Review – Steven Tyler’s “Love Is Your Name”

Steven Tyler Love Is Your Name

It’s 2015 and I’m writing a review for a song by Steven Tyler. Not just a song by Tyler, but a country song. What a world we live in. One of the newest trends in country music is artists coming over from other genres where they’re no longer relevant and churning out their own brand of country music because country music will pretty much accept anything nowadays. This goes back to my argument about needing gatekeepers in the genre, but that’s a whole other can of worms. The person I believe to be the most responsible for this is Scott Borchetta. He started it by having his artists do a tribute album to Mötley Crüe last year. Not to mention he’s responsible for Florida Georgia Line, Brantley Gilbert and Thomas Rhett. Borchetta also signed Tyler to Dot Records. Still as much as I hate this as a fan, you have to applaud him for his business acumen. Borchetta is evil, but he’s smart and knows how to make money.

There is definitely money in a Steven Tyler country album. After all many old rock fans have flocked to country music, now that rock is non-existent in the mainstream realm. Everyone is aware of Steven Tyler of course through his heydays as the frontman of the iconic rock band Aerosmith. You can’t deny the major impact Tyler and Aerosmith has made on American music, as they’ve produced numerous great hits and a recognizable brand across the world. They also helped usher in one of the most influential hip-hop groups in history, Run-D.M.C. to crossover and mainstream success when they allowed them to cover “Walk This Way.” Needless to say Aerosmith has a laundry list of accomplishment and no way can deny their impact. So coming into this I’m well aware of Tyler’s successes and I knew there would be some musicianship on display in his lead single “Love Is Your Name.”

The big question though: Does it sound country? Surprisingly yes. I expected a much more rock oriented song and this is actually better than I expected it to be. The theme of the song is nothing complex, as it’s a love song about a man professing his feelings for a woman. Despite it sounding weird to hear Tyler in a country song, his vocals aren’t bad and fit more into the country sound than I thought it would. The instrumentation is a combination of a violin, banjo and guitar with drum loops. The sound is not too different from Mumford & Sons on their last album Babel. This actually sounds like something that comes from country radio, something a lot of songs on country radio right now can’t claim. So yes Tyler, the rock singer, sounds more country than country artists.

“Love Is Your Name” is not a bad song, but it’s not a good song either. There’s nothing special about it and the theme of the song has been done to death, although I think it was smart for Tyler to do a love song as his first single. The production is decent, but it could have been better. The same could be said of the lyrics. The “ohs” in the bridge are unnecessary and hurt the song a little. Other than that, this is an above average song that I think will do well at country radio. The former rock fans should enjoy it and many mainstream country fans should enjoy the song’s carefree attitude and simple theme. Tyler’s first foray into country music could have been much worse and this is the kind of start he needed (at the very least) if he wants to be taken seriously in the genre. Based on the current state of country radio, this will be one of the better songs on it this summer. Steven Tyler played it safe with this song, but it was the best choice he could make.

Grade: 6/10

Album Review – The Doobie Brothers’ Southbound Sees Current Country Artists Tackle Classic Hits

Classic rock artists having current country stars cover their hits seems to be a new trend. This all really began, if memory serves me correctly, when Lionel Richie put out an album of current country artists covering his biggest hits. It went over great and Richie has even said he has thought about doing another album like that one. This year alone we’ve had a tribute album to The Allman Brothers, a terrible Mötley Crüe tribute album and mainstream country artists even attempted to cover the great Merle Haggard’s greatest songs. Now we have The Doobie Brothers doing that exact same thing. Did you really think The Doobie Brothers just showed up at 2014 CMA Awards for nothing? All about business and promotion, baby. Personally I enjoyed their performances, although I thought Jennifer Nettles brought them down a little with her terrible dancing. Nevertheless, let’s go through another classic rock tribute album done by mainstream country artists. It can’t be as bad as the Mötley Crüe one, right?

The Best Songs on the Album

Well I’ll tell you right up front that this is better than the Crüe tribute album, but that isn’t saying much. There are some definite bright spots on this album. The Zac Brown Band fits perfectly with “Black Water.” Southern fried country is Zac Brown Band, so of course they do great with a southern roots rock song. Keep in mind this review is slightly different from normal reviews because I’m judging more of how the artist covers the song and the choices made by production rather than the song itself. The signifier of a great cover to me is if it does justice to the integrity of the song and yet makes it feel fresh. The Zac Brown Band nails both of these aspects. They already did justice to their cover of The Allman Brothers’ “Midnight Rider” earlier this year with Vince Gill and they deliver again with this Doobie Brothers cover.

