Review – Eric Church’s “Like A Wrecking Ball”

Eric Church
Photo Credit: ericchurch.com

Hit and miss. That’s how I would describe Eric Church’s singles choices over his career. It’s never in-between. I either really like the single or I hate it. Let’s take a look at the singles that have come from The Outsiders so far. First it was the album’s title track. The whole theme of this song made me not even take it seriously. Church’s whole schtick of being a rebel, outsider to the Nashville machine is a load of crap. He’s part of the system and while he may not do it exactly the way they like it, he’s nevertheless still a part of the machine. Then there was “Give Me Back My Hometown,” which to me had corny lyrics and a lackluster production. Plus the fact it’s a pop rock song. Church’s last two singles, “Cold One” and “Talladega,” I found to be good. Both were right in Church’s wheelhouse thematically and weren’t overproduced. That leads us to his newest single “Like A Wrecking Ball.”

Right away I can tell this is an overproduced mess. What stands out the most is Church’s voice. It sounds like he is singing underwater, in a hole and it’s pretty annoying. I don’t understand the point of making his voice sound like this and to me it adds absolutely nothing to the song. The premise of the song is it’s about Church being on the road for a while and coming home to make love to his wife. Now I understand this and there are many love songs along this line. Except this doesn’t come across as a love song. It comes across as a sex song. Just look at these lyrics and judge for yourself:

You… look at you send me one more shot sitting on a bathroom sink.
Damn you really turn me on painting your toenails pink.
Easy baby before you say but if I can make it just one more day, and

That old house is gonna be shaking.
I hope those bricks and boards can take it.
But I won’t be surprised if the whole damn place just falls.
I’m gonna rock you baby, like a wrecking ball.

This song should come off as romantic and sweet. Instead it comes off as crude and tasteless. Don’t get me wrong I have no problem with a sex song, but this song is using those type of lyrics in a song where it doesn’t belong. Throw in the production, along with a sound that once again isn’t very country and you have this cluster of a song. It’s really indicative of Church’s entire album, as it has no idea what it wants to be. It feels like it’s all over the place and I have no idea how I’m supposed to make a connection with it.

So this is definitely a big miss for me. “Like A Wrecking Ball” sounds like a song from a one-hit wonder, pop rock artist in the 80s. It’s not romantic nor sexy. It’s a hot mess from the productions to the lyrics to the vocals. If you’re an Eric Church fan, you probably don’t have a problem with this song. Most Church fans I’ve found have accepted the spacey, pop rock sound of The Outsiders. It’ll be interesting to see how this performs on the charts and radio. “Cold One” peaked at #20, but “Talladega” became a #1 hit. “Like A Wrecking Ball” is a song I wouldn’t recommend unless you’re a die-hard Church fan.

Grade: 4/10

The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Music [March 7]

Thomas Rhett sucks

Each week I take a look the Billboard Country Airplay chart and grade the top 30 songs. The grading format I use each week is every song will receive either a +1, -1 or a 0. These will then be tallied up for an overall score, or pulse of the current top thirty country songs, with the highest possible score being a +30 and the lowest possible score being a -30. How do I determine if a song is rated a +1, -1 or 0? The rating it received on the site by either Derek or myself will determine this. If it hasn’t been rated yet, then I will make the call. Songs rated between 7 and 10 receive a +1. Songs rated between 5 and 6.5 receive a 0. Songs rated 4.5 or lower receive a -1.

The goal of this exercise is to evaluate the current state of mainstream country music and determine if it’s improving or getting worse. Let’s take a look at this week’s top thirty. (By the way this will now come out on Wednesday every week. I have a new Friday feature debuting this week too.)  

