Album Review — Kenny Chesney’s ‘Songs For The Saints’

[Editors note: This post originally appeared in Aug. 2018 on Fusion Country and is appearing as it was originally published. It’s being reposted here for reader visibility. It’s also one of the best releases of Kenny Chesney’s career, so it’s an album I definitely recommend.]

I have to be honest. I did not see myself chomping at the bit to discuss new Kenny Chesney music in the year 2018. Take it back two years ago when Chesney released Cosmic Hallelujah, an album I absolutely ripped to shreds for its lazy and uninspiring content. I remember declaring that Chesney would have to make one hell of a turn around to get me to ever take him seriously again. And well here we are, as Chesney delivers one of the most surprising albums I’ve heard this year in Songs For The Saints.

It’s important to know this album is inspired by and revolves around the Virgin Islands and the destruction caused by Hurricane Irma on the islands in 2017. Chesney has a home on one of the islands, Saint John, and felt compelled to give back to a place that’s meant a lot to him. Not only is this album about the islands, but all proceeds for the albums are being donated to relief funds that help rebuild the islands. It’s an incredibly classy and heartfelt move by Chesney and his label. While Chesney’s legacy is defined by beach and island songs at this point, I don’t think I’ve heard this much passion and drive from Chesney in his music in years. His beach music is usually on the casual/party side, but this is the most mature take he’s ever done on this sub-genre of country music.

The album’s opening and title track is a direct ode to the islands. The saints in this song refer to each island, as they were each named after a saint. It’s the perfect opener, as it establishes what this album is all about and that’s the people of the islands, who clearly mean a lot to Chesney. “Every Heart” is a soft and sentimental song about the general struggle everyone shares in life. It’s a little sweet, but a nice message. I really enjoy the little touches in instrumentation in this song, particularly the bouzouki and organ. The lead single of the album, “Get Along”, is my least favorite track of the album. While I can appreciate the message of peace and happiness, I still don’t like the “buy a boat” line in the song. It’s just so consumeristic, although it doesn’t sound as bad I guess in the context of the rest of the album and can be interpreted as more of a throwaway line rather than some subliminal message.

Chesney has recorded several pirate-themed songs over the years, but “Pirate Song” is his best take on the theme yet. I particularly enjoy the details Chesney goes into as he fantasizes the life of a pirate sailing the open seas. By setting the scene well, you as the listener can really picture the life being painted in the song. This is what makes atmospheric songs work. Chesney collaborates with Ziggy Marley on the reggae-influenced “Love for Love City.” Love City is the nickname for St. John, Chesney’s home in the islands. Chesney and Marley sing of the people coming together in good times and need, highlighting the tight-knit nature of the communities on the islands no matter the situation. It’s a peaceful and easy-going song that makes you feel good in many ways.

I thought Carrie Underwood and Ludacris would be the most unlikely collaboration of the year, but Kenny Chesney and Lord Huron top it. Chesney covers the indie rock group’s “Ends of the Earth” and it’s one of my favorite tracks on the album. The song is about the endless thirst for adventure and exploring the unknown. The soaring, spacey production of the song is immediately infectious and memorable. This has my vote for a future single. “Gulf Moon” is another standout on Songs For The Saints. The John Baumann-penned song gives you a look inside a little town along the gulf coast and the lives of the people who inhabit it. The storytelling in this song is absolutely great, as the little details of the surroundings and the people put you right there in the town with them. It’s great to see Chesney give an artist like Baumann a spot on this album and for Chesney it’s a legacy-type song.

“Island Rain” is about the relief and therapeutic attribute of an island rain. It goes on to relate it to general relief from an uncomfortable situation in everyday life. It’s yet another song on this album that does such a great job of relating to the everyday person. This track is a breath of fresh air to a person having a rough day. The touches of steel drum and organ throughout add even more to this peaceful nature. Beach country’s most recognizable face Jimmy Buffett joins Chesney on a cover of Buffett’s “Trying to Reason With Hurricane Season.” The song is about the stress and anxieties of anticipating the impending hurricane season, a regular preparation for those who live in the islands and coasts. While they tire of this yearly happening, they continue to live and deal with hurricane season. It’s another good cover pick from Chesney, as it fits the theme of the album well.

