Album Review — Kenny Chesney’s ‘Songs For The Saints’

[Editors note: This post originally appeared in Aug. 2018 on Fusion Country and is appearing as it was originally published. It’s being reposted here for reader visibility. It’s also one of the best releases of Kenny Chesney’s career, so it’s an album I definitely recommend.]

I have to be honest. I did not see myself chomping at the bit to discuss new Kenny Chesney music in the year 2018. Take it back two years ago when Chesney released Cosmic Hallelujah, an album I absolutely ripped to shreds for its lazy and uninspiring content. I remember declaring that Chesney would have to make one hell of a turn around to get me to ever take him seriously again. And well here we are, as Chesney delivers one of the most surprising albums I’ve heard this year in Songs For The Saints.

It’s important to know this album is inspired by and revolves around the Virgin Islands and the destruction caused by Hurricane Irma on the islands in 2017. Chesney has a home on one of the islands, Saint John, and felt compelled to give back to a place that’s meant a lot to him. Not only is this album about the islands, but all proceeds for the albums are being donated to relief funds that help rebuild the islands. It’s an incredibly classy and heartfelt move by Chesney and his label. While Chesney’s legacy is defined by beach and island songs at this point, I don’t think I’ve heard this much passion and drive from Chesney in his music in years. His beach music is usually on the casual/party side, but this is the most mature take he’s ever done on this sub-genre of country music.

The album’s opening and title track is a direct ode to the islands. The saints in this song refer to each island, as they were each named after a saint. It’s the perfect opener, as it establishes what this album is all about and that’s the people of the islands, who clearly mean a lot to Chesney. “Every Heart” is a soft and sentimental song about the general struggle everyone shares in life. It’s a little sweet, but a nice message. I really enjoy the little touches in instrumentation in this song, particularly the bouzouki and organ. The lead single of the album, “Get Along”, is my least favorite track of the album. While I can appreciate the message of peace and happiness, I still don’t like the “buy a boat” line in the song. It’s just so consumeristic, although it doesn’t sound as bad I guess in the context of the rest of the album and can be interpreted as more of a throwaway line rather than some subliminal message.

Chesney has recorded several pirate-themed songs over the years, but “Pirate Song” is his best take on the theme yet. I particularly enjoy the details Chesney goes into as he fantasizes the life of a pirate sailing the open seas. By setting the scene well, you as the listener can really picture the life being painted in the song. This is what makes atmospheric songs work. Chesney collaborates with Ziggy Marley on the reggae-influenced “Love for Love City.” Love City is the nickname for St. John, Chesney’s home in the islands. Chesney and Marley sing of the people coming together in good times and need, highlighting the tight-knit nature of the communities on the islands no matter the situation. It’s a peaceful and easy-going song that makes you feel good in many ways.

I thought Carrie Underwood and Ludacris would be the most unlikely collaboration of the year, but Kenny Chesney and Lord Huron top it. Chesney covers the indie rock group’s “Ends of the Earth” and it’s one of my favorite tracks on the album. The song is about the endless thirst for adventure and exploring the unknown. The soaring, spacey production of the song is immediately infectious and memorable. This has my vote for a future single. “Gulf Moon” is another standout on Songs For The Saints. The John Baumann-penned song gives you a look inside a little town along the gulf coast and the lives of the people who inhabit it. The storytelling in this song is absolutely great, as the little details of the surroundings and the people put you right there in the town with them. It’s great to see Chesney give an artist like Baumann a spot on this album and for Chesney it’s a legacy-type song.

“Island Rain” is about the relief and therapeutic attribute of an island rain. It goes on to relate it to general relief from an uncomfortable situation in everyday life. It’s yet another song on this album that does such a great job of relating to the everyday person. This track is a breath of fresh air to a person having a rough day. The touches of steel drum and organ throughout add even more to this peaceful nature. Beach country’s most recognizable face Jimmy Buffett joins Chesney on a cover of Buffett’s “Trying to Reason With Hurricane Season.” The song is about the stress and anxieties of anticipating the impending hurricane season, a regular preparation for those who live in the islands and coasts. While they tire of this yearly happening, they continue to live and deal with hurricane season. It’s another good cover pick from Chesney, as it fits the theme of the album well.

