Review – Trent Harmon’s “There’s A Girl”

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So it turns out Trent Harmon was the final winner of American Idol. Who knew? I stopped paying attention to that show once Simon Cowell left (even those final few seasons I was drifting off). Since I assume most others did the same, here’s a primer for those who don’t know Harmon. Originally he tried out on The Voice and was rejected. So with one music show rejection down, he turned to American Idol, where originally he auditioned and came off as an R&B/pop artist. Oh boy. As the show went on he started to perform some country and by country I mean a couple of Chris Stapleton songs. The rest of the songs he performed were soul, R&B and pop. The winning song he performed was called “Falling.” It was written by Keith Urban, Brett James and Dallas Davidson (ugh). Naturally Big Machine Records President and Idol adviser that season Scott Borchetta signs him to be a country artist because of course Borchetta would do this. It’s said that Harmon’s debut album will be country with indie-soul influences. When Borchetta was asked about it, he said it would be like the country album Justin Timberlake plans to make. Now I don’t know about you, but I see some red flags here. Based on these facts, it sounds like Harmon is just another pop artist cashing-in on country music.

Nevertheless I did my best to keep an open mind as I dug into Harmon’s debut label single, “There’s A Girl.” And after listening to it multiple times, it’s actually not terrible as I expected it to be. I was expecting heavy R&B and little to no country. Instead there’s actually some pedal steel guitar in the song. An actual pleasant surprise! Don’t get too excited though because there’s definitely some pop influence within the song too. But it’s not overbearing though and works for the most part. The light, up beat acoustics work well blended with the steel guitar. The song itself is about how guys are driven by girls and how they drive guys to do things they normally wouldn’t do like drive hundreds of miles to see them, clean up their vehicles and spend money they don’t have. On the surface you could look at this cynically, saying the song paints guys as being controlled by their dicks. But I really don’t see the song this way and the song doesn’t really indicate these intentions. It’s more a light-hearted look at the age old phrase of “love makes you do crazy things” and this is quite true. As far as first impressions of Harmon’s voice, it’s solid, yet unspectacular.

Overall Trent Harmon’s “There’s A Girl” isn’t half bad. You could do much worse for debut singles that’s for sure. Hell I think this song actually has some chance to stand out and be remembered by listeners. I wouldn’t call the song good either, but then again most debut singles usually aren’t because most play it on the safe side. You just hope for something decent and taking this song for what it is, that’s what you get with “There’s A Girl.”

Grade: 6/10

 

Recommend? – Sure it’s worth one listen, especially if you like pop country


Written by Trent Harmon, Jimmy Robbins and Laura Veltz

Album Review – Drake White’s ‘Spark’

Drake White Spark

When it comes to mainstream country, I think the ideal place to be is under the radar and unsung. Well at least at first because the pressure isn’t immediately on the artist to be this big hit maker. It should happen organically and over a certain period of years of work because it ultimately helps shape them to be better and find their sound. This is certainly the case for Dot Records’ Drake White. It took him two different major label deals and two single releases over a couple of years with Dot to finally launch his new album Spark. While those two lead singles didn’t blow me away with their quality, it did catch my eye with their roots-y, organic instrumentation. I could see the potential and made me look forward to see what he could bring to the table with his major label debut album. Spark was actually one of the few mainstream country album releases I’ve looked forward to in 2016 and after listening to it, White delivers the goods for the most part.

Sparks opens with “Heartbeat,” which is introduced by a recording of White’s preacher grandfather delivering a sermon. Interludes of his grandfather show up throughout the album, as White has said in numerous interviews he greatly influenced the album’s songs and themes. The opening song is soul meets country tune about the value of heart and hard work. Everything about the song is uplifting in nature. Depending on your attitude towards these songs will greatly affect your outlook on this entire album. “Story” opens with lots of fiddle, which made me double take upon first listen and thought I had accidentally hit play on a Turnpike Troubadours song. That let me know right away I was in for a great song. It’s about various people’s lives, their everyday goals and tribulations of a normal day. It’s a song that is very easy to like with its universal message and traditional instrumentation. At the end it even features a little bit of scatting from White.

The piano-driven “Makin’ Me Look Good Again” really shows off White’s soulful side. You’ll find when listening to this record there’s a noticeable soul influence and White does a great job for the most part blending it with the country sounds. This love ballad gives him opportunity show off his flawless vocals. While he’s not one of the very best vocalists of the genre, he has a genuinely likeable quality about him that will endear him to listeners similar to Josh Turner and Zac Brown. The album’s lead single “It Feels Good” is next. Looking back I’m kind of surprised this upbeat, feel good single didn’t do better at country radio. While the lyrics are nothing to write home about (basically a song about being happy), the song is quite infectious and will stick with you.

