Tag Archives: rock

Album Review: Kip Moore–Slowheart

Rating: 6.5/10

The case of Kip Moore is a curious one. Yeah, he’s not country; no, not in the slightest. This is a rock album, and the rating above reflects this as an album, not a country album. In fact, it’s less country than Thomas Rhett’s latest offering. Yep, you read that right. There’s actually a song or two on Rhett’s that might be halfway excusable on country radio. But this? Complete, 100% Kip Moore style rock. And I hate that he’s taking one of the precious few slots on a country label to release music as blatantly non-country as this.

But you know what? Inasmuch as Kip Moore is a problem for country music, his presence in the mainstream is a victory for music in general and for true artistry and musical expression. It’s not Kip’s fault they’ll play anything on country radio; credit to him for fighting his labels, releasing original, thoughtful material, most of which he helped write, but more than that, material he wanted to release. You have to give this guy credit for becoming the artist he wants to be in this environment, for managing to stick out in a world of clones and wannabes, and for yeah, just being himself. Remember when I said, Kip Moore style rock? That’s just it; he’s somehow prevailed to keep what makes him unique as an artist–Dustin Lynch, take a lesson–and that’s why you root for his success from a pure musical standpoint. So it’s not rife with fiddle and steel, and if you want that, steer clear. But if you’re just looking for something real, authentic, refreshing, and you have a little more genre allegiance than just strictly to country, you might find a lot to like about this record.

Moore’s last album, Wild Ones, was much the same sonically–most definitely a rock record labeled country, but also fresh and forward-thinking and somewhat unique to Kip. The instrumentation and production on that album were generally quite strong, but the lyrics were mostly just forgettable. It’s the lyrical content where you see a major improvement on this record; you still have the cool riffs and rocking guitars, but you also have depth. Some of these songs lyrically would make great traditional country tunes, and that might serve to attract more people to this album than to his last. As a country fan, it would be cool to hear some of them, like “Plead the Fifth” especially, with a more country production, but that wouldn’t be Kip Moore. That’s not his style, and he’s not compromising, so I have to respect that.

“Just Another Girl” is quite a good heartbreak song, and yeah, the rocking edge and catchy riffs really just add to the intensity. “Plead the Fifth” might be interesting country, but it works well this way too, and together, these open the album with two of its strongest tracks. There are some more hopeful looks on love as well, with the clever “Last Shot” and with “More Girls Like You,” which I enjoyed as a single and which works even better here. “I’ve Been Around” is a bright spot too–just catchy as all hell, and yeah, that’s really all I can say about that one. And then you get to the end and “Guitar Man” comes on and holy crap, this is pretty damn country. Maybe not stone cold, slide guitar country,, but acoustic, lyric-driven, something a Jason Isbell or probably any number of Texas/Red Dirt artists might record. I daresay this is Kip Moore’s strongest song to date; it’s about the traveling musician and all of his experiences on the road and with the audience. It’s the details that sell it, from the “two-tone bucket of rust” to the “redhead named Annie” to the “sweet Lisa” who mixes drinks; “life’s been hard on her, but she’s been good to me.” Kip Moore is obviously a good musician, and his ability as a songwriter has certainly come a long way here on this album, but this song especially displays his ability to draw out emotion when he sings. Just really impressed with this.

And now we come to the stuff here I could really do without. We have a lot of love songs, so the result is that some of them just become forgettable and blend into the background, especially “Try Again.” “Blonde” is lyrically actually pretty good; it’s a tale of a woman who’s become famous and forsaken her hometown and the people who knew her. But it’s got some sort of weird, poppy production that just doesn’t work for either Kip or the song, especially Kip, and I don’t know who came up with this idea, but it sucks. “The Bull” is also incredibly annoying, and it’s unfortunate that these two are back-to-back on the track list. Look, I get that “The Bull” is inspirational or something, as he wants to thank the “bulls that bucked me off” for making him stronger, but again, the production and really everything about this song is just extremely irritating to me. I also would have been happy if he’d left “Sunburn” off the record, as the only word I can think to summarize its existence here is pointless.

But overall, this album is pretty good. It definitely shows a lot of growth for Kip Moore in the lyrical department, and if you like rock albums, I encourage you to check this out. If you weren’t a fan of his past stuff because of the lyrical content, I encourage checking it out too, you’ll probably like it a lot better.