The choice of Sara Evans for “What a Fool Believes” is a fantastic choice. It’s higher pitched and perfectly suits a dynamic female voice. This song is a great reminder of how great Evans’ vocals are and how I wish she was still on radio. It’s evident The Doobie Brothers and Evans have good chemistry, making for a great cover. You may not like this song and I understand that completely because it could get annoying after several plays. But give credit to Evans doing a grade A job with this cover. You’ll never believe who else does a great job on this album: Tyler Farr. He covers “Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me)” and hits a home run. The heavy rock influence suits Farr’s rough voice and style, which makes for a great cover. Farr makes it his own and still pays homage to the sound of the song. He stands out and shines beside The Doobie Brothers. His vocal range is stretched a little, but he makes it work. I want to see more of this Farr and never again want to see the “Redneck Crazy” version of Farr.

“You Belong to Me” is covered by an artist I had never heard of before. Amanda Sudano Ramirez covers this song and does a fantastic job. She is one half of the indie duo Johnnyswim and is the daughter of the late “Queen of Disco,” Donna Summer. While her inclusion on an album of country artists is interesting since she’s more of a folk/blues singer, she really stands out. Her voice is great and I want to hear more of her music personally. Vince Gill plays guitar on this song and does phenomenal as always. The other song that stood out to me is Charlie Worsham covering “Nobody.” There’s a separate introduction to this track, giving it a special feel and for good reason Charlie Worsham does a great job with The Doobie Brothers on this song and it’s great to see an underrated artist like Worsham get this special attention. This is how a cover should be done and it’s a good way to close the album.

The Worst Songs on the Album

While there were these bright moments, there were also some downright puzzling moments. Take for instance “Long Train Runnin’.” The choice of Toby Keith for this song is at best puzzling. Really it’s a bad choice. This song is another higher pitched song that suits a female artist more so than a male artist, especially a male artist like Keith who doesn’t have dynamic vocals. I would have picked Carrie Underwood to cover this song. Keith just sounds so out-of-place and is stretching his vocals too far at times. Huey Lewis sounds great on the harmonica at least.

There’s one point in this album where there are three straight songs where I have the same criticism with each of them. When covering a song with the original artist it’s important not to get buried by the original artist. You should shine along side them and make the song sound new. Love & Theft does not do this on “Takin’ It to the Streets.” Casey James does not do this on “Jesus Is Just Alright” and Brad Paisley doesn’t do it on “Rockin’ Down the Highway.” It feels like they’re just in the background and contribute absolutely nothing to the song. They are all forgettable covers and you won’t remember them tomorrow.

This is all leads to perhaps the most puzzling choice of artist on the entire album. I would say “South City Midnight Lady” is the most serious toned song on the album. Who do they pick to cover it? Jerrod Niemann, the same artist who put out a song called “Donkey” and rapped alongside Pitbull earlier this year. This is a stupid choice, despite the fact Niemann does okay with the song. Just like those three songs above though, it’s not very memorable. The performance is dry and boring.

The Rest of the Album

Blake Shelton and Hunter Hayes cover “Listen to the Music.” This is an interesting duo to cover this song. Then again they decided to take a more pop country approach with this upbeat and memorable song, so it makes sense to put Blake and Hayes on this song. It was also a good move to put Hayes just on guitar and not have him sing. It would’ve been funny hearing him attempt to cover this song. The original is still better, but this isn’t a bad cover. It’s just a little too generic for my taste. Chris Young covers the upbeat “China Grove.” Even though I find Young’s voice to sound a little generic at times, I think he does a solid job covering the song. It seems to fit his comfort zone just right and Young doesn’t sound like he’s out of place at any point. He also reminds everyone that he has the chops to sing more dynamic songs and not the boring pop country he has put out recently.

