The Endless Music Odyssey, Vol. 5 — CeeLo Green, Caylee Hammack & more!

CeeLo GreenCeeLo Green is Thomas Callaway

Dan Auerbach, David Ferguson and Easy Eye Sound just continue to churn out quality albums. This time it comes from veteran R&B artist CeeLo Green, who is known for such hits like “Crazy” as part of Gnarls Barkley and “Forget You” as a solo artist. But this album is much different than his popular material, as the glitz and glamour is all stripped away in favor of more subtle and smooth sounds. It’s an enjoyable mix of R&B, soul, pop, gospel and even some country. Many have described Green as a chameleon-like performer and I think this album exemplifies this more than any of his others.

There’s simmering love songs like “For You,” “I Wonder How Love Feels” and “Doing It All Together” that mix soul and pop to great results. “Lead Me” shows how Green can absolutely excel at gospel with his passionate vocals and makes me wish there were more gospel moments. “Little Mama” and “Don’t Lie” show another side of Green, being a father, which was great to see from him. But the two songs that intrigued me most were when he dipped into a more country-influenced sounds on “People Watching” and “Slow Down.” The former is a simple, yet bouncy song about observing the world around you and taking in the little things. The latter is a fantastic cover of his Easy Eye Sound label mate John Anderson. CeeLo Green covering John Anderson is not something I thought I would ever write about, but hey it’s 2020 and it works well.

The album closes out with another highlight in “The Way,” a brooding song about fighting your way through darkness. Green’s voice really excels in these dramatic songs, as his dynamic voice can add the right amount of tension to build up the lyrics. If you’re into soul music or enjoy Green’s voice, this album is definitely worth your time. 8/10

Caylee HammackIf It Wasn’t For You

The potential of Caylee Hammack is great. She has an incredible voice and when she incorporates her personal experiences into her songwriting, it makes for some damn compelling music. “Small Town Hypocrite” is easily the star of this album, an in-depth look at seven-year relationship that took Hammack away from a music scholarship and changed her life in several ways. And not only is the attention to detail great in the lyrics, but her vocal performance adds just the right amount of emotional touch. The best example is when she sings “When I chose you and daddy gave me hell/I made myself into someone else/Just to love you, damn, I loved you.” The aching regret and hesitation in her voice as she delivers these final words cuts straight to the heart. 

Hammack has other great moments on this album too like “Redhead.” Hammack and Reba sound great together and I’m surprised this wasn’t chosen for her new single, as it’s catchy and fun to singalong with. Hammack, Tenille Townes and Ashley McBryde sound fantastic harmonizing together on “Mean Something,” which is a song dripping with honesty about people seeking to be something more in a world filled with a lot of selfishness and lack of substance. “Sister,” “Forged in the Fire” and “Family Tree” are other solid songs where Hammack peels back layers of her life to deliver heartfelt messages and show the lessons she’s learned. “Gold” is a heartfelt epilogue to “Small Town Hypocrite” and “New Level of Life” is a fun closer to the album that features one of the more interesting production moments on the album.  

But this album falls frustratingly short of being great and I largely blame this on the production. It ultimately hinders Hammack more than it helps, as most of the time it feels very paint-by-numbers as far as pop country goes. Hammack’s voice isn’t fully utilized, as it’s bright and dynamic, so why not fully feature it? It’s also frustrating to have songs in the middle of the album like “Preciatcha,” “Just Like You,” “Just Friends” and “King Size Bed” that pigeonhole her into generic pop country. It’s just not that interesting and throws the flow of the album off for me. It’s not really surprising, as new artists typically have these kinds of songs on their debut album to appease labels who like to send them to radio. Nevertheless, this is a decent debut album from Hammack. 6/10

DUCKWRTHSuperGood

Smooth, slick and funky are the three best words to describe this album. If you’re looking for lyrical prowess, this album won’t have it. Not to say the lyrics are bad. They’re solid, yet unspectacular as most of the lyrics deal with love and enjoying the party. But if you’re looking for some smooth beats, this album is overflowing with them. This is an album to move to and sing along with on a Saturday night. While it’s listed as hip-hop, this is far from a straight hip-hop record. No, I would describe this more along the lines of Tyler the Creator’s IGOR. This album is very much genre fluid, an enjoyable blend of hip-hop, R&B, soul, pop and disco. While I was a big fan of DUCKWRTH’s earlier material that was edgier and had an almost rock flavor to them, it’s clear this sound seems to suit him best. And he did kind of foreshadow this on “MICHUUL,” aspiring to be like the king of pop. And this music is definitely a strong step into that sound. 8/10

