Album Review – Ronnie Dunn’s ‘Tattooed Heart’

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If you’ve followed Ronnie Dunn’s career in recent years, especially on social media, you would find that this is an artist who has no idea how to deal with being out of the spotlight and being in the back nine of his career. It’s something I’ve talked about a lot on my blog regarding older artists facing the reality that they’re no longer in their prime and have to accept fading into the background in favor of younger, more marketable artists. I’m not saying that this is fair and in fact I’ve argued against the ageist radio system in older artists’ favor. I’m just pointing out reality. Dunn has accepted this at times and other times doesn’t seem to accept it so much. He’s argued for traditionalists and he’s argued for more modern sounds. Long story short he’s been really inconsistent. So it’s no surprise on his new album Tattooed Heart that he’s once again inconsistent and seems to hedge his bet between traditional and modern, leaning more towards the latter many times on this album.

There are many things I find wrong with Tattooed Heart, but before I get to that there are some songs Dunn gets right. One of these times is “I Worship The Woman You Walked On.” The song is about a man speaking to the ex of his current love and telling him about how he’s now loving the woman he had walked on before. He explains how he appreciates her the way he never did. The song importantly comes off more as empathetic rather than vengeful, which it easily could have. Another good song from Dunn is “Only Broken Heart in San Antone.” If there’s one theme Dunn can nail it’s heartbreak and he does it on this song. The song has a very cool and easy-going feeling about it, but this also perfectly encapsulates the loneliness of the broken-hearted person who can only see lonely in a moment of heartbreak. This song also features the most pedal steel guitar of the entire album, which would have really benefitted other songs. The only song to feature any fiddle on the album is the final song “She Don’t Honky Tonk No More.” It’s a song about heartbreak and wanting not only a shot of alcohol in this moment of pain, but classic country like Strait and Jones. This a solid song, but it unfortunately contradicts a lot of the rest of the album.

I originally praised “Ain’t No Trucks in Texas” and after giving it fresh re-listens it just doesn’t resonate as much with me and suffers from much of the same problems I have with “Damn Drunk” and that’s it’s overuse of clichés. While they’re used to get the overall point of the songs across, they each get tiresome with more listens due to these very same clichés. They’re not necessarily bad songs, but clunky and lazy and with more effort could have been good songs. The clichés are most nauseatingly bad on “Young Buck.” This is essentially a letter written from an old bro to a new bro. It praises the cliché bro who drives trucks, chases girls and is the consummate “good ole American boy” according to this song. Songs like this make me gag because it frames reality like it’s some corny, drive-in movie from the 50s America.

You would think Reba’s guest appearance on a song would lead to something good, but “Still Feels Like Mexico” feels like the same old crap we’ve heard from Nashville pop from the synth-y production to the predictable beach love theme. This song is not much different from Luke Bryan’s “Roller Coaster” or Jason Aldean’s “A Little More Summertime.” In fact I would say it’s worse than those songs. Dunn probably should have taken the time to take cues from Reba’s latest album, which chases modern sounds a couple of times, but for the most part is decidedly Reba music that complimented her strengths and didn’t alienate her fan base. Or in Dunn’s case, doesn’t confuse the shit out of the listener, who I imagine expects more traditional country from him.

The biggest problem of this album is also it’s greatest irony. Older artists like Ronnie Dunn love to complain about pop artists like Beyoncé performing at country awards show and say that country can stand just fine on it’s own, yet on their albums have palpable, straight up pop influences. Take for example “That’s Why They Make Jack Daniels” and “I Put That There.” These are straight up pop songs and bad ones at that if I might add. So it’s okay to poorly steal from other genres, yet decry their artists? Once again the hypocriticalness and ineptness of the genre shines through. The hypocriticalness reaches critical mass on the title track, Dunn’s cover of Ariana Grande’s “Tattooed Heart.” It’s not that Dunn’s cover of this song is terrible, it’s just that doesn’t fit him and it’s a blatant attempt at crossover appeal and trying to be hip. It’s so transparent and not to mention is worse than the original version. This was a song meant to be sung from the point of view of a young woman, not a 63-year-old man. This old meme sums it up:

buschemi-meme

Ronnie Dunn had a few good things going with Tattooed Heart and if he built on them this album could have been good. Instead like many other artists on major labels he falls prey to the lure of renewed fame and spotlight by chasing after modern appealing sounds and covering a pop starlet. Ronnie Dunn can do better and has shown this many times throughout his career in Brooks and Dunn. But he’ll never rediscover it if he continues to chase after something that just isn’t there anymore. You can’t rewind the clock and you can’t re-live the past. You can only move forward from where you’re at now.

Grade: 4/10

 

Recommend? – No

Album Highlights: Only Broken Heart in San Antone, She Don’t Honky Tonk No More, I Worship The Woman You Walked On

Bad Songs: Young Buck, That’s Why They Make Jack Daniels, I Put That There, Still Feels Like Mexico

Wallpaper: I Wanna Love Like That Again, This Old Heart


The Hodgepodge: Is Pop Radio Better Than Country Radio Right Now?

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A look at the current state of country radio and really mainstream country music in general.

Yesterday in this week’s current pulse of mainstream country music, I was pretty frustrated and exasperated with country radio. The reasons being of course is that nothing new is being tried by country radio and the songs with substance are getting harder to find. They’re simply rehashing the same old crap. Case in point: Jason Aldean’s new single “Tonight Looks Good On You” is surging and will undoubtedly reach #1 on the chart. It’s just another version of Aldean’s 2014 hit “Burnin’ It Down.” On top of that it’s a Dallas Davidson song. I mean come on! I thought country radio had moved passed Davidson’s bullshit, but apparently not.

So as I normally do when I get frustrated with terrible music, I go listen to music I enjoy. As I sat and listened to Hozier’s excellent 2014 debut album, an idea came to me for this week’s Hodgepodge. Why not take a look at pop radio and compare it to country radio? It’s a perfect time to do so when many country stations across the nation are playing blatant pop music. When Kanye West and Ed Sheeran are getting airplay on country radio, you know shit has hit the fan and country stations have run out of answers. So to conduct this comparison, we’ll take a look at the top 20 on the Billboard Top Pop Songs chart from last week and compare it to the top 20 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart from last week. The same exact rules will apply to this as the current pulse that runs every week.

The -3 score on last week’s pulse will not be used, since it’s the cumulative score of the top 30. Only the pulse of the top 20 will be used. By taking away the bottom ten songs, the pulse of the top 20 is 0. That will be the score we use to compare to the pop chart. Today you will get to see the very rare occurrence of yours truly evaluating pop music. See what you’ve done to me country radio? So without further ado let’s take a look at the Top Pop Chart:

  1. Taylor Swift – “Style” 0
  2. Maroon 5 – “Sugar” 0
  3. Ed Sheeran – “Thinking Out Loud” +1 (Sheeran is awesome)
  4. Bruno Mars & Mark Ronson – “Uptown Funk” +1 (This song is great, despite being overplayed)
  5. Pitbull & Ne-Yo – “Time of Our Lives” -1 (Pitbull sucks no matter what genre he is in)
  6. Ellie Goulding – “Love Me Like You Do” -1 (A terrible Fifty Shades of Grey song)
  7. Kanye West, Rihanna & Paul McCartney – “FourFiveSeconds” 0
  8. Natalie La Rose & Jeremih – “Somebody” -1
  9. Calvin Harris & Ellie Goulding – “Outside” 0
  10. Ariana Grande – “One Last Time” -1
  11. Nick Jonas – “Chains” +1 (I’m surprised I liked this)
  12. Zedd & Selena Gomez – “I Want You To Know” +1
  13. Taylor Swift – “Blank Space” -1
  14. One Direction – “Night Changes” -1
  15. Lillywood & Robin Schulz – “Prayer In C” 0
  16. Flo Rida, Sage The Gemini & Lookas – “G.D.F.R.” -1 (Flo Rida is the Toby Keith of pop music. He just keeps hanging on.)
  17. Jason DeRulo – “Want To Want Me” -1
  18. The Weeknd – “Earned It” -1 (Another terrible Fifty Shades of Grey song)
  19. Usher & Juicy J – “I Dont Mind” -1 
  20. Tori Kelly – “Nobody Love”

