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Chris Young: Think of YouChris Young (Feat. Cassadee Pope) ‘Think of You’

If Chris Young’s voice asked me to marry it there would be no hesitation, I’d say yes in a heartbeat. Unarguably one of the best and sexiest male voices in country music, Chris’ baritone is what we’d imagine creamy Hershey’s chocolate would sound like if it could sing. Chris came onto the country music scene after winning the 2006 season of the now-debunked reality singing competition show, Nashville Star. From the very beginning, Young made quite an impression on country music, becoming known as the guy next door, sweet and lovable with a sexy-as-Channing Tatum-shirtless voice. Some can boast that they were fans of Young from the very beginning, while others jumped on board at one point during the last 10 years. I myself became a fan of Chris after hearing “Voices”, the lead single from his second record. Chris quickly became known for his romantic songs. From “Gettin’ You Home (The Black Dress Song)” and “Tomorrow”, to “Who I Am With You”, Young has had success with the steamier and sweeter songs, they really allow his voice to shine.

Young recently released his fifth studio record, I’m Comin’ Over in November 2015, and saw it hit #1 on the charts shortly after. The lead single and title track from the new record also saw success, reaching #2 on the charts. Now here we are with Young’s second single offering, “Think of You”, which features former The Voice contestant, Cassadee Pope. One thing I like about Chris is the fact that he generally sticks to his usual sound, production-wise, with only about one or two exceptions. The single finds the narrators lamenting over a breakup, and the lasting effects it has on the couple and those around them. Its production is upbeat and easy on the ears, featuring a strong drum beat. Chris and Cassadee’s vocals blend nicely together, complementing each other beautifully.

The song opens with the male narrator walking into his favorite bar, one he has haunted many a night, only to find that it feels like a totally different place now. The female narrator finds herself out with friends, but finds that there doesn’t seem to be anything to talk about, nothing feeling the same. The two voices come together on the chorus, as the explain, “We used to be the life of the party/ We used to be the ones they wish they were/ But now it’s like they don’t know how to act/ Maybe they’re like me and they want us back” and that, “It’s like there’s always an empty space/ Those memories that nobody can erase/ Of how bright we burn, well now it hurts/ But it’s true, when they think of me, they think of you.” Their mutual friends are affected by the breakup too, which just adds to the pain of the now broken-up couple.

The song carries power, mainly due to the vocal performance of both Young and Pope. The single is lyrically strong and just might do well on radio, considering it would have both fan bases (Cassadee’s and Chris’) backing it up. “Think of You” is a nice change of pace compared to other recent releases. I certainly hope it gets a chance at radio, but only time will tell. Have a listen and see for yourself.

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Toby Keith 35 mph townToby Keith Shows Off New Tricks (and Jimmy Buffett) on ‘35 mph Town’: Album Review

Radio hits by country’s leading men have been criticized for relying on the usual tropes of trucks, pretty girls and six-packs. While Toby Keith certainly has drawn from these subjects during his 20-year career, his 18th studio LP, 35 mph Town, bypasses the cliches and tones down his sometimes overbearing bravado. There’s real depth on “What She Left Behind,” about an ex’s “bottle of perfume left for dead” on his bedside table. But Keith doesn’t sacrifice any bonhomie: “Rum Is the Reason,” a steel-drummed tale about why pirates never ruled the world, sounds like a good Jimmy Buffett song for a reason -- the singer’s Coral Reefer Band provides backing. (Buffett himself appears on the wistful “Sailboat for Sale.”) “Good Gets Here” and “Ten Foot Pole” feature blaring horns, which bring an irrepressible bounce all too rare in recent country releases.

As Toby Keith was finally releasing his much-delayed new album 35 MPH Town, yet another one of the restaurants that bears his name was creating embarrassing headlines. Already scheduled to close on October 31st, the Rosemont, IL location of “Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill” decided to shutter early after employees started stealing liquor and memorabilia from the restaurant. It’s one of scores of locations that has either closed suddenly or never opened as promised, while hundreds of thousands of dollars in back rent and vendor bills from locations all across the country are making a pariah of Toby Keith’s name in local papers, even though Keith himself is only a partner of the restaurants in name.

