Posts Tagged ‘Nathan Chapman’

Album Review: The Band Perry – “Pioneer”

April 30, 2013

“Daddy rocked us to sleep with the Rolling Stones; Mama woke us up with Loretta Lynn. So we get it honest” – Kimberly Perry

The Band Perry

Pioneer

***1/2

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It’s no secret that “If I Die Young” is one of my favorite singles of this decade, no matter how much airplay it receives. Nathan Chapman’s simple production combined with Kimberly’s sweet vocal is an irresistible combination, difficult for me to resist.

So about a year ago now, I was thrilled when The Band Perry announced they’d be working with Rick Rubin on their sophomore album. The veteran producer who famously resurrected Johnny Cash’s career in the final two decades of life, he also produced the final Dixie Chick record Taking The Long Way, possibly my favorite album from them. In addition, they expressed their intent to work with songwriting genius (and Semisonic front man) Dan Wilson based on his involvement with “Someone Like You” and “Don’t You Remember” from Adele’s 21 (He also had a lot to do with the genius of the Chicks’ album). The Perry siblings even spoke openly of their love for those two songs, which made me very excited, as I love them, too.

So, what the heck went so horribly wrong? Well, it seems like the their label had other ideas. Kimberly has explained that Rubin “in his current incarnation” is a minimalist, but “we also knew that to accommodate all of the goals that we had, the best producer was Dann Huff.” One can assume, reading between the PR fog, that Republic Nashville didn’t approve of Rubin’s artistry, and wanted the band to go with a producer that would keep them firmly within the good graces of country radio. In other words, an intelligently articulate record wouldn’t be supported in today’s Nashville in the same ways an overproduced Huff-led record would.

And is Pioneer ever overproduced. Huff works his usual magic, suffocating the songs until they are one click away from needing life support. The rock production has even affected Kimberly’s voice, the band’s crowning instrument, which is now sadly showing the wear of extreme overuse. I wasn’t expecting to hear such breathy vocals from her, and like Carrie Underwood’s newly acquired rasp, it’s kind of sad. What ever happened to simply singing?

Pioneer is what happens when country music becomes too commercial. Every aspect of the product is grossly overdone in an attempt to appeal to the arena and stadium crowd, and while the songs may work well live; they fail as a listening experience on an album. Luckily, though, this isn’t the atrocious mess it could’ve been and they did find (and write) some decent songs, even if nothing here lives up to the singles from their debut.

I quite like “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely,” despite the somewhat muffled production and “I Saw The Light” is possibly my favorite song on the whole project. The title track is as folksy as they seem to get, and “Back To Me Without You” is nicely restrained although it gets a bit power ballad-y by the end. I don’t have a huge issue with thick production at all when it’s done correctly (here’s looking at you, Eric Church). Huff’s style actually works well on “Forever Mine Nevermind,” which has noticeable country elements in the choral melody.

I’m also enjoying the tender “Mother Like Mine,” which the trio wrote as a declaration of what the world would look like if everyone had been raised by their mom:

So the wars would all be over

‘Cause she’d raise us all as friends

And no one would ever wonder if somebody wanted them

We’d walk on grass that’s greener

And our cares would all be freer

If the world had a mother like mine

The no wars line is a bit predictable, and Kimberly’s vocal shows the wear of shouting too much on stage, but overall it’s a very touching song that would work well as a single. Their southern gothic tribute “End of Time” isn’t as revelatory as I would’ve liked, but it’s probably closest to the sound on their debut. “Night Gone Wasted” is a mess in this form, but I can hear the honky-tonk elements beneath all the noise, especially on the chorus. If any song ever called for an acoustic makeover, this would be it.

The rest is just plain dreck. I do get why some would praise “Chainsaw” for being a country romp, but it sounds to me like something Huff would’ve done with Rascal Flatts circa 2004. There’s just nothing new in the production to peak my interest. The lyric is typical Band Perry but the melody sounds very dated. Even the Target exclusive tracks are marred by unintelligent choices in both vocals and production, and can hardly be appreciated for the quality songs they probably are.

To call me disappointed in Pioneer would be an understatement. I’m thankful this isn’t an obvious clichéd attempt at commercialism, but this record could’ve been and deserved to be so much more. The songs are there but you wouldn’t know it based on all the distracting elements hindering overall enjoyment. Pioneer will rightfully get The Band Perry to that next level they so deserve to ascend to, but it comes at far too big a price for the fans that loved the simplicity of their debut. Hopefully, they’ll be able to find a happy medium next time.