The MavericksEn Español

This is definitely one of those times where I wish I had taken more Spanish classes. I know some of the language, but unfortunately not enough to understand and appreciate the lyrics of this album. If anybody would happen to know how to procure a translated version of it, I would be happy to go more in-depth on this album. So for now I can only analyze the other elements of this album and they’re top level as always from the eclectic and dynamic group. The instrumentation is flamboyant, colorful and vibrant, a beautiful mixture of country, pop, Tex Mex and a whole lot more. Raul Malo still has one of the best voices in music, as it still sounds as flawless as ever. So based on the two elements of this album I can understand, this is another great album from The Mavericks. 

Margo PricePerfectly Imperfect At The Ryman

This is the best Margo Price album and you can’t tell me otherwise. In the last edition of The Endless Music Odyssey, I expressed my disappointment with her latest studio album and how it fails to capture the energy of her live shows that get rave reviews. I’ve never seen her live, but I potentially will next year as she opens for a Chris Stapleton show I have tickets to see. This reminded me that she actually released a live album on Bandcamp earlier this year and it had slipped through the cracks for yours truly. After listening to this album, it further cements the sentiment she’s better live. She has a fiery and infectious personality that unfortunately just gets sanded away in her studio recordings. But in a live setting she’s unleashed and at her very best. Her vocals don’t feel restrained and you even get to hear her excellent vibrato on multiple songs, which baffles me that this isn’t featured much on her studio albums. 

I hope whoever produces her next album takes cues from this live album and finds a way to incorporate them. Old Crow Medicine Show was in this same boat for years too and Gary Clark Jr. is still in this boat. It’s a rare occurrence it feels like in music to sound good live, but not in the studio, as it’s usually the other way around for several artists. 8/10

Tucker BeathardKING

Well I’ll say this: at least his voice is tolerable now. I once said he couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket and that his voice was grating to the ears. It didn’t help either he was another victim of On The Verge, which is a legal payola way of making someone a “star”, but really just distorts reality. Also a smart move to delete all of his music with Big Machine Records and to start a clean slate. 

So I will say I can now listen to his voice without wanting to turn the song off. But he sounds essentially like every other male pop country artist. Still progress of course to go from bad to generic, but not really good either. None of these songs compel me to say anything other than it’s a song, except for “One Upper.” It’s a song about two characters: a rich asshole in a suit who thinks he can buy everything with money and an average joe who ultimately thinks he’s better because he has a hot girlfriend. What endearing people! 4/10

Josh TurnerCountry State of Mind

Just like I said about Jon Pardi’s Rancho Fiesta Sessions, take this for what it is and you’ll have an enjoyable listen. This is another solid country covers album released in a year where there’s been several. Needless to say I’m starting to get a little fatigued by them at this point. There’s not a bad song on this album, but the highlights in my eyes are “I’ve Got It Made” with John Anderson, the album title track with Chris Janson, “I Can Tell by the Way You Dance,” “Forever and Ever, Amen” with Randy Travis and “Desperately” with Maddie & Tae. 8/10

Album Review — Orville Peck’s ‘Show Pony’ EP

Orville Peck was one of the most buzzed about indie artists in 2019, as his debut album Pony made several best album lists. And like many country-influenced artists who get buzz from the indie scene, I would often hear the phrase around him, “I don’t usually like country, but I like this.” I gave it a listen of course and I came away not really understanding the buzz. While his voice is immediately intriguing, something as a mix between Roy Orbison and Marty Robbins, I found the songwriting to be lacking for the most part. I thought many of the songs relied too heavily on the aesthetics presented and quite frankly expected to hear more country in the sound. While the country influence is there without question, it’s very much not an album I would personally call country.

So with these two criticisms in mind, I gave Peck’s new EP Show Pony a spin. And he actually resolves both of my biggest issues from Pony. This EP is undoubtedly more country and not just because of the superstar collaboration. His duet with Shania Twain on “Legends Never Die” is easily the star moment on the album, followed by (both on the album and in terms of having a moment) his great cover of Bobbie Gentry’s “Fancy.”

I’m surprised Peck and Twain go so well together, as Peck’s bellowing voice and Twain’s polished pop country vocals on paper don’t seem like a great fit. But these two clearly enjoyed working with each other and this fun chemistry really shines through in the song. Peck was also quite brave to pick “Fancy” to cover, as not only is the original by Gentry great, but it’s most famous rendition by Reba is considered amongst the best songs of 90s country. Yet he knocks it out of the park with his more dark and dramatic interpretation. Also if you’re reading this country awards shows, if you’re looking for a cool collaboration performance, it would be great to see Peck and Reba perform this together.