But that’s about how things are going these days in Toby Keith’s world. His once high-flying Show Dog-Universal label has now emptied of talent after high profile exits by Trace Atkins, Randy Houser, and Josh Thompson. At the moment, the only artists left on the label have the last name “Keith,” and Toby’s daughter Krystal has never charted a Top 50 single. So much for challenging Scott Borchetta’s Big Machine Records blow for blow when the two entrepreneurs split in 2005. Borchetta now boasts a roster 34 strong, including the biggest music star in the world in Taylor Swift. Toby Keith has two artists left in his stable, counting himself.

There’s a song on the new album called “Rum Is the Reason,” which muses back through history and blames the failings of world leaders like Hitler and Stalin to their insatiable desire for alcoholic libations. It concludes, “Run is the reason pirates never ruled the world,” while Jimmy Buffett’s Corral Reefers play a calypso-style ditty. Match that up with the amount of mad patrons at a show in Indiana last year who said that Keith was too wasted away in Margaritaville to perform, and a pattern begins to emerge. “Rum Is The Reason” might be art imitating Toby Keith’s life. Oh how the mighty have fallen.

All of the singles from Toby Keith’s 35 MPH Town have pretty much flopped. “Drunk Americans,” which is the only song on the album not written by Toby would almost be poetic if it wasn’t so pathetic in how sad it seems coming from Keith (the song’s written by Brandy Clark, Bob DiPiero, Shane McAnally). At this point, Toby Keith is a relic. What talent he had was questionable to begin with, and he hasn’t ever really evolved for there. Time has passed Toby Keith by, and he doesn’t have the fluidity or desire to change with the times, or the quality it takes to be considered classic. He’d probably be out there criticizing acts like Thomas Rhett and Florida Georgia Line, but his continued ownership percentage of Big Machine means those acts are making him more money than his own music is. Toby Keith is music’s wealthiest colossal failure at the moment.

35 MPH Town sold as many copies as the fellow Oklahoma-based Turnpike Troubadours did on their recent debut week. Jason Isbell sold twice as many albums as 35 MPH Town did upon its debut. Toby Keith fans don’t want to buy his records. They want to perpetually believe it’s still 2003 when their lives still mattered. Let’s kick Saddam’s ass! No wonder the title track to this album boils down to a “get off my lawn,” message and laments how the times have changed for the worse, while in truth crime statistics have fallen sharply.

But just as much as Toby Keith is to blame for the corner he’s painted himself in, so is the public perception of him. He could personally broker a lasting peace accord between the Israelis and Palestinians, and he would still be known as that guy with the “boot in the ass” song. He comes in second only to Fox News as the go-to punching bag when you need an analogy of how dumb Americans are, and now that Donald Trump is running for President, Keith may be trumped out of that spot too. Rachel Maddow and others may have never had careers if it weren’t for Toby Keith, even though Keith was a registered Democrat during “The Angry American” era.

And despite making himself into an incredibly easy target and not doing himself any favors in the backsliding of his career and public image, 35 MPH Town is not an especially terrible album when you actually machete through all the distractions and reams of Toby Keith baggage to give it a listen. “Drunk Americans” at least tries, and the song “35 MPH Town” at least has the courage to tell the other side of rural life instead of portraying it as an endless tailgate party in a cornfield.

35 MPH Town includes a couple of full tilt rockers—“Good Gets Here” and “10 Foot Pole,” and though the horn sections felt a little extraneous (couldn’t we use that money to keep the lights on at one of the Toby Keith Bar & Grills?), these songs are kind of fun, though not country at all.

“What She Left Behind” is actually a really well-written and fleshed out tune, and it’s worth noting that while most major label acts these days rely on the “songwriting by committee” model, Toby wrote 70% of this album with just himself and songwriter Bobby Pinson. Keith also co-wrote the two other remaining tracks. “Beautiful Stranger,” which has been tapped for the record’s third single, is also a pretty good song, and is sung quite well too. “Haggard, Hank, & Her” is probably not as good as it looks on paper, but is not a bad effort at all.

