Album Review – Cheryl Desere’e Shows Off Jazz & Swing Influenced Country on Self-Titled Album

Model: cheryl deseree vaimoso-adams Photographer: Steve Harman @harmanphoto

Many times one of the problems I find when looking at up and coming independent country artists is the lack of originality. In other words they do nothing to stand out and be different from the rest of the crowd. The music can sound fine, but if it reminds me of another artist who can do it better than you, I’m not going to have much interest. When it comes to newcomer Cheryl Desere’e, I can’t think of another artist like her today. In addition to being an artist, she’s a pin-up model. But she also likes to incorporate heavy jazz and swing influences into her country music. Together it makes quite an intriguing sound, so I had to dive into her self-titled debut album. The result is an album full of great happy and sad songs, all featuring some stellar instrumentation.

Desere’e begins the album with “Pillow Talkin’” and right away you get a real taste of the western swing influenced country you’ll hear throughout this album. There’s lots of fiddle in this contemplative love song. This is followed by “Cactus Flower,” a song about a woman’s upbringing in small desert town out west. It wasn’t a pleasant one, which sent her off chasing something more than what that little town could offer. It’s very much in the vein of Kacey Musgraves’ takes on small town living. “Diamond Valley R.V.” sticks with a distraught theme, as the song is about living in an RV and the struggles that come with it. The mother has to keep her valuables in a mini-storage place because there’s no room for it on the RV and she struggles to pay for the storage month to month. This is a reality for many people and I think the song captures the theme perfectly.

The jazz influenced “Stage Door Jenny” follows. Noticeable horn play shows up throughout the song, along with a rollicking piano. Many oppose horns in country music because of (stupid) purist reasons. But when incorporated well it really works and this is an example of it working. The sultry “Keep My Name Off Your Lips” shows off Desere’s sassy side. The song is about a woman telling another to basically shut up and stop talking trash about her. Now a lot of people would call this catty, but to them I call bullshit because if this were about two guys people would have no problem. The sharp lyrics accompanied by some smooth horn play really make for one of the best songs on the album. “Rabbit Hole” is about a woman struggling to get over a breakup. She wonders if he still thinks of her and will ever come back to her someday. The instrumentation really shines on this song, especially the heavy pedal steel guitar that rings throughout.

One of the highlights of the album is definitely “Loving Beyond My Means.” Very much in the classic country vein, the song is about a woman wondering if she’s loving beyond her means. She loves the man she’s with very much, but also contemplates the thought of freedom of being on her own. The lyrics do a great job of capturing the conflicted feelings of the song. “Last Night’s Face” is along the same lines of “Stage Door Jenny,” featuring a lot of catchy jazz leaning instrumentation. Desere’e takes on immaturity on “Sin Eater.” It’s about a woman getting fed up of a guy treating her wrong and walking all over her. Instead of leaving though she continues to crawl back to him and blames herself. This is actually a very common mindset of domestic abuse victims. I’m not sure if this is what Desere’e was going for here, but if she was the song captures this dark side of bad relationships well.

“Wildfire” features the best vocal performance from Desere’e on the album. It comes on perhaps the deepest song of the album too, as it’s about a little girl in the hospital with an irresponsible, stoner parent. It’s an alluringly sad song that grasped my attention from the first listen. The song really shows the depth and range of Desere’e as an artist. The penultimate song of the album “Eye Candy” is about Desere’e warning guys that they can’t handle her and that all she’ll ever be to them is eye candy. The song sees Desere’e addressing something I imagine she gets a lot from fans at her shows. I like to think this is her subtly nice way to telling a fan who has any ideas of trying something with her to back off, as looking is as far as it will get. Desere’e closes the album out on a duet with Benjamin Douglas on “Don’t Look Now.” It’s one of the quieter tracks of the album, but also one of the best. Desere’e and Douglas sound excellent together and really close the album out with a bang.

