Tag Archives: pop

Single Review and Rant: Kelsea Ballerini’s “Legends”

Rating: 1/10

Look, I’ll be the first to say that I didn’t hate Kelsea Ballerini’s debut album; I think she’s a good vocalist, and she showed potential as a songwriter in several places. It was sorely mislabeled as a country project when most of it was straight pop, and the few pop country offerings were mostly way too overproduced. To add to this, she released a couple of God-awful singles to country radio in the massively annoying “Dibs” and female bro country-ish “Yeah Boy.” But she also released a pretty nice one in “Peter pan” and a catchy, if pop, song in “Love me Like You Mean It,” and I was interested to see if her second album would take her into the land of full-on Disney pop princess music or more into stuff like Lauren Alaina’s recent record, definitely pop-leaning but with more substance and maturity.

So we come to “Legends,” Kelsea’s first single from her new record, and here’s what she had to say about it…”Every time I’ve listened to it, I find a different meaning … it brings me back to the heartbreak I wrote it from.” she goes on to say that at different times, she’s thought of her fans and her journey, and now she thinks of it as a “legendary love story” and concludes with the sentiment, “I hope everyone hears something in it that brings them to a place of nostalgia and is as excited as I am to begin this new chapter together.”

Well, let me say for the record, listening to “Legends” only brings me to a place of boredom, and it makes me about as excited to hear the rest of her new album as I would be to watch paint dry. I want to find something to like, or at least something positive to say, and it’s not like I’d change the station if this came on because it’s not outright obnoxious like “Dibs” or “Yeah Boy”–but that’s just it, it’s so vapid and shallow, and there’s just nothing at all here. It’s supposed to be this legendary tale of past love, but the only line that sticks out is “I’ll always wear the crown that you gave me,” and that’s just because that line is so idiotic and conjures up more images of the Disney princess music I mentioned before. I suppose maybe it’s talking about prom, but the fact remains it’s a lazy piece of songwriting throughout, and when I think of legendary love stories, I don’t think of songs where neither the melody nor the lyrics stand out and where the singer doesn’t even sound engaged. Yes, as I said, Ballerini does have a good voice, and in a technical sense, she sings this well, but she sounds so bored–and who wouldn’t be? It’s vapid, bland, safe, formulaic, and so forgettable that it’s not harmless 4-ish or 5-ish material like “Speak to a Girl” but complete emptiness similar to “Live Forever” by The Band Perry from a couple years ago. In fact, that song is a great comparison because while there’s not something glaringly wrong with this, like offensive lyrics or cringe-worthy Sam Hunt style spoken word, it’s the nothingness of this song which renders it awful. And finally, let’s erase the notion that this in any way, shape, or form should have ever been considered country–but that’s almost an afterthought, because at least the most recent atrocities to receive a rant here, Keith Urban’s “The Fighter” and Thomas Rhett’s “Craving You,” were actually catchy and therefore at least marginally better as pop songs. This? this is a failure in both genres and wouldn’t make it on pop radio.

I want to find something to like about Kelsea Ballerini. I want to support more women being given a voice on country radio, but this is not country in the slightest, and there are so many more women, both country and even in the pop and pop country realms, who deserve the limited space more than her, and if “Legends” is a success, it will in no way represent progress, either for females in country or for music of substance and the genre in general. Here’s to hoping her album is much, much better than this.

Written by: Kelsea Ballerini, Glen Whitehead, Hillary Lindsey

Pop Spotlight: Lea Michele–Places

Yes, we’re called Country exclusive, and yes, we’re about to discuss a pop album. Truthfully, this record is something I discovered by accident based on a link from Twitter that made me want to hear it, and it hit me more than most of the country albums this week. I think most of us listen to music from many genres, and I’m going to start talking about music outside the country genre from time to time. I don’t expect it to be often or to have much rhyme or reason; really, I expect it to be just random non-country stuff that I like and want to share. Also, while I listen to plenty of good music in all genres, I cannot claim the amount of knowledge, or indeed even close to the amount, necessary to judge other genres like I can with country, so I am not calling anything non-country a review–these will just be short spotlights of stuff that I enjoyed and thought worthy of passing along to you. Now that that’s all out of the way, let’s talk about Lea Michele and her second studio album, Places.

