Throwback Community Review – Chris Young’s “Aw Naw”

Welcome to Country Perspective’s newest weekly feature, Throwback Community Review! Many of you enjoyed a previous similar feature The Past Pulse of Mainstream Country Music and it was one of the main inspirations behind this feature. It’s quite simple: each week there will at least one of these. I will present some information about the song and of course a video to listen to it. You will then take to the comments delivering your thoughts and a grade, on a scale from 1-10. Your grades will be averaged to get the community grade for the song. The comments will be open for a few days before I close them to tabulate the average. Songs from any era of country music could go show up here and I’m open to suggestions for future featuring in this space.

Last Week’s Community Grade: Josh Turner’s “Would You Go With Me”7.9

This week we take a look at…

chris-young-an

Artist: Chris Young

Song: “Aw Naw”

Released: May 13, 2013

Written by: Chris Young, Chris DeStefano and Ashley Gorley

Producer: James Stroud

Background: This was the lead single from Chris Young’s fourth album A.M. The single went on to peak at #3 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart and peaked at #45 on the Billboard Hot 100. It went on to be certified platinum.

See you in the comments with my own thoughts and grade!

 

Community Grade: 2.4

Review – Easton Corbin’s “A Girl Like You”

easton-corbin-a-girl-like-you

When Easton Corbin broke onto the scene nearly a decade ago, many including myself thought he would be the next great traditional country artist. Instead he devolved into pandering, checklist, formulaic fodder. Worse he dove headfirst into bro country with absolute glee, as it was heavily featured on his last album About To Get Real. So after numerous disappointments my expectations were set quite low for Corbin’s newly released single “A Girl Like You.” The title inspired less confidence in it being good. So does he finally fulfill his potential or is it another disappointment? Well it’s a lot more interesting and thought-provoking than I expected. The song opens with heavy drums that persist throughout the song. I don’t think they’re actually drum loops and could be an actual backing band, although I’m not entirely sure. This is meshed with twangy telecaster play throughout the song. It’s essentially a traditional meets modern sound, very much along the lines of Jon Pardi’s current hit song “Dirt on My Boots.” I have to admit it’s quite catchy and an infectious ear worm, although I imagine some will be turned off by the heavy drums. Then we get to the lyrics, which start off pretty rocky with lines about cold beer, bars and neon lights. It gets worse when we get to these lines: They play lots of songs on the radio / About them good ol’ country girls that we all know / Long tan legs and cut off jeans / Yeah just shaking that sugar every country boy’s dream. Aargh another bro song you think. But wait its immediately followed by these lines: I’ve heard ’em all at least a time or two / Ain’t none about a girl like you, you know that’s true. So he dismisses his girl being a cliché and just another girl in a country song. This is good, even if a tad hypocritical after cutting songs like this before. The rest of the song is about how special this girl is in any setting without devolving into sexist clichés and how thankful he is for her. Overall this is a solid concept for a song and something I should like, but at the same time it’s hard to shake the fact that he was cutting these very same songs he’s dismissing. At the end of the day I’m going to take “A Girl Like You” for what it is, a decent love song. I think it has a great chance of being a hit and if it is could be the start of a traditional-meets-modern trend in country music.

Grade: 6/10

 

Recommend? – You’ll have to decide for yourself on this one, as I can imagine some of you will be hesitant to embrace this.

 

Written by Ashley Gorley, Jesse Frasure and Rhett Akins

Album Review – Jon Pardi’s ‘California Sunrise’

Jon Pardi California Sunrise

When it comes to quality of music from major label country artists this year, it’s been disappointing to say the least. To be more blunt, it’s been pretty mediocre and surprisingly boring. That sums up about 90% of the album releases I’ve heard from major label country artists this year. I can tell many share this sentiment, so when fans saw Jon Pardi was releasing his sophomore album California Sunrise, it became one of the most anticipated albums this year. After all Pardi is one of the few major label artists willing to keep it country with music. His current single and the lead single of the album, “Head Over Boots” is one of the most traditional songs at radio right now. Outside of Chris Stapleton, Pardi perhaps best represents the hopes and aspirations of traditional country fans hoping radio goes back to the sound. So with the hype in mind, does California Sunrise live up to the expectations? Well it depends on what exactly you expected out of the album and you’ll know what I mean by this by the end of the review.