It’s very easy for the casual observer to take one look at the album cover for this record and dismiss Cheryl Desere’e as another artist with a pretty face and bad songs. They would be an absolute fool, not only to objectify an artist on looks, but for missing out on some pretty good music. Desere’e is a pretty damn good vocalist and shows a lot of range throughout the record. She can tackle the fun songs and serious songs with impressive vigor. The instrumentation really shines on this album too and makes for an enjoyable listen on each song. While I don’t think this represents the best Desere’e has to offer, it’s a good start and it shows she has a ton of potential.

Grade: 8/10

Photographer: Steve Harman @harmanphoto

Album Review – Pearls Mahone’s Echoes From The Prairie

Ever since 2006, Pearls Mahone has been touring and performing live across the country, establishing herself a loyal fan base yearning to hear her throwback sound of Western Swing and Rockabilly music. Mahone’s music and albums are dictated by her live shows, with upbeat rhythms and danceable melodies through and through. One of her main influences is the one and only Bob Wills, the man whose musical influence runs deep through Swing and Country music history. Pearls Mahone’s second studio album, Echoes from the Prairie, channels nice swing sound combined with some Jazz influence to bring forth a fun, upbeat listen.

For the most part, melody and instrumentals drive Echoes from the Prairie with notable fiddles, steel guitars, and saxophones finding their way into almost every song. “Blow Your Top” and “All of Me” both kick the album off with fun, upbeat music. The lyrics are simple and repetitive, but the longer instrumental breaks create a vibrant feel with each listen. If I knew how to swing dance, I might have jumped off the couch and danced around the living room while listening to these songs. But instead, I listened to the music and the way the musicians traded the various solos and appreciated the musical variety of the songs.

“Flash of Diamonds” tells a story of a woman who says it like it is: she’s materialistic, and if any man wants to be with her then he better be ready to spoil her. This sassy, selfish tune carries a nice production and is quite enjoyable. Pearls sings of her hardship and hard-working lifestyle in “Hard Luck.” A life of little money and constantly stumbling, but those obstacles don’t slow her down. Pearls kicks up the dancing tunes again with “I Had Someone Else.” This song describes her as a rambling woman who’s not ready to settle down. There was someone before, there will be someone after you, and you’re just mine for now. And in “Oklahoma Hills” Pearls Mahone sings about a life out in Sooner State. While this Midwestern swing singer hails from Chicago, she plants herself well from this perspective in this groove.

“St. James Infirmary” might be my favorite song on the album. Sticking with her own woman attitude, Pearls Mahone sings of her man’s death. What does she do once she leaves the infirmary? She heads down to the bar to have a good time! This song chronicles the steps and thoughts she takes after his passing, and it’s quite an entertaining story. It’s well written with some great production to it. “Old Time Religion” is an old-time country gospel tune. I immediately draw comparisons to Hank’s “I Saw the Light.” The song is full of joy and love for the Lord. Echoes from the Prairie slows down for the last song, a cover of Tom Waits’ “Long Way Home.” This song details, in this case, a rambling woman whose love for the road is stronger than that for her man. And though she won’t leave him, she’ll just take the long way home from time to time.

Overall, Echoes From the Prairie is an enjoyable listen. There are several songs whose energetic mood and melody will certainly find a place in a live show. But Pearls Mahone proves she’s not just a one trick pony, providing listeners with story-driven country tunes among the dance inspired Swing songs. With sharp writing and an awesome production of blended Swing, country, and jazz, this album has a bit of everything to offer music fans. The variety isn’t choppy and the album transitions and moves smoothly. Echoes From the Prairie is an entertaining album from Pearls Mahone with fantastic instrumentation and great vocal performances.

