Review – Eli Young Band’s “Turn It On”

Eli Young Band Turn It On

The Eli Young Band started out their career in the Texas/Red Dirt scene. They gained a pretty big following in the biggest country music scene outside of Nashville. After experiencing decent chart success under independent labels, they moved to the Republic Nashville label in 2011 and have been in the mainstream scene ever since. They’ve had a few #1 hits and are a relatively well-known country band. The music they’ve produced since joining the mainstream scene has been hit or miss. They just released a new EP titled Turn It On and the lead single from it is the EP title track, “Turn It On.” It’s already charting in the top 60 of the Country Airplay chart, so I definitely wanted to check this single out.

So is this song a hit or miss by the band? I’m definitely going with miss. Right away you can tell this is just another pop country minus the country party song that caters to radio. The opening lyrics indicate it’s a guy in a bar or club talking it up with a girl and of course trying to get lucky. It’s yet another hookup song. Also it’s under neon lights because that’s supposed to make this song hip and cool. The instrumentation in this song is your generic, adult-contemporary sound with the nothing special guitar lyrics. In other words, same shit different song.

The chorus of this song is an annoying ear worm meant to get stuck in your head and drive you nuts. Not in a good way either. Just look at the chorus:

I can’t turn it off, turn it off, turn it off the way you turn it
Turn it on, turn it on, turn it on girl I’ll admit right now
I’m just about halfway gone, baby you can do no wrong
And I can’t turn it off the way you turn it on

How many songs now does that make where it’s chorus is essentially repeating itself several times with the exact same phrase? I like to think the success of Joe Nichols’ “Yeah” is what spawned this repetitive, clichéd chorus fetish that is present in too many country songs nowadays. By the way those above lines are pretty much the song, as its repeated ad nauseam. The lyrics in between this are simply filler so the song can repeat the hook again.

This uncreative garbage is getting pretty old. Then again I’m not surprised either. With the success of Sam Hunt, all of the other trend-chasing artists in the genre are going to try to follow suit in the way Hunt’s music is styled. Eli Young Band shows with this song they don’t give a crap about quality. It’s all about the money for them and they’ll churn out whatever they have to for radio success. You know why people hate sellouts? They hate sellouts because it’s easy. Making generic radio hits is easy to pull off. Making great music is difficult. It’s a true art form where you put your heart and soul into it. “Turn It On” is the opposite of heart and soul. It’s corporate, lifeless radio filler and I highly recommend you avoid it.

Grade: 0/10

 

Review – A Thousand Horses’ “Smoke”

Smoke

With every new year, there’s always going to be new country acts emerging. It’s still quite early in 2015 and we’ve already been introduced to some new acts. One of them is band called A Thousand Horses. They’re signed to the major label Republic Nashville and they’re releasing their debut album Southernality on June 9. The band consists of Michael Hobby (lead vocalist), Bill Satcher (lead guitarist), Zach Brown (guitarist/vocalist) and Graham DeLoach (bass/vocalist). They describe their sound as a combination of southern rock and country (as they mention on their site, they say Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Allman Brothers influence their sound). Their lead single “Smoke” has rocketed up the Country Airplay chart quickly, placing 26th on last week’s chart. This surprising surge in popularity has certainly caught my attention, so let’s take a look at “Smoke.”

Right from the beginning of the song you can hear the steel guitar and the mandolin, which provides a nice sound. This is pretty much consistent throughout the song. It’s a nice sound, but it’s also very safe and radio friendly. There isn’t an edge at all. No risks are taken instrumentation wise, which isn’t surprising with a lead single. When it comes to an act’s first single they want to play it as safe as possible to appeal to the largest amount of people possible. So I completely understand this. With that being said though, it makes for just a decent performance.

As for the lyrics in this song, they’re also pretty safe. Hobby sings about a woman in his life, which he compares to smoke. Here’s the chorus lyrics, which are repeated ad nauseam:

She’s smoke

I pull her in nice and slow/She’s a habit that I can’t let go

Blowing rings around my heart

Once she stole, watching her sway and glow

It’s killing me and I know/I can’t stop her once she starts

She’s smoke

These lyrics aren’t terrible and at least it isn’t another song comparing a woman to alcohol. Then again these aren’t great lyrics either. Just like the instrumentation these are very safe, in-between lyrics that won’t offend anybody nor make people cry “bro country.” Basically what this song is saying is the man in it is addicted to this woman and can’t her out of his head. It’s a simple, straight forward love story. At least that’s what the story that is being told by just listening to the song.