The sing-a-long “We’re All Here” is about finding escapism from the troubles of everyday life, something Chesney has perfected many times in songs and does so again here. These are the kinds of simple songs that may not offer much variety, but it’s a comforting familiarity to many. The album’s closing track “Better Boat” is perhaps one of the best songs Chesney has ever recorded. Written by Travis Meadows and Liz Rose, the song is about getting better at coping with the everyday struggles and stress of life. This is likened to learning how to build a better boat, which is such an apt and fitting metaphor. Chesney is joined on the song by a wonderful vocalist in Mindy Smith, who adds another layer with her harmonies with Chesney. There’s so much heart and truth in the lyrics that you would be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t connect with this song. It’s a small reminder of what country music is all about.

Songs For The Saints will go down as one of Kenny Chesney’s best albums at the end of his career. On this album he casts away the lazy tropes and paper-thin depth that has plagued his career at times and delivers an album full of songs about love, happiness and finding peace after destruction. This album’s biggest strength is its songwriting, as it’s rooted in a place of reality of real people and places, highlighting the ups and downs of life. The production of this album is pretty good too, as it’s varied and does a wonderful job of weaving reggae, island and pop influences throughout. Kenny Chesney should be quite proud of this album, as he delivers a real gem in Songs For The Saints.

Grade: 8/10

Album Review – Little Big Town’s ‘The Breaker’

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Let’s be honest: I wasn’t exactly a fan of Little Big Town’s last album Pain Killer. I went back and re-read it. I was actually quite brutal with my remarks. Man, did I go in on the 80s rock comparisons. In my defense though these comparisons weren’t off and I can honestly say I only remember two songs from that album, “Day Drinking” and “Girl Crush.” The latter of course went on to become Little Big Town’s biggest hit yet and racked up tons of awards. So at least the best song went on to earn the most praise. Coming into this veteran group’s new album The Breaker, I was kind of cautiously optimistic based off the Taylor Swift-penned lead single “Better Man.” But in the back of my mind I still remembered the previous album being a disappointment. After all Jay Joyce returns as producer, who was a big part of why the last album was underwhelming and forgettable. Well after listening to The Breaker, it’s definitely a step up and into the right direction for this group.

The opening song “Happy People” really establishes the overall tone and vibe of this album. It’s a very easy-going, light, roots-y type sound that permeates throughout this song and album. The song is about doing whatever floats your boat and how happy people do a lot more than unhappy people in this life. It takes a few listens, but the lyrics kind of subtly impress. It’s no surprise considering two great songwriters in Lori McKenna and Hailey Whitters wrote it. One of the more upbeat tracks on this album is “Night On Our Side.” It’s catchy, but the song itself really doesn’t have much to say and is greatly aided by the vibrant instrumentation. Moody and mellow would best describe “Lost In California.” This might be the most different song I’ve heard from Little Big Town, as this song is very much driven by tone. The song is a love ballad and features some illustrative songwriting that really paints a picture in your head, a credit to the famous troika of Hillary Lindsey, Liz Rose and McKenna. Then we have the production, which perfectly compliments it with it’s dreamy, almost hazy like feel. It might be Jay Joyce’s best work he’s ever done.

This is before we get to what I would deem the best track on the album, “Free.” I knew right away that McKenna helped write this, as it just has the markings of her best work. The song is instantly feel good, along the same lines of “Humble and Kind.” It’s about how the things we want most in life are free and some of our best qualities are free too (how we get our sense of humor from a parent, our eye color from a relative). The harmonies are also perfectly timed. This is one of Little Big Town’s best songs it’s ever released and deserves to be a single. “Drivin’ Around” is a breezy, summer song you play with the windows down as you well drive around. I enjoy how the harmonies drives this song, but I wish the production were toned back a bit to let the song be more breezy and less overbearing at times (“Rollin'” is along the same lines). Nostalgia will determine how much you love “We Went To The Beach.” Most of the time nostalgia songs usually don’t work for me, but this one does because well I can relate to the first part of the song. If you can connect with a part of the song, it’s enjoyable. If not, it’s probably just okay. I also have to say Phillip Sweet was a good choice for lead vocals here, as his voice suites the overall mood of the song.

