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KFLG Music Reviews

Jake Owen: Real Life

With “Real Life,” Jake Owen again proves that he’s not willing to rest on what’s working or what has worked. The song borrows from his beach anthem spice rack, but doesn’t totally fit in that sub-genre of country music. If anything, it’s inspired by early-to-mid ’90s California rock. “Real Life” plays it chill, which is to say it’s the antithesis of “Days of Gold,” the lead single from Owen’s last album. That blues-rock driven firestorm was an immediate take-it-or-leave-it proposition. The response won’t be as immediately definitive with “Real Life.” “I grew up in a real town / Had a prom queen with a plastic crown / And we really did just drive around because there wasn’t s--t to do,” Owen signs to begin “Real Life.” “We didn’t know we were real broke / Daddy rolled them real smokes / We drank RC, no real Coke / And our neighbor had a pool.”

Sonically, the arrangement complements the languid, kind of adolescent nature of his lyric and delivery. Owen’s brand of nostalgia isn’t poignant. He’s more recalling the rebellious nature of youth in a way that’s more specific to suburbian kids that country kids. That’s not to say his songwriting team is lazy with the lyrics - they make clever references throughout “Real Life” and rely on specific, yet somehow universal stories. “Hit the Waffle House for some real food / But that waitress, she’s real rude / She’s got real problems, we do too / But we tip her anyway,” Owen sings during the second verse. Everyone knows that waitress. Her name is usually three letters long and she often smells like cigarettes. But somehow, you know she’d back you in a fist fight. “This is real life, in the real world / We ain’t talking to no models, we got real girls / We get real low, we get real high / It ain’t all good, baby, but it’s alright / Real Life.” The more you listen to “Real Life” the more it will or won’t connect. It’s the song equivalent of the girl you’re friends with all through school but don’t fall in love with until after college. Those girls tend to stick around. Why Fans Will Love It: It recalls memories of youth that few other country songs have recalled. Plus, it’s kind of funky. Key Lyrics: “This is real life, in the real world / We ain’t talking to no models, we got real girls.” Did You Know?: When Owen was searching for songs for his new album, he used the rock band Sublime to describe the sound he was looking for.

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Luke Bryan: Spring Break

Luke Bryan's final Spring Break album Spring Break...Checkin' Out isn't as much of a party album as it is a nostalgic look back at past beach parties. "Checkin' Out" is the one pure, in-the-moment song. Bryan fills in the rest of the EP with memories of love and one direct message to fans.

Fans can find a full-length version of the album that marries the five new songs with the six found on last year's Spring Break...Like We Ain't Ever album. This spotlight focuses on the new material, songs like "My Ol' Bronco" and "Games." The first is the song you're expecting, while the second is a sexy, mid-tempo, forbidden-love song.

"Yeah I can't tell if I'm winning or losing / Somebody tell me what are we doing / Nobody ever comes out on top / Tell me are we ever gonna stop playing these games," Bryan sings during the chorus before mellowing out into the verse.

"You and the Beach" is another (even slower) lover before the soulful, funky "Checkin' Out." "Checkin' in to a good time / Checkin' out all the so fine,” Bryan sings. "Goodbye to the real world / Hey hey little shot girl...That's what this week's' all about / Checkin' in."

Finally, "Spring Breakdown" caps the EP with a nearly four-minute-long thank you to fans. The play on words is a little corny, but all six of his Spring Break projects showed a willingness to draw on well-known metaphors or phrases.

"I remember when we started this week-long party / And to think that it's over / It makes me wanna spring breakdown," he sings.

After his final two Spring Break shows, Bryan will prepare for the 2015 Kick the Dust Up tour. His summer run of arenas, stadiums and amphitheaters begins May 8 in Grand Forks, N.D.

Why Fans Will Love It: Spring Break...Checkin' Out ties the series up in a neat little bow with "Spring Breakdown," a poignant goodbye to anyone who's joined him on the beach.

Key Tracks: "Checkin' Out," "Spring Breakdown"
Did You Know?: This is Bryan's final Spring Break album, released just before his final Spring Break shows at Spinnaker Beach Club in Panama City, Fla.

