Album Review — Ingrid Andress’ ‘Lady Like’

The first time I heard the voice of Ingrid Andress, I was intrigued. She simply brings a different style and approach to country music that I find refreshing. And her debut album Lady Like only reinforces this idea. Opening track “Bad Advice” immediately grabs your attention with it’s strings-driven and lush sound. Not only is Andress’ voice different, but the production feels a little different too (a credit to Andress, Sam Ellis and her team of producers). The song is about Andress continually following the bad romantic advice from people around her and not finding any luck in the game of love. But as she wise cracks, she’s getting pretty good at getting it wrong. It’s clever and memorable songwriting.

“Both” is my favorite song from Andress so far. The song is about Andress proclaiming to a friend they can’t keep blurring the line between being friends and romantic partners. The dramatic, tug-of-war nature of the production, Andress’ energetic vocal performance and the logical progression of the story and songwriting makes this song an all-around home run in my eyes. “We’re Not Friends” plays along this same theme of blurred relationship lines, but has a more happy nature of the realization that a friendship is more than that. And with this being one of the main themes of this short album, I have to say this is my least favorite take on the subject. It lacks urgency and is a bit sleepy for my taste, as it just doesn’t grab my attention.

“The Stranger” is another standout on Lady Like, as it’s a song about a couple recalling the story of how they met each other. All of the little details that are included and the wistful, nostalgic feeling conveyed by the production makes for a cool little story (the surprise pedal steel guitar in the bridge is a nice touch too). And it’s story songs like these that show why country music is so great. “Anything But Love” is about not being able to move on from a relationship, the feelings lingering and refusing to dissipate. Once again I enjoy the vibrant texture of the production, mashing both pop and country elements together well. Andress does a great job of conveying the desperate, frustrating feelings of the lyrics in her vocal performance too.

I didn’t really like the album’s lead single “More Hearts Than Mine” at first, but upon more listens it’s really grown on me. Despite the song being a bit predictable and check list-y, it has a lot of heart thanks to Andress’ vocal performance. The uplifting nature of the production also sucks you into the song and story being told. “Life of the Party” is about throwing yourself into partying and drinking to get over a breakup. Andress insists over and over that she’s fine and that she’s even the life of the party. But it’s not convincing, as Andress shows more frustration in her vocal performance as the song progresses and by the end is practically screaming. Despite the lyrics being a bit same-ish throughout, it’s this impassioned vocal performance that ultimately makes the song a solid listen.

The album’s title track closes the album and it’s an autobiographical song, as Andress proclaims who she is and how she may not always act like a lady in some ways, she does in other ways. In a way it’s appropriate after spending the entire album centered around relationships that she comes back to herself because she seems to shed the doubt and insecurity expressed in previous songs and is now showing her confidence. The song also returns to the opening track’s orchestra-driven sound, which is a nice call-back. It’s not an emphatic and amazing close to the album, but another solid pop country song nonetheless.

Lady Like is a great debut album from Ingrid Andress. The most important thing she accomplishes with this album is how she establishes her brand of pop country as a little different from the rest of the sub-genre. It’s so easy to get lost in this sea of sound, but Andress doesn’t have this problem at all. She brings a more vibrant sound to her production that respects both pop and country sounds. Not to mention she has a powerful voice that is distinct. I’m really excited to hear more from Ingrid Andress, as she is without a doubt one of the most exciting new artists to emerge in country music.

Grade: 8/10

Spinning All The Records — March 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 quick look at albums I didn’t give full reviews, look ahead at what I want to cover, upcoming album releases that catch my eye and a throwback album recommendation. So without further ado…

March 2020 was obviously a month not remembered by music, but by COVID-19, a deadly and infectious virus that is affecting every corner of the world. For those affected by it directly, I send my heartfelt condolences. For everyone, I hope you have great health and are safe. I urge you all to please wash your hands, follow physical distancing rules and to obey guidelines being outlined from health officials and experts. As I tell everyone around me, remember this situation of quarantine and uncertainty is temporary. We have brilliant minds all around the world working together to solve this and as we gather more information, we will find answers and we will triumph. This will pass and we will return to normalcy, hopefully as soon as possible. But obviously the main focus at hand is treating the ill, protecting the healthy and finding the solutions needed to lift ourselves out of this situation. And listen to music, not the news because the former is going to make you feel a whole lot better than the latter. 

