Review – George Strait’s “Every Little Honky Tonk Bar”

You can never complain about new music from George Strait. The legendary country artist needs no introduction, as even if you’re not a country fan, you’ve had to have heard a Strait song at some point in your life. He’s been producing great music for decades. Now he’s getting set to release another brand new album, Honky Tonk Time Machine, and its lead single “Every Little Honky Tonk Bar” is out now.

  • Right away you’re greeted by a familiar, warm and inviting melody. It’s a sound that’s always fit Strait.
  • The lyrics of the song are well-treaded territory for Strait too, as it’s about the sights and scenes of your average honky tonk bar in towns across America. It sets the scenes well and it’s a theme any country fan can get into.
  • There really isn’t much else to say about the song. It certainly doesn’t compete with his best material, but it’s another solid song in Strait’s deep library of music.

In a time when many traditional artists are failing to capture attention, you can’t complain about getting the tried and true from one of the all-time greats. “Every Little Honky Tonk Bar” is a song that’s easy to enjoy and slide right into your playlist.

Grade: 7/10

Songwriters: George Strait, Bubba Strait & Dean Dillon

Review – Chris Janson’s “Good Vibes”

Chris Janson has demonstrated since his debut album that he has the ability and voice to make great music. But he has yet to demonstrate a level of consistency in his music. Both of his albums released so far have been mixed bags in terms of quality, featuring both great songs and forgettable to terrible songs. His latest single “Drunk Girl” was his biggest hit since “Buy Me a Boat,” so I was hopeful this would embolden him to pursue more quality songs in this vein on his third project. We now get the first taste of this album with lead single “Good Vibes.”

  • Right away this song proves to be another good one from Janson. I instantly connect with the opening verse: “I ain’t watched TV today/Bad news it can just stay away/If you ain’t got anything good to say/Then shut your mouth.”
  • As someone sick of the non-stop negativity and toxicity of all media (from TV to social), this verse just hits a home run with this sentiment. And I imagine there are many others who feel the same. Who wants to engage with all of this bullshit?
  • This song has a simple message: shut off all the negativity and enjoy good vibes. Find and enjoy happiness. It’s nothing deep, but breezy, feel good songs like this are essential. Not every song needs to be Bob Dylan/Guy Clark-level songwriting.
  • It has a fun and bouncy melody to match the lyrics. It’s instantly catchy. The phrase “good vibes” will connect well with younger listeners too. Older listeners may cringe at this observation, but the genre needs young listeners if it wants to have a future.

“Good Vibes” is a timely and fun song from Chris Janson. I know I’ll be enjoying this one for a while.

Grade: 8/10

Songwriters: Chris Janson, Ashley Gorley & Zach Crowell

Review – Brooks & Dunn’s “Brand New Man” (with Luke Combs)

For several days the legendary duo had been posting #Reboot on social media, vaguely hinting at a return with some sort of announcement. Well now we know Brooks & Dunn are releasing an album of re-imaginations of their iconic hits with several modern country artists joining them on each song. One of the first songs released is a re-imagining of “Brand New Man” with one of the most popular artists in country music today, Luke Combs.

  • I love how right away we get instant harmonizing from the three artists. They sound great together! So I’m hooked from the get-go.
  • They do well balancing the vocals throughout, while also continuing to pepper in the great harmonizing.
  • The revamped production sounds great. It gives the song a renewed punch.
  • It’s amazing how timeless and excellent this song still sounds several years later. But anyone who listened to 90s country knows this.
  • They’re actually releasing this to radio and I think it could be a huge hit once again. Why not? It’s early sales are excellent. I don’t hear anybody asking for less music from Luke Combs. And what country fan doesn’t enjoy Brooks & Dunn? This song checkmarks every box.

There’s not much else to say except this song has always been great and it’s still great with this re-imagining. Big props to both Brooks & Dunn and Luke Combs.

Grade: 9/10

An Update on Fusion Country

I wanted to take this moment to reaffirm Fusion Country is not going anywhere. I haven’t been posting a lot due to being busy and a lack of fusion country music to discuss. The latter prompted me to re-evaluate the focus of this blog moving forward.

