Review – Danielle Bradbery’s “Friend Zone” Is A New Level of Suck

Danielle Bradbery Friend Zone

Mainstream country music in 2015 continues to amaze me. And not in a good way. Throughout this year we’ve had a variety of terrible new songs from mainstream country artists and there appears to be no end in sight. The newest monstrosity to rear its ugly head is the new single from Danielle Bradbery, “Friend Zone.” Bradbery of course won season four of The Voice, a show that promises to make new stars. What the show really does is boost sales for its most popular judges Blake Shelton and Adam Levine, while also creating a bunch of forgettable C-list and D-list country artists. These artists are simply filling space and time for labels and radio stations. Bradbery is one of these filler artists. Is she a bad singer? No, she’s actually good. The problem is her music is forgettable and disposable in the whole spectrum of things. I had no plans to review Bradberry’s new single, but then I heard how awful it was and you know how I can’t resist providing commentary on a train wreck.

“Friend Zone” is just all-around terrible and quite frankly offensive. The first offense is the most token banjo ever being thrown in at the very start. In fact this token banjo play is looped throughout the song, brainwashing gullible mainstream country fans into thinking this song is country when it’s anything but country. The song is really a pop rock anthem that panders to country radio, in a desperate attempt to make Bradbery relevant. The theme of the song is about a girl lecturing a boy on not pursuing a girl properly and as a result he’s going to be stuck in the “friend zone.” While this is meant to come off as witty and playful, to my ears it comes off as bitchy, preachy and annoying. How is this song meant to be enjoyable? But the absolute worst part of this song is the chorus:

Let me break it down to the facts
You will never get a girl like that
You gotta step up to the plate with a bat
That’s all I gotta say about that

There are multiple problems with this part of the song. Bradbery’s delivery of the lyrics is done in a Iggy Azalea-like fashion because you know country has to rip off old pop music to be “cool” and “hip.” Seriously I thought there was going to be an interlude of “Fancy” at some point in the song. So they completely misuse a talented singer like Bradbery by making her stoop down to Azalea’s level. Then there’s the line about stepping up to the plate with a bat. At best this is a clunky attempt at pandering to male listeners because it’s a sports reference. At worst this is a faux pas that shouldn’t be uttered in a song about trying to date a girl because the idea of a male with a bat and trying to get a girl’s attention leads to domestic assault like imagery. On top of that the song appears to be going for a trap like sound with the guitar play in the chorus.

I think you get the picture with “Friend Zone.” It’s a terrible song that stinks in any format you put it in. The more I listened to it, the more I got angry. Keep in mind, Bradbery is part of Big Machine Label Group, who appear to be the most egregious offenders of mainstream country music this year. Bradbery is just another artist along for the ride. I’m sure some people will defend Bradbery for this song and say she needed to make it so she could stay with the label and make her own music later, but I’m not going along with this anymore. These artists have a voice and if they’re uncomfortable with it, they need to say so. Going along with it means you’re fine with it and that opens you to criticism from reviewers like me. You can add “Friend Zone” to Country Perspective’s Zero Zone, making it another candidate for Country Perspective’s Worst Song of the Year.

Grade: 0/10

Album Review – Whitney Rose’s ‘Heartbreaker of the Year’

Whitney Rose Heartbreaker of the Year

So far 2015 has proven to be a year full of fantastic country and Americana music, already surpassing 2014 in terms of overall quality and variety. Almost every type of country music has been done brilliantly. Well I have to say there’s one area that has been a little lacking for me and that has been the absence of a truly phenomenal album from a solo female country artist. We’ve gotten plenty of very good albums from female country artists and even some phenomenal albums from Americana female artists. But not a female country artist. Well at least until today. Late in July I heard buzz about an upcoming album from a female country artist from Canada named Whitney Rose. And her producer for this album would be none other than the silky voiced frontman of The Mavericks, Raul Malo. I’m on record as a huge fan of The Mavericks and have praised them multiple times, including on their newly released album earlier this year, Mono. With a voice like Rose’s and Malo’s influence, I was eager to give Heartbreaker of the Year a listen. Not only did it live up to my high expectations, but it surpassed them.