Speaking of music, the quality of album releases dipped in March 2020 until the latter part of the month where several great albums released. Of course the most notable was The Weeknd’s After Hours, a fantastic album and a no doubt strong contender for Country Perspective’s 2020 Album of the Year. Brandy Clark rebounded with her new album, Jay Electronica actually dropped his debut album finally and Caitlyn Smith unfortunately disappointed with her new album. The Dixie Chicks returned with a great new single too. There were less albums reviewed overall this month, but that’s because I’m employing a new strategy for reviews moving forward. It will be explained more in the newest section of Spinning All The Records below the monthly album summary. 

(Click the album titles to read the full review)

Dixie Chicks — “Gaslighter” (Single review)

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.

Brandy Clark — Your Life is a Record

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.

Jay Electronica — A Written Testimony

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.

Caitlyn Smith — Supernova

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.

The Weeknd — After Hours

After Hours is a phenomenal achievement by The Weeknd. This album is a rich, cinematic experience of love, losing it, fighting to regain it and ultimately reaching the realistic conclusion of realizing that it’s lost. The production team absolutely nails every emotion on this album and takes the lyricism to a whole new level. The juxtaposition of the breezy, mixed cocktail of genres (R&B, pop, hip-hop, dream pop, 80s) feels perfect on this album of frenetic, dark emotions that permeate throughout it. This is without a doubt an album of the year contender.


All The Other Albums I Want To Talk About!

This is the newest section of Spinning All The Records where I give quick thoughts/reviews on all the other albums I listened to over the past month that released this year. Essentially I listened to these albums enough, but didn’t want to write full reviews and/or didn’t feel I had enough thoughts for a full review. Also there’s a lot of damn albums released every week and when you want to listen to a little of everything from every genre like me, time doesn’t allow for full reviews of everything. But I still want to talk about lots of albums, so this is the solution! So moving forward I’m only focusing on doing full reviews for albums I truly have a lot to say about while the rest will be here. And of course you’re welcome to ask about any albums I don’t cover here in the comments below!

The Steeldrivers — Bad For You 

This is an album I initially really enjoyed. But after a few listens of the album I haven’t felt the need to go back to it since. I had a similar reaction when I listened to Randy Houser’s Magnolia last year. Just like that album, Bad For You just doesn’t leave enough in terms of hooks, impactful lyricism and gripping melodies consistently through the album. The album’s title track is absolutely brilliant, but that’s the only song I’ll remember from this album. 6/10

Hailey Whitters — The Dream

Whitters’ previous album Black Sheep gleamed with potential, but unfortunately she takes a step back all around with The Dream. Other than “Janice at the Hotel Bar,” this album lacks the devastating and meaningful lyrics of the previous album. Instead there’s annoyingly kitchy and uninteresting wordplay like with “Red Wine and Blue” and “Heartland.” And yet another version of “Happy People.” Zack at The Musical Divide sums this song up best: it’s just a more “broadly written version” of “Humble and Kind.” Then you have “All The Cool Girls,” your run of the mill, generic song about bad party girls. Its just such a bizarre choice from Whitters and doesn’t fit her at all. This album comes off as a desperate play for popularity and that’s a disappointment. 5/10

