Album Review – Mudcrutch’s ‘2’

Before there was The Heartbreakers, Tom Petty had Mudcrutch, a southern rock/alt country band. Mudcrutch initially formed in 1970, but after fives year with no musical traction, the band split and Petty went on to do great things with The Heartbreakers. Over the last eight years though, Tom Petty has brought Mudcrutch back together for some short tours and a few album releases, including released in May. As mainstream country grew in popularity due to bro-country, Tom Petty turned heads with his comments on the music, calling it “bad rock with a fiddle.” While Mudcrutch falls into Americana with 2 rising up the Americana Airplay Chart, the album has a couple good offerings of country and rockabilly songs mixed in with Petty’s style of rock.

The album opens with a harmonica playing over a simple drum beat and guitar strum on “Trailer.” The song details a man who, upon graduating high-school, got himself a mobile home to start his own life with the girl he loves. “Trailer” highlights the ups and downs of their life together. “Dreams of Flying” sounds like a vintage Tom Petty rock song, with longer guitar solos accompanied by a faint organ sound. The lyrics hint at the attraction of the rock and roll lifestyle, with an itch to get out and explore the world and fly.

Mudcrutch slows it down with love song “Beautiful Blue.” The spacey, rock ballad production feature piano and organ keys along with another extended solo in the middle of the song, and a nice piano solo toward the song’s end. “Beautiful Blue” certainly has a callback sound to 70s classic rock. “Beautiful World” touches on love again, in a more anthemic, mid-tempo rock song. The song touches on mystery and uncertainties in life, but the love shared between the man and woman in the song make those uncertainties worth it. “I Forgive It All” takes a different approach to dealing with life’s curveballs. The acoustic ballad finds the narrator down on his luck with little money, but he keeps pushing along and forgiving the downs of life.

“The Other Side of the Mountain” takes a turn into country music with a prominent banjo setting the beat in the production. The “mountain” in the song separates two lovers who long to be with one another, but can’t figure out how to navigate around the mountain. “Hope” is another song with a classic rock production. The guitar lick in the middle of the song actually reminds me a bit of Eric Clapton and Cream’s “White Room.” The song is a thank you to a friend, or even a prayer to a religious figure, for providing hope and a more joyous outlook in life.

The rockabilly side of Mudcrutch comes out with “Welcome to Hell.” The piano beat and simple, repetitive drum beats make the song sound like a remastered 50s hit, a sound that suits the band well. “Welcome to Hell” details the fall of a relationship and marriage. The emotional nature of the lyrics is lost in contrast to the upbeat production, but the song works well as it’s produced. Failed relationships and the country sound continue in “Save Your Water.” The woman of this relationship is playing games, and he’s tired of playing along, so he finally burns bridges and breaks the ties. “Save Your Water” is ultimately forgettable.

The quick southern rock tune “Victim of Circumstance” is an upbeat driving song. In this relationship, the man is taking a long journey back to California, hoping his woman will welcome him with one more chance. Mudcrutch closes out 2 with the six-minute “Hungry No More.” The song tells the story of a man who’s been beaten down by life, yet he’s still determined to fight back and make the best out of the situation. “Hungry No More” is a slow burning track with a mid-tempo beat, but the songs packs a bunch in the final two minutes with a roaring guitar solo.

Mudcrutch’s second album showcases a good musical variety for Tom Petty and his bandmates. Mike Campbell (guitarist) and Benmont Tench (keyboards) are also members of The Heartbreakers. Drummer Randall Marsh and singer/guitarist Tom Leadon round out Mudcrutch. The five-piece band are experienced musicians and producers, and that experience helps this album work. The balance between country and rock and the way the two genres blend help shine. It’s the sort of album you come to expect from a group of musicians at this point in their career: solid, well-produced songs.