Modern country music stars love reliving high school and college glory days (see any Kenny Chesney song), but Luke Bryan really loves it. So much so that every year since 2009, the Nashville superstar has released a special "Spring Break" EP, complemented by free concerts in Panama City, Fla., for all the beach-bound youths.

He belts out tunes that wistfully reminisce about the hallmarks of spring break for a bro: Ice cold beer, sand, surf, bars, scoping out bikinis. Or as he succinctly sums it up on "Suntan City" (from "Spring Break 4" released in 2012): "Spending my days catching these rays, watching coconut-covered girls."

It should be noted here that Bryan is 38, two decades older than your average college freshmen that crowd the beach. So that may have something to do with why Bryan announced that this week's new "Spring Break...Checkin' Out" collection will be the seventh and final spring break album.

Is this a sign that Bryan is maturing? Let us use this opportunity to offer a plea: We really, really hope so. Luke Bryan, it's time to grow up.

As one of Nashville's most successful artists, Bryan wields an enormous amount of influence in the genre - a genre that could really use a shake-up and soul-searching after the wealth of "bro country" party anthems that have taken over in recent years. And people listen to Bryan: His albums go platinum. Thousands pack into his sold-out arenas; this summer, he'll play stadiums. His radio singles effortlessly go No. 1. The current "Spring Break" EP is anchored to the top of the iTunes charts. Last fall, he won the coveted Entertainer of the Year trophy at the Country Music Association Awards.

Yet Bryan, for all his sales numbers and popularity, has always been definitively, maddeningly bland. As The Post's Chris Richards expertly described, being a blank slate is currently ideal in country music these days. Still, most of the top male performers have some identity. Blake Shelton and Keith Urban are the citified crossover guys with the power wives. Jason Aldean is the scowling cowboy with the cheating scandal. Eric Church is the Springsteen-inspired rebel. Kenny Chesney is really into islands. Dierks Bentley has his bluegrass project. Toby Keith loves America and is ready to kick your butt.

Bryan, though - what do we even know about him? He's from Georgia and likes hunting? After that, we're tapped. Mostly, he has the beige 'nice guy' persona. Sometimes he gets a little naughty in his songs, talking about taking too many shots or hitting on the ladies or indulging in some carefree break-up sex. But that's all an act. In real life, Bryan has been happily married for eight years and has two young sons.

The only thing that set him apart was his weirdly deep love of spring break. Now that it's gone, we're hoping this is a signal that Bryan will finally evolve into something beyond young demo-targeted bro country. The hugely dominant sub-genre has hit its critical mass, and it appears listeners are finally growing tired of the beer-truck-girl lyrics that populate so many songs these days. For years, Bryan has led the charge with those types of singles: Songs like "Country Girl (Shake It For Me)," "That's My Kind of Night" and "Drunk On You" are some of his biggest hits.

With the end of the "Spring Break" era and Bryan on the edge of a new decade, this is the perfect opportunity to go deeper. While Bryan's latest album had a couple bro-country anthems, a few songs revealed more depth than usual: "Drink a Beer" about mourning the death of a loved one, or "Roller Coaster" about a long-lost flame. Interestingly, Bryan had the least number of co-writers on this album (out of 13 tracks he only helped out on "I See You," his current single), so maybe he was looking to grow.

If Bryan starts offering songs with more emotional heft, he's powerful enough that others could follow. Even if bro-country makes money, Bryan has enough dough at this point that he could take some risks with different material - or hey, even go back to a more traditional country sound to make critics happy. (Okay, that's not going to happen, but we can dream.) Realistically, he won’t be a sonic game-changer like Florida Georgia Line or Sam Hunt, both of whom have sparked the hip-hop and rap trend in country songs. But he has the fame and influence enough to make some real changes.

We're counting on you, Luke Bryan. Use your powers for good! You don't need to stop your dorky dad dancing to "Country Girl (Shake It to Me)" or alienate your many fans who rely on you for party music. Just try something new.

