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

Spinning All The Records — February 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 look ahead at what I want to cover, upcoming album releases that catch my eye and a throwback album recommendation. So without further ado…

Looking back on February 2020, it was a surprisingly great month of high-quality releases. While the Tame Impala and John Moreland albums did not surprise me in the least with being great, the releases from Khruangbin & Leon Bridges, Tennis, and Denzel Curry & Kenny Beats really caught me off-guard with how great they were and proved themselves to be some of the best music you’ll hear in 2020. I did not expect to give this many high grades so soon and I mention this because something I didn’t like about myself in the past with this blog was so many 9s and 10s being given. But when I give them now I assure you that I put a lot more thought behind it. And I definitely welcome this influx of high grades, as the music is pretty damn good. If 2020 can continue to have months like this, we’re in for one hell of a year of music.

(Click on the album titles to read the full review)


Tenille Arts — Love, Heartbreak, Everything in Between

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.

Pet Shop Boys — Hotspot

The highs the Pet Shop Boys deliver on Hotspot are really fun and are definitely memorable, while the lows are completely forgettable. It’s a bit of a roller coaster listen, but if you’re a fan of synth pop it’s worth listening to it a few times and picking out your favorite songs to go back to. But the album taken as a whole is just decent and leaves more consistency and cohesiveness to be desired.

Khruangbin & Leon Bridges — Texas Sun

Texas Sun is a truly brilliant little collection of music. As I said in the beginning, man I wish this was a full album instead of an EP. Khruangbin and Leon Bridges go together so well and come together to create a vibrant and colorful set of songs. It’s a true homage to the many sounds of Texas music that is fresh and invigorating. Do yourself a favor and listen to this exciting EP.

The Cadillac Three — COUNTRY FUZZ

Fun is a word I repeat over and over in this review. And it’s for good reason: that’s the ultimate appeal of The Cadillac Three and their album COUNTRY FUZZ. It’s entertaining country rock that aims to help you have a good time and forget your worries. The lyrics aren’t deep, and they aren’t meant to be; they’re meant to singalong with and have fun. So while this album may not be one for the record books or album of the year lists, it is an album that entertains and it’s exactly what you’re looking for when you just want to listen to something with loud guitars and big hooks.

Denzel Curry & Kenny Beats — UNLOCKED

Curry brings so much aggressive passion and rawness in his voice, along with his choice of diction in his delivery makes what would be an average banger into something that’s truly memorable. And this big reason is why UNLOCKED is the first great hip-hop album I’ve heard in 2020. While it doesn’t quite reach the heights of ZUU (an album I’m ashamed I omitted from my best of 2019 list), this is yet another high-quality project from Denzel Curry (and another great one from Kenny Beats too).

Tennis — Swimmer

With Swimmer, Tennis delivers an excellent album about love. It’s quickly became one of my favorite love albums. And this isn’t rash hyperbole on my end. I’m being serious when I say that this album truly delivers a heartfelt, genuine and truly touching take on true love. Love albums and love song are an absolute dime-a-dozen. They’re churned out every day. Most only focus on the surface level of love and the flip-side with heartbreak. What they don’t ever seem to focus on are the little things, the nitty gritty of relationships that aren’t easy to convey in an informative and interesting way. But that takes brilliant songwriting with equally high-quality production that aids it. Tennis delivers this.

Tame Impala — The Slow Rush

The Slow Rush is another great album from Tame Impala without a doubt. But it’s also hard not to see this album is a few missteps away from equaling the brilliance of Currents. It lacks focus in a few spots and there’s one song that just isn’t needed. But this is also a bit nitpicking admittedly. The production from Parker is once again deeply rich and textured, engulfing you with it’s fantastic details. And the songwriting mostly hits. So ultimately I can say this is one of the best albums you’ll hear in 2020.

John Moreland — LP5

LP5 is another fantastic album from John Moreland. He’s always been a great songwriter since his first album, but it’s the recognition to grow and experiment with his sound starting with his last album that’s taken him to a whole new level in my mind. Too many singer-songwriter artists think they have to stick to a stripped-down, folk-y sound for their lyrics to be taken seriously. At the same time, drum machines are dismissed as “not real instruments” used by pop stars. Well with LP5, Moreland proves both these claims to be moot.


Looking Ahead to March 2020…

As of this moment, there’s a few albums I’m heavily considering reviewing that were released in February. Those would be the new albums from Nathaniel Rateliff, The Steeldrivers and Hailey Whitters. As far as other releases I may have not covered, they simply didn’t catch my eye enough to review them or I feel I didn’t have enough thoughts for a review. But I most likely did listen to it (I listen to a lot more albums than I review), so feel free to hit me up in the comments and ask me about those, as I’m happy to answer with my thoughts on them. I want this monthly post to serve as not only a monthly review, but a place to cover anything “in the cracks” so to speak.