Pianos play in the opening track “Little Piece of You.” It’s an upbeat love song with plenty of lingering steel guitar and organ play throughout it. Yet there’s also very much a pop vibe in not only this song, but also the whole album. Rose seems to find a perfect marriage of traditional country and “vintage pop.” Another upbeat tune in “My First Rodeo” is next. It seems to be about a woman going out on her own and promising it isn’t her first rodeo. There’s a frenzy of instrumentation in the song, including steel guitar, acoustic guitar, tambourine (or something similar) and drums. “The Last Party” is about a woman recalling the last time she was with a special man who was in her life. Rose’s voice is beautifully perfect on this song and producer Raul Malo can be heard in the background too, who complements Rose’s voice well. This dreamy heartbreak song is easy to fall in love with and want to play over and over.

Rose sing about the man of her dreams in “Only Just A Dream.” He’s perfect for her, but of course he’s just a dream, as her mind tricks her into believing he’s perfect for her. Rose’s voice and the instrumentation go really well together and play off each other to create a great song. The album’s title track is a sultry story about a woman coming across a man who absolutely stuns her. He’s simply alluring to her and she knows she can’t resist him, making her declare him the heartbreaker of the year with ease. Rose’s voice shines a lot on this album, but no more than on this song. Everything in this song is near flawless. Rose is joined by Malo on her cover of the Ronettes’ hit “Be My Baby.” When I heard Malo would be producing this album, I was really hoping he would do at least one duet and I’m not disappointed. Putting two fantastic talents like this together creates magic for the ears. You have to hear together for yourself to truly appreciate this song.

The most fun song on the album is hands-down “The Devil Borrowed My Boots.” After a woman goes out for a night of debauchery and craziness, she tells everyone the next day that wasn’t her, but the devil that borrowed her boots. It’s a clever way of telling a story about how the woman let the devil out for a night and it led to a wild night. The instrumentation on this song plays a big part in making this song so fun (Rose really enjoyed writing it too). It’s a strangely good combination of pop-y drums and acoustic guitar with an organ. “Ain’t It Wise” is another dreamy love ballad with killer instrumentation. The Mavericks’ influence is all over this album, so of course the instrumentation is great. It’s one of their trademark staples that make them so good and what makes this album so good too.

“Lasso” is a more traditional, desperado type ballad. It’s about a woman who continues to get “lassoed” in by a man every time she thinks she’s drifting away from him. She’s so enamored with him that she finds herself doing things she swore she would never do. It’s yet another solid love ballad. Heartbreaker of the Year closes with Rose covering the Hank Williams classic “There’s a Tear in My Beer.” Now just tackling a Hank song alone is a gutsy challenge worthy of a tip of the cap. When you cover it brilliantly like Rose does with this heartbreak classic, it’s even more impressive. If you can cover Hank this well, it truly shows your high level of artistry. Bravo to Rose on treating a classic from the king of country music with such grace and poise.

Whitney Rose delivers in a big way with Heartbreaker of the Year. There are so many things about it that make it standout. First and foremost is the unique sound of it. Never have I heard pop and traditional country music blended together so seamlessly to create a cool sound. The production is pretty much perfect on every song, so kudos to Raul Malo for his creative eye. The instrumentation is fun, engaging, rich and full of variety. This is the kind of country music that evolves the genre and takes it to new places, something mainstream country artists fail to do with their music. This album is an absolute must-listen and Rose is an artist you need to keep an eye on for years to come. Heartbreaker of the Year is one of the best of the year.