Megan Thee Stallion — Suga EP 

So here’s the state of hip-hop for me right now in 2020. 10% of releases are absolute garbage like Eminem’s latest album. 10% are absolute gems like Freddie Gibbs’ latest album. And the remaining 80% are middle-of-the-road, generic albums that use the same flow in every song like this Suga EP from Megan Thee Stallion. This pop hip-hop sound is starting to remind me a lot of the pop country on country radio. This isn’t a good thing. And that’s such a shame coming from Megan Thee Stallion because I enjoyed her last album, which suffered a little bit of the “sameness” problem too, but it had a lot of fun energy and memorable bars. She’s just capable of so much more than this, but she is also in the midst of a label battle and I’m hopeful this is just satisfying a label contract. 5/10

Porter Union — Loved & Lost 

This album has some nice moments, but unfortunately it just doesn’t have enough consistently engaging songs to hold my attention throughout. Because as I first listen to this album I’m intrigued because of the vocal dynamics, but by the end it just feels like another indie country album. There just isn’t enough here to make it stand out from the rest of the crowd.

Gabe Lee — Honky Tonk Hell 

So let’s get one thing straight: Gabe Lee can sing his ass off. He puts a ton of passion behind it, so the cover of this album is quite appropriate. Upon first listens I was really blown away, but unfortunately as I delved deeper into this album it lost it’s shine for me. Neither the songwriting nor the instrumentation lends itself strong enough for extended replayability. The sound of this record in particular is just too straightforward for my personal taste because after a while the songs feel like they blend together. There just isn’t much distinctiveness. But while I know this isn’t for me I do know there’s a large crowd of people who will love this. And I hope they do, as Lee is undoubtedly talented and full of passion. 6/10

Don Toliver — Heaven Or Hell

This album starts out so strong. The smooth, trap-flavored beats are on point, Travis Scott has a great feature on “Euphoria,” “After Party” is a lot of fun and “Can’t Feel My Legs” is catchy. But the second half of this album falls off a cliff. “Candy” is annoyingly repetitive, the Quavo and Offset feature is completely forgettable and then there’s the Sheck Wes feature on “Spaceship.” It’s just awful, but then again I’ve never understood why “Mo Bamba” blew up. If the second half of the album was as good as the first then this could have been a great album. 6/10

Childish Gambino — 3.15.20

I come away from this new Childish Gambino album with the same thoughts I came away with on his last album: sounds nice, but the lyrics do nothing for me. In fact I remember I spent a ton of time listening to “Awaken, My Love” over and over to see what I was missing lyrically. And ultimately I concluded that there was nothing to miss. It was an alluring sound with nothing to say. And I’m not falling for this trap again with this album.

Kelsea Ballerini — kelsea

So upon initial listens I enjoyed this album. But as I started to listen to it more closely it just doesn’t hold up. There’s some fun production moments on this album like “bragger,” “hole in the bottle” and “needy.” But this albums lacks the necessary polish and hooks it needs to be what it seems to aspire to be and that’s Taylor Swift’s Red. And it doesn’t have the melody to hold up to Kacey Musgraves’ Golden Hour.

Now I bring up those albums not to pit these women against each other but rather to demonstrate how this album doesn’t measure up in the space it’s trying to enter. When you’re going for this big pop country sound, these are the albums that are considered the modern standards. And not only does the production not measure up, but the songwriting isn’t strong enough and is outright confusing in spots (“love me like a girl,” “la” and “half of my hometown”). Sure there’s some strong spots in this regard like with “overshare” covering anxiety and “homecoming queen?” dealing with peer pressure. But this needs to be consistent throughout the album. And I still don’t understand the appeal of Halsey as a feature on any song. This is by no means a bad album and I applaud Ballerini for taking risks. I think one day she will deliver a great album, as she continues to show improvement. But this album just gets too many things wrong for it to be good, so instead it’s just above average. 6/10

Lil Uzi Vert — Eternal Awake – LUV vs. The World 2

You know 14 songs was long enough on the regular album and then the “deluxe” version of the album adds 18 songs. Holy bloat! As I’ve mentioned many times, the amount of streaming manipulation in hip-hop with albums is ridiculous and this is the most blatant example yet. Lil Uzi Vert essentially added an entire album to an entire album. It’s stupid. Nevertheless I did listen to all of this and it’s surprisingly not bad, granted you don’t have high expectations. There are no deep and meaningful messages here, but rather some fun beats and catchy hooks in most of the songs. The production is this album’s greatest strength, largely attributed to Pi’erre Bourne and Brandon Finessin. Both 21 Savage and Young Thug come through with great features too. If you’re looking for some light and breezy rap where you just want to turn your brain off, this works really well. 


