Tag Archives: pop country

Single Review: Jana Kramer’s “I Got the Boy”

Rating: 9/10

It’s not every day that a good song cracks the top thirty on the Billboard Country Airplay chart, so now that one has, I feel it deserves to be reviewed. Jana Kramer has flown under the radar somewhat, and although she has broken the airplay barrier, she has not had consistent chart success. Her debut single, “Why You wanna” hit No. 3, but since then, she hasn’t had one single crack the top twenty. Enter her latest effort, “I Got the Boy.”

“I Got the Boy” features a more traditional sound than most of what we’re hearing on mainstream radio. In fact, it’s even different among the current list of women getting airplay lately–there’s Miranda Lambert and Little Big Town’s 80’s pop/soft rock “Smokin’ and Drinkin’,” Kelsea Ballerini’s straight pop “Dibs,” and Carrie Underwood’s pop rock “Little Toy Guns” (that’s nothing against “Little Toy Guns,” as that was actually a great song.) This is more similar to Cam’s “Burning House” and Maddie & Tae’s “Fly.” The acoustic guitars blend nicely to make this something I could picture playing on the radio ten years ago. In other words, it sounds modern without taking the giant leap that the last few years have introduced. The instrumentation also allows the listener to focus on the lyrics, which is something that I have said many times is a lost art in country music.

A song like this especially benefits from the traditional arrangement because it tells a story. Jana sings about seeing a “picture in the paper” of her high school boyfriend getting married to someone else. She recalls how she knew him when he was young and fearless, with “fake ID’s to get into those Spring Break bars.” Now he has grown up and is “cleaned up with a haircut, nice tie and shoes.” The song talks about how the man has changed so much, and Jana reflects, I got the boy, and she got the man.” She does not seem to be jealous of the other woman; it’s more of an acknowledgement that each of them got to have a part of the guy’s life that the other will never experience.

The only drawback with this song is the vocals. Sometimes it seems like some of the words are forced. That seems to be true in most Jana Kramer songs, and I have actually never liked her voice until this song. This is easily my favorite song she has ever done, and I hope it stays around on the charts for awhile.

Single Review: Kelsea Ballerini’s “Dibs” is Female Bro Country

Rating: 1/10

When it comes to Kelsea Ballerini, I have mixed feelings. She is seen as the next Taylor Swift in country music, a comparison that is both fair and unfair in some ways. They are both more pop than country, but I actually preferred Taylor’s brand of country, and certainly her songwriting, to Kelsea’s. Having said that, I had far less of a problem with “Love me Like You Mean It” than many traditionalists, and while I didn’t feel that it deserved country airplay, I thought it was a good pop song and was proud of Kelsea for hitting No. 1 with it. I’d prefer a more traditional artist, but seeing as “country” radio is basically pop radio with banjo these days, Kelsea must still be recognized among her piers as having a remarkable achievement for a female country artist, even if “country” is nothing more than a label to her.

This brings us to Kelsea’s second single, “Dibs.” For me, the instrumentation here is slightly better than in “Love me Like You Mean It.” I base this on the fact that when I first heard “Love Me,” I thought I was listening to a pop song. When I play “Dibs,” the thought that comes to mind is pop country. The bigger problem with “Dibs” is the lyrics. Basically, it is about Kelsea calling “dibs” on some guy she sees at a bar. Here are the lines in the chorus that made me lose all hope for this song:”If you’ve got a Friday night free and a shotgun seat, Well I’m just saying I ain’t got nowhere to be.” Really? What happened to “Girl in a Country Song?” Maddie & Tae said, “We used to get a little respect, Now we’re lucky if we even get to climb up in your truck, keep our mouth shut, and ride along.” Apparently Kelsea doesn’t want respect and is fine with riding shotgun. I don’t know about the rest of the women out there, but I’m with Maddie & Tae.