  1. Thomas Rhett – “Make Me Wanna” -1 (Up 1)
  2. Blake Shelton & Ashley Monroe – “Lonely Tonight” +1 (Up 2)
  3. Randy Houser – “Like A Cowboy” +1 (Up 2)
  4. Brett Eldredge – “Mean To Me” (Up 3)
  5. Jason Aldean – “Just Gettin’ Started” -1 (Up 1)
  6. Florida Georgia Line – “Sun Daze” -1 (Down 5)
  7. Luke Bryan – “I See You” -1 (Down 4)
  8. Chris Young – “Lonely Eyes”
  9. Darius Rucker – “Homegrown Honey” -1 
  10. Cole Swindell – “Ain’t Worth The Whiskey” -1 (Up 2)
  11. Lee Brice – “Drinking Class” +1
  12. Chase Bryant – “Take It On Back” -1 (Down 2)
  13. Zac Brown Band – “Homegrown” +1 
  14. Sam Hunt – “Take Your Time” -1 
  15. Dierks Bentley – “Say You Do” +1 
  16. Jake Owen – “What We Ain’t Got” +1 
  17. Keith Urban & Eric Church – “Raise ‘Em Up” (Up 3)
  18. Tyler Farr – “A Guy Walks Into A Bar” +1 
  19. A Thousand Horses – “Smoke”
  20. Lady Antebellum – “Freestyle” -1 (Down 3)
  21. Miranda Lambert – “Little Red Wagon” -1 (Up 1)
  22. Eric Paslay – “She Don’t Love You” +1 (Up 1)
  23. Billy Currington – “Don’t It” -1 (Up 1)
  24. Easton Corbin – “Baby Be My Love Song” -1 (Up 1)
  25. Kenny Chesney & Grace Potter – “Wild Child” +1 (Up 1)
  26. Tim McGraw & Catherine Dunn – “Diamond Rings and Old Barstools” +1 (Up 1)
  27. Joe Nichols – “Hard To Be Cool” -1 (Up 1)
  28. Canaan Smith – “Love You Like That” -1 (Up 2)
  29. Kelsea Ballerini – “Love Me Like You Mean It” -1 (Re-enters Top 30)
  30. Josh Turner – “Lay Low” +1 (Re-enters Top 30)

Kristian Bush’s “Trailer Hitch” fell from #21 to out of the top 30.

Toby Keith’s “Drunk Americans” fell from #29 to out of the top 30.

The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Music: -4

The pulse remains the same at -4 this week, despite some changes. Kristian Bush’s “Trailer Hitch” basically ran its course on radio and as a result dropped from not only the top 30, but the top 60. Toby Keith’s “Drunk Americans” finally fell from the top 30, although it fell just outside of it so there’s a chance it could come back. There is some good news for Josh Turner fans, as his single “Lay Low” has re-entered the top 30 after dropping from it last week. I thought this would happen and with more older singles continuing to drop from the top 30 he should have no problem staying in the top 30. The other song that re-entered the top 30 this week was Kelsea Ballerini’s “Love Me Like You Mean It.” As you know I don’t like this song and hopefully I’ll have a review soon explaining why.

Once again we have a new #1 this week in Thomas Rhett’s “Make Me Wanna.” While it’s certainly not an improvement over previous #1 Florida Georgia Line’s “Sun Daze,” it’s encouraging to see “Sun Daze” only last one week on top. In fact it had a huge drop this week along with Luke Bryan’s “I See You.” If this continues they should be out of top 30 within two weeks and this would greatly benefit country music. If I’m Florida Georgia Line I would be concerned because not only is “Sun Daze” is dropping like a rock, but “Sippin’ On Fire” is stalling near the bottom of the top 60 on the country airplay chart. Also don’t be surprised if “Lonely Tonight” is the new #1 next week.

