Tag Archives: pop country

Album Review: Meghan Patrick–Country Music Made me do It

Rating: 8/10

The problem has never been modern country. The problem has never been country mixing with pop or rock. The problems lie in the total eradication of country by these genres to the point you can’t call something pop country anymore because it’s just straight pop slapped with a country label, and too often it’s shitty, generic pop music to add insult to injury. So many traditionalists and especially purists will never find anything to value in modern styles of country music, and that’s perfectly fine as it relates to personal taste. But not all contemporary country is bad, and that’s why it’s so refreshing to see this being done right.

Enter Canadian country artist Meghan Patrick and her new album, Country Music Made me do It. Strict traditionalists, you probably aren’t going to find much to enjoy here–it’s not an album loaded with fiddle and steel by any means. But except for very small instances like on Maddie & Tae’s debut album, the instrumentation is organic, and more importantly, these are good slices of songwriting, enhanced by a great vocalist and by melodies that resonate, two things that are unfortunately too hard to come by at times in the independent scenes.

Even though it’s definitely modern, nailing down the specific sound of this album is a bit tricky. Sometimes, Meghan Patrick blends country and rock, like on the album highlight, “Walls Come Down,” a catchy as all hell tune that details the lives of a family whose secrets are laid bare when both parents have affairs. The sister has her own demons as a result, and as Patrick sings, “sometimes love just ain’t enough to keep the devil out of that picture-perfect house.” In a just world, this would be a 2018 radio hit. Another good country rocker is the defiant “Hardest on my Heart,” wherein Meghan details damaging her liver and her reputation, among other things. There are a lot of songs that detail stuff like this, being a badass and a rebel, to the point they can be a little cliché, but this one works because she acknowledges that her reckless behavior has been harder on herself than anyone. She’s not just proud of breaking hearts and being a strong woman; rather, she’s admitting the toll it takes on her as well as others. And of course there’s the excellent title track and opener, an autobiographical tale of her passion to follow country music.

Other songs could be classified more as pop country. “Bad Guy” and “Small Town” are the two strongest examples of this style, together creating a story in the heart of the album that details the end of a relationship. She has been the one to leave, and the whole town is talking about her, but it seems there is more to this story, and even though it was technically her who left, she didn’t do it without her reasons. Now it seems that the man, especially on “Bad Guy,” is trying to paint her as well, the bad guy, when there are actually two sides to the story. “Small Town” is the continuation, as she’s leaving behind a town that once felt like home to her because she’s sick of hearing the people talking about her behind her back and exchanging half-truths. Both songs indicate that she hasn’t totally moved on herself despite being the one to end it, and together, they create a great moment.

But she’s not always leaving behind relationships and breaking hearts. “George Strait” is a pretty worrisome title, but it’s a surprisingly well-framed love song with actual clever references to Strait songs, so that it becomes more than just a name-drop of the singer. “Case of Beer and a Bed” is one of the best songs here lyrically, as she sings of a couple whose best moments came when they could afford little, and all they needed was each other. Now they are caught up in trying to have more; this song is a reminder that the best things in life are often free, and as Meghan says, “life has a way of complicating love.” This one, though certainly modern, is also one of the most country. “The Way You Apologize” also sees Patrick in a rare vulnerable moment; here, she’s pretty sure the man she’s with is lying to her, but she can’t quite get over him enough to leave him. Not necessarily the best thing on the record, but it serves a nice purpose of showing another side to Meghan Patrick besides the heartbreaker portrayed throughout much of this album.

The only time the style becomes a little too pop is on the small town anthem “WE Got it All.” The lyrics are strong, a noteworthy fact because this had the opportunity to be one giant cliché, and the songwriting saved it from that. It’s just not great sonically. “Underrated” is also just kind of weird–it’s a strange hook to call your lover underrated, and it also has a bit of that East Nashville vibe that’s been done to death and which also doesn’t really suit the otherwise excellent, strong vocals of Meghan Patrick. “Feel me Gone” is easily the best vocal performance here, but the lyrics do fall slightly short, as the narrator is going to the bar alone because her man needs to “feel me gone” and lie awake by himself. She makes it clear that she’s not going to cross the line and just wants him to feel like she’s leaving, but it’s too vague about why he deserves this. Is he not appreciating her at home? Has he cheated on her or left her alone at night wondering, so that she wants him to feel the same way? The vocals here really are outstanding, so this is a minor problem, but having said that, if the lyrics were developed a little more here, this song could have been a standout of the whole record.