But songs like “Sailboat For Sale” with Jimmy Buffett, and the aforementioned “Rum Is The Reason” are like boat anchors dragging down this effort, and “Every Time I Drink I Fall In Love” is just kind of stupid.

In 2003, Toby Keith was what was wrong with country music. When he released “Red Solo Cup” in 2011, he once again deserved that distinction. But 35 MPH Town? It’s a harmless, somewhat outdated-feeling, somewhat country sounding, innocuous mainstream country record with a few decent moments and a few stinkers. The world won’t pay much attention and they probably shouldn’t. But this album is far from the problem.

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Justin MooreJustin Moore Serves Up Another Possible Country Airplay Hit With 'Drink'

When Justin Moore’s new single, “You Look Like I Need a Drink,” jumped onto the Country Airplay list dated Nov. 21, it ended a 38-week chart vacation.

Since his 2008 introduction on the then-new Valory label, Moore had been a fairly constant presence at country radio with a half-dozen top 10 singles. Some of those titles — including “Lettin’ the Night Roll,” “Point at You” and the Brantley Gilbert/Thomas Rhett collaboration “Small Town Throwdown” — continue to receive recurrent airplay, making it easy for an outsider to think he never went away.

“We kind of felt like we finally got to a place in our career where if we’re gone for three, four, five months from the radio, that it’s not going to absolutely kill us,” says Moore. “So we took some time to listen to some music and make certain that the next step we take is the right step.”

Moore had already been off the charts for more than two months when “You Look Like I Need a Drink,” the song that would become that next step, appeared in an April 25 email from longtime producer Jeremy Stover. Moore was waiting in a hotel room at the time before heading out to perform a set at the Stagecoach Country Music Festival in Indio, Calif.

“When I saw the title, I was going, ‘Man, I’ve got to hear this song,’ and I had a completely different thought of what it would probably be,” says Moore. “Then after I heard it, I thought it was just a great hook and it’s unique, and one of those songs that as a songwriter you go, ‘I cannot believe nobody’s written this before.’ More specifically, ‘I can’t believe I haven’t written this.’ ”

In fact, one of the title’s three writers, BMI country songwriter of the year Rodney Clawson (“Bartender,” “Burnin’ It Down”), co-wrote “Lettin’ the Night Roll” with Moore. “You Look Like I Need a Drink” wasn’t Clawson’s idea originally. It belonged to Natalie Hemby (“Pontoon,” “Automatic”), who brought it up during a writing appointment at Big Loud Shirt Music, just down the hall from Clawson’s room in the office of Matt Dragstrem (“Sippin’ on Fire”).

On its own, the title was funny, and Clawson assumed they would follow a humorous path as they dove in that day. But Hemby was insistent that the storyline strike a more serious tone.
“Any time somebody has a good idea and a good way to write something that’s a little bit different than stuff I’ve been normally writing, I’m all for it,” says Clawson.

They paired the title with an instrumental track that Dragstrem had worked up prior to the session and honed in on a plot that finds the singer fielding a phone call from a girlfriend he has been seeing for about a year. She needs to talk right away, setting up a classic breakup scene. But where many songs cast an ex as a villain, “You Look Like I Need a Drink” finds the guy who’s about to get dumped expressing empathy for the woman, who’s trying in vain to soften the blow.

“You’re just dancin’ around what you came here to do, but you’re scared to,” he sings in the chorus.

“You Look Like I Need a Drink” was finished in a rush, and Clawson sang the vocals for the demo that same day. Dragstrem went back and dressed it up a bit, but still kept it sparse enough for the words to dominate the production.

“The way our demo sounds is almost like an older Don Henley solo song,” says Clawson.

It seemed like the song would work for Blake Shelton, and they sent it to him. But it never drew any interest from Shelton’s camp. Subsequently, Big Loud Shirt creative director Matt Turner played it for Stover, figuring it would work for Moore.

