Album Review — The Cadillac Three’s ‘COUNTRY FUZZ’

The Cadillac Three is a group I haven’t exactly embraced in the past. They were an easy target when they arrived on the scene amid the bro country era, especially being on a label like Big Machine that really pushed the sub-genre. But in hindsight I realized I was probably way too harsh on Jaren Johnston, Neil Mason, and Kelby Ray. I feel looking back that I didn’t view them objectively enough. So, I looked back through their discography and while they won’t be competing with Blackberry Smoke for the best modern country rock, I’ve realized this is a fun group that hits more than they miss. And on their newest album COUNTRY FUZZ, I think they’ve managed to put out their best album yet.

Opening track “Bar Round Here” is a feel-good bar anthem that’s easy to singalong with. It’s a fun song that hits just right at the end of a long work week. Also, it’s surprising to see Lori McKenna as a co-writer on this track, as this isn’t the type of song you’re used to seeing her pen. “The Jam” is another fun song that is a blast to both sing to and move to. It also shows off a funkier side of the group and it actually suits them well. The rhythmic guitars in juxtaposition with the bouncy drums helps this song easily live up to its name.

“Hard Out Here for a Country Boy” is a song on paper I wouldn’t enjoy, as the whole “I’m a country boy” theme is done to death in the genre. But the charisma of the trio along with guests Travis Tritt and Chris Janson makes the song instantly likeable and makes this common theme surprisingly work for me. It also helps that the sound is decidedly country with some well-placed crunchy harmonicas in the bridge. “Slow Rollin’” can feel a bit “butt rock-ish” at first, but upon repeat listens it’s really grown on me thanks to the song’s heavy guitar tones and it’s catchy lyrics.

“All the Makin’s of a Saturday Night” is one of my least favorite tracks on the album, as the group fails this time to make a well-worn theme work for me. The instrumentation just isn’t fun enough nor does it stand out. The lyrics aren’t really catchy either and the song is just too thin to really sink your teeth into. “Crackin’ Cold Ones with the Boys” is one of my favorites, as the group once again nails those heavy guitar tones that give the song both a head-bobbing quality and a sense of excitement. The hook is memorable too.

“Labels” is one of the more serious moments on the album, as the song is about not judging people by their looks and how there’s always more than meets the eye. While I would have liked for them to go a little bit deeper within the topic, it’s still an admirable message and they also still manage to put in some enjoyable guitar licks. “Raise Hell” is about coming to the realization of being a troublemaker, but also learning lessons from the years of raising hell. I particularly enjoy the funny line of “If me and the big man are on the outs then I guess I understand.” This song really highlights what I’ve realized is the secret sauce of this group and that’s their presentation and delivery. Their lyrics aren’t competing with Isbell anytime soon and their country rock sound isn’t unique. But they present it in a way that doesn’t take itself too seriously and is ultimately trying to just create a good time for the listener.

“Back Home” is about yearning to return to the sights and sounds of home. Again, this is a well-trodden theme of country music that I think The Cadillac Three manage to present as catchy, authentic and relatable to the average listener. Although I wouldn’t begrudge you for finding it a bit repetitive either. “Dirt Road Nights” is a slow, R&B-influenced jam about a couple getting nostalgic about cruising the backroads in their younger years. I like the theme, but I would have liked a little more “meat” to the story of the song to feel more connected to it. A little less repetitive and a little more background on the relationship the song focuses on.

“Blue El Camino” is everything you want in a country rock song: loud, in-your-face guitars that get you moving and an instantly catchy hook you’ll find humming to yourself long after listening to it. When I say want to hear more fun songs in country music again, this is it. “Jack Daniels’ Heart” is another song that’s a blast with it’s clever premise of pondering who was the girl who broke the heart of the famous whiskey maker. But it doesn’t matter as the song explains because the whiskey makes you forget. Throw in some great drumming from Mason that gives the song a beat with a real kick and this is again what I want out of a fun country song.

