Review – Steven Tyler’s “Red, White, and You” is a Sad, Pandering Joke of a Song

Steven Tyler’s move into country music raised a lot of eyebrows when it was first announced. It seemed to be just another washed up rock star moving to “country” in an effort to make money; cashing out on the hot trend in popular music. Unlike Poison’s Bret Michaels or Uncle Ezra Ray, Steven Tyler’s country debut was actually good. “Love Is Your Name” was a surprisingly country sounding love song. And despite falling short of the top 30 on the Country Airplay chart, it seemed to establish a bit of hope that maybe Steven Tyler would take the move into country music seriously. HA! The joke was on us because Tyler rips a page straight out of the bro-country bible for his second country single, “Red, White, and You.”

Musically, the song isn’t anything to write home about. It’s a generic pop country anthem with acoustic guitars, electric guitars, and a simple drum beat. The verses are quieter, building up to the roaring chorus where all the instruments blend into one loud noise. Seriously, for a man who led one of America’s greatest rock bands, this ultra generic production is just sad to listen to.

It’s the laughably terrible lyrics that bring “Red, White, and You” to its demise. I think the song is about Steven Tyler lusting after a girl, but it’s hard to tell what he’s singing about with incoherent onslaught of bro-country tropes. Tyler lets you know right away that this entire song is nothing more than a pandering pile of crap when the native New Yorker sings about the Georgia night. Then the rocker-turned-country sellout name drops Tom Petty and works his song titles “American Girl” and “Free Fallin'” into the song. Tyler ends the second verse by mentioning girls in cut-offs, name dropping his label, pulling a Toby Keith and saying “kiss my ass” (because ‘Merica), and then referencing a Springsteen song. “Trying too hard” doesn’t even begin to describe the writers’ attempts at making sure this song is relevant. “All the bad girls rockin’ those cut off jeans, and good old boys driving Big Machines. And you can kiss my ass, can’t help but say, it’s good to be “Born in the USA.” For the love of God, “Born in the USA” is not even close to a patriotic anthem! But neither is “Red, White, and You” so I’m not surprised.

And that’s not even the worst offender of the lyrics. Steven Tyler manages to put a Tom Petty song in a line about a vagina with “Free Fallin’ into your yum yum.” WHAT?! Is he trying to out-do Florida Georgia Line’s “pink umbrella in your drink”? This song is such a desperate cry for attention and relevancy, it’s not even funny. It’s just sad. The cringe-inducing shouts of “baby” and “sweet potato pie” pile onto the joke that is “Red, White, and You.”

I’ve come to two possible conclusions about “Red, White, and You.” The first is, as I’ve said throughout the review, that this song is a cry for attention. It’s a little kid kicking and screaming in the toy aisle at the store. The second possible conclusion is that this song is a brilliant parody of every Luke Bryan, Cole Swindell, and Florida Georgia Line song ever. I know that the first one is far more plausible than the second one, but I don’t want to imagine that these lyrics actually exist as a real attempt to get on country radio. I know that some of Aerosmith’s singles weren’t exactly deep, but even “Love in an Elevator” seemed aware of its silliness. “Red, White, and You” though?  It’s a cringe-worthy attempt at a real pop country song. It’s a sad joke with no noticeable self-awareness of how low it stoops.

Grade: 0/10

Album Review – Hank Williams Jr.’s ‘It’s About Time’

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This review was written by a past guest contributor of Country Perspective. 

The start of a new year is the perfect time to start anew. For Hank Jr., it’s quite appropriate that he’s releasing his first album of new material in four years under a new label in Big Machine’s Nash Icon imprint. After a long career with Curb Records that spanned more than forty years and produced more than fifty studio albums, as well as releasing an album through his own “Bocephus Records” in 2012, it seemed like Hank was more than ready to move on to bigger and better things and release a new album. In fact, Hank even deemed his new studio album, “It’s About Time” his best work yet. That’s quite a lofty expectation from a singer who many would say had his best work in the 80s.

When it comes to what I think of the country legend, I don’t have much of an opinion. As a child of the 2000s, I can’t exactly say that I grew up with his music, nor have I ever really actively sought it out. And really, this isn’t surprising considering Hank is one of the more forgotten legends when you think of artists who were active in the 80s. It’s not like Hank is a bad artist mind you, he just hasn’t always caught my attention. But like I said, it’s a new year, and it’s a time to try new things, which is why I decided to take the plunge and see what Hank’s new album was like.