As far as upcoming new releases in March 2020, there’s definitely a few I want to highlight that catch my eye more than others. I’m curious to hear the new live album from Cream, Goodbye Tour – Live 1968, coming out on March 6. Usually I don’t like to review live albums, but I wanted to throw this out there for those into classic rock. Caitlyn Smith will be dropping her new album Supernova on March 13. I loved the previous album Starfire and this new one appears to be pushing the sonic envelope even more, so I’m excited about that one. The enigmatic Jay Electronica is rumored to be finally dropping a new album on March 18. We’ll see, as you can never be sure with him.

The Weeknd just recently announced a release date for his new album After Hours. So far I’ve enjoyed the singles I’ve heard from it and for the most part I liked the previous album Starboy, but I found that album to be a bit too long for my liking. I’m glad to see this one is four songs shorter. This will be dropping on March 20. Finally, Ingrid Andress will be releasing her debut album Lady Like on March 27. I find her voice and style of pop country to be promising. Her songwriting comes off as both catchy and sharp (the song “Both” in particular impresses me). So I’m curious to hear what she brings to the table with her album.


A Throwback Album I’ve Been Listening To That I Recommend

Travis Tritt’s Country Club

If you want some fun and “drive” in your country, Travis Tritt and this album in particular are a great place to start. It’s amazing to me how underrated Tritt is when looking back at 90s country, as he undoubtedly released some of the best. This album in particular showed you could make a stone-cold country album that still incorporates elements from other genres. Most importantly, Tritt just has the “it” voice for country music.

Album Review – Lauren Alaina’s ‘Road Less Traveled’

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Lauren Alaina is one of multiple country artists who broke their way into stardom via American Idol. She was the runner-up on season ten, which was won by fellow country artist Scotty McCreery. Like most country artists who gained fame on a music TV show, it’s been a struggle for her to break out at radio. It’s just an innate problem those not named Carrie Underwood have had to deal with at radio. Alaina released her debut album six years ago and ever since has essentially been grinding away at breaking through before her moment came when her single “Road Less Traveled” got the On The Verge treatment. It was a big moment for Alaina’s career and more importantly is what has allowed her to finally release her sophomore album of the same name. I honestly did not expect much out of Road Less Traveled, even though I’ve always found Lauren Alaina to be a pretty talented artist. Well after giving it many thorough lessons, I shouldn’t have had such low expectations because Alaina pleasantly blew my expectations away with Road Less Traveled.

The album’s opening song “Doin’ Fine” sees Alaina singing about the feelings she experienced as her parents marriage broke down and ended in divorce. While a softer production could have really helped, this is a solid and deceptively deep song. “Three” is one of the most honest songs I’ve heard from a major label country artist in the last few years. Alaina sings of how she has to spend six years on the road to just get played for three minutes on the radio. It doesn’t get anymore honest when describing the life of an artist trying to break out at radio to please their label. Alaina also really showcases her big voice well here. One problem this album has is some of the songs are disingenuous to label country. “Queen of Hearts” is most certainly an example, as it’s loud and lacking any country elements. But as a pop song it’s decent and has a catchy hook.  There are a couple of songs that fall into the generic inspiration trap. “My Kinda People” is one of them, as it’s basically a re-skin of “Road Less Traveled.” These songs aren’t necessarily terrible, but just done to death and uninteresting. But then we get to the moments that surprise and straight up impress me. I was most surprised by “Think Outside The Boy.” Based on the title I was expecting something shallow, but it’s quite the opposite. The song is about a woman urging a young woman to not base her life around the boy she’s head over heels for and needs to think about herself because basing your life around one person can lead to heartbreak and disappointment.

Another highlight of Road Less Traveled is “Painting Pillows.” It’s a straight-up heartbreak song about being alone and crying tears into your pillow. This is a modern-day heartbreak country song done right. “Crashin’ The Boys’ Club” is a song I have complicated feelings about. On one hand the production can be annoying and the lyrics are thin. But on the other hand the beat is admittedly catchy and infectious. It’s one of those songs I feel like I should hate, but I just can’t. It’s too fun for me to get grumpy about. The most critically acclaimed song on this album has been “Same Day Different Bottle.” It’s for great reason too because it’s awesome and for me the best on the record. The song is about watching someone destroy their life with alcohol. When you factor in that Alaina based this song off watching her own father go through this, it makes the song even more powerful (kudos to writers Alaina, Caitlyn Smith and Dan Couch). Then you throw in that great pedal steel guitar. It’s simply a phenomenal song. Road Less Traveled concludes with “Pretty.” It’s another song on this album that surprises me with its depth and also sees Alaina incorporating a personal experience. The song is about sending a message to girls that you’re pretty as you are and that skipping meals to get skinnier isn’t the answer. Alaina herself went through an eating disorder, so it’s admirable to see her put this experience into a great song that it can help others in this situation.