Overall Thoughts

This is pretty much what I expected out of The Doobie Brothers’ Southbound album. There are some good moments, bad moments and boring moments. Most of the time cover albums prove to be pretty pointless from a quality and artistic standpoint. This is nothing but a quick cash grab. If I want to hear these songs I’ll go listen to the original versions, not bastardized versions with Toby Keith or Love & Theft. Cover albums work in when the artists actually collaborate together to create great, new versions of the song. The most recent example of a good cover album would be Mary Sarah’s Bridges earlier this year. You could tell Sarah actually spent a good amount of time with these artists and it shined through in the final product. Other than Bridges, I would say this is the best cover/tribute album I’ve seen put out by mainstream country music this year. Not a high bar to hurdle, but there was still a few covers worth listening to on Southland. I would recommend this album only if you’re a hardcore Doobie Brothers’ fan or if you like mediocre cover albums.

Grade: 6/10

Album Review – Big & Rich’s Gravity

The country duo of John Rich and Big Kenny of Big & Rich have always been interesting. They’ve proven they can make quality music (“8th of November” and “Lost in This Moment”), but also stupid novelty music (“Save A Horse” and “Comin’ To Your City”). So there are times when you want to applaud them and then other times where you’re just flat-out embarrassed for them. One thing about their dumber music though is they’re willing to admit up front they’re not being serious with it, unlike bro country where their dumb music is actually trying to be serious when it’s the furthest thing from serious. Big & Rich’s new album Gravity is their second album since reuniting after they split off for a couple of years. Neither did much with their solo careers, although John Rich had one minor radio hit with “Shuttin’ Detroit Down” (a great song by the way that deserved more praise than it received at the time). They’re better together without a doubt and I was anxious to hear what they came up with for their new album.

The Best Songs on the Album

There were two songs that stood out above the rest on this entire album. The first song is “Thank God for Pain,” which you might have seen made my top ten songs of September list. It’s about suffering pain in life and it being worth suffering because it makes love feel that much better. The song is similar to Sunny Sweeney’s “Second Guessing.” The song kind of has a “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” attitude. Big Kenny & John’s harmonies are pretty solid in this song and the sound reminds me a lot of 90s country music. It may come off a little simple to some people, but I think that’s perfect for this kind of song and I felt it conveyed enough emotion to make it stout.

The other standout song on this album is “That Kind of Town,” a song that makes social commentary on small towns. Among the topics in the chorus are gossip making the paper, “the baby doctor” being “the undertaker” and “where there’s more to life than Bud Light and cruisin’ around.” The line about the baby doctor being the undertaker is definitely a reference to abortion and how you feel about this line will be determined by your stance on the issue. The line about Bud Light and “cruisin’ around” is perhaps a swipe at Nashville and bro country? But as you listen to the album this might come off a bit hypocritical. Another edgy line in the song discusses the preacher’s hypocriticalness of being judgmental despite having an affair with the Sunday school teacher. The lyrics are really good and the instrumentation is too for the most part. I thought it came off a little bit overproduced though and this hurt the overall quality.

There were two other solid songs on the album at the beginning. “Gravity,” the album’s title track is a love song and the theme is “lovers make the world go ‘round.” It’s a modern country song that features some competent piano play. I think it’s solidly written and the vocals were good enough to make it work. Tim McGraw joins the duo on “Lovin’ Lately.” It’s a heartbreak song where the man wonders what the woman is doing now and who she is sleeping with. I think the instrumentation is good, but the lyrics are little light. I don’t see the point of including McGraw because he doesn’t contribute much to the song. He just sings harmonies with Rich & Kenny. I think it’s a decent song that could do well on radio possibly and maybe that’s why McGraw was included on the song.

The Worst Songs on the Album

Remember when I said Big & Rich is capable of making bad music? That shows up on this album a few times. When I first heard “Rollin’ Along” I couldn’t really tell what the song is about, but upon second listen I realized it’s a driving on a back road and let’s go parking song. It’s not as offensive as the bro country songs are about this subject and is actually quite tame for the most part. The problem is the lyrics are boring and don’t hold my attention, hence why I didn’t know what this song was about originally. There is nothing special about this song.

The worst song by far though on this album is “Lose a Little Sleep.” This is a bro country song through and through. It’s about getting drunk and trying to have sex with a girl. How original! There’s also a line that suggests mixing some rock music and George Jones music. No! This is never acceptable! This is a bad song that has shallow lyrics and mediocre instrumentation. Avoid this song. Speaking of rock music, Big & Rich turn back to this on the final track of the album, “I Came to Git Down,” a party, laundry list song. I have to admit the beat is pretty catchy and is easy to get wrapped up in. The lyrics though are blatantly checklist. The instrumentation is also more rock sounding than country sounding. It’s not horrible, but it isn’t creative at all. The song tries too hard to be rock and doesn’t try hard enough to be country. This sounds like a country song Mötley Crüe would record if they were to ever do country music. Hey wait a minute! That happened this year and Big & Rich was a part of it. Keep Mötley Crüe away from country music please.