So the total current pulse of pop music is -8. Wow! It’s even worse than country radio! Yet country radio is borrowing from it. It shouldn’t be borrowing period from pop music, whether it’s better or worse. Still country radio is borrowing from a genre that is even worse. There are genre lines for a reason. The only common denominator between both groups of songs is the club theme. You can thank Sam Hunt for bringing this into country music. Music about going to the club is just plain dumb and it’s why people laugh at artists like Pitbull and Flo Rida. I will say though I would take pop’s club music over country’s club music.

After this not very surprising revelation, I think I can safely say that all of radio is nothing but a vast wasteland of garbage songs. Country radio isn’t the only one lacking substance. However it’s imperative if I point out the big different between both. Country radio and pop radio historically have been viewed completely different by listeners. Pop radio is a mix of several different genres all in one place for casual listeners to hear. Upbeat, fun, party songs are the norm for pop and everyone pretty much knows this. You don’t hear a lot of songs that you would consider classics get on pop radio today, save for the likes of Adele and Hozier maybe. In years past you had icons like Michael Jackson dominating pop, but I don’t see any singers like Jackson on the horizon.

Country radio on the other hand was always viewed by people as a place to go for songs about life, love and other themes that explore deeper meaning. It was the genre of substance. You could hear a song like Vince Gill’s “Go Rest High On That Mountain” and be brought to tears. George Strait’s “Give It Away” or Garth Brooks’ “The Dance” connected with anyone out there whoever had their heart-broken. Go back a little over ten years and you could hear a song on country radio like Josh Turner’s “Long Black Train” that had a great message to anyone of any age. These are the kind of songs that made country music what it was. It was what made you and me fans of country music.

Now an entire generation views country music as a laughing-stock full of songs about drinking, debauchery and partying. That respect country music once held in popular culture has eroded away. People turn on country radio and don’t even recognize the genre. Some people don’t even turn on the radio. Sure there is plenty of great independent country music out there and sites like this help spread the word of it. But why would people seek it out? After what they hear on country radio, it makes them run away from the genre. They’ve got such a sour taste from country radio that they won’t even try the good country music. Country music fans need something to believe in and hear to reaffirm their faith in the genre. Will we get that before it’s too late? For the sake of country music, I hope so.

Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases

  • Will Hoge will come out with his new album Small Town Dreams next Tuesday. A couple of months ago we got a taste of what’s to come on the album and based on that I’m expecting this to be a good one. Derek will be reviewing this one, as Hoge is one of his favorites.
  • Kristian Bush’s debut solo album Southern Gravity will also be released next Tuesday. The lead single “Trailer Hitch” was a surprisingly good song, so it’ll be interesting to hear what the rest of the album sounds like and whether the sound of Sugarland is evident at all.
  • The third notable release next week and the biggest in the independent realm is Pokey LaFarge’s Something In The Water. This could quietly be one of the best releases in April.
  • On Monday, Jason Isbell tweeted: “New new album is done and mastered.” So maybe we’ll get this sooner than July? I certainly hope so. We should at least hear the first single from it very soon.

Throwback Thursday Song

George Jones – “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes?” – You know how I was saying up above about how country music was the genre about life and connecting with everyday people? This song articulates that point perfectly. And it’s a song many country fans wonder today.

Non-Country Song of the Week

AC/DC – “Shoot To Thrill” – This is one of my all-time favorite AC/DC songs. The high notes blow me away every time.

Tweet of the Week

Anti-Bobby Bones tweets are always great. He’s another problem hurting country music, but that’s another post for another day.