“Why Ya Gotta Go Out Like That” is a breakup song that gets a bit repetitive for my taste and at this point in the album the choice of making it 16 songs long is proving to be a stretch. I think this album would have benefitted more from knocking a few songs off it and staying closer to 12 songs in length, especially when a lot of the themes can get repetitive for some listeners. “Heat” is one of my favorites on this album with its swampy and smoky feel. I also love how Johnston delivers the hook with passion and authority, inviting the listener to want to shout along.

“Whiskey and Smoke” falls in the same category of “Why Ya Gotta Go Out Like That”; not necessarily a bad song, but unnecessary on an album at 16 songs that has other songs that cover the topic at hand much better. “Long After Last Call” is a softer love ballad that closes out the album. It’s a great choice for a closer due to its reflective, easy nature. It’s also a fitting conclusion that after all the fun and party throughout the album it ends with finding and cherishing that meaningful connection you want to keep going long after the party ends.

Fun is a word I repeat over and over in this review. And it’s for good reason: that’s the ultimate appeal of The Cadillac Three and their album COUNTRY FUZZ. It’s entertaining country rock that aims to help you have a good time and forget your worries. The lyrics aren’t deep, and they aren’t meant to be; they’re meant to singalong with and have fun. So while this album may not be one for the record books or album of the year lists, it is an album that entertains and it’s exactly what you’re looking for when you just want to listen to something with loud guitars and big hooks.

Grade: 8/10

Review – Jake Owen’s “American Country Love Song”

Jake Owen Generic Country Love Song

Are you even trying anymore, Jake? I ask this half in jest, but half me is serious when asking this question. It’s well-known of course that Jake Owen made his bread and butter on summer, party songs. “Barefoot Blue Jean Night” and “Beachin'” is what put Owen on the radar for several country music fans and took his stardom to another level. But after all of this success he started talking about making more quality music and he appeared to put his money where his mouth was when he released “What We Ain’t Got” as a single. It was critically acclaimed, yet didn’t do much at radio and didn’t really sell well either. So obviously he went back to the cliché well and released “Real Life” as a single. Not only did I rip it apart, but it bombed even worse than “What We Ain’t Got” at radio. So after two singles failed to perform to expectations at radio, Owen returns with a new single, “American Country Love Song.”

If you took one look at the title and rolled your eyes, I don’t blame you. Written by Ross Copperman, Ashley Gorley and Jaren Johnston, “American Country Love Song” is about as predictable as it sounds. There’s really no theme to the song. It’s a giant checklist song about America, summer and every other cliché that country radio has beat us over the head with over the last five to seven years. There’s Daytona Beach, pretty girls, blue eyes, trucks, American flags, fireworks and other summer-y themes throughout the song. The best way to describe this song is Kenny Chesney’s “American Kids” meets Owen’s previous mega-hit “Barefoot Blue Jean Night,” minus the catchy instrumentation of those two songs. Those other songs weren’t much better in avoiding typical country clichés, but the instrumentation made it okay. The instrumentation on this song simmers somewhere between half-baked and safe. Whatever you want to call it, I would say it’s boring and uninteresting. Oh and Owen is still doing spoken word. I don’t feel like rehashing why this is terrible, but if you want to see why just read this review.

Jake Owen is set to release a new album sometime this year and based off the first two singles, I’m not really looking forward to it. The goodwill he built up with me when he released “What We Ain’t Got” as a single has long evaporated and at this point in time I view his music as a big waste of time. Keep in mind this is not on commentary on him as a person, but solely as an artist and the outputting of his music. Owen had a chance to lead the way in bringing back substance to country radio, but instead he would rather play it safe and go for hits. “American Country Love Song” is perfect for you…if you happen to be Walmart or another corporation looking for a generic country song for an upcoming summer commercial. In fact that should have been the title of this single: “Generic Country Love Song.”

Grade: 3/10

Review – Frankie Ballard’s “It All Started With A Beer”

Frankie Ballard It All Started With A Beer

I feel like we haven’t heard from Frankie Ballard in ages. It probably has to do with the fact that’s he has been pretty quiet throughout 2015. The only single he’s released this year has been “Young & Crazy.” As Derek said in his review of the song, it does more right than wrong and it was a pretty decent song. It’s certainly better than a lot of singles at country radio. It performed well on the airplay chart, as it reached #1 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart. So despite being under-the-radar, Ballard has done well. But he’s now back with a new single, “It All Started With A Beer.” Hints started dropping about it weeks back in Country Aircheck Weekly and now it’s starting to go for airplay at radio. And once again Ballard gives us something more than the rest in mainstream country music.

