Review – Easton Corbin’s “A Girl Like You”

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When Easton Corbin broke onto the scene nearly a decade ago, many including myself thought he would be the next great traditional country artist. Instead he devolved into pandering, checklist, formulaic fodder. Worse he dove headfirst into bro country with absolute glee, as it was heavily featured on his last album About To Get Real. So after numerous disappointments my expectations were set quite low for Corbin’s newly released single “A Girl Like You.” The title inspired less confidence in it being good. So does he finally fulfill his potential or is it another disappointment? Well it’s a lot more interesting and thought-provoking than I expected. The song opens with heavy drums that persist throughout the song. I don’t think they’re actually drum loops and could be an actual backing band, although I’m not entirely sure. This is meshed with twangy telecaster play throughout the song. It’s essentially a traditional meets modern sound, very much along the lines of Jon Pardi’s current hit song “Dirt on My Boots.” I have to admit it’s quite catchy and an infectious ear worm, although I imagine some will be turned off by the heavy drums. Then we get to the lyrics, which start off pretty rocky with lines about cold beer, bars and neon lights. It gets worse when we get to these lines: They play lots of songs on the radio / About them good ol’ country girls that we all know / Long tan legs and cut off jeans / Yeah just shaking that sugar every country boy’s dream. Aargh another bro song you think. But wait its immediately followed by these lines: I’ve heard ’em all at least a time or two / Ain’t none about a girl like you, you know that’s true. So he dismisses his girl being a cliché and just another girl in a country song. This is good, even if a tad hypocritical after cutting songs like this before. The rest of the song is about how special this girl is in any setting without devolving into sexist clichés and how thankful he is for her. Overall this is a solid concept for a song and something I should like, but at the same time it’s hard to shake the fact that he was cutting these very same songs he’s dismissing. At the end of the day I’m going to take “A Girl Like You” for what it is, a decent love song. I think it has a great chance of being a hit and if it is could be the start of a traditional-meets-modern trend in country music.

Grade: 6/10

 

Recommend? – You’ll have to decide for yourself on this one, as I can imagine some of you will be hesitant to embrace this.

 

Written by Ashley Gorley, Jesse Frasure and Rhett Akins

Review – Thomas Rhett’s “Star of the Show”

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How can you follow up the worst single of 2016? After Rhett released “Vacation,” I wonder how he can top the awfulness of that song. I mean after all let’s take a look back at some of his singles: the sanctimonious bullshit (“Beer with Jesus”), the sexist garbage (“Get Me Some of That”), the poor ripoff of the Bee Gees (“Make Me Wanna”), the poor ripoff of Sam Cooke and Bruno Mars (“Crash and Burn”), the poor ripoff of Ed Sheeran (“Die A Happy Man”), the song about an article of clothing (“T-Shirt”) and the song that made me want to rip my ears off. What a stunning collection of music! The corporate Nashville machine must be so proud. When they tell Rhett to jump and rip off a much more talented artist in another genre, he tells them how high and how much auto-tune. But I digress. In lieu of a fifth single from the original version of the terrible Tangled UpRhett and team have decided to release a deluxe edition of the album and a new song as a single. That single is titled “Star of the Show.” Oh boy what do we have in store now?

The first thing of course that I wanted to figure out in regards to “Star of the Show” is which pop artist did he exactly rip off because Rhett doesn’t release original music. He only copies more successful and talented artists. After a few listens, the instrumentation and production strike me exactly as something you would hear in a Justin Timberlake song. If you have a better comparison, let me know in the comments because I would love to hear it (Rhett would too because he needs ideas for the next album). Now when I say a Timberlake song, I mean if you let country producers make it because Timberlake songs have energy and emotion. It’s usually good pop music and that’s not the case hear. The percussion line and the guitar play is limp and boring. It sounds like when they recorded it they were trying not to wake someone in the next room. I also notice how they jammed some pedal steel guitar in the background at certain spots so that way Rhett fans can point to this as proof it qualifies as country. To them I say it’s treated irrelevantly in the context of the song, so I will treat it as such.

The song itself is about Rhett expressing his love for his wife Lauren and Rhett says he wrote it after their wedding. It shocked me to find Rhett actually helped write it. I figured it would be Blake Shelton personal where he got five other people to write it. The lyrics aren’t completely terrible and I do applaud Rhett for actually basing his song around something personal, even if the songwriting is still pretty sub par. Still “Star of the Show” is a pretty below average song to put it lightly. Call it country, call it pop, call it whatever you want: what I hear is a bad song with weak production and lyrics that are based around a personal feeling, but fail to actually deliver any meaning and heart behind them. It’s breezy, fluff music that will be forgotten years from now. Listening to “Star of the Show” is the equivalent of eating cotton candy: accessible and easy to consume, but not filling and disposable. In other words, a big hit for country radio.