Grade: 10/10


Album Review – Maddie & Tae Make A Fantastic Debut With ‘Start Here’

Maddie & Tae Start Here

“Being the girl in a country song, how in the world did it go so wrong?” This is the signature line of the song that introduced new country music duo Maddie & Tae to the world. If you’re a fan of country music, you have surely heard this bro country bashing song that catapulted Maddie & Tae into mainstream popularity. The duo, made up of Madison Marlow and Taylor Dye, are the brainchild of Big Machine Label Group’s fearless founder Scott Borchetta. While Borchetta has made his name by giving the world Taylor Swift and Florida Georgia Line, he’s earned his reputation to make a profit by offering something for pretty much every country fan out there. Look at Big Machine’s group of artists and you’ll surely find an act you enjoy. While I feel the majority of the artists he has served to the country music world have harmed the genre more than help it, Maddie & Tae may just be his greatest gift he has ever given the world. I’ve been waiting in anticipation for their debut album and it was set to come out originally in June, but unfortunately it was pushed back to now. But I’m happy to say it was well worth the wait because Maddie & Tae’s debut album Start Here is fantastic.

Start Here opens with “Waitin’ On A Plane.” Maddie & Tae do a lot of harmonizing on this inspirational and upbeat song. Much like their current single “Fly,” which is later in the album, this song is about chasing dreams and achieving goals. They sing about waiting for a plane, which symbolizes their chance to spread their wings and fly. It’s a very appropriate song for them and it shows how they’ve been waiting for this opportunity that’s been given to them and they’re ready to now capitalize on it. Next is their aforementioned smash hit and the single that put them on everyone’s radar, “Girl In A Country Song.” Over a year after reviewing it, this platinum certified single still holds up pretty well for me. Any song that throws shade at multiple bro country artists is great in my book. At the time I remember questioning (along with several others) if this was a wise song for Maddie & Tae to kick off their career with. After having a year to think about it, I can definitively say yes. And this album backs my sentiment up because it just gets even better as you go deeper into it.

“Smoke” is about a woman giving up on a man who is clearly bad for her, but she can’t seem to get rid of him from her mind. Just like smoking, it’s bad and something you shouldn’t breathe in, but she can’t help it. There’s lots of acoustic instrumentation throughout the song and it’s a love ballad that’s very catchy. It’s kind of got a different sound, but it’s very much country and a song that I think will grow on listeners with each listen. There are a lot of great songs throughout this album, but the one I enjoy the most is “Shut Up And Fish.” The song is about a girl going fish with a boy from the city who clearly hasn’t went fishing before. Right away though the girl realizes he has “more than bass” on his mind. He immediately starts to compliment her, touch her and flirt and just full on try to seduce her. But she isn’t going to put up with this bullshit. She just wants him to shut up and fish. Finally she has enough and shoves him in the lake and ditches him. This song wouldn’t sound out-of-place in the mid to late 90s, as it’s a fun and catchy song with traditional instrumentation. It’s also nice to hear a song like this from the female perspective, as there have been many songs like this from the male perspective (Brad Paisley’s “I’m Gonna Miss Her” immediately came to mind). This is one of those songs that are impossible to hate and definitely needs to be a single.

Their current single “Fly” follows. My opinion of this song is largely unchanged since I originally reviewed it back in November when they released an EP. From that review: This song is an inspirational song about not giving up and pursuing your goal. This is the first slow tempo song from the duo and I think it’s a solid showing. The theme of the song is a little generic, but I’ll take generic inspiration over a lot of other themes on country radio. While many disagreed with this as a single choice, I think it ultimately proved to be a good choice, as they needed a safer song after their incendiary first single. The song everyone said should have been the second single, “Sierra” is next. I agree that this would make a great single and it very well could be the third single as it’s catchy and I think it could appeal to female listeners. My original thoughts are again unchanged: The song is about a girl named Sierra and according to Maddie & Tae she’s not a very good person. The evidence of this is Sierra dumping her friends, being cruel hearted and treating boys like crap. Now some people might find the topic of this song to be a little juvenile, but keep in mind this is coming from two teenage girls. This song sounds like it’s genuinely coming from them, which some people didn’t feel with “Girl in a Country Song.” Another good thing they do with this song is they utilize their harmonies well and is something I want to hear from them more. 

