Tag Archives: pop rock

Album Review: Courtney Marie Andrews–Honest Life

Rating: 10/10

Before I say anything, credit to trigger of Saving Country Music for bringing Courtney Marie Andrews into my life and now to my pen. There is a reason we do this–not to point out all the bad in the mainstream, but to introduce new and deserving artists to the world, to provide a platform for people seeking good music to find it. Enter Courtney Marie Andrews, a 25-year-old singer/songwriter from Phoenix, Arizona, and her latest album, Honest Life I will say two things about this record; firstly, it is not a country record, but more a folk record, with elements of country, rock, and pop mixed in, and secondly, it is the best album I have reviewed to date.

The album opens with “Rookie dreaming,” and the first lines immediately hold my attention and introduce the great songwriting that will be present throughout this entire album. “I was singing with the choir on the train. I was a traveling man, I did not yet have a name. I was a 1960s movie, I was a one-night love story, I was a you’ll never see me again.” This song features nice piano and acoustic guitar, and Courtney’s voice reminds me of an excellent cross between Joni Mitchell and Linda Ronstadt. The style resembles Ronstadt too, with the blend of country, folk, and rock that was Linda’s signature. “Not the End” is a love song in which Andrews sings from a hotel bed where she is “dreaming up every memory” to feel closer to someone she loves. “I didn’t think it was possible to lose you again, so won’t you hold me and tell me that this is not the end.” If you didn’t hear Joni Mitchell in the opener, you certainly will here; the emotion and phrasing in Courtney’s voice is closer to Mitchell’s than anything I have heard.

“Irene” adopts a more folk/pop rock sound; here, Courtney gives advice to a woman named Irene, including “keep your grace” and “don’t go falling in love with yourself.” It is universal in that it is relatable to everyone, but also could be specific to anyone who hears it. “How Quickly Your Heart Mends” is the moment where you will recall Linda Ronstadt the most; here, a woman is “hiding out in the bathroom of this bar,” devastated that her ex is acting like they never met. She put on the dress he loved, and now she feels like a fool and can’t believe he is ignoring her–“go on, and leave with your new friends, how quickly your heart mends.” The piano and steel really stand out on this track. “Let the good One Go” is another heartbreak song, this one about a woman missing someone she apparently let go. She thinks about calling him and wonders if he thinks about her, saying, “Oh you will know, when you’ve let a good one go.” The light instrumentation on this song brings the emotion and lyrics to the forefront. “Honest Life,” the album’s title track, is another simple, acoustic song that feels very personal to Courtney. “All I’ve ever wanted is an honest life, to be the person that I really am inside, to tell you all the things that I did that night. Sometimes it just ain’t easy to live an honest life.” The songwriting is excellent on this whole album, but it may be the best here–ask me tomorrow, and I might change my mind.

The next three songs explore distance from those you love, similar to the theme introduced in “Not the End.” In “Table for One,” Courtney arrives in Ohio after a trip from Houston–the verses would suggest it might be on a tour–feeling lonely and ready to go home. “You don’t wanna be like me, this life, it ain’t free, always chained to when I leave.” This one is stripped down too and lets the lyrics and Courtney’s voice shine. “Put The Fire Out” brings back the piano and is closer to the sound of “How Quickly Your Heart Mends.” Here, Andrews sings from a plane, as she flies home to reunite with her loved ones and put her rambling life behind her. “I am ready to put the fire out. There’s a place for everything, and I think I know mine now.” This was the first one I heard from Courtney, and I’ll post it here because it should lead you to the rest of this record. “15 Highway Lines” is a similar song, but this one is focused on reuniting with the one you love after time apart;–“13 hours till I see you. Flying all around this world so you can see me too.” It really captures the love, pain, and hope unique to long-distance relationships. The album closes with “Only in my Mind,” another excellent song in which the narrator paints pictures of life with someone she loves, but these pictures are only in her mind, as the relationship has ended. It seems to be mainly her fault it is over, or at least she believes this. It’s another one that captures the emotion perfectly and closes the album brilliantly.

If you haven’t figured it out, this album is special. It isn’t strictly country; it’s a unique mix of folk, country, pop, and roc, with the perfect production for each track. It is one of those rare albums that defies and transcends genre lines and just speaks for itself. Courtney Marie Andrews has a voice you will not soon forget, recalling Joni Mitchell and Linda Ronstadt, yet still unique. The songwriting on this album is nothing short of brilliant. It’s simple and complex at once. This album is both the poetry of Jason Isbell and the relatability of Vince Gill. It is raw and honest and real, and everyone should absolutely hear it.