The sing-a-long “We’re All Here” is about finding escapism from the troubles of everyday life, something Chesney has perfected many times in songs and does so again here. These are the kinds of simple songs that may not offer much variety, but it’s a comforting familiarity to many. The album’s closing track “Better Boat” is perhaps one of the best songs Chesney has ever recorded. Written by Travis Meadows and Liz Rose, the song is about getting better at coping with the everyday struggles and stress of life. This is likened to learning how to build a better boat, which is such an apt and fitting metaphor. Chesney is joined on the song by a wonderful vocalist in Mindy Smith, who adds another layer with her harmonies with Chesney. There’s so much heart and truth in the lyrics that you would be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t connect with this song. It’s a small reminder of what country music is all about.

Songs For The Saints will go down as one of Kenny Chesney’s best albums at the end of his career. On this album he casts away the lazy tropes and paper-thin depth that has plagued his career at times and delivers an album full of songs about love, happiness and finding peace after destruction. This album’s biggest strength is its songwriting, as it’s rooted in a place of reality of real people and places, highlighting the ups and downs of life. The production of this album is pretty good too, as it’s varied and does a wonderful job of weaving reggae, island and pop influences throughout. Kenny Chesney should be quite proud of this album, as he delivers a real gem in Songs For The Saints.

Grade: 8/10

Album Review – Eric Church’s ‘Mr. Misunderstood’ is His Best Work Yet

Eric Church Mr. Misunderstood

What a surprise! Eric Church caught the entire world off guard when he released his brand new album Mr. Misunderstood in the midst of the 2015 CMA Awards. The first signs of it didn’t appear until members of Church’s fan club received it in the mail days before it was available to the public. Then everyone listened to it and I think I can speak for most people when I say we once again said, “What a surprise!” I never reviewed Church’s previous album The Outsiders here on Country Perspective, but anyone who has followed this site for a while has known my stance on it. I wasn’t fond of it all and found it to be highly overrated and over-produced. I found it to be a sonic mess with no cohesive theme or direction while also lacking a country sound for the most part. I was definitely one of the most negative about it amongst critics. I like to think Church listened to this feedback because every problem I had with The Outsiders is non-existent on Mr. Misunderstood. This album is a complete 180 and features what I consider the deepest and most inspirational music of Church’s entire career.

The album’s title track and lead single kicks this album off. It’s an appropriate opener, as it essentially lays out what this album is all about and that’s Eric Church and his love of music. Church sings about how he grew up as “Mr. Misunderstood,” the kid in the back of the class who didn’t fit in with his friends who “got their rocks off” on top 40 radio. Instead he was the kid who listened to his dad’s vinyl and the likes of Elvis Costello, Ray Wylie Hubbard and Jeff Tweedy (a really cool shout out to three talented artists who have clearly influenced him). It’s an acoustic driven track influenced by southern and heartland rock. There were many things I found relatable about this song and I think many other listeners feel the same when they hear it. This is Eric Church at his best, something I find myself saying a lot as I listened to this album.

The gospel-influenced “Mistress Named Music” follows. Just like “Mr. Misunderstood,” Church sings of his love of music and how it’s been a part of his life ever since he was a kid listening to the organ player in church. The instrumentation on this song is really well done, perfectly meshing country, rock and gospel to create a compelling and interesting listen. It should be noted Church wrote both of these first two songs of the album with Casey Beathard, a fellow country artist and somewhat known songwriter. The upbeat and acoustic-driven “Chattanooga Lucy” is the closet thing to a party song on this album, although I wouldn’t classify it as such. It is a very fun song to listen to and move your feet along with. There’s not a lot of depth on this song, but that’s not a problem considering most of this album has a lot of depth and takes on a more serious tone. So this is a nice breakup and something to play when you’re looking for some mindless music to put on in the background. “Mixed Drinks About Feelings” is a heartbreak song penned solely by Church himself. The man in the song is trying to drink his sorrows away after his woman left him and it’s not helping that much. Church duets on the song with blues artist Susan Tedeschi and their voices go together greatly. Their voices and instrumentation create the perfect mood in the song and it’s arguably the one of the best heartbreak songs Church has released.

