Review – Darius Rucker’s “If I Told You”

Darius Rucker If I Told You

Darius Rucker has always been an interesting case in country music. The former lead singer of 90s staple Hootie & The Blowfish has certainly made an impact as a country artist and seems to be well-known amongst the casual listeners, yet it always feels like he’s under-the-radar. This is probably due to the fact he hasn’t been a trend chaser (outside of the unfortunately bad “Homegrown Honey”), but he hasn’t ever really wowed me with his music. It’s always seems to somewhere between average and decent, especially when it comes to his single selections. His big hit of course was his cover of Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Wagon Wheel,” the song most synonymous with his country career. Since then he hasn’t had a single come close to its success. I reviewed his latest album Southern Style last year and much like his singles was an average affair brought down by corny, vanilla lyrics. However the production wasn’t too bad. Rucker now returns with the lead single from his upcoming fifth album and it’s titled “If I Told You.”

So does Rucker step up in the lyrics department? Well yes. It’s not a huge improvement, but an improvement nonetheless. “If I Told You” begins with Rucker doing a spoken word style. Now normally when a country artist does spoken word, I get highly annoyed because it’s done in a terrible, pseudo-rap manner and the lyrics are garbage (looking at you, Jake Owen). But Rucker pulls off spoken word well, not to mention the lyrics aren’t bad. The song itself is about a man who admits he is flawed and he has his own issues that have not only hurt him, but those around him. He admits all of these mistakes to the love of his life and hopes will she still accept and love him despite his admitted flaws. He even tells her that his “dreams are a million miles away” and he wants her to come with him, something he knows her family wouldn’t want. Yet he still pleads for her to follow him because he loves her that much. This is all set to a light production that has a country sound, but also a bit of a polished, Adult Contemporary feel too.

While “If I Told You” isn’t going to set the world on fire, it’s a decent song that shows Rucker taking a step in the right direction and hopefully is improved upon even more on the album. I think this song could have a real chance at radio if Capitol Records Nashville stays behind it and remain patient. It’s the type of love ballad that radio has been open to playing recently and this song really suits Rucker well. One good sign is it was the most added song at country radio on Mediabase last week. I think Rucker is capable of producing great music and while this isn’t it, this is music with some substance and something that would help improve the quality of mainstream country.

Grade: 7/10

Writers: Ross Copperman, Jon Nite and Shane McAnally

Album Review – Dierks Bentley’s ‘Black’

Dierks Bentley Black

What were you thinking with this album, Dierks? That’s all I could say as I listened to his new album Black. For the last few years traditional country fans have come to appreciate Dierks Bentley as one of the few artists in popular country to actually keep it country and deliver compelling music all at once. It’s probably a toss-up between Bentley and Tim McGraw for who has put out the most quality singles to radio recently (with the exception of “Somewhere On A Beach.” Bentley is also coming off his previous album Riser, which I thoroughly enjoyed and deservedly received a lot of critical acclaim and fan adulation. One of the things I’ve always praised about Bentley is his knack to balance quality and mainstream appeal. On this album it goes completely out the window in favor of…well I don’t know how to describe the overall approach to this album. I can already tell you up front that Black does not come close to matching Riser or even Home before it. After hearing the first half of this album, I almost stopped and refused to hear the rest. But then I gave it a chance and really didn’t feel like I got much more worth out of it either. This album is a different animal that sees Bentley stray far from his usual sound, something you really need to hear for yourself.

The album title track begins the album and right away you hear uncharacteristic drum play you’re not used to hearing in a Dierks Bentley song. It’s a pre-cursor of what you’re about to hear and it isn’t good. It’s a love song with a cheap hook and a pop, Adult Contemporary production that just doesn’t fit Dierks at all. Overall it’s just a really stiff song that I find hard to listen to. I can pretty much repeat everything I just said about “Black” for the next song “Pick Up” too. The production just doesn’t fit Dierks, but I’ll say the theme is somewhat better fleshed out. Even the theme, a song about calling a woman over and over hoping for the right answer, isn’t fully realized and relies too much on repeating the hook. The only redeeming song on the first half of Black is “I’ll Be The Moon,” where Dierks is joined by Maren Morris. It’s a cheating song where the woman is sneaking around with a guy in the night and wondering how they should handle things before eventually deciding that her significant other can be the sun and the guy she’s cheating with be the moon. Morris and Bentley sound great together and it’s one of the best on the album for sure. I could definitely see this as a future single, although the polarizing nature of the song (kind of saying cheating is alright) could prevent it too.

