Album Review — Caitlyn Smith’s ‘Supernova’

I gave high praise to Caitlyn Smith’s last album Starfire. Hence why I had such high hopes for the follow-up and put it as an album to watch out for in my inaugural Spinning All The Records feature. Unfortunately this album does not live up to the hopes I had for it. It would be hard to call this album anything other a disappointment from my eyes and that’s hard to say considering the immense talent of Caitlyn Smith. But that’s just it: Smith has an amazing voice and even better songwriting skills. And it results in Supernova. She’s just capable of so much more.

The album begins well enough with “Long Time Coming.” It’s a dramatic song about overcoming darkness to reach the light. Smith sings her ass off and delivers a belting performance that impresses. The production has an immediate gravitas about it and grips the listener. While the production works really well in in this song and other moments on the album, this extra emphasis on the production is the ultimate detriment of the album. “Damn You For Breaking My Heart” is another highlight on the album, a cutting track about having a hard time getting over a breakup. Smith adds so many nice little details to give the story texture, such as trying to hook up with a stranger and then feeling the instant guilt because she can’t get over her ex.

“Put Me Back Together” feels like a mainstream play, but it’s an enjoyable enough song, as I find it easy to sing-a-long with. Smith delivers a fun vocal performance. I think this song would be easier to enjoy if the rest of the album was better though. “All Over Again” is another song that contemplates lost love and the what ifs of the relationship. It’s just fine. Neither good nor bad, as nothing about the production nor the vocal performance stands out. It feels like playlist filler and this certainly isn’t the last instance of this on the album. “I Don’t Want to Love You Anymore” is great with it’s stripped down, airy production that allows Smith’s voice to carry the story of the song. Despite this being another song about not wanting to love someone anymore, it’s Smith’s vocal performance that really sells the emotions of the song and makes it connectable.

The album’s title track centers around the concept of time, how things can change so fast and trying to enjoy the moment. I really enjoy the songwriting and Smith’s eloquent, yet nuanced approach to time. But man do I find the sound of the clock hands in the background to be annoying and distracting. I get the inclusion of it, but as soon as I hear this the first time it bugs me every time I hear it the rest of the song. It’s just not necessary and it takes away from what should be a great song. To make matters worse this leads right into the playlist filler portion of Supernova. “I Can’t” sounds like a generic B-cut from a (insert pop star from the 2010s) album. “Rare Bird” feels like it drags on and on, as Smith has nothing interesting to say in this love song. “Midnight in New York City” has a cool aesthetic, but the lyrics are completely forgettable.

The monotony gets broken up on “Fly Away,” which is a fun love song. It’s catchy and the bounciness of the production gives it a lightness and carefree feel that fits the lyrics well. Although I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that this feels like a lesser version of “Contact High.” I really enjoy “Feel That Way” at first. It’s soulful, swelling with emotion and utilizes Smith’s vocals perfectly. But it goes too long, as at about the three minute mark Smith’s repetition of the hook makes it a frustrating listen. It’s very similar to how in hip-hop when an artist repeats the hook one too many times, crossing from fun and catchy into terrible ear worm territory. The album concludes with “Lonely Together,” an admirable attempt at a heartfelt love song. The soft piano play sets the mood for this type of song exactly the way you would want it. But just like so many other songs on the album, the lyrics don’t stand out enough for me.

The tale of the tape for Supernova is quite simple: this album focuses too much on flash and not enough on substance. Smith seemingly forgets about her greatest strength on this album and that’s her songwriting. It soared and impressed on Starfire. On this album the songwriting is so lifeless and it feels like so many themes are used multiple times and recycled. There are some bright spots on this album, but they’re dominated by what I would describe as run-of-the-mill pop rock moments for the most part. I never thought I would levy this kind of criticism toward a Caitlyn Smith album, but the songwriting just isn’t good enough. Supernova is ultimately just an okay album.

Grade: 5/10

Album Review — Jay Electronica’s ‘A Written Testimony’

The long-awaited debut album of Jay Electronica finally arrived. Years of delays and mystery around one of rap’s most promising young artists at the end of the 2000s and early 2010s is over and now A Written Testimony is here. If you’re not familiar with Electronica, read this summary of the wild and unpredictable path of his life. Electronica signed to the legendary Jay-Z’s label Roc Nation nearly a decade ago. Now on his debut album Hov himself makes an appearance on nearly every single track. Imagine having one of the all-time bests in hip-hop as your side man on your debut album. That’s crazy! But it fits with Electronica.