Grade: 2/10

Written by Thomas Rhett, Rhett Akins & Ben Hayslip

The Past Pulse Of Mainstream Country Music [August 1996]

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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 (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 August 17th, 1996. As some of you may remember, a couple of weeks ago I asked if there were any charts you’d like to see me feature here. Last week’s chart was dedicated to Scotty J, and this week goes out to commenter Amanda! (It’s not exactly the date you said but it’s the closest I could get!)

  1. George Strait – “Carried Away” +3
  2. Wade Hayes – “On A Good Night” +3 (Pretty fun song)
  3. Brooks & Dunn – “I Am That Man” +1
  4. Neal McCoy – “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye” +2
  5. Clay Walker – “Only Days That End In “Y”” +3 (Corny sure, but that’s what made the 90’s so great!)
  6. Tim McGraw – “She Never Lets It Go To Her Heart” +3
  7. James Bonamy – “I Don’t Think I Will” 0 [Least Good Song] (More because I just really couldn’t get into this guy’s voice)
  8. Garth Brooks – “It’s Midnight Cinderella” +1 (See Clay Walker)
  9. Mindy McCready – “Guys Do It All The Time” +3
  10. Diamond Rio – “That’s What I Get For Lovin’ You” +1
  11. Ricochet – “Daddy’s Money” 0 (Fun, but creepy lyrically)
  12. Lee Roy Parnell – “Givin’ Water To A Drownin’ Man” +4
  13. Bryan White – “So Much For Pretending” 0 (See James Bonamy)
  14. Rhett Akins – “Don’t Get Me Started (On Why My Son Would Ever Record That Dumb “Vacation” Song)” +2
  15. Lonestar – “Runnin’ Away With My Heart” +3
  16. Rick Trevino – “Learning As You Go” +3
  17. Ty Herndon – “Living In A Moment” +4
  18. Shania Twain – “No One Needs To Know” +3
  19. Billy Dean – “That Girl’s Been Spyin’ On Me” +1 (Props for some hard hitting production but it’s a little creepy lyrically…)
  20. Blackhawk – “Big Guitar” +3 (See Clay Walker)
  21. Pam Tillis – “It’s Lonely Out There” +3
  22. Faith Hill – “You Can’t Lose Me” +2 (A little sappy but easy to enjoy)
  23. Tracy Byrd – “4 To 1 In Atlanta” +3
  24. Randy Travis – “Are We In Trouble Now” +4 [Best Song] (Probably his most underrated single)
  25. Mark Wills – “Jacob’s Ladder” +3
  26. Vince Gill – “Worlds Apart” +3
  27. Trisha Yearwood – “Believe Me Baby (I Lied)” +3
  28. Jo Dee Messina – “You’re Not In Kansas Anymore” +3 (Again, I like the production here)
  29. Collin Raye – “Love Remains” +2
  30. Toby Keith – “A Woman’s Touch” +3

The Past Pulse Of Mainstream Country Music: +72

Well it appears we have another good chart this week! I have to admit, there’s a lot of corny songs but hey, it was the 90’s. They all were delivered with heartfelt sincerity that made them easy to enjoy. I’m not quite sure there was a song here that really blew me out of the water except for Randy, but still we have a good chart here.

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!

Album Review – Jon Pardi’s ‘California Sunrise’

Jon Pardi California Sunrise

When it comes to quality of music from major label country artists this year, it’s been disappointing to say the least. To be more blunt, it’s been pretty mediocre and surprisingly boring. That sums up about 90% of the album releases I’ve heard from major label country artists this year. I can tell many share this sentiment, so when fans saw Jon Pardi was releasing his sophomore album California Sunrise, it became one of the most anticipated albums this year. After all Pardi is one of the few major label artists willing to keep it country with music. His current single and the lead single of the album, “Head Over Boots” is one of the most traditional songs at radio right now. Outside of Chris Stapleton, Pardi perhaps best represents the hopes and aspirations of traditional country fans hoping radio goes back to the sound. So with the hype in mind, does California Sunrise live up to the expectations? Well it depends on what exactly you expected out of the album and you’ll know what I mean by this by the end of the review.