“I knew Justin would sing the crap out of it,” says Clawson. “He’s one of the best singers in country music. He doesn’t need Pro Tools and Auto-Tune or any of that. He’s a really good singer.”
Stover included “You Look Like I Need a Drink” among several titles he sent to Moore, who obviously was interested when he opened the email in California.

“Within probably an hour of sending it to him,” recalls Stover, “he responded, ‘Love this, make sure we have this locked down.’ Hopefully we’re on our way to another No. 1 country record.”
It needed a bit of a revision, though. The quasi-Henley take was replaced with a bit of a Rolling Stones Exile on Main Street vibe.

“This song is set up to be a drum/electric guitar song,” says Stover. “And you know, sometimes the simple approach is the way to go.”

But simple isn’t always easy. They recorded one version of it and had Moore do a final vocal session at Stover’s Red Room Recording.

“As a vocalist, he is so, so good,” says Stover. “Working with him is so easy, because I never have to worry about, ‘Can Justin sing this?’ ‘Is this song too rangey?’ — those type of things. He brings it home every time.”

But that version got mixed reviews when they took it back to the label. Big Machine Label Group president/CEO Scott Borchetta thought they might be able to outdo the instrumental bed and asked producer Julian Raymond (Glen Campbell, The Wallflowers) to take a crack at it. And he suggested that drummer Victor Indrizzo and guitarist J.T. Corenflos be a part of the ensemble. Raymond used Moore’s Red Room vocal in that second session, and fitted the musicians around it.

Somewhat ironically, the end version sounds a bit like a Shelton song — Moore hears a similarity to both “Honey Bee” and “All About Tonight” — and while it’s about the end of a relationship, it was written loosely enough that it can take on wider meaning for listeners.

“It actually says absolutely nothing about a romantic relationship,” notes Moore. “It could be a boss walking in and you go, ‘Oh, no,’ or a coach coming in about to rip on a player. A romantic relationship is inferred.”

“You Look Like I Need a Drink” beat out one other potential single Moore had on deck, and he played it live for the first time on Oct. 23 in Fayetteville, Ark., earning a reception that led him to believe it was the right choice.

“By the second chorus, everybody’s singing the chorus, which is just crazy because I think it had been out on iTunes for maybe a day or two,” says Moore. “That speaks volumes of the songwriters’ ability to do what they did.”

Valory released it to radio via Play MPE on Oct. 30, and it’s at No. 50 in its fourth week on Country Airplay as Moore ends his self-imposed chart escape.

“I could be wrong,” he says, “but it feels like a big record.”

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Carrie UnderwoodCarrie Underwood Mixes Country's Past and Present on 'Storyteller': Album Review

Don't look now, but Carrie Underwood, at 32, already has a decade of stardom behind her. Much has changed in the country landscape during that time, its center nudged noticeably closer to pop by hitmakers lifting vocal styles and production values from R&B, EDM and hip-hop. Underwood, though, always has been something of a throwback to the country-pop ’90s, when Reba McEntire, Shania Twain, Faith Hill and Martina McBride reigned the airwaves with ample lung power, arena-rock bombast, industrial-pop sheen and, no less importantly, narrative juice. “Jesus, Take the Wheel,” the American Idol alum’s early signature hit, was a story-song, as were some of the biggest numbers on her 2012 album Blown Away.

But Storyteller -- her first album in three years, and her first as a mother -- hard-sells her love of narrative and country past like never before. She has spoken of it as a return to the plot-unfurling Nashville used to be known for; on the album cover, she looks like a retro-boho singer-songwriter in a peasant dress. But even as Underwood waxes nostalgic, Storyteller also strives to extend her commercial dominance into a second decade, one that looks a lot different from the one in which she emerged. To update her sound, she split production duties between longtime studio partner Mark Bright and two hot outsiders: Jay Joyce, known for applying brooding, modern-rock shading to country, and Zach Crowell, who steered Sam Hunt’s mellow small-town jams up the charts. The new sounds bring out a new Underwood. On past recordings she has taken a direct, full-throated, rhythmically on-the-nose approach to singing, which can grow fatiguing over an album; on Storyteller, it’s striking to hear her respond to varied musical textures by expanding her repertoire, toying with inflection and phrasing, and bringing new wrinkles to the characters she’s inhabiting.

