Posts Tagged ‘Sara Evans’

Concert Review: Sara Evans and Kiley Evans at the South Shore Music Circus

September 10, 2014

IMG_3885Sara Evans is an incredible vocalist. That at least was evident when she took the stage August 29 at the South Shore Music Circus in Cohasset, MA. Evans turned in one brilliant performance after another, wrapping her comforting twang around a majority of her most recognizable singles.

She opened the show with “Born To Fly” before treating the audience to a brisk set of her career during the new millennium. This fantastic overview ranged from “Perfect” and “I Keep Looking” to “Real Fine Place To Start” and “As If” with ease. She loaded the set with uptempo tunes, bringing out lesser faire like “Coalmine” and enjoying the audience’s eruption during “Suds In The Bucket,” which followed a brief synopsis of her upbringing on the Missouri farm; a life with three older brothers and four younger sisters.

In the beginning Evans stuck with the music, pausing after a generous strand of songs before engaging the audience. While I normally enjoy banter, Evans has a way of coming off slightly disingenuous, like a performer fulfilling a job, and not a singer giving a whole-hearted performance. This is just Evans’ way; a fact that hasn’t changed in the three years since I last saw her live (and wrote a concert review of her show).

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Album Review: Sara Evans “Slow Me Down”

March 28, 2014

Sara Evans

SaraEvansSlowDownAlbum

Slow Me Down

* *

When Sara Evans appeared on Opry Backstage with Bill Anderson in the late 90s, she commented on her voice, saying no matter what she sings it’ll always come out country. That logic may’ve been true at the time, but with producer Mark Bright at the helm and a 2014 mentality to uphold, Evans is as far from her country roots as one can be and still associate with country music.

If you’ve studied the careers of the 80s and 90s country women as closely as I have over the years, you know they show their true colors when their commercial prospects begin to fade. Do they go the Reba or Faith Hill route and squeeze out every last hit, with little regard for quality? Or do they take the Kathy Mattea and Patty Loveless route and seamlessly transition into a legacy career marked by adventurous and risk taking records that display the innate artistry that made them too smart for country radio in the first place?

With Slow Me Down Evans fits squarely into the former category with an album that exposes a hidden truth of her career – that she was never that artistic at all, just a trend follower who happened to come of age at a time when good quality songs were still the mainstay of mainstream Nashville. With that era firmly in the rearview mirror, we’re left with a singer resorting to whatever she can to find a platform, and the results are more than a little desperate.

When the title track was released late September, the press behind it made “Slow Me Down” out to be the best thing Evans had ever recorded, a record akin to the 80s crossover hits that came between the Urban Cowboy era and the new traditionalist movement. In reality it’s a terrible song, shoddily written by Merv Green, Heather Morgan, and Jimmy Robbins. The verses are stunted and repetitive and the chorus, while strong, becomes too breathy when Evans morphs into a pop diva by the end.

The rest of the album follows suit, with Evans turning out one generic ‘bright pop’ moment after another with little regard to singing anything that actually has something to say. Bright’s use of drums and electric guitars is far too generic for Evans, and any uniqueness in her voice is suppressed in favor of exploiting the lowest common denominator. Even her trademark covers of mainstream hits have taken a beating, with her take on Gavin DeGraw’s “Not Over You” maintaining far too much of his original, down to inviting him in for a guest vocal.

When I reviewed Stronger three years ago, I said one of that project’s shortcomings was the lack of Evans’ trademark sweeping story songs (‘I Learned That From You’ and ‘You’ll Always Be My Baby’) and her distinctive honky-tonkers (‘Born To Fly’ and ‘Suds In The Bucket’). Those problems exist here, too, but after three years of such songs going the way of VCRs and Landline telephones, it’s hardly a surprise. Evans does try and maintain the last ounce of her country credibility with “Better Off,” a fiddle-heavy tune featuring Vince Gill, but the production is still far too loud, with drums and noise marring the purer elements.

If it’s any consolation, there’s a lyrical consistency on Slow Me Down that elevates the album above Stronger, which had too may juvenile lyrical couplets. But that’s hardly a cause for celebration, as the music here is far too weak, generic, and bland for a singer of Evans’ caliber. I’m not overly disappointed, though, as I kind of expected this, and in the context of mainstream country, this is one of the less irritating releases to come so far this year.

