The Endless Music Odyssey, Vol. 5 — CeeLo Green, Caylee Hammack & more!

CeeLo GreenCeeLo Green is Thomas Callaway

Dan Auerbach, David Ferguson and Easy Eye Sound just continue to churn out quality albums. This time it comes from veteran R&B artist CeeLo Green, who is known for such hits like “Crazy” as part of Gnarls Barkley and “Forget You” as a solo artist. But this album is much different than his popular material, as the glitz and glamour is all stripped away in favor of more subtle and smooth sounds. It’s an enjoyable mix of R&B, soul, pop, gospel and even some country. Many have described Green as a chameleon-like performer and I think this album exemplifies this more than any of his others.

There’s simmering love songs like “For You,” “I Wonder How Love Feels” and “Doing It All Together” that mix soul and pop to great results. “Lead Me” shows how Green can absolutely excel at gospel with his passionate vocals and makes me wish there were more gospel moments. “Little Mama” and “Don’t Lie” show another side of Green, being a father, which was great to see from him. But the two songs that intrigued me most were when he dipped into a more country-influenced sounds on “People Watching” and “Slow Down.” The former is a simple, yet bouncy song about observing the world around you and taking in the little things. The latter is a fantastic cover of his Easy Eye Sound label mate John Anderson. CeeLo Green covering John Anderson is not something I thought I would ever write about, but hey it’s 2020 and it works well.

The album closes out with another highlight in “The Way,” a brooding song about fighting your way through darkness. Green’s voice really excels in these dramatic songs, as his dynamic voice can add the right amount of tension to build up the lyrics. If you’re into soul music or enjoy Green’s voice, this album is definitely worth your time. 8/10

Caylee HammackIf It Wasn’t For You

The potential of Caylee Hammack is great. She has an incredible voice and when she incorporates her personal experiences into her songwriting, it makes for some damn compelling music. “Small Town Hypocrite” is easily the star of this album, an in-depth look at seven-year relationship that took Hammack away from a music scholarship and changed her life in several ways. And not only is the attention to detail great in the lyrics, but her vocal performance adds just the right amount of emotional touch. The best example is when she sings “When I chose you and daddy gave me hell/I made myself into someone else/Just to love you, damn, I loved you.” The aching regret and hesitation in her voice as she delivers these final words cuts straight to the heart. 

Hammack has other great moments on this album too like “Redhead.” Hammack and Reba sound great together and I’m surprised this wasn’t chosen for her new single, as it’s catchy and fun to singalong with. Hammack, Tenille Townes and Ashley McBryde sound fantastic harmonizing together on “Mean Something,” which is a song dripping with honesty about people seeking to be something more in a world filled with a lot of selfishness and lack of substance. “Sister,” “Forged in the Fire” and “Family Tree” are other solid songs where Hammack peels back layers of her life to deliver heartfelt messages and show the lessons she’s learned. “Gold” is a heartfelt epilogue to “Small Town Hypocrite” and “New Level of Life” is a fun closer to the album that features one of the more interesting production moments on the album.  

But this album falls frustratingly short of being great and I largely blame this on the production. It ultimately hinders Hammack more than it helps, as most of the time it feels very paint-by-numbers as far as pop country goes. Hammack’s voice isn’t fully utilized, as it’s bright and dynamic, so why not fully feature it? It’s also frustrating to have songs in the middle of the album like “Preciatcha,” “Just Like You,” “Just Friends” and “King Size Bed” that pigeonhole her into generic pop country. It’s just not that interesting and throws the flow of the album off for me. It’s not really surprising, as new artists typically have these kinds of songs on their debut album to appease labels who like to send them to radio. Nevertheless, this is a decent debut album from Hammack. 6/10

DUCKWRTHSuperGood

Smooth, slick and funky are the three best words to describe this album. If you’re looking for lyrical prowess, this album won’t have it. Not to say the lyrics are bad. They’re solid, yet unspectacular as most of the lyrics deal with love and enjoying the party. But if you’re looking for some smooth beats, this album is overflowing with them. This is an album to move to and sing along with on a Saturday night. While it’s listed as hip-hop, this is far from a straight hip-hop record. No, I would describe this more along the lines of Tyler the Creator’s IGOR. This album is very much genre fluid, an enjoyable blend of hip-hop, R&B, soul, pop and disco. While I was a big fan of DUCKWRTH’s earlier material that was edgier and had an almost rock flavor to them, it’s clear this sound seems to suit him best. And he did kind of foreshadow this on “MICHUUL,” aspiring to be like the king of pop. And this music is definitely a strong step into that sound. 8/10