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Album Review: Carrie Underwood–Storyteller

Country Rating: 5/10
Overall Rating: 7/10

Carrie Underwood’s fifth album, Storyteller, has been the subject of heated debate since its first single, “Smoke Break,” was released in August.

Single Review: Carrie Underwood’s “Smoke Break”

Carrie had promised that her next album would be more rock-influenced, have more twang, and respect her country roots. “Smoke Break” was certainly more rock-influenced, but it had so much twang that I felt like Carrie Underwood didn’t sound like herself–instead she sounded like a lesser version of Miranda Lambert. So it was with mixed feelings that I came into Storyteller, and after several listens, I still have many mixed feelings.

The album opens with “Renegade Runaway,” a pop/country/rock song about a woman who is a “Tumbleweed blowin’ in the wind come sundown, call a girl like that renegade runaway.” This immediately reminds me of a Miranda song, but here this is not necessarily a bad thing, as Carrie Underwood does not emphasize her twang and still sounds like Carrie. However, it’s not more country, as Underwood promised–and if you were looking for more of a country sound, I suggest you avoid this album because it does not get better in this regard. However, if you enjoy good songwriting and “storytelling,” Carrie does deliver on this promise, and “Dirty Laundry” does a good job of telling the story of a woman who catches her man cheating by finding his dirty clothes. It’s a nice double meaning, and I’d be able to enjoy this song more without the pop production. “Church Bells” is a pop country song about Jenny, a woman who marries a man for his money, only to find out he is abusive. Carrie sings, “All his money could never save Jenny from the devil living in his eyes.” Jenny slips something in his whiskey and “he hit a woman for the very last time.” This is a Miranda Lambert-esque song as well, but despite this and some overproduction, the story makes it one of the better songs on the album.

“Heartbeat” is a straight pop song that Carrie should have left off the album–it’s a female bro country song, albeit more romantic, but we’ve already heard 957 songs about people hooking up by rivers, and so this is just unnecessary. Also, if you didn’t hate this, prepare to–Sam Hunt is the backup singer. Next is “Smoke Break” which I already shared my thoughts on in my review, and in the context of the album, it actually bothers me more. The story told here, of characters who drink and smoke (or would like to but don’t actually do it) to cope with the pressures of their daily lives, doesn’t compare to the other stories on the album, and her Miranda Lambert impression is more noticeable in the context of an otherwise Carrie Underwood-like sound on this album. “Choctaw County Affair” is one of the best songs on the album; this is a country rock song about a small town murder. Carrie sings from the view of one of the suspects. It’s great songwriting, and the production doesn’t overshadow it. I recommend listening to this if you only listen to one song on Storyteller, and I will post it here.

“Like I’ll Never Love You Again” is another of the better songs–a pop country love song in which Underwood gives us a rare subdued moment on this album. The sincerity in this song makes it even better. “Chaser” and “Relapse” could have been left off the album, as neither of them add a thing to it. The first is a pop rock song basically about telling a man to go ahead and “chase” the other woman. It doesn’t work as a pop song or a country song. “Relapse” does have a more pop country sound, but it’s just a boring song. It tells the story of a woman having “relapses” with an ex–that’s all I can say, as this is all there really is to it. “Clock Don’t Stop” is another straight pop song, complete with a clock ticking. This is a song explaining that “the clock don’t stop ticking away”–I wouldn’t blame anyone for hating this song, but I actually don’t mind it as a pop song. At least it chooses a genre, and this certainly helps it as a song, even if it does nothing for Storyteller as a whole.

“The Girl You Think I Am” explores the relationship between a father and daughter. The daughter just wants to be the girl that her dad sees–the girl in church who was “eight years old wearing angel wings.” It’s a heartfelt moment with stripped-back production that I also recommend you listen to. “Mexico”–now that sounds like a bright, happy beach song. Not from Carrie Underwood–it’s a song about running from the law with “blue lights on the horizon, dust clouds filling the sky.” This is a mix of country, pop, and rock that actually works–another Miranda-esque song that Carrie doesn’t overdo with twang. The album closes with “What I Never Knew I Always Wanted,” a personal song for Underwood about her marriage and new son. She says she never thought she would be this type, but now she has “what I never knew I always wanted.” Despite the fact that this song is a pop song, it is one of the better ones because it shows some of Carrie Underwood’s heart.

Storyteller came with many expectations. It was said to be more twangy and contain more stories. On this front, Carrie delivered–the songwriting here is actually really great, with the exception of a few songs. Carrie Underwood had a hand in writing many of these songs, a fact that should certainly be noted. If you prefer great songwriting, you’ll really enjoy this album. On the other hand, Carrie Underwood promised this album would sound more country–it’s actually an album of pop and rock and country mixed together to create a unique sound. If you place emphasis on a country sound, you will probably find a lot to hate with this album. I personally find more to enjoy than to criticize, but it’s an album you must hear for yourself.

