Album Review – Mickey Guyton’s Self-Titled EP Once Again Reaffirms Her Great Talent

Mickey Guyton EP

Anyone who follows Country Perspective knows that I’m a big proponent of Mickey Guyton. I was immediately impressed with her last fall when I listened to and reviewed her single “Better Than You Left Me.” It was refreshing to hear, not just a great country sounding song, but a beautiful voice like Guyton’s. In the early part of 2015, “Better Than You Left Me” started to get a lot of attention and rise up the airplay charts. I thought that country music was finally recognizing this talented artist, but unfortunately the song has yet to crack the top 30. One good piece of news for Guyton though was Brad Paisley choosing her to open for him on his tour this summer. I may not like all of Paisley’s music lately, but choosing Guyton for his tour was a very good move and will undoubtedly raise the stature of Guyton. Even better news was Guyton recently releasing a self-titled EP with three songs. While I would’ve loved a new full album, I’m sure we’ll get it in due time. For now though I gave a listen to her new EP and she continues to prove she’s the real deal. Since this is such a short EP, I’m going to grade each song individually…

“Why Baby Why” – The first track on the EP is similar to the theme of “Better Than You Left Me.” The woman in the song is trying to move on from a relationship, but she can’t shake his memory and he just won’t let her move on. It’s a feeling many go through when getting out of a meaningful relationship. Guyton’s voice is great as always and for those few who thought she over sung on “Better Than You Left Me,” I think her voice sounds better controlled here, allowing it to come out as more powerful and projecting. The production is well-arranged and I like the sweeping piano that interludes throughout it. This is a pretty good love ballad that probably won’t be a single, but quite enjoyable for fans of Guyton. Grade: 9/10

“Somebody Else Will” – This song definitely has a more pop-y arrangement, but there’s a palpable country sound too. So this is pop country that is done well. “Somebody Else Will” is about a man not loving a woman enough and her friend telling her that if he doesn’t love her like he should then someone else will come along and do so. The song has a very uplifting feel that empowers women to stand up in relationships that aren’t working out. The beat of the song is quite catchy, as well as the lyrics. This song kind of reminds me of a song Carrie Underwood would do, which makes sense considering Guyton has a powerful voice like Underwood. While I don’t love this song as much as “Why Baby Why,” I enjoy it and could be the next single for Guyton. Grade: 8.5/10

“Pretty Little Mustang” – Just like “Somebody Else Will,” “Pretty Little Mustang” has a pop/rock country arrangement. The song is about empowering a woman to be who she is and not be afraid to put herself out there. The lyrics are a tad lightweight, but it’s very catchy and the theme has a good message. I was a little worried when I first started listening to this song that it would be overproduced, but it avoids this pitfall. The electric guitar interlude in the bridge is a nice touch and gives it a good climax point. If you gave this song to an average female vocalist, this song wouldn’t come across nearly as good. But Guyton’s top-notch vocals bring it to another level and is the mark of a talented artist. I think this song could also be a future single for Guyton and may be the best suited to get her significant airplay. Songs like this usually bore me, but as I said Guyton’s talent makes it a quality song. Grade: 8/10

“Better Than You Left Me” – For those who didn’t read my review on this song last fall, here’s a snippet of it: “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). Grade: 9/10

This self-titled EP from Mickey Guyton, while short in quantity, is large in quality. In each song Guyton’s voice shines and is front and center. This is how it should be on all of her songs, as you simply don’t hide this kind of voice behind the instrumentation. The songwriting is pretty good, but I definitely think it could be even better for her full album. I would love to see Guyton tackle some really deep material, especially heartbreak ballads as her voice has the emotion to really connect with listeners. If I had to give advice to her label, I would tell them to look at Carrie Underwood’s trajectory because I believe Guyton is at the same level of talent as her and could be as big as her. In a time when radio is lacking female artists, they have one right in front of them in Guyton who should be a consistent presence on the radio. I definitely recommend checking out this EP. It’s one of my favorite releases from mainstream country in 2015 and I can’t wait to hear more new music from Mickey Guyton.

Album Review – Karen Jonas’ Oklahoma Lottery Leaves Me Near Speechless

karenjonasmusic.com

Country Perspective didn’t come into existence until late May 2014. This means there was a lot of great country music released before then we had to catch up with, along with keeping up with all of the other country music being released at the moment. It’s impossible of course to cover everything released. So as we reach the end of another year, I went back and looked at all of the albums that were released that have not yet been covered here on Country Perspective. This is probably going to be the last review I do this year because I’ll be focusing on the year-end awards here. I went back and forth on which album I should review, but the one I kept coming back to was Karen Jonas’ Oklahoma Lottery. Several of the fellow critics I respect have given this album high praise and I was eager to give it a listen to see if it meets these high expectations. Does it meet these expectations? No. It exceeds them!

