Monthly Archives: May 2011

Lauren Alaina, "Like My Mother Does"

The best part about this year’s American Idol finale is the fact that country music is gaining two fantastic artists and vocalists. Of course we know that winner Scotty McCreery will be hitting the country scene with his debut single but this year’s runner-up will also do the same. Is Lauren Alaina’s “Like My Mother Does” the perfect song to launch her onto the country charts?

 Throughout this season of the hit talent competition, Lauren Alaina has showed that her true passion is for country music, more specifically the current mainstream country which consists of mostly pop productions. She’s said that some of her Idols are veterans of the pop-country field like Carrie Underwood, Shania Twain, and Reba. So it’s no surprise that Lauren’s debut single fits her roots as a country-pop vocalist.

Just like with Scotty’s debut single, I feared that Lauren was going to get stuck with a strictly pop single that doesn’t come close to sticking to her country roots. But, just like he did with Scotty’s single, Iovine managed to find a song that suited Lauren perfectly.

The production on “Like My Mother Does” is very “full,” to say the least. Everything from acoustic, electric, and steel guitars to a string backing are used in this full-blown country-pop power ballad. The over-the-top production resembles something you’d hear from country-pop veterans like Rascal Flatts and Taylor Swift. When the song hits the bridge and the final verses it’s extremely loud and almost unbearable. The unfortunate part is that because the production is so loud Lauren’s vocal track has to be even louder so it can be audible.

What I like about this song is the fact that Lauren is able to show off her complete vocal range. She offers a tender vocal performance during the song’s verses and then she attacks her higher register full on during the chorus and the song’s bridge and final chorus. Jimmy Iovine picked a great song that allowed Lauren to deliver her best performance of the entire season during Tuesday night’s performance show.

The song is another example of a cheesy, sappy song that is written especially for the Idol winner (reference my review of Scotty’s song for the full description). However this one isn’t about living in the moment or another cliche love song; instead, it’s an ode to the mother who has set an example for her daughter to live up to. “When I love I give it all I got like my mother does, when I’m scared I bow my head and pray like my mother does…” the lyrics of the chorus show off how the narrator is following in her mother’s foot steps. It’s one of the most unique Idol winner singles and could rank right up there with Kelly Clarkson’s “A Moment Like This” as one of the best winner’s singles.

With this song, Lauren Alaina proves that she can be a great storyteller. She delivers the song with such raw emotion and heart that it almost brings you to tears. That quality is what will separate Lauren from the other female vocalists in country music. If she plays her cards right and picks the best songs then she’ll definitely have a lucrative career in country music. I’m giving Scotty a pass with his first single because it wasn’t chosen by him so I’m doing the same for miss Lauren Alaina. She’s better than this song and I hope she gets to record better songs to match her incredible talent.

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Scotty McCreery, "I Love You This Big"

After receiving the majority of the 122 million votes cast during Tuesday night’s American Idol performance show, Scotty McCreery was named this year’s Idol winner over Lauren Alaina. Just like the previous 9 Idols have done, McCreery is releasing his first single which is titled “I Love You This Big.” Is this the most appropriate song to launch Scotty into country superstardom?

I’ve been an American Idol fanatic since its first season and I have become a fan of many of its winners including country superstar Carrie Underwood as well as the original winner, Kelly Clarkson. Those two alone have proven that winning the competition can lead to a successful career in the music industry. The only problem with winning the show is that you have to release a cheesy debut single chosen for you as the winner. Kelly had “A Moment Like This” and Carrie had to release the awful “Inside Your Heaven.” These songs didn’t prove to be launching pads for their careers, but the songs that were released right after those singles proved to be the spark their careers needed (“Miss Independent” for Clarkson and “Jesus Take the Wheel” for Underwood).

The point I’m trying to make here is that “I Love You This Big” is, in fact, one of those cheesy songs that the Idol winner has to release. That’s the reason why I’m not going to take it too seriously because I’m hoping that the single McCreery chooses to release after this song will be one far suited for his artistic style. The song tells the story about how the narrator is in experience young love with a girl. When you listen to the lyrics of the first verse, it actually isn’t a bad song. Then the last line of the verse hits and goes into the chorus and that’s when it loses me: “I might look a little silly standing with my arms stretched open wide I love you this big…” It’s all a bit cheesy and reminds me of a little kid telling his mom how much he loves her by stretching his arms as far as he can rather than a guy telling a girl how much he loves her.