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Album Review: Kip Moore–Wild Ones

Country Rating: 5/10
Rock Rating: 7/10

This album was a hard one to review. Kip Moore is naturally more of a rocker than a country singer, and Wild Ones is much more of a rock album. Having said that, it’s a pretty good rock album. To rate it higher on a country Web site is therefore unfair; however, to not recognize the quality of the music is also a disservice. Hence, I gave this two ratings. If country singers actually put out country music, this problem doesn’t exist, but that’s not the case in 2015. Instead, we get pop and rock and r&b disguised as country, and more often than not, the music is just as bad in its real genre. This is not the case with Kip Moore, and for that, he and his album should be commended.

The album’s title track is a decent rock song about partying on the weekends “with the ones your mama said to run from, the ones your daddy kept you from.” The drums drive the beat of this song, and I can tell thought was put into the production. Also, they are not partying on some dirt road or even in a club; the location is actually not mentioned, and focus is more on the “wild ones” having fun. Next is “Come and Get It,” a song in which Kip is telling a woman to “come and get” his love. He asks her, “Girl, what’s the matter with you, can’t you see it when it’s standing right in front of you?” Again, the production is a plus, with drums rising throughout the song. In “Girl of the Summer,” Kip once again shows some originality by taking a familiar theme (missing a summer love) and giving it some life. Next is “Magic,” a love song in which he compares a woman’s love to a fairy tale. It is pretty original and the production helps it, but I could have done without this song being on the album. To me, it doesn’t add anything to Wild Ones at all, either from a country or rock perspective.

“That Was Us” has more of a pop rock feel. In this slow song, an old theme is once again introduced (reminiscing about old times with friends.) However, these characters actually have names, and a story is actually told. In the third verse, two friends are stopped by the cops on their way to kill a man who has been abusing their female friend. Next is “Lipstick,” a song about how Kip has traveled literally everywhere in the country to be with his woman and “Kiss your lipstick.” The production makes this a great rock song, but the point is lost because it is more about all the places he has been (three verses of listing places) than about coming back home to the woman. “What Ya Got on Tonight?” finds Moore on the road again, seeing many beautiful women but still missing someone at home and asking her, “what ya got on tonight?” Production is once again a plus, but not much to say about the lyrics.

Next is “Heart’s Desire,” a song with better lyrics where he knows he has messed up and lost a woman, and he wants her to understand she is his “heart’s desire.” “Complicated” also features well-written lyrics, telling the story of a love that is realistic, unlike the fairy tale in “Magic.” “It don’t always go just like you hoped it would, but sometimes complicated’s pretty damn good.” Also, this song sounds like an actual blend of country and rock. The lead single, “I’m To Blame” has grown on me somewhat, but it still feels like it’s missing something–perhaps a guitar solo. I do like the attitude in the song and the acknowledgement that there are consequences for our actions. “That’s All Right With Me” is another verse of the same song; a song where Kip makes no apologies for being country and being himself. However, I’d rather it resemble “I’m To Blame” than some of the other songs where people try (and fail) to prove their country cred. I think I would have liked this and “I’m To Blame” better if they were not back-to-back on the album. “Running For You” is a pop rock love song where Kip Moore promises to come “running for you” whenever she needs him. Finally, “Comeback Kid” paints the picture of a man struggling to rise from hard times and asking a woman to not give up on him. This song has some great lyrics, including “I’m a Hail Mary pass on homecoming night, six points down, the clock ticking by, come hell or high water, I still believe I can win, Just call me the comeback kid.” I could be wrong, but this song feels somewhat personal to Kip Moore, and that makes it one of the better songs on the album.

On the deluxe version, you will find “What I Do,” another verse of “I’m to Blame” (this one is helped by its track placement), “Backseat,” an actual good song about hooking up in a backseat because it focuses on the nerves and the girl, (again, old theme, new life), and “Burn the Whole World Down,” a song where the narrator is running away because a girl won’t commit. This song should have made the main album in my opinion because it is one of the better ones overall.

If there had been even two or three more songs with country leanings, this would have been a decent country album. This, however, is clearly a rock album. Having said that, as a rock album it’s good. The production is great for most of the album and there are some well-written songs too. Wild Ones is in the unique position of being a good non-country album to come out of mainstream Nashville. The most significant problem with it it is that it is being marketed as country.

Listen to Wild Ones

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.