The western-flavored “Summertime” is an enjoyably simmering ballad about lost love snd yearning for it again. Peck really shows off the deepness of his vocals on this track and I think that’s when he shines the best. His voice is better suited for more cinematic songs rather than more subdued tracks like “Kids” and many of the songs on his debut album. This is further proven with “No Glory in the West” and “Drive Me, Crazy.” In each song his vocal performance gives gravitas to the scenes being framed, the old west and driving trucks on the highway respectively. I also enjoy how the latter can double as a tale of the loneliness of the highway and as a love ballad.

While Orville Peck’s style is certainly nothing new in country music, I appreciate that he’s reviving it. With Show Pony he also proves to some critics that he’s more than a dress-up gimmick and that he truly wants to carve his own space in country music. There’s certainly more room for sound he brings, as very few in the genre occupy it at the moment. I hope Peck continues to move in the direction he’s shown with Show Pony, as it suits him quite well.

Grade: 8/10

The Past Pulse Of Mainstream Country Music [November 1991]

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This is the Past Pulse Of Mainstream Country Music. Each week, I take a look at the Billboard Country  Airplay Chart from years ago and grade the top 30 songs. Each week will be a different year. The grading format I use each week is every song will receive one of the following scores: +5, +4, +3, +2, +1, 0, -1, -2, -3, -4, -5. These will then be tallied up for an overall score, or pulse of the past top 30 songs, with the highest possible score being a +150 and the lowest possible score being a -150. The grade I would give it determines its Pulse score. The grading key: 10 [+5], 9[+4], 8[+3], 7[+2], 6[+1], 5[0], 4[-1], 3[-2], 2[-3], 1[-4], 0[-5].

The goal of this exercise is to evaluate the past pulse of mainstream country music and determine if it was better or worse compared to now. To see the full list of the top 30 country airplay songs for this week, click here. This week I will take a look at the top 30 songs of the Billboard Country Airplay Chart from November 9th, 1991.

  1. Alan Jackson – “Someday” +4
  2. Travis Tritt – “Anymore” +3
  3. Keith Whitley & Earl Thomas Conley – “Brotherly Love” +4
  4. Garth Brooks – “Shameless” -2 [Worst Song]
  5. Trisha Yearwood – “Like We Never Had A Broken Heart” +3
  6. Patty Loveless – “Hurt Me Bad (In A Real Good Way)” +3
  7. Marty Stuart – “Tempted” +1 (Love Marty, and the production was cool and different for 90’s country, but the lyrics aren’t great)
  8. Alabama – “Then Again” +2 (I like the restrained production here)
  9. Lorrie Morgan – “A Picture Of Me (Without You)” +3 (Solid George Jones cover)
  10. Joe Diffie – “New Way (To Light Up An Old Flame)” +2
  11. Randy Travis – “Forever Together” +2 (Not his best but still good)
  12. Ricky Van Shelton – “Keep It Between The Lines” +4
  13. Billy Dean – “You Don’t Count The Cost” +3
  14. George Strait – “The Chill Of An Early Fall” +4 [Best Song] (One of my favorites of his)
  15. Pam Tillis – “Put Yourself In My Place” +3 (Interesting production. I like the dobro)
  16. Reba McEntire – “For My Broken Heart” +4
  17. Little Texas – “Some Guys Have All The Love” +1 (Hook is a little corny for my tastes)
  18. Dwight Yoakam – “Nothing’s Changed Here” +3 (Dwight always delivers)
  19. Davis Daniel – ‘For Crying Out Loud” +2 (Don’t care for his voice that much)
  20. Clint Black – “Where Are You Now” +3
  21. Suzy Bogguss – “Someday Soon” +4
  22. Diamond Rio – “Mirror Mirror” +3
  23. Vince Gill – “Look At Us” +3
  24. Conway Twitty – “She’s Got A  Man On Her Mind” +3
  25. Lionel Cartwright – “Leap Of Faith”+1
  26. Brooks & Dunn – “My Next Broken Heart” +2
  27. Restless Heart – “You Can Depend On Me” -1 (Too cheesy for me and that falsetto is just….oof)
  28. Sawyer Brown – “The Walk” +3
  29. Steve Wariner – “Leave Him Out Of This” +3
  30. Doug Stone – “I Thought It Was You” +3 (It’s cheesy, but I like the sound enough to bump it up)

The Past Pulse Of Mainstream Country Music: +76

We usually have good weeks, but honestly there was a lot of true quality on this chart. There were A LOT of ballads which makes sense given the time of year. All in all I’m very happy with this chart.

