Album Review – Jana Kramer’s ‘thirty one’

Jana Kramer thirty one

One of the hottest topics in country music this year has been the lack of female country artists on the radio. The “tomatoes” were being left out in favor of more lettuce (the generic bros of the world). One of the female artists that has been involved in the middle of this has been actress and country artist Jana Kramer. She posted a cheeky ad in Country Aircheck mocking the tomatoes comments made by Keith Hill and her current single “I Got The Boy” has been a surprise hit that has been slowly moving up the airplay charts. It’s been her biggest hit so far and many have viewed it as her re-emerging moment. It had been three years since her only hit, her debut single “Why Ya Wanna.” Elektra Nashville has certainly taken a slower approach with getting Kramer’s music out. “I Got The Boy” has been almost universally praised by critics and fans for its mature approach to a love ballad and further hyping anticipation for her sophomore album thirty one. I certainly came in with high expectations. And this album didn’t exactly live up to them.

The album opens up with “Boomerang,” which right away has some noticeable banjo play. But it also has a bit of an electric touch to it too. The song itself is about a woman telling her ex that she isn’t a boomerang; so don’t expect her to ever go back to him. Kramer’s vocals are powerful and one of the best on the album. This song may be a little too loud for some, but I find this to be a solid pop country song with good lyrics. By the way the writers of this song are Chad Carson, Aaron Scherz and Maddie & Tae. Unfortunately “Don’t Touch My Radio” is one of the first signs this album is anything like it’s current single. This song is essentially a bro country song from the woman’s point of view: It’s about going on a back road with a man and letting him run his hands all over his woman. He can do all of this except touch her radio. The production is too loud, the lyrics are clichéd and Kramer’s vocals are annoying.

The current single of thirty one, “I Got The Boy,” is up next. It’s without a doubt the best song on the album. Derek’s original review of this song sums it up nicely: “I Got The Boy” is merely a reflection on the differences and how time and experiences change us. It’s a song about growth. My only critique of the song is really some of the vocals. At times during the verses, Kramer seems to be forcing some emphasis on some of the words. But for the most part, especially in chorus, Kramer sings the song well and captures the emotions the story offers. I think “I Got The Boy” is a fantastic song. I’d argue that it’s the best song Jana Kramer has released to date. Its reflective lyrics aided by wonderful country instrumentation are what make “I Got The Boy” a truly great country song.

“Pop That Bottle” is your typical mainstream country drinking song full of clichés and themes we’ve heard so much it’s nauseating. The hook of this song is annoying as hell, as all you’ll come away from this song is “ppppppop that bottle.” I’m surprised this isn’t a new song from The Band Perry. The album’s forgettable lead single “Love” follows. It’s a straight pop song that wouldn’t have sounded out-of-place on Kelsea Ballerini’s debut album. The Owl City-like backing sounds makes the song even more generic. If I were Kramer I would have just left this one off the album. It continues to get generic on “Circles.” It’s an adult contemporary, pop song about a woman whose heart continues to spin in circles over her love for someone. This song isn’t completely terrible, but it certainly isn’t memorable either.

Jana Kramer was born in Michigan. But on “Bullet” you would think she’s from the South, as she puts on the twang so damn thick it would make Miranda Lambert shake her head. The chorus is annoying and shout-y, further made worse by the addition of Steve Tyler on the background vocals. The production completely kills any desire for me to listen to this song ever again. “Dance In The Rain” at least tones down the sound of production so you can actually concentrate on the song. Of course this is replaced by an annoying electric reverb throughout the song, officially qualifying this song as urban country. The song is actually well written, as it’s about overcoming your fears and learning to live with them. It’s a shame that very brief steel guitar play in the bridge isn’t present throughout the song, as it would have massively upgraded the song.

The worst song on thirty one is hands down “Said No One Ever.” This is worst song of the year quality right here, folks. The lyrics have an intelligent level hovering around room temperature. It’s no surprise one of the co-writers of this song is the infamous busbee (the other writers are Natalie Hemby and Nicolle Galyon), who is responsible for a laundry list of generic and terrible songs. This song consists of Kramer singing some ridiculous lyric, followed by “said no one ever.” This song is pretty good…said no one ever. Production and instrumentation choices destroy yet another song on the album, “Just Like In The Movies” had potential to be a good song. It’s a solid love song with a catchy hook. But the instrumentation and production makes this song sound so lifeless and bland. With a good producer, this song is a highlight. Instead it’s just really average.