The album starts off with the lead single, “Are You Ready For The Country”, a duet with Eric Church and originally recorded by Waylon Jennings and penned by Neil Young. Honestly, I think this is one of the better tracks on the album, especially given that I think the fiddle work is solid here, but I can understand where people would be indifferent towards this and think of it as nothing but a retread. As Josh said in his review: “Overall this isn’t a bad song nor is it a good song. It’s one of those songs that just exists and you really have no opinion of it. The best things you can say about the song is at least it’s country and it’s not offensive. As I said about the vocal performances, I think they’re good and get the job done. But nothing is really done to elevate this song and re-invent it, which maybe you really can’t do to a song like this one.

The next song is “Club U.S.A.” Now, anyone who knows Hank knows he can get a little political at times (and boy is this an understatement), and thankfully It’s About Time only has political moments rather than being an overall political album. “Club U.S.A” is kind of one of those moments. The song’s theme is pretty simple. Hank Jr. tells us how America is the greatest country in the world and how everyone who isn’t already here wishes they were. As for the song itself, it’s very overproduced, loud southern rock, often times drowning out the vocal track during the verses to the point where upon first listen, the only thing I could make out in this song was Hank screaming the title. Next up is “God Fearin’ Man,” a song that continues on the tradition of the first two tracks by being loud, overproduced and rockin’. Really, this song isn’t thematically or lyrically bad, but I feel like it would have benefited from a more relaxed production. Hell, even Hank says himself at the end, “man, they played like they were pissed.” In addition to this little talking bit, Hank also proclaims, “Are You Ready For The Country?” Yes Hank, we’re already past that song. Let it go buddy.

“Those Days Are Gone” is arguably the best song on the album. It’s a solid honky-tonk number that actually allows the production to breathe (well, at least as much as it can….) for the first time on this album. In this song, Hank reminisces on the good ol’ days, and how he misses guys like Merle Haggard, George Jones, and David Allan Coe, especially on country radio. He acknowledges that those days are gone however, and aren’t coming back. It’s not a great song, mind you, but it’s at least a good song. The best song on the album is followed up by the absolute worst song on the album, “Dress Like An Icon.” The theme of this song contradicts pretty much every other theme on this album. Where a song like “God Fearin’ Man” celebrates the working class hero, or a song like “Those Days Are Gone” laments on the current state of country music, “Dress Like An Icon” pretty much says that if you want to gain any sort of recognition in life, you have to not be yourself. Instead you should “step like Nicki Minaj,” “wear black like Johnny Cash,” and get a load of this one, “have them stacked like Dolly Parton.” I shit you not, those are actual things promoted here.

Not that trying to emulate someone like Johnny Cash or Dolly is bad mind you, but it’s sad when we have a country legend promoting everyone to be fake and flashy to get to the top. I have to wonder if this song hadn’t already existed for a while now, as I definitely think a few mainstream country artists had already heard this. That’s not to mention that the production is once again completely overdone, and Hank sounds bored as can be on this song. Plus, you’re telling me that Hank is on Nash Icon and recorded a song called “Dress Like An Icon” purely out of coincidence? I think not. Skip this song entirely. Surprisingly enough this is one of five songs on the album that was written purely by Hank, making this song all the more frustrating.

Hank gets political again on “God and Guns,” and if it sounds familiar, it is. Southern-rock band, Lynyrd Skynyrd covered it for their 2009 album of the same name. This song calls to question what kind of world we would live in if politicians took our guns and God, and it’s a good thing people like Hank are around to prevent that from happening. I’m not going to go any into any further detail with the song. You already know whether you’d like or wouldn’t like this song based on the description I just gave, so we’ll leave it at that. “Just Call Me Hank” is Hank’s way of reflecting upon himself, and his career. He states that he never thought he’d shed the lovesick blues (an allusion to always living in his father’s shadow), and that he doesn’t play many shows anymore, but when he does, he wants it to be real and rocking. This song really didn’t bother me until we hit the chorus. Once it hits, Hank proclaims:

“Don’t call me an icon, don’t care about the hall of fame”