Kimberly Schlapman takes the lead on “Beat Up Bible.” It’s about the meaning of a Bible that’s been passed down through a family. The memories it holds and the lessons learned are what make it so special, even though it’s nearly fallen apart. Usually these types of songs devolve into cliché territory quickly, but this one has heart and comes across sincerely. Schlapman is a great choice for lead vocals, as her sweeter, more restrained voice suits it. Little Big Town do a really job tackling heartbreak on “When Someone Stops Loving You.” The song explores the feelings you go through after a breakup: having to trudge through the normal routine, forced to face life without that person and a little part still hoping they come crawling back. It’s well written and Jimi Westbrook really shines on lead vocals. The album’s title track closes the album out. With Sweet on lead vocals, the song is about a man who thought he would be the man of his woman’s dreams. But he ends up turning out to be the one to break her heart in the end. I enjoy the concept of this song, but I think it would have been even better if it were a duet between the man and woman, explaining each side. It would have really added some depth, but as is it’s a decent song.

Little Big Town delivers a pretty solid album in The Breaker. It’s a nice rebound from the group and mostly a return to where this group shines: more organic, restrained, harmony driven songs. Everything on this album is a step up, most notably the songwriting. Five co-writes from Lori McKenna, along with contributions from the likes of Natalie Hemby, Liz Rose and Hailey Whitters is likely to help an album in the songwriting department. Overall I like the sonic direction this album takes and the themes explored, but I felt like if it could have been taken further this could have been a great album. It felt like some potential was left on the table, but hopefully the group stays on its current path and takes these steps on the next album. Little Big Town should be proud though of their effort on The Breaker, as I think this will be one of the best albums from mainstream country in 2017.

Grade: 7/10

 

Recommend? – Yes

Album Highlights: Free, Lost In California, When Someone Stops Loving You, Happy People, Beat Up Bible, Better Man

Bad Songs: None

Wallpaper: Don’t Die Young, Don’t Get Old; Night On Our Side


Album Review – Miranda Lambert’s ‘The Weight of These Wings’

miranda-lambert-the-weight-of-these-wings

Making a great album is a tough challenge. Making a great double album, though? You’re taking on an almost impossible task that many of the best artists can’t even pull off. I’ve made my stance on album length quite clear, with simple math telling us that the longer an album is the more chances you have of making mistakes. The biggest challenge with taking on a double album is finding enough great content to fill it up from start to finish. Most artists can’t put together 10-12 track length album because writing songs is hard. So when I heard Miranda Lambert’s new album would be a double at 24 songs long, I was worried about it. While no doubt the heartbreak and turmoil she’s experienced over the last couple years while also beginning a new chapter of her life would certainly give plenty of inspiration, I was skeptical if she could find enough for a double album. There would undoubtedly be great songs on it, but there could also be ample bad songs that could drag the good down. Not to mention I’ve lost track of how many different albums from major labels have been wrecked by bad production choices. On the flip side the names involved with the project inspires a lot of positive thinking. So with all of this in mind I dug deep into the mammoth-sized double album, The Weight of These Wings.

The album is broken into two 12 song parts, with the first part being called The Nerve and the second part being called The Heart. I’m going to review the first 12 songs together first and the second set after because this is how the album is intended to be listened. The ominous “Runnin’ Just In Case” opens it up and sets the tone for the album perfectly. Written by Lambert and Gwen Sebastian (who is part of writing some of the best songs on the album), the song is about running from the pain of love or love itself, not exactly sure of which it really is. What really captivates me is the raw emotion on display from Miranda, something that happens a lot on this album.

The decidedly upbeat “Highway Vagabond” is bound to be a future single and I’m surprised it wasn’t the follow-up to “Vice.” While the nature of the song is kind of kitschy, it’s also fun-loving and doesn’t take itself seriously, which is why I think many have already gravitated towards it. The album’s second single “We Should Be Friends” is another upbeat song, which Lambert wrote entirely herself. It’s a clever song about Lambert identifying who she has a friend in, from the frankly honest to the heartbroken. She keeps the song simple and it works. I’m not sure if country radio will get behind it though. I have to say I’m glad there are some upbeat songs on this double album because if it were just entirely heartbreak and dark songs it would be a draining listen. Also by having some lighter songs it acts as a great contrast and helps the darker songs stand out even more.