I wish Kip Moore were recording music in the rightful genre because at the end of the day, he shouldn’t be allowed to have success on country radio and country charts anymore than Thomas Rhett or even Sam Hunt. But as I say, what is a defeat for country music in this instance is also a victory for artistry and individuality. Do I wish Kip Moore’s place on Music Row were inhabited by someone more traditional, hell, even country at all? Yes, certainly I do. But as a fan of music first, this is a pretty good album, an album that Kip Moore wanted to make, an album that displays growth and uniqueness and individuality in a mainstream artist. So credit to Kip Moore for finding that, even more for finding it within the confines of the mainstream environment. (Again, Dustin Lynch, it is possible.) Not country in any universe, but not a bad record by any stretch.

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Album Review: Aubrie Sellers–New City Blues

Rating: 8.5/10

Often, we traditionalists are labeled by the mainstream as close-minded purists living in the past, wanting everything to sound like Hank Williams and Waylon Jennings. We can’t embrace anything new and forward-thinking. Well, sit back and listen, because I am a traditionalist reviewer about to embrace something quite new and different. Meet Aubrie Sellers, the daughter of the brilliant singer Lee Ann Womack and songwriter Jason Sellers. Aubrie comes onto the scene in a time when country music is desperate for women, for substance, and yes, for originality. She brings us a style she calls “garage country”–a blend of country, Americana, and garage rock. Much like Whitney Rose’s 2015 Heartbreaker of the Year, with its blend of traditional country and vintage pop, Aubrie’s New City Blues introduces something new to country music that you won’t have heard before–something not every listener will embrace, and something that is at times overdone and forced on this record, but something for which Aubrie Sellers will stand out and for which she should be commended.

The album opens with guitar licks, introducing us to garage country long before we meet Aubrie. This album is unapologetic in what it wants to be, unlike Cam’s recent effort, Untamed, which, though it showed Cam’s potential, struggled to say anything and find an identity. “Light of Day,” the first track, tells me two more things–I quite like garage country, and Aubrie Sellers sounds remarkably like her mother, which is an absolutely wonderful thing. “Light of Day” is infectious, the perfect way of introducing us to Aubrie Sellers and to the style. “Sit Here and Cry” is an upbeat heartbreak song, which I find quite intriguing. It features some great harmonica play, but the lyrics are nothing special, and the garage country is a bit overdone here. “Paper Doll” is a moment of complete rock–and on this song of frustration with girls acting like “paper dolls” with their “fake makeup,” this approach works. More songs like this would bring the album down, but “Paper Doll” stands out as a highlight, an experiment.

“Losing Ground” slows the album down–here, Aubrie sings of a woman who is going through a difficult time; “But I’m not crazy, I’m just losing ground,” she sings. The heartfelt honesty in this song really sells it, and I am glad this song was more strip-back, allowing Aubrie’s voice to shine, along with the lyrics. It should be noted that this is one of two songs on New City Blues solely written by Aubrie Sellers, which makes me excited for her future as a songwriter. Next is “Magazines”–a full garage country rant about the lies magazines tell women, from weight loss plans to how to get a man. It’s something that Kacey Musgraves or Brandy Clark would sing, and I am not surprised that Brandy Clark was a writer. “Magazines” seems a little overproduced; it feels like the garage country is a bit forced. “Dreaming in the Day” gets everything right–the production and the lyrics and Aubrie’s vocals go together perfectly. Here, the narrator sings of “sitting at a green light,” still thinking of the night before with her man. “Liar Liar” is another one where the production fits perfectly, telling the story of a man in a bar who is good at lying to women. “Humming Song” is the other song written solely by Sellers; it’s another strip-back moment that might sound happy and pleasant if the lyrics weren’t so sad. The woman here is heartbroken over her man falling for someone else, and writing this new woman love letters. It’s the slow, stripped-down counterpart to “Sit Here and Cry”–both are lighthearted songs on the surface, but the lyrics are actually quite dark.

“Just to be With You” returns to Aubrie’s signature garage country, complete with distortions–here, a woman is quitting her job, stealing a car, and generally being reckless in order to be with a man who lives far away. The production fits here; it is just as reckless as the lyrics. Love will make us do bizarre things, and this song does a good job of expressing that desperation. “People Talking” tells of the things people say behind our backs–Aubrie sings, “My ears only burn when they’re not around. Go on believe them, what am I to do? It’s only people talking, it’s not true.” This feels like an honest moment on the album, and because of that, I feel it is slightly overproduced. Here, the style doesn’t add to the song, it distracts from Aubrie’s voice and the lyrics.