Lately, I’ve strongly considered re-launching Country Perspective because I want to start writing about all types of country music again, along with other genres. But I realized that I was essentially taking what I’ve created here and applying it to a two-years dormant blog. On top of that there’s the biggest hurdle: people expecting the old CP to return and that will never happen as I’ve said before. This blog is really what I’ve wanted all along, but I’ve realized one hitch. The limited focus has held me back a bit and that’s a pretty easy fix.

So effective today I’m expanding to cover all parts of country music (that I want to cover). There will still be an extra focus on country music that expands boundaries and horizons with it’s style and sound that I dub “fusion country.” I’ll also be covering other genres of music when I feel like it. I’m a music fan first and foremost, so this blog should reflect it. In addition I’m trying a new review format.

Some other notes I would like to put out:

  • As of now, I will not have any social media platforms promoting the blog. They’re vile and toxic and I want no part of them. So if you enjoy what you see here, please feel free to spread the word. I also recommend subscribing to the blog via email, so you don’t miss a thing.
  • This is something I’ve wanted to get off my chest for a while: I’m not going to engage in any specific criticism or fight with blogs/authors moving forward. I spent too much time in the past engaging in petty/vague bickering with people I perceived as a threat and competition. But us writers shouldn’t view each other as such. We should be allies who strive to make each other better. So whether it’s Saving Country Music or Grady Smith, I want to get along with everybody and I extend the olive branch to anyone I had a negative experience with in the past. Again I just want to get along and if interested, work together.
  • You might have noticed the comments section has been closed. It’s now re-opened. I missed the discussion and feedback aspect. My reasoning for this temporary closing was flawed.
  • Will The Ultimate Pulse of Country Music return? I haven’t decided yet. I want to re-evaluate the formula and format.
  • I will continue to not take any pitches for reviews and features. There’s no email to submit them to either and if any publisher/artist/label even attempts to solicit me in any way, shape or from, you will be permanently banned. No exceptions. I write about whatever interests me. Your PR and promoting is not my job and problem. You are welcome to take part in this blog as a reader and lover of music.

I hope you’re as excited by these changes as I am. I look forward to engaging with you in the comments again!

Review – Kelsea Ballerini’s “Miss Me More”

Kelsea Ballerini’s output of country pop has been a mixed bag for me. She either hits big or misses big. With her new single “Miss Me More,” it’s definitely a hit. The audience agrees too, as this single has by far outperformed her other singles during the Unapologetically era. It’s an energetic redemption anthem about a woman regaining her independence after breaking free from a controlling and toxic relationship. She runs through the list of things she was forced to change about herself to please him and realizes after ditching him that she would rather be herself than be someone she’s not. It’s an inspirational, timely and catchy track. The production will be a turn off to more traditionally-minded fans and admittedly this song leans more heavily on the pop side. But the lyrics, message and Ballerini’s vocal performance make this an undeniably good track. Not to mention, the music video for this track perfectly compliments the song. “Miss Me More” certainly doesn’t miss and lands what I believe will be a career hit for Ballerini.

Grade: 8/10

Songwriters: Kelsea Ballerini, David Hodges & Brett McLaughlin

Album Review – Randy Houser’s ‘Magnolia’

Returning to your roots. This statement is the embodiment of Randy Houser’s new album Magnolia. Like many artists in Nashville, Houser got sucked in by the corporate, generic sounds of radio country and things were going pretty good when radio was playing his songs. But when you live by the radio hit, you fall by the radio hit too. Houser fell pretty hard on his last album, as it was bloated, forgettable and had zero hits. So after a somewhat lengthy hiatus, Houser re-emerged and promised a return to what made people fans of him in the first place. For the most part, Magnolia lives up to this promise and throws a few wrinkles in too.

“No Stone Unturned” is the perfect opening track for this album, as it’s a summation of Houser’s journey as an artist: going to Nashville with a dream, getting lost along the way and then getting back to why he makes music. It’s a declarative and redemptive song from Houser. He follows with another good song in “Our Hearts,” a meditative love ballad with Lucie Silvas. I particularly enjoy the slowly building tempo that reaches a crescendo with the strings in the bridge.

The lead single “What Whiskey Does” is a song I’ve enjoyed since release, as it’s a bluesy and smoky jam contrasted with some starkly somber lyrics. Speaking of jams, “Whole Lotta Quit” is a damn fun song. It’s catchy and guaranteed to get your feet moving. The song is drenched in harmonica, which is honey to my ears. Country music needs more working class, honky tonk anthems like this song.