There are many great songs throughout this album. But one of the standouts amongst them and most buzzed about I’ve heard so far is “Knives of New Orleans.” The song is about a criminal on the run trying to escape his sins and looking for his getaway key. It’s one of those songs you have to hear for yourself to truly appreciate and once you do you know it just fits Church perfectly. He wrote the song with the brilliant Travis Meadows and Jeremy Spillman and I would have loved to be in the room when they finished penning this song because I can only imagine the reaction. One of the more under-looked songs on the album, “Round Here Buzz,” is next. It’s about a man sitting on the hood of his car drinking, as he thinks about the girl who just left him. He’s perfectly content to just sit there and take in everything around him, as his heart heals. Living in a small town is part of the theme of this song too and unlike in The Outsiders, Church avoids being cheesy or unimaginative and instead does a great job describing it in an authentic way. It’s a really solid song that takes a few listens to really grasp, but once you do you definitely appreciate it much more.

One of my personal favorites on Mr. Misunderstood is “Kill A Word.” It’s about getting rid of negative words and really negativity in general, as Church says words are something that can’t be unheard or unsaid. The songwriting is really sharp, clever and catchy, while also avoiding the pitfall of getting too pandering (hello “We Shall Be Free). But really what takes this song to another level for me is the vocal performances delivered by Church and guest performers Andrea Davidson and Americana artist Rhiannon Giddens. I particularly want to highlight Giddens, who is an amazing artist and delivered the performance of the night at this year’s Americana Awards. I have an immense amount of respect for Church including her on such a powerful song. “Holdin’ My Own” is Church’s ode to his family. Another one penned solely by himself, Church is proud of how he’s been able to survive the early years of his life and how’s he now able to hold his arms around his wife and two boys and do what he loves for a living. You can tell how close and sentimental this song is to Church and his heart shows more on this song than any other on the album. This is a song straight from the heart and for the heart.

While I pretty much love this entire album, the best song on Mr. Misunderstood is “Record Year.” In fact I’ll go so far to say this may be the best song Eric Church has released in his entire career. “Record Year” is about a man who has just broken up with his girlfriend and turns to his vinyl collection to heal his heart. While he plays these records he slowly heals and not only gets over his heartbreak, but also rediscovers himself and some great music along the way. More than anything it’s a song about finding your way in life when things are at your darkest. When Church releases this as a single (it has to be a single), I predict it will be the biggest hit of his career and will go down as one of his signature songs. This is a special song that hits a home run in every department.

Mr. Misunderstood comes to a close with “Three Year Old.” Church is once again inspired by his family, particularly his three-year-old son Boone, on this song. He sings about all of the lessons he has learned from him and how it puts into context how simple life is through the eyes of a child. It reminds you as an adult how we can over complicate stuff and how we need to step back to realize this. It should also be mentioned his son nicknamed the guitar that Church wrote this album with, “Butter Bean.” So it goes back to where this album all began. Not to mention this album started off with Church relating back to his younger days and ends with him as an adult watching his own child grow up before his very eyes.

Mr. Misunderstood is hands-down the best album Eric Church has released in his career. While The Outsiders felt like a contrived, egotistical vanity project, Mr. Misunderstood is Church’s love letter to music. He went back to his roots while also incorporating a sense of freshness that had been needed in his music. It’s no secret that Church is not strictly a country artist and loves to dabble in other genres too. This has hurt him a lot in past albums, but on this one he finds the perfect balance. He incorporates influences from blues, soul, southern rock, heartland rock, folk, gospel and funk in a way that maintains the integrity of the music while also making something new and creative. The songwriting is sharp, well-written and varied in theme and the writers Church brought in alongside him fit well. While I wouldn’t call this an album of the year contender, it is definitely one of the top 30 albums I’ve heard in country this year. It’s an absolute must-listen. Mr. Misunderstood has made me believe in Eric Church and his music once again.