If you have not listened to this album yet, do yourself a favor. Go buy it and listen to it. This is one of the best albums in country music this year. The album starts off with “Suicide Sal,” a song about a girl named Suicide Sal who’s on the lam for committing a crime she didn’t commit. It’s a catchy song with an interesting story you need to really hear for yourself. Jonas’ vocals are great and draws the listener into the album quite easily. This is followed by “Get Out of My Head.” It’s a song about a woman trying to get her ex out of her head. She’s doing everything she can to get rid of his memory, but she can’t shake him. Jonas’ raw vocals create that conflicted emotion of a woman who can’t shake love, but yet doesn’t want to. This is true artistry.

The album’s title track is the best song on the album and one of the best country songs of 2014. I can’t do the song justice with words. It’s so damn fantastic in every single element. Just listen for yourself:

 

One of the more fast paced songs on the album, “Money” is about how money isn’t everything and that it can’t get what you really want in life. It has a similar vibe to Sturgill Simpson’s “Life Ain’t Fair and the World is Mean.” The messages of both are the same: the world sucks and you may have to sacrifice a lot of money to be happy. “Thinkin’ of You Again” is a slow and sultry feeling love song about a woman who can’t stop thinking about a man who was in her life. She’s done a lot since moving on from him and been with a lot of other men, trying to shake her memory of him. Yet she can’t stop thinking of him. Again Jonas does a great job conveying the conflicted emotion in the song.

“I Never Learn” is about a woman who continues to be fooled by men who only use her and then leave her, but she continues to not learn from this situation that continues to happen to her over and over again. There is some damn solid instrumentation in this song. Jonas takes a more bluesy approach with “Lucky.” This is a song about luck in life. The woman in the song recounts moments through her life where she lucky and unlucky as she’s playing poker. Jonas’ vocals are perfect in this song.

As I listened to the final three songs on this album, (“Steppin’ on Your Toes,” “The River Song” and “White Trash Romance”) I became speechless. I felt it was unnecessary to continue to repeat over and over again how great the songs are. So I’ll just say this once about the final three songs: they’re great vocal wise, instrumentation wise and each bring something different to the table. And you know me. I’m rarely at a loss of words.

If there was something bad about this album or any album, I would point it out with hesitation. When it comes to Oklahoma Lottery though, I just can’t find anything wrong. I mean if you’re really nitpicking you could say it’s too raw at times, but I think the rawness adds another layer to the album. Really it enhances it and makes the more emotional songs stand out. I find it very hard for anyone who likes traditional country music to not like this album. Karen Jonas is truly breaking out with this album and I am very eager to hear her next album. You can’t do much better for a debut album. Expect to see Jonas’ name a lot in Country Perspective’s year-end awards list of nominees. Oklahoma Lottery comes with my highest recommendation.

Grade: 10/10

Review: Carrie Underwood’s “Something in the Water”

I distinctly remember the first time I ever heard Carrie Underwood sing. It was back when I was watching American Idol (that was a long time ago) and I heard her audition for the show. Soon as she was done singing I knew I had just heard a future star and I knew she was going to win the show that year without a doubt. Her powerful and dynamic voice, plus her charming looks make record executives see money falling from the skies. Her first record, Some Hearts, she put out was quite good and decidedly country. It was on the second album, Carnival Ride, when she really took off and became a huge star. Unfortunately when artists become big stars they lose their original sound as it starts to drift to whatever is popular in the mainstream at the moment. This is what has happened to Underwood as her music has become decidedly more pop sounding and less country sounding. Not only that, but the songwriting and themes have gotten progressively worse. I can’t listening to her songs like “Cowboy Casanova,” “Undo It,” “See You Again” and “Blown Away.” To me these songs are not a true representation of Underwood’s incredible talent, which is her fantastic voice. And then she made the horrible decision of teaming up with Miranda Lambert on “Somethin’ Bad,” although I understand the reason they did it. Women are struggling to make it onto radio right now, even though Underwood has it easier than Kacey Musgraves or Brandy Clark. So when she announced she’s releasing a greatest hits album, along with a new single titled “Something in the Water,” I was hopeful she returned to her original sound and it sounded somewhat country.

Does she return to her original sound with this new single? Actually she does. The song is about someone feeling reborn and changed after being baptized in a river. It’s an appropriate return to a Christian theme for Underwood considering she’s releasing her greatest hits album and her first big hit was “Jesus Take The Wheel,” a decidedly Christian-themed song. It’s also appropriate with Underwood due to have her first child soon, so obviously with her deeply held religious beliefs she’s quite thankful at the moment. The songwriting is actually quite good in this song, so kudos to Underwood, Chris DeStefano and Brett James who wrote this song (thank you Windmills Country for this information). The song is definitely pop country, but at least there’s a banjo present in the song mixed in with the contemporary sounding pop/rock sound you hear in modern country songs. So at least this isn’t a straight pop song. The energy and pace of this song is fast and exciting, which will surely catch many listeners’ attention.