The biggest gainers this week are Brett Eldredge’s “Mean to Me,” which moved up three spots to #4 on the chart and Keith Urban and Eric Church’s “Raise ‘Em Up” moved up three spots to #17. “Raise ‘Em Up” is climbing the chart fast and should eventually reach #1. The biggest losers this week are Kristian Bush’s “Trailer Hitch,” which fell from #21 to out of the top 60, Florida Georgia Line’s “Sun Daze” fell five spots to #6 and Luke Bryan’s “I See You” fell four spots to #7. Another song with a noticeable drop is Lady Antebellum’s “Freestyle,” which fell three spots. With a lot of new singles rising behind it, this song should be out of the top 30 sooner rather than later. As for songs outside the top 30 I could see making it in the top 30 soon, I expect Brad Paisley’s “Crushin’ It,” Carrie Underwood’s “Little Toy Guns,” Gloriana’s “Trouble” and Rascal Flatts’ “Riot” to all make it within a few weeks. Paisley and Underwood are pretty much guaranteed, Gloriana is radio friendly and Rascal Flatts just started their Vegas shows, which should mean a bump in radio play.

As always be sure to weigh in on this week’s chart in the comments below!

Album Review – Gretchen Peters’ Blackbirds is a Dark, Poignant Tale of Life

For nearly twenty years, Gretchen Peters has been thriving behind the scenes of Nashville. She found early mainstream success as a songwriter, with Faith Hill cutting Peters’ “The Secret of Life” and Martina McBride recording the award-winning “Independence Day.” While she didn’t quite break through the mold, she continued to write and record. In fact, Gretchen Peters was inducted into the Nashville Songwriter’s Hall of Fame in October 2014. Now Peters is back with her eighth studio release. Blackbirds is the dark tale of life’s hardships. Gretchen Peters sings songs of death and broken hearts, but the reality grounded in each tale add an ironic sense of beauty to the darkness the album holds.

One of the things that stood out to me the most with this album was the production of each song. Whether it’s a slowed down piano ballad or a more upbeat rocking song, the instrumentation and production add to each and every song’s story and mood. Peters took the production reigns for Blackbirds alongside the album’s guitarist Doug Lancio and pianist Barry Walsh. The title track starts the album off with a haunting, heavy guitar lick production. It’s a murder ballad about killing an alcoholic, probably abusive, father. “Blackbirds” rightfully sets the tone for the whole album from the dark production to the biting lyrics, and Peters’ vocals are equally as haunting. “Pretty Things” is a heartbreaking tale of a woman who hates her beauty because everything materially beautiful eventually falls and is ruined. It’s presented from a view-point of a self-fulfilling prophecy where she believes her outer beauty won’t last.

“When All You Got is a Hammer” details the life of a war veteran back home dealing with PTSD. This has a more rocking, groovy production to the song. This is one of the better written songs on the album, in my opinion. Read the chorus: “they show you how to shoot and they show you how to kill.  They don’t show what do to with this hole you can’t fill.  So you dwell in the darkness of your soul like Jonah in the belly of a whale.  And all you got is a hammer, and everything looks like a nail.” Also, Jason Isbell provides some harmonies on this track, which is a nice addition. Following this song is “Everything Falls Away,” which is a despairing piano ballad about trying to move on after a loved one passes away.

“The House on Auburn Street” is another ballad track. This songs deals with the childhood home of the narrator burning down. Gretchen Peters sings how the town gathers around while the firefighters work to put out the flames, and she reflects on her life living and growing up in the house. The stripped back production and vocals add to the nostalgia embedded into the lyrics. “When You Comin’ Home” is a song about a woman pining for her man to return home. Jimmy La Fave adds vocals in this duet where the couple has grown apart, with lines about the physical home falling apart as a metaphor for the broken relationship.

“Jubilee” is perhaps the best song on the album. Told from the point of view of a person on their death-bed, this song focuses on final thoughts and gearing up to go to heaven. This is a beautiful, gospel like song, with a piano driving the song and excellent vocals from Peters. Also, “Jubilee” features one of the best lines I’ve heard in a song. “My body’s broken, but not my soul. You know it’s love and only love that’s made me whole.” It’s simply a beautiful song. “Black Ribbons” deals with a family in New Orleans trying to survive while hurricanes continue to pound the city. The man has too much pride in the house he built to move, and his fall seems to come in the form of losing his family to the storm.