But the flaws on this album are minimal, and this is the first truly exciting discovery of 2018 for me. Not the album to buy if you want fiddle and steel, but if you like modern country, you’ll find a lot to enjoy. The melodies are catchy, and the songwriting holds up quite well. IN an ideal world, this is what mainstream country in 2018 would sound like. A great example of contemporary country done right.

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Single Review: Sugarland’s “Still the Same”

Rating: 4/10

So I guess we’re never going to get back the Sugarland of old, the group that produced the singles “Baby Girl” and “Want to” and gave us hidden gems on their early albums like “Hello” and “Fly Away.”

I guess we’re stuck with the new and (supposedly) improved Sugarland, the one that gave us the incredibly obnoxious pair of songs “Stuck Like Glue” and “All I Want to Do.”

But actually, that’s not even entirely accurate either because at least those songs made you feel a certain degree of something, even if the emotion varied from annoyance to hatred. All this new “Still the Same” single is is filler at best and an insomnia cure at worst. It’s an absolutely weak and whimpering way to make a comeback…and what an ironic title because the sameness and nothingness in this song is ultimately its defining point and even makes other criticisms seem trivial in comparison. Sure, it’s got electronic beats, it’s overly processed, and Jennifer Nettles’ twang is overdone–but you don’t even notice any of that by the end of the song because it’s already faded into the background and forgotten. Four listens in, and I can’t quote a single lyric. The idea is that their love is still the same after all this time, but it’s a thinly veiled metaphor for their career. The whole thing is poorly written, overproduced, and basically just a shallow piece of nothing. It’s not even that I would turn my radio dial when this came on; I wouldn’t have to because it is so easily tuned out.

Sugarland can be much better than this, as can each of its members separately. Here’s to hoping that whatever comes next for them will be better because this single is lazy and disappointing.

Album Review: Luke Bryan–What Makes You Country

Rating: 4.5/10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Good

The Terrible

Album Review: Walker Hayes–Boom

Country Rating: -1/10
Overall Rating: 1/10

You think that negative rating is a joke, or a hyperbole, or at the very least an attention-getting device. No, it’s a reflection of how absurd it is that we’ve reached a point in time where we’re actually calling this country. I shouldn’t even have to comment on this album at all because it is so far out of my lane, so far removed from anything closely resembling music that I feel qualified to speak on, and yet that’s exactly why I’m compelled to call bullshit on this. Merle Haggard, Don Williams, and yes, even the more modern-sounding Troy Gentry are all rolling over in their graves somewhere right now from the knowledge that we’ve massacred country music like this. I dare you, any of you, to listen to anything from this record and tell me how it in any way, shape, or form resembles anything close to country. I dare you to tell me how you’d know, if listening to any one of these tracks, you were listening to a country radio station. It’s even worse than Sam Hunt because hell, at least Hunt was original. Granted, his spoken word/singing crap was and is a terrible idea, but original it was; Walker Hayes is the wannabe who can neither sing nor rap with even half the charisma of Hunt…and shame on country music for allowing itself to be tampered with this way; no other genre has so little self-respect, but country is forever in this identity crisis. God forbid people actually think we’re “too” country, so we let in shit like this.

The first half of this album is absolutely, mind-blowingly, shockingly awful. We start with “Beautiful,” which isn’t the worst thing here, but it’s essentially Walker missing an ex for well, we don’t ever really get too much of a reason except that she’s physically beautiful. So, potentially good idea turned basically into a shallow piece of crap that ultimately says nothing. OH, and I’ve mentioned this, but he cannot sing. “Shut up Kenny” is one of the worst things here–he’s driving around sick of hearing Kenny Chesney’s music because it reminds him of an ex, but instead of, I don’t know, turning off the radio, he just continues to yell at Kenny to shut up. He does contemplate ripping the radio out of the dash, though, which would somehow be easier than turning it off, I suppose. And then we have the ultimate douche anthem, the infamous single “You Broke up With Me.” Worst single of the year no doubt. The narrator here is just a completely self-absorbed jackass, and also, adding to the bad singing and bad rapping, we now have bad whistling. I’ll give “Halloween” credit for the idea it was going for, taking off masks and revealing yourself to the one you love, but the total lack of personality and his complete inability to rap make this pretty unlistenable as well.

