Review – Florida Georgia Line’s “Talk You Out of It”

Florida Georgia Line have been hearing from grumpy traditionalists that they’ve lost their relevancy and popularity. Of course I’ve already provided the numbers that prove otherwise. Regardless of how you feel about them, there’s no other duo or group doing better popularity-wise than Florida Georgia Line right now. “Simple” was a smash for them and now they’ve chosen “Talk You Out of It” as their newest single. It’s an R&B meets country slow jam with an enticing sultry feel. The song centers on the guy waiting for his woman to pick a dress and go out. But once she finds that perfect dress, now he just wants to see her without it. Put simply it’s a couples sex jam. What really makes this song and what I would call its secret sauce is the hook: “Now you’re looking like a line from a Vandross song/I’m looking at that fine little dress you got on.” It just captures the whole vibe of the song and it’s instantly memorable. It also makes it easy to sing along. I’m glad the production isn’t heavy-handed either, as it just kind of lingers in the background and provides the ideal backdrop for the lyrics. It’s another solid single from Florida Georgia Line.

Grade: 7/10

Songwriters: Jameson Rodgers, Hunter Phelps, Michael Hardy & Alysa Vanderheym

The Poison Pen, Volume 2: Expecting More Than Generic Mediocrity

This feature is called The Poison Pen. It’s really quite simple: this is where I’m going to share my negative reviews. They won’t be near as long as full reviews, but at the same time long enough to properly convey my points. Because at the end of the day the bad music still needs to be called out. So without further ado, here are some albums I do not like.

Carrie Underwood – Cry Pretty 

At this point in Carrie Underwood’s career, an album of this quality is just completely unacceptable. Her albums though have been on a steady decline since the “Cowboy Casanova” era, so I guess I can’t be too surprised. But usually her albums have some songs of merit. I can’t find any on this album. Really this album exemplifies everything I hate in modern music: its generic mediocrity that has been market-tested and put through the blender to make the most safe and boring music to appeal to the most amount of people as possible. When you try to appeal to all, you appeal to none.

The album’s title track is one of the most cut and paste vanilla motivational tracks you’ll hear this year. It’s the very definition of a wallpaper song. “Ghosts On The Stereo” is another pandering song that relies on name-dropping of country legends to garner your support. Just like the Brothers Osborne though, Carrie will get a pass for it because she’s another media darling who is immune to certain criticisms, while other artists will get dragged through the coals for it. Songs like “Backsliding,” “Southbound” and “Drinking Alone” are your average, dime-a-dozen pop diva songs that have absolutely nothing to say. They’re not fun or catchy either. Underwood has pretty much given up using her voice to deliver spin-tingling vocal performances and instead just screams over the most average production possible.

The rest of the album just sort of blends into each other. Every song is just slightly different from the other. “Kingdom” and “Spinning Bottles” also sees Underwood doing her best Martina McBride impersonations, reminding us that sappy grocery store country that McBride helped popularize is unfortunately still alive and well. If I had to pick the best song on the album, it would be the bonus track “The Champion” because at least it’s catchy and I’ll remember it. Ludacris did well on his feature too. The other good news is at least I’ll have forgotten the songs on this album weeks from now.

David Nail and The Well Ravens – Only This and Nothing More 

The lead single “Heavy” made me excited to hear this album. I thought we were going to hear David Nail really flex his creative muscles in his first project since being dropped from his major label. Instead Nail and his band deliver generic rock music with Only This and Nothing More. “The Gun” appears to try to be a song about domestic violence, but it doesn’t really go anywhere significant lyrically. You can pretty much say this for the whole album. Each song just kind of glazes over you, with two exceptions. While “Heavy” is the one lone bright spot on this album, the biggest stain by far on the album is “White Trash Girl.” The term “white trash” is beyond antiquated with its negative connotations it evokes. Yet being “white trash” is cause for celebration and praise in the song. It’s just plain stupid. I can’t believe how much better The Fighter is compared to this album.