As for the music video for “Smoke,” which you’ll see below, it tells a slightly different story. In the music video the band hits a club. And in this club there’s a woman who is on stage stripping, which has caught the eye of lead vocalist Hobby. Oh and one more thing. The name of the stripper is “Smoke,” as you’ll see in the video she walks into her dressing room and there’s a sign that says “Smoke.” So what I thought was just a harmless love story before is now a story about a man becoming enamored with a stripper named “Smoke.” Now music videos don’t have an effect on my grades of songs, but it’s really hard to shake the image this video gave me of this song after watching it. I don’t think Florida Georgia Line has even put strippers in their music videos.

If I was grading this music video, I would give it a 0/10 because it’s unoriginal, dumb and once again a country song objectified women. These are the kind of things that impede mainstream country music from moving forward. But fortunately for A Thousand Horses I’m only reviewing the song. It’s certainly better than the video, but this song doesn’t leave me in awe like the band was with the stripper in the video. It bores me more than anything and at best makes neutral background music. I think this band’s talented and has potential. They’re certainly capable of much more. I hope their album is better and I’ll certainly give it a chance. But when it comes to “Smoke” it’s just meh for me. This is just another average country song.

Grade: 5/10 ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Review – Greg Bates Returns With New Single “Sand”

Back when mainstream country music was the only realm of country music I knew about, I always kept an eye out for under-the-radar artists. The kind of artists who put out good music on major labels, but didn’t get a lot of radio play. One of these artists that caught my eye was Greg Bates. It was his debut single “Did It For The Girl” that specifically caught my attention. It was actually iTunes Free Single of the Week (which might actually be killed off by iTunes starting this year) and thought hey I’ll give it a listen for free. While the song was a little campy, I liked Bates’ voice and the traditional sound of the song. It ended up reaching #5 on the U.S. Country Airplay chart in 2012. The follow-up single, “Fill in the Blank,” which I thought was an even better song only reached #45 on the Country Airplay chart.

Bates then drifted off the mainstream radar and quietly parted ways with the Republic Nashville label (an imprint of Big Machine Records) at the end of 2013. To me it sounded like another artist getting ate up and spit back out by the Nashville machine because he didn’t conform to their standards. Maybe that was true. I’m not sure. He is now an independent artist on his own and just released his new single, “Sand.” In fact him and his producer Frank Rogers funded this completely out of their own pockets, which I admit is quite an admirable endeavor.

The song begins with a pop/adult contemporary beat and Bates’ voice being put through a machine to give it an “echo effect.” Yep that damn technique has reared its ugly head once again. And then you get these lyrics on top of it:

“We couldn’t wait to get down on that beach

We had a football and some fake IDs/A place to crash a hundred feet from the sand

A Maaco cooler and a radio/A Natty Light and a pack of smokes/Yeah we were on a roll”

The beach? Check. Reference a sport? Check. Name an alcohol brand? Check. We got ourselves a checklist, party, pop country song. But there’s more! It’s a nostalgic song that reflects on the memories of hanging out with a girl on the beach. It’s a party love song. How original! Bates sings that time passed that summer like “grains through an hour-glass.” Groan. I thought Florida Georgia Line only chose laughably terrible cliché lyrics in the chorus of their songs. Although it’s not quite as bad as Florida Georgia Line’s “Angel.”

This song is bland and has been done so many times in the last five years that I can’t take it seriously. What is the threshold country music has to reach for vanilla, pop country songs before they stop making them? Then again mainstream country fans keep buying it, so they’re going to keep cranking them out. The labels love this type of song too because it’s commercial and sponsor friendly. I will say when Bates’ voice isn’t put through the machine, it sounds good. The lyrics are bad, but not the worst in the world. That’s about all the nice things I can say about this song.