Grade: 9/10

 

Album Review – Carrie Underwood’s ‘Storyteller’

Carrie Underwood Storyteller

Over the last few years in country music, female artists have struggled to standout and get played on country radio. Well unless your name is Miranda Lambert or Carrie Underwood. They haven’t struggled a bit and are regularly featured. Underwood in particularly has really been shining with her singles, as in the last year she has received heaps of praise for them. “Something In The Water” won a Grammy and universally praised by country fans. “Little Toy Guns” had a more pop sound than many liked, but it’s challenging theme and solid songwriting made it standout in the vast wasteland of mainstream country. And her latest single “Smoke Break” is on pace to reach #1 at country radio. This has helped build hype to her new album Storyteller, which has been highly anticipated for months. Underwood promised this album had more twang and more emphasis on telling a story than her previous records, something that piqued my attention. And after listening to this album, this proved to be right. This album also proved to be more complex and connected than it appears on the surface.

Storyteller begins with “Renegade Runaway,” a song that borrows from country, pop and rock to create an interesting sound. The song is essentially a modern-day Bonnie & Clyde-type anthem. I didn’t know what to make of this song after the first few listens, but there’s something about this that makes it enjoyable to my ears, whether it’s the exciting production or Underwood’s vocals. “Dirty Laundry” is about a woman catching her man cheating on her by looking through his dirty laundry and finding stains that are clear evidence of it (perfume and red wine). The phrase “dirty laundry” works as a double entendre in this situation, as his dirty laundry is the dirty laundry that hangs him out to dry and exposes him as a cheater. It’s a solid song, although I thought the instrumentation could be better.

“Church Bells” is an interesting song about a woman falling in love with an “oil man” who she thought was Mr. Right. She was picturing the wedding and the whole nine yards until one night he shows his true colors and hits her out of rage. She gets her revenge by slipping something into his whiskey one night and he dies without anyone knowing what happened. Now I know I’ve said before that answering a wrong with violence is…well wrong. But when it comes to this story I don’t have as much of an issue, even though violence shouldn’t ever be the answer to anything. Then again when you hit a woman I lose any respect for you, so you kind of get what you deserve (what goes around comes around). I will say the songwriting on this is good, despite the production being a little overboard.

One of the more confusing songs on the entire album is “Heartbeat.” This is basically Luke Bryan’s “Strip It Down” or Sam Hunt’s “Take Your Time” from the female perspective. From the reference to partying in the city to the R&B-styled production, this is no different from those songs. Hunt is also the male background singer on the song. This song might have had a chance at being a romantic love ballad if it was actually country, but instead it chases trends and ruins the song. The lead single “Smoke Break” follows. As I said in my original review, this song does a great job of balancing appeal to the roots of country music and what radio wants. From my review: The song itself is an ode to the working class person. The protagonists of the song are a woman and a man who both work their asses off. Both are clearly tired. Neither drink or smoke, but wouldn’t mind a drink or smoke break. Now some might imply this as literal, but I think the songwriters here (Underwood, Chris DeStefano and Hillary Lindsey) are implying it’s just an expression.

My favorite song on the album is “Choctaw County Affair.” It’s a murder ballad about a couple who thought they could get away with murder, but in the end it catches up with them. I found it slightly humorous how Underwood sings about how one half of the couple, Cassie O’Grady, is painted as the “All-American cheerleader type” when she’s really a cold-hearted “gold digger.” If you recall Underwood had a single a few years back called “All-American Girl” that was nauseatingly clichéd. That song made me roll my eyes because in many instances this good girl is just putting on a front and “Choctaw County Affair” goes there with that thinking. At first I thought the production was a little overdone (and if you think that I understand), but to me it gets it just right. I especially enjoy the harmonica play from Travis Meadows. On an album called Storyteller, this song exemplifies the name the most and credit to the writer of the song Jason White (who also wrote the controversial Tim McGraw song “Red Ragtop” and Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Ain’t It Enough”).