Grade: 7/10

Derek’s Top 10 Country Songs – February 2015

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Two months into 2015, and we’ve had two months of great country music releases. I found February a bit easier to narrow down to ten song, but the music is still, nonetheless, fantastic. From singer songwriters to bands we have a multitude of country styles and songs. I have a diverse top ten list this month:

  1. “Jubilee” by Gretchen Peters – A beautiful song told from the point of view of someone on death’s bed. Reflecting back on what made life meaningful and looking onward with your head held high in acceptance, Peters knocks this one out of the park. “Jubilee” is not only, in my opinion, the best song off Blackbirds, but is also my favorite song of the month.
  2. “Out The Door” by The Mavericks – On an album chock full of energetic and unique productions, this song stands out with is old-school Doo-Wop melody. Even the more somber material of a broken love doesn’t bring down the fun groove of this song.
  3. “When All You Got is a Hammer” by Gretchen Peters – A rough song dealing with the horrors and anxiety that comes from PTSD. This song about a soldier returning home has great detailed writing with a nice, rocking beat that compliments the material well.
  4. “Slow Boat to China” by The Western Swing Authority – A love song about wanting to spend as much time as possible with the one you love. I applaud the band for taking an original approach to a love song. The vocals and melody shine on this track, not to mention a pleasing instrumental break in the song. My favorite off Now Playing.
  5. “Mutineer” by Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires – A love song told with pirate and maritime metaphors. What more can you ask for? I love the stripped down production of the song, and both vocal performances here are top-notch. The better offering off the two-song E.P Sea Songs.
  6. “What You Do to Me” by The Mavericks – Equally as fun and energetic as the other Mavericks’ song on this list, but a more light-hearted and positive love song.
  7. “52 Vincent Black Lightning” by Robert Earl Keen – This timeless song has been a favorite of mine ever since I first heard it a few years ago. An outlaw on a motorcycle falls for a girl, and leaves her his prized motorbike after his untimely death. A unique love story with great writing and rhyme schemes. Robert Earl Keen’s bluegrass rendition of Richard Thompson’s classic is well done here.
  8. “Blackbirds” by Gretchen Peters – The title track to Peters’ fantastic album cannot be overlooked. The intense guitar riffs combined with Gretchen Peters’ haunting vocal delivery and biting lyrics create a wonderfully dark, yet great murder ballad.
  9. Fence Post” by Aaron Watson – Songs that call out mainstream country are always a nice treat. The fearlessness and fun that Aaron Watson sings this song with are great. Watson is a true underdog, and he pulls no punches with this one. Plus, Watson does actual country spoken word on this song and not bogus R&B/Pop/Hip Hop spoken word.
  10. “Losing Side of Twenty Five” by American Aquarium – This is my favorite song off Wolves. As a man right around this age group, I like the way the story and life situations are presented in this song. It’s authentic and well told. Also, the guitar lick on this song is awesome.

That’s my top ten!  I’d love to hear some of your favorites from the month.

 

Album Review – The Western Swing Authority’s ‘Now Playing’

Now_Playing_Cover

One of my goals for Country Perspective this year is to broaden our horizons on types of country music we cover. Sure it’s easy just to cover more Texas country or even more obscure mainstream country, but I want to go beyond that even. I want to cover more international stuff, from Canada to Australia to the United Kingdom. I would also like to cover different types that aren’t given as much coverage. Well today I kill two birds with one stone. Meet The Western Swing Authority. They’re a Canadian country band that play, what else, Western Swing music (it’s right in the name). For those who aren’t familiar with Western Swing, a quote from Country Music Hall of Famer Merle Travis describes it best:

“Western swing is nothing more than a group of talented country boys, unschooled in music, but playing the music they feel, beating a solid two-four rhythm to the harmonies that buzz around their brains. When it escapes in all its musical glory, my friend, you have Western swing.”

Western Swing music is basically music that is usually led by the fiddle and is meant to be danced to. The Western Swing Authority is a seven-piece band made up of Shane Guse, Dan Howlett, Matthew Lima, Pee Wee Charles, Jim Boudreau, Stacey Lee and Paul Chapman. The group was nominated for three 2015 Ameripolitan Music Awards this past week, as well as two 2014 Canadian Country Music Awards. The group also recently signed with eOne Music Canada as they just released their new album Now Playing.

