Archive for September, 2010

Twentysomethings and Matt Gill: What does the future hold?

September 27, 2010

Last week Chronicle devoted a program to The Millennial Generation, the children of the baby boomers. The program highlighted various young adults who are trying to make a life for themselves post-college. One began a start-up internet company focusing on selling sports stock while another enlisted with the Marines but is waiting to hear if he got accepted into their highly competitive training program. Another young adult is using her nursing degree to work at a nursing home while another works at her parent’s sign company while she looks for other work. The latter young adult is being pushed by her parents to develop a singing career since they feel she has the necessary talent.

The main tread tying all these stories together is the twentysomethings of today are not lazy. Each have found work or are doing whatever it takes to make it in this world. Of course, most are doing so under their Parent’s roof which I endorse only because it provides a safe environment with which to grow and prosper without the stresses associated with having your own place.

It’s fascinating to watch the shift from parent to child and how the thinking has changed. It used to be the norm that a woman would be married by the time she was 20 and a man 22. According to Chronicle, the average age today is 26 for a woman and 28 for a man. The pressure to get married is ridiculous anyways, people should be allowed to settle into their lives first before adding a spouse and children to the mix. I command those who can find themselves and support a family right out of college but that isn’t the path for everyone. I personally feel too young to enter into that phase of my life; I’m not there yet.

What I have learned since graduating from Colby-Sawyer back in May is the job market can be a very daunting place. I earned a Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies and have found the job market pretty bleak. The biggest downfall is most jobs require on the job experience which is hard to come by when companies aren’t hiring.  But even though the cards haven’t been stacked in my favor, I approached the job market though the lens of gaining experience and adding to my resume.

So, what do I love to do? As evident by this blog, I love to write. I get a high from writing and putting my thoughts down on paper. I express myself best through my written word and the ideas just flow out of me. I may not be the world’s greatest proofreader, but those skills come with continued practice. I love to write because that’s how I think. When I see an article in a newspaper or a program on TV of interest, I love to add my two cents and flesh out my ideas on the subject. My mind is constantly going and I’m always thinking about where I fit in the marketplace.

On the subject of writing, I went, last Thursday (Sept. 23), to the Norwell Library to hear Matt Gill talk about writing and his experiences in the field. Gill is the editor of Norwell Mariner, a local newspaper a town over from where I live. He mostly took questions from the audience of about five to six people and he talked about how he’s moved up in the world of journalism starting when he wrote for his college newspaper and then on to when he was a reporter for a local newspaper and now an editor.

Having written for The Colby-Sawyer Courier for four years I could relate to his talk a lot. He said his favorite part of the job is writing headlines and composing photo captions. I always found that to be the hardest part of the job. I could be because I saved headlines for last, and didn’t get to them until 10:30pm on layout nights, or maybe I just haven’t had enough practice with them to develop a knack. Some people just have a gift, I guess.

I took a lot away from his talk. Mostly, he gave me the encouraging news that there are jobs out there. Matt took a much more optimistic view of the job market then I have. I’m glad someone out there is hopeful! The other big impression he made on me was he really only has one writer doing all the work at his paper. I don’t know what I expected, but I thought the work would be spread out to many people. I know our college newspaper wouldn’t have survived if only one person was writing the majority of the stories. In Matt’s case I believe it’s one writer for news and features. I’m not entirely sure about sports. It seems more people would rather write sports than cover a selectmen meeting. I know the feeling, but hard news always interested me more than sports.

The other point he made is, pictures are everything. He held up a copy of the Mariner showcasing a full front page picture of Robert Nyman’s funeral. It was a particularly striking photograph with an American Flag flanking the left side of the page and mourners on the bottom. The written copy was at the top. In a case like that, the picture really does tell the whole story and beautifully. Photos are always the first place the eye tends to travel and people judge an article based on the accompanying pictures.

Another comment he made is the vast difference between the printed page and the web. The Norwell Mariner only comes out weekly, so he compared their online operation to that of a daily. Our newspaper at school hadn’t gone the extra mile to putting their paper on the web yet, so that’s the area of operation I have the least experience with. I did redesign the website for our radio station my junior year, but that’s a whole other beast entirely.

The web is a presence that can’t be ignored anymore. People look to the web to get their news almost more than they look to the printed page. I don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing the Millennial Generation would rather get their news online. Why not? It’s quicker then having to purchase a newspaper and it’s at our fingertips. The world today is all about convenience. But that need for convenience always comes with a price; a trade-off.