“Like I’ll Never Love You Again” is a rare love ballad from Underwood, who is on record as to saying she doesn’t like to record these type of songs very often because they’re cheesy. It’s a very sweet, heartfelt song that fits Underwood perfectly. It also feels very genuine coming from Underwood, which is important when trying to get people to connect to a serious love song. The songwriting is solid through and through, as Hillary Lindsey, Lori McKenna and Liz Rose wrote it. There are many songs I had to listen to on Storyteller to fully grasp and get a hold of and “Chaser” was one of them. It’s another song where Underwood melds together country, pop and rock to create a weird sound. It feels like this song doesn’t know what it wants to be. If it maintains it’s high energy in the chorus throughout it, I think I would like it more, but the roller coaster energy throughout it makes the song a middle of the road tune at best. Underwood shows off more of her pop rock side on “Relapse.” The production drags this song down, as once again it’s kind of bizarre and indecisive.

The sound of a ticking clock plays in “Clocks Don’t Stop.” This is pretty much a straight pop song and feature the worst lyrics of the album. Chris DeStefano, Hillary Lindsey and Blair Daly are the writers of the song. Everyone is familiar with the first two for the most part, but Daly is probably not so familiar. Well actually she’s more familiar to you than you think, as she co-wrote Maddie & Tae’s “Your Side of Town” (the worst song on their debut album) and helped write many of the songs on Kip Moore’s new album, including his current single “Running For You.” The production in this song is just as bad, making the song very easy to skip. Another standout of the album is hands down “The Girl You Think I Am.” The song is about how Carrie’s parents have always believed in her and thought the best of her, making her strive to be as great as they say she is. It’s an easy song for many to connect with, especially those who have parents like in the song who believe in you fully and push you to reach your potential. Everything about this song flows together well and would love to see it released as a single.

“Mexico” is another Bonnie & Clyde-like tale about being on the run and heading for Mexico to escape the police. Going into this song I was expecting a sunny, summer tune, but I probably shouldn’t have considering Underwood has never did these types of songs. This is the type of song that will grow on you the more you hear it. Storyteller comes to a close with “What I Never Knew I Always Wanted.” It’s another song where Carrie draws from her current life. Underwood sings about how she never envisioned herself being married and having a kid, but now she realizes this is what she always wanted. This song has a couple of production missteps, but not enough to take away from this well-written song. I would have added a little more piano and some acoustic guitar to make it feel more heartfelt. Nevertheless, it’s a solid song and an appropriate way to end the album.

Carrie Underwood’s Storyteller is an album that lived up to expectations in some areas and disappointed in others. Her promise of more twang and rock influences definitely showed and for the most part was good. The songwriting was undoubtedly the biggest highlight of the album, as it was varied and interesting. I give a lot of credit for Underwood having a hand in writing many of the songs and reaching out to talented songwriters to contribute to the album who deserve more attention. And of course Underwood’s vocals shined, but that’s almost always the case. Where this album disappointed me the most was with the production and the amount of pop influences at times. It dragged down too many songs and some of them should have been left off the album entirely. Also Sam Hunt should never be involved with a Carrie Underwood song, even if it’s something that’s seemingly harmless like background vocals. Overall I think Storyteller will be loved and hated by many, as early on it’s proving to be divisive amongst fans and critics alike. At the end of the day I found this album to more good than bad and I mostly enjoyed it. What will determine if you like this album is how much emphasis you put on instrumentation and songwriting.