Lambert sings of helping a friend get out of a bad relationship in “Getaway Driver.” Written with Hemby and her boyfriend/Americana artist Anderson East, it’s a somber Bonnie & Clyde type song. Instead of gleefully riding into the sunset guns a blazing like in the movies, we get something real. Lambert duets with East on “Pushin’ Time.” It’s a song about falling in love, which I imagine is based on these two falling in love. Even if you had no clue these two were together when you listen to this song, you can feel the genuineness and love shine through in every aspect of the song. The steel guitar work by Spencer Cullum goes fantastically with the lyrics. This is hands-down one of the best songs of the album.

The Muscle Shoals-influenced “Covered Wagon” is one of those feel good songs that’s easy to sing along with. “Ugly Lights” sees Lambert incorporating a garage country like sound that Aubrie Sellers really brought to light with her debut album. It really suits both Lambert and the song, which is a sort of gritty and dark tune about hiding in a bar with your broken heart. The lyrics do an even better job of capturing this feeling, which doesn’t surprise me considering Lambert wrote it with Natalie Hemby and Liz Rose. The bluegrass-tinged “You Wouldn’t Know Me” speaks to the truth of not knowing a person just by asking them how they’re doing. A person can change everyday, so you really don’t know someone. It’s one of the simpler, more overlooked songs of the album, but it’s definitely one of my favorites on The Nerve.

There’s a couple of songs on The Nerve that get away from this simplicity and make things too complicated. “Smoking Jacket” is a straight up sex song. This itself isn’t bad; I’m just calling a spade a spade. What else can be gleaned from the line, “every night he makes his magic on me”? That being said this song just doesn’t do much for me, perhaps due to it being too long. One of my least favorites of the album and the worst on The Nerve is “Pink Sunglasses.” The production on this song is just way overdone and self-indulgent. Not to mention the song feels like it drags. It feels like six minutes when it’s only four. This all takes away from the theme of the song, which centers on the sentimental value and confidence one can gain from simple objects.

The final track of The Nerve is “Use My Heart,” which serves as the perfect transition into The Heart. The reason being is the song revolves around the phrase of “I don’t have the nerve to use my heart.” To boot it’s a great song, as Lambert sings of dealing with the inner demons of trying to move on and reconcile with what has happened. Lambert wrote the song with Ashley Monroe and Waylon Payne. I point this out because this is one of two songs this specific troika wrote on the album and both songs are excellent.

Kicking off The Heart is “Tin Man,” probably the most heartbreaking song of the album. It’s about Lambert and the tin man of the Wizard of Oz, who famously always wanted a heart, discussing the merits of having one. She explains to him how he doesn’t know what kind of pain he’s asking for when he asks for a heart and it’s not worth the trouble. By the end of the song she offers to trade her heart, which is shattered into pieces and covered in scars, to him in exchange for his armor. Written by Lambert and Jack Ingram (who is quite proficient in the art of writing about heartbreak), this is one of the best songs I’ve ever heard from Lambert.

Lambert’s sassy happiness shines through on “For The Birds.” It symbolizes her re-awakening so to speak after her breakup, wanting happiness and sunshine back after going through so much darkness. It’s finally finding that light at the end of a long tunnel. “Good Ol’ Days” is about Lambert willing to go back to where it all began for her to rediscover herself and her truth. It’s about re-examining everything and figuring out just where to go from where you’re at currently. The song does a great job of capturing the humility of the subject, which doesn’t surprise me because Brent Cobb and Adam Hood wrote the song with Lambert. “Tomboy” is a personal anthem from Lambert about her and everyone like her. She’s a proud tomboy who does it her way and this is her way of telling young girls it’s cool to be this way too. For this reason I think this would be a great choice for a single.

If you feel like you need more steel guitar in your life, just listen to “Things That Break” and “Well-Rested.” It’s as thick and infectious as molasses on each song. These are classic heartbreak country songs in every sense. There are a lot of great songs I enjoy on this album, but if I had to pick the best one on this expansive double album it would have to be “To Learn Her.” Written by the praised above troika of Lambert, Monroe and Payne, this song is pure country music. If you asked me to define country music, I would point to a song like this one. The heavy steel guitar makes me smile from ear-to-ear. This song is Lambert at her very best.