It isn’t called a generational gap for nothing…

Of course, the lingering question is, what about the printed page? There are those who grew up with printed newspapers who still want them in their hands. I can’t argue with that; the printed page is an essential part of our culture. Gill predicted the printed page will never disappear entirely; we just may have to pay a premium for it.

The reason the printed page is so essential is the interactive quality of it. When you have a newspaper you can easily cut out articles and send them to people or post them on a community bulletin board. Printing out the same article from a website is quite different; the layout isn’t the same and pictures may be smaller than they would appear in print. Trust me, it isn’t the same. Physical newspapers are invaluable to our culture.

One woman at the talk said that while online she’s always in search mode having to seek out the articles she wishes to read. There isn’t any seeking in physical newsprint, you go the section and find the article. It just makes life easier.

Coming away from Gill’s talk, I realized something. I really did learn a lot about the business while at Colby-Sawyer. I related to many of the points he made because I had been there myself over the past four years. I’ve written headlines and photo captions. He said he’s always had trouble writing leads to his articles and I’ve been there, too. I’ll always be indebted to donna berhorn, my journalism professor, for giving me the grounding I need to make it in this world. When I think of where I was when I first started…I can only cringe. Looking back at some of my first articles, it looks like a toddler wrote them. I can only imagine what my high school articles look like. I don’t even want to know.

The Chronicle episode ended with a startling statistic: only 30% of college students graduate in four years; this according to Craig Brandon, a former professor at Keene State who has written a book entitled The Five Year Party: How Colleges Have Given Up On Educating Your Child and What You Can Do About It.

He says a big reason for the extra year is the leniency by colleges to let their students drop classes even up to the final exam. This leads to, according to Brandon, students not having enough credits to graduate in four years. I agree, the issue is with colleges who make it far too easy for students to drop classes but the blame is more with the students than the institution. Students need to buckle down and get it done. Just because it’s easy to drop a class doesn’t mean students should be dropping classes.

I’m proud to say that I’m among that 30% who graduated in four years and that I’m a part of the Millennial Generation. I’m not the only one burdened by the economy nor am I the only one who has to take a creative approach to getting my life on track. I’m heading in the appropriate direction and I know everything is going to work out sooner or later.

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CMA Nominations: Album Of The Year

September 9, 2010

I had a chance, over Labor Day Weekend, to give a good listen to all five albums the CMA nominated for Album of The Year. In essence, they are all very good collections of music. Here’s a reminder of the nominees:

  • Lady Antebellum Need You Now
  • Dierks Bentley Up On The Ridge
  • Miranda Lambert Revolution
  • George Strait Twang
  • Carrie Underwood Play On

Going into this extended listen, I favored Revolution. Lambert’s third collection of songs is among the most stellar to come out of Nashville in years. She has a knack for not only choosing but writing quality songs that’ll hold up well into the coming decades. She’s an album artist and Revolution showcases that perfectly. While it is still my favorite, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I really enjoyed the other four nominees.

I really loved Strait’s Twang when it was released a year ago and still do. Much like Revolution this CD deserves to win. He has won for his last two releases, but Twang is far better than either of them. To be this long into a career and still making music of this quality is an impressive feat.

It’s also the best he has sounded vocally in years, and he picked (plus wrote) some really top-notch songs. I love “Easy As You Go” and the first single, “Livin’ For The Night.” Other stand-out tracks include “Arkansas Dave” and “The Breath You Take.” When the latter song was chosen as the fourth radio single from the project, I was a tad upset. I thought it was much too slow for country radio but I have to admit I do love the song.

I just wish “He’s Got That Something Special” would hit radio. This release hasn’t garnered Strait a single #1 song and this is the one to do it. The tale of a guy wondering what his ex sees in the man she left him for, this just may be Strait’s best song since “Blue Clear Sky” fourteen years ago. Let’s hope MCA Nashville stretches this album to five singles. It would be a shame to leave it as an album track.

When I first heard the song, “Up On The Ridge” last spring, I wasn’t impressed. I thought Bentley’s vocal was flat and didn’t match the energy of the musical track. It has since grown on me, and I do like it now. I feel the CD was nominated on principle, an acknowledgement of Bentley’s venture into Bluegrass.

Overall it is a very good album. It doesn’t have the same zippiness as Dixie Chicks Home, but it is very solid. “Fiddlin’ Around” and “Draw Me A Map” are standout tracks as is the Lambert/Jamey Johnson duet “Bad Angel.” I was also impressed at how effortlessly he cruised into Bluegrass as though he’s made this type of music his whole career. It fits him like a glove and he wears it well.