With Underwood being one of the very few female country artists with enough star power to be a hit on radio and have crossover appeal, I understand why she doesn’t release straight country music. It isn’t marketable enough for her label or brand, aka not enough money. So all I ask from Underwood with her music now is to at least sound pop country, have good songwriting and most importantly let her voice shine front and center. I think “Something in the Water” hits all of these points, so this is the best you can expect from Underwood considering the situation she is in. Someday she’ll make a straight country album and it’ll be great, but that’s many years down the road when Underwood is older and her star power fades. Her vocals were absolutely stellar on this single and wasn’t overshadowed by the production, which was a little overproduced, but didn’t overshadow the vocals. I think it has a great chance of being a top ten song that gets a lot of radio play.

I’m glad Underwood went back to a theme that represents her and she’s allowing her vocals do the heavy lifting in the song. If you don’t like pop country, you won’t like this song. If you can appreciate well written pop country and Underwood’s amazing vocals, you’ll enjoy this song.

Grade: 8/10

Five Great Country Songs By Female Artists in 2014

In the past couple of weeks, the most talked about topic in country music has been the bro country response songs. There have been four of these songs that have surfaced over this span. There’s Maddie & Tae’s “Girl In A Country Song,” which frowns upon and pokes fun of bro country songs. Then there’s Maggie Rose’s “Girl In Your Truck Song,” which prompted a rant from yours truly. And don’t forget RaeLynn’s “God Made Girls,” which also made me hot under the collar. This has also brought up back up the ongoing debate within country music about the portrayal and representation of females in country music. I find that Rose and RaeLynn are hurting the cause for more female country artists in the genre and getting more radio time for women with their latest singles. Luckily there are some female country artists that are doing it right and making quality music. These ladies are making songs that are helping the cause and advancing the genre forward. I present to you five great songs by female country artists in 2014 (in no particular order)…

1. Lee Ann Womack’s “The Way I’m Livin'” 

You will be able to tell right away that “The Way I’m Livin’” is an acoustic song rooted in the traditions of country music. This song is a traditional country song without a doubt, but it feels fresh and new still. This is the kind of sound all country artists need to be striving for, which is honoring tradition and brining new elements in to make it fresh. The song itself is about a woman living a life of sin. This sin is brought into the woman’s life by a man who offers her a drink and would later represent the “devil” ruining her life. Even though the woman knows she is living the life of sin, it’s just feels too right to give it up. Yet she seems to pleads to her mom for help. The emotion of the song is split between desperation and satisfaction and the songwriting perfectly gets this across. One of the best lines in the song is: “You know I’d change if I could/But being bad it feels so good.” Adam Wright’s writing is fantastic.

 

2. First Aid Kit’s “Cedar Lane” 

“Cedar Lane” is one of the softer tracks on Stay Gold. It’s a song about reflecting on past love and hoping that love returns again. “Cedar Lane” is the deepest song on the album and what really makes it one of the standouts is how the little things all come together. Everything is cohesive and paints a picture in the listener’s head, while also evoking that same emotion from them.

3. Kacey Musgraves’ “The Trailer Song”

Musgravess sassy attitude is front and center in “The Trailer Song.” It’s about living next to a nosy, judgmental neighbor and how she should basically just mind her own damn business. I think we can all relate to this. The attitude of this song is established right off the bat with the first line: “Say you’re watching the birds out the window/Well I got a bird you can watch.” Funny and poignant! This is like Musgrave’s “Follow Your Arrow” meeting Pistol Annies’ “Hush Hush” and throwing in even more attitude.

4. Sunny Sweeney’s “Bad Girl Phase”

“Bad Girl Phase” is a good example of what a bra country song should be. This song is essentially about being a powerful woman and not taking shit from anybody. The woman in this song isn’t some girl sitting on the tailgate by the river bank, doing whatever he wants to do and basically being portrayed as a bimbo puppet. No, this is a woman who does what she wants, when she wants and isn’t anybody’s girl. And it’s the kind of powerful woman song that doesn’t have “violent towards men” themes, like Lambert and Underwood seem to have in many of their songs. This is the kind of song that country music needs right now.

5. Lucy Hale’s “My Little Black Wedding Dress”

“My Little Black Wedding Dress” is a song about a woman always being the bridesmaid and never being the bride. This song has a lot of depth and symbolism in the lyrics. The woman talks about her black dress “fits like a glove” and how she wishes it were white instead of black. The choice of an organ in this song is great and gives it more of a country feel than the rest of the album. “My Little Black Wedding Dress” is an all-around great song that is relatable to many women.