“Nashville” is an acoustic tune about going home after leaving the one you love. Peters sings this from a first-person point of view. The song is quite introspective with Peters comparing her reckless actions to a train speeding down a mountain or a violent storm on a summer day. “Cure for the Pain” is another heartbreak song about watching a loved one dying in the hospital. The song moves from an angry, helpless perspective to acceptance of the inevitable. Peters’ vocals on top of an acoustic guitar shine on this track; she sells the pain of the situation well here. Blackbirds concludes with an acoustic version of the title track.

Overall, Blackbirds is dark and heartbreaking, but there’s an ironic beauty to the darkness. Gretchen Peters is a seasoned, award-winning songwriter. Her writing on Blackbirds is top-notch; with scenes and feelings described perfectly within each song while still driving the story forward. And as I mentioned before, the production on each track adds even more to the mood of the songs. Regardless of how dark the album may be, the consistency and focus put into making every aspect work in conjunction pays off. Blackbirds is a fantastic album.

Grade: 10/10

If you don’t do Spotify, you can listen to the album here off Soundcloud.

 

 

Album Review – Aaron Watson’s ‘The Underdog’

Aaron Watson The Underdog

What’s an underdog? According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, underdog is defined as the following:

a person, team, etc., that is expected to lose a contest or battle

a less powerful person or thing that struggles against a more powerful person or thing (such as a corporation)

Aaron Watson has been making music for over 15 years and has now released a dozen albums. He’s beloved in the Texas/Red Dirt scene and is known quite well in those parts. How is Watson an underdog? Well in the world of country music Watson is absolutely an underdog. He’s an independent, Texas/Red Dirt country artist who doesn’t have a single mainstream hit and yet probably should have several by now. By all accounts and judging by his interactions on social, he’s a very nice person and a good family man. Watson has the country look and the country sounding music that people like. Has the total package, right? But take a look at the second line of the definition of underdog. Aaron Watson is the personification of it. The corporation is Nashville/Music Row.

Aaron Watson’s new album The Underdog is his stand and really the stand for underdog country artists everywhere. Fans have noticed too, as each week leading up this album release a new song from the album was released to iTunes and it immediately shot to the top of the country chart. To say the intrigue and anticipation for this album was high is an understatement. So does The Underdog match the hype? Well if you love the honky-tonk, 90s style country sound you’ll definitely want to keep reading.

The album kicks off with “The Prayer,” where Watson prays to God. The Christian influence is palpable in this song, as Watson professes that he can’t be the “king of me.” The instrumentation is really well done and is a precursor to the rest of the album. The next song, “Wildfire,” takes a more fun approach. This song was actually originally performed by John Mayer and also previously covered by Rascal Flatts. I can definitely say this is the best version of the three. The clapping in the chorus of this song makes it quite catchy and provides a great hook. While the lyrics mirror bro country, I wouldn’t necessarily classify it as such. It’s not as forced and there’s no creepy misogyny behind it.

The energy stays high with “Freight Train.” The banjo drives the rhythm of this song and gives it the element many 90s country songs had: it makes people want to dance. And no Watson is not rapping like the bro country artists have attempted in recent years. He’s doing spoken word, which is a lost art in country music (or butchered in a few cases in 2014). Some may even call it an auctioneer style. This is a fun country song that belongs on the radio. Yes, bro country and metro-politan fans real country music can be fun.

While “That Look” is a little too checklist-y to me at times, it really reminds me of 90s country. From the instrument arrangement to the lyrics, this song could have easily played on the radio in the 90s. One cheesy line that does make me cringe a little is when Watson sings, “that girl is off the hook.” I could have done without that line and so could the song. “Getaway Truck” is another song that just relies too much on clichés. In fact this is one of the closest songs to bro country on the album. The instrumentation is good though, especially the fiddles.

One of the best songs on The Underdog is “Bluebonnets (Julia’s Song).” It’s essentially a song about life and how short it can be, so you should enjoy it for all you can. He compares life to bluebonnets in the spring. This song is easy to like because it appeals to your heart, not your mind. You can also tell it comes from Watson’s heart. This makes it easy for listeners to connect. Watson goes to the cowboy cliché well in “That’s Why God Loves Cowboys.” It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s all stuff we’ve heard before. And hey I’ll take cowboy songs over the mainstream country songs about going to the club. This sounds country and is thematically country at least.

