Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Great Albums from 2013

I don't know about anyone else, but I can't believe that it's February. There's been some new albums already released by country acts this year and I'm probably going to be writing about a few of them in the next couple of weeks. But first, I want to revisit 2013. I do have a top 13 albums of 2013 post coming. Better late than never, eh? I must say that I didn't realize how hard it would be to narrow it down to 13. I got a lot of albums last year and loved a bunch of them. I had to make some tough choices. So who made the cut? Well, you're going to have to wait for that. For now I want to take some time to highlight some other albums from 2013. Three to be exact.

Now, hold on, you might be thinking. Why would I take the time to write about these albums when they didn't make the top 13? Here's the thing: I loved all three of these albums. Enough to want to give them a little love. But it didn't seem fair to include them in my top 13. Why? Because all three of these albums are full of songs that have previously been recorded. You know how many albums I bought last year? 69. Most of them country, some bluegrass and a couple of Americana albums thrown in there. And more to this point, most of the songs on those albums were original songs. Save for a few remakes here and there. I decided that it was only right to keep my top 13 reserved for albums featuring original songs. But it also seemed right to take the time to highlight these three albums. Because they were all fantastic and deserve some attention.

What are they? Well, keep reading to find out.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Album review: Feels Like Carolina by Parmalee

I don't think I can properly express how excited I am to be reviewing this. I'm been wanting this album for a while now and it's finally here. I'll be getting to the review shortly, but I wanted to take a second to announce that I'll be doing a giveaway over the next few weeks. I haven't done one in a while and it's safe to say that this'll be the biggest one I've ever done. I bring it up here because Feels Like Carolina is going to be one of the albums included. More details to come sometime over the next few days.

So. Feels Like Carolina. Right off the bat I give Parmalee credit for doing the bulk of the writing on the album and for cutting and/or writing songs with lesser known songwriters. I have absolutely nothing against all the popular songwriters out there, but it's great to see acts who are willing to give other people a shot. There's so many fantastic songwriters out there so I love seeing writers I've never heard of get cuts. The result is a collection of songs that take some familiar country themes and tweaks them. Not so much that they're not still familiar, but enough to make you see them in a different way.

Continuing with this idea, let's talk melodies and how great it is when people care about them. There's so many songs out there that sound exactly like other songs and it's one of my musical pet peeves. Another? When you know what the next line is going to do or be before it happens. I like when songs take me by surprise either lyrically or musically and the songs on this album do both.

Okay, Parmalee's doing good so far. Checking off some of the things I want in an album and here's another one: flow. As in, this album flows nicely from one song to the next. Another item to check off? Energy. As in, it can be found throughout. A lot of the reviews have been focusing primarily on the vocals. But I want to focus on something else first: Scott Thomas. You know, that dude on drums that no one ever seems to talk about? Sure, people talk about their incredible backstory and we praise them for never giving up and for not letting adversity stop them. As we should. But can we take a moment to appreciate Scott's skills as a drummer? So much of the energy comes from the drums and percussion. That's the heartbeat. It matters. And it's so present on this album. So let's give the drummer a bit of love, shall we? He's more than his backstory.

Now the vocals. Solid harmonies that never overpower the lead vocal? Check. In the same vein, harmonies that help showcase both the lead vocal and the lyrics? Check check. A lead singer who knows the proper way to deliver a lyric? Check. Staying on that path, a lead singer who makes you believe what he's singing? Check! People are focusing on Matt's vocals for a reason. His voice is a great mixture of warmth, grit and affability. Not to mention that I believe every word he sings.

So do I like this album? Eh, it's okay.

No, I don't actually like this album - I love this album! It's such a solid album and one that is worth every penny.

Let's take a peek at each song individually.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

CMA Predictions: Part 2

I was just skimming over the list of all the performers for the show this year and it looks like this is the year of the collaborations. There's always a few, but it seems like there's more than usual this time. Zac Brown Band will be joined by Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters, Hunter Hayes will be performing his new single with Jason Mraz, Keith Urban and Miranda Lambert are singing their new duet and Taylor Swift will be performing with Vince Gill and Alison Krauss among others. And then Alan Jackson and George Strait will be teaming up to honor George Jones. There'll also be a special tribute to Kenny Rogers that will include Rascal Flatts, Jennifer Nettles and Darius Rucker. I don't know; just seems like more than usual this year. Should be interesting.

In any event, in Part 1 of my predictions I talked about Entertainer, Male Vocalist, Female Vocalist, New Artist, Group and Duo. Now it's time to shift focus a bit. Starting off with…

Saturday, November 2, 2013

CMA Predictions: Part 1

Well it's that time again. Less than a week until the CMA Awards and everyone's been busy making their predictions and sharing their thoughts. So I figured I better hop on that train before time runs out. Remember: the CMAs are on ABC this coming Wednesday (November 6th) at 8/7 Central. This year the CMA will be doing a live stream of the press room, starting at 5/4 Central over on http://www.cmaworld.com/cma-awards/. Might be worth checking out.