And then this first half comes to the ultimate, horrifying conclusion of “Dollar Store.” Now, this, I think, at least knows that it’s stupid. At least I hope it does because if not, this singlehandedly proves Walker’s total lack of self-awareness. I think it knows it’s idiotic, though; it’s essentially a song about being dirt poor and going to the dollar store–“down to the dollar store, buy you whatever you holler for” would be an embarrassing enough line on its own, but someone needs to tell this guy that in country music, we put r’s in “store” and “for.” This song honestly could have been written in an actual country way, minus the stupid lyrics about being a sugar daddy and without all the urban phrasing, and been pitched to someone like Brad Paisley, and we’d all probably enjoy it. As it is, words cannot describe the horror and stupidity of this track…and yet, it’s not even the worst thing on this album.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves because at track 6, and yes, I’m as surprised as you are, we actually find a song that isn’t immediately horrible. Two, in fact. “Beer in the Fridge” is a heartbreak song, and he’s basically fighting a war with himself over whether to drink his last beer. He gave up drinking for the ex, but she’s also the reason he wants to be drunk. He still can’t sing, but I’ll give this song credit for actually being well-written and also for not making him sound like a giant douche. “Beckett” is pretty obnoxious, but again, he doesn’t sound like a complete douche, as he’s describing his child’s innocence and acceptance of people and saying he wishes he were more like that. I find this one pretty annoying and sappy, but it should be given a bit of credit for the idea. I don’t have much to say about “Mind Candy,” as it’s essentially Beautiful Part 2. It’s a terrible song as well, but after some of the earlier tracks, I can’t be shocked by this point…except for the fact he manages to name-drop Willie Nelson here in the most disgusting instance of blasphemy on one of these “country” records I’ve ever heard. Still, nothing can be as bad as what I’ve already suffered through on the opening half, right?

“Prescriptions” arrives to toss that ill-conceived theory right out the window. If this is released in 2018, I will tell you now that it will be the worst single of that year and quite possibly many years to come. This is another douche anthem, and I can’t even believe this is possible, but this guy is even more of a jackass than the “You Broke UP With Me” dude. He opens this thing by declaring that he’s trying to be mature about his break up and seeing his ex with someone else…okay, maybe this is possible given “Beer in the fridge,” but doubtful given “You Broke up With Me.” Then we get the most creepily detailed list of shit he’d like to happen to her…he wants her and her boyfriend to be drunk and half asleep one night, her to accidentally say his name instead of the new guy, them to fight about it, the boyfriend not to be able to get over it even though she promises him that it meant nothing, their entire relationship to crumble, them to seek therapy, and the therapist to have nothing to offer but prescriptions…if that doesn’t say mature, friends, I don’t know what does. OH, I should say that he adds that he was kidding, kinda.

Again, I’ll give credit where it’s due, and after the incredibly hate-filled song we’ve just been subjected to, it’s hard to imagine the next and final song would actually be mature and feature an example of love and kindness. This one is personal to Walker Hayes and describes Craig, a man he met in church who helped them out when the family was struggling and needed money. It’s a good illustration of a man living out his faith, and the personal details do add to this. It’s still not country by any stretch of anyone’s imagination, but this is actually a pretty good song in its rightful genre. It’s also the only example of actual passable rapping, although his singing still leaves much to be desired. Still, it’s the only time you can actually see a bit of personality to Hayes, well, personality beyond that of a completely self-absorbed asshole.

I can’t be fair to this album without highlighting the very few bright spots, and I’ve done that. That said, this is a terrible album and a slap in the face to country music. Walker Hayes is probably capable of more–see “Craig”–but he’s proven by his complete change of character since the Sam Hunt trend arrived that he’ll shape himself into anything that’ll sell. On his previous songs, he actually could carry a tune–it’s like he’s purposely forsaken his vocal ability to do this spoken word crap, and that’s all the more unfortunate because he can’t rap to save his life for most of this record. Plus, it’s not remotely country, and the challenge still stands if any of you want to try and contradict this opinion. Add to all that the fact that he comes off as a douche throughout a good chunk of this record, and yeah, it makes for a spectacularly awful listen.

P.S. And the title is about the stupidest thing I have ever heard…really?

P.P.S. If you want to purchase this, kindly go somewhere else. I love my readers too much to post such a link.

The Horrific

The Better

Album Review: The Rest of our Life by Tim McGraw and Faith Hill

Rating: 3/10

“I Need You.” “It’s Your Love.” “Let’s Make Love.” Meanwhile, Back at Mama’s.” “like we Never Loved at All.” “Angry All the Time.” “Just to Hear You Say That You Love Me.” All excellent songs. All duets by Tim McGraw and Faith Hill. All evidence that a duets album from them could truly be special.

