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KFLG Music Reviews

Willie Nelson: Band of Brothers

What does an 81-year old country music legend do to keep life interesting for himself? Go back to something he's good at: writing songs. This is, astonishingly, the first Willie Nelson album to be dominated by self-penned material since the one-two punch of "Spirit" and "Teatro," released more than 15 years ago. Less astonishingly, it's his best work by far since then, almost completely free of the questionable song choices and duet overloads that marred his albums in the intervening years. (Sure enough, the sole duet here, with Jamey Johnson on a cover of Billy Joe Shaver's "The Git Go," is also the weakest track, despite its warm, wizened gospel-blues vibe.)

Right from the first few jaunty seconds of the opener, "Bring It On" — the wailing harmonica, the swooping pedal steel and the wry initial couplet, "They say there is no gain without pain/Well, I must be gaining a lot" — "Band of Brothers" bears all the marks of an old-fashioned country gem. The nine new originals (out of 14 total tracks) are sharp and often hilarious. "Wives and Girlfriends" is practically a three-minute stand-up routine, while "I Thought I Left You" compares an ex-lover to measles and whooping cough against the backdrop of a stately ballad.

Nelson's casually conversational singing, with its sudden drops into the bass register and unmistakable natural tremolo, is as good as it has ever been, and the same goes for his ragged but right mariachi-jazz guitar solos. In his ninth decade, this Texas troubadour still is making music that can match anything in his long, distinguished catalog.

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Lucy Hale: 'Road Between': Track-By-Track Review

"Pretty Little Liars" star Lucy Hale is more than just another actor trying to crossover into the music world. She's been singing most of her life, and before she started spending most of her days on sets, she placed in the top 5 of a one-and-done "American Idol" spinoff show called "American Juniors" at the age of 14.
Her 11-song debut album "Road Between" is filled with powerful, catchy choruses and moments that display Hale's voice in many different ways. "A lot of people don't know Lucy the person," she recently told Billboard. "They just know me from characters I played. I think after listening to the album, they'll have a clearer idea of the kind of girl I am. It's really real." "Road Between" covers a lot of familiar country-ground, where relationships are at the core of most songs -- but above all, it sounds honest and wholesome. Here's a track-by-track breakdown of Lucy Hale's music debut.
1. "You Sound Good to Me"

Lucy Hale opens her debut album with an upbeat, positive guitar number that immediately shows off her the best part of "Road Between": her voice. We learn that the object of her affection sounds "like a melody" as Hale introduces her audience to the simple pop-country sound she favors.
2. "From the Backseat": This tune is one of the more nostalgic numbers of "Road Between," and is a great example of Hale's storytelling prowess. At first, the song sounds a bit R-rated, as she confesses she's "learning to love from the backseat," but if anything, it's a trip down simpler times in the country.
3. "Nervous Girls"
Hale told Billboard this is one of her favorite songs, saying it's about knowing "it's okay not to be okay." It's a redemptive ballad that shows Hale hasn't become out of touch surrounded by so much Hollywood glamor she's been engulfed in during her day job on "Pretty Little Liars."
4. "Red Dress" (Featuring Joe Nichols):
"Road Between" is certainly a showcase for Hale's singing, but "Red Dress," a classic-sounding country duet, makes room to showcase Joe Nichols. His deep voice pairs well with hers, and it's one of the more purely romantic moments on the album.
5. "Goodbye Gone":
"Goodbye Gone" is Hale's attempt at a country-rock, quasi-revenge anthem in the vein of Carrie Underwood or Miranda Lambert, where she's getting even via stealing her ex's Trans Am. In this case, getting over cheaters might not be Hale's strong suit.
6. "Kiss Me"
Like a lot of pop-country artists, Hale likes to focus on relationship perils, and "Kiss Me" features on of her best lines, as she confesses "Don't you know I want you with me and it ain't just cause I'm tipsy."
7. "Road Between":
The title track is a tender power ballad about breaking down, being in the "middle of the madness" and finding yourself. Like "Nervous Girls," it's a guitar-driven song about empowerment.
8. "Lie a Little Better":
At times Hale sounds a bit like Shania Twain, and this song channels the country icon in fine form. It's a pounding, giddy guitar number that pits the words and music as opposites -- despite the fun, spunky arrangement, it's really about playing coy around someone you want, and failing at it.
9. "That's What I Call Crazy":
Hale's songs don't feature many tales of debauchery, but this tune delves a bit into the drinking and cursing -- in a playful, harmless way, of course. The song was co-written by Kacey Musgraves and sounds ready-made for country radio.
10. "Love Tonight":
As the album winds down, it's clear that Hale loves singing about love -- but on "Love Tonight," she's exploring that time-honored tradition of ill-advised hook-ups. It's an amusing, funky song about a quick fling, fleeting moments and bad decisions.
11. "Just Another Song":
"Road Between" ends with a number Hale co-wrote, and it's one of the album's best. "Just Another Song" starts off as a simple-sounding folk tune about how life is great when the dishes are done, but opens up into one of the more personal moments of the record, with gorgeous orchestration in the background as Hale wrestles through getting over someone. It's proof she's more than just a "Pretty Little Liar," and potentially our next big country obsession.

