The Endless Music Odyssey, Vol. 6 — Reba, Keith Urban, Travis Tritt & more!

Reba McEntireRumor Has It (30th Anniversary Edition)

A classic album full of great love songs and heartbreakers with the iconic “Fancy” that I’m glad to see is getting a special anniversary release. If you’re a country fan and you haven’t heard this, you need to change this asap. One day I hope to give a full review of this album, along with many other past releases. Anyway, this anniversary edition comes with two new additions: a live version of “Fancy” and a Dave Audé remix of it. I want to talk about the latter, as once again Audé delivers a fun remix of a classic country song.

I know remixes aren’t exactly looked well upon by a lot of people in country music, but to me there’s everything to gain by releasing remixes of old country songs. At worst everybody ignores it and keeps listening to the original. But on the other hand you could entice a young listener who isn’t familiar with it to get into country music. Now some might argue this is the wrong way to get someone into country music through something that is sonically not country. But the biggest appeal for me in country music is the lyrics. “Fancy” is iconic because of the story, not the instrumentation. There are thousands of songs with the same sound as this remix and they remain ignored in a metaphorical music landfill. So if someone can find appeal in this remix of “Fancy,” I like to believe it’s because of the song itself.

Keith UrbanTHE SPEED OF NOW Part 1

You know this album starts out promising enough. Opening song “Out The Cage” has the kind of frenetic energy you want to open an album that grabs your attention. The P!nk duet “One Too Many” isn’t terrible, although a bit boring and run of the mill. “Live With” is actually quite enjoyable, as the chorus is catchy and has a good message about seeking a life that can be enjoyed. Not to mention the incorporation of Urban’s solid guitar work gives the song a needed punch. “Superman” is solid pop music with connectable imagery, even though the lyrics are a bit cliché.

With the exception of the nice collaboration with Eric Church on “We Were,” the rest of the album is quite vanilla and goes in one ear and out the other. In other words, what’s been the story for Urban on the last several albums. While the experimentation of Urban in his music was interesting at first, I think he’s well past due to get back to his roots and that’s guitar-driven music. But I don’t foresee this happening, as Urban seemingly got bored with this type of music. So since Urban seems hellbent on continuing the experimenting, here’s ultimately the biggest problem with it: it feels like he just wants to be the Ed Sheeran of country music.

Just like Sheeran in pop, Urban is trying to be everything to everybody and as the old saying goes, if you’re trying to please all, you’ll please none. I guess the most realistic ask I’m hoping from for Urban then is to pick a lane for an album and stick with it throughout. There’s just no constant theme with his albums anymore. It’s just jumping from one thing to the next and as an album listener I become frustrated quickly. Also two thoughts on “We Were.” First, there’s absolutely no need to have the non-Church version of the song. Second, I find it amusing a country artist adding a country artist to a song to make the sound more country to be hilarious. 4/10

Travis Tritt – “Ghost Town Nation”

I’ve quietly been waiting to see what comes of Travis Tritt’s team up with producer Dave Cobb on his new upcoming album and this is the first look. And I have to say I’m looking forward more to what’s in store. This is a great lead single that speaks to the divide between the rural people in towns across America and the media. The term “ghost town nation” is appropriate in this context as it reflects not only how small town America feels like everybody turns their noses up at them and that “there’s nothing there,” but also the loss of jobs and collapse of rural America due to the loss of manufacturing and other industries. If anybody can shine a spotlight on this divide in a way that’s articulate and gives insight to the issues faced by the average, small town American and their feelings of alienation, it’s Travis Tritt. 

NasKing’s Disease

You know I really wanted to enjoy this album. Nas is one of the all-time great rappers in the history of hip-hop and is required listening for anybody who has any kind of interest in the genre. But this album feels too same-y in so many spots and this makes for a tedious listen at times. Songs like “Ultra Black,” “All Bad” and “10 Points” are great, but in between these standout moments are songs that just don’t really stand out in terms of production or lyrics. Of course when you’ve set the bar as high as Nas has with previous albums, that undoubtedly hurts perception of new albums. While this is not a good album, it’s not bad either and it’s worth your time to spin through it once. 6/10

Aaron Frazer – “Bad News”

The fantastic drummer and falsetto vocalist for Durand Jones and the Indications teaming up with Easy Eye Sounds and Dan Auerbach is a combination that absolutely excites me on paper. Each have a foot solidly in the classic/throwback world while delivering lyrics that are modern and fresh. After hearing this enjoyably funky and soulful lead single, rest assured this debut album is one already on my radar for 2021. 

Texas HillTexas Hill EP

A brand new trio formed between Adam Wakefield, Casey James and Craig Wayne Boyd, I was intrigued by this grouping. Their obvious commonality of course is their backgrounds, as they each come from music competition shows. Each hasn’t really had the success as solo artists as I imagine they would prefer, so forming this trio is a pretty good idea. And I will say it’s clear right away their voices harmonize quite well together. Blending country, rock and soul, it’s a catchy sound too. They’ve said though they recorded a dozen songs together, so this EP is only a teaser of the full offering to come. So I’ll keep my comments on the vague side for now, as I want to hear the full project before offering my full thoughts. I’ll say this though: Texas Hill shows a lot of potential with these songs and I’m looking forward to hear what else they have in store. 

The Allman Betts BandBless Your Heart

This is a band on paper that is very much in the same vein of bands like Blackberry Smoke and The Wild Feathers. It’s a band I expect to enjoy, so I expected great things from this album. But there’s a big issue that prevents it from being enjoyable and that’s it’s runtime. There’s no reason why this album should be over an hour long. If you cut about 25 minutes from this album it would be a much better listen, but instead of this album concluding when it hits the sweet spot, it well overstays it’s welcome and makes me not want to revisit it. An undoubtedly talented band that fell into the trap a lot of younger acts fall into with albums. 6/10

JojiNectar

Once again this is another example of an album going way too long. Clocking in at just under an hour, there are multiple songs on this album that feel like a repetition of a previous song. Trim it down to around 30 minutes and this album would have gotten a full review and recommendation from me because Joji has a lot of great ideas, especially production-wise, throughout this album. “Ew” is a fantastically melancholy song about not feeling like enough in the wake of a breakup. “Tick Tock” and “Gimme Love” are absolute jams. Joji shows great introspection on “High Hopes” and “Mr. Hollywood” too. But unlike The Allman Betts Band, Joji’s longer than necessary runtime feels more like a major label trying to game streaming numbers. Despite my issues with this album though, Nectar is worth a listen if you’re into darker, “crying in the club” type R&B-influenced pop music. 6/10

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!