I’ve mentioned it before, but Need You Now could’ve been so much more. After six months of repeated listenings, I still feel the CD falls far short of Lady A’s talent. The album does have a couple good songs, mostly “American Honey” which serves as the perfect showcase for not only Hillary Scott’s vocal prowess but for the kind of sound Lady A should make with every album. “Stars Tonight” is the perfect anthem for their fans and live shows and the title track is a perfect piece of pop confection.

But where the record falls short is on tracks like “Hello World,” “Perfect Day,” and “When You Got A Good Thing.” “Hello World” is a bombastic attempt at social commentary that fails on every level and doesn’t even come off as a Lady A song but rather a Charles Kelley solo effort. “Perfect Day” is a mess, a bad attempt at something fun and upbeat that’s far too fast with an idiotic hook: “Ain’t worried about tomorrow/When you’re busy livin in a perfect day.” Can’t we all be so lucky…And “When You Got A Good Thing” is a creepy love song sung as a duet between Scott and Kelley. They have more of a brother/sister relationship which doesn’t suit a love song. If this is an attempt at recreating the magic of “All We’d Ever Need,” it didn’t work.

Don’t get me wrong, I see the appeal and I’ve heard far worse albums in my lifetime. Plus, Need You Now was just named the best selling album of the year regardless of genre for 2010. For the CMA to ignore this monster would’ve been upsetting. I just wish it could’ve been that truly great album that measures up to the sales and radio airplay.

The final nominee, Play On showcases the mellower side of Carrie Underwood. Clearly a woman in love, the songs exude a confidence that comes with entering the next phase of your life. Whether she’s giving her mother permission to give her away (“Mama’s Song”) or she’s contemplating a life beyond this one (“Temporary Home”), Underwood has never been in finer voice. She makes the Grand Ole Opry crowed proud while still giving her pop fans the slick sheen they crave with the thumping lead single, “Cowboy Casanova.” Problem is, the record goes down fine but is hard to digest. Underwood has yet to make her artistic statement or record her “House That Built Me.” While very good, the CD is not great. Let’s hope she does something different next time. At least she has two of the best ballads of her career on this set.

In the end, I noticed a commonality between the five nominees. All the albums are ballad heavy and lean on the slower songs to make their impact. While it isn’t a good nor bad thing, it’s just a fact. The only artist to balance both worlds is Lambert who knows when a good pick-me-up is needed to insert energy into an album.

I believe strongly that Lambert is going to take the award home. The CMA surely want to make up for ignoring Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and acknowledge Lambert’s ability to create complete albums full of excellent material. Her closest competition is Strait who could easily make it three in a row with Twang. When I first listened to his album I thought for sure it was going to win the award. Of course I hadn’t heard Lambert’s CD yet but the CMA may choose to give the award to the guy who made a career best album in a career full of praise-worthy music.

Should Win: Revolution or Twang (Yes, it really is a toss-up)

Will Win: Revolution

Brooks & Dunn: how long gone are you gonna be?

September 5, 2010

An event over a year in the making has occurred. Country music has officially lost Brooks & Dunn, the most successful duo in the genre’s history. At the end of their September 2 show at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena, they closed the door on nineteen years of record- breaking, hit-making success. Their mark on country music will last forever even though no more music will ever be made.

Country Music had never before seen an act like Brooks and Dunn and never will again. An experiment that could’ve gone horribly wrong, B&D were placed together in the first arranged marriage in the genre’s history. A spot in the Country Music Hall of Fame should be made for Tim DuBois, the head of Arista Nashville, who orchestrated the pairing twenty years ago. Not a smarter move has been made by a executive of a record label within country music since.

It’s fitting that the first Brooks and Dunn song I would hear the morning after they officially retired is their 1998 Number 1, “How Long Gone,” where the male narrator is asking of his woman “how long gone are you gonna be?” as their relationship unravels. Many a B&D fan are also left wondering the same thing. It isn’t unheard of that an act will go in and out of retirement.

I’m not one of those fans. I have a deep admiration for the duo who helped shape my childhood, but I’m glad to see them part ways. Their music had become stale as of late and the gimmick had run its course. What once was fresh and exciting became old as the years progressed. I’ve always believed that an artist should retire before wearing out their welcome because I’d rather be left wanting more music than wishing they would just hang it up.  And B&D knew it was time when “Honky Tonk Stomp” becomes the last single they’d ever release to country radio.