Looking Ahead to April 2020…

So as I mentioned at the beginning there were a lot of albums released at the end of the month that I plan to cover. Namely you will be seeing a full review of the new Ingrid Andress album very soon and highly likely a full review of the new Jesse Daniel album too. Other new albums that have released from artists that I still haven’t listened to yet, but plan to and could likely cover in some fashion include: Knxwledge, Dua Lipa, Margaret Glaspy, Brian Fallon, Conway & The Alchemist, Jessi Alexander and Kody West. 

As for upcoming releases in April 2020 there are multiple albums I’m particularly looking forward to hearing. On April 3 the new Ashley McBryde album Never Will and Thundercat’s new album It Is What It Is both catch my eye. I really enjoyed McBryde’s last album and I’m looking forward to see if she can do even better with this one. Thundercat is one you’ve likely never heard of by name, but if you listened to Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly you did hear his fantastic bass contributions. His music is best described as “out there” R&B. Also his last album included a slice of yacht rock heaven with “Show You The Way.” 

Maddie & Tae will finally be releasing their new sophomore album The Way It Feels on April 10. I still don’t understand the bizarre EP release strategy, but nevertheless I’ve enjoyed a lot of the songs released on them and of course I gave high praise to their debut album. Speaking of weird release strategies, The Last Bandoleros may finally be dropping an album on April 17. Supposedly it’s a live album, which is even more strange considering they haven’t released a studio album yet. I just don’t understand what is happening with this group, but I want to hear more from this Tex Mex-influenced country group. For crying out loud I reviewed their first single four years ago

A few other notes: Willie Nelson was originally supposed to release a new album this month, but it was delayed until July. Sam Hunt and Lady Gaga are both dropping new albums this month, but I fully expect them to be awful based on what I’ve heard from each. Also country newcomer Logan Ledger’s new album is one I’m not necessarily anticipating since he’s brand new, but intrigued by for sure based on what little I’ve heard. 


Throwback Album I Recommend 

Black Tiger Sex Machine’s New Worlds

Yes, I’ll admit I checked this band out based solely on the name. And I’m glad I did! It’s really intriguing dance music with some nice metal influences mixed in. Be forewarned it’s loud and in your face. But if you have any interest in dance music, I highly recommend this apocalyptic-flavored album they released back in 2018. 

Album Review — The Weeknd’s ‘After Hours’

There’s nothing better than on the first listen of an album knowing that you’re listening to something that’s special. When I listened to this new album from The Weeknd, that’s the feeling I got. On his last album Starboy, there were several great moments. But the overall album felt unfocused and bloated. It just didn’t have a direction. All of this though is not only rectified on After Hours, it’s a front-to-back required listen to truly appreciate each song. It’s what an album experience should be.

Eery keyboards play in opening track “Alone Again,” where Abel Tesfaye (it feels more appropriate to refer to him by his actual name when discussing the story) finds himself in an identity crisis, wondering if he’s really the type to be in a relationship. But at the same time he questions if he can be alone again too. It sets up a battle that plays out through the album: his love versus his demons, fighting for and against both at various points. On “Too Late” the relationship has fallen apart and now he’s alone, confronting the guilt and realizing how he did her wrong. I love the pulsating, yet reflective tone of the production, as it heightens the lyrics. “Hardest To Love” is Abel admitting how difficult of a person he is to love and seeing how she’s trying to let him go for good. The dream pop influences mixed with The Weeknd’s usual sound really works well, a credit to producer Max Martin. It gives the song an appropriate overwhelming feeling, as this feeling of disappointment consumes Abel.

