Derek’s Top Ten Country Songs – September 2014

 

There were quite a bit of music releases this month, so for me to narrow this down to ten wasn’t as easy as I thought.  In my opinion, the best song released this month was Keeley Valentino’s “Burned.” I said quite a bit about the song in my review of her EP, here’s a snippet: Perhaps the most impressive part of the whole song is the fact that Keeley hits such a high note in the choruses. Her high-notes combined with the echoing instrumentation create a sort of haunting emptiness that captures the emotions of the song’s characters.” Without a doubt that was the song that stood out to me the most this month. Number two is Lee Ann Womack’s “Same Kind of Different” which was easily her best song on The Way I’m Livin’. I’m not surprised that women hit the top two marks on my top ten. Female country singers have been releasing a number of quality albums over the past few years, and I hope to see that trend continue. The Phillip Fox Band gets a spot at number three with the impressive Country Fried Rock N’ Roll western tune “Nothin’ Worse Than Weak.” Number four is The Roy’s heartbreaking, yet well-written Alzheimer’s song called “Sometimes.” Rounding out the top five, I have my favorite song from Tim McGraw’s Sundown Heaven Townhis duet with Catherine Dunn called “Diamond Rings and Old Barstools.”

The Phillip Fox Band appears again at number six with “Ava Lee”, the upbeat love song about a couple living life in the fast lane, and the man debates if he should settle down and have a future with her. Josh Turner’s new single, “Lay Low” comes in at number seven. Lee Ann Womack shows up again at number eight with “Prelude: Fly.” I was captivated by this track during my first listen and it features some great vocal work from Womack. Keeley Valentino makes another appearance on the list with “Love Will Come Around Again” at number nine. It’s a great song about getting over a break up and preparing yourself for when the next person comes to capture your heart. Finally, concluding the top ten is Wade Bowen with “When I Woke Up Today.”  This fun song is about finding joy in life and remaining positive while the trials of a life on the road take form. It’s a great lead off single for his new self-titled album due out late next month.

Honorable Mentions:

  • “Your Daddy’s Boots” by Dustin Lynch – I really wanted this song in my top ten. It’s easily the best song on Where It’s At and possibly Lynch’s best of his young career.
  • “Sick of Me” by Tim McGraw – Another standout track from Sundown Heaven Town. Great song writing and a good, mid-tempo traditional/modern blend of country music.
  • “Writin’ a New Damn Book” by Phillip Fox Band. A great up-beat southern rock song about marking your own path through life.
  • “Heaven Needed Her More” by The Roys. A beautiful song about getting over a death of a loved one and remaining positive through the heartbreak.

October has a ton of albums due out.  Next month’s top ten list might be even harder!

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Josh’s Top Ten Country Songs – September 2014

(Note: Only songs released in September 2014 are eligible to make the list)

September was a huge month for new mainstream country album releases. You might have noticed by the increased amount of reviews we’ve been doing on the site and this going to continue into the month of October as they’ll be even more new albums on the way. But before we begin October it’s time to look back on the best country music of September. The purpose of these monthly playlists is to bring attention to you the readers the best recent songs in country music. So without further ado let’s break down this month’s top ten list.

Lee Ann Womack’s album was by far the best country album released in September, so it’s no surprise she takes the top spot and three of the top four in the top ten. Her new album The Way I’m Livin’ is fantastic and highly recommend listening to it if you haven’t yet. Another thing to note is this is the third month this year that Womack has made the top ten list here on Country Perspective. The other artist that had three songs make the top ten list is Keeley Valentino. Her new self-titled EP was short, but sweet for the ears. Her top song from the EP, “Burned,” is the standout from it and certainly worthy of being #2 on the list. Coming in at #6 is a song from the Brothers Osborne’s new self-titled EP, “Love The Lonely Out Of You,” an emotional love ballad that really showcases the true talent of the duo. At #7 is the new duet single from Blake Shelton and Ashley Monroe, “Lonely Tonight.” I’m glad Shelton released this ahead of his album release today because this list is prepared days in advance, therefore making it unable for me to listen to the album. I’ve stated in the past my respect for Monroe’s work and it’s nice to see Shelton put something with merit out again.