“What The Hell Did I Say” made me want to say, “What the hell did I just hear?” after listening to it. The production is too loud and overbearing and definitely not country. The song is about getting drunk and making mistakes. But really it’s just a lot of loud noise with clunky lyrics attempting to tell a story. Writers Ross Copperman, Josh Kear and Chris Tompkins deserve the blame for this song being so bad, along with Copperman again for producing it. Next up is the lead single of the album, “Somewhere On A Beach.” It’s complete garbage, as I already ran down through in a previous review. I have nothing else to add to it, except I hope I never have to hear it again. The most generic song of the album hands down goes to “Freedom.” I’m not sure what I loathe more about it: the cheap rip-off version of production off a Lumineers song or the fact the lyrics take inspiration from a summer Walmart commercial. It’s such a blatantly bad song with nothing redeeming about it and almost made me not want to hear the rest of the album. Bentley clearly lowered himself on this song and he should feel bad for it.

Bentley goes the slow-jam, R&B route on “Why Do I Feel.” So once again the production really stymies a song on this album. The song itself is not bad per se; it’s about Bentley wondering why he keeps questioning his great relationship he’s currently in. He has suspicions about her, but no proof. So he’s trying to drive these bad thoughts away. So the song is kind of okay, but the production keeps it from being good. “Roses And A Time Machine” is where we start to hear more of the “good side” to Dierks reappearing on this album. It’s a country rock song about a man wanting to build a time machine to turn back time and get the woman who walked out on him back. On every album from Dierks we usually get one song where we see his more humorous, silly side and this is that song on Black. It works better that I thought it would and sounds better each time I hear it. As long as you’re willing to forgive a little bit of a rock influence, this song is actually pretty good.

This is followed by “All The Way To Me,” a song where Bentley sings about all of the little good things that get to him in life. It’s supposed to be a more vulnerable song, as Bentley opens up about the things that make him feel something. It’s just an okay song that could have been something more. Americana/rock artist Elle King joins Bentley on “Different For Girls.” The song looks at a breakup from the perspective of a girl and how they handle them. It says that girls don’t react in the same way guys do and that they don’t resort to hookups and drinking excessively like guys do. The song also says guys can act all tough after a breakup and forget about the relationship, while a girl can’t. Well this is all well and good if we all still looked at society through the lens of social consciousness of the 1950s. I really wanted to like this song, but the way it stereotypes all girls and guys is just too ridiculous to overlook. It paints guys to look like drunken, uncaring pigs while girls are emotional train wrecks who never resort to drinking or hookups to cope with breakups. It’s a shame this is a single and everyone will praise it for it’s “thoughtful” look through the eyes of a girl in a breakup. This song is nothing but a mess.

“Mardi Gras” sees Bentley incorporating a jazzy, bluesy horns sound into the album. While guest Trombone Shorty’s horn play sounds great, it’s wasted on yet another dud song on this album. While the instrumentation on this song is vibrant and engaging, the song is the exact opposite. I’ll let you guess what the song is about. It shouldn’t be too hard to deduce. Dierks Bentley spends so much time using different analogies and comparisons for his woman on this album that by the time I reach “Light It Up,” I’m completely unfazed by it. It’s just another song and I’m left wondering how much left I have to endure. Never thought I would say this about a Dierks album. Black comes to a conclusion with “Can’t Be Replaced.” Finally we have the type of song I’ve come to expect from Dierks Bentley and falls much in the same vein as the songs on his previous album Riser. The song sees Dierks singing about the sentimental things in life that you can’t put a price on and can never be replaced. The song has a lot of heart and features the warm, modern country sound we’re used to hearing from Bentley. It’s also great to hear Bentley sort of reflect on how far he’s come in his life and how thankful he is for his wife and kids. “Can’t Be Replaced” also leaves me wondering why we had to endure an entire album mostly full of bad music before we finally get something great from Bentley.

