One of the hottest topics in country music this year has been the lack of female country artists on the radio. The “tomatoes” were being left out in favor of more lettuce (the generic bros of the world). One of the female artists that has been involved in the middle of this has been actress and country artist Jana Kramer. She posted a cheeky ad in Country Aircheck mocking the tomatoes comments made by Keith Hill and her current single “I Got The Boy” has been a surprise hit that has been slowly moving up the airplay charts. It’s been her biggest hit so far and many have viewed it as her re-emerging moment. It had been three years since her only hit, her debut single “Why Ya Wanna.” Elektra Nashville has certainly taken a slower approach with getting Kramer’s music out. “I Got The Boy” has been almost universally praised by critics and fans for its mature approach to a love ballad and further hyping anticipation for her sophomore album thirty one. I certainly came in with high expectations. And this album didn’t exactly live up to them.
The album opens up with “Boomerang,” which right away has some noticeable banjo play. But it also has a bit of an electric touch to it too. The song itself is about a woman telling her ex that she isn’t a boomerang; so don’t expect her to ever go back to him. Kramer’s vocals are powerful and one of the best on the album. This song may be a little too loud for some, but I find this to be a solid pop country song with good lyrics. By the way the writers of this song are Chad Carson, Aaron Scherz and Maddie & Tae. Unfortunately “Don’t Touch My Radio” is one of the first signs this album is anything like it’s current single. This song is essentially a bro country song from the woman’s point of view: It’s about going on a back road with a man and letting him run his hands all over his woman. He can do all of this except touch her radio. The production is too loud, the lyrics are clichéd and Kramer’s vocals are annoying.
The current single of thirty one, “I Got The Boy,” is up next. It’s without a doubt the best song on the album. Derek’s original review of this song sums it up nicely: “I Got The Boy” is merely a reflection on the differences and how time and experiences change us. It’s a song about growth. My only critique of the song is really some of the vocals. At times during the verses, Kramer seems to be forcing some emphasis on some of the words. But for the most part, especially in chorus, Kramer sings the song well and captures the emotions the story offers. I think “I Got The Boy” is a fantastic song. I’d argue that it’s the best song Jana Kramer has released to date. Its reflective lyrics aided by wonderful country instrumentation are what make “I Got The Boy” a truly great country song.
“Pop That Bottle” is your typical mainstream country drinking song full of clichés and themes we’ve heard so much it’s nauseating. The hook of this song is annoying as hell, as all you’ll come away from this song is “ppppppop that bottle.” I’m surprised this isn’t a new song from The Band Perry. The album’s forgettable lead single “Love” follows. It’s a straight pop song that wouldn’t have sounded out-of-place on Kelsea Ballerini’s debut album. The Owl City-like backing sounds makes the song even more generic. If I were Kramer I would have just left this one off the album. It continues to get generic on “Circles.” It’s an adult contemporary, pop song about a woman whose heart continues to spin in circles over her love for someone. This song isn’t completely terrible, but it certainly isn’t memorable either.
Jana Kramer was born in Michigan. But on “Bullet” you would think she’s from the South, as she puts on the twang so damn thick it would make Miranda Lambert shake her head. The chorus is annoying and shout-y, further made worse by the addition of Steve Tyler on the background vocals. The production completely kills any desire for me to listen to this song ever again. “Dance In The Rain” at least tones down the sound of production so you can actually concentrate on the song. Of course this is replaced by an annoying electric reverb throughout the song, officially qualifying this song as urban country. The song is actually well written, as it’s about overcoming your fears and learning to live with them. It’s a shame that very brief steel guitar play in the bridge isn’t present throughout the song, as it would have massively upgraded the song.
The worst song on thirty one is hands down “Said No One Ever.” This is worst song of the year quality right here, folks. The lyrics have an intelligent level hovering around room temperature. It’s no surprise one of the co-writers of this song is the infamous busbee (the other writers are Natalie Hemby and Nicolle Galyon), who is responsible for a laundry list of generic and terrible songs. This song consists of Kramer singing some ridiculous lyric, followed by “said no one ever.” This song is pretty good…said no one ever. Production and instrumentation choices destroy yet another song on the album, “Just Like In The Movies” had potential to be a good song. It’s a solid love song with a catchy hook. But the instrumentation and production makes this song sound so lifeless and bland. With a good producer, this song is a highlight. Instead it’s just really average.
The last song on the album is… “Last Song.” Well at least that makes sense. It’s about Kramer promising this is the last song she’ll ever sing about her ex and how much shit he put her through (she actually says shit). This of course could be about any of her past three prominent engagements she broke off, including ex-fiancé and country artist Brantley Gilbert. It’s sort of Kramer’s way of freeing herself from the past and finally moving on from demons that haunted her for years. The production and instrumentation are well done on this song, as a sweeping piano perfectly sets the mood. If only there were more songs like this throughout the album, as this highlights Kramer’s strengths best and is easily one of the best of thirty one.
Jana Kramer’s thirty one has some really nice moments and some really bad moments. Overall it’s kind of a jarring listen. For the most part this album is about Kramer and her past relationships, although a few songs kind of go off track from this theme. So I’ll give her credit for at least having a theme that ties everything together. But the production on this album is mostly terrible and this falls on the shoulders of Scott Hendricks. Kramer’s vocals are really good and her songwriting can be too, but if the producer doesn’t know what to do with it, you get a mess of an album like this one. There are three songs worth listening to on thirty one: “Boomerang,” “I Got The Boy” and “Last Song.” The rest of this album can safely be ignored and you won’t miss anything. This is mostly a big disappointment from Jana Kramer.