There’s a touch of coolly casual, R&B-inflected syncopation to her delivery in “Heartbeat,” a Crowell track with a vocal harmony from Hunt and glassy layers of guitar and synths draped over a brittle beat. She’s slyly threatening in “Dirty Laundry,” a Joyce production with spectral electronic whooshes and cavernous reverb. Underwood glides into skittery vocal patterns during the good-riddance anthem “Chaser,” and ornaments her performance of “Relapse,” a deftly delusional over-him number, with supple melisma. It’s impossible not to hear Miranda Lambert’s influence on the album’s first single, “Smoke Break,” which features Underwood bearing down on populist lyrics with vinegary toughness. (If it seems risky for one of country’s only two female superstars to emulate the other, consider that Lambert already stepped into Underwood’s wheelhouse with the arena-rumbling duet “Something Bad” in 2014 -- the admiration seems mutual.)

Unlike newer country acts who can sound like they’re merely co-starring with their own faddish production, Underwood commands the spotlight, balancing the well-established extremes of her onstage persona -- Midwestern girl-next-door and imperious diva -- within these freshened-up aesthetic frames. If it weren’t for several songs’ worth of forgettable filler (the half-baked outlaw escapade “Mexico,” cursory club anthem “Clock Don’t Stop”), the album would be divided almost evenly between episodes of vengeful, countrified melodrama and moving celebrations of conventional fulfillment. The first half holds a pair of Southern-gothic blockbusters that are the closest she has come to channeling McEntire’s down-home storytelling: “Choctaw County Affair,” a tale of lovers silencing their would-be blackmailer, and “Church Bells,” a rags-to-riches murder ballad in which a woman quietly offs her abusive husband. The second half concludes with sentimental tunes that will soundtrack many a wedding slow dance in coming months: the wistfully swelling power ballad “The Girl You Think I Am” and adult-contemporary pop number “What I Never Knew I Always Wanted.”

Underwood knows her over-the-top country-pop flourishes helped her reach the top of the mass popularity heap in the first place. It was ambitious of her to keep one eye on going big and the other on increasing her attention to musical detail.

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Little Big Town Pain KillerLauren Alaina ‘Next Boyfriend’ – Single Review

After a long wait, Lauren Alaina has released a new single. “Next Boyfriend” was released on September 18th and hit radio on September 28th. The American Idol alum released her last single “Barefoot and Buckwild” in May 2013, it peaked at #34 on the charts. It was announced that Alaina was working on a new record, her sophomore, in 2012, but that record has yet to surface. In 2013, Alaina tweeted that she had started to record her second album, and as of June of this year, that record was completed.

Taking this all in to account, I find it odd that she released an EP instead of the full album. Even more odd is that fact that none of the songs that were rumored to be on her full sophomore album are on this EP, therefore it’s difficult to say whether they’re just giving a taste of what is to come on the full record (like Maddie & Tae did for instance), or whether this EP was released instead of the full record, to postpone the record’s release. I just find the whole thing a bit odd, that’s all. Anyway, back to the single at hand.

First off I have to say that I’ve listened to Alaina’s full EP, and “Next Boyfriend” is actually the closest thing to country on the EP. That being said, this single is NOT country. The track features a very pop based production, with an R&B flavor mixed in. Lauren’s vocals are really good and actually go well on an R&B track… The problem is that this song is being marketed as country, and it’s not. But then again, that doesn’t seem to matter this day and age with mainstream country radio being what it is, with the likes of Sam Hunt and Thomas Rhett plaguing radio. So, if we’re judging this single on whether or not it’s a good country song, then the answer is a big fat NO. There’s nothing about this song, its production, lyric content, or delivery, that fits the country genre.