OK……weren’t you just the one who literally said you have to dress like an icon to achieve any sort of prominence? Hell, he even says at the end of “Dress Like An Icon” that he’s an icon! Still, the song overall isn’t bad. The production here at least fits into the country category rather than the overwrought southern rock mold. There’s at least some heart to this that I can appreciate. “Mental Revenge” is another cover of a Waylon Jennings song and really, there isn’t much to say here. This version is a heck of a lot more upbeat, which doesn’t fit the mood of the song at all. Just stick with the original, or even Jamey Johnson’s fantastic version from his 2010, The Guitar Song album. Where “Just Call Me Hank” found Hank reflecting on the past, “It’s About Time” focuses on the future. The song starts off with Hank stating where he wants to go on his journey in life next, which is back home to Alabama. The song then takes a complete left turn when the chorus hits, saying it’s about time Hank plays some real country and southern rock to wash out the “weird pop-country sound.” There have been protest songs that have been done better, but there’s at least a sense of belief to this song, even if Hank Jr. is still on a major label which has supported pop-country acts. You can look at “The Party’s On” as a watered down version of “All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight” or a bro-country song, and you’d probably be right on both counts. There’s not much to say about this song other than that.

“Wrapped Up, Tangled Up In Jesus (God’s Got It)” is about a man who goes fishing. He manages to hook a big fish, and surprisingly enough the fish can’t get away. He then proclaims that he wishes Jesus had a hook on him similar to the one that the man has on the fish. One night, Jesus finally does hook him! When he tries to tell everyone that Jesus came unto him, nobody believes him. Later on, he proclaims that if you have a friend in Jesus, you can have anything you want. Heck, a friend? Sure. Shoulder to cry on? Sure, God can do that. New car? Sure….wait what?!? It’s as completely ridiculous as it sounds. The theme of this song moves from fishing, to finding Jesus and then getting things just because you’re Jesus’s friend? Seriously what is the overall message here? If the story doesn’t sound hokey enough, the production will surely do it for you. Of all the spots where the production is just way too much, this song takes the cake by a long shot. Complete with gospel singers and a completely overwrought vocal performance, this song is just way too much. That’s not to mention the fact that it’s six freakin’ minutes long! And really, once you’re halfway through the song it’s essentially just repetitive and boring. The album comes to a close with a rendition of Hank’s very own hit, “Born To Boogie” with Brantley Gilbert, Justin Moore and Brad Paisley (Was Earl Dibbles Jr. busy that day Hank?). I’ll say the same thing here that I said about “Mental Revenge”, skip this and just listen to the original. You’ll be much better off.

Overall, if you were a Hank Jr. fan going into this album, then you’ll most likely enjoy this and hey more power to you. For others, “It’s About Time” is full of pretty much nothing but a lot loud, obnoxious and overdone southern rock, retreads of old songs, and a few redeeming moments. Considering this is Hank’s first new album in four years, and considering that it’s the first on a brand new label, it just feels like there wasn’t a lot of effort put into It’s About Time. It’s certainly not going to be anywhere close to the worst country album you’ll hear this year, but it’s hard to recommend It’s About Time to anyone but hardcore Hank Jr. fans.

Grade: 4/10

Review – Craig Wayne Boyd’s “I’m Still Here”

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The start of 2015 for Craig Wayne Boyd looked bright and promising. He kicked off the year with his debut major label single, “My Baby’s Got A Smile On Her Face,” which went #1 on the Hot Country songs chart on Billboard. Boyd was signed to Dot Records/Big Machine Label Group and everything looked just right for him. As I said in my review of that single though, it just didn’t sound like Boyd and I found the single to be completely forgettable. Radio felt the same, as the song was sent for adds and no radio stations were interested in it. It just felt off. Then throughout the spring there was no word on Boyd releasing another single nor an album release date. Many speculated he was kicked off the label, but nobody knew for sure. Then last week on The Voice Boyd performed his new single, “I’m Still Here.” After show it was put on iTunes and under the single information it said it was released under independent label, Long Haul Records.