At the end of the chorus, Kelsea goes into a very annoying Sam Hunt style spoken-word list of what she’s calling dibs on:

I’m calling dibs
On your lips,
On your kiss,
On your time,
Boy, I’m calling dibs
On your hand,
On your heart
All mine

Later in the song, she actually sings these lines which is much less annoying and makes me wonder why we had to be subjected to the spoken-word bit in the first place. Oh, right…because it worked for Sam Hunt so it must be awesome.

Bro country was bad enough, but now we have females singing it? The worst part about this is that there are actually some decent songs on Kelsea’s debut album that I wouldn’t mind being released as singles. It’s actually a decent pop album–a terrible country album, but a decent pop album–so if she released “First Time” or “Secondhand Smoke” or “Peter Pan,” all of which are closer to pop country than this spoken-word pop song, I’d have less of a problem. Even “Xo” which is a straight pop song like “Love Me” that doesn’t belong on country radio at all would bother me less. This is upsetting because a woman has stooped to singing the bro country crap…and it will get played. I would rather Kelsea identify herself with pop because that’s what she really is, but as long as she continues to call herself country, she could at least refrain from releasing singles like this. I’ll take straight pop labeled country over female bro country any day.

Album Review: Ashley Monroe–The Blade

Rating: 8.5/10

If you have read Female Fridays, you already know how I felt about Ashley Monroe up to this point. Her previous album, 2013’s Like a Rose, was one of my favorite albums of the past five years, and I have been wanting to hear more music from her ever since. Like a Rose would have gotten a ten. So, as you can see, The Blade, while still good, did not quite live up to my expectations of Ashley Monroe. This was a very hard review for me to do, because there were individual songs that were tens to me, but unlike the last album, they stood out among other songs that were not as great. I will point out the stand-out tens as I go.

The album opens with the lead single, “On to Something Good,” which is actually my least favorite song on The Blade. It was not a great choice for a single and does not reflect the album as a whole. It is a pop country song, which is a new sound for Ashley after the entirely traditional Like a Rose, but this is to be expected after “Lonely Tonight”‘s success. The song itself is basically about moving on from hard times and finding the good things in life. I will say it took me severl listens to get this out of the song, as the lyrics are extremely vague and not Ashley Monroe quality. Next is “I Buried Your Love Alive,” another pop country song, this time dealing with heartbreak and “a memory I can’t kill.” This suits Ashley’s voice more, although the instrumentation draws you a little away from her voice, which should never happen. Ashley Monroe’s voice should always be the focal point in her songs. Next is “Bombshell,” and here the pop country sound that worked for Ashley in “Lonely Tonight” finally works again. This is a great song about finding the right time to “drop a bombshell” and leave someone. For me, this song itself is a ten.

Next is “Weight of the Load,” a Monroe co-write with Vince Gill, who as I mentioned in Female Fridays also had a hand in producing the album. This song is surprisingly mediocre for an Ashley Monroe and Vince Gill co-write–it’s not a bad song, I just expected more. It’s another pop country song about helping a partner shoulder life’s burdens. I could easily picture Kacey Musgraves singing it, and she would have probably arranged it more traditionally, so it would have been better. “The Blade” is another ten for me–a heartbreak song featuring a great melody, prominent piano play, and lyrics that paint a perfect picture. Ashley sings, of the broken relationship, “You caught it by the handle, and I caught it by the blade.” Incidentally, that’s Miranda Lambert on backing vocals.

“Winning Streak” is a fun, upbeat song where I focused more on the piano than the lyrics. Ashley sings, “If losing’s a game, I’m on a winning streak.” This would get played on radio if radio was country…right. “From Time to Time” tooke me a couple listens, but it’s one of my favorites now. I hesitate to give it a ten because it did take me a couple times, but this autobiographical song is one that can really connect if you listen. Ashley mentions the “tenth of September” in the opening line as the character’s birthday, and so I knew she was addressing herself. She is telling her younger self that someday everything will be fine, but that it is all right to remember. If I hadn’t caught the “tenth of September” line, I admit I would probably be confused about this song and/or think it was a generic song, but knowing it is autobiographical helps it a lot.