As always, if you have any questions as to why I gave a song a certain grade feel free to ask me. Also, let me know what you guys think of the chart in the comments!

The Past Pulse Of Mainstream Country Music [April 1989]

keith-whitley

This is the Past Pulse Of Mainstream Country Music. Each week, I take a look at the Billboard Country  Airplay Chart from years ago and grade the top 30 songs. Each week will be a different year. The grading format I use each week is every song will receive one of the following scores: +5, +4, +3, +2, +1, 0, -1, -2, -3, -4, -5. These will then be tallied up for an overall score, or pulse of the past top 30 songs, with the highest possible score being a +150 and the lowest possible score being a -150. The grade I would give it determines its Pulse score. The grading key: 10 [+5], 9[+4], 8[+3], 7[+2], 6[+1], 5[0], 4[-1], 3[-2], 2[-3], 1[-4], 0[-5].

The goal of this exercise is to evaluate the past pulse of mainstream country music and determine if it was better or worse compared to now. To see the full list of the top 30 country airplay songs for this week, click here. This week I will take a look at the top 30 songs of the Billboard Country Airplay Chart from April 8, 1989. Since this chart came before 1990, I only have access to the top 25 songs. This means that the highest possible score for this week is a +125 and the lowest possible score is a -125. Once again, I am still wading through a ton of chart requests so this week’s chart is dedicated to reader Scotty J!

  1. Keith Whitley – “I’m No Stranger To The Rain” +4 [Best Song]
  2. George Strait – “Baby’s Gotten Good At Goodbye” +3
  3. Vern Gosdin – “Who You Gonna Blame It On This Time” +3
  4. Shenandoah – “The Church on Cumberland Road” +3
  5. Don Williams – “Old Coyote Town” +4
  6. Billy Joe Royal – “Tell It Like It Is” -1 [Worst Song] (His voice and the overall feel of this just don’t work for me)
  7. Hank Williams Jr. & Sr. – “There’s A Tear In My Beer” +4 (As an actual song it’s a +3, but considering the magic that went into this I have to give it its due.)
  8. K.T. Oslin – “Hey Bobby” 0 (Sorry, way too sleepy in the production and that “do you want to huh, huh” line just annoyed the crap out of me)
  9. Foster – “Fairshake” +2
  10. Roy Orbison – “You Got It” 0 (+2 for Pop though)
  11. Michael Martin Murphey – “From The Word Go” +3
  12. Patty Loveless – “Don’t Toss Us Away” +3 (Interesting production on this track)
  13. Lacy J. Dalton – “The Heart” +3
  14. Highway 101 – “Setting Me Up” +2
  15. The Judds – “Young Love (Strong Love)” +2
  16. Lee Greenwood – “I’ll Be Lovin’ You” +1 (Holy crap! A Lee Greenwood song that isn’t “God Bless The U.S.A!”)
  17. Baillie and the Boys – “She Deserves You” +3
  18. Randy Travis – “Is It Still Over?”+3
  19. Restless Heart – “Big Dreams In A Small Town” +2 (I wish the accordion was a little more prominent in the mix but still solid)
  20. Rodney Crowell – “After All This Time” +3
  21. Alabama – “If I Had You” +1
  22. The Bellamy Brothers – “Big Love” +1
  23. Barbara Mandrell – “My Train Of Thought” +3
  24. Reba McEntire – “New Fool At An Old Game” +2
  25. The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – “Down That Road Tonight” +2

The Past Pulse Of Mainstream Country Music: +56

This is certainly a good week, but I have to be honest that there’s more generic songs here compared to other past weeks. Nothing inherently bad mind you, just not really all that special. Of course, Keith Whitley was riding the top of the charts so what can I say?

As always, if you have any questions as to why I gave a song a certain grade feel free to ask me. Also, let me know what you guys think of the chart in the comments!