Grade: 7/10

 

Review – Dierks Bentley’s “Riser” Rises Above The Rest

Dierks-Bentley-Riser

I don’t think it’s a big secret to anyone that Dierks Bentley has been one of the very few in mainstream country music who consistently puts out quality music. Yet I feel like he’s still overlooked and under-the-radar. His 2014 album Riser was a very solid album full of inspiring songs, including a Country Perspective 2014 Song of the Year candidate in “Here On Earth.” It went on to be nominated for a Grammy for Best Country Album this past year. It was hands down the best of the nominations and should have won. Even some of the hokier and less serious songs (“Drunk On A Plane” comes to mind) Bentley releases aren’t that bad. So it kind of baffles me that Bentley doesn’t get a lot of praise. But I’m one to talk, as it was brought to my attention that Bentley had yet to be reviewed on here. Well that changes now, as today I review Bentley’s album title track and current single “Riser.”

This song to me is one of three gems off the album that are a must-listen (the others are “Here On Earth” and “I Hold On”). So when I saw Bentley released “Riser” as a single I was elated. It’s a very well-written song about a man who isn’t afraid to back down from challenges the world throws at him or his woman. He takes every challenge head-on without fear or worry. The protagonist is a guy who never gives up, which makes him extremely likable and easy to cheer for. It’s an inspiring song that makes it easy to connect with from the very first listen. Speaking of the great lyrics, credit goes to Steve Moakler and Travis Meadows. That last name should ring a bell in listeners’ heads, as Meadows has written a lot of quality songs, such as Jake Owen’s “What We Ain’t Got” and Blackberry Smoke’s “Pretty Little Lie.” As Bentley said in an interview with Rolling Stone, it was important to him to release this song as a single:

“When I first heard that song, wow. It really hit me hard. Not only did we know we were going to record it, but we thought it’d be the cornerstone of the record,” says Bentley. “You hear a song like that and you have to meet the guy behind it. And Travis has been through a lot — he’s lived and breathed and died with that song. I feel honored to have it.”

While Bentley recently released “Say You Do” as his new single, he hopes that his album will have enough legs to warrant shipping “Riser” to radio. “I have a lot of respect for those guys who let me record their songs. I want the whole world to hear it and do the song justice, and give that song as big a platform as possible. Especially a song like ‘Riser,'” he says. “It has been and really could be so impactful on people’s lives.”

If you haven’t read that feature on Travis Meadows I linked above, it’s a must-read. For Bentley to show so much care for a song that clearly had a lot of thought behind it, it shows that he’s not only an artist of the people, but a good person too. I’m sure his label wasn’t that thrilled to get behind this song as a single, but Bentley’s passion pushed this to be a single. It should also be pointed out that the instrumentation on this song is fantastic too, with plenty of earthy steel guitar licks throughout it.

“Riser” is exactly what I want out of a country song: quality lyrics you can connect with and pure country instrumentation. I think I can speak on the behalf of disenfranchised traditional country music fans everywhere in saying, thank you Dierks Bentley for caring. Not a lot of mainstream country artists care about releasing quality music nowadays and are purely in it for the money and fame. Dierks at the end of the day still considers the roots of the genre. Currently this song hasn’t been rising up the airplay chart very fast, but I think Dierks and his label are content on riding with this song for a while. I think it can reach the top 30 of the chart by the end of September and I think it ultimately has a good run. Regardless of what happens, I have a great appreciation for Bentley and “Riser.” It’s one of the best singles released to country radio this year.

Grade: 10/10

The 2015 ACM Awards: The Highs & Lows of a Boring & Weird Show

2015 ACM Awards

The 50th edition of the ACM Awards aired last night on CBS and it was many things. For starters it was quite long, as the show ran for three and a half hours. If you were watching live like me, it felt like six hours. It wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. But then again it was quite boring. A big part of it may have been the fact that the winners of the awards were pretty predictable and there wasn’t any suspense. There were several guests, with some of them adding to the show while others clearly hurt it (I’ll get to that here in a minute). The 2015 ACM Awards had some highs and many lows. We’ll start first with the highs. Before that though I just want to thank everyone again who followed along on the live blog and on Twitter last night. I had a blast talking about the show with all of you. Also welcome new readers! So without further ado let’s get to the fallout of the ACM Awards…