Perhaps the best moment for Houser on this album is “No Good Place to Cry.” This song is pure, blue-eyed soul from Houser, as he belts the absolute shit out of it. It’s a raw and powerful vocal performance that reminds us of the great pipes Houser possesses. I wouldn’t complain at all if Houser decided to cut an entire blues album because he has the chops to pull it off. It’s a shame he doesn’t let this side out more often.

The second half of Magnolia isn’t quite as strong as the first half, as it has a lot of issues for me. Your mileage will vary with a song like “New Buzz.” I find it really catchy and fun, but at the same time I can see how it gets old real quick for some listeners. It also reminds me of something the Brothers Osborne would sing (this isn’t necessarily a good thing). “Nothin’ On You” and “Running Man” are okay songs and I probably won’t remember them.

“What Leaving Looks Like” is another great vocal performance from Houser and captures the feeling you’re looking for in a heartbreak song, but it feels like it largely treads on territory that’s already been covered on the album. “High Time” is two minutes too long, as you can’t get away with such a repetitive song for nearly six minutes and expect me to enjoy it. “Mama Don’t Know” is my least favorite track, as it quickly annoyed me after a few listens. It’s corny and tries too hard to be clever and fun, especially with the weird crack in Houser’s voice in the chorus.

The closing track “Evangeline” ends the album on a strong note. The song is about a man taking his woman on a strolling tour throughout landmarks in the south. He does this to show where he comes from and the roots of who he is as a person. It’s a breezy, easy-going song that puts an appropriate bow on the album, going back to where it all begins.

Magnolia is a step in the right direction for Randy Houser. There are many enjoyable tracks throughout and shows off some of his best strengths as an artist. This album though also suffers from having repetitive themes, a lack of memorable lyrics throughout and has some songs that just aren’t necessary. This isn’t the best work Houser is capable of producing, but it’s a great building block for his next album. I hope Houser builds on the best aspects and delivers a great follow-up to Magnolia.

Grade: 6/10

Best Songs: No Good Place to Cry, Whole Lotta Quit, No Stone Unturned, What Whiskey Does, Evangeline

Producers: Randy Houser & Keith Gattis

Songwriters: Randy Houser, Dallas Davidson, Kylie Sackley, Rob Hatch, Keith Gattis, Hillary Lindsey, Travis Meadows, Gary Nicholson, Jeff Trott, Jaren Johnston, Tony Lane, John Osborne, James Otto, Brice Long, Jeffrey Steele

Review – Maren Morris’ “GIRL”

The more the media props up an artist, the harder it is to like them. The authenticity starts to fade from the artist and it starts to feel like I’m being pitched a product rather than an artist with something genuine to say. I was a big defender of Maren Morris and her debut album HERO, as traditionalists threw unnecessary barbs and attacks at an album I found to be a fresh take on country pop. I’ve enjoyed Morris’ willingness to be blunt and honest in the face of uncalled for criticism.

But then something annoying has happened over the last year or so: the media started wrapping their tentacles around her so much, that I’ve essentially become fatigued on anything Maren Morris. She can’t take a dump without the media being there to document it and praise her. I don’t know for sure how much she’s had a role in this because well I don’t know her. But the country media has always had their darlings and recent years have been no exception (cough Brothers Osborne cough). And I know artists stoke this behind the scenes. So forgive me when I say Morris’ new single “GIRL” feels like catnip served right up to the media machine.

I don’t think you could better craft a more PR-friendly, headline-friendly, commercial PSA sounding song if you tried. Don’t get me wrong, the sentiment this song is signaling for is great. Inspiring women to be more confident and keep their head up in the face of hurdles, along with dismissing harmful comparisons of women is a message we should all get behind. But this song fails to actually deliver this message. It stays stuck in first gear the entire time and never says anything meaningful in regards to this important message. Maybe it sounds better in the context of the album, but as a single I’m just bored and left saying, “This is it?”. The production of this song does it no favors either, as it’s vanilla and banal.

Maren Morris can do better than “GIRL.” The media can do better at covering this song. This feels like the story of country music in recent memory: You can do better. Stop settling for half-baked mediocrity.

Grade: 4/10

Songwriters: Maren Morris, Sarah Aarons & Greg Kurstin