Posts Tagged ‘Thompson Square’

Album Review: David Lee Murphy — ‘No Zip Code’

November 28, 2018

David Lee Murphy

No Zip Code

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Mid-1990s hitmaker David Lee Murphy has finally shifted his attention back to his own music after a decade and a half focused on writing major hits for the likes of Kenny Chesney and Thompson Square. He produced No Zip Code, his first album since 2004, alongside Chesney and Buddy Cannon.

To ensure his comeback at radio, “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright,” a duet with Chesney, was issued as the album’s lead single. The track’s breezy escapism was cotton candy to radio programmers, who helped push the song to #1. I quite like it, although it is light, and a bit too processed. It won the pair Musical Event of the Year at the recent CMA Awards, giving Murphy his first nomination and win. They were also due to perform the song on the telecast, but a death in the family caused Chesney to have to miss the ceremony.

The album’s second single “I Won’t Be Sorry” is classic Murphy, recalling hits like “Every Time I Get Around You.” Unsurprisingly, the song is dressed for the modern era, with a blaze of electric guitars blending together to create a wall of noise that distracts from the defiant lyric.

“Way Gone” is a step in the right direction, taking the listener back to the days when the female protagonist in a song was more than an object of desire. In this case, she’s on the run, leaving her no-good man in a cloud of dust. The driving arrangement, while hideous, does give the track an adrenaline rush in keeping with the overall theme.

The title track is a pleasant ode to life so far out in the country the spot isn’t detectable on a map. The story has its appeal, but the overall mix leaves much to be desired. The cranked up loudness, do to compression of natural dynamics, gives the track an overall loudness that is unforgivable and unnecessary. But I do like the story and feel the song would benefit greatly from a softer arrangement.

When I was looking over the tracklist in preparation for writing this review, “As The Crow Flies” jumped out at me. Murphy co-wrote the song with Dean Dillon, Jamey Johnson, and Phil O’Donnell, and with that pedigree, it had better rise above the rest of the album. I’m sad to say, it doesn’t. The lyric, about a guy determined to follow his woman wherever she goes, is pedestrian and the overall mixing ensures the only thing the listener will focus on is the noise level of the song.

“Winnebago,” which Murphy wrote solo, is a left-over bro-country relic with all the usual tropes. “Haywire,” “Get Go,” and “That’s Alright” are just more heavily compressed uptempo rockers. “Voice of Reason” is much better, with a pleasing melody, that could’ve benefited greatly from a softer more acoustic arrangement. “Waylon and Willie (and a Bottle of Jack)” isn’t as good as its title suggests, unfortunately.

I’ve been a fan of Murphy’s since the beginning, so I was expecting great things from No Zip Code. Sure, I figured a number of the tracks would make concessions for modern commercial country, but I wasn’t expecting the whole album to have been ruined by cranked up loudness and compressed dynamics. There are some listenable songs throughout, but mostly this album is a throw-away missed opportunity. Murphy, and his longtime fans, deserve better than what’s presented here.

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The 2012 CMA Nominations: The year that, well, just couldn’t

September 5, 2012

Such as they are, here’s the CMA nominees list for 2012 with my comments and Will Win / Should Win picks:

Entertainer of the Year

Jason Aldean
Kenny Chesney
Brad Paisley
Blake Shelton
Taylor Swift

The usual solid, yet unspectacular group. The lack of Carrie Underwood will have all her fans fuming as usual and everyone else will bark at the inclusion of Swift, a two time winner and the incumbent, for her increasing lack of country credibility.

Will Win: Taylor Swift – I’m betting on the safest choice this time around. She’s the most likely to pull off a win, her third. Chesney may’ve had the biggest tour, and Aldean is on fire right now, but Swift has the lock on this category.

Should Win: Luke Bryan, but he wasn’t nominated. As an all around entertainer, he’s so much better than Aldean, the only one who stands to keep the award out of Swift’s hands.

Female Vocalist of the Year

Kelly Clarkson
Miranda Lambert
Martina McBride
Taylor Swift
Carrie Underwood

Kelly Clarkson, really? I adore her but she hasn’t fully embraced a career in country music…yet. But she did score a #21 hit with the country version of “Mr. Know It All” so her nomination is somewhat, albeit very marginally justified. McBride is a snoozer scoring her 14 consecutive nomination and 15th overall as her career takes a downward spiral.

