Album Review — Ingrid Andress’ ‘Lady Like’

The first time I heard the voice of Ingrid Andress, I was intrigued. She simply brings a different style and approach to country music that I find refreshing. And her debut album Lady Like only reinforces this idea. Opening track “Bad Advice” immediately grabs your attention with it’s strings-driven and lush sound. Not only is Andress’ voice different, but the production feels a little different too (a credit to Andress, Sam Ellis and her team of producers). The song is about Andress continually following the bad romantic advice from people around her and not finding any luck in the game of love. But as she wise cracks, she’s getting pretty good at getting it wrong. It’s clever and memorable songwriting.

“Both” is my favorite song from Andress so far. The song is about Andress proclaiming to a friend they can’t keep blurring the line between being friends and romantic partners. The dramatic, tug-of-war nature of the production, Andress’ energetic vocal performance and the logical progression of the story and songwriting makes this song an all-around home run in my eyes. “We’re Not Friends” plays along this same theme of blurred relationship lines, but has a more happy nature of the realization that a friendship is more than that. And with this being one of the main themes of this short album, I have to say this is my least favorite take on the subject. It lacks urgency and is a bit sleepy for my taste, as it just doesn’t grab my attention.

“The Stranger” is another standout on Lady Like, as it’s a song about a couple recalling the story of how they met each other. All of the little details that are included and the wistful, nostalgic feeling conveyed by the production makes for a cool little story (the surprise pedal steel guitar in the bridge is a nice touch too). And it’s story songs like these that show why country music is so great. “Anything But Love” is about not being able to move on from a relationship, the feelings lingering and refusing to dissipate. Once again I enjoy the vibrant texture of the production, mashing both pop and country elements together well. Andress does a great job of conveying the desperate, frustrating feelings of the lyrics in her vocal performance too.

I didn’t really like the album’s lead single “More Hearts Than Mine” at first, but upon more listens it’s really grown on me. Despite the song being a bit predictable and check list-y, it has a lot of heart thanks to Andress’ vocal performance. The uplifting nature of the production also sucks you into the song and story being told. “Life of the Party” is about throwing yourself into partying and drinking to get over a breakup. Andress insists over and over that she’s fine and that she’s even the life of the party. But it’s not convincing, as Andress shows more frustration in her vocal performance as the song progresses and by the end is practically screaming. Despite the lyrics being a bit same-ish throughout, it’s this impassioned vocal performance that ultimately makes the song a solid listen.

The album’s title track closes the album and it’s an autobiographical song, as Andress proclaims who she is and how she may not always act like a lady in some ways, she does in other ways. In a way it’s appropriate after spending the entire album centered around relationships that she comes back to herself because she seems to shed the doubt and insecurity expressed in previous songs and is now showing her confidence. The song also returns to the opening track’s orchestra-driven sound, which is a nice call-back. It’s not an emphatic and amazing close to the album, but another solid pop country song nonetheless.

Lady Like is a great debut album from Ingrid Andress. The most important thing she accomplishes with this album is how she establishes her brand of pop country as a little different from the rest of the sub-genre. It’s so easy to get lost in this sea of sound, but Andress doesn’t have this problem at all. She brings a more vibrant sound to her production that respects both pop and country sounds. Not to mention she has a powerful voice that is distinct. I’m really excited to hear more from Ingrid Andress, as she is without a doubt one of the most exciting new artists to emerge in country music.

Grade: 8/10

Review – Dan + Shay’s “How Not To”

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Dan + Shay is a duo I haven’t exactly clamored for in my reviews and comments regarding their music. Upon their arrival they just didn’t look or sound like a country duo. Their carefully curated looks combined with their slick, pop leaning music didn’t really fit the country mold. But upon the release of their sophomore album Obsessed, I’ve sort of turned a corner on these two. Maybe it’s because they don’t sound exactly like Rascal Flatts anymore, making some slight tweaks that have went a ways in improving their music. I think their newest single and third off Obsessed, “How Not To,” demonstrates this. Adding hints of steel guitar throughout the song, most notably in the intro is a nice little touch. While the production and instrumentation still leans more pop, this is pop country I can at the very least not dislike. In fact it’s kind of decent. The song itself is about a man who is coming off a breakup and can’t shake the memory of his ex off his mind. He just doesn’t know how to go on without her and struggles with this desperate wanting. The duo keeps it simple and it works really good. Not to mention the hook of the song is catchy and will stick with you. And hey this actually has some tempo! This immediately makes this song stand out amongst the rest of the snooze fest that is country radio right now. Dan + Shay’s vocals are still too slick for my liking, but that’s just something that isn’t going to change and part of their sound. While I still wouldn’t exactly say I’m a fan of this duo, for pop country these guys are alright. I’ll take songs like “How Not To” over the majority of singles sent to country radio. Dan + Shay won’t be winning over the traditional crowd anytime soon, but they’re carving out a nice spot amongst pop country fans.

Grade: 6/10

 

Recommend? – Yes, for pop country fans. No, for traditionalists.