Pardi begins the album with “Out of Style.” From the title I was expecting a song about how traditional country is considered out of style, but instead it’s about Pardi trekking to Nashville and learning how to write songs. The song elaborates further about how singing about how cold beers and complaining about the nine to five Monday through Friday lifestyle will never go out of style. It’s a longer song than what you’re accustomed to hearing from mainstream artists, as it allows Pardi and the band to show off their instrumentation. It’s a solid song, despite being a tad cliché. This is followed by the more traditionally arranged “Cowboy Hat.” And when I say traditionally arranged, there’s pedal steel guitar and fiddles throughout. The song itself is a love song, as Pardi sings of the love he has for his woman and how he loves seeing her in nothing but his cowboy hat. The whole song reminds me of something you would hear on country radio in the 90s (good or bad depending on your outlook on that era). I find it to be one of the best on the album and I wouldn’t be surprised if this is a single for Pardi, as I think it could be a hit.

I could see it as the follow-up to “Head Over Boots” even, which follows on the album. I gave my thoughts on Pardi’s first career top ten hit last year and I still thoroughly enjoy the song. From my original review: It opens with the sounds of an acoustic guitar and steel guitar. These are the main instruments used throughout the song, with some fiddles sprinkled in too. It’s country through and through. The song itself is a love ballad, which is proving to be a strong suit for Pardi. In a way this song kind of reminds me of Brad Paisley’s “We Danced,” a solid love song that isn’t some all-time classic, but a feel good song that anyone can enjoy.

“Night Shift” sees Pardi singing of the working class man. The song is about a man who works several hours a week, but he looks forward to the “night shift” with his wife in bed. On the surface this seems like an overtly sexual jam that has plagued country radio recently. But really it comes off as sentimental and plays to the blue-collar sensibility of work hard, play harder. Not to mention there’s plenty of fiddle. This theme continues with “Can’t Turn You Down,” as we see the man in the song calling up his woman to meet up with her and later go back to his place for a romantic night. While the lyrics get a little stereotypical millennial-y with lines like “a phone call turns into a what’s up what’s up,” it’s a good song with a nice melody.

The album up to this point has been mostly good, but it starts to take a turn in the other direction with “Dirt on My Boots.” With one of the co-writers being Jesse Frasure (the other two writers being Rhett Akins and Ashley Gorley), I’m not surprised because he’s helped write his share of bad music. Right away there’s a noticeable drum loop that gives the song a dance club beat, clearly trying to create some adult contemporary appeal. Yet there’s a steady presence of a fiddle too. The song itself is about a farmer after a long day cleaning up to go to town with his girl for a night of dancing and fun. This song is one of three clear moments on this album of what I would call label meddling. Despite the pop leanings of this song, I don’t dislike it too much due to the fiddle play, Pardi’s charisma in his delivery and the hard to deny catchiness of the lyrics.

The best song hands down on California Sunrise is “She Ain’t In It.” Sounding like something straight off a classic Alan Jackson album, Pardi sings of his broken heart and how it’s prevented from going out and living his life. He’s now ready to do his normal things and go out into crowds, as long as his ex isn’t involved or mentioned. Otherwise the heartache will come rushing back. It’s not only the best song on this album, but one of the best I’ve heard this year. Two of the songs I thought of when listening to this song were Sammy Kershaw’s “Politics, Religion & Her,” as well as Garth Brooks’ “Learning To Live Again.” All three capture the feelings of getting over heartbreak perfectly. This could be a career song for Pardi and I truly hope him and his label release this as a single.

Unfortunately, the worst song follows the best song of the album. That would be “All Time High.” It’s a love song with a nauseating amount of clichés and comparisons of love to drugs and getting high that we’ve heard too much in recent years. One line that elicited a groan from me was Pardi singing about how he enjoys his girl turning “his knob” up to 11. I get where songwriters Pardi, Bart Butler and Brice Long are going for here, but the lyrics are just a clunky mess. At least there’s a lot of fiddle in the song I guess. The third and final song clearly involving label meddling is “Heartache on the Dance Floor.” Just like “Dirt on My Boots,” this song has a clear pop dance beat accompanied by fiddles. For a song with heartache in the title, I didn’t expect it to be so upbeat. Out of all the songs on the album, this one confuses me the most. You have this dance beat, but also fiddles and steel guitar. Why couldn’t we just have the latter? Well the obvious answer is the label wanting something pop-y and Pardi having to comply. For a “compromise song,” it’s not terrible.