I first got introduced to the music of Brooks & Dunn fourteen years ago when they released “My Maria,” one of their most recognizable songs and best loved hits. I grew into a fan of their music and even saw both their world tours with Reba in 1997-1998. Their music has become so ingrained in my psyche that I cannot remember a time when I didn’t know “Neon Moon” (my favorite of their songs) or “Boot Scootin Boogie.”

When I first got word of their impending retirement last August, I was sad and shocked. They have always been the act that even if you didn’t care for whatever song they were releasing at the time, you still had the comfort of knowing they were there. My love for them may have grown less over the years but I cannot deny the influence they’ve had in the genre since their debut in 1991.

Last year the Country Music Journalist and CMT Editorial Director Chet Flippo said, “B&D are also one of the last few country acts that grown men can publicly admit to really, really liking. Or even love — on a purely musical level.” With the audience shifting to women and teenage girls, who’s going to fill those daunting shoes? A case could be made for Jamey Johnson but he hasn’t broken through in the way Brooks and Dunn have and doesn’t have their appeal.

The other major influence B&D have had in the genre is they’ve reinvented what a duo is and should be. Before them, the only official duo to sustain success within the genre was The Judds. Quite a few have followed in their footsteps with only Sugarland reaching anything near B&D’s status. (Of course, country music produced other duos but most were duet partners such as Porter Wagnor & Dolly Parton and Conway Twitty & Loretta Lynn). But B&D made being a duo cool. They showed the world the potential in a sustained musical partnership and won more ACM and CMA Awards than any other act in history. Topping them is damn near impossible.

They also reinvented the dust jacket of the compact disc. What was once the space to reprint song lyrics and list the musicians that played on the sessions became a place to print prose. With each CD came another installment of The Adventures of Slim and Howdy the on-going tale of Brooks and Dunn’s alter egos. The adventures followed Slim and Howdy, singers on the Texas Honky-Tonk circuit. In 2008, a full-length novel featuring the characters, written by B&D, was released.

But it’s the songs that’ll last a lifetime. B&D recored some of the most recognizable and likable songs during their heyday in the nighties. When they released their career spanning #1’s…And Then Some collection last September, I was in awe of all the great hits they’ve had and quality of their music. It’s easy to see why Ronnie Dunn is widely considered the best male country singer of his generation and one of the iconic voices of the genre.

The vast thematic variety of their music showcases them perfectly. From the rock influenced “Little Miss Honky-Tonk” to the gospel weeper “Believe” B&D ran the gamete of emotion during their career. They even won their lone Grammy Award for their tribute to blue-collar folks, “Hard Workin’ Man.”

They could make you want to line-dance one minute (“Boot Scootin Boogie”) and take you out west the next (“Cowgirls Don’t Cry”). They inspired a patriotic love of the USA with “Only In America” but at their core B&D just wanted to “Play Something Country.” So it fit like a glove during the George Strait tribute in May 2009 when they sang Strait’s classic “The Cowboy Rides Away.”

Last spring, CBS aired the special Brooks and Dunn: The Last Rodeo which brought together the finest in contemporary country music singing B&D’s songs back to them. Not ever in such a grand scale has their legacy been put on display. It was clear from that special alone just what an impact they’ve had on country music and to the artists who have come up in their wake. Every act present had genuine love and respect for them.

Their final outing The Last Rodeo Tour was a major success playing to almost every major market and the Sirius XM channel Prime Country devoted an hour each Monday throughout the summer to Last Rodeo Radio. It was also made public that Ronnie Dunn didn’t even want to do the final tour but gave in for the sake of the fans. In fact, their #1’s…And Then Some CD was supposed to be another studio album of all new material but it seems they didn’t have it in them.

In the end, their successes may have worn them down, and as some fans have said, their music may have become dated, but they needed each other. Two people okay apart, made magic as a pairing. They’ve mentioned returning for solo albums (Kix made his solo debut back in 1989), and Kix has announced he’ll be bringing his American Country Countdown to various radio stations to air live in the spring. But what’s done is done.

They knew it was time to move on and will now let the music stand on its own as a reminder of their mark on Country Music. Just like Garth Brooks and Alabama before them, country music has lost another iconic artist. Someone who knew when the time was right to hang it up. They’re music is going to last forever on radio and in the hearts and minds of country music fans.