The other songwriting trio I absolutely enjoy on this album is Lambert, Hemby and Rose, who get their shining moment on “Keeper of the Flame. “ I didn’t even have to look at the credits to know these three wrote this because their fingerprints are all over it. The very best of these three come together to create this soaring love anthem that you just want to listen to over and over again. I even surprisingly enjoy the synthesizer on this song, which gives the song some real energy and urgency. “Bad Boy” is the weakest track of The Heart, but even it isn’t a bad song. It’s the fact that rest of it is so strong that a just solid song doesn’t quite stand out. While the song relies on the predictable trope of falling in love with the bad boy, I really enjoy the instrumentation. The song starts off with a harder rock edge before giving away to twang pedal steel guitar towards the end.

I really applaud Miranda for going completely outside the box on “Six Degrees of Separation.” I love it when an artist tries something completely different and takes risks and this song is a perfect example of why. The vocal layering combined with the grungy guitars and snappy lyrics make for an infectiously great song. Lambert’s ode to the sun “Dear Old Sun” shows a more subdued soulful side of her. It’s probably the most spiritual Lambert gets on the entire album, as you can really feel the heart in her voice as she sings. Then again Lambert bared her entire self in every part of this album.

The Weight of These Wings closes it’s story with “I’ve Got Wheels.” It’s where Lambert finally moves on from her demons. As she sings, she’s got wheels and now she’s using them to get away from the heartbreak that haunted her for so long. It’s that sobering feeling that you’ve finally picked up all of the pieces and can move on with your life to something after being consumed by something old for so long. And that itself is another chapter that won’t be easy, but Lambert at least knows she’s moving forward now.

After thoroughly listening to The Weight of These Wings from front to back and over again several times, Lambert accomplished something I’ve seen for the first time while running Country Perspective and that’s releasing a great double album. This is an amazing accomplishment that should make her proud because this is nothing to scoff at. If I had to pick the best side, it would definitely be The Heart. There’s not a single bad song on this part of the album, while The Nerve is hampered by the only three missteps of the entire album.

Lambert put every bit of her talent into this album; there was no holding back from her. She utilized some of the best songwriters in country music today, while also showing off her own songwriting chops. We not only get to see her at her most country, but she even takes some risks and pulls them off well too. Frank Liddell, Eric Masse and Glenn Worff for the most part did a great job producing this album and not falling into the usual mainstream pitfalls. Miranda Lambert did something many artists have trouble with and that’s channeling pure, raw energy into beautiful art. The Weight of These Wings is arguably the crowning jewel of Lambert’s entire career.

Grade: 9/10

 

Recommend? – Yes!

Album Highlights: Tin Man, To Learn Her, Ugly Lights, Runnin’ Just in Case, Vice, Pushin’ Time, Use My Heart, Good Ol’ Days, For The Birds, Six Degrees of Separation, I’ve Got Wheels

Bad Songs: Pink Sunglasses & Smoking Jacket

Wallpaper: None


Miranda Lambert Announces “Keeper of the Flame” Tour

Miranda_Lambert

After the “shitty” year she had in 2015, Miranda Lambert is certainly looking forward to 2016 as much as anybody. Lambert is due for a new album after her last album release Platinum in 2014 and a new single is certainly around the corner too. But before that happens, Lambert has just announced today her 2016 summer tour. It will be called the “Keeper of the Flame” Tour. According to Windmills Country, it’s named after a new song Lambert wrote with Natalie Hemby and Liz Rose. Perhaps this is a hint at the first single from her new album? We’ll have to wait and see. Based off what Windmills Country has found and compiled, there are a lot of intriguing choices of where she could go with this album.

Lambert’s headlining tour will include openers Kip Moore and the Brothers Osborne. These are certainly two of the better choices she could make amongst mainstream country acts. Moore’s last album The Wild Ones wasn’t exactly country music, but solid southern rock-influenced music. Brothers Osborne of course just released their debut album Pawn Shop, a decent album with some bright spots. A show with these three acts is certain to be an entertaining one filled with a lot of good music.