Two iTunes Reviews That Will Make You Face Palm

Stupid EYB Comment 2

 

Stupid EYB Comment 3

 

I’ve been sitting on these gems for a couple of weeks. These were under Eli Young Band’s new EP Turn It On. The first one justifies this terrible EP by saying everyone’s going pop in country, so it’s fine. The other says it’s fine because they wrote all four songs. Here’s an easy way to determine whether or not a song or group of songs suck: people having to list reasons to justify why it’s good. People making excuses for it. A great song speaks volumes on its own merit and doesn’t need to be explained why it’s good.

That’s it for the Hodgepodge this week! Be sure to sound off in the comments! 

Zac Brown Band’s New Strategic Partnership for Southern Ground

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On September 19th at the iHeartRadio Music Festival, Zac Brown announced a partnership of his own music label, Southern Ground, with some of music’s biggest label groups and brand masters. Big Machine Records (Taylor Swift, Tim McGraw), Republic Records (The Band Perry, Eli Young Band) and John Varvatos Records are the three labels lined up with Brown’s Southern Ground Artists, who was previously signed with Atlantic Records, in this strategic partnership.

Back in February of this year, renowned fashion designer John Varvatos began a partnership with Republic Records launching John Varvatos Records. From Universal Music’s website, Varvatos’ role in this Republic partnership is to focus on “spearheading the signing of new acts and the release of high-profile reissues and compilations. The imprint’s focus is genuine music in the spirit of legends.” Musical campaigns launched since this agreement included legendary artists like Willie Nelson, Robert Plant, ZZ Top (a Republic Record’s artist) and Dave Matthews.

For Brown and Southern Ground, this is certainly a positive move in respect toward the young music label. For Zac Brown alone, however, this is a curious move. Zac Brown famously criticized Luke Bryan (and subsequently Dallas Davidson) about his song “That’s My Kinda Night” calling that song “The worst song I’ve ever heard.” Alongside those comments was further commentary about how the same guys were writing the same songs in different arrangements.

Furthermore, Scott Borchetta, Big Machine Records’ CEO, has ruffled quite a few feathers among country music purists due to the control he has over his artists and the way he markets them. Republic Nashville, who also includes Florida Georgia Line, is a branch of Big Machine Label Group. Essentially, Scott Borchetta’s label features two of country music’s most successful crossover artists in Taylor Swift and Florida Georgia Line. From a musical standpoint, Brown’s decision to partner up here is a bit of a head scratcher. However, as much as he is a lead singer of a band, he’s also the mastermind behind Southern Ground Artists and this partnership provides several advantages to Southern Ground Artists. While the main motivation for this move revolves around more exposure and growth for the Southern Ground brand, we may see some other musical benefits as well.

Exposure for Southern Ground’s lesser-known artists – Alongside country’s big names on Big Machine, Southern Ground Artists may find more exposure from this partnership. Southern rockers Blackberry Smoke, singer-songwriters Niko Moon and Levi Lowery, and Americana, blues band The Wood Brothers already have a deep collaboration history with the Zac Brown Band. Many of these acts have toured with the band and have great musical catalogs of their own. The exposure that this partnership could provide may elevate these musical careers to a higher, well-deserved level. Not to mention, young acts like the AJ Ghent Band, Dugas and Little Feather may see a quicker rise in popularity as well. Also this exposure should help these artists, along with the Zac Brown Band to get increased radio play and maybe more award show appearances. If these award shows are as political as some claim, then a partnership with Big Machine can only help Zac and his band get some more votes on their side to win more well-deserved hardware.

Crossover Appeal – Blackberry Smoke is a southern rock band. AJ Ghent Band are self-described as “southern soul” with a blend of funk, blues, soul and rock. Dugas have a pop, rock sound. Simply put, Southern Ground Artists do not feature only country music. This label covers a wide range of genres, and Republic Records has the crossover capability to further this exposure. Lorde, Drake, Pearl Jam, Ariana Grande, Jack Johnson and Colbie Caillat are all signed under Republic. These artists from Southern Ground can potentially find a new audience for their music. And it’s not like they’re struggling for a fan base, but Zac Brown Band could also find success in this way too. Their newest EP, The Grohl Sessions Vol. 1 is more rock than any other genre. If these guys continue moving toward rock, then a label featuring ZZ Top, Pearl Jam and Godsmack can’t be a bad partner to have.