The last song on the album is… “Last Song.” Well at least that makes sense. It’s about Kramer promising this is the last song she’ll ever sing about her ex and how much shit he put her through (she actually says shit). This of course could be about any of her past three prominent engagements she broke off, including ex-fiancé and country artist Brantley Gilbert. It’s sort of Kramer’s way of freeing herself from the past and finally moving on from demons that haunted her for years. The production and instrumentation are well done on this song, as a sweeping piano perfectly sets the mood. If only there were more songs like this throughout the album, as this highlights Kramer’s strengths best and is easily one of the best of thirty one.

Jana Kramer’s thirty one has some really nice moments and some really bad moments. Overall it’s kind of a jarring listen. For the most part this album is about Kramer and her past relationships, although a few songs kind of go off track from this theme. So I’ll give her credit for at least having a theme that ties everything together. But the production on this album is mostly terrible and this falls on the shoulders of Scott Hendricks. Kramer’s vocals are really good and her songwriting can be too, but if the producer doesn’t know what to do with it, you get a mess of an album like this one. There are three songs worth listening to on thirty one: “Boomerang,” “I Got The Boy” and “Last Song.” The rest of this album can safely be ignored and you won’t miss anything. This is mostly a big disappointment from Jana Kramer.

Grade: 4/10

10 thoughts on “Album Review – Jana Kramer’s ‘thirty one’

  1. Raymond October 20, 2015 / 11:12 am

    I myself would have given this a 5/10 but man it was rough listening to this. I did really love Circles even if it wasn’t the most country song but I found that Jana performed it very well and I liked the seniment. Love I also really liked as I found it to be a really nice blend of pop and country and since now Jana seems to have finally settled down I feel like those songs have more meaning to Jana. Now for some of the bad. Said No One Ever is a straight up garbage song that I’m surprised they recorded that. Don’t Touch My Radio well I just I get what she was going for as it sounded like at first she was trying to be a strong woman but really it just got too cliche I mean I do like Jana’s sass but that’s about it. Bullet is just terrible and Pop that Bottle is as well. Any song I didn’t comment on I will say is Meh! I

    think the problem was is that Jana probably wanted more of the ballad or slow song type but the label wanted the more upbeat stuff so unfortunately that means both had to compromise.

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  2. Derek Hudgin October 20, 2015 / 11:17 am

    What a disappointing album. I’m not surprised that Jana Kramer pulls out her inner Kelsea Ballerini for crappy pop music, but I have to say I expected more quality after hearing “I Got The Boy.” I’m bummed that song was the anomaly on the album. “Circles” and “Last Song” weren’t terrible but “Bullet” “Pop that Bottle” “Don’t Touch My Radio” and “Said No One Ever” immediately took me out of the album.

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  3. lorenzofloris96 October 20, 2015 / 11:35 am

    I completely agree. I would love to support Jana because I Got the Boy is amazing, but this album really feels too generic. also, I found Jana’s vocals to be very weak, like she’s trying too hard. it’s just unpleasant to listen to. And yeah this album’s production sucks. not really country, not really pop, just weak music. very disappointing, expecially since I Got the Boy is amazing.

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  4. Cobra October 20, 2015 / 12:28 pm

    “Said No One Ever” kind of reminded me of “Things That Never Cross a Man’s Mind” by Kellie Pickler. I don’t think I found the song quite as irritating as you did, but it certainly wasn’t top notch quality Not, it’s not country, but to me, I would hardly call it worst song of the year quality. There’s a lot out there worse than this one. I actually kind of enjoyed “Bullet.”

    The deluxe version from Target actually had four bonus tracks, which, in my opinion, boosted my personal rating to probably a 6.5/10 (I initially tweeted that my rating seemed to be a bit higher, though subsequent listens have diluted my rating down a bit). Inexplicably included in the bonus tracks from Target is “Why Ya Wanna.” However, outside of that, the bonus tracks are all new, and to me, were quite good. Particularly strong is a track called “All I’ve Got,” which is a song where she sings about having nothing left for a relationship but a goodbye.

    It’s not a great album, but to me, it’s a good pop album with some good country influences mixed in.

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  5. NoahHibiscusEaton October 20, 2015 / 12:54 pm

    I’m surprised (and disappointed) that “I Got The Boy” turned out to be the exception rather than the rule with regards to “Thirty One”. =(

    I only say I’m surprised because I figured Kramer knew better from when the third single from her debut album, “I Hope It Rains”, failed to connect at all: easily her most immature single prior to this album’s release yet also radio-friendly. Then, she later released “Love”: a passable but dull and forgettable song, and that failed to connect as well.

    Then, despite a slow start at radio, “I Got The Boy” was greeted with very strong digital sales relative to airplay, and that has remained the case ever since. You’d think her and her promotional team would derive the right lessons from that song’s early success and figure her blueprint to a successful era would be grounded in a majority of songs having more arrangements merging the traditional and modern, the gloss dialed back and more nuanced lyrical subject matter.