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Next is Josh Turner’s new single, “Lay Low,” which is a solid love song and a nice return song for him after an extended hiatus from country music. I’m looking forward to hearing the material on his new album. Coming in at #9 is a song from Big & Rich’s new album Gravity, which I will be reviewing very soon, titled “Thank God for Pain.” It’s a modern country song with a good message and features good harmonies from Big Kenny and John Rich. The final song to round out Country Perspective’s top ten country songs of September 2014 list is another song from Valentino, “Signs for Bakersfield.”

While there were a lot of new country songs released this month, that doesn’t mean a lot of quality. There was a lot of bad music released, however there are a few songs that deserve honorable mention and were close to making the top ten list.

Honorable Mentions: 

Brothers Osborne – “Stay A Little Longer”

Big & Rich – “This Kind of Town”

Lee Brice – “Panama City” & “Whiskey Used To Burn”

Tim McGraw – “Sick of Me” & “Diamond Rings And Old Barstools”

Review: Carrie Underwood’s “Something in the Water”

I distinctly remember the first time I ever heard Carrie Underwood sing. It was back when I was watching American Idol (that was a long time ago) and I heard her audition for the show. Soon as she was done singing I knew I had just heard a future star and I knew she was going to win the show that year without a doubt. Her powerful and dynamic voice, plus her charming looks make record executives see money falling from the skies. Her first record, Some Hearts, she put out was quite good and decidedly country. It was on the second album, Carnival Ride, when she really took off and became a huge star. Unfortunately when artists become big stars they lose their original sound as it starts to drift to whatever is popular in the mainstream at the moment. This is what has happened to Underwood as her music has become decidedly more pop sounding and less country sounding. Not only that, but the songwriting and themes have gotten progressively worse. I can’t listening to her songs like “Cowboy Casanova,” “Undo It,” “See You Again” and “Blown Away.” To me these songs are not a true representation of Underwood’s incredible talent, which is her fantastic voice. And then she made the horrible decision of teaming up with Miranda Lambert on “Somethin’ Bad,” although I understand the reason they did it. Women are struggling to make it onto radio right now, even though Underwood has it easier than Kacey Musgraves or Brandy Clark. So when she announced she’s releasing a greatest hits album, along with a new single titled “Something in the Water,” I was hopeful she returned to her original sound and it sounded somewhat country.

Does she return to her original sound with this new single? Actually she does. The song is about someone feeling reborn and changed after being baptized in a river. It’s an appropriate return to a Christian theme for Underwood considering she’s releasing her greatest hits album and her first big hit was “Jesus Take The Wheel,” a decidedly Christian-themed song. It’s also appropriate with Underwood due to have her first child soon, so obviously with her deeply held religious beliefs she’s quite thankful at the moment. The songwriting is actually quite good in this song, so kudos to Underwood, Chris DeStefano and Brett James who wrote this song (thank you Windmills Country for this information). The song is definitely pop country, but at least there’s a banjo present in the song mixed in with the contemporary sounding pop/rock sound you hear in modern country songs. So at least this isn’t a straight pop song. The energy and pace of this song is fast and exciting, which will surely catch many listeners’ attention.

With Underwood being one of the very few female country artists with enough star power to be a hit on radio and have crossover appeal, I understand why she doesn’t release straight country music. It isn’t marketable enough for her label or brand, aka not enough money. So all I ask from Underwood with her music now is to at least sound pop country, have good songwriting and most importantly let her voice shine front and center. I think “Something in the Water” hits all of these points, so this is the best you can expect from Underwood considering the situation she is in. Someday she’ll make a straight country album and it’ll be great, but that’s many years down the road when Underwood is older and her star power fades. Her vocals were absolutely stellar on this single and wasn’t overshadowed by the production, which was a little overproduced, but didn’t overshadow the vocals. I think it has a great chance of being a top ten song that gets a lot of radio play.

I’m glad Underwood went back to a theme that represents her and she’s allowing her vocals do the heavy lifting in the song. If you don’t like pop country, you won’t like this song. If you can appreciate well written pop country and Underwood’s amazing vocals, you’ll enjoy this song.