“Your Side of Town” is another song that appeared on their EP from last November. Unlike the previous two songs, my opinion on this song has changed from what I originally wrote. It’s a heartbreak song that’s upbeat and fun featuring a good amount of fiddles. It gets a tad pop in places, but maintains a decidedly country song. I originally said this sounds like a Miranda Lambert song, but I think I was wrong. Lambert has never made such a catchy heartbreak song that was this country. Again I could see this is as a good single to release to radio. Maddie & Tae sing about falling in love in “Right Here Right Now.” The woman in the song has been waiting in anticipation for the moment her love finally kisses her and it’s finally arrived she realized, as there is no better time than right here and right now. Is this song deep? No. But it doesn’t matter. It’s a feel good love song that’s easy to connect with and has a youthful exuberance that fits the duo. Fiddles and acoustic guitars play in “No Place Like You.” It’s another song where it wouldn’t have sounded out-of-place in the 90s and would have been a smash hit. It’s a love song about travelling all over the place and seeing many great things, but being with your loved one is the best place of all. Again it’s a very country song with clever songwriting, something this album is chockfull of throughout it.

Just when you thought this album couldn’t get anymore country, “After The Storm Blows Through” proves to be the countriest song on the album. Not only that, but it’s the best song on the album too. It’s a song about standing by your friend or perhaps a loved one through thick and thin, vowing to be by their side in the toughest of times or giving them space if needed. Regardless it’s about a vow to stick together. It’s beautiful and touching. Maddie & Tae deliver a grand slam with this song and it’s the biggest “Wow” moment of the album. This is without a doubt one of the best country songs I’ve heard this year.

Start Here concludes with “Downside of Growing Up,” a song about going through the pain of growing up. At the beginning the duo sing about moving out on your own and not having your parents there to help you get unstuck and feeling helpless. But it’s all okay because it’s just part of the road you have to take to learn and live your life. I’m sure older listeners are nodding their head in approval of this, while young listeners are experiencing this as they listen. I have to point out this too: The Band Perry, a veteran group, is releasing party, pop fluff like “Live Forever” to connect with young people. Meanwhile Maddie & Tae, the fresh-faced duo who aren’t even old enough to legally drink yet are releasing a heartfelt, traditional country song about growing up that actually relates to real life. Just saying. By the way, am I the only one who heard this and immediately thought it sounded like something out of Alan Jackson’s catalog? This is another gem and a strong close to the album.

Maddie & Tae deliver in spades with Start Here. I was a little worried that the delay meant that album would be more “pop infused” and thankfully it proved to not be the case. While there are tinges of pop influence, it’s more of in the 2000s pop country area and not in the 2015 blatantly pop area. Really the great majority of this album is pure country, instrumentation-wise and thematically. Maddie & Tae’s vocals are dynamic, engaging and just flat-out rock. The songwriting is well thought out, as well as clever and witty (they helped write every single song on the album). People have been looking for a great hope in mainstream country music that could signal a changing of the tide back to the roots of the genre and we may just found it in Maddie & Tae. I know this is really high praise, but I honestly got Dixie Chicks vibes from this album. They’re that damn good. Maddie & Tae couldn’t have made a better start than they did with Start Here.

Grade: 10/10


The Hodgepodge: One Year Writing for Country Perspective

It was late July 2014 when, while browsing the internet and looking at various country music reviews, I stumbled upon a website called Country Perspective. For the life of me, I can’t remember how I found the site, but I’m glad I did. Because a couple of weeks later, Josh posted an announcement that he was looking for another writer to join the site. After giving it some thought on if I wanted to devote the time and make a long-term commitment (assuming I’d be accepted), I reached out and expressed my interest in joining. The rest, they say, is history.

I’ve always had an affinity for writing. In college I began writing screenplays and ended up writing three feature length screenplays along with some short films. Also included with that were two blogs which had short lives and a personal website that acted more like an online resume more than a blog, but I’d do an occasional movie review or something along those lines on the site. I’m not a full-time writer, but having it as a hobby/part-time side gig is awesome.

