Review – Darius Rucker’s “If I Told You”

Darius Rucker If I Told You

Darius Rucker has always been an interesting case in country music. The former lead singer of 90s staple Hootie & The Blowfish has certainly made an impact as a country artist and seems to be well-known amongst the casual listeners, yet it always feels like he’s under-the-radar. This is probably due to the fact he hasn’t been a trend chaser (outside of the unfortunately bad “Homegrown Honey”), but he hasn’t ever really wowed me with his music. It’s always seems to somewhere between average and decent, especially when it comes to his single selections. His big hit of course was his cover of Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Wagon Wheel,” the song most synonymous with his country career. Since then he hasn’t had a single come close to its success. I reviewed his latest album Southern Style last year and much like his singles was an average affair brought down by corny, vanilla lyrics. However the production wasn’t too bad. Rucker now returns with the lead single from his upcoming fifth album and it’s titled “If I Told You.”

So does Rucker step up in the lyrics department? Well yes. It’s not a huge improvement, but an improvement nonetheless. “If I Told You” begins with Rucker doing a spoken word style. Now normally when a country artist does spoken word, I get highly annoyed because it’s done in a terrible, pseudo-rap manner and the lyrics are garbage (looking at you, Jake Owen). But Rucker pulls off spoken word well, not to mention the lyrics aren’t bad. The song itself is about a man who admits he is flawed and he has his own issues that have not only hurt him, but those around him. He admits all of these mistakes to the love of his life and hopes will she still accept and love him despite his admitted flaws. He even tells her that his “dreams are a million miles away” and he wants her to come with him, something he knows her family wouldn’t want. Yet he still pleads for her to follow him because he loves her that much. This is all set to a light production that has a country sound, but also a bit of a polished, Adult Contemporary feel too.

While “If I Told You” isn’t going to set the world on fire, it’s a decent song that shows Rucker taking a step in the right direction and hopefully is improved upon even more on the album. I think this song could have a real chance at radio if Capitol Records Nashville stays behind it and remain patient. It’s the type of love ballad that radio has been open to playing recently and this song really suits Rucker well. One good sign is it was the most added song at country radio on Mediabase last week. I think Rucker is capable of producing great music and while this isn’t it, this is music with some substance and something that would help improve the quality of mainstream country.

Grade: 7/10

Writers: Ross Copperman, Jon Nite and Shane McAnally

Review – Keith Urban’s “Wasted Time” is Aptly Titled

Keith Urban Wasted Time

About ten years ago, what I would call “soccer mom country” ruled the country airwaves. It was all light and friendly pop country that all of the middle-aged mother types would fawn over. The worst of this type of music you could pretty easily ignore and at most roll your eyes at it. The artists I always think of when it comes to this era of country music is Rascal Flatts and Keith Urban, as they made themselves stars on this type of music. Fast-forward to today and they’re not exactly on top anymore. Sure Rascal Flatts is currently on its way to a #1 song thanks to the flawed system of country radio, but does anyone care? Urban has done a better job, but it’s his dedicated fan base and a gig on American Idol that has kept him in people’s minds. It’s been three years since his last album Fuse, so many of his fans have been eager for new music. He’s now releasing the third single from his new upcoming album Ripcord (due out May 6 via Capitol Records), “Wasted Time.”

First off it’s pretty strange to see a country artist release their third single from an album before it’s even released. Normally it’s just one or on the oft occasion two singles before an album release. But I can’t recall in recent memory another country artist doing this. Nevertheless after the first two singles, “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16” and “Break On Me,” I wasn’t very confident about this song being any better. After listening to it, my premonitions were correct. “Wasted Time” actually manages to be worse. Right away you hear a pop-y, dance beat and you know you’re about to hear something bad. The song maintains this sound throughout, with the exception being a banjo popping up at times. The bridge features a nice banjo solo, but it feels so token and short-lived that it really doesn’t matter. The song itself is a lot more boring than the instrumentation. It’s about feeling nostalgic about summer nights spent with friends back in the day and realizing how great this “wasted time” was to the person. This is the type of shallow theme that can hook the casual listener because this type of song has been done to death by country radio in the last five years.