Grade: 8/10

The Current Pulse of Americana Music [June 11]

Bob Dylan Fallen Angels

Each week I will take a look at the Billboard Americana/Folk Albums chart and grade the top 15 albums. The grading format I use each week is every album will receive either a +1, -1 or a 0. These will then be tallied up for an overall score, or pulse of the current top fifteen Americana albums, with the highest possible score being a +15 and the lowest possible score being a -15. How do I determine if an album is rated a +1, -1 or 0? The rating it received on the site or myself will determine this. If it hasn’t been rated yet, then I will make the call. Albums rated between 7 and 10 receive a +1. Albums rated a 5 or 6 receive a 0. Albums rated 4 or lower receive a -1.

The goal of this exercise is to evaluate the current state of Americana music and determine if it’s improving or getting worse. Let’s take a look at this week’s top fifteen…

  1. Bob Dylan – Fallen Angels (New to Top 15)
  2. Mudcrutch – 2 (New to Top 15)
  3. Chris Stapleton – Traveller +1
  4. The Lumineers – Cleopatra +1
  5. Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide To Earth +1
  6. Brett Dennen – Por Favor (New to Top 15)
  7. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit (New to Top 15)
  8. James Bay – Chaos And The Calm +1
  9. Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats – Self-Titled +1
  10. Tom Petty & Bob Dylan – Live On Air: Radio Broadcast 1986 (New to Top 15)
  11. Ruth B – The Intro (EP) 0
  12. Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color +1
  13. Mary Chapin Carpenter – The Things That We Are Made Of -1
  14. Bonnie Raitt – Dig In Deep +1
  15. Sawyer Fredericks – A Good Storm -1

The Current Pulse of Americana Music:¯\_(ツ)_/¯

The pulse is currently being reconsidered (see below). 

Albums That Dropped Out of the Top 15 This Week

  • Hard Working Americans – Rest in Chaos
  • Foy Vance – The Wild Swan
  • The Jayhawks – Paging Mr. Proust
  • The Strumbellas – Hope
  • Loretta Lynn – Full Circle

Albums That Entered The Top 15 This Week

  • Bob Dylan – Fallen Angels
  • Mudcrutch – 2
  • Brett Dennen – Por Favor
  • Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit
  • Tom Petty & Bob Dylan – Live On Air: Radio Broadcast 1986

Thoughts

So I’ve been sitting and re-thinking this whole Americana pulse feature. One of the stark differences between this and the Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Music is this is currently based on album sales and the other is based on airplay. It’s kind of unfair and unusual to base each on two different methods of charting. Not to mention album sales are a lot more unstable and harder to keep up with for a full pulse. I don’t want to put out a pulse each week where a handful of the albums don’t have a pulse because I don’t have time to hear everything. But at the same time I still want to do an Americana pulse not only because a lot of you are interested in, but I’m also interested in it. So I propose to you a slight change in course for next week’s pulse: How about instead I base it off the Americana Airplay chart, which I covered in the past before. I can do the top 20 or something like that for the Pulse. This chart is a lot more stable and will allow me to keep up with most or all of the albums on it. Anyway let me know your thoughts in the comments below on what should be done moving forward.

Review – Steven Tyler’s “Red, White, and You” is a Sad, Pandering Joke of a Song

Steven Tyler’s move into country music raised a lot of eyebrows when it was first announced. It seemed to be just another washed up rock star moving to “country” in an effort to make money; cashing out on the hot trend in popular music. Unlike Poison’s Bret Michaels or Uncle Ezra Ray, Steven Tyler’s country debut was actually good. “Love Is Your Name” was a surprisingly country sounding love song. And despite falling short of the top 30 on the Country Airplay chart, it seemed to establish a bit of hope that maybe Steven Tyler would take the move into country music seriously. HA! The joke was on us because Tyler rips a page straight out of the bro-country bible for his second country single, “Red, White, and You.”

Musically, the song isn’t anything to write home about. It’s a generic pop country anthem with acoustic guitars, electric guitars, and a simple drum beat. The verses are quieter, building up to the roaring chorus where all the instruments blend into one loud noise. Seriously, for a man who led one of America’s greatest rock bands, this ultra generic production is just sad to listen to.