This is followed by the sophomore single and biggest hit so far of the album, “Livin’ The Dream.” Much like the previous single it’s not breaking any new ground in the theme department, but it’s agreeable enough to a majority of listeners that it made sense for the label to make it a single. It’s a decent song that helped launch White and his album, but I probably won’t remember this song. “I Need Real” is one of the songs on Spark that tries to dig deeper. It starts out with White singing about small town problems like drugs and birth control, immediately catching my attention. But it doesn’t really delve into these more serious topics like I was hoping and it turns into a song about wanting a real, tangible love. It’s not what I hoped, but it’s solid and I could see it as a potential single for White.

Most of this album features a lot of organic, roots-y instrumentation and on “Back To Free” it doesn’t seem much different. That is until it kicks into the meat of the song and we get the annoying buzzing/beeping sound pulsing in the background. It just smacks of label dabbling because it’s utterly pointless and is only satisfying to some label executive in a suit. It’s distracting and ultimately brings the song down, making it one of the worst on the album. White tries his hand at an island summer song with “Equator.” It’s about heading to an island on the equator and getting away from the cold weather in the winter and it’s something you’ve heard before it you’ve ever listened to Jimmy Buffett. That being said it’s not a bad summer song by any stretch and along the line of Zac Brown Band’s beach songs. It’s fun, carefree and will fit nicely into vacation playlists where it belongs. “Live Some” is another song where White’s likeable vocals elevate above average lyrics. Most of the song consists of lyrics finishing with “some” at the end. It all revolves around how all kinds of things happen to you in life, but you continue to live and experience life. Again it’s simple, yet relatable.

The most serious song on this album is hands down “Waitin’ On The Whiskey To Work.” It’s probably the most important too because it showcases that White can dig deep and isn’t just all about fun and uplifting themes. The song is about a broken-hearted man trying to drink the pain away and continuing drink until the whiskey starts working. A fleeting organ and fine harmonica set the tone of the song perfectly. I would say this is the best track on Spark. “Elvis” is not indeed about the king of rock and roll, but he serves as an example of the point the song makes. It’s about keeping your head down and continuing to work hard towards your goals in life because success isn’t something that comes over night. The only way you’ll get there is putting in the time. With the catchy hook and the country rock production, this is another one I could see being a single. Spark unfortunately goes out with a fizzle with the R&B influenced “Take Me As I Am.” First off the production feels completely out of place after hearing the first 11 songs and seems to be a better fit on Thomas Rhett’s last album. Then the lyrics are your standard, generic love lyrics you find in Nashville pop songs nowadays. I will give it one thing and that it’s catchy. But that’s about the only good I can find in it.

With Spark Drake White delivers an album I think shows he’s a mainstream country artist worth paying attention to, despite a couple of rough spots. The upbeat and organic instrumentation is a real breath of fresh air and brings a sense of authenticity that is lacking from the mainstream scene. White’s vocals are deep, infectious and is something that will leave a lasting impression on the listener. Spark in a way reminds me of a lot of Zac Brown Band’s major label debut album The Foundation, which like White’s album wasn’t perfect, but it established the sound of the band and made them into a recognizable name in the genre. This doesn’t represent the best we’re going to get from White, but it gives us an idea of who he is and his sound. Spark is a pretty solid foundation for Drake White to build upon and I look forward to what he delivers on his next album.

Grade: 7/10

(I also have to give kudos to the artist of the album cover, which is fantastic. Probably one of the best album covers I’ve seen this year.)

Review – Tucker Beathard’s “Rock On”

Tucker Beathard Rock On

Oh look, another new artist being shoved down our throats. If there’s one thing Music Row doesn’t run out of, it’s starry-eyed, young artists hoping to be big country stars and they’re willing to do whatever it takes to make it big. Nowadays they all have the perfect look that make label executives swoon and Tucker Beathard is no different. It helps tremendously too that Beathard is the son of Casey Beathard, who is a well-known country writer. As Thomas Rhett can attest, nepotism can be a big help. Beathard has been around for a few years, but is just now starting to get a big push as he’s part of Big Machine Label Group’s Dot Records imprint. His new single “Rock On” is the newest pick by the On The Verge program, which ensures singles skyrocket up the airplay chart. You’ve probably never heard of it and it already is up to #30 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart.