The Highs

  • George Strait’s Performance – King George went out on the stage and did what he always does: sing great country music. He performed a medley consisting of the classic “All My Exes Live in Texas” and his new single “Let It Go.” In addition to the great performance, he gave a classy speech in accepting his Milestone Award. Strait was awesome. Also I guarantee he high-tailed it out of there after this because I didn’t see him the rest of the show. Brad Paisley wanted him to join in on singing “Crushin’ It,” so that gave him more incentive to leave. Thank you, George.
  • Randy Travis Shout Out – Shortly after Strait, Lee Brice gave a very nice shout out to country music legend Randy Travis. The crowd gave him an ovation, which he full-heartedly deserves. He’s been battling numerous health problems over the last year and it was just great to see him.
  • Tony Romo Burns Blake Shelton – I’m not a big fan of Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, but I like him a lot more after the burn he put on Blake Shelton. During a little back and forth Blake made a masturbation joke I believe. Romo uttered at him: “Blake, we’re the Dallas Cowboys, we have real balls.” In the words of Michael Scott, “Boom! Roasted!”
  • Martina McBride’s Performs “Independence Day” – The iconic McBride performed her mid-90s hit and sounded good despite terrible production work and being in a cavernous stadium. It just reminded me of how much I would like to hear her back on country radio again.
  • Dierks Bentley Performs “Riser” – It was satisfying to see Dierks Bentley perform this type of song on a big stage. It was also nice for the writer of the song Travis Meadows. Bentley is working on his new record right now, but I hope that “Riser” gets released as a single before the new record is released. Seeing it performed at the ACM Awards certainly gives me some hope.
  • Little Big Town Performs “Girl Crush” – As most country fans are aware, the group’s latest single has been talked about a lot in the past month for it’s “controversy.” I’m glad they performed it tonight and for anyone out there who still thinks this is a “lesbian” song, you’re an idiot. By the way it was a nice performance, as Fairchild’s vocals were spot on.
  • Reba’s Medley – While I didn’t like her most recent single, I thought her medley performance last night was great. While I would rather hear her sing a full song than a medley (another thing I’ll get to in a minute), I thought she nailed her performance. She really hit the high notes well.
  • Taylor Swift’s Milestone Award Speech – While I’m on record as being not a big fan of Taylor Swift’s work, I have come around on her since she has went pop. After listening to her speech accepting the Milestone Award that the CMA basically used to force her into appearing, I think I like her now. She handled such a weird situation with poise and grace. She thanked country music for giving her the start she needed to become a superstar and all of the fans for their support. Swift also reinforced that she has moved on to pop, but did it in a polite manner. It really painted her in a good light. Meanwhile it makes country music look like the ex who just can’t move on from the broken relationship.
  • Dwight Yoakam Being Dwight Yoakam – Just seeing him on the show was nice. Standing out there with duct tape next to faux outlaw artist Justin Moore, who somehow tore his skinny jeans, with a disinterested look was just icing on the cake. Can Yoakam host next year’s show?
  • Brooks & Dunn’s Performance – The last quality performance from the night came from the great 90s duo Brooks & Dunn, who reunited for the first time in a few years. They sounded just as good as ever and reminded me that they were once the ones dominating the duos awards instead of Florida Georgia Line. Simply put the “old people” kicked the younger performer’s asses tonight.

