The Endless Music Odyssey, Vol. 6 — Reba, Keith Urban, Travis Tritt & more!

Reba McEntireRumor Has It (30th Anniversary Edition)

A classic album full of great love songs and heartbreakers with the iconic “Fancy” that I’m glad to see is getting a special anniversary release. If you’re a country fan and you haven’t heard this, you need to change this asap. One day I hope to give a full review of this album, along with many other past releases. Anyway, this anniversary edition comes with two new additions: a live version of “Fancy” and a Dave Audé remix of it. I want to talk about the latter, as once again Audé delivers a fun remix of a classic country song.

I know remixes aren’t exactly looked well upon by a lot of people in country music, but to me there’s everything to gain by releasing remixes of old country songs. At worst everybody ignores it and keeps listening to the original. But on the other hand you could entice a young listener who isn’t familiar with it to get into country music. Now some might argue this is the wrong way to get someone into country music through something that is sonically not country. But the biggest appeal for me in country music is the lyrics. “Fancy” is iconic because of the story, not the instrumentation. There are thousands of songs with the same sound as this remix and they remain ignored in a metaphorical music landfill. So if someone can find appeal in this remix of “Fancy,” I like to believe it’s because of the song itself.

Keith UrbanTHE SPEED OF NOW Part 1

You know this album starts out promising enough. Opening song “Out The Cage” has the kind of frenetic energy you want to open an album that grabs your attention. The P!nk duet “One Too Many” isn’t terrible, although a bit boring and run of the mill. “Live With” is actually quite enjoyable, as the chorus is catchy and has a good message about seeking a life that can be enjoyed. Not to mention the incorporation of Urban’s solid guitar work gives the song a needed punch. “Superman” is solid pop music with connectable imagery, even though the lyrics are a bit cliché.

With the exception of the nice collaboration with Eric Church on “We Were,” the rest of the album is quite vanilla and goes in one ear and out the other. In other words, what’s been the story for Urban on the last several albums. While the experimentation of Urban in his music was interesting at first, I think he’s well past due to get back to his roots and that’s guitar-driven music. But I don’t foresee this happening, as Urban seemingly got bored with this type of music. So since Urban seems hellbent on continuing the experimenting, here’s ultimately the biggest problem with it: it feels like he just wants to be the Ed Sheeran of country music.

Just like Sheeran in pop, Urban is trying to be everything to everybody and as the old saying goes, if you’re trying to please all, you’ll please none. I guess the most realistic ask I’m hoping from for Urban then is to pick a lane for an album and stick with it throughout. There’s just no constant theme with his albums anymore. It’s just jumping from one thing to the next and as an album listener I become frustrated quickly. Also two thoughts on “We Were.” First, there’s absolutely no need to have the non-Church version of the song. Second, I find it amusing a country artist adding a country artist to a song to make the sound more country to be hilarious. 4/10

Travis Tritt – “Ghost Town Nation”

I’ve quietly been waiting to see what comes of Travis Tritt’s team up with producer Dave Cobb on his new upcoming album and this is the first look. And I have to say I’m looking forward more to what’s in store. This is a great lead single that speaks to the divide between the rural people in towns across America and the media. The term “ghost town nation” is appropriate in this context as it reflects not only how small town America feels like everybody turns their noses up at them and that “there’s nothing there,” but also the loss of jobs and collapse of rural America due to the loss of manufacturing and other industries. If anybody can shine a spotlight on this divide in a way that’s articulate and gives insight to the issues faced by the average, small town American and their feelings of alienation, it’s Travis Tritt. 

NasKing’s Disease

You know I really wanted to enjoy this album. Nas is one of the all-time great rappers in the history of hip-hop and is required listening for anybody who has any kind of interest in the genre. But this album feels too same-y in so many spots and this makes for a tedious listen at times. Songs like “Ultra Black,” “All Bad” and “10 Points” are great, but in between these standout moments are songs that just don’t really stand out in terms of production or lyrics. Of course when you’ve set the bar as high as Nas has with previous albums, that undoubtedly hurts perception of new albums. While this is not a good album, it’s not bad either and it’s worth your time to spin through it once. 6/10

Aaron Frazer – “Bad News”

The fantastic drummer and falsetto vocalist for Durand Jones and the Indications teaming up with Easy Eye Sounds and Dan Auerbach is a combination that absolutely excites me on paper. Each have a foot solidly in the classic/throwback world while delivering lyrics that are modern and fresh. After hearing this enjoyably funky and soulful lead single, rest assured this debut album is one already on my radar for 2021. 

Texas HillTexas Hill EP

A brand new trio formed between Adam Wakefield, Casey James and Craig Wayne Boyd, I was intrigued by this grouping. Their obvious commonality of course is their backgrounds, as they each come from music competition shows. Each hasn’t really had the success as solo artists as I imagine they would prefer, so forming this trio is a pretty good idea. And I will say it’s clear right away their voices harmonize quite well together. Blending country, rock and soul, it’s a catchy sound too. They’ve said though they recorded a dozen songs together, so this EP is only a teaser of the full offering to come. So I’ll keep my comments on the vague side for now, as I want to hear the full project before offering my full thoughts. I’ll say this though: Texas Hill shows a lot of potential with these songs and I’m looking forward to hear what else they have in store. 