So why is this record so bland and boring???

It’s not terrible, not in the sense that you would turn off your radio if any of this came on. Well, except for the incredibly irritating closer, “Roll the Dice.” But there’s more than one way to make a bad album, and releasing a lifeless record, particularly when you have the kind of chemistry and vocal talent these two possess, is just inexcusable. Picking good duets is one of the hardest things for vocalists to do; you have to flatter both voices and make sure the voices complement each other. It’s hard enough to choose one, never mind an album full of them. But not only do McGraw and Hill have a proven ability to do this, they have a connection and chemistry between them that goes beyond their music and in turn translates into the emotion in their songs. Maybe you don’t like Faith Hill, or maybe you think she’s too pop, but the point is, this record had endless potential for excellent, genre-defying music. And it just falls flat on so many accounts.

First of all, just because they’re married, and just because they’re singing duets, does this mean every song has to be a love song? Jason Eady and Courtney Patton didn’t do this with their duets album; hell, Rhonda Vincent and Daryle Singletary didn’t even do this, and they chose some of the most clichéd duets ever to cover. With Tim and Faith, I understand the temptation to just go for love songs, and that could be excused if any of these weren’t generic, predictable, and/or hadn’t been done by them earlier in their careers. “The Bed we Made,” for example, just comes off as a cheap rip-off of the far better “Let’s Make Love.” In that song, they actually sounded impassioned. This song isn’t flattering to either of them vocally, especially straining Faith in her lower register, and generally just comes off as lifeless. That’s the problem with so many of these songs; there’s no passion. And it’s even more frustrating to listen to when you know just what kind of passion McGraw and Hill have been capable of before.

So where’s the problem? Much of it lies simply in not picking songs which flatter them both. “Speak to a Girl,” which actually is slightly better on the album because it’s actually not a love song and provides a little variety, doesn’t really work for either of them. It’s better for Faith overall, but she has to stay too much in the lower part of her register. But it’s also too high for Tim, and he doesn’t even sound like himself. You can’t hear his twang at all, and by the way, that’s another disconcerting thing here–Tim literally has twang on half of this and doesn’t on the other half. He’s definitely faking one or the other, and the ease with which he can turn off his accent is just not natural. When he forsakes his twang, he’s often singing in a higher register, like on the opener and title track, and he doesn’t sound natural at all, both because of the range and because of his tone. More effort went into making Faith sound good, probably because this is her “comeback” moment, but at times, her voice doesn’t always fit the song either. “The Bed we Made,” as previously mentioned, is much too low for her in the verses. “Break First” is another good example of this, as they sing in unison, and she sounds awkward having to sing so high. “Cowboy Lullaby” is where their voices come together the best, as well as “Damn Good at Holding On.” The former is a Tim-led track, and his twang is present in full force, inviting Faith to come with him and ride horses into the night. Her harmony blends in effortlessly here, and you’re reminded of just what they’re capable of. The latter is a Faith-led track, and once again, their harmonies actually fit here.

The problem is that even when the duets do work and fit their voices, there’s nothing especially memorable here. Where’s the unique, undying love in “I Need You” or the soul-shattering heartbreak of “Like we Never Loved at All?” The emotions here are so saccharine and the writing so generic that they ultimately don’t say anything real. The only exception is “Love me to Lie,” in which a relationship is crumbling. Faith takes the lead here, and she’s thanking Tim for being able to love her enough to lie about everything, not to hurt her by saying it’s over. I can see how some will probably really enjoy this, and I will say this one has more depth of emotion than really anything else here, but personally, I just find this horrid. If he loved her enough, he’d be honest with her…but hey, that’s just me.

Most people will either love this (mainstream listeners, Tim and Faith fans, those drawn in by sappy love songs that say nothing of importance), or else just find it meh and uninteresting (probably most of you reading here.) And taken as songs, most of these would indeed get a 4 or a 5. Sprinkle in a 6, perhaps, for “Cowboy Lullaby” and “Damn Good at Holding ON’ and a 1 or 2 for “Roll the Dice.” But it’s the incredible sameness and nothingness about this all that renders it inherently awful, and when you consider the potential it possessed, this is majorly disappointing. Even Blake Shelton’s album, which also received a 3 here, has one great song. Sure, there’s nothing horrific here, but there’s also nothing good about it whatsoever. I won’t return to any of this. None of it is worth my time, and that’s a real shame because if you listen to any of the seven songs listed at the top, you’ll understand what this record could have been–and be sorry it wasn’t.

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