I’m sure “Sand” will do quite well on the charts and radio if it’s given a chance, especially during the warmer months coming up. It’s a summer song in the same vein as Luke Bryan’s “Roller Coaster” and Jake Owen’s “Beachin’.” There’s no word yet on when Bates is releasing an album. I hope it’s much better than this song, but I’m not hopeful. I’m afraid he’s going to do exactly what Joe Nichols’ did this past year and make music that appeals to the popular sound. It would be a shame because Bates is a talented artist capable of much more. I recommend avoiding “Sand.”

Grade: 4.5/10

To hear Greg Bates’ “Sand,” click here

[Correction & Update: Originally I stated in my review that Greg Bates was still signed with Big Machine Records. This was a careless mistake on my part and I apologize for it. I always strive to be accurate in my posts and unfortunately I slipped up. Therefore it was inaccurate saying Bates sold out to Nashville when he’s in fact an independent artist. I still stand by my review though and find the song to be a disappointment.]

Zac Brown Band’s New Strategic Partnership for Southern Ground

Zac_Brown_USO_tour

On September 19th at the iHeartRadio Music Festival, Zac Brown announced a partnership of his own music label, Southern Ground, with some of music’s biggest label groups and brand masters. Big Machine Records (Taylor Swift, Tim McGraw), Republic Records (The Band Perry, Eli Young Band) and John Varvatos Records are the three labels lined up with Brown’s Southern Ground Artists, who was previously signed with Atlantic Records, in this strategic partnership.

Back in February of this year, renowned fashion designer John Varvatos began a partnership with Republic Records launching John Varvatos Records. From Universal Music’s website, Varvatos’ role in this Republic partnership is to focus on “spearheading the signing of new acts and the release of high-profile reissues and compilations. The imprint’s focus is genuine music in the spirit of legends.” Musical campaigns launched since this agreement included legendary artists like Willie Nelson, Robert Plant, ZZ Top (a Republic Record’s artist) and Dave Matthews.

For Brown and Southern Ground, this is certainly a positive move in respect toward the young music label. For Zac Brown alone, however, this is a curious move. Zac Brown famously criticized Luke Bryan (and subsequently Dallas Davidson) about his song “That’s My Kinda Night” calling that song “The worst song I’ve ever heard.” Alongside those comments was further commentary about how the same guys were writing the same songs in different arrangements.

Furthermore, Scott Borchetta, Big Machine Records’ CEO, has ruffled quite a few feathers among country music purists due to the control he has over his artists and the way he markets them. Republic Nashville, who also includes Florida Georgia Line, is a branch of Big Machine Label Group. Essentially, Scott Borchetta’s label features two of country music’s most successful crossover artists in Taylor Swift and Florida Georgia Line. From a musical standpoint, Brown’s decision to partner up here is a bit of a head scratcher. However, as much as he is a lead singer of a band, he’s also the mastermind behind Southern Ground Artists and this partnership provides several advantages to Southern Ground Artists. While the main motivation for this move revolves around more exposure and growth for the Southern Ground brand, we may see some other musical benefits as well.

Exposure for Southern Ground’s lesser-known artists – Alongside country’s big names on Big Machine, Southern Ground Artists may find more exposure from this partnership. Southern rockers Blackberry Smoke, singer-songwriters Niko Moon and Levi Lowery, and Americana, blues band The Wood Brothers already have a deep collaboration history with the Zac Brown Band. Many of these acts have toured with the band and have great musical catalogs of their own. The exposure that this partnership could provide may elevate these musical careers to a higher, well-deserved level. Not to mention, young acts like the AJ Ghent Band, Dugas and Little Feather may see a quicker rise in popularity as well. Also this exposure should help these artists, along with the Zac Brown Band to get increased radio play and maybe more award show appearances. If these award shows are as political as some claim, then a partnership with Big Machine can only help Zac and his band get some more votes on their side to win more well-deserved hardware.

Crossover Appeal – Blackberry Smoke is a southern rock band. AJ Ghent Band are self-described as “southern soul” with a blend of funk, blues, soul and rock. Dugas have a pop, rock sound. Simply put, Southern Ground Artists do not feature only country music. This label covers a wide range of genres, and Republic Records has the crossover capability to further this exposure. Lorde, Drake, Pearl Jam, Ariana Grande, Jack Johnson and Colbie Caillat are all signed under Republic. These artists from Southern Ground can potentially find a new audience for their music. And it’s not like they’re struggling for a fan base, but Zac Brown Band could also find success in this way too. Their newest EP, The Grohl Sessions Vol. 1 is more rock than any other genre. If these guys continue moving toward rock, then a label featuring ZZ Top, Pearl Jam and Godsmack can’t be a bad partner to have.