Possibility for more mainstream lyrical quality – This is my own opinion, but I don’t believe you’ll find a better group of songwriters than those in Southern Ground. Levi Lowrey’s two records feature great songs like “Wherever We Breakdown,” “Urge for Leaving” and “The Problem with Freedom.” Lowrey is also a credited co-writer on “Colder Weather,” which is arguably one of Zac Brown Band’s best songs. Niko Moon (formerly Nic Cowan) has songs like “Reno” and “Sun Dress” on his studio album, and has co-written Brown songs like “Keep Me In Mind,” “Lance’s Song” and “Day That I Die.” With a writing team like that including Brown himself, frequent co-writer Wyatt Durette, the men from Blackberry Smoke and The Woods Brothers, there’s a chance we could see these names on songs cut by other country artists like Eli Young Band, The Cadillac Three, or even Florida Georgia Line (we can dream, right?) And if there’s one thing we can all agree on, Zac Brown Band has released some great, quality songs to country radio.

More Musical Collaborations – Zac Brown Band and the fairly well-established Blackberry Smoke have collaborated with some of music’s best. It’s no secret Zac Brown enjoys playing and singing alongside his heroes. His band has performed with the likes of Jimmy Buffet, Gregg Allman, Dave Grohl and Dave Matthews just to name a few. And Blackberry Smoke has recorded a version of “Yesterday’s Wine” with the late, great George Jones and Jamey Johnson. With Varvatos’ work with musical legends, we may be treated to more collaborations between Southern Ground Artists and some of music’s best.

Arguably the most important potential benefit here is branding. Southern Ground is more than an independent record label; Southern Ground is a brand of life. Zac Brown has built the Southern Ground Music Festival, Camp Southern Ground, and Southern Grind, a metal and knife shop, just to name a few. Zac Brown commented on John Varvatos’ clothing line and the success of his brand since 2000. Varvatos’ branding skills and marketability should certainly assist in molding the Southern Ground brand Zac Brown has already worked to build.

Admittedly, there is one aspect to be weary of with this partnership. Much like how we may see writers from Southern Ground getting songs cut by Republic and Big Machine artists, we may also see writers from those two labels getting songs cut by Southern Ground Artists. Scott Borchetta has a lot of power in country music. While I don’t think he’ll have the same level of control over Southern Ground Artists like he does his own, it’s possible he may find ways to influence Zac or other Southern Ground groups to record a Republic or Big Machine written song or two for future albums. And recently there has been some questionable songs coming out of these two labels, think “God Made Girls,” “Lookin’ For That Girl,” or “This is How We Roll.” Now, I have faith that Zac Brown won’t compromise his vision for the band or his label by recording songs like that, but it’s one thing to keep an eye on.

From the beginning the Zac Brown Band has done it their way and I don’t expect that to change with this partnership. Overall this strategic partnership is for the Southern Ground brand. This brand is Zac Brown’s baby and as a leader for this brand he made a business move that should positively impact Southern Ground. Zac Brown has a grander vision than simply making music and this partnership is indicative of his efforts to take that vision to the next level. Time will only tell if this will lead to the additional musical benefits listed above. The first big release from this joint-venture will be the newest Zac Brown Band album, which is due out in the early half of 2015. And for that band, at least we’ll get a good idea of what the future will hold with Southern Ground, Big Machine, Republic and Varvatos coming together. Zac Brown is a man who surrounds himself with individuals whose talent moves his vision forward. When the band released “Chicken Fried” there were only five official members in the Zac Brown Band. That number has jumped to eight this year, due to Zac wanting to add more instrumentation and harmonies to the band’s music. Through adding more avenues for his brand and label to grow, it’s obvious Zac Brown expects big things to happen as a result. And if his band’s growth is any indication, I bet this business move will be successful in its efforts to improve everything enveloped in Southern Ground.