“If Love Was Fair” is a pop country song that I feel doesn’t work for Ashley. The song focuses too much on rhythm and not enough on her voice or the lyrics. It could have been a better song, but it is actually pretty forgettable. Following this is “Has Anybody Ever Told You,” a love song that goes back to traditional country and does feature Ashley’s beautiful voice, which actually hurts “If Love Was Fair” even more. Next is “Dixie,” which immediately makes you think it will be another ode to the South. The opening line begins with, “If I ever get out of Dixie” and we are hit with lines like “I’m so tired of payin’, prayin’ for my sins, Lord, get me out of Dixieland, in Jesus’s name, amen.” This song should get a twelve. The lyrics are great, the instrumentation is great, and the fact that a country singer had the audacity to cut this gives it extra credit–not to mention it has the deceivingly innocent title “Dixie.”

Next is “If the Devil Don’t Want Me,” another ten. It’s a traditional country song that asks where she’ll go if the devil doesn’t want her and she can’t see the light. “May Flowers” is a pretty good traditional country love song, and maybe I’m the only one, but this song gets on my nerves because I hear Merle Haggard’s “If We Make it Through December” in the music and melody. The album ends with the excellent “I’m Good at Leavin’,” a co-write with Miranda Lambert about being the woman who is good at walking away rather than staying at home and being a wife.

There were a lot of great tracks on this album, but it fell short of a ten because there were mediocre tracks mixed in. So, not as awesome as Like a Rose, but definitely worth checking out.

Listen to Album

Female Fridays: Featuring Katie Armiger

As I mentioned in a previous post, I am tired of people defending Keith Hill by saying there aren’t any women out there for country radio to play. Enter Female Fridays, which will seek to correct this problem by giving the “tomatoes” a place to be discovered, heard, and appreciated. I am very excited to feature Katie Armiger, one of my favorite women in country music, on the first Female Friday.

How You Might Know Katie

While she has not had much airplay, Katie Armiger has had fairly consistent success with her videos on GAC’s Top 20 Countdown. Many will remember the video for “Safe,” a tribute to first responders that got over 2 million hits on YouTube.

Bio

Kaitie Armiger (born June 23, 1991, from Sugarland, Texas) got her start at the age of fourteen after winning a talent competition sponsored by a Houston radio station. She won some demo sessions in Nashville, which eventually turned into a full album and a recording contract with Cold River Records. She has recorded four studio albums to date, including her self-titled debut, (2007), Believe (2008), Confessions of a Nice Girl(2010) and Fall into Me(2013.) She is known for her excellent songwriting–she co-wrote all of the fourteen tracks on Fall Into Me and, similar to Taylor Swift, claims much of her writing is autobiographical. My first introduction to Katie was on the excellent Fall Into Me, but since then, I have listened to her earlier material, and there are many great tracks sprinkled throughout her earlier albums as well. Her growth as a singer and a songwriter is evident.

Katie Armiger’s fifth studio album was due out this summer. She had already released the lead single, “One Night Between Friends” and even held an album-listening party for fans on June 14th at the CMA Music Festival in Nashville. Then, on June 16th, Cold River Records president Pete OHeeron released this statement

Katie Armiger has decided to take a breather and decide her next career aspirations. … It has been the thrill of a lifetime to work with her and watch her blossom into one of the best singer-songwriters of her generation. Katie is a special talent and an even better person. As a label, we love her and support her decision and we will always be her biggest fans.

He went on to say that the label had no plans for a reduction in staff, that Katie’s album had been shelved, and that those who had entered her new contest, “Girls With Dreams” (a songwriting competition for a $10,000 scholarship) would be reimbursed. This is Katie’s own reaction, which she posted later on Instagram

Let’s try this again since that was taken down…’A Breather? Quit country music? Leaving my career behind?’ Not my words, and certainly not my intention. I’ll be able to make an official statement soon… Love you all! OH… I no longer have access to my Twitter or FB accounts.

Incidentally, this was also taken down, and this has been the last we’ve heard from Katie. Regardless of what happens–and I hope she’ll be able to go somewhere else and keep making great music–it is awful to see an artist so misrepresented by her label and her new album shelved so close to its release.