After listening to this song, I can say it got one thing spot-on and that’s the title. I feel like I wasted my time listening to it. “Wasted Time” is one of the laziest summer songs I’ve seen churned out by a country artist. It pretty much relies solely on the soaring melody to hook people in because the songwriters (Greg Wells and James Abrahart) didn’t do anything to make the song itself memorable. More than anything “Wasted Time” confirms my theory that Urban is genre confused. He’s certainly not trying to be country, as he’s chasing every other genre. Fun fact: Pitbull is going to make an appearance on his new album. Yeah that’s just what I wanted; more Pitbull in my life is just great. I really enjoyed that last Pitbull country collaboration I reviewed. Keith Urban has talent, but unfortunately it isn’t on display here. “Wasted Time” is exactly what it says it is.

Grade: 2/10

Album Review – Charles Kelley’s ‘The Driver’

Charles Kelley The Driver Album

Lady Antebellum was one of the toasts of country music throughout the 2000s. They racked up numerous #1 hits, including one mega hit in “Need You Now” that crossed over to pop radio, and collected their fair share of awards at the CMA Awards, ACM Awards and even a couple of Grammys. They were a pretty hot group at one point near the top of the country music food chain. Then bro country came along and derailed this soccer mom friendly act. They simply couldn’t keep up with the likes of Florida Georgia Line. Of course they tried with a terrible song like “Bartender,” one of the first songs I outright hated from the group. Now they’re on a hiatus, probably the best thing for a group that has gotten lost in the shuffle.

This leads us to one of three members of Lady A, Charles Kelley. It felt he had gotten lost in the shuffle within the group in recent years, as more songs from the group were centered around Hillary Scott. In the earlier days of the group, it seemed like Scott and Kelley would shift back and forth between being the lead in songs. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why Kelley has now set out to make music as a solo artist. With Lady Antebellum on hiatus, this is a perfect opportunity to do something different. It’s already off to a great start, as the lead single from it, “The Driver,” has been nominated for Best Country Duo/Group Performance at the 58th Annual Grammy Awards. Not bad, huh? It also gave him the much-needed momentum to release his debut album of the same name, which was rumored to be delayed indefinitely after the single stalled at radio at first. So does The Driver deliver as well as the lead single? Well it’s a mixed bag.

The upbeat “Your Love” kicks The Driver off. It’s your standard pop country love song, complete with the electric guitar riffs. Kelley sings about how he compares his love for his woman to the sun and other typical tropes. It’s not a bad song, but there’s nothing that stands out about it either. Next is the album’s title track and lead single. I’ve already covered the Grammy-nominated song when it first came out. From my original review of “The Driver”: I have to say this song is a real pleasant surprise. In fact after my first listen I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “The Driver” is pretty good and has real sincerity about it. This starts with the acoustic guitar that opens the song and maintains a presence throughout the album. An electric guitar also joins it and gives the song an earthy, singer-songwriter vibe about it. It feels and sounds like something that belongs on country radio. The song itself (written by Kelley, Eric Paslay and Abe Stoklasa) is a feel good sing-a-long about traveling around on the road and making music. So it’s only appropriate that Kelley is also joined on the song by Eric Paslay and Dierks Bentley. They harmonize in the chorus and it’s just fantastic.

“Dancing Around It” is Kelley’s attempt at the R&B/metro country sound that is popular right now. The drum machines and synth make this pretty evident. Overall everything about this song sounds weak, from the lifeless production to Kelley’s falsetto. It’s the perfect song to play in the lines at DMVs across America. The great Stevie Nicks joins Kelley on “Southern Accents,” one of two duets on the album. The song is about being a proud southerner and his southern accent. While the song could have gone about this better, it does a solid job of getting the point across. Nicks works well with the song and sounds great in her older age. The production is the best part of the song, as it’s softer with a combination of a piano, electric guitar and surprising amount of steel guitar.