It’s the laughably terrible lyrics that bring “Red, White, and You” to its demise. I think the song is about Steven Tyler lusting after a girl, but it’s hard to tell what he’s singing about with incoherent onslaught of bro-country tropes. Tyler lets you know right away that this entire song is nothing more than a pandering pile of crap when the native New Yorker sings about the Georgia night. Then the rocker-turned-country sellout name drops Tom Petty and works his song titles “American Girl” and “Free Fallin'” into the song. Tyler ends the second verse by mentioning girls in cut-offs, name dropping his label, pulling a Toby Keith and saying “kiss my ass” (because ‘Merica), and then referencing a Springsteen song. “Trying too hard” doesn’t even begin to describe the writers’ attempts at making sure this song is relevant. “All the bad girls rockin’ those cut off jeans, and good old boys driving Big Machines. And you can kiss my ass, can’t help but say, it’s good to be “Born in the USA.” For the love of God, “Born in the USA” is not even close to a patriotic anthem! But neither is “Red, White, and You” so I’m not surprised.

And that’s not even the worst offender of the lyrics. Steven Tyler manages to put a Tom Petty song in a line about a vagina with “Free Fallin’ into your yum yum.” WHAT?! Is he trying to out-do Florida Georgia Line’s “pink umbrella in your drink”? This song is such a desperate cry for attention and relevancy, it’s not even funny. It’s just sad. The cringe-inducing shouts of “baby” and “sweet potato pie” pile onto the joke that is “Red, White, and You.”

I’ve come to two possible conclusions about “Red, White, and You.” The first is, as I’ve said throughout the review, that this song is a cry for attention. It’s a little kid kicking and screaming in the toy aisle at the store. The second possible conclusion is that this song is a brilliant parody of every Luke Bryan, Cole Swindell, and Florida Georgia Line song ever. I know that the first one is far more plausible than the second one, but I don’t want to imagine that these lyrics actually exist as a real attempt to get on country radio. I know that some of Aerosmith’s singles weren’t exactly deep, but even “Love in an Elevator” seemed aware of its silliness. “Red, White, and You” though?  It’s a cringe-worthy attempt at a real pop country song. It’s a sad joke with no noticeable self-awareness of how low it stoops.

Grade: 0/10

Hodgepodge of Country Stuff: Bro Country is Fading, Sam Hunt is Rising & Country Music is Shattering Into Pieces

The Division of Country Music

The Hodgepodge of Country Stuff is a weekly column where I discuss some country stuff, non-country stuff and maybe even stuff in-between. So that’s a lot of stuff! I’m sure you’ll find some stuff you even like. So welcome! 

Over the past few years country music has been dominated by a sub-genre called bro country. If you’re a music fan who hasn’t been living under a rock, you’re well aware (even non-country fans). It was coined by writer Jody Rosen and it refers to party songs that rely on the same old tropes of drinking, trucks, tailgates, river banks, moonlight, fields and most of the time involves a bro trying to get some sex from a girl. Most of the time the “girls” in these songs (they’re never called women) are treated like crap and are referred to in a derogatory manner. Bro country been the bane of existence for traditional country fans. It’s dominated radios, charts and in my opinion dragged the good name of country through the mud several times.

Those days are coming to an end. Bro country is on it’s very last legs and is no longer the popular taste of the month in country music. Sure there are a few songs of this nature on the charts and playing on radio, but they aren’t as widespread as before. Now just because bro country is on its death bed doesn’t mean it’s not going to fight until the end. The artists who have gained the most from it will fight tooth and nail to keep it alive. I’m looking at you Florida Georgia Line, Luke Bryan, Chase Rice and Jason Aldean. To me the final litmus test for this will be Luke Bryan’s new album later this year. Will it feature a lot of bro country and if so will it be popular? We’ll have to wait and see.

On top of this a lot of bro country is being replaced by quality music. Tim McGraw finally woke up and realized trying to keep up with the bros wasn’t going to fly with his fans and went back to his old late 90s and early 2000s sound. It’s paid dividends as “Meanwhile Back at Mama’s” and “Shotgun Rider” both became #1 songs. He also netted a Grammy nomination for Best Country Song. Maddie & Tae’s debut EP was a nice sample of traditional country music and continue to gain more popularity. Carrie Underwood’s “Something in the Water” has been a hugely popular songs on the Billboard and iTunes charts. Mickey Guyton has caught everyone’s attention early in 2015 with her country waltz single “Better Than You Left Me.” Even Jake Owen, who benefitted greatly from the bro country fad, put out a great single in “What We Ain’t Got.” On top of this Sturgill Simpson signed with major label Atlantic Records recently.