“That’s Gonna Leave a Mark” is another fun song from Watson that could have easily passed for 90s country. It’s catchy, simple and Watson’s self-deprecation gives it a humorous edge too. This is the kind of song I think would be perfect for radio today because it’s really a good compromise between traditional country fans’ wants and Music Row’s wants. The album’s title track is about life. I think more than anything it’s about Watson’s life, as he self-reflects on it. This is especially evident when he sings about his wife to his kids. This song is really an embodiment of what Aaron Watson is all about. It’s a family friendly song that I think many listeners will be able to connect with too.

Another song with too many checklist elements is “Blame It on Those Baby Blues.” I think this one tries too hard to appeal to radio like “Getaway Truck.” But like that song I can appreciate the fact that this song isn’t offensive and it has a good sound. Watson sings about romance in “One of Your Nights,” a song about a man after a long day needing his woman to be there for him that night. Think of it more as a husband-wife dynamic and not a boyfriend-girlfriend dynamic. For those married, you probably understand the angle of this song best. The piano also makes for a nice touch, especially to close the song.

“Family Tree” is about the strength and importance of family. It also has a strong Christian tone, as it mentions the importance of God alongside family. While the lyrics feel a little campy, it comes from Watson’s heart and it isn’t hyperbole. This is another song with instrumentation that sounds like it came straight out of the 90s. The penultimate song on the album is “Rodeo Queen,” a song about a rodeo clown falling in love with a rodeo queen. It’s a love song with a funny twist and I applaud Watson for the creative spin on the average country love song. We also get to hear Watson’s falsetto, which isn’t too shabby. This is a fun little song.

The final song on the album is “Fence Post” and it’s one hell of a way to conclude The Underdog. It’s a country music protest song that hits the nail right on the head. “Fence Post” is brutally honest and paints a brilliant picture of country music today. I’m not going to describe this one because this is one you just need to hear for yourself. I’ll say one thing: I’ll be keeping this in mind for Country Perspective’s 2015 Song of the Year award.

Is The Underdog the best country album of the year? No. But it could be one of the most important country albums of the year. Why? It could be one of the most important because it’s the perfect example of something that would please both traditional country fans and the suits in Nashville. It has commercial appeal (just as “Fence Post” says!), yet has substance. More importantly it sounds like country music. I’ve seen many people aptly compare this album to the material Brad Paisley, Clay Walker and Tim McGraw were churning out around the late 90s to the early 2000s. Everyone loves and roots for the underdog. Country music fans need to root for this underdog, Aaron Watson, as I definitely recommend checking this album out. The Underdog deserves to “blow up” and it’s the kind of album that could fix mainstream country music.

Grade: 8/10

Album Review – The Western Swing Authority’s ‘Now Playing’

Now_Playing_Cover

One of my goals for Country Perspective this year is to broaden our horizons on types of country music we cover. Sure it’s easy just to cover more Texas country or even more obscure mainstream country, but I want to go beyond that even. I want to cover more international stuff, from Canada to Australia to the United Kingdom. I would also like to cover different types that aren’t given as much coverage. Well today I kill two birds with one stone. Meet The Western Swing Authority. They’re a Canadian country band that play, what else, Western Swing music (it’s right in the name). For those who aren’t familiar with Western Swing, a quote from Country Music Hall of Famer Merle Travis describes it best:

“Western swing is nothing more than a group of talented country boys, unschooled in music, but playing the music they feel, beating a solid two-four rhythm to the harmonies that buzz around their brains. When it escapes in all its musical glory, my friend, you have Western swing.”