Grade: 8/10

Album Review – Kenny Chesney’s The Big Revival

For the last 10 years or so I think everyone could sum up Kenny Chesney’s albums with two words: beach songs. And they’re exactly right. After starting out as a traditional country artist, Chesney made one successful beach album and realized that he could make a killing putting out Jimmy Buffett type songs. He then felt the need to put out several more of these albums, with each one pissing off critics more and more. We all know he’s capable of more than beach songs, so when he showed more seriousness for his new album, The Big Revival, I was looking forward to hearing a new sound from Chesney other than reggae and cool island breezes. Let me just say this before I start reviewing the songs on this album. This is probably the least beach sounding album he’s put out in several years, but that doesn’t mean the side of Chesney I dislike doesn’t come out on this album. He does however put out a few surprising good songs.

The Best Songs on the Album

The two best songs on this album are at the end of it. The first is “Don’t It,” a song about experiencing disappointment in life and how these experiences make you stronger from them. His vocals are great and the instrumentation is perfect for a soft song like this one. It’s just an acoustic guitar and Chesney’s voice. This it the kind of song that makes me like Chesney. Another song that makes me like him is “If This Bus Could Talk.” It’s a song about the sentimental meaning of a family bus that Chesney has grown up with his whole life and has seen many memories over the years. The inclusion of the piano alongside the guitar in this song is great, making it a real solid country song with good vocals and instrumentation. This song is supposed to create a nostalgic feeling and I think it will for many listeners.

Another song I think stands out and not just for its controversial theme is “The Big Revival,” the opening track on this album. The song is about a church where the pastor apparently tests people’s faith in God by having them hold a copperhead snake. Now some people may be offended by this ridiculous ritual because it paints this church to be a cult almost. But here’s why I’m not offended by it (I’m a Christian by the way). I don’t think this song is being serious in any way. Do you really go into a Chesney album expecting a lot of seriousness? If you do, you’ve apparently missed his last ten beach albums. I think it’s actually a fun song with a really catchy beat that actually talks about a theme you normally don’t see in mainstream country music. If there’s one thing I don’t like about this song it’s the echoes at the beginning of the song. I’m more offended by this more than the theme. I think this is a rock country song with strong instrumentation.

The Worst Songs on the Album

Chesney would be a solid country artist if he could put out an entire album of songs like the ones I point out above. But Chesney just can’t help himself and goes back to his old tropes that have made him famous. He doesn’t necessarily go back to the beach, but rather the party atmosphere. You may be able to infer its at the beach, but that’s up to you the listener. There’s one song title that stood out like a giant sore thumb when I was perusing the title tracks on this album and that’s “Beer Can Chicken.” It’s about what you would expect from a song with this ridiculous title. The song isn’t horribly offensive, but rather it’s just full of a long list of clichés you’re used to hearing in Chesney’s radio hits. The lyrics are very bland, but the instrumentation is solid. Based on this I think this song would probably do great on radio because I think this is the type of song that mainstream country fans eat right up. Think of it as a watered down version of Zac Brown Band’s “Toes.”

The other song on the album that is just down right bad is “Rock Bottom.” The song is about a man who has hit rock bottom in his life and he’s bouncing back by partying of course because that’s what normal people do according to mainstream country music. This is the kind of song that makes you hate Chesney because once again it’s a song filled with party clichés, including a reference to AC/DC’s “Back in Black,” further proving country music’s desperate attempt to be hair metal from the late 80s (I know AC/DC didn’t really do hair metal, but remember mainstream country music doesn’t work with logic). Just like “Beer Can Chicken” the lyrics are bland and repetitive. This is a song that also gets really irritating after repeated listens, so I would advise you to only listen to this song once if you’re morbidly interested in bad music.

The Rest of the Album

The remainder of the songs on this album hover around average to above average. Just like the first two singles from this album, “American Kids” and “Flora Bama,” “Til It’s Gone” is a decent song with just decent lyrics. The theme isn’t real clear and the instrumentation is just there. All three are songs that I have a “shrug my shoulders” attitude towards. I can take them or leave them. “Drink It Up” is an obvious drinking song of course. It has decent electric guitar play and is definitely more of a rock song than a country song. The theme has been done to death, but it’s doesn’t feel that cliché really. It’s a fun song that is completely harmless, but it’s a little boring. Another song along this same vein is “Save It for a Rainy Day.” The song is about a man who is getting over a broken relationship and trying to keep positive in the face of his heartbreak. He wants to save his tears for a rainy day. The song is above average and has a good message I guess. The lyrics are a little cliché and almost makes it come off in the same way “Rock Bottom” does, but it narrowly avoids this image.