The single is basically a clever pick up line. “Next Boyfriend” opens with Alaina describing a good looking guy, and goes on to say that she thinks she knows him from somewhere because he looks familiar. Alaina then moves into the chorus aka pick up line/explanation for why he looks so familiar, “You look a lot like my next boyfriend/ I can’t believe how much you act like him/ You and me, we’d be unbelievable and I’m available.” Admittedly, this single is incredibly catchy and it’s a clever spin on a pick up song. I like Alaina and her music. This isn’t a bad song, it’s actually a really good pop/R&B song. I’m just really disappointed that it’s being marketed as country. That’s what ruins it for me.

If you’re looking for a good non-country song, then check this single out. But if you’re looking for country, you best look somewhere else.

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Little Big Town Pain KillerLittle Big Town ‘Pain Killer’ – Single Review

Power group Little Big Town is back with a new single, their 3rd from Pain Killer. It was announced earlier that Little Big Town would be releasing the title track, “Pain Killer”, as their follow up single to the smash hit “Girl Crush”. The album was released almost a year ago in October 2014, and is the group’s 6th studio album. Produced by Jay Joyce, who has made a name for himself as a producer who gives each album a different sound, the record is no exception. Pain Killer marked a departure of sound by Little Big Town, who before tended to leans towards a countrier sound, but went with a funkier, off the wall sound for their latest effort. I personally prefer their other albums, and their old sound. I could never get behind Pain Killer completely, I liked a few songs from the album, but wasn’t thrilled with it as a whole.

When I first listened to this album, I had a hard time figuring out which songs the group would release as singles, considering that the album really doesn’t have a whole lot of country sounding songs on it. Really the only songs that would fit in the country genre half way nicely would be “Girl Crush”, “Day Drinking”, “Tumble and Fall”, and “Save Your Sin”. Therefore, I was surprised to hear that they chose “Pain Killer” for their next single. Now don’t get me wrong! I like the album. It’s an excellent album, but let’s not kid ourselves, it’s definitely not a country album.

“Pain Killer” was a surprising single choice for me mainly because of its sound. The single has a prominent reggae vibe to it, there’s absolutely no denying it. In fact, the reggae influence is very obvious in both the production and the vocal delivery. The track is about finding the cure for the blues in the love of your significant other, rather than pills, alcohol, or therapy. The chorus explains, “You’re my pain killer/ A little dose of you goes a long, long way/ You’re my pain killer/ Oh you take it away.” The song goes on to name all the vices and remedies that the narrator passes over, preferring the love of their significant other. Karen Fairchild, as usual, takes the lead on this track, while the others harmonize with her. You can always count on Little Big Town to deliver a vocally excellent track, their harmonies being on point all the time. Their harmonies are so good that they come off as effortless.

Karen on lead vocals has been the winning formula for Little Big Town’s success, and why not? She has an excellent, strong voice. I count Karen among my favorite female vocalists. I also count Little Big Town among my absolute favorite music groups, period. I love their perfect harmonies and the emotion and energy they bring to their music. That being said, I’m not a fan of this song. It just doesn’t do anything for me. The end of the chorus where they drag out “take it away-ay-ay-ay-ay-ay-ay-ay” and the “La la la la la la”’s, to add more reggae flavor to the song just grates on me. I don’t know why, but I find those dragged out parts annoying and forced. I will say that the song does have an infectious groove to it and the song as a whole does grow on you after several listens. But it’s still not my favorite nor will I go out of my way to listen to it.

Their last two singles from Pain Killer were both successful, with “Day Drinking” peaking at #2 and “Girl Crush” going all the way to #3 on the country charts, and I see no reason why this single will be any different. Little Big Town is the hottest group in country music right now, garnering support from industry peers and fans alike. The fact that they are coming off of their smash hit “Girl Crush” will only help to further their future success at radio. Even though this single is nowhere close to being country, it will still do well on country radio….. after all, the fact that a song isn’t country really isn’t an issue anymore for country radio… I’d be willing to bet it will make it to the Top 10 at the very least. The fact that it is being released while we are still in the summer months will help it as well, considering this song has a beachy, summery vibe to it. As for me? I’ll keep loving Little Big Town, and just wait for a better song. Here’s hoping for some countrier tunes on the next album!

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