This confirmed that Boyd was no longer with Dot Records. But did he leave on his own or was he kicked off the label? Boyd clarified this on Twitter with a fan, saying he “ask[ed] off of the label.” So it was a mutual decision between both parties. Deb Bose, aka Windmills Country, has a great writeup on Boyd’s situation over at MJ’s Big Blog that I highly recommend reading if you haven’t read it yet. She found a great quote from Scott Borchetta, who heads up Big Machine Label Group and Dot Records, from a few months back where he seems to be referring to Boyd in a radio interview. You can listen to the interview here. Around the 3:45 mark Borchetta says some artists are “unteachable, that they’re not going to get it, and you have to terminate the relationship, which is very hard to do.” It sounds like Boyd and Borchetta didn’t see eye-to-eye, which doesn’t surprise me at all. Boyd seems like a pretty genuine guy who wants to make actual country music, while Borchetta only cares about the almighty dollar. Borchetta probably pitched him some songs about dirt roads and tailgates and Boyd said no because he has standards (see why I love that song so much from Wade Bowen and Randy Rogers?).

So now Craig Wayne Boyd is a free man who can make the music he wants to make. Is his new single “I’m Still Here” better than “My Baby’s Got A Smile On Her Face”? 100% yes. This is a complete 180 from the first single he released back in January. The song is about basically what just happened to him, as his recent departure from Dot absolutely influenced this song. He sings about how he’ll never stop performing and won’t ever give up. The hook of the song, “I’m still here,” could be viewed as some shade thrown towards Music Row, especially in light of the comment earlier this from former Sony Nashville CEO Gary Overton, where he said if you’re not on country radio, you don’t exist. Boyd clearly exists and isn’t going anywhere. Performing this on The Voice in front of a national audience was a smart move on Boyd’s part, as it gains him more sympathy and you can tell he sang this song from his heart. The production is a little too polished and the theme is slightly broad, but it works well in this situation.

This new single from Boyd confirms that his previous single was a complete concoction from his label. Good on Boyd for getting out of Dot Records and making the music he wants to make. It’s further proof of what I’ve said before and that’s some country artists would be better off independent than on a major label. Sure by doing this you’re guaranteed not to be played on mainstream radio, but do you really want to be played on today’s mainstream country radio? In the long run fans will remember integrity over sales and radio play. “I’m Still Here” is a very good song that I recommend checking out and I’m definitely looking forward to hearing a new album from Boyd. Now that he’s free from being shackled creatively, Boyd is an artist to keep an eye on.

Grade: 8/10

 

Review – Drake White’s “It Feels Good”

It seems inevitable that in recent years, when looking at new or up and coming male acts, we immediately compare them to bro country and the wave of classless, misogynistic party songs. However, newcomer Drake White is not one we can group into that collective. White is signed with Big Machine’s Dot Records, and seems to be an authentic musician and country rocker. White’s first single, “Simple Life” stalled at 36 back in 2013, but he’s back now with a brand new single called “It Feels Good.”

“It Feels Good” starts off with some handclaps and a drum beat. Once the acoustic guitar kicks in, however, this song comes to life. It’s a great acoustic riff that sounds like it came out of an Arabian song. That might not be the proper description, but the guitar in this song certainly carries an original sound and melody. Drake White then adds a harmonica during the song’s solo. The instrumentation and production of this song is awesome. It took me a few listens, and admittedly I disliked it after my initial listen, but it quickly grew on me.

However, lyrically, the song falters. It’s another song about enjoying life’s simple offerings. Laying by the river with your “lady.” White is careful not to say “girl” here. It’s a hot day so they stick their toes in the water. They buy lottery tickets and win enough money to buy a 12-pack. You can kind of see a theme growing here; these lyrics are uninspired and unoriginal, borrowing from themes and scenes from many of country’s summer songs. And how does Drake White like all these simple offerings? “It feels good, good, good. Yes, it feels right, right, right. Oh it feels good, good, good. So, we’re gonna lay back and let it ride.” Yes, ladies and gentleman, this is the chorus of the song. Between the summer theme and more unique composition, I draw a lot of comparisons between this song and the Brothers Osborne “Rum.”

Overall, “It Feels Good” is rather average. I love the instrumentation and melody, but it’s not enough to cover for the tired, cliched lyrics. Drake White does indeed sing this song well, and he sounds like he’s having a blast. As he should, for this is, after all, a good-time, fun-loving country summer jam. I also get a sense that there’s more authenticity to Drake White than many of his counter parts. I like his rock and roll, blues influences on the country sound; it’s definitely something I can buy into. However, the lyrics here just don’t do it for me. I’d want to hear that same sonic creativity make it’s way into the story.

Grade: 5/10

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.