I've done prediction posts a few times and I never seem to do them the same way twice. Oh, they all amount to the same thing. My thoughts on who I think will win and who I want to win and why. But I always seem to tweak the posts in some way or another. This time I'm going to be including a list of who I would've nominated if I was able to. Because like so many of you, I don't agree with every nomination and you know what? That's okay. Never let anyone tell you that you need to be in perfect agreement with the CMA. I bet we all have artists that we wish would've gotten nominated and I'd love to hear your thoughts on this. Who do you think got snubbed this year? Out of the people nominated, who do you want to see win? 

How about performances? I always look forward to just about every performance, though if I had to pick the three I was most looking forward to? That would be Eric Church, Little Big Town and the George Jones tribute that will be done by Alan Jackson and George Strait. The CMAs better give said tribute the amount of time it deserves. This is George Jones we're talking about here, one of the greatest voices that country music has ever known. Arguably the greatest. He deserves a proper tribute, wouldn't you say? On paper it looks good: I think Alan Jackson and George Strait are perfect for this. But they need to give them a good amount of time. Or I will not be happy and I don't think I'd be alone.

Also, in case you missed it, I want to give you a chance to be featured on here as a guest blogger. You can check out the post with all the details here. Scroll on down to the fifth point.

Now: time for some predictions.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Book Review: Let Hope In by Pete Wilson

At its heart country music is, and always has been, about the lyric. It's everyday life set to music. Our everyday lives are full of so many different kinds of things. Different experiences, different emotions, different relationships and so on. And country music goes into all of it. There is a country song for just about any situation you can think of. A lot of it's about good times. Good experiences and emotions. But I think that the best country songs - the best songs, in general - are the ones that speak to the heart. Oftentimes those are the ones about not so great times.

You know, those times when something happens that leaves you reeling. Someone you love dies or your relationship falls apart. You lose your job or you get diagnosed with some life-threatening or chronic disease. Maybe it's not you; maybe it's a friend. You struggle with an addiction or some kind of disorder. And so on. These kinds of things make for a great country song, but when we're going through it ourselves? These are the kind of things that can cripple us. That can take away our joy and steal our hope and leave us feeling anxious or depressed. Scared or angry. You get the picture. Sometimes we feel this way for years at a time and it never seems to get any better. So what do we do about it?

If you follow me on twitter or Instagram or Pinterest (I'm countrymusicatk on all of them), you may have seen me talking about a book that's coming out on October 1st called Let Hope In. And that's what I'm going to be talking about today. You can watch the book trailer here.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Album review: Bring You Back by Brett Eldredge

To say that I was happy that this album finally came out would be an understatement. I first saw Brett Eldredge open for Trace Adkins in Baltimore on July 1st, 2011. I don't always remember dates of concerts I go to, but I remember this one for two main reasons. The first: it was on my birthday. The second: I got to meet Trace Adkins at this show and that was pretty cool. This show also marks the time I truly became a Brett Eldredge fan. His debut single "Raymond" had come out the previous fall if I'm remembering correctly and I loved that song the first time I heard it. But I didn't know much about Brett outside of that single. Before the concert I liked the song; after the concert, I liked the man himself.

So I hate that it ended up taking so long for his debut album to come out. It seemed like it was constantly getting pushed back to the point where I was starting to worry that it would never come out. It's been a long couple of years on this front. I'm sure there's a ton of reasons why albums get pushed back. Legitimate reasons. But that doesn't make the wait any less frustrating for us, the fans, and to a likely greater extent, the artist. I always feel bad for the artist when this happens. The upside to the wait is that it gives them time to put together the best album possible. And I'd imagine that the wait makes the payoff worth it. This album debuted at #1 on the iTunes Country Albums shot and his single "Don't Ya" went #1 roughly around the same time and stayed there for two weeks. The comments I've seen about this album have by and large been very positive. 

Now I have a confession to make. Like I said, I've been waiting for this album for a long time. I can't remember the last time I anticipated a debut album so much. I wanted it bad. Me and every other Brett Eldredge fan out there. Here we have a guy who is a great performer with a great personality, a man who is one of the most entertaining people in the genre. Not a bad looking man either, if we're being honest here. A man who I would go as far to say is among the best male singers in the format. Every song I've heard him perform these past couple of years - whether live, on TV or online - I have loved. Every single one. So I had high expectations for this album. Very high expectations. To the point that I was actually a little nervous to listen to said album because I wondered if my expectations were a little too high. I needn't have worried.

I love this album. I think it was well worth the wait. More than worth the wait, perhaps. It's not just a strong debut album; it's a strong album period. I have to give a big kudos to everyone who was involved in the creation of Bring You Back. From Brett and all of the other songwriters to all of the fine musicians and the team of producers and the engineers. Not to mention all the other people involved behind the scenes. And I would like to thank his record label Atlantic Records/Warner Music Nashville for not giving up on Brett and for getting this album out. Money spent on this album is money I consider very well spent. 