“Scared To Live” sees Abel apologizing for being selfish enough to not let her go sooner, stringing her along much longer than he should have. He also owns up to ruining her perception of love and encouraging her to get back out there and find love. It’s a great dose of maturity on an album centered around immature and reckless love. One more cool factoid for this song: it uses an interpolation of Elton John’s “Your Song.” On “Snowchild” Abel reflects on all the sacrifices and work it took him to make it big, but now he plots leaving the bright lights of Los Angeles. He’s simply over it all in the light of the breakup, looking to remove himself from the situation entirely. Despite the sad nature of the song, The Weeknd does manage to get in a clever and funny line: “She liked my futuristic sounds in the new spaceship/Futuristic sex, give her Phillip K. Dick.”

“Escape from LA” sees him leaving finally, but not before one more battle of giving into the desires and sins he knows are destroying him, hooking up with his ex while also realizing she’s a “cold-hearted bitch” and the fake, plastic nature of the bright lights around him. The frustration at the situation and himself bubbles out, while yet indulging in what he knows is wrong. This leads to his jaded bitterness now driving him on “Heartless.” He’s fully relapsed into his single lifestyle, sleeping with every woman he can trying to ignore the pain coming from his heart. The glitzy, yet dark undertones of the production from Metro Boomin perfectly paints the mindset and feeling of Abel in this moment. The song serves as the precursor to the car going off the cliff so to speak.

Abel is going down hill fast and headed for rock bottom on “Faith,” the major turning point on this album and in this story. He throws away his year-long sobriety, indulging in drinking and various drugs in his favorite place of sin, Las Vegas. He admits he’s losing his religion and faith, as the heartbreak of his situation completely overtakes him. By the end of the song he finds himself in the back of a cop car, finally hitting rock bottom. Both the lyrics and production do such a great job of giving that feeling of slowly descending into darkness and then the thud of hitting the bottom at the end when the sirens sound. It’s the most important moment on this album, the crossroads of falling and climbing back to the top.

The climb back up begins on “Blinding Lights.” Abel begins to fight to regain his love, admitting that maybe he can learn to truly love someone. It’s an appropriate title too, as it’s play on the last song being about being blinded by the lights of a cop car and Las Vegas. But now he’s being blinded by the light of the realization of how much he wants to win his love back. Martin comes through once again with more fun production, as the synth and drum machine-driven sound is instantly catchy and makes you want to dance. “In Your Eyes” is Abel professing his love and claiming to see that same passion in her eyes, even though he know there’s hurt that still lurks within her too. This song features even more excellent production from Martin, in fact it’s the best on the album. It’s also the best modern take on 80s pop rock I’ve heard, nailing every little detail needed with the synths, including the fantastic surprise saxophone that comes in at the end.

“Save Your Tears” sees Abel coming across his love at a club, with each exchanging looks and neither being able to walk up and talk to the other. Internally he’s pleading for her to take him back, while also acknowledging he’s late and that she deserves better than him. I love all the little details in the lyrics showing both the external and internal conflicting emotions on display from both Abel and his ex. Throw in the moody, dream pop-influenced production of Martin that gives the song the right amount of tension and anticipation and it’s another great coordination of The Weeknd and Martin. “Repeat After Me” is an interlude of Abel saying his ex doesn’t really love her new man if she’s still thinking of Abel and that it’s just casual sex that means nothing to him. One wonders if he’s trying to convince her or himself more with this plead. Also gotta love how The Weeknd manages to sneak in yet another top notch producer in Kevin Parker to produce this, who of course even in an interlude manages to deliver great production.