Album Review: Heidi Feek – ‘The Only’

November 17, 2013

Heidi Feek

heidi-feek-the-only

The Only

* * * 1/2 

I became a fan of Heidi Feek after her profile during a season one episode of The Joey + Rory Show. During the segment, she introduced the world to her then fiancé and spoke about her love of listening to vinyl records. She’s since become a regular fixture on her parents’ television show, providing background vocals during performances and singing Patsy Cline’s “Walking After Midnight” and Hank Williams’ “Kaw-Lija” during Crosley Radio Vinyl Rewind pieces.

Like her parents Feek is a throwback to a simpler era making it easy to forget she’s in her mid-twenties, around my age. She’s a great vocalist, with a distinctively bluesy twang not far removed from Cline or torch singer Mandy Barnett. I’ve been anticipating a full-length album since that initial appearance, and while I didn’t buy her 2010 EP Eden I was quick to acquire a copy of The Only when the release was announced in late August.

Needless to say, I’m not disappointed. Feek’s first full-length album is a wonderful showcase for her distinct stylings and a fine introduction to who she is as an artist. The album blasts off with the rockin’ “I Like The Way,” an excellent electric guitar drenched number reminiscent of Dwight Yoakam, and the first of four tracks she penned solely with her father Rory. Reverb heavy “I Didn’t Know About You” (co-written by Feek, her father, and James Slater) continues in a similar uptempo vein, transporting Feek back to the Sun Records era of the 1950s while also updating that sound to keep the track modern and fresh. Similarly to “I Like The Way,” “I Don’t Know About You” succeeds on its electric guitar centric sound, giving Feek some muscle behind her energetic vocal.

“57 Bel Air,” another father daughter co-write, is not only the best of the uptempo numbers, and the strongest track on the whole project and the one song I can’t wait to hear each time I listen to the album. It picks up on the electric guitar heavy sound that threads together the uptempo numbers, but adds a distinctive drum beat that elevates the track above the rest. “57 Bel Air,” in which Feek compares her current relationship to the classic car, does the best job of maintaining the rock sound Feek loves while also keeping the track firmly within the realms of her country roots.

As a fan of Feek I was excited to hear her trademark ballads, the side of her musical personality I was most familiar with going in. Feek’s style is best summed up when she’s inspired by Cline, as she shows on “One Night With You,” a co-write with her dad, Austin Manual, and Aaron Carnahan and “There Lives A Fool,” which her dad co-wrote with Sara Evans about sixteen years ago. Both numbers are ripe with bluesy elements that allow Feek to shine vocally, although a chaotic guitar solo suffocates the end of “One Night With You.” The gorgeously understated opening of “There Lives A Fool,” featuring Feek’s vocal backed solely by an upright bass, showcases her impressive range and is one of album’s standout moments.

I also really enjoy “Someday Somebody,” the album’s first single and a co-write between Feek and her dad. The song takes a modern approach to her bluesy side with distinctive electric guitar riffs infused with a steady drumbeat framing her straightforward vocal. Even more contemporary is the title track (which Feek penned solo), a 90s country inspired ballad about a woman telling her man he isn’t the end of the line in terms of relationships. I love how the drums and guitars work together to create a gentle ease that helps guide the song along. “Berlin,” co-written by Feek, her dad, and Slater, follows the same path although it’s far more addicting with the wonderful ‘we hold on/we let go/body and soul/still I love you’ refrain keeping it memorable.

By all accounts, The Only is a solid album, although it didn’t provide the listening experience I was hoping for despite some truly outstanding numbers. There aren’t any clunkers on the project (not even a very atypical cover of “Heartbreak Hotel” that shows off Feek’s interpretation skills) but the production is too heavy handed at times, giving the album a sense of sameness that grows tiring after hearing just a few tracks. But The Only isn’t a bad album by any means, and well worth checking out.

Top 45 favorite country singles of 2011

December 21, 2011

Here’s my picks for the best of the best, the cream of the crop for country singles in 2011. See, the year wasn’t all bad, now was it?