Kelley embraces the R&B/metro country sound again on “Lonely Girl.” The song of course is about a guy professing that this girl is the only one for him and how she should never be lonely. It’s all just quite fascinating. The production is straight up weird, as its Bruno Mars meets Ed Sheeran. Considering how so many mainstream acts are ripping off these two pop artists, it’s no surprise we finally get a song that rips off both of their styles. As a country song, it’s terrible. As a pop song, it’s catchy and mindless fun, so expect this to be Kelley’s next single. The love ballad “The Only One Who Gets Me” is next. It’s the kind of roots-influence rock song that is easy to get behind. The production is subtle enough to let Kelley’s voice shine, but also strong enough to catch your attention and add to the song. The songwriting is solid, even if a little unspectacular. “Round in Circles” is another pop country with too much pop and not enough country from Kelley. It’s basically a more hook-up-y version of Brothers Osborne’s “Stay A Little Longer” with worse production and vocals. I don’t really have much of a feeling on this song because it puts me to sleep. Of course it’s this cookie-cutter, neutral music that just dazzles label executives and car commercial makers.

The second duet of the album is “I Wish You Were Here,” where Kelley is joined by Miranda Lambert. It’s arguably the best song of the album, as the song is about a man travelling on the road all the time for work and wishing every step of the way his woman was there with him. This is another song that surprises me with the amount of pedal steel guitar in it. Lambert sounds great and goes perfect with Kelley. This song represents the best Kelley can offer and something that I wish I could say about every song on this album. The Driver ends with “Leaving Nashville,” a piano-driven ballad about living in Nashville as an artist and the struggles that come with it. These struggles can be things like everyone wanting to be your friend and wanting a favor to struggling to pay your bills. But despite all of this, Kelley vows to never leave Nashville and give up on living the dream of being an artist. It’s nice to hear a song like this from a bigger name highlighting the struggles a musician goes through when you’re not one of the biggest names. As Kelley sings in the final line, “One day you’re the king and the next you’re not.”

The Driver is an album where you take the good with the bad. When Charles Kelley is at his best on this album, you can really enjoy it and marvel at his singing voice. He shows he has talent and can stand out as a solo artist. But at Kelley’s worst on The Driver, he sounds just like another artist and another song. It’s pretty easy to pinpoint where exactly Kelley is pandering on this album. So I guess it makes it quite easy what you should avoid. I’ve heard debut albums much worse and much better than this one. It’s worth at least one listen through for yourself and definitely would suit you if you’re a fan of Lady Antebellum. The Driver is the true definition of a 50/50 album.

Grade: 5/10

The Good:

The Bad:

Review – Charles Kelley Impresses With Debut Single “The Driver”

 

Charles Kelley The Driver

About a month ago I started to hear rumors swirl about the breakup of Lady Antebellum. It came as a surprise to many, as this group has been a mainstay in mainstream country for several years. At the same time it wasn’t that surprising to hear considering it has felt like Lady Antebellum has been passed by in mainstream country music for younger, male artists. It feels like ages since their mega-hit “Need You Now.” The good news for Lady Antebellum fans is that they aren’t breaking up, but the group is taking an “open-ended hiatus.” I think this is a smart move, as it will allow them to recharge their batteries and allow them to get back to the drawing board so to speak. In the meantime though one member of Lady A isn’t taking a break. Surprisingly, one-third of the group, Charles Kelley, is embarking on his own solo career (by the way, those vague ads by Capitol Records in Country Aircheck were indeed Kelley’s). Along with Hillary Scott, Kelley has been the lead vocalist for the group. His first single is here too, with “The Driver.”