Bring You Back features a great collection that go together very well, a fairly impressive feat when you consider that eight producers worked on this record. You'd think that would mess up the flow, but it doesn't somehow. I was pretty surprised to see just how many producers there were. Lots of terrific musicians on here too. I like the playing throughout and I especially like how the music never overshadows the vocal. I said it earlier: I believe Brett is one of the best male singers in the format. It would be a shame for him to get lost in the music and I was so happy that didn't happen. Brett co-wrote 11 of the 12 tracks, all "Bring You Back". There's something very relatable about these songs and that's always a good thing. This album has a warmth to it that I adore. A lot of that comes from Brett himself and the way he delivers these songs. There's a difference between singing a song and delivering a song and it's a difference that Brett seems to understand very well. I highly recommend that everyone go out and pick yourself up a copy if you haven't. You won't regret it. 

And that wraps up the main part of the review. If you just wanted a short (well, short-ish) read, than this is where you'll leave me. Thanks for stopping by! As always, I'm going to say a bit about each song individually after the break. So if you're in the mood for a longer  (i.e very long. Like very long.) read, than stick with me. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Odds, Ends and an Announcement

I can't believe it's September already. I know I've been MIA for a while now and that's been because things have been a little hectic lately. I spent most of the last month helping to pack up the house I grew up in and didn't have time for writing. This post is going to be a pretty short one. I figured I'd take some time to run through some of the things that will be coming up on this blog.

First: reviews. I've been such a horrible reviewer this year. I knew it'd been a while, but I was stunned to come on and see that I haven't reviewed anything since January. There's been so many great songs and albums released so far this year and I hate that I've let so much time go by without talking about most of them. So I intend on getting some long overdue reviews up, mainly of singles but also some albums. 

Second: cover series. My covers wish list series is one I enjoy writing and so I'm planning on getting more of those out. Especially since I keep thinking of more songs I'd like to see country acts cover.

Third: CMA related stuff. The nominees for this year's CMA Awards will be announced by Sheryl Crow and Florida Georgia Line next Tuesday. I'm really interested in seeing just who gets nominated this year. Once again, I'll be sharing my thoughts and making some predictions. This year's CMA Awards will be airing on ABC on November 6th. 

Fourth: non-country music related things. There won't be too many of these kinds of posts, but I think I might start writing about other things every once in a while. Starting off with a review of a book that's coming out on October 1st called Let Hope In by Pete Wilson. If you follow me on either twitter or instagram, you may have seen me talking about this. In an interesting turn of events, I was chosen to be on the launch team for this book. I'm pretty excited about it. As part of that, it seemed only fair for me to talk about it here on my blog and other social media sites. So you can expect to see more about that this coming month.

Fifth: the introduction of a brand new series tentatively to be called I'm With the Band, after the song of the same name by Little Big Town. I'm really looking forward to this series. Why? Because I will be giving YOU, my dear readers, the chance to be featured as guest bloggers. See, we all have our favorites. We all have that one artist that we love above all the others. Some of us have multiple artists we love over most others. Maybe it's that we feel like their songs speak directly to us. Maybe it's that we can see this act (or acts) as many times as possible and never get tired of the show. Perhaps we've met them and it was such an incredible experience that we feel somehow connected to them on a personal level. It might be that their live show is something you could see 5, 10, 20, 50 + times and never get tired of it. Maybe the shows get better every single time. It could be that we've been there from the beginning of their career and have spent years supporting them in whatever way possible. You get the idea. I don't know about y'all, but I personally love hearing why people love the artists that they do. I've heard some pretty cool stories over the years and I know there's a ton more out there. Stories that I think deserve to be told. 

Now, I do plan on writing some posts for this series myself, but I'd love to have you all become a big part of it. There's not too many rules here. The main one is that you can write about whomever you wish, just so long as they are a country artist. It can be someone current. It can be one of our great legends. It can be one of the big superstars, someone just starting out or anyone in between. It can be a singer or a musician. Have more than one favorite? You can submit as many posts as you wish. I just ask that you only write about one artist per submission. How long should the posts be? I'm going to say no less than one paragraph and no more than a page. The way it would work is you submit the post and when I post it on here, I'll probably do a bit of an introduction and then your post would be featured after the cut. You can use your real name if you want, but you don't have to if you're not comfortable doing so. Just let me know how you want to be credited and that's how you will be. I don't see this being a problem with a series like this, but keep in mind that I do not allow profanity on this page. Again, I don't see this being an issue, but wanted to get that out there.

Interested? Email me at countrymusicATK@hotmail.com and put I'm With the Band submission as the subject so I know what it is. This will be on ongoing thing; no deadline to worry about. 

And that'll do it for this update. Thanks for reading!