Note: The music video is a compelling look at overcoming addiction. It’s fantastic and recommended to all. Great work by all of those involved in it and definitely could prove to be a worthy candidate of best country music video of the year at the award shows.

 

Written by Adam Hambrick, Paul DiGiovanni and Kevin Bard

Review – Rascal Flatts’ “Yours If You Want It”

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I’m going to be honest: I’m surprised Rascal Flatts is still relevant in mainstream country in 2017. I would have thought by now this trio, which has been formed since 1999, would be deemed too old by country radio to play. Usually when a country artist or in this case group approach their late 40s the clock starts ticking down on airplay time. Before their last single that looked to be the case, as both singles that came before it didn’t even reach the top 15. But the aforementioned last single “I Like The Sound of That” went #1 of course and served as a reminder that this group isn’t quite done yet. They’re now back with a lead single from a new album, “Yours If You Want It.” It’s a step up from “I Like The Sound of That” because this one doesn’t feature the laziest songwriting with an even more lazy name-dropping of Justin Timberlake. But on the other hand if you’ve heard one Rascal Flatts song, this new one sounds just like it. This group’s sound has pretty much stayed the same for the duration of their career: real light weight production with a token banjo and palpable pop influences to compliment the super clean vocals of the trio. This song also features their favorite trope: nice guy love song. It doesn’t really make me angry, it just really bores me. This song is so toothless that it would be silly to get worked up over it. This is just Walmart music: corporate, cliché and neatly boxed together to appeal for mass consumption. One good thing I can say is it’s really easy to review Rascal Flatts music as I can write the same thing every time because this trio never innovates or changes their sound. What’s disappointing is once upon a time they released some good songs (“Skin” and “Mayberry” come to mind), but now they’re content to release generic filler like “Yours If You Want It.”

Grade: 3/10

 

Recommend? – Nah

Written by Andrew Dorff and Jonathan Singleton

Review – Randy Houser’s “Song Number 7” is Essentially Luke Bryan’s “Play It Again”

To get fans excited for his new album, Fired Up, Randy Houser picked “We Went” as the album’s lead single. It’s a song with typical bro-country tropes to try to make Randy Houser look like a country boy badass. I criticized the song, but thought the album would yield a good balance of quality country and radio fodder, just like Houser’s previous album How Country Feels. Instead, Fired Up proved to be an album overloaded with stupid pop country songs jutting up into 17 tracks! As a mid-tier country bro, Houser’s producers clearly felt the need to give this album enough life to sustain Houser through tours and radio singles for a couple of years. We aren’t going to bother reviewing the 17-track album as the ready for radio playlist has nothing to offer as an album. However, as Houser releases singles, we’ll take a look at each of those. And the second single Houser is releasing from Fired Up is “Song Number 7.”

Is Nashville even trying anymore? We’re at a party with loud music and there’s one girl in particular who catches the eyes of the boys. As the party’s playlist continues, the girl gradually becomes more interested in the narrator. Once the seventh song comes through the speakers, she jumps and says “oh my god, this is my song! We’ve been listening to the radio all night long.” Wait, no. This isn’t “Play It Again.” But it might as well be. Randy Houser’s “Song Number 7” is a remake of Luke Bryan’s “Play It Again,” and writers Chris Janson, Ben Hayslip, and Justin Wilson somehow make the already terrible subject worse. Even the mid-tempo production with drum machines and generic guitars sound similar to “Play It Again,” primarily in the chorus. There was little attempt to separate this clone from the original.

Randy Houser doesn’t sing with any kind of charisma, and the chorus features some awkward, jarring vocal harmonies that strangely pop way after a natural echo would. The production of this song is crap with random intensified drums. I almost didn’t want to review “Song Number 7”, but it’s such a near copycat of Luke Bryan’s hit that it deserves to be put on this platform. Absolutely no effort went in to making this song even a little original. Instead of playing to Randy Houser’s strength as a vocalist and letting his traditional country-style expand, his label has decided to prop him firmly in the shadows of the A-List bros by having him record songs that continue mainstream country down a path of cutting the same, boring song. “Song Number 7” is terrible due to the fact that it has no originality whatsoever.

Grade: 2/10

The Hodgepodge: The Band Perry Has Officially Split from Big Machine Label Group

After a couple of weeks of speculation, The Band Perry and Big Machine Label Group have officially parted ways, as announced on Tuesday March 1st. All this is in light of a failed rebranding process for the band, trying to become a pop anthem powerhouse. After balancing pop and country throughout their first two albums, including some great country songs in “If I Die Young” and the Glen Campbell cover “Gentle on My Mind,” The Band Perry released “Live Forever” as the jump-start for their pop move. “Live Forever” charted poorly, barely scratching the surface of the top 30 before stalling and dropping out.