And I have to say this song is a real pleasant surprise. In fact after my first listen I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “The Driver” is pretty good and has real sincerity about it. This starts with the acoustic guitar that opens the song and maintains a presence throughout the album. An electric guitar also joins it and gives the song an earthy, singer-songwriter vibe about it. It feels and sounds like something that belongs on country radio. The song itself (written by Kelley, Eric Paslay and Abe Stoklasa) is a feel good sing-a-long about traveling around on the road and making music. So it’s only appropriate that Kelley is also joined on the song by Eric Paslay and Dierks Bentley. They harmonize in the chorus and it’s just fantastic. This is why I want more collaborations between the best artists in country music. Bentley’s solo in the bridge is really good and sets up nicely for Kelley hitting the high note shortly after.

Kelley choosing Bentley and Paslay to join him on the song is a brilliant move, as their voices mesh together well. It also brings in more ears to the song, as fans of all three will certainly want to give this song a listen. All in all I’m impressed by this first single from Charles Kelley. “The Driver” is the kind of song we desperately need in mainstream country music. Kelley has a great voice, which is something we’ve all known hearing him in Lady Antebellum all these years. But hearing him solo he sounds even better for some reason. Kelley is set to release his debut solo album in 2016, as he was said to impress industry insiders at a private show earlier this week. Whatever happens next, don’t worry about it and just savor this great song.

Grade: 9/10

 

Review – Mickey Guyton’s “Better Than You Left Me”

If you read my Jason Aldean Old Boots, New Dirt album review, you could tell I was pretty frustrated towards the end of it. You see after a month or so of reviewing mediocre albums from mainstream country music, this tends to make you a little cranky. July and August brought so much great country music from a variety of artists and ever since September has started the good country music has been few and far between, with the big exceptions being Keeley Valentino and Lee Ann Womack of course. It’s been a pattern lately that female country artists have been making better music than male artists (we got the great male artists earlier in the year with Sturgill Simpson, Jason Eady, Matt Woods and others). That pattern continues with today’s review of Mickey Guyton’s new single “Better Than You Left Me.”

Who exactly is Mickey Guyton? Well she’s actually with a mainstream country label. You wouldn’t know this though because they never push her on radio or anywhere really. She’s the only solo female country artist at Capitol Records Nashville (sister label EMI Nashville has Kelleigh Bannen). She’s surrounded by big names like Luke Bryan, Dierks Bentley and Lady Antebellum, so it’s no big surprise. But based off her new single, I would put her as one of the best on the label right beside Bentley and Jon Pardi (the rest I don’t care for). After listening to so much bad music from mainstream country, it was a breath of fresh air to hear Guyton (thank you Windmills Country for bringing Guyton to my attention).

“Better Than You Left Me” starts off with the sound of a mandolin and guitar. The song is about a woman who’s ex left her and as time has passed she has grown into a better person since ending the relationship, much to the surprise of the ex. Even though she was heartbroken when the relationship ended, she realizes she is better off without him now. Despite attempts by the ex to win her heart back, she isn’t falling for his tactics. The songwriting is pretty good for this song, painting a picture of the situation in the listeners’ heads and showing the emotion of the woman in the situation. Guyton co-wrote the song with Nathan Chapman, Jennifer Hanson and Jenn Schott (props to Windmills Country for this information too).

You’ll notice right away that Guyton has a dynamic and powerful voice. On her website she says she grew up listening to and credits Dolly Parton, Whitney Houston and LeeAnn Rimes as her influences. She was also into gospel music and started singing gospel in church at the age of five. This makes a lot of sense after hearing her new single because I certainly heard Parton influencing her voice with the way she carries her high notes. With the exception of Carrie Underwood, I would say Guyton has the most powerful voice in mainstream country music. You could pretty much throw any song at Guyton and I think she would have no problem singing it.

My only complaint with Guyton is why she hasn’t been pushed for radio or an album sooner. Mainstream country music is desperate for more great female country artists, especially with the departure of Taylor Swift to pop. This single is getting a push on radio soon and I hope that she gets a fair chance to capture listeners’ attentions. Guyton deserves to be on radio with her great talents. “Better Than You Left Me” comes with a high recommendation from this reviewer and I’m intrigued to hear her new album when it’s released.

Grade: 9/10

For a limited time you can get Guyton’s “Better Than You Left Me” for free via her website. You can find that by clicking here.