Lauren Alaina really surprises me in a great way with Road Less Traveled. I was expecting mostly songs like the album’s title track and there were a few like it on this album. But for the most part this album delivers really good music and at times even great music. I really enjoy the majority of this album and there are multiple songs I would love to see released as singles. I’m still not hopeful radio will take to her, but they should. Alaina reminds me of just how talented she is on this album and I wouldn’t be surprised if this turns out to be one of the best country records from a major label in 2017.

Grade: 7/10

 

Recommend? – Yes

Album Highlights: Same Day Different Bottle, Pretty, Think Outside The Boy, Painting Pillows, Three, Doin’ Fine

Bad Songs: None

Wallpaper: Holding The Other, Queen of Hearts


Video – Caitlyn Smith’s “Before You Called Me Baby”

Caitlyn Smith is a name hopefully many of you are going to start hearing more soon. The longtime songwriter just inked a deal with the revived Monument Records this past week. Sony Music is the one who has brought it back to life and has tabbed Sandbox CEO Jason Owen and hit songwriter Shane McAnally to be the co-presidents of Monument. It’s going to be an imprint of Sony Music Entertainment. Smith along with Walker Hayes are the first signees.

Smith released a fantastic EP titled Starfire last year and I highly recommend checking it out. Smith recently performed a track off the album in a bank vault, “Before You Called Me Baby.” Give it a watch and get a glimpse of an artist I believe to be one of the next big deals in country music.

Album Review – Garth Brooks’ Man Against Machine is a Solid Comeback

In the world of music there were two albums everyone was looking forward to listening to this year: Taylor Swift’s 1989 and Garth Brooks’ Man Against Machine. Everyone looked forward to listening to Swift of course because she’s one of the top-selling and most popular artist in music today. To add to the hype she announced she left country music and that 1989 would be her first documented pop album. Regardless of the quality of the album, everyone knew it would have huge sales numbers. This proved to be true as it’s the only album of the year to be certified platinum. It gives you an idea of how bad music sales are right now and shows you why country music was devastated to lose her. Luckily for country music, Garth Brooks has made his triumphant comeback. Garth is the only other artist that can sell more albums than Swift in music right now. After all Garth is one of the most popular selling artists of all-time right alongside the Beatles and Elvis. Regardless of what I think or anyone else thinks of Man Against Machine, this album will be the second and only other album to be certified platinum in 2014. One more thing before I breakdown this album: I’m well aware of Garth’s style and his status as an icon. Since he’s an icon I hold him to a little bit higher standard than the average artist. It’s only fair. So without further ado let’s look at Man Against Machine.

The album starts off with its title track, “Man Against Machine.” This is a working man’s anthem aimed at the everyday person. It also makes reference to the folklore of John Henry beating the machine, which I’m sure you’ve heard before. The song seems to be referencing how machines have replaced people in factories in recent years and how man is the only one with a working heart at the end of the day. Despite the gospel influences, this is more of an arena rock song than a country song. The song is good, but it certainly isn’t country. “She’s Tired of Boys” is about an older man and a college girl falling in love. The college girl chooses him because she is tired of boys and wants an actual man. Perhaps a little shot at the boys of country music? Garth’s wife Trisha Yearwood provides solid background vocals on the parts of the song where the girl is talking. While this kind of relationship being discussed on a song sounds creepy on paper, Garth pulls it off. This song actually sounds country, although rock influences are certainly present too.

Up next is “Cold Like That,” which is about a man who was hurt by an ex and how he wishes he could be cold and calculated just like her. He wishes he could be vengeful and wreck love, something clearly being said out of anger. Garth does a good job showing emotion in his voice and setting the tone of the song in the process. As for the instrumentation, it’s all over the place. I have no idea how to describe it. It’s not traditional country that’s for sure. Despite this weird sound, Garth makes it work perfectly with this song and I have to say it’s quite good. “All-American Kid” is about a young man who was the star of the high school football team and went on to serve in the military. While the theme of this song is nice, it’s so clichéd. How many songs have we heard with this theme? Yes this is heartfelt, but I’m completely bored with this angle. The song does have a traditional country sound though. It’s a decent song that we have all heard.