Why Katie Belongs on Country Radio

This won’t be a strong case for every female I feature–not every artist has “radio ready” material; Garth Brooks’s latest single choices are good examples of this. However, Katie should be on country radio. Her songs are pop country that is done well, like early Taylor Swift and Mickey Guyton (I will eventually feature Guyton too.) Her writing is relatable and vulnerable, again like that of Taylor Swift, and she reminds me of what Taylor would have become if she had stayed country. Katie Armiger has the honesty that has been lost in country music, the same honesty that made Taylor Swift successful. Fall Into Me is an album full of songs about love–in fact, Katie said the album is about
“love in all its many forms” and yet every song seems different, and each is relatable, especially to women. I think if Katie got more airplay, she would have the radio success that Taylor Swift proved relatable songwriting is worth–and not only that, it would be pop country instead of straight pop on country radio.

Tracks I Recommend

As I said, Fall Into Me is a great pop country album, and there are several good earlier tracks worth a listen too, but if you are getting to know Katie, here’s where I recommend you start.

1. I’m Free–Fall Into Me
2. Better in a Black Dress–Fall Into Me
3. The Heart Wants What it Wants (single)
4. Black and White–Fall Into Me
5. Stealing Hearts–Fall Into Me
6. Okay Alone–Fall Into Me
7. Man I Thought You Were–Fall Into Me
8. Playin’ With Fire–Fall Into Me (although this leans toward pop, so if you don’t like that, you might not like it)
9. Cardboard Boxes–Fall Into Me
10. Something Better–Believe
11. Scream–Confessions of a Nice Girl
12. Just Can’t Say Goodbye–Katie Armiger

Listen to Fall Into Me

This is an excellent cover of the Selena Gomez song that Katie released earlier this year.

That’s all for the first Female Friday!

Single Review: Clare Dunn’s “Move on”

Rating: 3/10

So, it’s no secret that I want to see more women getting country radio attention. And for anyone who knows me, it’s no secret that I like a little rock in my country, and love both sides of Miranda Lambert–the traditional country side of “Roots and Wings” and the pop rock side displayed on “Little Red Wagon.” So when Miranda Lambert selected Clare Dunn for her Roadside Bars and Pink Guitars tour, claming that
“you don’t see that many women who get up there and really slay a guitar and play some real rock ‘n’ roll country”
I was excited to hear Clare’s music. Fast forward to a few weeks ago, when Clare’s new single “Move on” became the most added song to country radio after Lambert and Little Big Town’s “Smokin’ and Drinkin,” and I knew I had to review it.

But here’s the problem–where Miranda calls it “rock ‘n’ roll country,” I don’t hear anything country about “Move On.” It’s a pretty good song–certainly wouldn’t make me change the radio station–and that’s why it’s not getting a lower rating, but if this song were being sold as a pop or rock song, I would give it an 8 or 9. Sell it as country, and that’s why it gets a 3.

“Move on” is about a woman asking the man to hurry up and “move on” from pretending to be just friends when it’s obvious they both want more. She uses lines like “Sometimes I wish you just, Well, if I told you what I’m really thinkin’ it might make you blush.” She wants him to “move on, move on, move on, and make your move on me.” It reminds me a little of “Are you Gonna Kiss me or Not” by Thompson Square, and lyrically, it’s not a bad song.

Musically, it’s pretty good too–for a pop rock song. I love the electric guitars and drum loops–but nothing in it is country. This is Clare Dunn being the rock version of Kelsea Ballerini. Kelsea Ballerini is talented, but as a pop artist. Clare Dunn is talented, but as a pop or rock artist. Neither belong on country radio, and it is unfortunate that these women are getting airplay over more traditional artists like Sunny Sweeney or Kacey Musgraves. Apparently, in 2015, you can just write anything short of straight rap–and that’s probably coming–and decide it’s country. Clare Dunn, call yourself pop or rock, and this rating will change drastically.