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