Pardi begins the album with “Out of Style.” From the title I was expecting a song about how traditional country is considered out of style, but instead it’s about Pardi trekking to Nashville and learning how to write songs. The song elaborates further about how singing about how cold beers and complaining about the nine to five Monday through Friday lifestyle will never go out of style. It’s a longer song than what you’re accustomed to hearing from mainstream artists, as it allows Pardi and the band to show off their instrumentation. It’s a solid song, despite being a tad cliché. This is followed by the more traditionally arranged “Cowboy Hat.” And when I say traditionally arranged, there’s pedal steel guitar and fiddles throughout. The song itself is a love song, as Pardi sings of the love he has for his woman and how he loves seeing her in nothing but his cowboy hat. The whole song reminds me of something you would hear on country radio in the 90s (good or bad depending on your outlook on that era). I find it to be one of the best on the album and I wouldn’t be surprised if this is a single for Pardi, as I think it could be a hit.

I could see it as the follow-up to “Head Over Boots” even, which follows on the album. I gave my thoughts on Pardi’s first career top ten hit last year and I still thoroughly enjoy the song. From my original review: It opens with the sounds of an acoustic guitar and steel guitar. These are the main instruments used throughout the song, with some fiddles sprinkled in too. It’s country through and through. The song itself is a love ballad, which is proving to be a strong suit for Pardi. In a way this song kind of reminds me of Brad Paisley’s “We Danced,” a solid love song that isn’t some all-time classic, but a feel good song that anyone can enjoy.

“Night Shift” sees Pardi singing of the working class man. The song is about a man who works several hours a week, but he looks forward to the “night shift” with his wife in bed. On the surface this seems like an overtly sexual jam that has plagued country radio recently. But really it comes off as sentimental and plays to the blue-collar sensibility of work hard, play harder. Not to mention there’s plenty of fiddle. This theme continues with “Can’t Turn You Down,” as we see the man in the song calling up his woman to meet up with her and later go back to his place for a romantic night. While the lyrics get a little stereotypical millennial-y with lines like “a phone call turns into a what’s up what’s up,” it’s a good song with a nice melody.

The album up to this point has been mostly good, but it starts to take a turn in the other direction with “Dirt on My Boots.” With one of the co-writers being Jesse Frasure (the other two writers being Rhett Akins and Ashley Gorley), I’m not surprised because he’s helped write his share of bad music. Right away there’s a noticeable drum loop that gives the song a dance club beat, clearly trying to create some adult contemporary appeal. Yet there’s a steady presence of a fiddle too. The song itself is about a farmer after a long day cleaning up to go to town with his girl for a night of dancing and fun. This song is one of three clear moments on this album of what I would call label meddling. Despite the pop leanings of this song, I don’t dislike it too much due to the fiddle play, Pardi’s charisma in his delivery and the hard to deny catchiness of the lyrics.

The best song hands down on California Sunrise is “She Ain’t In It.” Sounding like something straight off a classic Alan Jackson album, Pardi sings of his broken heart and how it’s prevented from going out and living his life. He’s now ready to do his normal things and go out into crowds, as long as his ex isn’t involved or mentioned. Otherwise the heartache will come rushing back. It’s not only the best song on this album, but one of the best I’ve heard this year. Two of the songs I thought of when listening to this song were Sammy Kershaw’s “Politics, Religion & Her,” as well as Garth Brooks’ “Learning To Live Again.” All three capture the feelings of getting over heartbreak perfectly. This could be a career song for Pardi and I truly hope him and his label release this as a single.