Right away an acoustic guitar sets the tone of the song. It’s mid-tempo and has a hazy feeling, but in a good feeling. This fits the theme well, as the song is about a man recalling how he met his wife in a bar. He remembers exactly what they were drinking and how he picked up the tab, as a girl like her made him want to do this despite not having much money. Their relationship all started with a beer and now they’ve been together for years, going through all kinds of highs and lows together. This song depends a lot on the nostalgia factor when it comes to the listener. For some they will immediately connect with it, while others may find the song a little bit lacking. I was kind of hoping the lyrics would go just a little deeper (song written by Jaren Johnston, Neil Mason and Jeremy Stover), but as is they’re good enough and grow on you a little bit as you listen to it more. The instrumentation is well done, as a combination of steel guitar and acoustic guitar make for a great and decidedly country sound.

While I thought “Young & Crazy” was decent, I think “It All Started With A Beer” is a little better even. Love ballads suit Frankie Ballard well and I think this single shows he should do more. Really it’s a glimpse that perhaps he can go deeper overall with his music. This is the first single off of his new, upcoming album and I have to say this is a pretty solid start. I’m assuming it’s going to come out sometime in 2016, but so far there has been no official word from him or Warner Music Nashville. I think “It All Started With A Beer” will do great at radio and many listeners will be able to connect with it, ensuring it will reach #1 most likely. I give it a light recommendation to check it out. Frankie Ballard continues to head in the right direction with this single.

Grade: 7/10

Review – The Cadillac Three’s “White Lightning”

The Cadillac Three White Lightning

When it comes to American country rock/southern rock trio, The Cadillac Three, I’ve really never formed a solid opinion on them. They certainly exhibit a penchant for rock driven country songs and I can tell they have potential to produce good music. There’s a reason Scott Borchetta signed them to Big Machine Records. So far though the two singles they released previously haven’t showcased the band’s talents. The first single released in 2013 was “The South” which featured guests Dierks Bentley, Florida Georgia Line and Mike Eli of The Eli Young Band. It was a hodgepodge of a song that really didn’t stand out to me. The other single they released last year and it was called “Party Like You.” In Derek’s review of it last year, he summed the single up perfectly, saying it had “shallow, generic lyrics over great instrumentation.” This has summed up the career of The Cadillac Three so far for me. So they just released their third single, “White Lightning,” and they now have another chance to sway my mind. Does the trio of Jaren Johnston, Kelby Ray and Neil Mason impress me this time?

Well….it’s an improvement I guess. The instrumentation is once again pretty good, as they stick to their rock country sound. It’s their sound and they know how to do it. The guitar play in the bridge is solid and I wish this could have been highlighted more in the song. As for the lyrics, they’re pretty basic once again. I’ll say this: at least they aren’t generic party lyrics like last time. Instead they’re just a bunch of clichés about the south repeated over and over. The song starts out with the following line, “she stole my heart.” Okay, so it’s a love song. Now let’s hear about the actual relationship. That should be the natural progression in this type of song, no? Instead we get four lines about clichés from the south that start out each line with “Faster than…” Then the line “Ooh, I saw white lightning” is repeated twice. This is followed by four more clichés. Then the white lightning line again is repeated twice, followed by four more cliché lines. The white lightning line is repeated twice again This is followed by some garbled lines about love and a cliché about moonshine. Then once more the white lightning line is repeated. That’s the song. That’s it. If you don’t believe me, take a look. For crying out loud, can you get any more bare bones songwriting than this? This song says absolutely nothing. It can’t even suck because there isn’t even enough lines to it for it to suck. All they did was insert twelve southern clichés after the phrase “Faster than…” It’s Mad Libs songwriting! Just fill in the blank and you have a song. How am I supposed to connect with this song? Why should I even care about it? It gives me no reasons whatsoever to listen to it.