Things are going great for traditional country fans, right? Well there’s one big elephant in the room you’re kind of forgetting. While a good bit of bro country has been replaced by more quality country songs, the rest has been replaced with something arguably worse. I’m of course referring to Sam Hunt. While independent country fans point to the aforementioned Simpson’s meteoric rise in the last year, mainstream country fans will point to Hunt’s own impressive rise. Last year at this time hardly anyone knew Sam Hunt. He was just another songwriter in Nashville. Then his single “Leave The Night On” came out and became a huge hit. I hoped he was just a flash in the pan and just a one-hit wonder. But at the same time I knew this was naive. When something shows any success in country music, everyone else will rush to copy it and ride the trend.

Jason Aldean surely did as his single “Burnin’ It Down” became one of the biggest hits of 2014. Half of his album featured EDM and heavy pop influences similar to Hunt’s album. I can say the same of Chase Rice and Florida Georgie Line’s albums. Meanwhile Sam Hunt has four songs in the top 40 of iTunes. That’s insane. Each song is also a straight pop song and people are eating it right up. What’s the deal? Well last week I really explored the review sections on Sam Hunt’s Montevallo album and there was a comment I saw a lot that stood out to me. “I usually hate country music, but I love this album and Hunt’s music.” In other words, they like this country music because it isn’t country music. But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Sturgill Simpson gets the same exact comment from people and has said as much in interviews. Another similarity both Hunt and Simpson share is they get showers of love from the critics.

So what we got here are two completely different artists with completely different music with both sides claiming it’s country music. It’s truly a sight to behold. Country music is in a war right now. In one corner you have the bro country fans touting the success of Florida Georgia Line and have a legitimate claim. Then you have the traditional country fans who can preach the success of Sturgill Simpson. And of course the pop/EDM country fans who have their poster-boy Sam Hunt. All are having success and gaining more fans by the day.

So you’re probably wondering who’s going to win? Well right now all of them. In the future, all of them can win too. Remember the splitting of country music is coming. It’s pretty much inevitable because I find it impossible to have all of these different sounding acts under one genre. The fans and critics can’t stand it. The labels know there’s money in a split too. But there’s one thing I do disagree with about this whole split. Everyone says it will simply split into two parts, but I find that to be unbelievable. There isn’t a lot of crossover between Sam Hunt fans and Luke Bryan fans. There are many on each side that despise the other. Go read message boards and comments sections. Country music is going to split into multiple sub-genres similar to rock music. You could conceivably have traditional country, rock country, pop country, bro country, EDM country, hip-hop country and even more.

This could be a good thing. No more quarreling amongst opposing fans of what is and isn’t country music. A possibility of a fair platform for all artists of all kinds. This could also be a bad thing. Look at how divided rock music is with its hundreds of sub-genres and it’s presence in the mainstream. It’s an absolute mess and country music could end up in the same boat. I have no idea what’s going to happen, but everyone will have a side in this fight. I know one thing for certain: It’s going to be entertaining. So grab your popcorn and get ready. Also go traditional country!

Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases

  • The Lone Bellow just released their new album Then Came The Morning. They performed on Letterman the album’s title track on Letterman this past week and it was a fantastic performance. I already wrote a review for the album and trust me you don’t want to miss this one.
  • Carrie Underwood announced her next single will be “Little Toy Guns.” It was the second new song she released on her greatest hits album released last November along with “Something in the Water.” It was only announced a few days ago and it’s already in the top 20 of the iTunes country chart. We’ll have a review on this one soon.
  • Lindi Ortega teased her new upcoming 2015 album on Instagram this past week. If you haven’t heard it yet, click here to hear it. Based on this small sample, we have another great country album to look forward to. 2015 is going to be a great year to be a country music fan.
  • Maddie & Tae recently released their second single “Fly.” I would’ve personally released “Sierra” as the second single as it’s a better song with more of an edge. “Fly” could be successful though because it’s an inspirational song that appeals to younger women. It’ll be interesting to see how it fares on the charts and the radio.