The album’s title track is about Abel falling into desperation over his pleadings to win back his ex, unable to sleep. In fact the song is a mash-up of essentially all the feelings he’s experienced up to this point, showing how his emotions are spiraling out of control. He finds himself stuck reliving everything from his past as he struggles to cope with his feelings in the present. The production is noticeably darker and downbeat, as it goes into the final track “Until I Bleed Out.” Abel finally realizes that he’s lost her for good and will never win her heart back again. Now he’s trying to go through the process of letting her go, proclaiming with these visceral lines: “I wanna cut you outta my dreams/Till I’m bleeding out, til I’m bleeding out/I wanna cut you outta my mind.” The production is appropriately dreary and dark, as Abel reaches the same point he thought he might have wanted at the beginning of the album: alone.

After Hours is a phenomenal achievement by The Weeknd. This album is a rich, cinematic experience of love, losing it, fighting to regain it and ultimately reaching the realistic conclusion of realizing that it’s lost. The production team absolutely nails every emotion on this album and takes the lyricism to a whole new level. The juxtaposition of the breezy, mixed cocktail of genres (R&B, pop, hip-hop, dream pop, 80s) feels perfect on this album of frenetic, dark emotions that permeate throughout it. This is without a doubt an album of the year contender.

Grade: 10/10

Josh’s Jukebox Journal — Country Hits: 2006

Once upon a time there was a popular feature on this blog called The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Music and it’s sister feature The Past Pulse of Mainstream Country Music. It was an enjoyable feature for both you and I, before I decided to take a hiatus from blogging. My own enjoyment of the feature had waned, but I’ve wanted to return to a feature like this ever since.

Kyle over at Kyle’s Korner Blog took over the torch for The Current Pulse and is doing a fantastic job with it, so please go check it out if you haven’t done so. But I was wanting to do a Past Pulse. Unfortunately as I’ve discovered, Billboard has become greedy and decided to lock past charts behind a paywall. Quite an asinine decision in my view. So with this stupid decision by Billboard, I obviously can’t do The Past Pulse. But that sent me down the idea rabbit hole and I got to thinking how I could re-adapt the Past Pulse into something new. Combined with another feature idea I had been tinkering with, I’ve come up with Josh’s Jukebox Journal.

Josh’s Jukebox Journal is a brand new feature on the blog that will be similar to The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Music, but with a twist. Rather than rely on past charts from Billboard instead I will look at playlists. This could be from any genre, from any year, past or present, various artists or just one artist. I will run through the playlist giving a thumbs up (let it play), shrug (essentially playlist filler) or a thumbs down (skip it). The best song will get two thumbs up and the worst will get two thumbs down. At the end I will give a grade for the quality of the playlist. These playlists can come from any of the streaming services (preferably Spotify, Apple Music or YouTube).

This feature won’t have a set day or time of when it releases. It will essentially be when I want to do one. And of course I want to hear playlist ideas for future versions of Josh’s Jukebox Journal in the comments! Today I will take a look at the Apple Music playlist Country Hits: 2006…

    • Rodney Atkins – “If You’re Going Through Hell” 👎
    • Rascal Flatts – “What Hurts the Most”🤷
    • Josh Turner – “Your Man” 👍
    • Carrie Underwood – “Jesus, Take the Wheel” 👍
    • Jennifer Nettles & Bon Jovi – “Who Says You Can’t Go Home”🤷
    • Brad Paisley – “When I Get Where I’m Going (feat. Dolly Parton)” 👍
    • Jason Aldean – “Why”🤷
    • Kenny Chesney – “Summertime”🤷
    • Phil Vassar – “Last Day of My Life” 👍
    • LeAnn Rimes – “Something’s Gotta Give”🤷
    • George Strait – “She Let Herself Go”🤷
    • Jack Ingram – “Wherever You Are” 👍
    • The Wreckers – “Leave the Pieces” 👍
    • Kenny Chesney – “Living In Fast Forward” 👍
    • Brad Paisley – “The World” 👍
    • Carrie Underwood – “Before He Cheats” 👍
    • Trace Adkins – “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” 👎👎
    • Rascal Flatts – “My Wish (10th Anniversary)” 👎
    • Blake Shelton – “Nobody But Me” 👍
    • Dierks Bentley – “Settle for a Slowdown” 👍👍
    • Steve Holy – “Brand New Girlfriend” 👍
    • Josh Turner – “Would You Go With Me” 👍
    • Little Big Town – “Bring It On Home” 👍
    • Sugarland – “Want To” 👍
    • Toby Keith – “Get Drunk and Be Somebody” 👎