The next three songs get the production absolutely right. “Something Special” is about a woman asking her man to do “something special, something we don’t do all the time.” It’s one of the better songs on the album, and one I keep coming back to. “Loveless Rolling Stone” is about a rambling woman who seems to be missing someone–“They say home is where the heart is, and if that’s so, I must be a loveless rolling stone”–what a line. “Like the Rain” is the most country moment on the album; it’s a song about a man who “floods my heart, then leaves it desert dry.” I am glad this song lets Aubrie’s voice shine and tell us the story. She really conveys the sadness of the woman in this song well. The album closes with the full garage country “Living is Killing Me.” Honestly, I’ve listened to this song four times, and I can’t quote a line. It’s not bad, it’s just unnecessary. Fourteen songs is generally too many for an album, and this one feels like filler, and further forces the style.

Overall, this is a great album. Aubrie Sellers has a remarkable voice, and her unique garage country style is original and suits her. Still, there are moments of overproduction, where the style is simply overdone. Having said that, this is, for the most part, an excellent debut. New City Blues brings something new to the table, and it’s definitely worth checking out.

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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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Album Review: Eric Church–Mr. Misunderstood

Rating: 8/10

When it comes to Eric Church, one just has to accept that he’s always going to be more rock than country. This doesn’t make him some sort of sellout or trend-chaser; that’s always been part of his style, and the fact that he hasn’t veered from it or tried to be a different artist than himself should be commended. If you’re looking for fiddle and steel, it’s as simple as this: don’t seek it in Eric Church’s music. However, within the confines of his rock-country status, Eric Church can bring some truly excellent music. He has shown us two sides: the more rootsy, stripped-down side found in albums like Chief and Sinners Like Me, and the sweeping, arena rock style found on The Outsiders. It’s the former that suits Eric Church, and when he dropped a surprise album in the mail to his fan club last week, we all began hoping he would get back to this. I’m glad to say that his rootsy rock-country style is indeed what we hear on Mr. Misunderstood, and the result is a very good Eric Church release.

The album’s title track and opener starts with just Church and an acoustic guitar, which is immediately better than anything on The Outsiders and shows promise for the rest of the record. It’s an ode to all those who don’t fit in but will one day lead the band and be popular because of their music. “Your buddies get their rocks off on top 40 radio, but you love your daddy’s vinyl and old time rock ‘n’ roll” feels like a personal line for Eric Church, and this song feels quite honest. I wish it had stayed stripped-down throughout the entire song, but that’s not a critical comment so much as a personal preference. “Mistress Named Music” is one of my favorites; this is a song about the allure music can have on people. “I’m still chasing this song with a guitar full of freedom and a head full of lines”–what an excellent lyric. The production builds throughout this song, really capturing the song in a way that was held back slightly on “Mr. Misunderstood.” “Chattanooga Lucy” is a song people will either love or hate–it’s a bluesy rock song about, well, a woman nicknamed “Chattanooga Lucy”–but it’s a song where I pay much more attention to everything happening musically. Incidentally, I should point out that only seven musicians are given credit for contributing to this album, including Eric Church and producer Jay Joyce–say what you will about Church, but this is just insane in 2015 for a mainstream artist. It results in a very cohesive, sometimes live-sounding album, even if it isn’t country-sounding.

“Mixed Drinks About Feelings” features Susan Tedeschi, who is a ridiculously talented artist in her own right–just go listen to the Tedeschi Trucks Band–and whose name makes me think this will be an excellent track. It’s not an excellent one, but it is a pretty damn good one–the two sing this song well together, and the line “my figured out has never been more confused” cannot be overlooked. Now, I have listened to “Knives of New Orleans” several times, and I still have no words to write that would explain it–it’s just a remarkable display of songwriting that you should listen to. It tells a great story, and it’s a case where I feel the rock production really works. It doesn’t matter if you wanted to hear country–if you’re a fan of damn good music, give this a listen.

The next two songs suffer from slight production issues; I could have done without the lead-ins of electronic drums on these tracks. “Round Here Buzz” could be a single; it’s a nice small-town anthem that actually feels somewhat authentic, as opposed to every checklist country song we’ve ever been exposed to. Having said that, although it’s not a bad song, it doesn’t really do anything for the album. “Kill a Word” is a very interesting, well-written take on bullying and hate. “If I could kill a word” is the premise–Church sings of beating “regret,” shooting “goodbye,” and choking “Lonely,” among other things. “Holdin’ my Own” is a simple little song about just that: fighting adversity and standing one’s ground. It’s a song that might be overshadowed by others on this album, but after some listens, this one has come out of nowhere to be one of my personal favorites. It’s a case of “less is more,” and it’s just pleasant to listen to and will connect with many. “Record Year” is a little too pop for my taste in places, but having said that, it could make a good single and is certainly not a straight pop song–I’d probably call it pop rock. It’s a heartbreak song in which the narrator is trying to get over a woman by playing various “records”–as an avid listener of “everything from Jones to Janis” too, like the narrator, I can identify with this song quite a lot and just wish it sounded a little less pop. However, there’s no doubt that some of the best songwriting on the entire album is found on this song. “Three Year Old” closes the album nicely–it’s a song about the lessons we can learn from children, from the ridiculous to the profound.

