Tag Archives: pop country

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sorry, but I Don’t hate Keith Urban’s “Female”

Rating: 5/10

I tweeted during the CMA’s that Keith Urban’s latest single, titled “Female,” was “quite a good song actually.” I didn’t say it was country, and I’d like to make two things clear here–one, Urban’s forsaking of his guitar talent to produce pop/adult contemporary stuff like this irks me beyond any semblance of reason, especially as a proud owner of his first six records, (you know, when he actually tried), and two, after being forced to hear this from virtually everywhere this past week, my opinion of the song has gone down some. Now it’s just there for me. It just exists. But apparently the fashion among everyone is to hate it with all vehemence and even, for some, to find it offensive. And as a woman, I’d like to add some equilibrium to that argument.

Even among people who hate this with all passion, there is a consensus that Keith’s heart was in the right place trying to say something and speak out about the recent rash of sexual assault claims and the systematic discrimination of women in general. And let me tell you, we need men to speak out about this. I keep seeing people say versions of, “well, the industry would make more of a statement by actually playing more women,” and I couldn’t agree more with the sentiment that this becomes an empty gesture if it’s not backed up by the actual inclusion of more women in say, the very industry in which Keith Urban makes his living. But having said that, if only women write about this and speak about this, nothing will change because in many cases, it’s mostly women who will listen. We need men to be up front about this, and I applaud Keith Urban for showing the leadership to do that, not to mention for recording this and releasing it in a timely manner when mainstream Nashville notoriously takes forever to transition songs from a pen and paper to the final product.

Keith Urban’s colossal mistake? Not actually writing the song himself, but recording a song penned in part by Shane McAnally. The verses in this song are actually quite good, and they address real, specific issues like how people say women deserved what they got because they wore tight skirts, or how many Christian men excuse their behavior toward their wives and other women because God made Adam first. The problem is that listastic thing characteristic of writers like McAnally and so many others who write by committee, coming out in full force to infect the chorus by throwing out a bunch of descriptors of women…oh, and some words like “suit of armor” and “river wild” that have absolutely nothing to do with women at all. It’s hearing this all week that has taken the song down for me, and yet it’s that part which will probably give this song its only fighting chance at radio. Still, it can’t be denied that country radio, an industry undeniably rampant with sexism, will hesitate to play this, and again, the fact that Keith Urban doesn’t give a shit about that should be commended. But it’s the efforts of McAnally and his cowriters to still make this song radio-friendly that deprive it of any substance, or at least that make the parts with substance somehow matter less.

So, I could take or leave this song when it comes down to it. It’s there, it exists, it stands at a 5 rating, and i daresay it’d be a 6 if it in any way, shape, or form resembled country. I don’t hate it. I don’t find it offensive, as some people have, for its use of the word “female,” although I understand how this can be offensive in certain contexts and by certain people. I don’t find the descriptors in the chorus stereotypical so much as lazy; it’s just a list of words thrown in there to, like I say, try to make this work on radio. So, it’s a great effort by Keith Urban, and it falls short in the writing, and ultimately, a song that could have said a lot, and indeed does manage to say something worthwhile in its verses, doesn’t really execute all the way through. That said, the vitriol this song is receiving is unnecessary. It’s forgettable, and perhaps a missed opportunity by Keith Urban, but it’s not the horrific mess some would claim it to be, at least not for this listener.

Written by: Shane McAnally, Nicolle Galyon, Ross Copperman

Album Review: Carly Pearce–Every Little Thing

Rating: 5/10

What, you gave this a lower rating than Kelsea Ballerini? I know that’s going to be the reaction from many here, and let me just say, Carly Pearce is definitely going for an actual blend of pop and country, as opposed to shamelessly marketing straight pop songs as country. And you know what? It literally works on half this album and fails on the other half.

We start this record with an electronic beat that dissolves into “Hide the Wine.” Carly’s trying to hide all the alcohol so she won’t be tempted by an old flame, and the lyrics are quite catchy. But this song gets somewhat ruined by production, and it’s hard to call this anything other than straight pop. You get the sense Carly Pearce is not exactly trying to go for this, but the producers wanted to make sure she opened it with something more mainstream.

And then we get “Careless” and “Every Little Thing,” and that unique, cool thing about Carly starts to shine through. It seems her country instrument of choice is the dobro, and it’s cool actually to hear it featured together with more modern, pop-leaning textures. It works very well on “Careless,” as she is telling her ex to get lost because he is just “the boy who cries love.” And “Every Little Thing,” although definitely overproduced, allows her to shine as well. I prefer the more stripped-down live version of this, and I tend to think that’s what Carly Pearce intended for the song, but still, this song remains understated enough to let her vocal talent come through. She’s a good emotive interpreter, as we’ll see several more times on this album, and Nashville should let her use this to her advantage. It’s proven it can work because “Every Little Thing” did get the on the Verge treatment, but it has also sold well and resonated with the public.