Throwback Thursday Song

 

Brad Paisley, George Jones and Bill Anderson – “Too Country.” One of the many great songs off of Brad Paisley’s Part II album. Nothing would please me more if did another album like this one. My other favorite from that album is his cover of “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive.” It’s kind of funny looking back at this now after his latest album.

My Non-Country Song of the Week

 

Fall Out Boy – “Uma Thurman.” Yeah yeah I know it’s a mindless pop song, but sometimes I like to take a break from the more substantial stuff and listen to something upbeat. In my opinion, Fall Out Boy used to be a pretty good band. Their quality lately however has slipped and there are several bad tracks on their new album. But “Uma Thurman” works for me and I’m a sucker for a song that samples The Munsters’ theme song.

Tweet of the Week

The Brothers Osborne are definitely one of the most underrated follows on country music Twitter. And this tweet is proof.

A Google Play Review That Will Make You Face Palm

RaeLynn Google Play Review

This was left under RaeLynn’s Me EP on Google Play. I shit you not. I think this wins the prize for most ridiculous review to date.

That’s it for the Hodgepodge this week! Be sure to sound off in the comments! 

Photo Credit: SturgillSimpson.com/MCA Nashville/Republic Nashville. Special thanks to PicMonkey.

Album Review – Little Big Town’s Pain Killer Proves Tom Petty Right

LBT

In an August 2013 interview with Rolling Stone, legendary rock musician Tom Petty was asked his thoughts on the state of country music after he told The Beacon it was “bad rock with fiddle.” His response (emphasis mine):

Well, yeah I mean, I hate to generalize on a whole genre of music, but it does seem to be missing that magic element that it used to have. I’m sure there are people playing country that are doing it well, but they’re just not getting the attention that the shittier stuff gets. But that’s the way it always is, isn’t it? But I hope that kind of swings around back to where it should be. But I don’t really see a George Jones or a Buck Owens or any anything that fresh coming up. I’m sure there must be somebody doing it, but most of that music reminds me of rock in the middle Eighties where it became incredibly generic and relied on videos. I don’t want to rail on about country because I don’t really know much about it, but that’s what it seems like to me.

The gist of what Petty says is that mainstream country music sounds like generic 80s rock music. This leads me to today’s review of Little Big Town’s new album Pain Killer. The four person group made up of Karen Fairchild, Kimberly Schlapman, Jimi Westbrook and Phillip Sweet were looking to go with a different style and approach with this album. From what I’ve gathered in interviews and the album cover before even listening to it was they were going for an edgier, “provocative” sound. In other words, they appear to be going to their dark side after years of bubblegum pop country music. Do they get edgy with this album? Well how sharp would you describe a butter knife? That’s how edgy they get. Also please keep that Tom Petty quote in mind while reading this review.

The album starts off with “Quit Breaking Up With Me,” a song about a troubled relationship. It sounds like it was lifted right out of the 80s. Also why does it sound like this is being sung out of a bathroom stall? Maybe it was. Then again Weird Al Yankovic’s first song “My Bologna” was recorded in a bathroom stall and it probably sounded better than this song. There’s way too much background noise and it’s more pop than country. This is followed up with “Day Drinking,” which now sounds pretty weird and sticks out compared to the rest of the album. In my initial review of this song I said this: “It immediately starts off with an annoying whistling sound and some light drum playing, signaling it’s a happy and upbeat song. The song starts off about getting out at five o’clock on a Friday and doing some day drinking after a long, hot day. The song then proceeds to repeat over and over throughout the following line, “Why don’t we do a little day drinking?” Mixed in are some lines about normal clichés that have to do with drinking, work and summer. The annoying whistling sound also reappears throughout the song.” After hearing this song so many times on the radio I wish I had given it an even lower score.