As I mentioned, I heard about this by accident on Twitter from a comment that said, “Lea Michele has never sounded so good.” So I searched her and this album on Apple Music, and that’s the perfect thing to point out because the best thing about Places is the sheer vocal talent and emotion of Lea Michele. Often, there is just a piano, or just a piano and a string section, and her vocals, but, in contrast to many pop albums–and indeed many modern country albums–that is all Lea Michele needs to make you listen to songs like “Run to You” and “getaway Car.” It is rare to find such a technically great singer who can also express emotion so well, and I have been blown away by her ability to consistently do both each time I listened to this.

I knew nothing about her before Friday, but I have since found out that before her two solo records, Lea Michele was on Glee, and that while this album is a pop effort, it seeks to be more theatrical. It certainly does have a little of that quality. It’s definitely very ballad-heavy, so it won’t probably be for everyone, but the songs themselves and the fact that Lea Michele just murders these songs mostly makes up for that. IN fact, I’d say the weakest points on the whole record are the few moments where she tries to be more upbeat. I’d normally welcome the variety, but the more energetic tracks don’t do as much to showcase all that raw vocal talent. Anyway, if you are a fan of good pop music that has something to say, stripped-back ballads, or just sheer, impressive vocal ability, I recommend giving this a listen.

Standout Tracks: “Run to You,” “Heavenly,” “Getaway Car,” “sentimental Memories”

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Album Review: Cam–Untamed

Rating: 7/10

2015 has come with much discussion about the lack of female representation on the country airwaves. As the concern has grown, we have seen several new female artists breaking onto country radio, most notably Maddie & Tae, Kelsea Ballerini–who is anything but country–and Cam. After Saladgate in May, Bobby Bones and On the Verge selected Cam’s “Burning House” for promotion, and the results have been unprecedented. This second single off Cam’s debut EP, Welcome to Cam Country, has been certified gold and is currently #6 on Billboard Country Airplay. These are remarkable achievements for any new artist, especially for a female country artist. Cam’s label has given her the completely laughable release date of December 11th, a statement of lack of faith in Cam’s music that will ultimately hurt the album’s sales and chances on end-of-year lists. Cam fans should be outraged, and if Cam were a more established artist, she would be fighting this release date. With all that said, despite the terrible release date, I was excited to see more from Cam, as “Burning House” made Country Exclusive’s
Essential Songs of 2015
list. I was hoping this album would give us more incredible music from Cam. So, did it live up to my expectations?

The album opens with crickets and a harmonica, which immediately got my attention. The song that follows is the title track, “Untamed,” which is pretty much a female bro country track: dirt roads, moonshine, etc. I think most people hearing this song will hate it, but surprisingly I don’t–in and of itself, it’s not a bad song. The production and instrumentation are decidedly country, and the lyrics aren’t bad either–it’s just that I’ve heard this particular song before at least a thousand times. Having said that, if I hadn’t, I’d probably enjoy “Untamed.” As it is, it’s tolerable. Next is “Hung Over on Heartache,” a nice blend of pop, rock, and country that fits Cam’s unique style rather well. I feel the lyrics could have gone a little deeper, but this song grows on me with each listen, and it’s interesting to hear an upbeat heartbreak song. “Mayday” and “Burning House” are next, and I group them together because their track placement is brilliant. “Mayday” is a pop country song in which the woman is trying to tell the man she’s no longer in love, but she’s finding it difficult. She’s trying everything she can to leave, but she can’t seem to. The relationship is compared to a sinking ship; Cam is begging the man to “abandon ship with me.” “Burning House” is the mirror opposite of this–here, the narrator is trying desperately to hold onto a love that is slipping through her hands. “I’ll stay here with you until this dream is gone,” Cam sings. I still prefer the acoustic production on “Burning House,” but the pop country style really works for ‘Mayday,” and together, these songs show two distinct and real sides of failing relationships. If you already loved “Burning House,” you will love it even more after “Mayday.”