The album opens with “The Overwhelming Effect,” which serves more as a vignette than song as it’s a monologue from Minister Louis Farrakhan set to a beautiful sounding instrumental. That’s one important thing to note up front with this album: for better and for worse, Electronica’s faith, The Nation of Islam, has a noticeable influence throughout. I don’t really want to give my opinion on the faith itself or any other religions for that matter, as I respect all people’s beliefs. So any commentary I have regarding the religious influences on this album are strictly from a musical standpoint (just like my criticisms of gospel music and Kanye’s latest album in the past on this blog). So as far as an opener, it’s fine and I guess gives a dramatic buildup. But I would always rather hear bars to open a rap album.

“Ghost of Soulja Slim” opens not with Electronica rapping, but Jay-Z. And I have to say Jay-Z sounds as hungry and fiery as ever on not just this song, but the whole album. His bars are catchy, have something to say and get right to the point. When Electronica makes his appearance about halfway through the song, he matches Jay-Z’s bars himself. But the song drags on too long with it’s instrumental at the end and the use of the clip of the kids cheering is really annoying. I feel like this song would have been better as the introduction track, as it doesn’t really have a point and has more of an introduction/demonstration feel to it.

“The Blinding” sees the Jays joined by Travis Scott. And it’s obviously a mainstream/streaming play with Scott’s inclusion. But it’s one of my favorites on the album, as Electronica opens up about the making of this album, the pressure of the buildup of the release and how he never wants to let his daughter down. Despite it’s shortness and Scott being kind of shoehorned in, the song does well at telling a great story and giving the listener an appropriate insight into rap’s biggest enigma. “The Neverending Story” has a fun and spacey sound that envelopes the listener from the beginning and I’m not surprised that it was The Alchemist behind this smooth beat. It’s perfect for Electronica to lay down some of his most clever wordplay on the album. I particularly enjoy these lines: “Spread love like Kermit the Frog that permeate the fog/I’m at war like the Dukes of Hazzard against the Bosses of the Hogs.”

Next is “Shiny Suit Theory,” a song that came out years earlier. I’m glad it’s included though because I love the bouncy horns and glimmering chimes that drive the beat of this song. Electronica himself produced this song and it sounds great. Once again this is a song that gives an insight into Electronica’s thinking and a conversation he had with P. Diddy before dropping his album. The bars from both him and Jay-Z are tight and don’t waste any time in getting to the points they’re making. I enjoy the dramatic production on “Universal Solider,” but the bars feel too same-y to me throughout and the over-reliance of religious references doesn’t work for me. And once again I think the song carries on a bit long like “Ghost of Soulja Slim.”

Jay-Z spits absolute fire over great production from Electronica on “Flux Capacitor.” He goes on the defensive over his deal with the NFL and again I love how in the latter half of his career he’s maybe dropping some of the best bars of his career. It’s unfortunate for Electronica though he’s getting out-rapped on his own song and album, but that’s what happens I guess when you have an icon as a sideman on your album. “Fruits of the Spirit” feels more like an interlude than song but it’s still one of my favorite moments on the album. The soulful production of No I.D., one of my favorite producers in hip-hop, and Electronica rapping his ass off (with a sweet Thanos reference to start the song) makes me wish this was a full-fledged song.

I enjoy the different, clinky sound of “Ezekiel’s Wheel” and the inclusion of The-Dream as a feature is a great choice on a chiller, smooth song like this one. The bars from the Jays aren’t bad for the most part either. It’s just too long at six and a half minutes. The bars that are bad though is where Electronica raps: “It could be in Lagos, or Seattle, or Chicag-y/Hotel lobby Grammy after-party, it’s whatev-y.” It’s cringe-y and dumb-y. I do not understand why he felt the need to just randomly add y’s to these words other than trying to make his bars flow together better. Despite this baffling choice, Electronica redeems himself in a big way on the closing song of the album, “A.P.I.D.T.A.” Over gorgeous production from Khruangbin (who you know I’ve absolutely praised), Electronica absolutely pours his heart out over heartfelt bars about the loss of his mother. It’s heartbreakingly touching and beautiful personal song from Electronica that shows why his debut album has been so hyped. It’s without doubt the best song of his career.

The long-awaited debut album of Jay Electronica does not live up to it’s lofty expectations and hype, but A Written Testimony is nevertheless a pretty good album. The production is definitely the strongest point of this album, as a cavalcade of all-star producers and Electronica himself create some exciting and interesting sounds throughout the whole album. The bars on this album are mostly good despite some bumps along the way and the overuse of religious imagery. More than anything I’m glad that Jay Electronica is finally releasing music and I think on his next album we’ll see something even better from him. But for now this is a solid debut.