The next song, “Tumble And Fall,” is supposed to be a motivational song I guess? I can’t exactly tell because this song is overproduced so much. This is a pop song with banjos buried in the background. And a “country” song that talks about a trapeze? Not going to fly with this reviewer. The album’s title track is a catchy song about drinking your problems and pain away. It’s a pop country song with reggae undertones, almost a beach song. I have to admit the beat is easy to like, but when it comes down to it this is just another song that glamorizes drinking with repetitive lyrics. I’m sure country radio will eat this right up. “Girl Crush” is one of the more interesting tracks on the album. This song has a mysterious vibe and it took me a few listens to realize the theme of the song. It’s about a woman who has developed a crush on her man’s lover. In other words it’s a lustful jealousy towards the mistress. Karen Fairchild’s smokey vocals are actually quite good on this song. Looking at this song from a pop perspective, it’s a great song. But this is Country Perspective and this song isn’t country. What a shame too because this song actually has a unique theme.

As soon as I started listening to “Faster Gun,” I immediately got a Poison/Journey vibe from it. That’s because this is your generic rock song trying to pass off itself as country. You’re right again Tom Petty! If this song was properly classified as pop or rock, it’s not bad. But again this is a song trying to pass itself off as country. “Good People” is a bland, generic, adult contemporary pop song with rock influences and overproduced instrumentation. I have nothing else to say about this forgettable song. “Stay All Night” is a bland, generic, rock song with pop influences and overproduced instrumentation. I have nothing else to say about this forgettable song. The observant reader will point out that I was being repetitive here and you’re exactly right. Repetitive songs get repetitive criticism.

Let’s move onto the next song, “Save Your Sin.” This song starts out as a decent pop country song and turns into overproduced rock pop by the end of it. The theme of the song is sex I think? Let’s just put it this way: Like every other song on this album, it’s Little Big Town trying to convince us they’re edgier and racier with their material now. Insert eye roll and light chuckling here. “Live Forever” is a love ballad where the group actually seems to have good intentions with the song. It actually has potential to be more than generic pop music. The problem is the tone is too sleepy and doesn’t draw the listener in to feel anything. This song should be romantic and mysterious, but instead I’m just kind of bored and wondering if this is all they have to offer with this song. Compared to the rest of the album this is the best song so far, yet it isn’t a country song either.

“We Built This City!” “We Built This City!” “We Built This City on rock n’ roll!” That’s what I was hearing in my head as I listened to “Things You Don’t Think About” because this song gives that kind of vibe off. This is another generic rock song on this album. “Turn the Lights On” starts out with just instruments for the first minute and a half, leading me to believe the whole song would just be an instrumental song, but it’s sadly not. Instead it’s just more generic rock music. Man, Tom Petty you’re looking like a genius with your thoughts on country music. Finally we reach the last track on the album, “Silver and Gold.” My initial thoughts when I listened to this song: Hahahaha! First we get Florida Georgia Line using a cheesy pickup line in “Angel” and now Little Big Town is comparing love to silver and gold. If I want to hear a song about silver and gold, I would rather listen to this song. Little Big Town has got nothing on the snowman from Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer! The snowman is even using a banjo in his song and not drowning it out with machines, making it more country than Little Big Town’s entire album. And of course this is just another generic rock song. Variety at it’s finest on this album.

So I guess this is the album where Little Big Town goes to their dark side. I would describe it more as the local theatre kids dressing in dark clothes and putting on a performance of The Outsiders, deeming themselves cool bad guys because neon signs and drinking dictates this. By the way I hate that movie even more than this album. Pain Killer labels itself as a country album, except it covers every genre except country. As Derek said in his review of Lady Antebellum’s 747 album, it wouldn’t be bad if the album was labeled pop music. I can say the same of this Little Big Town album. In fact this is pretty good pop music. If Little Big Town went to the pop genre like Taylor Swift I might actually enjoy this album. But this album calls itself country and I will treat it as such. I only recommend this album if you like vanilla, dull rock music. Otherwise stay clear of it.

Grade: 3/10