The Lows

  • Stop The Medleys! – Almost every performance throughout the show was a medley and it drove me absolutely nuts. It drove a lot of people nuts. Apparently since many in today’s world have such short attention spans, full songs weren’t to bothered with. George Strait’s medley was the only one where I could remember all of the songs in it because there were only two songs. The rest had so many songs that I couldn’t remember them all. It makes for pretty non-memorable performances.
  • The Production Value Was Terrible – As someone who is familiar with the workings of television production, I can tell you the 50th ACM Awards featured some of the worst production I’ve ever seen at a major awards show. The cameras were all over the place and people constantly couldn’t figure out where to look or they were off on their cues. It made for some awkward moments. Justin Moore looked completely lost. Steven Tyler was cut off. I will cut them some slack for the fact that the show was in the gigantic Cowboys Stadium, where a country awards show should never be done. It made performances sound much worse than they should have. Regardless if I were CBS I would take a good luck at the production team after that show.
  • The Merle Haggard “tribute” – The 2015 ACM Awards kicked off with a Merle Haggard tribute, performed by Eric Church and Keith Urban. This all seemed well enough and any time the Hag gets recognized is a good thing. The problem is the “tribute” sucked. Haggard wasn’t even at the show and he was only featured on the video behind Church and Urban for around ten seconds. I think Taylor Swift got more airtime during the tribute. To top it all off the tribute song was just a terrible rock song and name-dropped Haggard. It wasn’t even a Haggard song. This was a joke of a tribute.
  • Florida Georgia Line Performs “Sippin’ On Fire” – This went about how I expected it to go. It was terrible. The duo was even more off pitch than usual with the performance taking place in a stadium. Which leads me to ask why do people pay money to hear a concert from these two? You’re better off throwing money into a fire pit.
  • Miranda Lambert’s Domination – Now before you Miranda fans start to tear me a new one, let me explain. I’m not saying Lambert didn’t deserve to win her awards, as her Platinum album was one of the best in mainstream country last year. No, the problem is her winning everything at every award show. Ask any sports fan and they’ll tell you they hate it when a certain team dominates for years on end (unless you’re a fan of that team of course). It’s the same case here. It doesn’t look good for country music to have the same artist winning over and over. As they say variety is the spice of life. I have no problem with Lambert winning, but can somebody else win too?
  • Jason Aldean Performs a Medley – This was the kind of train wreck I expected coming into this show. After a minute of this in the background I had to hit mute. This could have passed as the bro country mashup.
  • Cole Swindell, Thomas Rhett & Sam Hunt Barely Sing; Suck Anyway – The three finalists for New Artist of the Year award all performed on the show. Thankfully they each sang only two or three lines from each of their latest respective hits. But they still managed to be among the worst of the show. Swindell is still bland as a loaf of white bread. Rhett is a black hole of charisma. Sam Hunt didn’t even sing, he just spoke “Take Your Time.” By the way I realized I shouldn’t have been surprised with Swindell winning. Many Bryan fans are Swindell fans and they almost all threw their massive support behind Swindell. Meanwhile Rhett doesn’t have nearly as big of a fan base and Hunt has pop fans who probably weren’t even aware that the ACM Awards aired last night.
  • The Lesser Known Artists Being Forced to Stand Next to a Truck – This was a sad and cruel joke. All of the second-rate artists just happy to be there were forced to stand next to a truck and deliver transition promos between commercials. I mean Big & Rich doing it was kind of funny. But Mickey Guyton being reduced to this instead of performing is a war crime.
  • Dan + Shay + Nick Jonas = Bad Music – I thankfully missed this performance because I was taking a bathroom break. Great timing, huh? By all accounts this was garbage and I’m not going to watch it to verify. In the comments section, let me know over or under two years Dan + Shay are gone from country music.
  • Terrible Guests That Added Nothing to the Show – Christina Aguilera, Steven Tyler and Dr. Phil were all on this show for some reason. Aguilera performed with Rascal Flatts, in one of the oddest pairings I thought I would never see and never wanted to see. She was only there to promote her appearance on the ABC show Nashville. Still the possibility of a country record is there and as much as I roll my eyes at this thought, I also realize it would be more country than a lot of other mainstream albums. Steven Tyler was barely thrown in towards the end, but what little he said didn’t catch people’s attention. It was his hideous pants. Take a look at them. I’m no fashion expert, but those belong in the garbage. Dr. Phil was the strangest guest appearance of the night. By the time he wondered onto the show I was pretty zoned out. I don’t know why he was there. Maybe some therapy after all of the medleys the audience had to sit through?

Overall I would give this show a C-. The veteran country artists and Taylor Swift of all people saved this show from being a complete waste. This show was also almost too boring to hate. I don’t think I’ll remember anything from this show and that’s bad news for the ACM Awards because this was a milestone show.

What did you think of it? What are your highs and lows? Sound off in the comments!