The MavericksEn Español

This is definitely one of those times where I wish I had taken more Spanish classes. I know some of the language, but unfortunately not enough to understand and appreciate the lyrics of this album. If anybody would happen to know how to procure a translated version of it, I would be happy to go more in-depth on this album. So for now I can only analyze the other elements of this album and they’re top level as always from the eclectic and dynamic group. The instrumentation is flamboyant, colorful and vibrant, a beautiful mixture of country, pop, Tex Mex and a whole lot more. Raul Malo still has one of the best voices in music, as it still sounds as flawless as ever. So based on the two elements of this album I can understand, this is another great album from The Mavericks. 

Margo PricePerfectly Imperfect At The Ryman

This is the best Margo Price album and you can’t tell me otherwise. In the last edition of The Endless Music Odyssey, I expressed my disappointment with her latest studio album and how it fails to capture the energy of her live shows that get rave reviews. I’ve never seen her live, but I potentially will next year as she opens for a Chris Stapleton show I have tickets to see. This reminded me that she actually released a live album on Bandcamp earlier this year and it had slipped through the cracks for yours truly. After listening to this album, it further cements the sentiment she’s better live. She has a fiery and infectious personality that unfortunately just gets sanded away in her studio recordings. But in a live setting she’s unleashed and at her very best. Her vocals don’t feel restrained and you even get to hear her excellent vibrato on multiple songs, which baffles me that this isn’t featured much on her studio albums. 

I hope whoever produces her next album takes cues from this live album and finds a way to incorporate them. Old Crow Medicine Show was in this same boat for years too and Gary Clark Jr. is still in this boat. It’s a rare occurrence it feels like in music to sound good live, but not in the studio, as it’s usually the other way around for several artists. 8/10

Tucker BeathardKING

Well I’ll say this: at least his voice is tolerable now. I once said he couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket and that his voice was grating to the ears. It didn’t help either he was another victim of On The Verge, which is a legal payola way of making someone a “star”, but really just distorts reality. Also a smart move to delete all of his music with Big Machine Records and to start a clean slate. 

So I will say I can now listen to his voice without wanting to turn the song off. But he sounds essentially like every other male pop country artist. Still progress of course to go from bad to generic, but not really good either. None of these songs compel me to say anything other than it’s a song, except for “One Upper.” It’s a song about two characters: a rich asshole in a suit who thinks he can buy everything with money and an average joe who ultimately thinks he’s better because he has a hot girlfriend. What endearing people! 4/10

Josh TurnerCountry State of Mind

Just like I said about Jon Pardi’s Rancho Fiesta Sessions, take this for what it is and you’ll have an enjoyable listen. This is another solid country covers album released in a year where there’s been several. Needless to say I’m starting to get a little fatigued by them at this point. There’s not a bad song on this album, but the highlights in my eyes are “I’ve Got It Made” with John Anderson, the album title track with Chris Janson, “I Can Tell by the Way You Dance,” “Forever and Ever, Amen” with Randy Travis and “Desperately” with Maddie & Tae. 8/10

Raise a Glass of Holiday Cheer or Bah Humbug?: “White Christmas”

This feature is quite simple: I’m going to take a look at and categorize the different versions of a Christmas song into one of two categories. The good category is Raise a Glass of Holiday Cheer, whether that be egg nog, hot chocolate, or whatever other holiday concoction you prefer (just be responsible of course). The bad category is Bah Humbug, named after the famous retort of Ebenezer Scrooge (the Disney version of it is the best, don’t @ me). The main point of this feature is to have some holiday fun! And maybe you’ll find a new version of a holiday classic to stick in your own playlist. Also please throw your own recommendations in the comments!

Today I look at one of the most popular and well known Christmas classics, “White Christmas.” The exact where and when it was written is disputed, but songwriter Irving Berlin upon composing it was quite confident in it’s quality, as he told his secretary that not only was it the best song he’s ever written, but the best song that anybody has ever written. So I guess quite confident is an understatement, eh? I wouldn’t put it as the best song ever written, but it’s certainly got a high spot on the list of greatest songs ever written. The melancholy mixed with hope in reminiscing in about Christmases of the past while having faith they come to fruition again makes for a song that’s instantly connectable for most listeners.