See, this is what happens when all the great female artists of late (Kimberly Perry, Jennifer Nettles, Shawna Thompson) are members of duos and groups.

Will Win: Lambert – she’s at the top of the heap and the countriest of the big 3

Should Win: While I’d love to see this award go to Clarkson, she’s a pop singer who’s done a bang up job covering country songs in concert. That’s it. I’ll say Lambert because of her intuition with Pistol Annies

Male Vocalist of the Year

Jason Aldean
Luke Bryan
Eric Church
Blake Shelton
Keith Urban

Another somewhat standard list until you take into account Urban is here in place of the red hot Dierks Bentley. His exclusion, which comes on the heels of three back-to-back #1 hits is shocking. Urban should’ve joined Brad Paisley and been made to sit this one out this year.

Will Win: Shelton – there’s seemingly no stopping him right now despite one mediocre single after another.

Should Win: Bryan. While I love Church, Bryan is the most exciting male vocalist to come along in years and a personal favorite of mine.

Vocal Group of the Year

The Band Perry
Eli Young Band
Lady Antebellum
Little Big Town
Zac Brown Band

On chart hits alone, all five deserve to be here this time around. It’s nice to see the exclusion of Rascal Flatts as their already bland material has only gotten worse in recent years.

Will Win: Lady Antebellum – is there any reason to bet against them?

Should Win: Little Big Town – Their latest single “Pontoon” isn’t just their biggest single, but its country music’s song of the summer. Zac Brown Band has also yet to score a deserving win, but LBT has been waiting for their time in the spotlight for far too long.

Vocal Duo of the Year

Big & Rich
Love and Theft
Sugarland
The Civil Wars
Thompson Square

Another interesting list. Sugarland shot themselves in the foot with Incredible Machine and thus are the least likely to repeat in this category. Love and Theft just scored their first #1, and Thompson Square have the ACM momentum.

Will Win: Thompson Square – they’ve yet to repeat the monster success of “Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not” in their last two tries, but they’re far from one hit wonders. Shawna may not be the most flashy female vocalist, but she’s the most akin to the genre’s traditions.

Should Win: The Civil Wars – there isn’t a more ear catching duo in country music right now

New Artist of the Year

Lee Brice
Brantley Gilbert
Hunter Hayes
Love and Theft
Thompson Square

If we ever needed proof country music is in a rut, this is it. No one on this list has proven truly outstanding in anything they’ve done to date, and none have displayed the integrity to correctly push the genre forward.

Will Win: Brice, Gilbert, and Hayes are so even I can’t predict between the three. That may give Thompson Square the edge.

Should Win: Thompson Square – of this group, they’re the best of the bunch

Album of the Year

Luke Bryan, Tailgates and Tanlines
Eric Church, Chief
Miranda Lambert, Four the Record
Dierks Bentley, Home
Lady Antebellum, Own the Night

The significance of this category is huge. For the first time since his MCA debut When I Call Your Name, Vince Gill isn’t nominated. Guitar Slinger was one of the best country records of 2011 and deserved to be on this list. Also missing are George Strait’s Here For A Good Time, despite the fact his last two albums won, and Pistol Annies for their excellent Hell on Heels.

But rest assured, we get Own The Night. The category wouldn’t be complete without it now would it?

Will Win: Own The Night – if its good enough to get a Best Country Album Grammy, than it can’t loose here, right?!

Should Win: Chief – The Church album is the best of this list and the most original commercial country album of 2011. Four The Record was good, but nowhere near the caliber of Chief.

Song of the Year (Award goes to songwriters)

“Even if It Breaks Your Heart” – written by Will Hoge and Eric Paslay
“God Gave Me You” – written by Dave Barnes
“Home” – written by Dierks Bentley and Jon Randall Stewart
“Over You” – written by Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton
“Springsteen” – written by Eric Church, Jeff Hyde and Ryan Tyndell

Another boring list. The exclusion of “So You Don’t Have To Love Me Anymore” is a travesty, and George Strait should’ve been honored for his songwriting contributions to Here For A Good Time. But the inclusion of “Springsteen” is all that matters to me.