45. Steel Magnolia – “Last Night Again”

A flirty romance tale finding a couple eyeing each other from across the room is made even sweeter  knowing Megan Lindsay and Joshua Scott Jones are an item in real life.

44. Terri Clark – “Northern Girl”

How refreshing is it to hear a singer singing about where they’re from and instead of a bunch of cliches, it relays to personal experience? Clark, from Canada, sings lovingly of her homeland here and shows just how great her voice still is after more than fifteen years in the industry. If you haven’t paid Clark much attention in a while, she’s worth checking out.

43. Miranda Lambert – “Baggage Claim”

A Beyonce inspired ditty that says everything Reba McEntire wished she could’ve said in “Who’s Ever In New England.” This guy ain’t got a place to come back to.

42. Jacob Lyda – “I’m Doing Alright”

This light and breezy tale is an exercise in being comfortable in your everyday life, something we could use more of in our world. Lyda co-wrote it with legendary songwriter Paul Overstreet (whose son Chord is Sam Evans on Glee) and it has that old-time feel of a great country song. Lyda didn’t make waves in 2011, but he sure deserved to.

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Concert Review – Sara Evans at the Cape Cod Melody Tent

August 27, 2011

Not since Jennifer Nettles brought her lead-with-passion approach to modern country has a singer enthralled me like Sara Evans did last night at the Cape Cod Melody Tent in Hyannis, MA. She left her blood and guts on the stage as she powered through massive hit single after massive hit single. Sounding even better live than she could ever come across on record, Evans had me in a trance and didn’t let go until the show ended.

Her ability to gracefully overcome her inability to arrive at the venue on time (her private plane was grounded for two hours in Birmingham, Ala, where she lives) had an impatient audience ready and willing to forgive her and just get on with the show. With her raven locks in a tight pony-tail (the result of not having enough time for hair and makeup), she playfully engaged the crowd and exuded likeability rare among entertainers of her stature.

When the band launched into her opening number, a peculiar thing happened to me. I didn’t recognize the song or even the opening verse as she started singing, yet I knew every word, and obviously knew the song. For some unknown reason, I just couldn’t place it. The song was in fact “As If” the only hit single to stem from her 2007 Greatest Hits package. She followed it up with her top 5 hit “Perfect” and then launched into her signature song “Born to Fly,” which I fully expected her to leave until the encore.

On “Cheatin’” Evans brought the already biting lyrics to new heights. When singing the opening, “you say you’re everyday/is a bad dream that keeps repeating,” she slowed it down even further than on the album track and dug twice as deep with her twang, revealing nuances in her vocal ability I hadn’t heard before. Her band smartly gave her room to breathe during the opening and hinder the audience’s enjoyment of her vocal.

Evans than span her entire career with renditions of “I Keep Looking,” which she dedicated to all the women in the audience, and “Coalmine” which she dedicated to all the men. The country/bluegrass shuffle of “Coalmine” was a welcomed surprise although a tad puzzling. Only a minor hit when released as a single in 2006, it’s easily one of her lesser known songs to anyone who isn’t a diehard fan so I was left wondering about its inclusion in her set, although it made for a very entertaining moment and allowed Evans room to act playful with her band.

Midway though she explained her reasons for retreating from recording over the last few years, her now three-year marriage to football player Jay Barker, and the blending of their families, which together, makes up seven children. She joked that once the reality set in, she booked five years of non-stop touring. This led to the only talk of her new album Stronger and an explanation of her new single, a cover of Rod Stewart’s “My Heart Can’t Tell You No,” a song she always loved, and wanted to turn into a country hit. Singing the fire out of it, it was difficult to see where the negative single reviews stemmed from. I happen to love this cover of the song, and really dig the vibe she was going for. Hearing the song live was the difference; the album track pails greatly in comparison.

Evans followed-up “My Heart Can’t Tell You No” with her most-recent #1 “A Little Bit Stronger,” a song she found at the end of the recording sessions for Stronger and new she just had to record. It easily got the biggest rise out of the audience and it was clear to me, judging from crowd reaction, why the song became such an anthem.