Grade: 7/10

Album Review — Brandy Clark’s ‘Your Life is a Record’

Brandy Clark’s last album Big Day in a Small Town initially really impressed me, but eventually I found it to be a slightly above average album. And one of the big reasons was the production was all over the place. It just lacked cohesion and I also felt Clark didn’t do enough lyrically to elevate the tired small town themes of country music. So coming into this new record I was a bit unsure of what to expect, although with Jay Joyce returning as producer I continued to expect different sonic choices. And that definitely is the case with this album. But Your Life is a Record is also a much rawer and more personal record from Brandy Clark, which I would argue is definitely beneficial to this album.

Opening track “I’ll Be the Sad Song” lets you feel right away the pure somberness that fuels much of this record (Clark broke up with her partner of several years, inspiring many tracks on this album). And a big part of what helps drive this feeling is the sweeping and gorgeous strings throughout the chorus. It fits the reflective nature of looking back on a lost relationship really well. There’s no bitterness or anger, just a sad realization of what will never be again. “Long Walk” is on the other end of the spectrum, a fun sing-a-long that wishes bad things upon a person you don’t like. The kicker lines of course are “So take a long walk off a real short pier/Take a cinder block with you as a souvenir.” Out of the context of the song this is overly dark and vengeful. But the playful melody and Clark’s tongue-in-cheek delivery make for a whimsical, silly response to a person who’s clearly agitating.

“Love is a Fire” is a smoldering love song that shows off Clark’s passionate side and to excellent effect. I really enjoy the spacey, drifting feeling created by the strings and piano. The lyrics do a great job of painting that imagery of love being this blazing, out of control fire in the listener’s head too. “Pawn Shop” shows how vivid of a storyteller Clark can be, as she tells the duel stories of a woman pawning off her wedding ring and a man pawning his guitar. Each reflect on the loss these items represent and the ending of dreams. But then Clark reminds you that somebody else will buy them, starting dreams anew for somebody else. It’s a really clever look at the duality of life and death, how each are constantly playing off each other and how each gives the other value.

“Who You Thought I Was” is about striving to be a better person after falling in love with someone. The bouncy juxtaposition of the horns, mandolin and flute gives the song an enjoyably fun melody. As for the lyrics, they’re solid, clearly getting across the change in heart of the person who’s fallen in love. “Apologies” has an enjoyable flute and horn section, but the song meanders too long for me. It just feels like this song never leaves second gear and doesn’t ever reach anywhere with it’s message. The lyrics just sort of glaze over you after a couple of listens.  Randy Newman joins Clark on “Bigger Boat” and I just have to be flat-out honest: I do not like Newman’s voice. It annoys the shit out of me. The song has an admirable aim of pointing out the absurdity of the disagreements that run through social media and society nowadays. But it’s just too hokey for my taste. That’s a shame because I do enjoy the production on this track.

I have the same issues with “Bad Car” as I did with “Apologies.” And the other thing that bugs me is I feel like I’ve heard this song done so many times in country music. There’s just nothing that stands out to make it different from every other song that personalizes and gives emotional meaning to a vehicle. It’s not a bad song per se, it’s just fine and I won’t remember it. “Who Broke Whose Heart” fortunately does not have this problem. In fact this is probably one of my favorite songs I’ve heard from Clark, as it’s instantly catchy lyrics and melody hooked me. The production actually reminds me of Electric Light Orchestra in the way it utilizes the strings, horns and guitar. It’s just a really fun song with a surprising amount of bite.

“Can We Be Strangers” is a devastatingly great heartbreak song. This relationship has soured to the point of where the narrator just wishes they had never even met each other in the first place. And the way Clark delivers the chorus is painstakingly and soulfully beautiful. The horns and strings perfectly complement this song too, not taking over and instead adding dramatic gravitas that only enhances the emotions. “The Past is the Past” wraps the album up in a nice bow, with Clark reaching the point of letting the past go and moving forward in her life while still letting herself feel the heartbreak from the situation. As I said it’s a fitting and mature conclusion after the myriad of emotions Clark expresses throughout the album. Lessons have been learned and now a new life begins.