CMA nominations 2010: ushering in much needed new blood

September 1, 2010

Wow. My head is spinning this morning with the release of the nominations for the 44th annual Country Music Association (CMA) awards. It’s spinning because, for the first time in years, new blood has prevailed. I didn’t think it was possible that the folks at the CMA would recognize the shift in the genre but after last November’s love fest to Taylor Swift, the flood gates were pushed wide open.

I was predicting many a nomination for Miranda Lambert but the nine she ended up with was more than I could’ve bet money on. Seeing the double nods in the single, song, and video categories for both “White Liar” and “The House That Built Me” was close to a shock. She was always a lock to secure a nod for those three awards but I never thought it would be twice over. If I had to choose between the two, “White Liar” for single and and “The House That Built Me” for song and video. I just wish Miranda had written that song. Kudos to Tom Douglas and Allen Shamblin, but the success would’ve been that much sweeter if she had.

(FYI…the last time an artist had two nominations in the single, song, and video categories was Alan Jackson back in 2002. He ended up with a record night scoring five trophies. The two songs were “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)” and “Drive (For Daddy Gene)).

While Miranda is the big news, and rightfully so, other acts made out equally as well. Lady Antebellum has always been the second coming in the eyes of critics and media and it was proven once again this morning. Their massive single, “Need You Now” rightfully scored single and song nods as did their album of the same name. They also scored for video, vocal group, and entertainer.

I didn’t like the Need You Now album when I first listened to it, feeling like they came up far short of their potential. The songs felt second rate and lacked the promise set by the title track. But after many listenings, my opinion changed…if only sightly. They could do much better. If I was running their career, I would make “Stars Tonight” their next single.

It was Kevin John Coyne of Country Universe that first brought up the possibility of new blood in the entertainer category. I didn’t think it was possible, but he was right. When I saw Lady A’s nod in there I wasn’t really that surprised. That they haven’t had a headlining tour yet and still got a nomination is remarkable. It’ll make their concert in October all the more special.

The other big surprise was the recognition of Easton Corbin and his single, “A Little More Country Than That.” He was a shoo-in for the New Artist award (and deserves to be there), but the single of the year nomination came out of nowhere. There is no denying how big a record it was for him, but it almost seems like the CMA are too quick to judge his long-term appeal. The follow-up single, “Roll With It” just sauntered into the top ten and doesn’t look to have the legs of his previous song. Sure he’s traditional and can easily be mistaken for George Strait, but that isn’t enough to garner nominations. Plus, “Roll With It,” is a much better song than the one he’s nominated for. Corbin shows promise, but he’s yet to fulfill it.

A better choice would’ve been “Up On The Ridge,” the lead single and title track of Dierks Bentley’s latest release. I fully expected to see the CMA recognize his bluegrass effort and they did with nominations for both album and male vocalist. It did take me some time to warm up to the song, but it was as good if not better than most single charting country this year. The fact that country radio played it at all proved the power of a great song. I’m very happy to see the love for his acoustic and artistic masterpiece.

I’m also thrilled to see Blake Shelton score a male vocalist nomination. That was a long time coming. It is sad that it comes off the heels of “Hillbilly Bone,” the most unintelligent country single of 2010. To see that song also got a single of the year nomination proves a lack of depth by the CMA. A better choice to fill out the category would’ve been “Consider Me Gone,” Reba McEntire’s four week number one from December/January. I’m glad it didn’t get a song of the year nomination. Any song that rhymes New York City and Conway Twitty, does a major disservice not only to country music but Twitty’s legacy. He deserves much better than that.

I’m glad to see the continued love for Zac Brown Band. It’s a shame, that come awards season, they have to play second fiddle to Lady A but it seems like the CMA plan to give them new artist at least. They lost the ACM new artist award (which is fan voted) to Julianne Hough two years ago, so a victory here would be their first major country music award. I’m also thrilled at their Entertainer nomination, they are exceptional live and their release of Pass The Jar in May only solidified this. They very well could take home the big award if they can pry it out of Miranda Lambert and Brad Paisley’s hands first.

The only beef I have with the awards is Female Vocalist of the Year. Based on airplay and chart success all five deserve to be there but the inclusion of Martina McBride for the 13th straight year is puzzling. Her recent music tarnishes her legacy and shows an artist who is quickly loosing herself. I would’ve replaced her with Rosanne Cash (as others have pointed out; this is not my original thought) who came back to form last fall with The List. While the album owes as much to pop as country, it showcases one of the finest singers around in a very elegant light. Its too bad how far into left field she is as she should’ve been a lock.