There’s one thing that stands out clear as day right away to me when I hear “Rock On.” Tucker Beathard is a terrible singer. His voice is absolutely grating to the ears. I would describe his voice as party whiny and part jagged. He could not carry a tune in a bucket. Beathard is basically a quieter, poor man’s Brantley Gilbert as a vocalist. With a voice this bad it’s hard to even listen to the song. Speaking of the song, it’s about a man pondering about an ex who has now moved on and while he wished her the best, he still lives with the regret of not putting a “rock” on her finger. In other words, this guy is sitting around thinking about a relationship that will never happen that he blew and just repeats over and over how he should have committed. While the hook of “rock on” is catchy, that’s about the only appeal I can see to the casual listener. The song just isn’t that interesting, which was written by Beathard, his father and Marla Cannon-Goodman. The generic rock instrumentation is even more boring.

Overall “Rock On” is just another mediocre, generic song that country radio will force down listeners throats. It’s same song, different face. Even if you gave this song to a competent vocalist, the song still wouldn’t be appealing. You know you’re listening to a bad song when three and a half minutes feels like five minutes. I can see this song appealing to fans of Brantley Gilbert and other country artists who churn out rock trying to be country. Otherwise I think once the On The Verge push stops, this song will sink like a rock. Then again Chase Bryant and Lee Brice still manage to find airplay. As long as you’re willing to play the game with country radio, your song will get played. I think a better name for “Rock On” would “Turn Off,” as about 30 seconds of this song will make you want to do the latter.

Grade: 2/10

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

Review – Drake White’s “Livin’ The Dream”

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

If there’s one mainstream male country artist I’ve heard an awful lot of good things about, it’s Drake White. He and his band, The Big Fire, have been garnering attention from people for their fusion of country and southern rock. In fact, I’ve even seen people compare Drake’s sound to early Zac Brown Band (who Drake is coincidentally opening up for on Zac’s “Jekyll + Hyde” tour). That’s one hell of a compliment and something Drake should be honored to hear. I feel that his first single, “The Simple Life”, released on Dot Records way back in 2013 lived up to that comparison. It wasn’t stone cold country by any means, but it featured a great modern sound backed by fiddles. The only thing holding it back was the lyrics. They weren’t bad by any means, but the overall theme they connected to felt cliché. His second single, “It Feels Good” featured a different sound from his debut. I didn’t personally care for it, but it’s hard to argue that the song wasn’t at least different from the rest of what the mainstream offered at the time, so once again the sound gets a pass. However, this song was also lacking in the lyrical department, portraying a theme of living a simple, lazy life and kicking back. Notice a pattern so far? His third single for Dot Records, “Livin’ The Dream” is another song that falls into the category of having an agreeable sound matched with lackluster lyrics.

“Livin’ The Dream” starts off fine with some light guitar play and drums. However, other than the crescendo in the chorus, it doesn’t really move beyond this, making for an agreeable, albeit bland sound. As I noted before, one of the great things about Drake’s first two singles have been that they each featured a unique sound. I find the sound of “Livin’ The Dream” more pleasing than the weird sound of “It Feels Good”, however it’s only something that’s “ok” rather than “good.”

As you already might have guessed, the lyrics of “Livin’ The Dream” are nothing to write home about either. Much like his first two singles, this song revolves around a theme of being happy with the things you have and being content with a simple life. There’s nothing offensive about the lyrics here, they just don’t go anywhere. For the record, the song was written by Jaren Johnston, Tom Douglas, and Luke Laird. The first verse alludes to some trouble within a relationship between a man and a woman (“love don’t live around here much lately”), as well as some troubles making it financially. This is a great starting point for a story, at least it would have been. The rest of the song pretty much says the same thing over and over again. Life sucks and we don’t need a lot. It’s essentially Zac Brown Band’s “Homegrown” without the lively production. The song also panders a heck of a lot. Take a look at the last verse:

Look at us, we got a life out here, outlaws, in-laws, coolers of beer, spot on the wall to hang last year’s deer, now ain’t we living the dream. Red white and blue flag hanging, kids in the back just a tire swinging, fireworks booming and banging, now ain’t we living the dream

Mention of outlaws? Check. Alcohol? Check-a-mundo. Reference to hunting and America? You betcha. *Sigh*…… You really can’t even get mad at this stuff anymore. In addition to these checklist items there’s also a mention of an old truck with a dog in the back and a namedrop of a famous dead country legend (this one being Keith Whitley). What’s more is that this song is sung in a fast paced rhythm which makes Drake sound as if he’s just trying to rush through the song. It’s not rapping, but the fast paced rhythm makes it hard to really get into this.

Look, I think Drake White has a ton of talent. His band seems to be composed of actual musicians, and Drake himself has a pretty solid voice. But for the third time in a row Drake has delivered us a song that is merely just “there.” “Livin’ The Dream” is certainly his most mainstream sounding effort, meaning it looks poised to make Drake break out. Thankfully there’s no R&B sounds present here (hey, little victories guys….), but all that really does is save this song from being bad. I don’t hate “Livin’ The Dream”, but there’s plenty of better options out there.

Grade: 5/10