“Paycheck” is about a man hoping his paycheck will help take his work blues away, as he spends it at the bar. The country rock production combined with the catchy lyrics makes it easy to sing along with. It’s your standard drinking, blue-collar song that is solid, yet unspectacular. “Lucky Tonight” has a more traditional arrangement that dominates the album for the most part. It’s about a man whose woman left him weeks ago and now is trying to rebound in the bar scene and move past her. While the lyrics are a little simplistic and a tad too mainstream, the song is pretty solid to my ears. Not every heartbreak song has to be a complex ballad. The album’s title track brings it to a close, another highlight of this album, only trailing quality-wise to “She Ain’t In It.” The song is about Pardi singing of the love he has for his woman and comparing it the California sunrise he sees back home. It’s nice to see Pardi honor where he’s from, comparing someone he cares for so much to his home that he cares for so much too. Regional pride is something country artists need to embrace more. Despite some rocky songs in the middle, Pardi ends the album on a strong note.

Based on my expectations heading into this album, Jon Pardi delivers a solid album with California Sunrise. I knew going into this album that it wouldn’t be at a level of Chris Stapleton’s Traveller nor would it be stone cold country all the way through because this is an album from a major label and Jon Pardi is still early in his career. I expected some label meddling and there was actually less of it on here than I thought there would be. What did surprise is how almost every song on this album has a combination of fiddle and steel guitar. Instead of focusing on what this album did wrong, I’d rather focus on this because this caught my eye more than the mistakes on it. Pardi clearly wants to make that traditional, early 90s country music and for the most part these songs accomplish this. He also does a good job balancing between serious songs and fun songs. Despite this album’s faults at times, I find California Sunrise to be a very enjoyable, fun album and will go down as one of the best from a major label country artist this year.

Grade: 8/10

Album Review – Thomas Rhett’s ‘Tangled Up’ May Be One of Country’s Worst Albums

Let’s just be honest here: Thomas Rhett’s accomplishments and notoriety in country music today are solely because his dad is Rhett Akins. Thomas Rhett is a mediocre vocalist whose debut album was nothing but generic pop and bro-country schlock. There was zero originality because Thomas Rhett is not an artist. He’s a puppet willing to sing whatever his label, Valory Music Company (a subsidiary of Big Machine), wants him to sing and become whatever persona his label wants him to be. In 2013, the money was in bro-country. Fast forward two years, bro-country has faded and the money is in R&B-influenced sounds that create funky, danceable beats. Rhett developed a professional crush on Bruno Mars and says he’s changed the trajectory of his career to emulate Mars’ style of music. Conveniently, that funk pop musical styling just happens to be what makes money for Big Machine these days. Combine that all together and we have Bruno Mars Thomas Rhett’s newest album, Tangled Up.

The album begins with a club beat called “Anthem.” Don’t be fooled, just because you’ll hear a banjo in no way makes this song country. Drum machine beats and hand claps are front and center in the production as Rhett merely narrates how the song works. He speaks, not sings, but speaks lines like “this is part where the bass gonna stop” or “You startin’ to feel the momentum build so bring it on back to the chorus” and my personal favorite line of the whole song “this is the verse where you don’t know the words and you don’t give a damn ’cause it feels good.” It’s almost as if the writers are blatantly making fun of the generation that buys into this shitty music simply because it’s a “good beat.” But don’t get me wrong, this song flat-out sucks. “Crash and Burn” follows. Josh sums the song up perfectly with this segment in the single review: “Rhett does not have the charisma and soul of Mars to pull the song off. You need a high energy singer with great chops to make this song great and Rhett simply doesn’t have that. I feel like the instrumentation swallows his voice on this song. You notice everything else on this song before Rhett’s voice.” You could take that first sentence and apply it to just about every song on the album.

Up next is perhaps the worst song of the album: “South Side.” Before we even get into the terrible funk music, we get a distorted computer voice in an English accent (why?) saying, “Please commence shaking your south side.” I fought every urge in my body to not skip this song the moment I heard that sentence. I knew from that the song to follow was going to be terrible, but I just had to listen to it to know how terrible. Firstly, the funk mixed with stupid banjos sounds a bit like “Kick the Dust Up.” Rhett, again, simply sings about how a beat makes people want to shake their ass. But the second verse of this song is probably the worst verse in country music:

Like Memphis, Tennessee, got in bed with CDB
And had a baby and when the baby cried
It made this sound, ain’t no lie it was funkified

ARE  YOU KIDDING ME?! Thomas Rhett claims his new “funkified” music is the love child of Memphis Soul and Charlie Daniels! There have been some terrible name drops in country music, but this one just may take the cake. This song deserves a dedicated rant on its own. Moving on before I throw my computer into a wall. We get the first song on the album that I can actually listen to without getting angry. “Die A Happy Man” is a blues inspired love song. The sentiment is there and it feels somewhat honest: even if he never travels to see the world, he’d still be a happy man as long as he has his wife. However, I’m still not crazy about the song. The lyrics are rather bland and clichéd as Rhett still paints a shallow picture of how his wife’s looks and sexuality are what brings him to his knees and makes it hard to breathe. Also, Thomas Rhett is not that good of a singer, and in “Die A Happy Man” you can hear him trying too hard to sound sultry and sentimental.