Unfortunately, the worst song follows the best song of the album. That would be “All Time High.” It’s a love song with a nauseating amount of clichés and comparisons of love to drugs and getting high that we’ve heard too much in recent years. One line that elicited a groan from me was Pardi singing about how he enjoys his girl turning “his knob” up to 11. I get where songwriters Pardi, Bart Butler and Brice Long are going for here, but the lyrics are just a clunky mess. At least there’s a lot of fiddle in the song I guess. The third and final song clearly involving label meddling is “Heartache on the Dance Floor.” Just like “Dirt on My Boots,” this song has a clear pop dance beat accompanied by fiddles. For a song with heartache in the title, I didn’t expect it to be so upbeat. Out of all the songs on the album, this one confuses me the most. You have this dance beat, but also fiddles and steel guitar. Why couldn’t we just have the latter? Well the obvious answer is the label wanting something pop-y and Pardi having to comply. For a “compromise song,” it’s not terrible.

“Paycheck” is about a man hoping his paycheck will help take his work blues away, as he spends it at the bar. The country rock production combined with the catchy lyrics makes it easy to sing along with. It’s your standard drinking, blue-collar song that is solid, yet unspectacular. “Lucky Tonight” has a more traditional arrangement that dominates the album for the most part. It’s about a man whose woman left him weeks ago and now is trying to rebound in the bar scene and move past her. While the lyrics are a little simplistic and a tad too mainstream, the song is pretty solid to my ears. Not every heartbreak song has to be a complex ballad. The album’s title track brings it to a close, another highlight of this album, only trailing quality-wise to “She Ain’t In It.” The song is about Pardi singing of the love he has for his woman and comparing it the California sunrise he sees back home. It’s nice to see Pardi honor where he’s from, comparing someone he cares for so much to his home that he cares for so much too. Regional pride is something country artists need to embrace more. Despite some rocky songs in the middle, Pardi ends the album on a strong note.

Based on my expectations heading into this album, Jon Pardi delivers a solid album with California Sunrise. I knew going into this album that it wouldn’t be at a level of Chris Stapleton’s Traveller nor would it be stone cold country all the way through because this is an album from a major label and Jon Pardi is still early in his career. I expected some label meddling and there was actually less of it on here than I thought there would be. What did surprise is how almost every song on this album has a combination of fiddle and steel guitar. Instead of focusing on what this album did wrong, I’d rather focus on this because this caught my eye more than the mistakes on it. Pardi clearly wants to make that traditional, early 90s country music and for the most part these songs accomplish this. He also does a good job balancing between serious songs and fun songs. Despite this album’s faults at times, I find California Sunrise to be a very enjoyable, fun album and will go down as one of the best from a major label country artist this year.

Grade: 8/10

Review – Jake Owen’s “American Country Love Song”

Jake Owen Generic Country Love Song

Are you even trying anymore, Jake? I ask this half in jest, but half me is serious when asking this question. It’s well-known of course that Jake Owen made his bread and butter on summer, party songs. “Barefoot Blue Jean Night” and “Beachin'” is what put Owen on the radar for several country music fans and took his stardom to another level. But after all of this success he started talking about making more quality music and he appeared to put his money where his mouth was when he released “What We Ain’t Got” as a single. It was critically acclaimed, yet didn’t do much at radio and didn’t really sell well either. So obviously he went back to the cliché well and released “Real Life” as a single. Not only did I rip it apart, but it bombed even worse than “What We Ain’t Got” at radio. So after two singles failed to perform to expectations at radio, Owen returns with a new single, “American Country Love Song.”

If you took one look at the title and rolled your eyes, I don’t blame you. Written by Ross Copperman, Ashley Gorley and Jaren Johnston, “American Country Love Song” is about as predictable as it sounds. There’s really no theme to the song. It’s a giant checklist song about America, summer and every other cliché that country radio has beat us over the head with over the last five to seven years. There’s Daytona Beach, pretty girls, blue eyes, trucks, American flags, fireworks and other summer-y themes throughout the song. The best way to describe this song is Kenny Chesney’s “American Kids” meets Owen’s previous mega-hit “Barefoot Blue Jean Night,” minus the catchy instrumentation of those two songs. Those other songs weren’t much better in avoiding typical country clichés, but the instrumentation made it okay. The instrumentation on this song simmers somewhere between half-baked and safe. Whatever you want to call it, I would say it’s boring and uninteresting. Oh and Owen is still doing spoken word. I don’t feel like rehashing why this is terrible, but if you want to see why just read this review.