Despite a few hiccups, Brandy Clark takes a big step up from her last album with Your Life is a Record. I think the production is the biggest improvement, as it flows together really well from start to finish. I really enjoy the incorporation of the flutes in this album, as it’s something not really utilized as much in country music. The songwriting stumbles in a few spots, but for the most part is pretty good and at times great. There’s a surprisingly nice mix of emotions on an album centered around a breakup too. Most importantly, Clark rewards you for listening to the whole album, giving you the emotional journey with the fittingly positive, yet realistic destination.

Grade: 8/10

Single Review — The Dixie Chicks Return with a Bang with “Gaslighter”

It’s been 14 years since the Dixie Chicks have released their last album. Country music hasn’t been the same since, as you can’t deny their leaving/dismissal and absence in the genre had a lasting impact in many ways. Well after years of rumors, they make their return with a new album coming out on May 1 and they’ve just released the lead single from it, the album’s title track.

Now normally in this new era of Country Perspective I don’t discuss or review singles because there’s just so many and I’m an album listener, not a singles listener. But I have to make an exception and break my own rule because this song is just too damn good for me to not talk about and review. Right away this song blasts you with the type of harmonies I’ve been wanting to hear and shouting from the rooftops about for years in review. Acts today just don’t utilize harmonies enough, but this is what makes the Dixie Chicks so great. They utilize their strengths to the very best and their harmonies are very much a strength.

The story the song tells is of a man who was a grand puppet master, successfully manipulating and controlling a woman for what sounds like years before she woke up and is now calling him out on his bullshit, a gaslighter. Each member of the trio takes their turn on lead, each adding another layer and detail to the story that gives you an exact look into this toxic relationship and the freeing liberation being experienced by the woman who’s finally rid of him. The production is big and soaring, an instant foot-stomper with thumping drums and an infectious hook. Collaborator Jack Antonoff definitely added his influence, as he’s known for bringing a stunning level of polish and catchiness to the music he touches.

I was already excited to hear the new album from the Dixie Chicks, but this new single just takes it to an even higher level. And the early reception of the majority of listeners seems to indicate the same. The Dixie Chicks are back and this is great not just for country music, but all music.

Spinning All The Records — February 2020

Spinning All The Records is a brand new feature on Country Perspective that is a monthly overview of all the albums reviewed in the previous month on Country Perspective to give any readers, new and old, a quick look at what I covered and to catch anything you missed. In addition I take a look ahead at what I want to cover, upcoming album releases that catch my eye and a throwback album recommendation. So without further ado…

Looking back on February 2020, it was a surprisingly great month of high-quality releases. While the Tame Impala and John Moreland albums did not surprise me in the least with being great, the releases from Khruangbin & Leon Bridges, Tennis, and Denzel Curry & Kenny Beats really caught me off-guard with how great they were and proved themselves to be some of the best music you’ll hear in 2020. I did not expect to give this many high grades so soon and I mention this because something I didn’t like about myself in the past with this blog was so many 9s and 10s being given. But when I give them now I assure you that I put a lot more thought behind it. And I definitely welcome this influx of high grades, as the music is pretty damn good. If 2020 can continue to have months like this, we’re in for one hell of a year of music.

(Click on the album titles to read the full review)


Tenille Arts — Love, Heartbreak, Everything in Between

Love, Heartbreak, & Everything in Between is a good showing from Tenille Arts. The songwriting is really smart and shines at times and the production of Kline, Grand Vogelfanger and Adam Wheeler shows they know how to pull off a great pop country sound. A couple of unnecessary cuts, some average songwriting moments and a few small cases of getting carried away with the production bring this album down enough to prevent it from being a great album. But if you’re a fan of pop country I still recommend checking out Tenille Arts, as she shows a lot of promise and talent on Love, Heartbreak, & Everything in Between.

Pet Shop Boys — Hotspot

The highs the Pet Shop Boys deliver on Hotspot are really fun and are definitely memorable, while the lows are completely forgettable. It’s a bit of a roller coaster listen, but if you’re a fan of synth pop it’s worth listening to it a few times and picking out your favorite songs to go back to. But the album taken as a whole is just decent and leaves more consistency and cohesiveness to be desired.

Khruangbin & Leon Bridges — Texas Sun

Texas Sun is a truly brilliant little collection of music. As I said in the beginning, man I wish this was a full album instead of an EP. Khruangbin and Leon Bridges go together so well and come together to create a vibrant and colorful set of songs. It’s a true homage to the many sounds of Texas music that is fresh and invigorating. Do yourself a favor and listen to this exciting EP.