The Rest of the Album

As for the rest of the album it’s pretty average or slightly above average. Gravity starts with the song “Look at You,” a song about a man who can’t stop thinking about a woman who was in his life, but is now out of it. Lyrically it tries to be deep, but it’s a little shallow instead. It’s just your average, modern country sounding love song. “Brand New Buzz” compares a new woman in a man’s life to alcohol, saying that his new buzz is love instead of drinking. Another modern country sounding song. This theme has been done to death and this song doesn’t really do anything to freshen it up. Also the title sounds similar to Jerrod Niemann’s “Buzz Back Girl” and you don’t want to be associated with him in your music. “Run Away With You” is a love song about a man wanting to run away with his wife and rediscovering the love they once had. This song could be relatable to many older couples who have fallen out of love. Think something along the lines of a song like Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood’s “Remind Me.” It’s a decently written song that conveys some emotion. Big & Rich go back to the heartbreak theme with “Don’t Wake Me Up.” In the song a man pleads for a woman to not wake him up if she decides to leave him because he doesn’t want to deal with the pain. Again it’s your typical modern country instrumentation with just okay lyrics. I thought this song could have been something more.

Overall Thoughts

Other than a few bad hiccups this album is mostly above average with a couple of high points. Big & Rich will never blow you away with amazing songwriting or amazing lyrics, but they’re solid all-around and one of the better acts in mainstream country music. If they actually stayed away from the novelty songs and overproduced, shallow songs and focused on making one album of all serious songs they could turn some heads. But alas they couldn’t stay away completely from it on this album. I could see a couple of songs possibly do solid on radio and it’s a shame about the timing of their album release in the midst of the biggest names in the genre releasing their own new material. If you listen to Gravity you will definitely find a song or two you’ll personally enjoy, making it worth at least one listen alone. This album does more good than harm, but the harm is so bad it weighs this album down enough preventing it from being a good album and overshadows some of the better moments throughout it.

Grade: 6/10

Album Review – Nashville Outlaw’s Tribute to Motley Crue

When it was announced that there would be a tribute album for rock band Motley Crue from “Nashville Outlaws”, two questions popped into my head. First, why? Why, why, why? What has Motley Crue done in their career to warrant a tribute album from Music Row? They aren’t southern rock; they never ran to country for relevancy before. Motley Crue has always been bad boy hard rock. This tribute album is 100% pointless. My second question comes from this viewpoint. I understand to make the album seem badass and edgy in country music, the producers advertised it with “outlaw”; I understand logic behind the marketing. But how in God’s name can you consider half of these artists as outlaws?!?! Rascal Flatts?! Are you kidding me? They are the furthest thing from a country outlaw.

With those questions and mindsets in place, I approached this album expecting the worst. Surprisingly, there were some good moments on the album, hell, even some great covers. When an artist approaches a cover song with creative liberty and creates an original composition to the lyrics, and executes that liberty well, it is one of my favorite things. Save for a select few songs that accomplish that, the album is mostly a bland, pointless tribute album.

The Worst Songs on the Album

Right away, we are introduced to the worst song of the entire collection. Rascal Flatts’ cover of “Kickstart My Heart” is, in one word, terrible. Gary LeVox does not have a voice suited for rock music. When you listen to it, you can tell he’s way out of his element. The worst thing about the song, for me, came at the “When we started this band” bridge. They censored the word “ass” in this bridge. “Years gone by, I say we’ve kicked some [HEAVY GUITAR LICK].” You’re seriously attempting to pass off this soccer-mom pop band as “outlaw” and you censor them from swearing? Gary LeVox, you’re now an outlaw, it’s okay to say ass when you sing. But by doing this, you take away whatever microscopic outlaw credibility Rascal Flatts apparently had to warrant a spot on the album. The other song that truly stood out to me as awful was Brantley Gilbert’s take on “Girls, Girls, Girls.” On paper, Brantley is easily the most outlaw of the fifteen artists represented here and musically the most capable of doing a Motley Crue cover song justice. But in real life?  Nope. Brantley Gilbert sounded bored out of his mind singing this song. There are no vocal inflections, no emphasis on words or anything. Gilbert is completely monotone throughout the whole track. I was bored listening to this song. To me, the bad thing about both these tracks was that there was no attempt to bring anything new or original to these songs. Both of these songs are essentially carbon copies of the original with new vocals dubbed over and it doesn’t work.