“Cold in California” is the first song that is completely ruined by production. Lyrically, it’s beautiful; it’s a song in which Cam sings of missing a man who left her to pursue his dreams in California. But this song leaves the good balance of pop and country for an overproduced, distracting pop sound that pulls this listener away from the lyrics. Following this are the other three songs from Cam’s EP. Country Exclusive didn’t exist when the EP came out, so I will share my thoughts on these now. The first single, “My Mistake” is a pretty solid pop country song–not anything remarkable, but certainly not filler. This song about a one-night stand after meeting in a bar should have done better at radio and was a good single choice. “Runaway Train” was my favorite from the EP besides “Burning House.” The production here is an excellent blend of country, rock, and pop that suits Cam excellently. This is the sound I would like to see her develop. “Half Broke Heart” has grown on me quite a lot since the EP–this is a heartbreak song in which the narrator is upset over the sudden ending of a relationship that had started with no strings attached. “I wasn’t looking for a ring, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t sting when you cut and run so soon,” Cam sings. I think this might make a good future single.

The next song is the only truly terrible moment on the album, and I have no idea why the singer of “Burning House” would stoop to recording it. It is a pop song called “Want it All” that is so unremarkable I’ve listened to it three times and can’t quote a single word. Cam sounds as bored singing it as I am being subjected to it. It’s filler of the worst kind. The last two songs are two of the best, however. The hilarious, upbeat “Country Ain’t Never Been Pretty” could be an instant hit if Cam released it. It’s the perfect blend of pop and country, comparing city girls who are “singing about the country” and “putting out them hits” to women who actually live in the country on farms. “Instead of hairspray and curls, you got hay and dirt, slam your unpainted nails in a barn door. But it’s all right to look kinda shitty, cause country ain’t never been pretty”–this is excellent, and a great message to send to young girls who are listening to Cam. “Village” closes the album on a somber but hopeful note–it’s a song about a dead brother telling his sister he is still there watching over her. “Your whole heart’s a village, and everyone you love has built it, and I’ve been working there myself.” This is the closest thing to the acoustic production of “Burning House” on the entire album, and you can really appreciate the rawness of the lyrics.

Overall, Cam has given us a solid debut album. Some songs are more traditional, but more of them are a good, tasteful blend of pop, country, and sometimes rock. However, I think this style suits Cam, and the production only hurts a couple songs. I think Cam has found a great balance of radio relevancy and traditional appeal. “Want it All” is inexcusable, and many will feel the same about “Untamed,” but most of this album is pretty good. Some of it is great. I think Cam will only get better, and I look forward to more from her. In the meantime, give this album a listen.

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Random Thoughts of the Week: What Country Artists Can Learn From Nelly

In the short life of this blog, I have already reviewed my fair share of bad music. However, an increasing, and more alarming, problem, is that I have reviewed plenty of “country” music that wasn’t country at all. Kip Moore’s Wild Ones is a good rock album, but I should never have reviewed this at all because it is not country in any sense. Luke Bryan’s Kill the Lights is an album full of trend-chasing music which explores pop, r&b, and rock, and then throws some country on the end like an afterthought. Brett Eldredge’s Illinois was almost exclusively an r&b album, with some rock, and Thomas Rhett’s latest, Tangled Up–so named because of his many influences–was a terrible excuse for music filled with attempts at nearly every genre except the one to which it was marketed. This is a problem that should be addressed not only by country reviewers, but by those of the other genres–the music these artists are making is often terrible in its own genre and thus is disrespectful not only to country, but also to whatever genre it fails to be.

Recently, rapper Nelly was asked about a rumored country EP. This was his response, as reported by
Saving Country Music:

I love country music. I respect country music so much that I would never think that I can sit down and just as easy do a country album. That’s not it. That’s just like some country artist saying, ‘Hell, I’m just gonna do a rap album.

Yes! Country artists, take note–the rapper Nelly is explaining that you can’t just “do a rap album.” I don’t see why Nelly had to explain this to you, but allow me to elaborate: you don’t see rappers and pop artists flocking to make country records. Washed-up rockers are the ones coming to country because they want the money; however, successful artists are not running out to make a country record. They know they can’t, and they have respect for country and for music in general. Nelly apparently has more respect for my beloved country music than Thomas Rhett, whose father was Rhett Akins. This says nothing good about the state of country music.