The album opens with “Sweet Harriet,” a little ditty about a woman named Harriet living it up and dancing around the town. This song is really good at warming you up for the rest of the album because as said above Western Swing music is meant to be dancing music. Stacy Lee’s voice shines on “One Of Us Is Lying.” She does a great job conveying the smoky, romantic vibe surrounding this love song because her vocals have such great presence that draws the listener in. The premise of this song is the woman knows one of them is lying in their relationship, but tonight she is willing to overlook this because she wants someone in her arms.

“Swing Thing” is all about Western Swing music and why people love it. It’s about country music you can dance to and have fun. This is a song that’s meant to be danced to, not so much to be heard. Lee’s voice perfectly captures the vibe again in “Livin’ A Dream,” another romantic and slow love song. The fiddle play really impresses me on this song. Maybe it’s because I’m a big fan of the fiddle and I miss hearing it in country music nowadays. Perhaps this is the wake-up call I need to listen to more Western Swing.

“Miss Molly” is a quick little ditty about a woman named Molly and how a man has fallen in love with her. It’s a simple love story with a nice rhythm that makes you want to dance. The same can be said for “Old Dance Floor.” The song pretty much says this is the song you put on at the end of a long week of work and just cut the rug to. The Western Swing Authority take a unique look at love with “Slow Boat To China.” The title intrigued me because I had no idea what this song could be about. What it’s about is love. The woman wants to take her love on a slow boat to China, all by herself. Going on a boat from Canada to China is pretty damn far. I like this creative take on a love song and make it stand out compared to other love songs on this album.

My toe was tapping from beginning to end on “Rocket To The Moon.” The rhythm is similar to the old rock and roll, do wop music you heard in the 50s, which makes for a very danceable song. Lee’s vocals shine once again. All this combines for one of my favorite songs on the album. “Bapadoodle” is the lone instrumental only track on the album, as the talented Canadian group’s brilliant instrumentation captures the listener’s attention. I always enjoyed when Brad Paisley did one song like this on his past albums and it’s good to see The Western Swing Authority do this on their own. Texas is the scene of “Cowtown Queen,” a song about a couple who always enjoyed going down to the Lone Star state. They liked to dance and experience the nightlife, but they eventually grew apart. The woman is now down in Texas double-timing her man and he’s trying to deal with it back home. She has moved on, but he hasn’t. I think this is the most upbeat heartbreak song I’ve ever heard. But hey that’s how it is in Western Swing and I’m certainly not complaining.

“Swingtime Lullaby” is sung from the point of view of parents to their child, as they try to get them to go to sleep. I tell you one thing it would definitely put me to sleep if I was listening late night and that’s a good thing for a lullaby. I’ll have to keep this in mind when I can’t sleep. In all seriousness though I love the rich instrumentation in this song and the harmonies are smooth as silk. The final track on the album is “The Last Waltz,” which is also the longest song the album. The song is about the last waltz the woman ever wants to hear, which holds a special place in her heart. You’ll notice when listening that you’ll hear fuzzy sound, which is intended I think because this “last waltz” is on a vinyl record. It’s really a beautiful song to cap off a very good album.

What I love the most about The Western Swing Authority’s Now Playing album is how fun and upbeat the album is throughout, even on the songs with a more somber subject. Don’t get me wrong I love a real deep, dark album with a lot of hidden meanings. But it’s nice to have albums like this one that don’t take itself too seriously. It’s impossible to listen to this album and not feel happy afterwards. It also makes for great music to dance to at a party. This is a forgotten element in much of country music today and what’s considered party country music is not country at all. This is party country music that keeps it country 100% with plenty of fiddle play. I think Now Playing is an album that any country music fan can sit down and enjoy.

Grade: 8.5/10