But we can’t take too many chances like the title track, and that’s evidenced by the next two selections, “Everybody Gonna Talk” and “Catch Fire.” The former is one of those ever-present “let them say what they want about our relationship” songs that never really tells us why the relationship is so taboo in the first place. This is okay for what it is, but again, it’s not showing off Carly’s strengths as a vocalist. And “Catch Fire” is one of the worst things here–it’s some sort of obnoxious hookup song, and that’s pretty much all you need to know. I have no use for this shit anymore. It was pointed out on another forum that they probably wanted Pearce to show attitude, and that’s painfully evident here, but she just sounds out of place.

Equilibrium returns with “If My Name Was Whiskey,” and once again, you can see more of Pearce’s vulnerability and vocal delivery. The song is saying that if she’d been whiskey, her ex wouldn’t have left her and would do anything to keep her. It’s a moment where the blend of modern and traditional is done very well, and you can see that if they allow Carly to take more chances and really develop her sound, her style could be unique and perhaps find favor with both mainstream and independent fans.

Then we get “Color,” another obnoxious, overly perky song, this one about love. This one is just as useless as “Catch Fire.” But again, Pearce shows more of her potential in “I Need a Ride Home.” This one is overproduced at the beginning, but eventually works, and the lyrics are clever, as it’s about needing a ride back home to her childhood, as opposed to another drunk party song.

And then the rest of the album is just sort of meh–we’ve had outstanding and horrific in equal parts, and now it settles into just okay. “Doin’ it Right” isn’t bad, and her vocals do manage to stand out some, but again, it’s too much pop, instead of the cool blend of pop and country pulled off so well on some of these songs. “Feel Somethin'” and “Honeysuckle” are just pretty unremarkable, and yes, suffer from overproduction. “You Know Where to Find Me” does capture more of Pearce’s individuality–it’s not as much of a standout as some of the others, but it does manage to separate itself and showcase Carly’s voice. And then we get “Dare Ya” for the closer, which, although I’ll give it credit for featuring more pop country instrumentation, suffers from truly stupid lyrics. This one’s essentially “Catch Fire” Part 2, except that she says she’s not going to make the first move because “I’m a lady like that.” IN a way, this is almost more obnoxious than the “attitude” on “Catch Fire.” That said, nothing past track 8 here really does anything for me significantly either way.

So, overall, this is a mixed effort. It’s literally half promising and half discouraging. You can tell that Carly Pearce made an effort to bring songs of substance to this project, and you can also see that she can blend pop and country well if given the chance. But there’s also the mark of Nashville and pop producers littered all over this record, and often, Carly’s individuality is forsaken for misguided attempts at popularity. But let her develop–“Every Little Thing” is selling well, and it’s not straight pop. It’s a pop country ballad. It’s got a dobro solo, for God’s sake. Music row needs to learn from this and let Carly Pearce become a unique, cool artist, blending the traditional and the modern. If they get out of the way, I can see a lot of potential from her, but unfortunately, it’s only allowed to blossom for half of this record.

Buy the Album

When it Works

When it Fails

Single Review: Lauren Alaina’s “Doin’ Fine”

Rating: 7/10

I missed covering Lauren Alaina’s sophomore album, Road Less Traveled, back in January while I was out of the country, and it’s something I’ve regretted ever since because that album is a great example of good pop country. Lauren Alaina is someone we should all be supporting in the mainstream even if she’s more pop than country because at least she’s releasing pop songs–and sometimes actually pop-flavored country songs–that mean something. These songs actually have something to say and might also relate to a youthful mainstream audience–“Road Less traveled” may not be the best example of this, but even this pop single was trying to deliver a worthwhile message, even if the message was broad. But pop it definitely was, and even though it gave her a #1 hit, she had a lot of detractors. The thing is, though, that her album of the same name was better; much of it was personal to Lauren and, as much as that word has been run through the wringer recently, “authentic.” She spoke about her eating disorder, her father’s alcoholism, and her struggle to get onto country radio. Yes, it’s pop-flavored, but it’s the type of mainstream album we should be cheering for, and we should be happy for Lauren’s success–but it’s hard to do with a straight pop single like the title track.

So now she’s released something more pop country, and yes, more personal, to radio, and now maybe we can get behind her. Who knows if radio will play this since ON the Verge did support “Road Less Traveled,” but it’s something promising in the mainstream. Much like RaeLynn’s “Love Triangle,” this song deals with Lauren’s parents’ divorce, and though it may seem otherwise on the surface, there are some deceivingly detailed lines here too. It’s something that is so obviously Lauren Alaina’s story, with details such as her dad getting sober and her mom marrying her dad’s best friend, but at the same time, it’s broad enough to connect and relate to many people who have gone through the same thing. Basically, it sees Lauren finally fine after coming out on the other side; she always told people she was okay, but now she’s fine enough to see that people are all going through things, or that, as the song says, “everyone’s a little broken,” and these things happen. It’s a nice, reflective look on the events, and as I say, it could potentially connect with many. Time will tell if radio gives this a shot, but it’s something that would definitely improve the mainstream. Pop country being done right.

Written by: Lauren Alaina, Emily Shackleton, Busbee (I seriously doubt Busbee did any actual writing, but who knows?)