My first article published on Country Perspective was a call-out to mainstream country about bringing women back to the forefront. Taylor Swift had recently announced her move to pop, and it left a gaping hole in country music, and I offered up 5 options (aside from Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert, and Kacey Musgraves) on who could fill that gap. One year and 2 days and 91 posts later, I’m still here and not ready to leave anytime soon.

As a writer and reviewer, I like to think I’ve grown and improved over the past year. I quickly learned that to write a thorough album review, I’d have to shut the rest of the world off for 45 minutes and simply listen and take notes. And the more I listened and reviewed and read others’ reviews, the more I was able to pick up on. The production and instrumentation were probably my weakest area on figuring out what nuances and qualities of the production compliment the lyrics well. Drawing out the stories and subtext from lyrics took a little work, but it’s honestly one of my favorite parts of listening to music and reviewing it, figuring out the story and sharing it. One of my most favorite reviews I’ve written was for Diamondwolf’s Your Time Has Come. The depth and complexity of the lyrics in some of the songs made the review fun to write.  Also, as a writer, I felt challenged to improve my writing, especially in that review, in order to articulate my thoughts on the album accurately.

I’ll keep this short because I don’t like the prattle on about myself, but I enjoy being a part of Country Perspective. I’ve seen the site grow in readers and in the respect we have among other writers and blog runners. While I can’t take any credit for the creation of our hit features like The Pulse, The Hodgepodge and the podcast, I’m proud to be a partner and contributor to a site that’s become a staple to many of you who come looking for country music coverage beyond the mainstream. I’ve had a lot of fun interacting with artists, fellow bloggers, and readers.

Here’s to another year, and a better year (because there’s always room for improvement) at Country Perspective!

Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases

  • Tomorrow, the long-awaited debut album from Maddie and Tae will be released. Start Here is streaming on NPR if you want to listen to it early.
  • As announced last week, Carrie Underwood will release her next studio album, Storyteller, on October 23rd.
  • The Josh Abbott Band will release their fourth studio album in November. Front Row Seat is described by Abbott as a concept album and an honest look at the singer’s divorce. The album’s lead single is called “Amnesia”.
  • Michael Ray has announced his next single will be “Real Men Love Jesus.”
  • Danielle Bradbery’s next single will be called “Friend Zone.”
  • The Voice winner and country music singer, Jake Worthington, will release his debut EP this October.

Today in Country Music History

  • In 1974, Charley Pride records the Johnny Duncan-penned “I Ain’t All Bad.”
  • The Dixie Chicks’ album, Home, is released in 2002.
  • In 2005, CMT released a list of the “20 Greatest City Songs” with Merle Haggard’s “Okie From Muskogee” coming in at number 1.

Today’s Country Music history facts come courtesy of RolandNote.

Throwback Thursday Song

“Jackson” by Johnny Cash and June Carter. This is one of country’s most famous duets, and for a good reason. From John’s deep baritone to June’s higher register, their voices complement one another perfectly. Sit back and enjoy this Opry performance of “Jackson” from 1968.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week

Andy Grammer’s Self Titled Debut. Last week, I had the chance to see a free concert from Andy Grammer. The only song I knew from Grammer before the show was “Honey, I’m Good”, which I still think is an obnoxious song. I was pleasantly surprised by the rest of his music and quite frankly, Grammer’s a good entertainer on stage. He can beat box well, can play a variety of instruments, and sings nicely live. It was a good show. So his debut album, the one without “Honey, I’m Good,” is my non-country suggestion for this week.

Tweet of the Week

And all the people said, “Amen!”

Two iTunes Reviews That Made Me Laugh

Screen Shot 2015-08-25 at 9.48.57 PM

These were both left under The Band Perry’s “Live Forever.” Based on sales and early response, The Band Perry pop experiment doesn’t appear to be working as well as some may have hoped. These two people weren’t fooled at all.