The Past Pulse Of Mainstream Country Music [December 1992]

vince_gill_-_dont_let_our_love_cd_single

This is the past pulse of mainstream country music. Each week, I take a look at the Billboard Country Airplay Chart (or, “Hot Country Songs” as it used to be called) from years ago and grade the top 30 songs. Each week will be a different year. The grading format I use each week is every song will receive one of the following scores: +5, +4, +3, +2, +1, 0, -1, -2, -3, -4, -5. These will then be tallied up for an overall score, or pulse of the past top thirty country songs, with the highest possible score being a +150 and the lowest possible score being a -150. The grade I would give it determines its Pulse score. The grading key: 10 [+5], 9 [+4], 8 [+3], 7 [+2], 6 [+1], 5 [0], 4 [-1], 3 [-2], 2 [-3], 1 [-4], 0 [-5].

The goal of this exercise is to evaluate the past state of mainstream country music and determine if it was better or worse compared to now. To see the full list of the top 30 country airplay songs for this week, click here. This week I will take a look at the top 30 songs of the Billboard Hot Country Songs from December 26, 1992. In honor of my ongoing chart request archive, this week’s chart goes out to commenter jmartin103. Thanks for reading jmartin103!

  1. Vince Gill – “Don’t Let Our Love Start Slippin’ Away” +3
  2. Alan Jackson – “She’s Got The Rhythm (And I Got The Blues)” +3
  3. Garth Brooks – “Somewhere Other Than The Night” 0 (Since I don’t have the CD with this song on it, I have no clue what to grade this song. Of course it isn’t anywhere on the Internet and I haven’t heard it before so it’s not going to help or hurt the Pulse)
  4. Hal Ketchum – “Sure Love” +1 [Least Good Song] (It’s just more “meh” than outright bad)
  5. Clint Black – “Burn One Down” +4
  6. George Strait – “I Cross My Heart” +2
  7. Trisha Yearwood – “Walkaway Joe” +4
  8. Brooks & Dunn – “Lost & Found” +3 (One of the few B&D songs featuring Kix on lead vocals. I haven’t checked, does Kix still have more solo songs than Brian Kelley of Florida Georgia Line? Dead serious)
  9. Restless Heart – “When She Cries’” +3 (Probably too pop for 1992 but still a good song)
  10. Tracy Lawrence – “Somebody Paints The Wall” +3 (The George Jones version is obviously highly recommended as well)
  11. Randy Travis – “Look Heart, No Hands” +3
  12. Lee Roy Parnell – “Love Without Mercy” +2
  13. Reba McEntire – “Take It Back” +3 (Probably being a little gracious, but it is certainly fun)
  14. Sammy Kershaw – “Anywhere But Here” +3
  15. John Michael Montgomery Gentry – “Life’s A Dance” +4 [Best Song]
  16. Ricky Van Shelton – “Wild Man” +3
  17. Doug Stone – “Too Busy Being In Love” +1
  18. Tanya Tucker – “Two Sparrows In A Hurricane” +3
  19. Alabama – “I’m In A Hurry (And Don’t Know Why)” +4 (It’s a damn fun song with a good message. We CAN make them!)
  20. Diamond Rio – “In A Week Or Two” +3
  21. Little Texas – “What Were You Thinking” +3
  22. Travis Tritt – “Can I Trust You With My Heart” +2
  23. Chris LeDoux – “Cadillac Ranch” +3 (There’s a lot of big names that came from the 90’s, but ironically enough Chris was one of the first artists from before 2000 I ever listened to)
  24. John Anderson – “Let Go Of The Stone” +3 (The one, two, three punch of Tritt, LeDoux, and Anderson is just awesome)
  25. Wynonna – “My Strongest Weakness” +2
  26. Confederate Railroad – “Queen Of Memphis” +2
  27. Mark Collie – “Even The Man In The Moon Is Cryin’” +3
  28. Billy Dean – “If There Hadn’t Been You” +3 (Borderline +3. The production is a little too sleepy for my tastes)
  29. Suzy Bogguss – “Drive South” +3
  30. Wynonna – “No One Else On Earth” +4 (A.K.A, the better Wynonna song here)

The Past Pulse of Mainstream Country Music: +77

It’s getting a little cliché at this point, but there’s really not much else to say other than this is another great chart! A little bit of a step up from last week even if there still wasn’t a song here that outright blew me away. Even still, when you have artists like Vince Gill, Alan Jackson, Clint Black, George Strait, Trisha Yearwood, Randy Travis, Reba, Sammy Kershaw, John Anderson, Chris LeDoux, Wynonna and SO many more cranking out at least great songs, there’s not much to complain about.

As an additional note, I have to say that the 90’s charts are always my favorite ones to listen to and rank. Sure, it’s not perfect, but nothing really is. These charts are always highly enjoyable and bring tons of great songs that are a better representation of country music than a lot of the stuff we have today.