One other song I feel is decent is Chesney’s duet with Grace Potter on “Wild Child.” Now is this a duet like you would hear on a Shovels & Rope album that would blow your socks away? Absolutely not, but I’ve always appreciated Chesney including the talented Potter on his albums. It’s a love ballad about a man’s crush who’s a free spirit that can’t be held down for too long. Chesney doesn’t have the greatest and most dynamic voice, but I thought they were good enough here alongside a talented vocalist like Potter. It’s a soft song with nice instrumentation.

Overall Thoughts

Kenny Chesney definitely took his songs in a more rock direction on this album, something I’m completely fine with. It’s working well for Zac Brown Band right now and I think it works at times for Chesney on The Big Revival. Although Chesney is no where near the talent of Zac Brown Band and he doesn’t have Dave Grohl to work with. I also have to point out that this album is only 11 songs long, so I applaud Chesney for hitting the perfect album length and not making it an absurd songs length (I’m looking at you Tim McGraw, Lee Brice and Miranda Lambert). In this album’s bright spots the songwriting was actually solid. The best song on the album, “Don’t It,” was written by Chase McGill and Brent Cobb (third time this month Cobb has appeared in a review and I’ve praised his songwriting). The other song that has great songwriting is “If This Bus Could Talk,” which was written by Chesney and Tom Douglas. Chesney helped write four songs on this album (the other three are “Wild Child,” “Flora Bama” and “Beer Can Chicken”). In this album’s low spots, the songwriting was pretty bad. For some reason Chesney couldn’t fully escape the hokey and cliché lyrics that have earned criticism from people for years. I must say though the instrumentation on this album is really good and probably the best on a Chesney album since his early days.

This is a step in the right direction for Chesney, but there’s just too much holding this album back from being classified as good and really he had nowhere to go but up after his last album Life On A Rock. It surprised me with the amount of quality songs though (only three songs) and I give him credit for getting away from the beach for the most part. This album is worth a listen if you’re a country audiophile like me, but I definitely can’t recommend it.

Grade: 4.5/10

The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Music [Oct. 4]

Every week I take a look at the current top ten country songs on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart and give each song either a +1, a -1 or a 0. These will then be tallied up for an overall score, or pulse of the current top ten country songs, with the highest possible score being a +10 and the lowest possible score being a -10. The goal of this exercise is to evaluate the current state of mainstream country music and determine if it’s improving or getting worse. To see the full list of hot country songs for this week, click here. Let’s take a look at this week’s top ten.

  1. Jason Aldean – “Burnin’ It Down” -1
  2. Florida Georgia Line – “Dirt” +1
  3. Kenny Chesney – “American Kids” 0
  4. Sam Hunt – “Leave The Night On” -1
  5. Luke Bryan – “Roller Coaster” 0
  6. Dustin Lynch – “Where It’s At (Yep, Yep)” -1
  7. Cole Swindell – Hope You Get Lonely Tonight -1
  8. Blake Shelton – “Neon Light” 0
  9. Lady Antebellum – “Bartender” -1
  10. Chase Rice – “Ready Set Roll” -1

The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Music: -5

The pulse remains at -5, despite some shuffling of the top ten. “Somethin’ Bad” fell out of the top ten and is replaced by Chase Rice’s “Ready Set Roll,” basically just swapping bad music for even worse music. Sam Hunt’s “Leave The Night On” moves into the top five for the first time at #4. This continues to amaze me because he is no way, shape or form country and his music absolutely sucks. What’s worse is his album has yet to be released and if it’s a smash hit you can expect a rant of epic proportions from yours truly. I expect a couple of bad Jason Aldean songs to make it in the top ten the next two weeks also. October is going to be a long month.Ugh.