The Cadillac Three — COUNTRY FUZZ

Fun is a word I repeat over and over in this review. And it’s for good reason: that’s the ultimate appeal of The Cadillac Three and their album COUNTRY FUZZ. It’s entertaining country rock that aims to help you have a good time and forget your worries. The lyrics aren’t deep, and they aren’t meant to be; they’re meant to singalong with and have fun. So while this album may not be one for the record books or album of the year lists, it is an album that entertains and it’s exactly what you’re looking for when you just want to listen to something with loud guitars and big hooks.

Denzel Curry & Kenny Beats — UNLOCKED

Curry brings so much aggressive passion and rawness in his voice, along with his choice of diction in his delivery makes what would be an average banger into something that’s truly memorable. And this big reason is why UNLOCKED is the first great hip-hop album I’ve heard in 2020. While it doesn’t quite reach the heights of ZUU (an album I’m ashamed I omitted from my best of 2019 list), this is yet another high-quality project from Denzel Curry (and another great one from Kenny Beats too).

Tennis — Swimmer

With Swimmer, Tennis delivers an excellent album about love. It’s quickly became one of my favorite love albums. And this isn’t rash hyperbole on my end. I’m being serious when I say that this album truly delivers a heartfelt, genuine and truly touching take on true love. Love albums and love song are an absolute dime-a-dozen. They’re churned out every day. Most only focus on the surface level of love and the flip-side with heartbreak. What they don’t ever seem to focus on are the little things, the nitty gritty of relationships that aren’t easy to convey in an informative and interesting way. But that takes brilliant songwriting with equally high-quality production that aids it. Tennis delivers this.

Tame Impala — The Slow Rush

The Slow Rush is another great album from Tame Impala without a doubt. But it’s also hard not to see this album is a few missteps away from equaling the brilliance of Currents. It lacks focus in a few spots and there’s one song that just isn’t needed. But this is also a bit nitpicking admittedly. The production from Parker is once again deeply rich and textured, engulfing you with it’s fantastic details. And the songwriting mostly hits. So ultimately I can say this is one of the best albums you’ll hear in 2020.

John Moreland — LP5

LP5 is another fantastic album from John Moreland. He’s always been a great songwriter since his first album, but it’s the recognition to grow and experiment with his sound starting with his last album that’s taken him to a whole new level in my mind. Too many singer-songwriter artists think they have to stick to a stripped-down, folk-y sound for their lyrics to be taken seriously. At the same time, drum machines are dismissed as “not real instruments” used by pop stars. Well with LP5, Moreland proves both these claims to be moot.


Looking Ahead to March 2020…

As of this moment, there’s a few albums I’m heavily considering reviewing that were released in February. Those would be the new albums from Nathaniel Rateliff, The Steeldrivers and Hailey Whitters. As far as other releases I may have not covered, they simply didn’t catch my eye enough to review them or I feel I didn’t have enough thoughts for a review. But I most likely did listen to it (I listen to a lot more albums than I review), so feel free to hit me up in the comments and ask me about those, as I’m happy to answer with my thoughts on them. I want this monthly post to serve as not only a monthly review, but a place to cover anything “in the cracks” so to speak.

As far as upcoming new releases in March 2020, there’s definitely a few I want to highlight that catch my eye more than others. I’m curious to hear the new live album from Cream, Goodbye Tour – Live 1968, coming out on March 6. Usually I don’t like to review live albums, but I wanted to throw this out there for those into classic rock. Caitlyn Smith will be dropping her new album Supernova on March 13. I loved the previous album Starfire and this new one appears to be pushing the sonic envelope even more, so I’m excited about that one. The enigmatic Jay Electronica is rumored to be finally dropping a new album on March 18. We’ll see, as you can never be sure with him.

The Weeknd just recently announced a release date for his new album After Hours. So far I’ve enjoyed the singles I’ve heard from it and for the most part I liked the previous album Starboy, but I found that album to be a bit too long for my liking. I’m glad to see this one is four songs shorter. This will be dropping on March 20. Finally, Ingrid Andress will be releasing her debut album Lady Like on March 27. I find her voice and style of pop country to be promising. Her songwriting comes off as both catchy and sharp (the song “Both” in particular impresses me). So I’m curious to hear what she brings to the table with her album.


A Throwback Album I’ve Been Listening To That I Recommend

Travis Tritt’s Country Club

If you want some fun and “drive” in your country, Travis Tritt and this album in particular are a great place to start. It’s amazing to me how underrated Tritt is when looking back at 90s country, as he undoubtedly released some of the best. This album in particular showed you could make a stone-cold country album that still incorporates elements from other genres. Most importantly, Tritt just has the “it” voice for country music.