Jimmie Allen – Mercury Lane

Man I was hoping I didn’t have to put this album here. But when the majority of the lyrics on an album sound like the leftovers from Chris Young’s last couple of albums, it’s not a surprise. Jimmie Allen has a pretty good voice and the production on this album isn’t bad. But he has to step up lyrically if he wants to be taken more seriously on future projects. Fortunately there are hints of promise. “All Tractors Ain’t Green” is the gem of the album, as Allen addresses his race in a genre that is mostly white. It’s a great song that I hope he builds off of for the next album. “Best Shot” and “How To Be Single” are good moments on the album because they don’t try to cram every kind of cliché in like a lot of the other songs. Allen’s rendition of “Boy Gets a Truck” is better than Keith Urban’s version. Perhaps the biggest problem on this album though is there are wayyyyy too many Jack and Diane references. In fact there are too many in country music nowadays period. I vote that this reference to be banned from here on out. The quota has been met and then some.

Walker Hayes – “90’s Country”

This guy’s voice just plain blows. It’s painfully thin, as Hayes couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. The lyrics, unlike Lauren Alaina’s “Ladies of the ’90s”, don’t take any time to show the references have any sort of meaning or feelings behind them. They’re just crammed in like MadLibs and we’re expected to be impressed that Hayes can name drop a bunch of 90’s country. I’m not. It’s a shame the great production gets wasted on this terrible song and artist.

Review – RaeLynn’s “Tailgate”

The career of RaeLynn has certainly been an interesting one to watch. She was discovered on The Voice by Blake Shelton and made a splash with the hit “God Made Girls,” which was criticized as being a bro-pandering song. Not to mention her voice received plenty of criticism. But then she found redemption with maturation, releasing songs like “Love Triangle.” Her voice has improved too. With this improvement, it makes it easy to root for RaeLynn. A few months ago she released her newest song “Tailgate” and I sort of forgot about it. But then I started to hearing it more again on satellite radio recently and it’s just too damn infectious for me not to review it. The production is lively, colorful and engaging. The lyrics are clever and witty, as RaeLynn worries about a tailgate telling of the sexual romance she experienced on it in her teen years. Of course a tailgate can’t talk, but it’s the song’s nonchalant attitude about sex on a tailgate that gives it such a breezy and fun feel. The lingering organ in the background with the synthesizers really create the perfect sound for it too. “Tailgate” is just a blast to listen to and so easy to enjoy.

Grade: 8/10

Songwriters: RaeLynn, Corey Crowder, Tyler Hubbard, Canaan Smith

Review – Old Dominion’s “Make It Sweet”

When Old Dominion broke onto the country scene, I could not stand them. Their debut hit “Break Up With Him” still annoys me to this day. Needless to say I got off to a rocky start with them. But on their sophomore album the band matured a lot and I found myself liking multiple songs off it (“No Such Thing as a Broken Heart” and “Hotel Key” most notably). So I guess I’m not too surprised that I immediately enjoyed their new single “Make It Sweet.” It’s a happy song that hits the spot and puts a smile on your face. But at the same time the song roots itself in reality before pouring on the happy. The song establishes in the beginning that yeah life can suck, there’s a constant chase to keep up with the Joneses and your dollar doesn’t go as far now. But you need to take the lemons your dealt and make lemonade. Embrace the good in life and enjoy your loved ones. Yes, it’s cliché and not breaking new ground. But these type of pick-me-up songs are something everyone can use. The hook is just spot-on and something you’ll remember (“Life is short, make it sweet”). Not to mention it’s pretty danceable and the guitar solo in the bridge gives that jam-y punch to bring it on home. “Make It Sweet” lives up to its name.