Black is an underwhelming, disoriented mess. There’s no other way to put it. It has very little redemption and a lot of mediocre at best songs. Bentley clearly wanted to do something different and unfortunately for him it just doesn’t work for the most part. It appears he wanted to go for something darker and edgier, but you really can’t do this when the production is too loud most of the time and the lyrics are written by the same people who churn out the bad music we hear from mainstream country all the time. I can tell you one thing: producer Ross Copperman absolutely dropped the ball on this one. I can’t believe he produced Riser. You could have picked anyone else and I think they would have done a better job than Copperman. But then again I don’t think Dave Cobb could have saved some of these dreadful songs. I spend a lot of time comparing this album to Riser, even though I didn’t plan on it, but it’s for good reason. It just highlighted Dierks’ strengths so much more and to give you an idea of the quality gap between the two albums, I would probably take “Drunk on a Plane” over most of the songs on Black. My advice is to listen to “I’ll Be The Moon,” “Roses And A Time Machine,” “Can’t Be Replaced” and just skip the rest of this album. Black is without a doubt the worst album I’ve heard from Dierks Bentley.

Grade: 4/10

 

 

Review – Kenny Chesney’s “Noise”

Kenny Chesney Noise

When you see the title of a song is “Noise,” there’s one thing that immediately comes to mind: if this is bad, at least its titled properly. In fact if I saw this was a Sam Hunt song, I would think, “Finally, he’s appropriately labeled his music.” But instead it’s Kenny Chesney and you unenthusiastically hit play. You won’t find a better definition of a mediocre to middle of the road artist than Chesney. After a decade or so of ripping off Jimmy Buffett, Chesney said he was getting more serious with his last album in 2014, The Big Revival. And….it was just the same old stuff from Chesney. Of course that didn’t prevent everyone from tooting its lead single “American Kids” as some deep and thoughtful commentary on the everyday person. I lost track of how many Song of the Year award nominations it netted. I can’t believe how much credit Chesney gets from fans and awards shows and how they blow his importance out of proportion. It isn’t too tough to make breezy, radio-friendly music. I think though the main reason he gets a pass from everybody is because he never makes outright terrible music, which has always been the secret allure that makes people like his music (along with Chesney being a pretty nice guy himself). He’s safe, clean and just enough fun for the average, casual listener. None of what I said above changes with his new single “Noise.”

Upon first listen you think this song is kind of good. Then you listen to it more and you realize this is “American Kids” 2.0. Once again Chesney has crafted the absolute perfect song to get people to fall over heels about. When they finished recording “Noise” (written by Ross Copperman, Shane McAnally and Jon Nite), I can imagine the dollar signs appeared in Chesney and his label’s eyes because this has hit written all over it. The song is about how in the world today we’re surrounded by so much noise from the media, to people actually shouting at each other to social media. Yet no mention of country radio? I feel like they contribute a lot of noise… Anyway the message of the song is people are so enamored by these distractions that they can’t focus on what really matters in life. This message is nice enough, but the song really doesn’t expand upon this. It explores the topic in a shallow manner, when you could delve into this a lot more and create an interesting song. It’s perfect timing too with the presidential coverage at full steam, something Chesney admitted was the reason he wanted to release this song now. It’s a shrewd move on his part.

“Noise” isn’t a bad song at all, but I certainly wouldn’t call it good either. Like most Kenny Chesney songs, it had a chance to be good and really explore an interesting topic. Instead it settles for good enough and I’m just left wanting more from Chesney again. As I said above, a lot of people are going to love this song and I’m going to catch flack for not giving it a lot of praise. Sorry I see Kenny Chesney’s music for what it is and why it’s made. If you enjoy Chesney’s music good for you. I can enjoy it too when I’m sitting on a warm, sunny beach and I’ve had a few to drink (you can say this about most music). When I’m sober though all I hear is another just above average song that I’ll easily forget about. “Noise” makes for perfect background noise when you’re sitting in your car in traffic bored.

Grade: 6/10

Review – Jake Owen’s “American Country Love Song”

Jake Owen Generic Country Love Song

Are you even trying anymore, Jake? I ask this half in jest, but half me is serious when asking this question. It’s well-known of course that Jake Owen made his bread and butter on summer, party songs. “Barefoot Blue Jean Night” and “Beachin'” is what put Owen on the radar for several country music fans and took his stardom to another level. But after all of this success he started talking about making more quality music and he appeared to put his money where his mouth was when he released “What We Ain’t Got” as a single. It was critically acclaimed, yet didn’t do much at radio and didn’t really sell well either. So obviously he went back to the cliché well and released “Real Life” as a single. Not only did I rip it apart, but it bombed even worse than “What We Ain’t Got” at radio. So after two singles failed to perform to expectations at radio, Owen returns with a new single, “American Country Love Song.”