The Allman Betts BandBless Your Heart

This is a band on paper that is very much in the same vein of bands like Blackberry Smoke and The Wild Feathers. It’s a band I expect to enjoy, so I expected great things from this album. But there’s a big issue that prevents it from being enjoyable and that’s it’s runtime. There’s no reason why this album should be over an hour long. If you cut about 25 minutes from this album it would be a much better listen, but instead of this album concluding when it hits the sweet spot, it well overstays it’s welcome and makes me not want to revisit it. An undoubtedly talented band that fell into the trap a lot of younger acts fall into with albums. 6/10

JojiNectar

Once again this is another example of an album going way too long. Clocking in at just under an hour, there are multiple songs on this album that feel like a repetition of a previous song. Trim it down to around 30 minutes and this album would have gotten a full review and recommendation from me because Joji has a lot of great ideas, especially production-wise, throughout this album. “Ew” is a fantastically melancholy song about not feeling like enough in the wake of a breakup. “Tick Tock” and “Gimme Love” are absolute jams. Joji shows great introspection on “High Hopes” and “Mr. Hollywood” too. But unlike The Allman Betts Band, Joji’s longer than necessary runtime feels more like a major label trying to game streaming numbers. Despite my issues with this album though, Nectar is worth a listen if you’re into darker, “crying in the club” type R&B-influenced pop music. 6/10

The Endless Music Odyssey, Vol. 2: Sara Evans and Mike & The Moonpies Cover Classics, Plus More!

When an artist covers a song or an album, it’s either feast or famine. It’s often the latter because the artist too often falls into the trap of recording a straight-ahead, exact replica of the original. And this quite frankly is boring. Why would I want to hear a cover of, let’s say Led Zeppelin’s “When The Levee Breaks”, if you’re just going to do it exactly how they did it? I’ll just listen to the original instead.

No, the best covers are when an artist takes and reinterprets the songs, giving them a fresh coat of paint and reinvigorating them in the minds of the listeners. So while Sara Evans is an artist that I rarely listen to at times, her Copy That album that covers songs from multiple genres across multiple eras intrigued me when I came across it. I say she’s an artist I rarely listen to because of all the boring, vanilla radio singles that a lot of people seem to like. But they put me to sleep and I would much rather listen to her early career material, which better showcases her talent. Not to mention I didn’t forget her great performance on the country tribute album to The Doobie Brothers.

Evans picks the perfect opener in “If I Can’t Have You,” the disco hit made famous by the Bee Gees and Yvonne Elliman. Evans brings a ton of passion and energy to her vocal performance, feeling right at home on this yearning love ballad. “Come On Eileen” is one of those one-hit 80s rock songs that has always got on my nerves due to radio overplay and the cheesy nature of the delivery. But I just can’t get enough of Evans’ interpretation, as the hints of fiddle and Evans’ clearer take on the song makes it a catchy ear worm. I also enjoy how the bridge speeds up and crashes, giving the song an infectious frenetic feel.

Poco’s rock-country hit “Crazy Love” is a gem I didn’t know about and again fits Evans like a glove, as she keeps enough of the original’s feel while making it feel modern. Evans and Little Big Town’s Phillip Sweet beautifully harmonize on Kenny Loggins’ “Whenever I Call You “Friend”” and I would say like their version more than the original, has less of a soupy feel about it. Evans’ best vocal performances on this album are arguably her cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Monday Morning” and John Mayer’s “All We Ever Do Is Say Goodbye,” as she absolutely belts it on each track.

Old Crow Medicine Show appropriately joins her on Hank Williams’ “I’m so Lonesome I Could Cry” and this is a combination I didn’t think I would enjoy so much, as their discographies are so contrasting. But they surprisingly work well. Finally, Evans once again wins me over on a classic rock song that gets overplayed on radio, The Knacks’ “My Sharona.” The blaring guitars being in front and center with Evans impassioned performance hooks me immediately and I would argue she once again surpasses the original of one of her covers.

If this album slipped through the cracks for you I would suggest checking out, especially if you’re like me and listen to multiple genres of music. It’s just a really fun album that you can tell Evans and her band enjoyed making and this is undoubtedly felt by the listener as they sing along to these familiar tracks.

Sara Evans though wasn’t the only band to recently make a great covers album, as Mike and the Moonpies dropped a surprise album of Gary Stewart songs. But Touch of You: The Lost Songs of Gary Stewart isn’t just Stewart songs, but previously unheard songs from the underrated country star. Being a fan of Stewart and Mike and the Moonpies coming off what I considered the best country album of 2019, I was eager to sink my teeth into this one.