No artist is going to make an album filled with fiddle, steel, and country lyrics and then market it as rap. For one, rap fans are not as gullible as the fans to whom country music attempts to cater. Secondly, the gatekeepers of other genres are smart enough to keep fiddle and steel out–as they are trademarks of country! So why is it that country, in the name of “evolution,” is allowed to become rap, r&b, pop, rock, and EDM? This doesn’t even make sense if you believe in evolution: no one thinks people evolved from fish because they aren’t related at all. Evolution is based on clear relationships; rap is clearly not related to country and therefore can’t “evolve” from it. The same goes for the r&b/funk/disco/pop mess that Thomas Rhett released. The lack of “evolution” is clear when these artists attempt to copy other genres because, as Nelly pointed out, they can’t just say, “Hell, I’m gonna do a rap album.” They won’t make a good rap album because they aren’t rappers. They aren’t rappers, r&b singers, pop artists, or rockers; they are country artists. It’s what they grew up doing, and it’s where they excel. To make bad music that other genres wouldn’t claim, and then to claim it is “country,” is disrespecting country, the other genre, and music in general.

Tomato of the Week: Kasey Chambers

I discovered her about a month ago and promised a Female Friday. Check out her feature on Female Friday!

Random Country Suggestion: George Strait–“If You Can Do Anything Else”

I’ve been on a Strait binge since his new album–here’s one of his better songs.

Non-Country Suggestion: Passenger–“Riding to New York”

A friend sent me this song this week with the message that it had “incredible lyrics”–this is right, so I’m sharing it with you all.

Album Review: Thomas Rhett–Tangled Up [a rant]

Rating: 0/10

**Language**

Now, I have reviewed bad albums. Luke Bryan’s Kill the Lights nearly made me wish that I had been born deaf rather than blind, saving me the horror of that experience altogether. But never before have I actually become angry when listening to an album for review–until now. Congratulations, Thomas Rhett. This, this is the most blatant, unashamed disregard for country music that I have ever witnessed, employing influences from nearly every genre except country and then labeling it “country” for some cash because in many cases, the “songs” concocted here would be laughed out of any other genre. I wrote that Don Henley made his album with obvious love and respect for the genre; one gets the feeling listening to this that Thomas Rhett went into this with outright hatred, disrespect, and defiance toward country music and its fans. Tangled Up is so named because of Thomas Rhett’s many influences, wich apparently include r&b, disco, funk, rap, rock, pop–anything but country–and his father was Rhett Akins, so he can’t even play the cluless Florida Georgia Line card here. He is so purposeful at avoiding anything having to do with country, and so arrogant and disrespectful about it, that all I can say is he should have went all the way and named this album Fuck Country Music, as this is the actual, unashamed theme…hey, at least he has a theme, I suppose. Maybe if he’d named it that, he could have thought of something for a cover, instead of leaving this to the fans in lieu of actually employing any creativity, self-expression, and/or brain power himself. If he’d gone with the above title, the cover could have shown him flipping off Hank or burning a Merle Haggard album…but I digress.

This thing begins with “Anthem,” a club song with electronic beats that is so blatantly non-country you get the feeling Thomas Rhett put this there on purpose out of pure, unbridled arrogance. The opening line is, “This is the beat that puts the fire on your feet, gives you the license to be a little crazy”–exactly, this is the beat that gives me the license to rip you and this album apart, Thomas Rhett. There is also a line that says, “This is the verse where you don’t know the words, and you don’t give a damn ’cause it feels good.” Goes nicely with my new theme, so points for that, I guess–too bad you didn’t name your album this, then I might have called it the perfect opener. “Crash and Burn” is next; now, I actually liked “Crash and Burn” when it first came out, but after it became apparent to me that Rhett ripped off Sam Cook’s “Chain Gang,” this song lost much of its appeal–and in the context of this album, it’s even worse, showing that one of the rare decent songs is still not country and was someone else’s idea in the first place. I wouldn’t blame you for liking “Crash and Burn” as a piece of music, but in the context of this album, it definitely sucks.