Naive? Maybe so, for now, we'll appreciate the little things about his evolution: Unlike Bryan's first "Spring Break" effort back in 2009, he's no longer singing songs called "Take My Drunk Ass Home" or tunes that have lyrics such as "My, my, my little AOPi." Now, he has "Spring Breakdown," paying tribute to the thousands that came out to see him in Panama City over the years and reluctantly realizing it's time to move on:

Just thinking about all our good times together/Yeah, how we rocked this town/And I wish it could last forever and ever/Oh, but the sand runs out/And the road back home/Just thinking about how this is our last song/I'm about to spring breakdown

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Carrie Underwood, 'Greatest Hits: Decade #1

Fans are impatient creatures. The 'Carebears' (as they call themselves) waited nearly three years for Carrie Underwood's fourth studio album 'Blown Away', and after final single 'See You Again' finished its chart run in early fall 2013, the anticipation for a new record was big. It was originally expected in early 2014, but Carrie's participation in The Sound of Music Live for TV meant that writing and recording schedules got pushed back, and she claimed she wasn't in any rush to get things done. She seemed to spend much of this year working on the fifth album, but on Labor Day announced that she was pregnant, soon after that revealing the release of her first Greatest Hits record and that new material would follow late in 2015. That would make it nearly four years that fans would have had to wait for new music.

Of course, in the interim Carrie has released a new single from the Greatest Hits album, originally intended as part of the new collection of songs, but now 'Something In The Water' has caused a storm at country radio and on the sales charts, hungry fans buying it and requesting it like crazy. As Brantley Gilbert has proved, making fans wait longer for new music results in inflated sales figures when the record does actually come around, but in between it's perhaps unfortunate that Carre's pregnancy (obviously entitling her to some time off from the promotion and touring that a brand new record would bring) has halted new releases from her. This is due to the increasing lack of females at country radio, with Taylor Swift now at pop and Miranda Lambert in a state of limbo after 'Somethin' Bad' (her duet with Carrie) failed to be the huge hit it wanted to be, and her team are delaying releasing a new single to radio ('Smokin' And Drinkin' is the official one, but negativity surrounding its release has pushed back any official add date). In short, country radio needs new material from Carrie and plenty of it, and although 'Something In The Water' is a brilliant song and deserving of all the attention it's getting, the lack of superstar women at the format may have contributed to its high level of success.

So when I delved into the Greatest Hits record, I was a little disappointed. I was under the impression that aside from "Something In The Water' there’d be a few new songs, but the only new one that actually appears is 'Little Toy Guns', with afterthought additions of her famous performance of 'How Great Thou Art' with Vince Gill and writing session worktapes of 'So Small', 'Last Name' and 'Mama's Song'. Nonetheless interesting and enjoyable to unwrap for die-hard fans and even for the more casual listeners, but not a the best substitute for new songs (especially as these particular renditions are so similar to the end product that they might as well just be standard acoustic performances, with the exception of 'Last Name' that is rife with fun mistakes). I am not a super-fan personally but I do have all of Carrie's back catalogue, so for me this double disc record doesn't offer much other than an excuse to peddle something before Christmas and push her back on radio while she's pregnant.

As for the new track 'Little Toy Guns' well there's obviously no denying that Carrie Underwood has the pipes to kick ass. Much of her most celebrated material over the years has utilized that asset in droves, and while she can certainly stomp all over the competition in that respect, some critics have yearned for a softer delivery from the diva. 'Something In The Water' sort of provides that as she drops down to a whisper for the pre-hook, but all the magical effect of that is kind of put into perspective by the big dramatic belting affair that the rest of the song is.

'Little Toy Guns' (written by Carrie, Chris DeStefano and Hillary Lindsey) as usual has a big chorus with verses that built drama and suspense with a hurried, passionate delivery, and by all accounts this is a song that goes for maximum explosion. Built from a combination of hard-hitting 80s rock and early 00's pop production (particularly where the vocal is concerned), there is little country involved here (even with the definition of the term stretched) with the focus instead on a rhythmic style aided by plenty of inter-rhymes. In truth, it's a very well-written song lyrically and Carrie sings the hell out of it, detailing the plight of a young girl whose parents are fighting, and her wishes that words instead were like little toy guns and didn't hurt like they do. Carrie has done the innocent child sympathizer before and it's obviously something that's very important to her, and I welcome any commentary on the subject (as well as this being a generally greatsong), but lately it would be nice to hear something from her that isn't a part of a big pop/rock affair. I understand that the track needed the desperate drama that this mix brings, but it doesn't stop me wishing for more sonic variety at this point when little new material is available.