It doesn’t disappoint, as Mike Harmeir and his band certainly do justice to the King of Honkytonks’ tunes. It doesn’t necessarily start off the strongest with “Bottom of the Pile,” as I would consider it one of the lesser songs on the album due to it’s repetitiveness. But second track “Smooth Shot of Whiskey” is an immediate favorite of mine. Harmeir is joined on vocals surprisingly by Midland frontman Mark Wystrach and they sound so good together. I say surprisingly because Texas country music doesn’t exactly like Midland due to their “lack of authenticity” and regularly like to compare the Moonpies and Midland. But if you pay attention on social media these bands have always been chummy with each other and they should because each fall into the same style of country music.

The album’s title track might be my most favorite on the record, as Harmeir stretches his vocal range to great effect. It adds the emotion that is much needed on this heartbreak drinking song, not to mention Harmeir’s higher notes are unforgettably good. It’s slightly disappointing there aren’t more country rockers on this album, as that’s what Stewart is most well-known for in his career. But it’s not surprising either, as these songs mostly come from Stewart’s 80s material, which is decidedly more mellow. But we do get one great rocker with “Dance with Barbara,” a rowdy honky tonker about wanting to hit the dance floor with the woman of everyone’s eye in the bar.

It should be said too for those unfamiliar with Gary Stewart’s work that many of his songs center around debauchery, drinking and the darkness that can accompany it, as these themes were very much part of his life. So in a way it can make listening to this album a bit repetitive to listen to at times. But if you’re in the mood for these type of songs, it has this in spades. “The Gold Barstool” and “Finished Product” are darkly humorous takes on over-drinking. But Stewart wasn’t a one-trick pony either, as “I’m Guilty” is a really enjoyable bluesy, soulful love song. While Harmeir delivers a great vocal performance here, I can’t help but wonder what Stewart would have sounded like on it with his trademark vibrato.

The most heartfelt song on this album is saved for last. “Heart a Home” is a devastating and haunting heartbreak song about a man yearning for an ex that’s unexpectedly walked out on him. I would love to know why Stewart never cut this song, as it’s so damn good. The lyrics painstakingly paint a vivid picture of heartbreak and Harmeir delivers a vocal performance that’s worthy of the lyrics.

Mike and the Moonpies continue to prove why many are quickly considering them one of the best acts in country music right now, as they’ve now released two great, back-to-back surprise releases. Not to mention the respect they pay towards Stewart is classy and a true homage to the late country star. If you’re a country music fan and not familiar with Stewart, I hope this urges you to dig into it because it’s a real joy. Also I recommend checking out my friend Zack’s recent piece on Stewart at The Musical Divide to get even more context on the career and life of Stewart.

While many acts struggle to release a good cover song, Sara Evans and Mike and the Moonpies both manage to release great cover albums. Check them out!

Sara Evans – Copy That – Solid 8/10

Mike and the Moonpies – Touch of You: The Lost Songs of Gary Stewart – Strong 8/10


And more…

  • The Last Bandoleros finally released an album available for listeners in the United States, a live album titled Live from Texas. It’s a solid mix of pop country and Tex Mex. But I still remain puzzled by how this act is marketed and positioned.
  • Another album released weeks ago I want to highlight is Thundercats’ It Is What It Is. This is my favorite release from him yet, mainly due to the fact it’s his most concise and tightest album yet (clocks in at 37 minutes). While I enjoyed his previous album Drunk, it’s admittedly a bit of a taxing listen. As Thundercat always does though, he delivers silky smooth beats and dark humor that elicits chuckles. “Dragonball Durag” in particular always makes me laugh when I hear it (you’ll know the line when you hear it that makes me laugh the hardest). But Thundercat also balances this album out with more sober, melancholy songs too, as he spends multiple songs addressing race issues in America and mourning the loss of his friend/rapper Mac Miller.
  • Grady Smith brought to my attention a surprising remix of Barbara Mandrell’s “Sleeping Single In a Double Bed” and even more surprisingly I really enjoy it. This new dance remix take by Dave Audé makes this classic song dancy, fun and decidedly modern. While it’s understandable that this is annoying and ruffles the feathers of some country listeners, this electronification of country music is only going to continue. And I know this may sound naïve, but I believe that this can help bring in more younger listeners to the genre and entice them to check out older country music. It happened with the country station on Grand Theft Auto V, so why not with this?
  • Cam has dropped yet another enjoyable song in “Redwood Tree.” This song is about reflecting on the passage of time and learning that you don’t truly appreciate things until you lose them. I cannot wait to hear another full album from her, as her debut album showed so much potential.
  • One last thing: I’m taking a break from the blog to spend time with my family and friends. I didn’t get to see or spend a lot of time with them during the quarantine, so now I want to focus on spending time with them. Thanks for understanding!

As always thanks for reading and be sure to weigh in with your thoughts in the comments below!