Tangled Up is an album chock full of ideas and sounds borrowed from others. No other song is as indicative of his lack of originality than “Vacation.” There are 14 credited songwriters for this train wreck. 14! But half of those songwriters come from the band War. Rhett wisely credits the band for the song because the beat of the verses is essentially the beat from “Low Rider.” The song is about a party at home, but the partygoers are acting like they’re on a tropical vacation. It’s stupid lyrics that Thomas Rhett poorly raps set to a borrowed beat. Even the second verse where Rhett raps about  a Walgreens beach chair and Busch Light sends the same simple life sentiment of Jake Owen’s “Real Life.”

“Like It’s The Last Time” is yet another generic pop country song about a party in a field. You have all the usual suspects here: Moonshine, trucks, raising cups up, hooking up with the girl you like, bonfires, generic mid-tempo guitars, pop beats, and an implication of Fireball shots. It’s just another song to add to the hundreds of corn field songs from the past two years. “T-Shirt” is a hookup song about a girl who keeps coming onto Thomas Rhett. Apparently the song depicts a couple who’ve had these rendezvouses before and vowed to stop, but obviously that doesn’t happen. It’s a boring up beat pop rock beat combined with terrible lyrics and bad vocals. “Single Girl” finds Thomas Rhett pleading to a single girl. He wants to be her man and Rhett, who doesn’t seem to understand the fact that people can be happy and satisfied while not in a relationship, questions why she’s single. He assumes that because she’s single that she’s lonely and that he can be the one to fix it. These assumptions are misguided, immature, arrogant and a little trashy.

Surprisingly, there’s an actual good song on this album. “The Day You Stop Lookin’ Back” is a song where Rhett sings to a girl with a broken heart. The lyrics are actually mature and respectful and the production is more organic with an acoustic guitar and very little pop effects on the drums. Rhett encourages her to stop letting a past heartbreak get the best of her because once she stops looking back, she can then move on. It’s not a great song, but compared to most of the garbage on this album, it sounds pretty good. But we return to the crap with the title track, “Tangled.” This song is straight disco with a backing vocal effects and auto tuned, funky keyboard notes, heavy drum beats for dancing, and a funk inspired guitar. The lyrics are just another song of how Thomas Rhett enjoys being with some female because of the way she loves him physically. “Tangled” is a good reminder of how poorly Thomas Rhett sings.

Another good reminder of Thomas Rhett’s poor vocal abilities can be found in “Playing With Fire.” Rhett sings this song as a duet with American Idol’s Jordin Sparks. She is a much better singer than Rhett. Her lone verse is a better vocal performance than the rest of the album, and she’s even under utilized. Sonically, it’s 100% a pop ballad, but not a bad one at all. Lyrically, it depicts yet another rotten hookup relationship where both parties know it’s bad for them. However, they give into those impulses because they love playing with fire. Thomas Rhett also collaborates with Lunchmoney Lewis on “I Feel Good.” This is a lyrical mess of random nothingness. It starts out describing a scene that would have belonged in “Vacation” then finds Rhett driving in his car celebrating the fact that he got paid. The lyrics of this song don’t make any sense, and Lunchmoney Lewis’ rap breakdown doesn’t help this stupid funk song at all.

Tangled Up finally comes to an end with “Learned It From The Radio.” This is a song where Thomas Rhett thanks Dallas Davidson, Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line for teaching him how to be a cliché. “How to wake up, how to work tough, how to roll up those sleeves. How to throw down, how to get loud, and what to put in that drink. To give the stars in the sky a little halo, I learned it from the radio.” It’s every cliché list item from 10 years of mainstream country reworked into this narrative of “how I learned this, how I learned that.”

This album is a mess and shouldn’t even be called music. The songs that combine country sounds with funk sounds are just a hodgepodge of noise that would make a deaf person cringe. The actual funk, disco, R&B songs are shitty and Bruno Mars himself wouldn’t even try to record that mess. Mainstream country isn’t exactly moving away from bro-country. Sure, these songs aren’t pop rock corn field parties, but the lyrics are still the same trashy immature sentiments meant to boost bravado and masculinity. Tangled Up is an embarrassment to country music, it’s an embarrassment to funk and it’s an embarrassment to music in general.

Grade: 0/10