Following the only talk of her most recent album, Evans told a story about growing up on a working farm in Missouri. She talked about the culture of where she came from, where you’d date boys in pick-up trucks and if the parents disapproved, it only made you love them more. I knew instantly where she was going with this, and I was right. It all led to “Suds In The Bucket,” her 2004 #1 smash.

Songs like “Bucket” and “Coalmine” were moments where Evans and her band could interact playfully. With “Bucket,” each member of her band raised a foot in the air, to signal the whole barefoot aspect of the song. Being at a venue that intimate and sitting so close to the stage, you’re able to enjoy little moments that get lost when an artist is playing for huge crowds.

Just when I thought there wasn’t anything else left to sing, they launched into another #1, “Real Fine Place To Start.” At the beginning of that song, it hit me just how many hit singles she’s had. She’d been on hiatus so long, I’d forgotten about all the great music she’s released over the years.

After “Start” Evans proved a slight benefit to having private plane issues. Instead of leaving the stage and coming back for an encore, she had the audience ask her for one without loosing anymore time. The funny thing is, it was during the “encore” where the night got most interesting.

Evans talked about how she’s always loved Tammy Wynette and when thinking about what classic song to put into her show only one came to mind. I fully expected her to sing “I Don’t Wanna Play House,” a track she contributed to the tribute album to Wynette in 1998. Instead she launched into a perfect cover of “Stand By Your Man.” I loved the classic country vibe and as usual, she sang the fire out of it. Only problem is, I couldn’t get Hillary Clinton’s comment from 60 Minutes out of my head. But of course, that didn’t dampen my enjoyment of the song.

Her second “encore” song was a bluegrass-y cover of Cheap Trick’s “I Want You To Want Me.” I love how she made such an recognizable song country. In thinking back, it reminds of something Evans said when Bill Anderson interviewed her on the TNN show Opry Backstage in 1998 – no matter what, everything she sings is going to come out country. In the case, that proved very true.

As a diehard country fan, and a lover of Evans’s music, I had a hard time believing “I Want You To Want Me” was the end of the show. She left the stage, and I fully expected her to come back for one final encore. I didn’t believe the show was over until the lights came on and everyone filed out of the venue. I wanted her to come back because of one thing – Evans didn’t sing her breakthrough hit “No Place That Far!” I couldn’t understand why of all the songs in her catalog she would exclude her first #1, yet she sang a Cheap Trick cover and “Coalmine,” which bombed when it was released to radio.

But that oversight didn’t dampen my experience in the least. I came away from the show in love with Evans all over again. I still can’t believe she hasn’t won a CMA Female Vocalist of the Year award yet. The ACM were smart enough to recognize her in 2004, but it’s about time the CMA follow suit. And she’s so much better live than she’ll ever be able to come off on record. If you haven’t seen her, and get a chance to, go. You will not be disappointed.

Her humor, which became overkill at times, was the biggest surprise for me. I’ve said it before in this review, but she really is playful and flirty on stage. I loved how loose she was. The great benefit of a concert at The Melody Tent was how the stage, like sister venue The South Shore Music Circus, spins. Evans made a joke that she had to stay inside the stage in order to keep spinning. Since if you don’t, you end up playing to one section of the audience too much.

Which wasn’t an issue for opening act Jake Hill, a local musician who’s recently gotten exposure from Almost Famous, a new local music show on 95.9 WATD, the radio station I intern at. He was able to play the stage and the crowd. This was my second time to see him perform in this setting, he opened for Huey Lewis and The News last summer.

While he performed a solid set, I wasn’t blown over by his music because it isn’t my style. He isn’t a country singer, but that doesn’t matter. He just isn’t the type of singer I like for long periods of time. But that’s me and no reflection on his set, which was very good.

In a lot of ways he reminded me of both a singer-songwriter  from Texas and Delbert McClinton. That’s the best way I can describe him. Hill’s best song came at the end ofhis set when he covered Kris Kristofferson’s “Me and Bobbi McGee.” He did such a great job and even had Kistofferson’s almost-drunken wayward singing abilities down. It was the highlight of his set and a great kickoff to a memorable evening.

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.