So 'Greatest Hits: Decade #1' is a little disappointing for me. Sure, she needed a bridge record, but an EP would have done the job just the same. I just hope we won't have to wait too long to hear that long-awaited fifth record.

The Single

Underwood released the album's lead single, 'Something in the Water,' in September. The song is an unabashed message of Christian faith: 'Couldn't fight back the tears, so I fell on my knees / Saying God, if you're there come and rescue me / Felt love pouring down from above / Got washed in the water, washed in the blood.'

The Songs

Underwood's new collection will showcase her past hits, including 'Jesus, Take the Wheel,' 'Before He Cheats,' 'Just a Dream,' 'Temporary Home' and more. It features two new songs - 'Something in the Water' and 'Little Toy Guns,' which Underwood co-wrote with Chris DeStefano and Hillary Lindsey - as well as four songs in never-before-released versions. 'How Great Thou Art' features Vince Gill, recorded live at ACM Presents: Girls' Night Out, while So Small.'

'Last Name' and 'Mama’s Song' are all presented in the original work tapes from the writing sessions.

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Rae Lynn: Me

The wonderful thing about RaeLynn's debut EP 'Me' is that she makes no apologies for who she is. The five-song release is diverse, original and absolutely sure to further upset haters that were quick to take aim at her after 'The Voice.'

Her fans will love it. In fact, they'll want more. Approach this talented newcomer with an open mind and you'll find sharp songwriting, clever melodies and a needed new female voice for country music to embrace. Aside from the single 'God Made Girls,' the signature song is 'Better Do It.'

"I'm not the cry type / I'm not the whine type / I'm not the wait around a little while you find time type / I'm not the pretty please / Don't leave me / I'm the one that takes the bull by the horns," she sings during this funky, guitar-driven groove that doesn't back off from modern production techniques.

"Ain't no girl in the USA / That wants a little boy who's always afraid / I'm gonna get to leavin' / Better figure out what you're feeling."

Joey Moi is at the helm, showing some range himself. His arrangements leave plenty of air - he's truly tailored a sound just for her.

The divisive 'Boyfriend' returns. 'Kissin' Frogs' and 'Careless' are the other two songs, the latter being the safest of the five. The songs that are missing stand out. Miranda Lambert's tour opener has been playing nearly a dozen songs live and had previously hinted the emotional 'Love Triangle' (about her parents' divorce) would make the cut. She told ToC her next single will not come from this EP, however, so there's hope that beautiful song will find the ears it deserves soon enough.

Key Tracks: 'God Made Girls,' 'Better Do It'
Did You Know?: RaeLynn co-wrote all five songs.


RaeLynn's 'blondetourage' is growing! The 'God Made Girls' singer has added another yellow furry friend to her household.

The 20-year-old already had one sweet little pup that goes by the name of Dolly (after Dolly Parton). The chihuahua mix is 2 years old and a blonde, just like her mom. This summer, Dolly broke RaeLynn's heart when she went missing near Nashville, but luckily, the chihuahua was found by two local mall workers who took good care of her until she could be returned to the singer.

It didn't take RaeLynn long to realize Dolly needed a friend - another chihuahua, in fact. After eyeing one little boy, who just so happens to be Dolly's brother, the singer knew she had to get him. Of course, also had to give him a country legend's name.

"Dolly loves other dogs and I've been wanting to get her a friend," RaeLynn tells Taste of Country. "I saw Waylon and he was from the same parents as Dolly and he needed a home. I couldn't resist."

Judging by photos and videos on the singer's Instagram, the puppy brother and sister are already fast friends. The two play together and even have their own Instagram account. Waylon, who looks like a lot like Dolly, is irresistible with his big blue eyes.

"It's a blondetourage at my house," adds 'The Voice' star.

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