Thumbs up: 15
Shrugs: 6
Thumbs down: 4

Grade: 7/10

This is a pretty solid playlist (until you see a lot of the songs missing I list below that I would have added and then you’re going to get angry like me). I was actually a little surprised, but then as I listened to it more not so much because I remember every single one of these songs vividly. I was 14/15 years old when these songs were popular and this was when my brother and I would watch the CMT music video countdown show every week. So I definitely got some nostalgia running through this playlist. And I can’t get over how much mandolin was allowed on country radio back then!

So many great songs to choose from for the best. Josh Turner was absolutely on fire during this time. I really enjoyed Carrie Underwood and Brad Paisley’s material at that time too. Underwood of course just released her debut album and it’s arguably still her best record. Paisley helped Dolly get another hit and that’s always great. But I had to go with Dierks Bentley’s “Settle For a Slowdown” from the excellent Modern Day Drifter album. The ominous and dark atmosphere created by the guitars and the descriptive lyricism that so perfectly lays out the longing heartbreak taking place in the song made me choose it as best.

Not a lot of bad songs to choose from on this playlist, which is nice of course. I enjoyed all of Rodney Atkins biggest hits at first, including the one above, but thank country radio and grocery stores for overplaying them to the point I cringe when I hear them. I don’t mind Rascal Flatts’ “My Wish,” but for some bizarre reason they put a flat and bad 10th anniversary version on this playlist. Long-time readers know how I feel about post-9/11 Toby Keith. But picking Trace Adkins’ “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” as the worst was a slam dunk choice. This song was everywhere, well rather the remix version, which I’m surprised isn’t what was chosen for this playlist. It’s an annoying novelty song that will only age worse with time. (That I’ll also admit that teenager me loved at the time)

Songs I Would Have Added to the Playlist

  • Billy Currington – “Must Be Doin’ Somethin’ Right” (Currington was so good during this time and his omission is bad)
  • Dierks Bentley – “Every Mile a Memory”
  • Brooks & Dunn – “Believe”
  • Little Big Town – “Boondocks” (A cult classic!)
  • George Strait – “Give It Away” (How in the hell was this not on the playlist, yet the sleepy Strait hit was chosen?!?)
  • Emerson Drive – “A Good Man”
  • Eric Church – “How ‘Bout You” (Not a single Church song on the playlist is criminal!)
  • Kenny Rogers – “I Can’t Unlove You” (Rest in peace Mr. Rogers. Also people forget this was a top 20 song for him in 2006 and definitely worthy of this playlist)
  • Gary Allan – “Life Ain’t Always Beautiful” (Why was this not on the playlist either?!)
  • Alan Jackson – “Like Red on a Rose” (I’m just getting more angry at what was not on this playlist)
  • Jack Ingram – “Love You”
  • Van Zant – “Nobody Gonna Tell Me What to Do”
  • Eric Church – “Two Pink Lines” (Incredible song!)
  • Keith Urban – “Once in a Lifetime”
  • George Strait – “The Seashores of Old Mexico”
  • Joe Nichols – “Size Matters (Someday)”
  • Tim McGraw – “When the Stars Go Blue” (Not a single McGraw song on the playlist, especially not this one?! Come on)
  • Billy Currington – “Why, Why, Why”
  • Jake Owen – “Yee Haw”
  • Kenny Chesney – “You Save Me” (Take the two songs he has on the playlist and replace them with just this one, his best hit of the year)

Be sure to weigh-in with your thoughts on the playlist and what you would have added to the playlist too below!

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