    Instead, quixotically, we get more songs more closely aping “I Hope It Rains” than any of her other releases.

    *

    Besides “I Got The Boy”, “Last Song” stands out as an album closer. The theme is largely recycled, but there’s no denying Kramer handles break-up matter well when she allows herself to be vulnerable and the production is more intimate. “Dancin’ In The Rain” is also cliched lyrically, but I can’t deny I enjoyed listening to that and it works for what it is. And while definitely overproduced, “Circles” worked as a whole in a way some of Martina McBride’s material does.

    Still, yeah………………the remaining tracks were hard to swallow. “Said No One Ever” should never have been cleared for release, but I can say much the same for “Pop That Bottle” and the pointless, clunky “Bullet” where Tyler’s guest vocals add nothing to the mix given how buried they are. And if “Don’t Touch My Radio” is supposed to be her answer to Miranda Lambert’s “Little Red Wagon”……………um, Lambert’s initial foray wasn’t clever to begin with and it sure as Jove isn’t now (you need the personality to back it up like Ke$ha mostly achieved with “Gold Trans Am”).

    “Boomerang” and “Not Like The Movies” were just there to my ears, as was “Love”. I could take or leave those.

    And that about sums up this head-scratcher of an album as a whole. It screams “crisis of confidence” to my ears. Kramer may very well be older and wiser since her previous album, but she failed to convince me she’s more mature and spends this entire album tossing out all these angles hoping something sticks…………..all while failing to take into account that “I Got The Boy” already did before this landed.

    I’m feeling a Decent to Strong 4 out of 10 for this.

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  6. NoahHibiscusEaton October 20, 2015 / 12:57 pm

    Cobra: I haven’t heard the bonus tracks yet, admittedly. That said, I do admit when it comes to mainstream releases, it seems to be a trend where the bonus tracks happen to consist of mostly superior material compared to the standard album overall.

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  7. Ellie October 20, 2015 / 3:11 pm

    I got the boy and Last song are the best songs on the album. Pretty sure Last song is about Brantley because of the line telling everyone you were already gone. Brantley has a sing on his album I’m Gone which basically saying he was already gone

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  8. Zack October 20, 2015 / 4:16 pm

    Yeah, this album was a big disappointment. I actually thought “Circles” was very good (albeit not country), and that “Boomerang” was atrocious. I mean we go from rockers like that and “Don’t Touch My Radio” to “I Got The Boy”…….talk about whiplash…..I can see why Maddie and Tae didn’t keep it for their debut. Imagine if GIACS or Fly never took off, that’s probably the crap we’d be getting from them.

    Anyway, my other favorites here were “Last Song” and well…….yeah that’s it. I’d give it a very light 5/10. Jana had a chance to be a leader for females and she just wastes it…..it’s sad.

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    • Becca October 20, 2015 / 10:11 pm

      Maddie & Tae have had “Boomerang” on their setlist for a long time now. I was surprised they didn’t include it on their album! I thought their live performance of it sounded fine and the lyrics are fine. It does come off as a little more rock though and they’re not huge fans of electric guitars, so maybe that was part of the reason.

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  9. Jason October 21, 2015 / 8:34 am

    What a dissapointment. Maybe, what, 3 songs I enjoyed?

    Yeah, the lyrics are really boring on this album. Every single song seems to be completely lacking in depth save for “I Got The Boy” and “Last Song”. Im not a fan of Kramer’s vocals; they’re very nasally and whiny at points, and this is blatantly obvious on songs like “Said No One Ever”, which should’ve been canned from the very beginning. She also has a tendency to exaggerate words on songs like “Just Like In The Movies”. The worst thing on this album is the production. If I had to describe this album, I’d call it loud. The production is cluttered and everything is pushed straight to the front, where Jana has to fight to be heard. It really detracts from the album when I can’t discern instruments from each other because everything is in a giant mess of sound.

    The immature lyrics on this album are emphasized by Jana’s voice. When she’s not doing slower songs, I find her voice to be very whiny, which makes ordinally mediocre songs like “Don’t Touch My Radio” borderline intolerable. Jana’s voice doesn’t mix with these sorts of songs, it just makes it sound bratty to be honest.

    This album should’ve been good. When Jana allows herself to be reflective and vulnerable and the production slows down and allows her voice to be heard, the songs are much better. Instead, the production, combined with immature and boring lyrics and Kramer’s nasally voice, makes for a rough album with no real highlights aside from “I Got The Boy”. This album ranges from good (I Got The Boy, Last Song) to mediocre (Bullet, Love, Circles, Just Like In The Movies, Dance In The Rain) to cliche (Pop That Bottle, Boomerang) to downright insufferable (Said No One Ever, Don’t Touch My Radio).

    3.5/10

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