Overall, this is without a doubt the best release we have yet been granted from Eric Church. There is no use belaboring the point that there is no fiddle and steel, and that this is at its core a rock album. This has always been Eric Church’s place in music, and his rock-country sound is at its best on Mr. Misunderstood. There are some truly excellent moments of songwriting here, most notably on “Knives of New Orleans” and “Record Year,” and it’s important to note that Church either wrote or co-wrote every single track. The fact that there are only seven musicians on this entire album is nothing short of mind-blowing. As I said earlier, you know what you’re getting with Eric Church–so either don’t listen, and miss some truly great music, or go into it with that in mind when you do listen. And if you do listen, you’ll find a lot to love about this album.

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Female Fridays: Featuring Kasey Chambers

Well, I was introduced to Kasey Chambers when Josh at Country Perspective reviewed her latest album, Bittersweet, in August. A day later, I was
reviewing it myself and now I am here to feature Australia’s best-kept secret.

How You Might Know Kasey

Most probably won’t know her; I didn’t know her before I read a review.

Bio

From a 2014 interview on recording her album Bittersweet live:

There’s something to be said about that, particularly in this style of music. Maybe if you’re making dance tracks or something, I get that the layering is part of the process and that is probably a positive thing in that aspect. But playing this sort of music I think there’s something to be said about capturing a moment. That’s what people relate to when they hear you live and I want people to hear who I really am live. I don’t want to go in and sing the songs 30 times over to make sure I get the vocal perfectly and then put auto-tune on and do all those things, which means that you get some dodgy moments but it’s real. I want it to be real.

And just by being “real,” Kasey Chambers has been a platinum-selling, award-winning artist in Australia for fifteen years. Born June 4, 1976, from Mount Gambier, the daughter of Australian country singer Bill Chambers, Kasey grew up around music. Early in her career, she was a member of the Dead Ringer Band, along with her family. After going solo in 1999, she released her first album, The Captain, to both critical acclaim and commercial success. Mixing bluegrass, traditional country, and roots rock, Kasey has gone on to sell millions of solo albums and win numerous awards. She has released seven solo albums to date, including Storybook, an album of covers from other artists. Chambers has also produced two albums with her husband, fellow Australian singer-songwriter Shane Nicholson. After Nicholson and Chambers separated in 2013, Kasey changed direction with Bittersweet. Instead of her longtime producer, brother Nash Chambers, Kasey chose American Producer Nick Didea, partly upon Nash’s suggestion. Instead of her normally featured guitar, Kasey chose a banjo to back much of Bittersweet, and the result was her best album to date. Since my introduction to Kasey, when this album was released in the U.S., I have been catching up on her music. From country to rock to bluegrass, I have found much music to enjoy. In Australia, she’s a household name, and we shouldn’t be missing out on her music here in America.

What Kasey Brings to Country Music

I changed this section a little for Kasey because her music doesn’t get sent to radio in the States. In Australia, she’s had commercial success. So I want to focus on making Kasey Chambers fans here in the U.S. She’s known in Australia for her incredible voice. Like Ashley Monroe, when Kasey sings, you stop and listen. When I first heard “Oh Grace,” the opening track on Bittersweet, it was her voice that captured my attention. She has a raw quality when she sings. Her writing has the same raw honesty about it; often she discusses God and whether or not He is real and can indeed save us. I chose her quote above because this is the best explanation of the Kasey I know and love: she’s “real.” I don’t know a better way to explain it than this. Finally, whether you enjoy country, rock, or bluegrass, you will find a Kasey Chambers track you like–she truly has created an “evolution” of the country sound.

Tracks I Recommend

Since Kasey has so many albums, I recommend just listening and finding one you like. Instead of posting specific songs, I’ll link what I consider to be her best albums.

Bittersweet

Wreck and Ruin [with Shane Nicholson]

Wayward Angel