“South Side” is next, and if this gets released as a single, this will be one of the worst songs of the year. If there was a theme song for metro-bro, it would be this: the funk/r&b/rap song advising women to “shake your south side.” Um, no. “Die a Happy Man” is actually a good love song with some real emotion–just one huge, glaring problem: it’s an r&b song. There’s nothing remotely country about this. It’s also ironic that he name-drops Marvin Gay here–I was annoyed when they threw in names like Haggard and Strait, but this is almost worse. He will go on to name-drop Guns n’ Roses and Third Eye Blind in this album–bro country threw in all the country names to prove its country cred, metro-bro throws in as many non-country names as possible in its effort to mock country and traiditionalists. As if this album wasn’t non-country enough, next is “Vacation.” This horrifying display has fourteen songwriters, and I
already gave this brutal ruining of “low Rider” the ripping it deserves, and I don’t have much to add. Songs like “Vacation” are generally what Rhett would produce if he went to r&b, rather than decent ones like “Die a Happy Man,” so “country” is where he’ll stay, ruining my beloved genre with this musical disease that he has unleashed on mankind.

“Like It’s the Last Time” is typical bro country–“boots,” “jeans,” “truck,” “party lights,” you get the picture. Thomas Rhett, this is so 2013. But seriously, I can’t believe how welcome bro country is after what I’ve just been subjected to–it’s almost as if he put it there as some sort of sick, arrogant irony to show all us traditionalists bro country was not the worst thing that could befall us, and only the beginning of the war on our beloved country music. “T-Shirt” is possibly the most obnoxious song on this entire thing–it’s some sort of r&b/funk song about how the girl looks good in his T-shirt. Rhett does some really annoying Sam Hunt style spoken word here that only adds to the unoriginality, non-countriness, and general horror of this track. “Single Girl” sees Rhett asking a single girl if she wouldn’t rather be with him than be alone. This is not headache-inducing, but it’s boring, bland, and yes, non-country. Also, if he planned on singing any of this album to her regularly, I’m sure she’d rather die alone. “When You Stop Lookin’ Back” is about not looking back on the past, but rather moving on and looking forward. This does feature some acoustic guitar and perhaps could be called “r&b country,”–for about half the song–but half a song on an entire album is not enough to save this album or to call it country. “Tangled” is like a bad Maroon 5 song, complete with Thomas Rhett sounding like a terrible Adam Levine. I don’t even know what else to say.

I’m going to single out “Playing With Fire” here, as it’s the only song that I actually think is a good song in its rightful genre. It’s a pop song featuring Jordin Sparks about being in a relationship that isn’t right for them, but they can’t help “playing with fire.” For a pop song, it’s actually pretty good, and Jordin Sparks really helps this track. But just like “Die a Happy Man,” that doesn’t help a country album. There is not a shred of country in it, and at this point it would take Rhett singing Alan Jackson’s entire discography to make up for the monstrosity I have been forced through so far. “I Feel Good” brings us back to mindless party bullshit, and this song features LunchMoney Lewis, which actually makes this album worse–I didn’t think that was possible, so good job, Thomas Rhett. I should mention that this song name-drops “Georgia,” so I guess we’re supposed to automatically give this a “country” designation. The album concludes with “Learned it From the Radio,” an appropriate metro-bro anthem where Rhett explains that he learned all of his douche behavior, including how to drink and kiss girls, from the radio. I believe it, I really do.

Forget “Murder on Music Row,” where no one found the weapon. This album is Thomas Rhett holding up the weapon and dancing around in the street. If you like Thomas Rhett, so be it; your musical taste is your choice and none of my business. But when this r&b/funk/disco/pop music is so shamelessly allowed to be sent to “country” and to compete with George Strait, Don Henley, and Clint Black for album sales, it becomes my business, and I’m not going to sit by silently.

May King George personally come and kick Thomas Rhett’s ass if this collection of shit prevents George from having a #1 album this week!

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P.S. I love my readers and country music too much to post a video in any sort of support of this album.

P.P.S.