Lambert’s “Keeper of the Flame” tour stops will include the following:

  • Austin, TX
  • Bangor, ME
  • Bethel, NY
  • Bristow, VA
  • Charlotte, NC
  • Cleveland, OH
  • Chicago, IL
  • Columbia, MD
  • Darien Center, NY
  • Fayetteville, AR
  • Hartford, CT
  • Indianapolis, IN
  • Irvine, CA
  • Jacksonville, FL
  • Los Angeles, CA
  • New Orleans, LA
  • Omaha, NE
  • Orange Beach, AL
  • Raleigh, NC
  • Rogers, AR
  • San Antonio, TX
  • Saratoga Springs, NY
  • St. Louis, MO
  • Tampa, FL
  • Virginia Beach, VA
  • West Palm Beach, FL

Lambert also announced she will be joining Kenny Chesney’s “Spread The Love” tour starting in April. Lambert fans from across the sea will also get a chance to see her live this year, as she will be performing as part of the Country to Country Festival 2016. Those dates include:

March 11 – London, UK

March 12 – Dublin, Ireland

March 13 – Glasgow, Scotland

Fans can purchase tickets beginning Jan. 29 for select cities as part of Live Nation’s Country Megaticket at MegaTicket.com. You can check her Tour page for specific show announcements and on sale dates.

Album Review – Carrie Underwood’s ‘Storyteller’

Carrie Underwood Storyteller

Over the last few years in country music, female artists have struggled to standout and get played on country radio. Well unless your name is Miranda Lambert or Carrie Underwood. They haven’t struggled a bit and are regularly featured. Underwood in particularly has really been shining with her singles, as in the last year she has received heaps of praise for them. “Something In The Water” won a Grammy and universally praised by country fans. “Little Toy Guns” had a more pop sound than many liked, but it’s challenging theme and solid songwriting made it standout in the vast wasteland of mainstream country. And her latest single “Smoke Break” is on pace to reach #1 at country radio. This has helped build hype to her new album Storyteller, which has been highly anticipated for months. Underwood promised this album had more twang and more emphasis on telling a story than her previous records, something that piqued my attention. And after listening to this album, this proved to be right. This album also proved to be more complex and connected than it appears on the surface.

Storyteller begins with “Renegade Runaway,” a song that borrows from country, pop and rock to create an interesting sound. The song is essentially a modern-day Bonnie & Clyde-type anthem. I didn’t know what to make of this song after the first few listens, but there’s something about this that makes it enjoyable to my ears, whether it’s the exciting production or Underwood’s vocals. “Dirty Laundry” is about a woman catching her man cheating on her by looking through his dirty laundry and finding stains that are clear evidence of it (perfume and red wine). The phrase “dirty laundry” works as a double entendre in this situation, as his dirty laundry is the dirty laundry that hangs him out to dry and exposes him as a cheater. It’s a solid song, although I thought the instrumentation could be better.

“Church Bells” is an interesting song about a woman falling in love with an “oil man” who she thought was Mr. Right. She was picturing the wedding and the whole nine yards until one night he shows his true colors and hits her out of rage. She gets her revenge by slipping something into his whiskey one night and he dies without anyone knowing what happened. Now I know I’ve said before that answering a wrong with violence is…well wrong. But when it comes to this story I don’t have as much of an issue, even though violence shouldn’t ever be the answer to anything. Then again when you hit a woman I lose any respect for you, so you kind of get what you deserve (what goes around comes around). I will say the songwriting on this is good, despite the production being a little overboard.

One of the more confusing songs on the entire album is “Heartbeat.” This is basically Luke Bryan’s “Strip It Down” or Sam Hunt’s “Take Your Time” from the female perspective. From the reference to partying in the city to the R&B-styled production, this is no different from those songs. Hunt is also the male background singer on the song. This song might have had a chance at being a romantic love ballad if it was actually country, but instead it chases trends and ruins the song. The lead single “Smoke Break” follows. As I said in my original review, this song does a great job of balancing appeal to the roots of country music and what radio wants. From my review: The song itself is an ode to the working class person. The protagonists of the song are a woman and a man who both work their asses off. Both are clearly tired. Neither drink or smoke, but wouldn’t mind a drink or smoke break. Now some might imply this as literal, but I think the songwriters here (Underwood, Chris DeStefano and Hillary Lindsey) are implying it’s just an expression.