The Best Songs on the Album

I was surprised that there were actually three songs that I enjoyed on this tribute. Each of these songs took a lot of creative liberty with the covers, recomposed the melody to fit their style of music and delivered great vocal performances. “Without You” by Clare Bowen and Sam Palladio took the tough-guy power ballad and turned it into a beautiful, stripped down love ballad sang as a duet. The music fits perfectly with the lyrics. My favorite track on the album is Lauren Jenkin’s “Looks That Kill.” This rendition is a haunting reworking of original rock song. The track is filled with many electric string instruments, which gives the heartbreaker in the song a more mysterious personality. It’s almost as if Lauren is singing along to a Vitamin String Quartet instrumental of the song.  It’s brilliant; cover music done right, in my opinion.  The last song that stood out to me was The Mavericks’ reworking of “Dr. Feelgood.” Imagine watching an old-west movie about a drug dealer in the town’s saloon. This would make for a perfect theme song for that movie. The Mavericks also take some liberty with the lyrics and make it work to a completely new beat and feel for the song.  You can tell The Mavericks are having fun and enjoying themselves on the track.  It’s a fun listen.

The Rest of the Album

The ten remaining tracks are relatively bland in my opinion. Big & Rich, Cassadee Pope and Florida Georgia Line all do their best to make these songs their own, but overall they just don’t measure up to the bar set by the three songs in the above section. They’re not bad; and quite frankly, Cassadee Pope sounds natural as an alternative rocker in “The Animal in Me.” But sonically, that song, along with FGL’s “If I Die Tomorrow” are similar to that of Nickelback or Three Days Grace.  They don’t sound like themselves on the tracks, and they vary too far from Motley Crue to justify it as a carbon copy cover.  Many of these artists, including Justin Moore, The Cadillac Three and The Eli Young Band don’t stand out on the track because they don’t stray too far from Motley Crue’s original song.  And as for the rest of the artists who do take that risk, most of them strikeout. Aaron Lewis’ production is far and away the most classic country song on the whole album, but he fabricated a southern drawl for the verses that takes away from the track. Gretchen Wilson is on the verge of screaming throughout her whole song. LeAnn Rimes takes advantage of her song and shows off her vocal abilities, but the song is “Smokin’ in the Boy’s Room.”  She didn’t change the lyric to “girl’s room” so I find it odd that they chose a female to undertake that song.  Darius Rucker, surprisingly, has a good cover song here. It’s an honest melody to his established country sound, and if I didn’t know this was a cover tribute, I’d assume this was an original for Hootie. This version of “Time for Change” is 100% Darius Rucker, and I think it would be a decent country single for him (had his last major hit not also been a cover).

Overall Thoughts

The album is just bland, uninteresting and inconsistent. In my opinion, tribute albums like this should stick to one mindset. Either pay tribute to Motley Crue by bringing in artists who can do the song justice without changing the melody too much, or bring in artists like Lauren Jenkins and The Mavericks who will do a country tribute to the band and recompose their songs to be country. This Nashville Outlaw tribute jumps between the two mindsets and doesn’t offer much of anything. Three points for three good songs.

Grade: 3/10

 

Mötley Crüe Talks About The Mavericks’ Cover of “Dr. Feelgood”

On August 19, Big Machine Records will release a tribute album for rock band Mötley Crüe titled Nashville Outlaws: A Tribute to Mötley Crüe. Big Machine’s stable of artists all appear on the album, including one of my favorite country bands, The Mavericks. They cover the 1989 hit “Dr. Feelgood,” which was Mötley Crüe’s first American top ten hit. Based on what I’ve heard in the preview for it, The Mavericks put their special touch on it and make it sound like a completely different song. But it’s a great kind of different. Nikki Sixx and Vince Neil have nothing but praise for it too, as they say it’s very easy to get The Mavericks’ version stuck in your head. You can hear part of it playing in the background in the video above as they talk about it. I’m anxious to hear the full version, as once again The Mavericks have seem to deliver a sweet tune for the ears.