Will Win: “Over You” – I can already see Lambert and Shelton accepting this together and I’m very happy about it

Should Win: “Springsteen” – its the best song of this bunch hands down

Single of the Year (Award goes to artist and producer)

Jason Aldean, “Dirt Road Anthem”
Blake Shelton, “God Gave Me You”
Dierks Bentley, “Home”
Little Big Town, “Pontoon”
Eric Church, “Springsteen”

Aren’t the nominations for Aldean’s awful rap over? Shelton, meanwhile, has been nominated for one of his grossest productions ever. Bentley’s patriotic anthem is wonderful, and Church’s ode is his best single yet.

Will Win: I’m leading towards, “Home” but could also see “Springsteen” sneak in a win. But as far as singles of the year go, “Pontoon” is about as big as it gets

Should Win: “Pontoon” – sure its frivolous, but unlike the Aldean hit its harmless fun, and LBT deserve anything the CMA decide to throw their way

Musical Event of the Year

“Dixie Highway,” Alan Jackson and Zac Brown Band
“Feel Like a Rock Star,” Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw
“Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die,” Willie Nelson featuring Snoop Dogg, Kris Kristofferson and Jamey Johnson
“Safe and Sound,” Taylor Swift featuring the Civil Wars
“Stuck on You,” Lionel Richie and Darius Rucker

The most thought out and interesting list, by a wide margin. The Jackson duet is his most exciting song from Thirty Miles West, the Swift duet is the most compelling single of her career, and the Nelson song is an hilarious classic in the making. The reworking of Richie’s classic suits him and Rucker well while the only clunker is the awful excuse for Chesney and McGraw to sing together on stage this past summer.

Will Win: “Feel Like A Rockstar” – the CMA can’t resist when two genre superstars team up

Should Win: “Safe and Sound” – putting Swift aside, its the most compelling track and another reason why The Civil Wars are currently the genre’s best duo.

Music Video of the Year

Eric Church, “Springsteen”
Kenny Chesney, “Come Over”
Miranda Lambert, “Over You”
Little Big Town, “Pontoon”
Toby Keith, “Red Solo Cup”

Of these, Church has the best video, followed by LBT. What’s so remarkable about the whole “Pontoon” thing is LBT haven’t caved into any pressure to act like 20 year olds. They’re being completely themselves all the while making millions.

Of the others, The Keith video is stupid fun, Chesney is all sex and no substance, and Lambert is as boring and depressing as the song.

Will Win: “Red Solo Cup” – as stupid as the song, but captures it perfectly

Should Win: “Pontoon” – lets have fun with this one, and this video is pure fun in the sun. But if Church only ones award, it’ll likely  be this one

Musician of the Year
Sam Bush
Paul Franklin
Dann Huff
Brent Mason
Mac McAnally

The award I know the least about, but all talented musicians. Can’t go wrong with any of them.

Will Win: Mac McAnally – too strong to bet against

Should Win: Sam Bush – for some variety

 

Top 40 Worst Country Singles of 2011

December 21, 2011

Here you go. My least favorite country singles of 2011. You’ll see some huge hits here. But remember it isn’t about chart performance, but rather about quality:

40. Ronnie Dunn – “Bleed Red”

On his solo debut Dunn could’ve worn any hat. But he choose to go down the route of being over-produced and turned into a pop balladeer. And “We all bleed red” is such a statement of the obvious, it hardly bares drugging up in a song.

39. Jason Michael Carroll – “Numbers”

This is exactly why people hate country music. A laundry list of numerical symbols? Seriously, just how lazy can songwriting get?

38. Keith Urban – “You Gonna Fly”

On its own this isn’t a bad song. But I’m including it here for the simple fact it showcases an artist continuing to coast on their merits with yet another sound alike rocker that has become the norm. Urban will always be hailed for his guitar playing and entertaining abilities but not for his diversity in song selection. He just isn’t exciting anymore.