After this is a song called “Mom.” This song is about moms of course. It’s sung at some points from the point of view of a newborn child and other points from the point of view of God. There are two views you can have with this song. Some will view it as a heartfelt song and many parents of children will probably view it this way (especially new parents). Others that are more cynical will think this is quite cheesy and borderline Paul Anka material. I’m kind of in-between. The instrumentation is solid, but the songwriting leaves me wanting better lyrics. “Wrong About You” is a short song about a man who realizes he was wrong about an ex. The song has a 90s country feel to it and that’s a good thing. The problem with this song though is it’s too generic and feels like filler. Garth’s vocals make me cringe a little on this song also. This is one of the weaker moments on this album.

Garth shows his fun-side with “Rodeo and Juliet.” It’s basically just a silly song about a woman named Juliet who loves the rodeo. It’s a play on words of classic lines from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. This feels like a classic Garth song and the tune reminds me a lot of “Longneck Bottle.” It’s got a neo-traditional sound and while the lyrics are a little silly, this song is okay in my book. I’ll take a silly traditional sounding country song over the majority of stuff playing on mainstream country radio. The next song is a love ballad called “Midnight Train,” which is about a man who compares his love for a woman to a train. Believe it or not this comparison to a train works much better than a comparison to a jacked up truck. Amazing, huh? The songwriting is actually quite good in this song and the production is arranged well. Garth’s vocals stay in his comfort zone too. This song may be simple, but it’s one of the most solid on the album.

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Garth shows his respect for cowboys with “Cowboy Forever.” This is an anthem that pays homage to the lost generation of cowboys. Garth asserts that cowboys may be gone, but their effect on the nation and their spirit still lives on in people today. It’s another song with a classic country feel complete with the piano and fiddle. Once again too it’s a simple song that Garth sells with his charisma and storytelling. These are the kinds of songs that showcase Garth’s best attributes. Next up is the first single from the album, “People Loving People.” Basically it’s a watered down and modern version of “We Shall Be Free.” Just like it’s predecessor it’s generic, monotonous and fits a PSA commercial on peace perfectly. It’s the side of Garth I hate to see. Songs like this one do nothing but pander to causes and people’s emotions. Garth is much better than this boring and very basic song.

Earlier in the album Garth paid homage to moms with “Mom” and now he’s paying homage to dads with “Send ‘Em On Down the Road.” He does a much better job with this song. Garth sings early on in the song about his own dad being there for him and then later sings about being a dad to his own kids. This song feels heartfelt and genuine. There are no cheesy lyrics or pandering themes. You could also tell this song meant something to Garth and that it’s coming from his heart. This sense of personal connection makes it one of the best songs on the album. “Fish” is about a wealthy man going down to Mexico and finding a man who does nothing but fish everyday. The wealthy man tries giving him advice on how to become a big success financially and personally, allowing him to do anything he wants. The fisherman replies, “You mean fish?” It was at that moment the wealthy man realized his advice was stupid and that the fisherman was really living the dream, not him. The song tells a nice story with a good message about life and success. The instrumentation is spot on too. Another solid song delivered by Garth.

The penultimate song on the album is “You Wreck Me.” The song is about a man in a one-sided relationship where he’s not exactly being treated right by his woman, but he just loves the way she wrecks him for some reason. It’s a pop country song. Garth pushes his vocal range a little on this song, but he doesn’t go overboard. The song is decent, but is one of the less memorable songs on the album. The final song on the album though is the exact opposite. “Tacoma” was rumored to be the first single from the album, but apparently Garth’s camp changed their mind at the last-minute. To me that was a mistake because this song is much better than “People Loving People.” It’s a heartbreak song written by well-known independent artist Caitlyn Smith and Bob DiPiero. The story told in the song is the man is trying to literally drive away from the pain he is suffering from caused by his ex. It’s a decidedly country song that features Garth’s best vocal performance on the entire album. I understand why Garth said this was his favorite song on the album. In his preview for the album he says he likes to put his favorite song at the end of the record and I think he nails it by choosing this song as the final on the album.

Despite a few questionable song choices, Garth delivers solid material with his comeback album. He was able to incorporate his old style without sounding too dated. He couldn’t help going to his cheesy and generic side on a couple of occasions, but he never went overboard with it. He also did the one thing that he’s done throughout his successful career: strike a great balance between being an entertainer and artist. There were fun songs, serious songs, sad songs, happy songs and everything in-between. This is not Garth’s best work, but I didn’t expect his best with this album. A comeback album is almost never the artist’s best work, so I expect his album in 2015 to be much better. Man Against Machine actually topped my expectations though. You can find a lot worse albums than this, but also albums that are much better. If you enjoy Garth Brooks’ past material, I would recommend getting it. If you haven’t been too keen on him, then I would not recommend it.

Grade: 7.5/10

 

To preview and purchase Garth Brooks’ Man Against Machine album, click here.