Album Review — Tenille Arts’ ‘Love, Heartbreak, & Everything in Between’

I have to be honest that I wasn’t very familiar with Tenille Arts before coming across her new album. But after listening to Arts’ sophomore album Love, Heartbreak, & Everything in Between, I’m glad I gave her music a chance because the young Canadian country artist shows a ton of potential on this album. Opening song and lead single “Somebody Like That” is a bouncy and catchy love anthem that sets a great tone for the album. Arts is unashamedly pop country and this is great because if you’re going to do this sound, you have to commit to it. What I also enjoy about this song is it’s confidence, as Arts asserts the kind of love she’s looking for and refusing to settle for less.

“Slow It Down” is a waltzing love ballad about learning to slow things down in a relationship and enjoying all the little moments in it. It also has an appropriately simmering feel to match the theme of the song too. It’s a really solid track. “Wild Love” is another love song, this one falling a bit short for me compared to “Slow It Down.” This song’s biggest fault is the unnecessary synth that lingers in the background, as I find it distracting and taking away from the melody. Otherwise it’s another quality love song from Arts. “Butterfly Effect” is another case of a bit too much production for my liking, as the guts of this track would have been a perfect balance. And usually I don’t say this, as I’m a sucker for sappy love songs, but I find the lyrics to be too saccharine for my taste.

“I Hate This” is one of my favorites on this album, as the lyrics perfectly show the internal struggle of wanting someone who doesn’t want you in the same way back. It also shows not only the emotions of the situation well, but pulls off the simple storytelling to show how the person got into this situation of being tangled up between reality and their feelings. If I were in charge of making hits, this song would be one. “Nothing to See Here” is another greatly written song (penned by Arts and Whitney Duncan), this one about being haunted by the memories of people and sights in a small town. Yet Arts says there’s nothing in the town to see, writing it off as just another town. It’s this contrasting dichotomy that Arts plays against each other so well that makes this song so good.

“Another Life” is another home run from Arts. The song is about imagining the life that could have been with a past love and aching for something that will probably never be. It’s lyrics and piano-driven melody give it a seriously devastating feel of letting opportunity slip right through your fingers and struggling to reconcile with the situation. To top it off Arts delivers a passionate and impactful vocal performance, showing she can absolutely belt it when it’s necessary. “Right Guy Wrong Time” is a song that I would have left off the album, as it’s a less interesting take on other themes that are explored much better on the album (lost love, heartbreak, what if). Not to mention it’s a bit too sleepy feeling for my taste.

“Call You Names” is about Arts recalling the relationship with her mother up until now. She remembers calling her controlling and mean when she was a teenager and looking forward to being out on her own. Now she’s an adult, always calling her, realizing how important she is in her life. It’s a nice song about growing up and seeing your parents for who they really are, even if it’s a bit predictable. “Missing You” is about getting over an ex and realizing you no longer miss them. The hook of this song is great (“The only thing missing is me missing you”) and I like how the song focuses more on self-happiness rather than petty revenge, giving it a more positive, uplifting tone (too many of these songs devolve into a “winning” the breakup angle).

“Wouldn’t You Like to Know” is a flat-out fun singalong about daring someone to fall for you. The lyrics are a fantastic mix of temptation, mystery and adventurousness, a credit to writers Arts, Alex Kline and Allison Cruz. The instrumentation is also great, blending roaring guitars, pounding drums and a touch of organ to create a really infectious melody. “Everybody Knows Everybody” closes out the album and it’s a fine song about enjoying the small town atmosphere of knowing everyone after growing up in it and being sick of it. I say it’s just fine because it’s a theme that’s done to death in country music, although I give Arts credit for giving an accurate portrayal of the gossipy nature of small towns. It’s a song where I can take it or leave it. I think “Wouldn’t You Like to Know” would have been a better closer.

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.

Grade: 7/10

Review – Ronnie Dunn’s “Damn Drunk” (feat. Kix Brooks)

Ronnie Dunn Damn Drunk

In 2014 Cumulus Media announced the bold and ambitious-minded Nash Icon label. It would be a partnership with Scott Borchetta’s Big Machine Records and would serve as a new home to veteran artists who had seemingly been forgotten by other labels and mainstream. This would be in conjunction with the new Nash Icon stations that would play older country music and play the new music from these older, traditionally leaning artists. High expectations were set and now two years later it hasn’t come close to meeting them. While Reba was able to get a single into the top 30 and released a pretty good album, that’s been the highlight of this whole project. Martina McBride released a mediocre new album. Hank Williams Jr. released an even worse album earlier this year. Then we have Ronnie Dunn, who has yet to release an album yet under the label. The lead single for it was released last year, “Ain’t No Trucks in Texas,” which only peaked at #42 on the airplay chart. Now Dunn is back with a new single, “Damn Drunk,” and a familiar face accompanying him.

The song opens with some synth-like beats and a light backing chorus. It’s not exactly the start I envision in a Ronnie Dunn song, but thankfully it gets better as the song goes. The song itself is a love song about a man professing the love he has towards his woman and proceeds to use several metaphors and phrases to make how clear he loves her. The song centers on one comparison in particular, the hook of the song “if you were a whiskey, girl, I’d be a damn drunk.” It gets across quite clearly he loves her and it’s an easy comparison for the listener to comprehend. It must be said however it is a little cheesy and a tad cliché. But what makes it and the entire song ultimately work is it has a lot of heart and Dunn’s brings a passionate vocal performance to the table here. Halfway through his old buddy Kix Brooks shows up to sing harmony and the listeners who have been wanting a Brooks & Dunn reunion sort of get their wish. It’s kind of weird that these two are singing together in a song, yet it’s not by Brooks & Dunn. In the end it’s just semantics of course.

Overall “Damn Drunk” is a solid single from Ronnie Dunn. The only things that keep me from liking this song more is the production leans a little too much at times towards modern sensibilities, the backing chorus is completely unnecessary and the lyrics aren’t exactly heavy. But thankfully Dunn and Brooks bring a great vocal performance and wring everything they can out of the lyrics. It’s certainly an improvement over a lot of what we hear at radio and would be welcome if it got a lot of airplay. I’m not so sure it can, but it’s picking a decent time to go for adds (I think September would have been best). After hearing the first two singles, let’s hope the album from Dunn set for release in October is just as good. In a world where Sam Hunt and Old Dominion are on country radio, hearing the voice of Ronnie Dunn is quite refreshing.

Grade: 7/10

Written by: Liz Hengber, Alex Kline & Ben Stennis