37. Luke Bryan – “I Don’t Want This Night To End”

A guy and a girl are rockin’ in a truck as if no other modes of transportation exist. Of course, she’s “so damn hot” he can’t stand it. He may not want this night to end, but this song surely can.

36. Jake Owen – “Barefoot Blue Jean Night”

A marriage of 80s rock with banjos coupled with a disposable tale of having fun with not only your buddies but the requisite hot babe, too. I Don’t Wanna Grow Up may be the smartest line in a country song all year.

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My Kind of Country

July 2, 2011

My lack in recent updates is partly do to an exciting opportunity I accepted over a month ago. I’m now a staff writer for My Kind of Country, a popular country music blog.

That doesn’t mean this blog is going anywhere, it’s just an extension of my love for country music.

My duties are to write single reviews for new country songs and album reviews for their spotlight artist series. Here’s what I’ve written so far:

I can’t believe how much I’ve already written. Six already?! I have many more in the pipe line, and as I write them, I’ll link them to my blog so they’ll be easy to find in one place.
Thanks again to J.R. Journey for inviting me to blog about my favorite subject to a much wider audience. In the coming months, I’m looking forward to seeing where it takes me.
Now I just have to find the balance to write my own blog along with all the MKoC work I do. That shouldn’t be too hard.

In the spotlight – regional country singer Kiley Evans

May 17, 2011

One of the benefits of interning at 95.9 WATD is their association with local bands and artists on the south shore of Massachusetts. Whether or not their music is heard on the airwaves or just in local clubs, the DJs and hosts are very tuned into the local scene. This allows music fans like me, access to the best the region has to offer, including local country singer Kiley Evans. A 23 year-old Boston native, Evans describes herself as a “Boston girl with a Nashville soul.” She’s been gaining exposure thanks to multiple appearances on Cat Country 98.1, Rhode Island’s country radio station, and the many YouTube videos she’s posted of not just her own music, but covers of current country songs. She also just released two singles, “Johnny Depp,” and “Not Toady.”

Evans hit a home run with the title of “Depp.” It’ll surly intrigue listeners before they’ve ever heard it. And while song titles of famous people have proven to be hit or miss (“Johnny Cash” by Jason Aldean, anyone?) they have launched superstars including Taylor Swift (“Tim McGraw”). This addition to that linage may be a regional single, but it perfectly showcases Evans’s charm and appeal. Unlike a lot of country singers these days, she sings from the perspective of someone her age, which is a welcomed change. She also demonstrates a maturity that a lot of young talent spend most of their careers trying to find. Overall Evans has made a wonderful first impression which is often difficult to come by in this era of selling yourself out at the expense of fame and exposure. It’s the perfect single for her to gain local notoriety.

The single follows the well-worn path of relationship songs, but keeps it fresh by an infectious melody and catchy chorus that can’t help but get stuck in your head. I’ve only heard “Johnny Depp” a number of times and I can’t stop singing it. She  sells the song by her vocal delivery and invested interest in what she’s singing. It’s the perfect companion for those long summer drives with the windows rolled down and the radio cranked up. What really drew me into the song was her comparisons of the guy in question to both John Travolta and Johnny Depp – which might come off a bit corny at first, but is the attention grabber that made me take notice.

Unlike many country songs that misrepresent country music legends with disrespectful name drops, Evans employs two of Hollywood’s leading men as benchmarks in her quest to find true love. I can’t say it’s been done before, especially not recently, and it turns the name dropping trend on its head by finding a fresh perspective. Plus, it perked me up and got me to listen – the goal of anyone trying to achieve notoriety.

Evans’s other single is the tune “Not Today,” which allows her lets loose with her voice. A  pop/country power ballad, “Today” captures her slower side and unique tone to her voice. As a sucker for songs in this vein, I really like this one as well. While not as instantly catchy as “Johnny Depp,” it works because of what she puts into it. Evans injects enough personality to give this song life. While I wish the arraignment had been a little more sparse, she more than overcomes that minor shortcoming by telling a relatable story of being in love but not wanting to rush into anything. She wants to spend time with her man, but he wants to hold off for some rainy day, leaving her to wonder, “What if those rain clouds don’t come our way?” It isn’t that uncommon for women to beg for the attention of their men and that’s just what she’s doing here – trying to seize the opportunity at hand. And honestly, if this song is any indication, he’s be a fool to put it off any longer.