My favorite song on the album is “Choctaw County Affair.” It’s a murder ballad about a couple who thought they could get away with murder, but in the end it catches up with them. I found it slightly humorous how Underwood sings about how one half of the couple, Cassie O’Grady, is painted as the “All-American cheerleader type” when she’s really a cold-hearted “gold digger.” If you recall Underwood had a single a few years back called “All-American Girl” that was nauseatingly clichéd. That song made me roll my eyes because in many instances this good girl is just putting on a front and “Choctaw County Affair” goes there with that thinking. At first I thought the production was a little overdone (and if you think that I understand), but to me it gets it just right. I especially enjoy the harmonica play from Travis Meadows. On an album called Storyteller, this song exemplifies the name the most and credit to the writer of the song Jason White (who also wrote the controversial Tim McGraw song “Red Ragtop” and Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Ain’t It Enough”).

“Like I’ll Never Love You Again” is a rare love ballad from Underwood, who is on record as to saying she doesn’t like to record these type of songs very often because they’re cheesy. It’s a very sweet, heartfelt song that fits Underwood perfectly. It also feels very genuine coming from Underwood, which is important when trying to get people to connect to a serious love song. The songwriting is solid through and through, as Hillary Lindsey, Lori McKenna and Liz Rose wrote it. There are many songs I had to listen to on Storyteller to fully grasp and get a hold of and “Chaser” was one of them. It’s another song where Underwood melds together country, pop and rock to create a weird sound. It feels like this song doesn’t know what it wants to be. If it maintains it’s high energy in the chorus throughout it, I think I would like it more, but the roller coaster energy throughout it makes the song a middle of the road tune at best. Underwood shows off more of her pop rock side on “Relapse.” The production drags this song down, as once again it’s kind of bizarre and indecisive.

The sound of a ticking clock plays in “Clocks Don’t Stop.” This is pretty much a straight pop song and feature the worst lyrics of the album. Chris DeStefano, Hillary Lindsey and Blair Daly are the writers of the song. Everyone is familiar with the first two for the most part, but Daly is probably not so familiar. Well actually she’s more familiar to you than you think, as she co-wrote Maddie & Tae’s “Your Side of Town” (the worst song on their debut album) and helped write many of the songs on Kip Moore’s new album, including his current single “Running For You.” The production in this song is just as bad, making the song very easy to skip. Another standout of the album is hands down “The Girl You Think I Am.” The song is about how Carrie’s parents have always believed in her and thought the best of her, making her strive to be as great as they say she is. It’s an easy song for many to connect with, especially those who have parents like in the song who believe in you fully and push you to reach your potential. Everything about this song flows together well and would love to see it released as a single.

“Mexico” is another Bonnie & Clyde-like tale about being on the run and heading for Mexico to escape the police. Going into this song I was expecting a sunny, summer tune, but I probably shouldn’t have considering Underwood has never did these types of songs. This is the type of song that will grow on you the more you hear it. Storyteller comes to a close with “What I Never Knew I Always Wanted.” It’s another song where Carrie draws from her current life. Underwood sings about how she never envisioned herself being married and having a kid, but now she realizes this is what she always wanted. This song has a couple of production missteps, but not enough to take away from this well-written song. I would have added a little more piano and some acoustic guitar to make it feel more heartfelt. Nevertheless, it’s a solid song and an appropriate way to end the album.

Carrie Underwood’s Storyteller is an album that lived up to expectations in some areas and disappointed in others. Her promise of more twang and rock influences definitely showed and for the most part was good. The songwriting was undoubtedly the biggest highlight of the album, as it was varied and interesting. I give a lot of credit for Underwood having a hand in writing many of the songs and reaching out to talented songwriters to contribute to the album who deserve more attention. And of course Underwood’s vocals shined, but that’s almost always the case. Where this album disappointed me the most was with the production and the amount of pop influences at times. It dragged down too many songs and some of them should have been left off the album entirely. Also Sam Hunt should never be involved with a Carrie Underwood song, even if it’s something that’s seemingly harmless like background vocals. Overall I think Storyteller will be loved and hated by many, as early on it’s proving to be divisive amongst fans and critics alike. At the end of the day I found this album to more good than bad and I mostly enjoyed it. What will determine if you like this album is how much emphasis you put on instrumentation and songwriting.

Grade: 7/10