Elevator music is more interesting than “White Lightning.” I only say this is an improvement over the previous single “Party Like You” because this song is barely anything at all, whereas “Party Like You” was another annoying bro country, party song. I don’t think you could possibly concoct a safer song than “White Lightning.” It’s boring, vanilla and takes absolutely no chances in terms of the lyrics, vocals or instrumentation. I thought A Thousand Horses’ “Smoke” was average, but this song makes it sound exciting. If you want the real “White Lightning,” click here and listen to George Jones show you how it’s done. The Cadillac Three’s “White Lightning” is lazy, formulaic songwriting at it’s finest. I don’t even have a thought on whether to recommend it or not. I’m going to go listen to something that’s interesting, so I can wake myself up after this song nearly made me fall into a nap.

Grade: 3.5/10

Review – Billy Currington’s “Don’t It”

Billy Currington Don't It

The career of Billy Currington certainly hasn’t been spectacular, but he’s an artist that has managed to consistently have a good presence in mainstream country music for over a decade. Currington has racked up a total of eight number one singles and four top five country albums. I know a lot of artist who would take that career in a heartbeat. As far as his quality of music, it was much better early in his career compared to his recent outputs. His best song, in my opinion, is “Good Directions,” which came out way back in 2006. It tells a simple love story and the production is decidedly country. I still can’t believe Luke Bryan was a co-writer on that song. Currington’s recent outputs haven’t been as good as mentioned, particular his dips into the bro country trend (“Pretty Good at Drinkin’ Beer” and “Hey Girl”). So I didn’t know what to think of “Don’t It” before hearing it for the first time.

Granted my first listen came months ago, as I first heard it when it broke into the top 30 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart. But I didn’t expect it to do much, so I didn’t plan on reviewing it. Of course I was wrong because it’s now in the top ten of the chart and here I am reviewing it. By the way I also get this song confused with a previous single of his “Don’t,” due to the similar track names. Couldn’t have come up with something more creative? Nevertheless let’s take a look at “Don’t It.” Right away you can tell this is another upbeat, not too serious song you can add to the list of party/fun songs populating country radio right now. The pop, rock instrumentation is nothing special and is the standard for most of mainstream country’s singles nowadays. Some might point out there is a banjo, but it doesn’t matter. It was just thrown in at the last second.

While the instrumentation and production are quite bland, the lyrics are even worse. They’re not offensive, it’s just they’re so bro country. It’s just another song about drinking, partying and hooking up with a girl. This is just same shit, different song. Just look at the chorus:

Good time we can get on it
Take a shot or you can sip on it
Find a floor and we can dance on it, slow song it
Far as I can tell that finger ain’t got no ring on it
Come on baby, bring on it
It’s one of those stars fallin’, love callin’
Get ya feelin’ all right nights
Sounds good, don’t it, don’t it
Every little thing you got, you know that I want it, want it
Sounds pretty good now don’t it

I will give the chorus one piece of credit: at least the guy in the song checks to see if the woman is married before pursuing her. You don’t get that chivalry in a Florida Georgia Line song. This is the only good thing about the chorus though as the rest is just derivative, check list bullshit. Look how many times “it” is rhymed with itself! How much lazier can songwriting get? The writers of this song, Ross Copperman, Ashley Gorley and Jaren Johnston, pretty much mailed it in on this one. There is absolutely no point to this song.

Currington is capable of so much more, but once again he elects for a boring party song catered towards radio. Is it pretty much beyond hope at this point for Currington to release something decent again? I want to say yes. Radio is rewarding him for this pointless song, so I guess there’s no incentive for him to stop churning out these type of songs. It will reach #1, go recurrent and then we get another rehash of this on the next single as the vicious cycle repeats itself. The creative well is not just dry on Music Row, it’s a damn dry gulch. It’s a wasteland of garbage and I’m waiting for someone to finally stand up and address this ongoing problem. “Don’t It” is most definitely part of the problem. I do not recommend listening to this song at all.

Grade: 3/10