Reactions to “Live Forever” were mostly negative, and the band’s upcoming album Heart + Beat was delayed, apparently to schedule a collaboration with Nikki Minaj, though that was only a rumor. The band then revealed another song from their new pop arsenal, the hilariously pop/hip-hop anthem “Put Me In The Game Coach.” That song sounded like a forgotten song from Disney’s High School Musical. Saving Country Music dutifully documented the head scratching saga of The Band Perry’s failed move into pop. As the band’s videos disappeared from the internet for 24 hours, then reappeared, many began to wonder if The Band Perry and BMLG were done with one another. And now we know they are.

The group’s turn to pop was doomed to fail from the get-go. It seems either they didn’t know what made good pop music, or the producers didn’t know what to do with them. Either way, the idea of turning from country to pop with a feel-good motivational anthem was the wrong choice. Grady Smith said it best back in December:

Aside from the fact that the songs were terrible, there’s a few of reasons why this turn to pop with the help of a major label has failed. The first could simply be that The Band Perry just isn’t an attractive pop sell. The reason why Taylor Swift’s move to pop has worked is because Taylor Swift developed a fan base who will buy anything she records, even 8 seconds of white noise. Taylor Swift fans idolize Taylor Swift because she’s more than just a singer and songwriter. She was a pillar of strength and comfort for young, teenage girls struggling through high school, and as that initial fan base has grown, so has Taylor’s music. The Band Perry doesn’t have any kind of core fan base, nor are they anything more than just a singing group to those fans.

Secondly, The Band Perry tried too much too soon. The group was just coming off a Grammy award for their recording of the folk country “Gentle on My Mind.” From a business standpoint, how do you not try to capitalize off that? And I’m not saying that every song they recorded needed to sound like “If I Die Young” or be a folky style of country. However, if you want to move to pop and have never really had a true pop song, wouldn’t it make more sense to test the waters with a pop song as an album cut/future single?

As opposed to having “Live Forever” has the lead off single for the third album, maybe they should have had something along the pop-country lines of Kelsea Ballerini as a lead off single, then drop “Live Forever” as a second single after the album is released to first gauge reactions to the song. I understand that releasing the song ahead of the album does gauge reactions and help the label predict the album’s success, just as they did. But if you went with my devil’s advocate scenario, I would think it would make the transition easier, and it would almost guarantee an album release by having a radio pleasing pop country single to rally behind before moving into 100% pop territory. That’s exactly what the Zac Brown Band did with “Homegrown” before eventually sending “Beautiful Drug” to radio.

We don’t know who spearheaded this whole move. Did The Band Perry want to be a pop group selling out arenas with generic anthems, or did the decision makers at Big Machine Label Group want another crossover artist under their belt? From what we know about how these major labels work, I think it’s more likely than not that the latter was the case, and the group was contractually obligated to play along. That’s just a theory and I could be 100% wrong.

Regardless of who was the driving force behind the move, the fact is that the move didn’t work. It was poorly planned, poorly executed, and a majority of people didn’t latch onto the idea. What’s next for The Band Perry is anyone’s guess. The group members remain in high hopes for their future. A release from the label’s chains should allow for them to make the music they want to make. Hopefully that music is the more country stylings the band has brought us over two albums. If that music is the pop direction they were headed, then at least The Band Perry should be able to release that music to their fans who want to hear it. For right now though, the soap opera of The Band Perry has appeared to reach its conclusion while we wait to see what the future holds for this country trio.

Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases

  • Loretta Lynn will release a new album called Full Circle tomorrow.
  • Texas Country singer turned mainstream Granger Smith will release his newest album Remington tomorrow.
  • Chris King’s Animal was pushed back to a release date on March 11.
  • Randy Houser’s newest album, Fired Up, will be released on March 11 as well.
  • On March 18, the Dave Cobb produced Southern Family will be released.
  • Jake Owen’s newest single will be called “American Country Love Song.”
  • Wade Bowen has announced a new album called Then Sings My Soul. The album will be available for pre order starting tomorrow and released on March 18th.
  • Kelsea Ballerini’s newest single will be “Peter Pan.”

Throwback Thursday Song

“Colder Weather” by Zac Brown Band – This 2011 single from Zac Brown Band is easily my favorite song from the group. I would even make the argument that “Colder Weather” is one of the best mainstream singles from the past decade. And if you haven’t heard it, the song’s cowriter, Levi Lowrey, performs the song with a third verse that didn’t make it into the Zac Brown Band recording.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week

“Waves” by Miguel feat. Kacey Musgraves – “Waves” is a song off Miguel’s third album, Wildheart. Miguel released a 5 song EP with various remixes of his original song, including this one where Kacey Musgraves provides vocals. I like this remix, and Kacey sounds great singing R&B.

Tweet of the Week

Am I allowed to write in candidates when I vote in November? A Willie Nelson presidency would seem to bring promises of better country music!

Two Maren Morris iTunes Reviews

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I don’t get the critique of the first one. Hippie? That’s your only complaint? That’s a stupid reason to hate an EP. The second review though is one I agree with. Maren Morris has a unique vibe to her music that I’m on board with.