Possibility for more mainstream lyrical quality – This is my own opinion, but I don’t believe you’ll find a better group of songwriters than those in Southern Ground. Levi Lowrey’s two records feature great songs like “Wherever We Breakdown,” “Urge for Leaving” and “The Problem with Freedom.” Lowrey is also a credited co-writer on “Colder Weather,” which is arguably one of Zac Brown Band’s best songs. Niko Moon (formerly Nic Cowan) has songs like “Reno” and “Sun Dress” on his studio album, and has co-written Brown songs like “Keep Me In Mind,” “Lance’s Song” and “Day That I Die.” With a writing team like that including Brown himself, frequent co-writer Wyatt Durette, the men from Blackberry Smoke and The Woods Brothers, there’s a chance we could see these names on songs cut by other country artists like Eli Young Band, The Cadillac Three, or even Florida Georgia Line (we can dream, right?) And if there’s one thing we can all agree on, Zac Brown Band has released some great, quality songs to country radio.

More Musical Collaborations – Zac Brown Band and the fairly well-established Blackberry Smoke have collaborated with some of music’s best. It’s no secret Zac Brown enjoys playing and singing alongside his heroes. His band has performed with the likes of Jimmy Buffet, Gregg Allman, Dave Grohl and Dave Matthews just to name a few. And Blackberry Smoke has recorded a version of “Yesterday’s Wine” with the late, great George Jones and Jamey Johnson. With Varvatos’ work with musical legends, we may be treated to more collaborations between Southern Ground Artists and some of music’s best.

Arguably the most important potential benefit here is branding. Southern Ground is more than an independent record label; Southern Ground is a brand of life. Zac Brown has built the Southern Ground Music Festival, Camp Southern Ground, and Southern Grind, a metal and knife shop, just to name a few. Zac Brown commented on John Varvatos’ clothing line and the success of his brand since 2000. Varvatos’ branding skills and marketability should certainly assist in molding the Southern Ground brand Zac Brown has already worked to build.

Admittedly, there is one aspect to be weary of with this partnership. Much like how we may see writers from Southern Ground getting songs cut by Republic and Big Machine artists, we may also see writers from those two labels getting songs cut by Southern Ground Artists. Scott Borchetta has a lot of power in country music. While I don’t think he’ll have the same level of control over Southern Ground Artists like he does his own, it’s possible he may find ways to influence Zac or other Southern Ground groups to record a Republic or Big Machine written song or two for future albums. And recently there has been some questionable songs coming out of these two labels, think “God Made Girls,” “Lookin’ For That Girl,” or “This is How We Roll.” Now, I have faith that Zac Brown won’t compromise his vision for the band or his label by recording songs like that, but it’s one thing to keep an eye on.

From the beginning the Zac Brown Band has done it their way and I don’t expect that to change with this partnership. Overall this strategic partnership is for the Southern Ground brand. This brand is Zac Brown’s baby and as a leader for this brand he made a business move that should positively impact Southern Ground. Zac Brown has a grander vision than simply making music and this partnership is indicative of his efforts to take that vision to the next level. Time will only tell if this will lead to the additional musical benefits listed above. The first big release from this joint-venture will be the newest Zac Brown Band album, which is due out in the early half of 2015. And for that band, at least we’ll get a good idea of what the future will hold with Southern Ground, Big Machine, Republic and Varvatos coming together. Zac Brown is a man who surrounds himself with individuals whose talent moves his vision forward. When the band released “Chicken Fried” there were only five official members in the Zac Brown Band. That number has jumped to eight this year, due to Zac wanting to add more instrumentation and harmonies to the band’s music. Through adding more avenues for his brand and label to grow, it’s obvious Zac Brown expects big things to happen as a result. And if his band’s growth is any indication, I bet this business move will be successful in its efforts to improve everything enveloped in Southern Ground.