Grade: 7/10

Songwriters: Trevor Rosen, Geoff Sprung, Matthew Ramsey, Whit Sellers, Brad Tursi, Shane McAnally 

Album Review – Eric Church’s ‘Desperate Man’

Eric Church has always did it his way. It’s a cliché thing to say in the music industry. So many artists love to say it in press releases and interviews. But very few are being genuine. It’s just another marketing phrase. When it comes to Church, he’s one of the few being sincere. Not only has he done it his way, but his sound has evolved and changed with his life along the way. Each album shows more growth in his music and artistry. On Mr. Misunderstood, I thought Church delivered his best album yet. I didn’t think he could top himself on Desperate Man, but he does. Church delivers more on Desperate Man than I could have imagined.

Church delivers a real statement with opening song “The Snake.” It’s a stripped-down, appropriately sinister sounding song about a Copperhead and a rattlesnake. I’m not sure how others interpret it, but for me it’s a scathing commentary on American politics regarding the two major political parties. It tells of how each work together to continue eating the mice (who represent the people) and keep their power, each out for themselves and not the people they represent. “And the whole world’s burning down,” as Church wisely sings.

Church then does a complete 180 with the fun and upbeat “Hangin’ Around.” It’s probably the most danceable song Church has ever released, as it’s impossible to not want to move your head and feet along with the beat. The bass, drums, clapping and electric guitars chug along in unison, creating an infectiously funky sound. “Heart Like A Wheel” is a slice of bluesy country goodness that puts the guitars front and center. It’s about a love that can’t be stopped and keeps rolling on. Church delivers the lyrics with a real passion that make them really resonate over the listener.

“Some Of It” is the perfect marriage of Church’s past and present styles. The lyrics of the song are classic Church, with his deftly simple message about finding wisdom in life. It pairs up well with the new rich, heavily textured sound of Church. To me it’s a no-brainer, future single. The next song “Monsters” sounds like a single too. For many I imagine this is the center-piece of the album and I don’t blame them. The song’s writers Church and Jeff Hyde cleverly weave together a story of the monsters in life. When you’re a kid, they’re under the bed and you kill them with a flashlight. When you’re an adult, you realize they’re all around you and even in your head. In the case of Church, you pray them away. Whether you’re young or old, we all have our demons and we all have our way of dealing with them. You know you’re hearing a special song when we can all relate to it, as it unites us through its message.

Church fondly looks back on his upbringing and life on “Hippie Radio.” Specifically it was the sounds of rock radio that were always there through many milestones, marking each moment in his mind. It’s a song that celebrates the meaning of music and the influence it has on us. It’s a great song that’s probably the least memorable on the album, but that’s a testament to the sheer amount of quality throughout this record. “Higher Wire” shows a completely different side to Church. It’s a bare, soulful tune that Church sings almost entirely in falsetto. Like many I didn’t know what to think of it at first. It reminds me a lot of when I first heard “Like a Wrecking Ball,” which I originally didn’t like. But just like that song, “Higher Wire” grows stronger on you with each listen. My main takeaway: It’s so much damn fun to sing along to the chorus!

I covered the album’s title track when it first released and I still stand by what I said. It’s a great song and it’s appropriate it’s the title track because it perfectly captures the spirit and sound you hear throughout the album. “Solid” immediately gives you a ’70s vibe thanks to the undeniable presence of the electric guitars. Not a surprise, considering Church has cited many influences from the era. Church sings about the many things in his life that keeps him grounded and allows him to have a solid foundation in life. By the end he takes it back to where he grew up and the upbringing by his parents, the appealing emotional closer that ties it all together.

The shimmery feeling “Jukebox And A Bar” sees Church once again fuse his classic lyrical style with his new production style. The theme is a staple of country music, but it’s Church’s lyrical approach that makes this song so good. I particularly enjoy the line, “We got pinpoint GPS, all you need is an address/But her love is the one thing I can’t find.” I enjoy it because despite all of the technology we have and all of the problems it can solve, ironically it still can’t heal a broken heart like the camaraderie of a bar. Plus the use of words like “phosphorescent” and “incandescent” have never been used better in a country song.