Jake Owen is set to release a new album sometime this year and based off the first two singles, I’m not really looking forward to it. The goodwill he built up with me when he released “What We Ain’t Got” as a single has long evaporated and at this point in time I view his music as a big waste of time. Keep in mind this is not on commentary on him as a person, but solely as an artist and the outputting of his music. Owen had a chance to lead the way in bringing back substance to country radio, but instead he would rather play it safe and go for hits. “American Country Love Song” is perfect for you…if you happen to be Walmart or another corporation looking for a generic country song for an upcoming summer commercial. In fact that should have been the title of this single: “Generic Country Love Song.”

Grade: 3/10

Review – Jake Owen’s “Real Life” is a Real Let Down

Jake Owen Real Life

Oh Jake, I had such high hopes for this new single. I thought you did too, as you said in numerous interviews that you would like to start putting out deeper material and not be known as the “Beachin'” guy. Owen backed this up on his last single, “What We Ain’t Got,” which I thought was the best single he has ever released. As anyone who has followed the The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Music on the site knows though, it didn’t perform that well on radio at all. It peaked in the high teens before going recurrent. It didn’t even get close to touching the success “Beachin'” attained last summer. This worried me that Owen would back off on his promise to produce better music, but I was still hopeful about his new single “Real Life.” You look at the cover for it above and Owen has toned his look back. The title of the song sounds promising and there’s not a hint of the beach.

So does it live up to expectations? Does Owen live up to his promise? The answer is sadly no to both. I think Owen really tried to go for something more here, but there’s one big achilles heel to this song that hurts it and has hurt Owen before: spoken word. It annoyed me on “Days of Gold” and “Beachin'” and once again it’s annoying on “Real Life.” Some country artists can pull it off, but Owen just can’t do it. His voice is not emotive nor dynamic enough to make it sound good. He has a good voice, yet he wastes it on spoken word songs like this one. The theme isn’t bad either, as it’s about everyday life in the real world and some of the aspects of it. I really don’t have a problem with the lyrics of the song and I thought the songwriters did a well enough job to avoid the pitfalls of clichés (songwriters: Shane McAnally, Ashley Gorley, Ross Copperman and Josh Osborne). The song could’ve been good if Owen had just sang it and didn’t do spoken word.

The other glaring issue with “Real Life” is the production, instrumentation and arrangement. I’m just going to say it: this sounds like a Smash Mouth song (with a small tinge of country). It felt like I was back listening to pop radio in the 90s. You could interlude this song with Smash Mouth’s “All Star” and they would blend together seamlessly. For a country song, this is never a good thing. Really this isn’t good for a pop song in 2015 either, as this sound is so outdated and cheesy. It was left in the 90s where it belonged for a reason. If Owen wanted to draw on a sound from the 90s, why not 90s country? If you take away the spoken word and give this song a 90s country arrangement, it would possibly be a great song. Instead this is just an embarrassing song and I wouldn’t want to be caught in public listening to it.

I still believe Owen’s next album will have some good country music on it and will be an upgrade over Days of Gold. However, this single doesn’t do anything to inspire people to give him a chance. This is the type of song that makes some people put their nose up at Owen and refuse to listen to his music. “Real Life” is a laughable song and only hurts the reputation of Jake Owen more. Some Owen fans may argue this is an upgrade over a lot of songs at country radio right now and they would be right. But is that saying much? The bar right now at country radio is at its lowest ever and it doesn’t take much to stand out amongst the sea of trash floating around on country radio. I hope Owen gives us something more next time, but for now I recommend avoiding “Real Life.”

Grade: 3/10