s all recognize this for what it is, a positive step, and be glad for how far we’ve come.

Album Review: William Michael Morgan–Vinyl

Rating: 8/10

William Michael Morgan gained the attention of traditionalists about a year ago, when he released “I Met a Girl,” the decidedly country, if lyrically underwhelming, arrangement of a song written by none other than country music antichrist Sam Hunt. To some, this was a mark against him immediately; to others, myself included, this proved that Morgan cared about the traditional sound of his music. In March, his EP arrived, bringing nothing ground-breaking yet filled with promise and potential.

Review: William Michael Morgan EP

We finally got a full album from Morgan Friday, and although it’s not perfect, it’s an unapologetically country record coming out of mainstream Nashville which is a victory in itself in 2016. It’s not Haggard and Jones country, but it is Strait and Jackson and Keith Whitley country, and that’s exactly what we need right now–a mainstream artist bringing a true country sound to the masses. The Jason Isbells and Turnpike Troubadours of the world won’t get airplay; William Michael Morgan’s “I Met a Girl” will hit #1 this week. Because of this, we need to root for William Michael Morgan as much as Isbell and the Troubadours. With all that in mind, I’ll get to my thoughts on Vinyl

The album opens with “People Like Me,” a decidedly country song that could have been a hit on 90;s radio. If you read this at all, you know the importance I place on openers, and this one signifies William Michael Morgan’s country approach without apology. Many artists who are releasing pretty good albums with a few terrible singles choose the said terrible singles as openers, thereby hurting the album as a whole–Zac Brown Band’s “Beautiful drug,” anyone? The premise of “People Like Me” is an ode to the working class people who didn’t go to college and live paycheck to paycheck. “Vinyl,” the title track, follows; I have mixed opinions about this one. I quite liked it on the EP; it’s a song about an old-fashioned love that is classic like vinyl. It’s not a hookup song or disrespectful by any means, but I do find the repeated use of ‘girl” to be annoying; it’s the same thing we criticize Florida Georgia line for, so I can’t let Morgan get by with lazy lyricism even if it has country instrumentation. It’s hard to form an opinion here, and I can see how people could enjoy it or hate it.

“Missing” is one of the highlights of the album; here, Morgan escapes the world for awhile to go “on a mission to be missing.” He ignores his messages and leaves the world behind, something we all should do a little more often. The instrumentation and production combine to make this a really fun and enjoyable listen. Next is the single, “I Met a Girl,”–this has grown on me considerably since its release. It’s a very basic song about, well, meeting a girl, but although the lyrics aren’t earth-shattering, there’s a sincerity about it that really stands out. “Spend it All on You” is a nice, lighthearted track about getting away with a girl to enjoy time together. This one is one of the more modern-leaning songs on the album, but modern-leaning is the key here; it is still traditional. IN fact, the whole album stays with a definite traditional sound. “Beer Drinker” came from the EP; there is not much to say about this song. Its lyrics could be considered shallow by some, as it attributes everything that gets done to the work of beer drinkers. However, as I stated in the EP review, we all love George Strait’s “Stop and Drink,” and that doesn’t come off pandering at all. It is just a fun song that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and I think “Beer Drinker” is intended to be much the same.

“I Know Who he Is” is another highlight; I wish the production were a little less modern-leaning here, but the lyrics are great. The narrator is talking to the doctor about his dad, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease;

I don’t wanna hear he’s going downhill, what about thank God he’s around still? Looking right through me’s not at all the way I see him. I don’t mind at all remembering for him, he doesn’t have to get why I adore him. He doesn’t have to know me, I know who he is.

“Cheap Cologne” carries a throwback, Keith Whitley style sound that really suits Morgan. This was one of the highlights of the EP and is about a man who lies at home in bed with his bourbon while his woman is out, probably cheating–She don’t smoke cigarettes, and I don’t wear cheap cologne.” “Something to drink About” is similar to “Beer Drinker” in that it walks a fine line between safe and shallow. It just lists all the possible reasons for drinking, which again is quite like strait’s “Stop and Drink.” This could have been left off and it would have made no difference, but it doesn’t really hurt the album either. “Lonesomeville,” co-written by William Michael Morgan, is the best of the album–it’s a classic country heartbreak song that has been told thousands of times, and that’s really all I can say about it. It speaks for itself with a listen. The album closes with “Backseat driver,” which has emerged over several listens as a dark horse for my personal favorite. It’s a song about a young man leaving home while his dad gives him advice about the road ahead and tells him, “I can’t be your backseat driver anymore.” This one isn’t as traditional as some of the others, but this one is more believable from the 22-year-old Morgan, and this authenticity makes it stand out.

Overall, this is a really solid album, especially for a debut. William Michael Morgan is perfectly clear and uncompromising in his desire to make country music with a traditional sound. The lyrics are weak in places, and there are definitely some safe songs. This album has its flaws, but it also has several standouts. Most importantly, it is filled with promise for William Michael Morgan and for mainstream country in general.

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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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