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Album Review: Sara Evans – Stronger

April 16, 2011

Sara Evans

 Stronger

* * 1/2 

In the six years since Sara Evans released Real Fine Place, she’s appeared on Dancing With The Stars, powered through an ugly divorce, released a Greatest Hits album, a novel, remarried, and moved to Birmingham, Alabama. She enjoyed a top 15 hit with “As If” in 2007, and watched every other single she and her label released (“Some Things Never Change,” “Love You With All My Heart,” “Low,” and “Feels Just Like A Love Song”) tank. The latter was supposed to be the lead single from her My Place In Heaven album that got pushed back again and again. Her loosing streak turned around last fall when “A Little Bit Stronger” became her first significant hit in more than four years and her first top 10 since 2005’s “Cheatin'”. That long-awaited album was retitled Stronger and finally saw the light of day in early March.

“A Little Bit Stronger” was a welcomed return to form for Evans who seemed cast aside for boobalicous blondes half her age. Co-written by Lady A’s Hillary Scott, the song is a perfect mix of country charm and pop production suited for airplay. It’s appearance on the Country Strong soundtrack more than gave it a boost and the exposure it needed to make it big at radio. While wearing extremely thin after six months of repeated listenings, “A Little Bit Stronger” stated that Evans was back, in a big way.

But, unfortunately, she didn’t follow through with the rest of the album. For someone out of the game for four years, all we get is a ten track album consisting of eight new songs, a Rod Stewart cover, and a puzzling bluegrass version of “Born to Fly”? Stronger is an easy and very enjoyable listen but fails to stick with you because very few of the songs are remarkable let alone memorable. While it does retain more country arraignments than most mainstream releases, it’s safe and generic and does nothing to push the genre, let alone Evans’s career, forward.

The problem with the album is two-fold. In the past Evans has stunned with her ballads. Gone from Stronger are the sweeping story songs – “I Learned That From You,” “You’ll Always Be My Baby” that she executes so well. While they haven’t proven to fair well at radio (and “You” was never a single), such songs showcase the power of Evans’s vocal ability and add the grounding needed to root her music in substance. Also missing are those punchy songs that everyone loves so much. Where’s this album’s “Suds In The Bucket?” or “Born To Fly?” Nothing of that caliber exists here. While we do have an odd Bluegrass cover of “Born To Fly,” resurrecting your signature song in place of a new song of the same energy, doesn’t count.

But luckily for Evans, there are three distinct highlights – the infectious “Anywhere,” “What The Drink Cost Me,” and the Rod Stewart cover “My Heart Can’t Tell You No.” At least all three attempt to pull off something worthy of Evans’s talents. The cover of “No,” while not really country except for the prominent steel guitar, may be the best vocal of her while career. The overall selection of songs on this record may be far less than stellar, but it isn’t like she’s not working hard here. It’s just when the lyrical content of a song is awful, there’s nothing you can do to elevate it.

That logic is never more evident than on the opening couplet of “Life Without Losing:” “My nails are chipped and my hair’s in knots/And my jeans are ripped and I just can’t stop.” It’s by and far the worst line on the whole album. To hear Evans’s sing those words is cringeworthy. Why is one of the most underrated and under-appreciated female singers wasting their talents on drivel like that? The Nashville machine of dumbing down is clearly at play here, and to see Evans become its latest victim is down right sad. If she desires a CMA Female Vocalist trophy, she isn’t showing it with lyrics like that.

But there is some good news – Stronger finds Evans still in a very strong voice and Nathan Chapman, known for producing Taylor Swift, keeps the arraignments from fighting her vocals. They also air on the side of country, which is rare in 2011 Nashville. Evans doesn’t hide her twang as much as embrace it, and the end result is far more authentic to her roots. It’s enjoyable to hear a well placed fiddle and steel guitar on a mainstream country record. These are pop/country songs mind you, but it is nice. Stronger builds more on the foundation of “As If” than “Suds in the Bucket,” but there are worse places to construct from. Believe me.

While it isn’t the slam dunk we all hoped it would be, Stronger is more than an enjoyable listen. It just doesn’t hold up once you’ve turned it off. Most of the songs and hooks aren’t ear worms and none are likely to become legendary, but it’s great to have Evans back after all these years. Let’s hope she doesn’t wait as long to release her next album.