A complex story, Evans succeeds here by not retelling the same boring relationship story we’ve heard so many times before in a thousand different ways. Just like with “Johnny Deep,” she’s found a unique and fresh angle to themes relatable to everyone regardless if you’re a man or woman. Plus, it’s hooky enough to stick with you long after you finish listening to it. I’m always drawn to ballads for some reason anyway – I guess I’m just in the mood a lot for slower songs and “Not Today” really does fit the bill. And it’s alive enough that it isn’t sleepy. It’s often difficult to make a ballad that isn’t too slow and maudlin, a sleeper usually unfit for radio, but she smartly avoids all those pitfalls and has a really good song here.

It’s hard for me to decide if forced to choose, which of her two singles really is the better song since both perfectly show off the two sides of her personality and the type of artist Evans envisions herself to be. I honestly cannot choose – I like both songs equally as much.

Another great aspect of our ever growing technological world is the phenomenon of YouTube – the premiere outlet for sharing video content around the world. Evans has displayed not only her original songs on the site but also covers of some of country’s most popular hits of late including Thomson Square’s “Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not,” Lady Antebellum’s “Just A Kiss,” Miranda Lambert’s “Kerosene,” and Swift’s “Mean.” All three bring another depth to Evans’s ever-growing catalog of music. Seeing how a new artist interprets current hits allows fans to see who influences that artist when they’re creating their own sound through they’re own songs.

I really enjoyed Evans’s cover of “Mean” – she took the song from an uptempo country rocker and turned it into a stripped down ballad. While I always find it a little weird to hear someone other than Swift singing this song, Evans has one of the better cover versions I’ve heard. What’s interesting to me is, Evans seems just as comfortable in front of a camera just playing her guitar as she does singing her own songs with the band/studio musicians. There’s no doubt how hard it is to be that naked and post it for the whole world to see, and she really pulls it off.

Evans’s cover of Lady Antebellum’s “Just A Kiss” underscores a problem I’ve had with Lady A for a while – Hillary Scott isn’t a very dynamic singer. Scott can come off a bit flat at times, and lack a necessary intensity. This only boasts well for Evans who brings much more to this song than Lady A ever could. She has the power to her vocals needed to pull off this song.

As far as “Kerosene” goes, Evans is treading on dangerous waters. I haven’t been shy regarding my love of Lambert, and was leery of someone else tackling one of her hits. She gives the track, courtesy of a brand new guitar, a fire and intensity that made the original so great and she gives the song her all. There really isn’t anything negative I can or would want to say about it. Overall, it’s a very good cover.

The other recent hit she’s covered is easily one of 2011’s biggest in the country world – Thompson Square’s “Are You Gonna Kiss Me Or Not.” While this song moved up the charts at a glacier pace, it exploded in January and was very difficult to escape. It only took a mere nine months before topping the charts. That being said, what would Evans bring to the song to make it her own? As is the case with almost all her covers, she does stick very close to the original version. And her take on “Kiss Me” isn’t any different. She showcases her humor at the beginning, talking about not wanting to kiss the camera, and goes into the song. It’s a very good cover of a very catchy song.

What’s just occurring to me, is the clarity of Evans’s voice. When she’s doing these covers, with just her guitar, she has a clearness to her vocals that rivals many singers today. To be able to understand vocalists is often overlooked but it’s key. It’s how listeners remain invested in the music. With that being said, it seems like Evans has a bright future ahead of her. While she won’t be burning up the national charts in the coming months, she’s working extremely hard to build her profile. If you’re in the south shore Massachusetts area, she’s worth checking out.

For more information check out http://www.kileyevans.com where you’ll find her blog and a list of upcoming appearances. Also, be sure to check out her many videos on YouTube and request her music on Cat Country 98.1, 95.9 WATD, and any other radio station who will give her a shot. Also be sure to buy her two singles on iTunes. Below are her two singles, “Johnny Depp,” and “Not Today” plus her cover of Lady Antebellum’s new single “Just A Kiss.”