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Lady Antebellum: Bartender

While still very successful with the music they've recorded with Paul Worley prior to "Compass," Lady Antebellum was looking for a new challenge for the music to follow-up the album Golden, which lead them to Nathan Chapman, best known for his work with Taylor Swift. Chapman's first work with the trio with "Compass" and like that song, "Bartender" finds the band blending what we've come to expect from them with a slightly different sonic and vocal sound. It's a fresh, new sound for Lady Antebellum that works well.

Featuring a melody that owes at least a little bit to 80s rock, "Bartender" blends that with banjos, mandolins and percussive loops and some funky Hammond B3 notes which serve as the groovy bedrock for Hillary Scott's fiery lead vocal. Hillary sounds energetic and in the moment on "Bartender" and the harmonies from Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood in the chorus and the bridge is what is most exciting about "Bartender." The sing-song-y nature of those parts of "Bartender" give the song some bite and make it the kind of song that should've always followed up "Need You Now."  Lyrically the band tells a story of a woman who is looking forward to a Girl's night out to get over her relationship instead of being like the protagonist of "Need You Now," the couple who gets together when they've exhausted all other options.

"Bartender" starts a new and exciting chapter in Lady Antebellum's career and gives us something to really look forward to with their follow-up to last year's Golden. "Compass" hinted at that and "Bartender" is doubling down, bring us back some of that fresh trio that exploded on the scene with their debut album in 2008 and Need You Now in 2010.

Seven-time GRAMMY award winning trio Lady Antebellum dropped the lead single "Bartender" off their upcoming fifth studio album today.  The swampy, sultry breakup anthem is available at Country Radio now and will be available for purchase at digital retailers on May 20.
Written by Lady A's Dave Haywood, Charles Kelley, Hillary Scott and co-writer Rodney Clawson, the trio enlisted Nathan Chapman to co-produce the new single featuring Scott's lead vocal and the trio's signature harmonies.
"For this new stuff, we wanted keep the core of Lady A, while also experimenting with new sounds and ideas," said Kelley. "Nathan was really instrumental in pushing us to try different harmonies and new songs that were a little out of the box for us. There's a lot of energy that comes with those changes and 'Bartender' is just of taste of what we've been working on."
Rather than the late night drunk-dial approach of the band's international smash hit "Need You Now," these lyrics are poised to become a female anthem centered around washing an ex's memory away with whiskey on a wild girls' night out.
"I love this song because there's something empowering about not going for the rebound or just moping around over a guy," said Scott. "There are those times in your life when you need to feel sorry for yourself and be sad, but this song is all about hitting the dance floor with your girlfriends and just forgetting him."
"We've been crazy busy writing, and when we're this deep into it, we get so excited about new music that we can't wait to get it out," added Dave Haywood. "We've been outdoors playing amphitheaters and are loving the energy that the fans bring to those outdoor shows. So, when we sat down to write with Rodney for the first time, we really wanted some new stuff to keep fans on their feet."
The trio is set to perform the new single when they kick off Good Morning America's summer concert series live from Central Park on May 23. From New York City, the trio will continue on their headlining 2014 Take Me Downtown Tour.

Lady Antebellum's new song 'Bartender' brushes against themes found in the group's biggest hit to date, but sonically it's quite a deviation from 'Need You Now' or anything they've recorded released to radio. Perhaps only 'Downtown' served up a more surprising sound from this trio.

Here Hillary Scott navigates the trenches of loneliness while mending a broken heart. She turns to good friends, the club and booze to help her forget Mr. What's-His-Name. It seems like another late-night hookup, but then:
"Tonight I'll let a stranger pull me on the floor / Spin me round and let 'em buy a couple more / But before he gets too far I'll let 'em down easy," she sings during the second verse.

The better of the two verses is the first, when Scott, Dave Haywood and Charles Kelley (co-writers along with Rodney Clawson) describe her situation and efforts to get back in the game.

"Now there's only one thing left for me to do / Slip on my favorite dress and sky high leather boots / Check the mirror one last time / Kiss the past goodbye."
'Bartender' may be the least collaborative of all Lady Antebellum singles to date. Even the sassy 'Downtown' felt the presence of Kelley. Here he mostly lurks in the shadows of each chorus:

"What I'm really needing now / Is a double shot of Crown / Chase that disco ball around / 'Til I don't remember / Go until they cut me off / Wanna get a little lost / In the noise, in the lights."

The rhythmic post-chorus and progressive production may be attributed to Nathan Chapman, producing Lady A for the first time. A tumbling mandolin keeps the song safely within country confines, despite the hip-hop leanings at this point. In the end the success of 'Bartender' depends on Scott's performance as a lovelorn lady with wild in her eyes.

Why Fans Will Love It: 'Bartender' reminds one of Lady Antebellum's biggest hit 'Need You Now,' without being a replica.

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