The album closes out with “Drowning Man,” taking the album back to where it began with the headache of politics. Church is the voice of many, as he doesn’t want to think about the problems of the world and would rather drown in whiskey. He doesn’t want to hear about your “beach” or “mountains” either, which can be interpreted as the endless chatter from each side on social media. The drowning is a sea of words. “Save your breath, I don’t want to hear about it” are the final words from Church, as he carefully expresses the exasperation of many.

Desperate Man is a fantastic album. Church’s songwriting has never been better and the production choices made by him and Jay Joyce blow me away. Just like Kacey Musgraves with Golden Hour, Eric Church shows us just how innovative and exciting country music can be when you throw out the “rules” and just create your sound. It’s not about giving people what they want, but giving them what they didn’t know they needed until they heard it. Eric Church did it his way on Desperate Man and his way is excellent.

Grade: 10/10

Album’s Top Highlights: Monsters, The Snake, Hangin’ Around, Heart Like A Wheel, The whole damn thing, listen to it all

Producers: Jay Joyce & Arturo Buenahora Jr. 

Songwriters: Eric Church, Travis Meadows, Jeremy Spillman, Jeff Hyde, Clint Daniels, Bobby Pinson, Scooter Carusoe, Casey Beathard, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Anders Osborne

Review – Lauren Alaina’s “Ladies In The ’90s”

Lauren Alaina has shown she can be one of the best in modern country at blending together country and pop. On her last album Road Less Traveled there were multiple moments where she demonstrated this (“Crashing The Boys Club” and “Queen of Hearts” immediately come to mind) and I was hoping she would build on these type of songs more in her future discography. Well on her new single “Ladies In The ’90s” she does just that. It’s a bouncy, colorful song that fondly looks back on the days of ’90s radio. It doesn’t just refer to the plentiful amount of women who got airplay on country radio, but pop radio too. Alaina reflects on her days of singing along to Deanna Carter’s “Strawberry Wine,” Britney Spears’ “Hit Me Baby One More Time” and more. As a fellow ’90s kid, I immediately got all of the references and remember each song mentioned. It’s kind of cool, but at the same I feel a bit old too.

Normally I don’t enjoy these nostalgia heavy songs with multiple references to past songs. It’s just lazy songwriting. However, I find myself enjoying this song because of its emphasis on Alaina’s joy of being able to previously turn on the radio to hear and connect with women artists and how it shaped her life. Instead of focusing on the nostalgia and name-dropping, it focuses on how the music made her feel. It makes for a much more genuine and real connection. Plus, the song is damn catchy with the well-crafted hooks and the great blend of drums, keyboards and electric guitar. “Ladies In The ’90s” is another good offering of country pop from Lauren Alaina.

Grade: 7/10

Songwriters: Lauren Alaina, Jesse Frasure, Amy Wadge

Review – Tim McGraw’s “Neon Church”/ “Thought About You”

It’s been too long since we’ve received new solo music from Tim McGraw. His last album Damn Country Music was pretty good and really his last few albums have all have been of high quality. What I love most about McGraw recently though is his ability to remain true to his sound while also pushing the sonic boundaries. His new singles pick up right where he left off in his more experimental moments on Damn Country Music. “Neon Church” is a declarative, anthemic song for the broken-hearted and lost looking for answers at the bar. But as McGraw espouses through the song, it’s less a bar and more a place of healing and escapism from their pain. The hook of the song is infectious and the blending of steel guitar, organs and electric guitars create an eclectic sound that really sticks with you. As much I enjoy this song though, I actually enjoy the B-side single “Thought About You” even more. It actually kind of reminds me of McGraw’s cover of “When The Stars Go Blue” because of the soaring atmospheric vibes the instrumentation conveys. The bridge emphasizes this sound even more. It shows the importance of interesting production, as it takes well-trotted lyrical material and elevates it into a great song. This kind of production from Byron Gallimore and McGraw has me excited to hear what else they have in-store for the rest of the album.

Grade: “Neon Church” – 7/10 ; “Thought About You” – 8/10

Songwriters: Ben Stennis, Ross Ellis Lipsey, Ben Goldsmith, Brett Warren, Brad Warren, Lee Miller