If you took one look at the title and rolled your eyes, I don’t blame you. Written by Ross Copperman, Ashley Gorley and Jaren Johnston, “American Country Love Song” is about as predictable as it sounds. There’s really no theme to the song. It’s a giant checklist song about America, summer and every other cliché that country radio has beat us over the head with over the last five to seven years. There’s Daytona Beach, pretty girls, blue eyes, trucks, American flags, fireworks and other summer-y themes throughout the song. The best way to describe this song is Kenny Chesney’s “American Kids” meets Owen’s previous mega-hit “Barefoot Blue Jean Night,” minus the catchy instrumentation of those two songs. Those other songs weren’t much better in avoiding typical country clichés, but the instrumentation made it okay. The instrumentation on this song simmers somewhere between half-baked and safe. Whatever you want to call it, I would say it’s boring and uninteresting. Oh and Owen is still doing spoken word. I don’t feel like rehashing why this is terrible, but if you want to see why just read this review.

Jake Owen is set to release a new album sometime this year and based off the first two singles, I’m not really looking forward to it. The goodwill he built up with me when he released “What We Ain’t Got” as a single has long evaporated and at this point in time I view his music as a big waste of time. Keep in mind this is not on commentary on him as a person, but solely as an artist and the outputting of his music. Owen had a chance to lead the way in bringing back substance to country radio, but instead he would rather play it safe and go for hits. “American Country Love Song” is perfect for you…if you happen to be Walmart or another corporation looking for a generic country song for an upcoming summer commercial. In fact that should have been the title of this single: “Generic Country Love Song.”

Grade: 3/10

Review – Keith Urban’s “Break On Me”

Keith Urban Break On Me

When you look back at the pop country of the 2000s, Keith Urban is certainly one of the biggest names to emerge from the era and experience a lot of success. The sincerity of his voice combined with the easy-going pop country stylings in his music made him a big fan favorite amongst mainstream country fans. Personally, Urban has always been just sort of there for me. It wasn’t until his last single “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16” that I formed a strong opinion on one of his songs. That single to me was nothing but a giant word vomit of clichés. The song was basically about nothing. And of course it reached the top five on the country airplay charts. I was surprised it didn’t reach #1 and the only reason it didn’t was because of the strong airplay of Kenny Chesney’s “Save It For A Rainy Day.” Urban has now released the follow-up and the second single of his upcoming eighth studio album, titled “Break On Me.”

Well I can say it’s an improvement over “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16.” Then again Urban had nowhere to go but up after that song. “Break On Me” plays on the theme that is quite popular in mainstream country music and that is romantic slow jams with pop elements infused throughout. The song is about how a man offers his shoulder to his loved one and that she’s welcome to “break” on him. The lyrics, written by Ross Copperman and Jon Nite, aren’t half bad. They do a decent job of conveying emotion and giving the song somewhat of a feel. It’s a shame they really never get a fair chance to shine, as the production kills most of my interest in this song. I don’t even know how I would describe it. The electronic elements and heavy Reverb throughout the song is annoying and unnecessary. The only reason this is included is because that’s the current popular sound in the genre right now. It serves no purpose other than this. If the song sticks to a simple acoustic guitar and piano, it might actually be good. Instead it’s just another forgettable, bland romance song on country radio.

I can see what Keith Urban was going for with this song, but it misses the mark in too many areas to accomplish it. Urban has always been a pop country singer, but this is just too much pop for my taste. As I’ve seen many point out on Twitter, it’s very Ed Sheeran-esqué. Based on the sound of these first two singles from Urban’s newest album, I’m expecting him to go more pop than ever before with his music. It’s not as bad as Sam Hunt’s version of urban country, but it’s still forgettable and unimaginative nonetheless. “Break On Me” is a sleepy ballad that I’m sure many urban country fans will praise as deep and emotional, but to me it’s just a less offensive version of Luke Bryan’s “Strip It Down.”

Grade: 3.5/10