The first public performance of the song was on Christmas day 1941 by Bing Crosby on his radio show. What’s interesting is this song didn’t get the instant hit response Berlin expected. Crosby called it nothing special and when first released as part of the soundtrack for the movie Holiday Inn, “Be Careful, It’s My Heart” became the instant hit instead (raise your hand if you know this song, but now put it down because you’re a liar). Eventually it did catch on though, a little over a year later, a large part in due to the backdrop of WWII happening, giving listeners a strong emotional connection to it. The song spent three separate times atop the United States charts and went on to be the name for the excellent Bing Crosby-starring 1954 movie White Christmas. Crosby would go on to be forever connected to this song as much as the writer Berlin, even though he downplayed his role in the success saying anyone could have sang it.

Raise a Glass of Holiday Cheer

  • Bing Crosby

Obviously the Crosby version of this song gets a big cheer from me. Despite his humility towards the success of this song, he is a big part of what made this song so big because it fits him perfectly. The reverence and respect in his voice as he delivers the performance of this song brings the words of Berlin to life. Now I can’t say it’s my favorite because well I admit this is one of my favorite Christmas songs of all-time and there are several performances of this song I really enjoy. But Crosby should always be the starting point for this song.

This R&B/doo-wop group completely re-vamped this classic song and manage to make a unique version that in my opinion strongly challenges Crosby’s version (as of this writing it actually has over twice as many views as Crosby’s version). The mix of different range of voices and doo-wopping make for a decidedly more upbeat version of the song, yet it still feels quite respectful. The falsetto in the middle of the song is fantastic. Thank you Home Alone for letting me know this version of the song exists.

So here’s one that might shock you to see it’s inclusion on this side of the list. But I’ll let you in on a little secret: CeeLo’s Magic Moment is one of the best Christmas albums released in the past decade. It’s a great listen and his version of “White Christmas” makes the bold choice of adding horns, quite the contrast from Crosby. But it actually works as a swelling Christmas anthem that crescendos in the bridge quite well. I imagine this might be a divisive pick, but I stand by it.

You can never go wrong with Otis Redding! And this take on “White Christmas” is no different. If you want all the soul in your songs, listen to this one right now (and the Soul Christmas album).

Behind Bing Crosby, Andy Williams has the next best traditional take on this Yuletide staple. It’s hazy, dream-like feeling definitely puts you in mind of waltzing through a snow-covered woods, making for a great Christmas performance.

Bah Humbug!

My biggest issue with ‘Ol Blue Eyes performance of this song is it’s wait too serious. Sinatra’s voice sounds too solemn and quiet. Also his change from children to kiddies in the lyrics is annoying and unnecessary. The chorus in the bridge is weak too. This was a big miss from Sinatra.

Irving Berlin hated Elvis and did everything he could to get Elvis’ Christmas Album canceled because he found his interpretations of Christmas songs, particularly his own song “White Christmas,” to be disrespectful. While I generally enjoy Elvis’ Christmas Album, I’m in agreement with Berlin when it comes to this song. This is just awful, with the “soulful” affectations of Elvis’ voice sounding quite plastic in comparison to the likes of The Drifters and Otis Redding.

So Michael Bublé makes the bold choice of doing his version of the song in the same style as The Drifters. What a bad decision, as Bublé does not have the soulful voice to pull this off (the only artist I’ve ever heard successfully pull of a Drifters-style take on this song is Aaron Neville). Then he doubles down on the bad decision making and turns it into a duet with Shania Twain, whose voice does not go with his at all. Also this is not a duet song. It’s like the musical version of watching someone slowly fall down the stairs.

Johnny Mathis looked at Sinatra’s version of the song and decided to make it even more serious and duller sounding. I did not think it was possible to take such a great song and make it the excitement equivalent of paint drying. But yet this isn’t the worst…

How to completely bastardize a song 101! The production is stripped down to the point where it sounds like Perry is singing from the bottom of a well, yet she also adds in the annoying Aguilera ad libs that never add anything meaningful to a song. Oh and her vocal performance sounds off key. Listen to this if you dare, but then make sure to wash it down with one of the great versions of this songs I recommend above.


This is the final edition of this feature in 2019 (it will return next year!), so thank you for reading this and all of the other posts on Country Perspective this year. I hope you all have a safe and great holidays!

P.S. I will be making my end of the year 2019 posts and looking ahead to 2020 posts in the next couple weeks.