Western Swing music is basically music that is usually led by the fiddle and is meant to be danced to. The Western Swing Authority is a seven-piece band made up of Shane Guse, Dan Howlett, Matthew Lima, Pee Wee Charles, Jim Boudreau, Stacey Lee and Paul Chapman. The group was nominated for three 2015 Ameripolitan Music Awards this past week, as well as two 2014 Canadian Country Music Awards. The group also recently signed with eOne Music Canada as they just released their new album Now Playing.

The album opens with “Sweet Harriet,” a little ditty about a woman named Harriet living it up and dancing around the town. This song is really good at warming you up for the rest of the album because as said above Western Swing music is meant to be dancing music. Stacy Lee’s voice shines on “One Of Us Is Lying.” She does a great job conveying the smoky, romantic vibe surrounding this love song because her vocals have such great presence that draws the listener in. The premise of this song is the woman knows one of them is lying in their relationship, but tonight she is willing to overlook this because she wants someone in her arms.

“Swing Thing” is all about Western Swing music and why people love it. It’s about country music you can dance to and have fun. This is a song that’s meant to be danced to, not so much to be heard. Lee’s voice perfectly captures the vibe again in “Livin’ A Dream,” another romantic and slow love song. The fiddle play really impresses me on this song. Maybe it’s because I’m a big fan of the fiddle and I miss hearing it in country music nowadays. Perhaps this is the wake-up call I need to listen to more Western Swing.

“Miss Molly” is a quick little ditty about a woman named Molly and how a man has fallen in love with her. It’s a simple love story with a nice rhythm that makes you want to dance. The same can be said for “Old Dance Floor.” The song pretty much says this is the song you put on at the end of a long week of work and just cut the rug to. The Western Swing Authority take a unique look at love with “Slow Boat To China.” The title intrigued me because I had no idea what this song could be about. What it’s about is love. The woman wants to take her love on a slow boat to China, all by herself. Going on a boat from Canada to China is pretty damn far. I like this creative take on a love song and make it stand out compared to other love songs on this album.

My toe was tapping from beginning to end on “Rocket To The Moon.” The rhythm is similar to the old rock and roll, do wop music you heard in the 50s, which makes for a very danceable song. Lee’s vocals shine once again. All this combines for one of my favorite songs on the album. “Bapadoodle” is the lone instrumental only track on the album, as the talented Canadian group’s brilliant instrumentation captures the listener’s attention. I always enjoyed when Brad Paisley did one song like this on his past albums and it’s good to see The Western Swing Authority do this on their own. Texas is the scene of “Cowtown Queen,” a song about a couple who always enjoyed going down to the Lone Star state. They liked to dance and experience the nightlife, but they eventually grew apart. The woman is now down in Texas double-timing her man and he’s trying to deal with it back home. She has moved on, but he hasn’t. I think this is the most upbeat heartbreak song I’ve ever heard. But hey that’s how it is in Western Swing and I’m certainly not complaining.

“Swingtime Lullaby” is sung from the point of view of parents to their child, as they try to get them to go to sleep. I tell you one thing it would definitely put me to sleep if I was listening late night and that’s a good thing for a lullaby. I’ll have to keep this in mind when I can’t sleep. In all seriousness though I love the rich instrumentation in this song and the harmonies are smooth as silk. The final track on the album is “The Last Waltz,” which is also the longest song the album. The song is about the last waltz the woman ever wants to hear, which holds a special place in her heart. You’ll notice when listening that you’ll hear fuzzy sound, which is intended I think because this “last waltz” is on a vinyl record. It’s really a beautiful song to cap off a very good album.

What I love the most about The Western Swing Authority’s Now Playing album is how fun and upbeat the album is throughout, even on the songs with a more somber subject. Don’t get me wrong I love a real deep, dark album with a lot of hidden meanings. But it’s nice to have albums like this one that don’t take itself too seriously. It’s impossible to listen to this album and not feel happy afterwards. It also makes for great music to dance to at a party. This is a forgotten element in much of country music today and what’s considered party country music is not country at all. This is party country music that keeps it country 100% with plenty of fiddle play. I think Now Playing is an album that any country music fan can sit down and enjoy.

Grade: 8.5/10