I have to admit that from a production standpoint Jimmy Iovine (the season long mentor) did a great job in sticking to Scotty’s traditional country roots. That was my biggest fear for Scotty because I figured he’d get stuck releasing a pop-leaning song rather than a true country song. But this song is filled with plenty of steel guitar and includes a fantastic guitar melody that keeps the song leaning on the more traditional side of country music. It is actually one of the best productions I’ve heard on a country song in some time, which is rather surprising.

Scotty’s money maker is definitely the lower range of his voice which he shows off beautifully in the verses and during the first chorus. When the song hits the bridge he dabbles with his higher register which also sounds spectacular. His voice is perfectly suited for traditional country and I hope he continues to record more traditional leaning material (that’s if his Idol handlers allow him to go down that road).

With the last country Idol winner Carrie Underwood having such a huge career post-Idol, it’ll be interesting to see if Scotty McCreery can live up to that success. I think it’ll all depend on his song choices for not only his debut album, but for his debut single. However he’ll no doubt have some of Nashville’s best songwriters bombarding him with their best work so I think he’ll have no trouble with choosing songs. I’m going to predict that Scotty will become one of country’s leading men in the next few years.


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Scotty vs. Lauren: American Idol’s Country Showdown

Tuesday night, American Idol will begin its 10th season finale with a performance show that will pit two of its youngest contestants against one another as 17 year old country crooner Scotty McCreery will go head-to-head with 16 year old Southern belle, Lauren Alaina. It’ll be a country showdown for the Idol title and to get ready for the big night, ATC will analyze the showdown and offer our prediction of what the outcome will be.

Throughout this season, both Scotty and Lauren have delivered strong performances and have become fan favorites. Considering both have been two of the strongest contestants this season, it’s easy to believe that this could be the closest finale race in Idol’s 10 year history. Each contestant has many advantages and some disadvantages going for them. We’re going to pick a part each contestant to see who has the ultimate edge in the end.

Scotty McCreery
A year ago, Scotty was a 16 year old high school baseball player in Garner, NC who worked in a local grocery store. Now he’s a 17 year old American Idol finalist who, no matter Wednesday’s outcome, will go on to become one of country’s brightest new stars.

Scotty has consistently been a judges favorite each and every week by delivering solid performances. His shining moment came last week when he turned on the charm and personality while performing Thompson Square’s “Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not?”. However, like most contestants, he had a few stumbles thrown in including his version of “For Once in My Life.” Scotty’s key to success on Tuesday will be to continue to stick to his country roots and deliver each performance with as much heart, emotion, and southern drawl as he can to impress the judges.

When it comes to fan votes, I believe Scotty has the advantage because he has two primary support groups behind him: the “tween” girls and the conservative demographic. Throughout the season, Scotty has been a fan favorite for the young girls who seem to pull off upsets for their favorites (Lee DeWyze over Crystal Bowersox; Kris Allen over Adam Lambert) so he’ll continue to reap the rewards from that huge demographic. He’ll also have the backing of the conservative voters who love how he’s consistently presented himself as a down home, all American boy who is simply living his dream.

There has been one disadvantage that has plagued Scotty throughout the season and that’s the fact that he’s often seen as a “one trick pony.” Early on in the season, Scotty only performed hits by country crooner Josh Turner during his audition rounds (we can all remember how many times he belted out the line “baby lock them doors and turn the lights down low”) and when it came to the live shows, he continued to pick similar artists like George Strait and Garth Brooks. Though he showed his artistic preference, it was easy to predict that he’d have trouble with other genres and even with the new mainstream country sound that he’ll encounter after the show’s end. However, he’s done a good job at showing his versatility by performing songs like Montgomery Gentry’s “Gone” and Thompson Square’s “Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not?.” He’ll need to continue to take risks come Tuesday night. My suggestion would be tackling a song that shows off his strong vocal range yet sticks to his traditional roots much like Chris Young’s latest smash, “Tomorrow.”

Scotty’s bread and butter is in his ability to cater straight to his audience so if he does it three more times on Tuesday night, he’ll have done enough to claim the Idol title and become the show’s youngest winner.

Lauren Alaina
Lauren Alaina is a beneficiary of the new age range which allowed 15 year olds to audition this season. So when Idol held auditions in Nashville, a then 15 year old Lauren auditioned by singing Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss A Thing” with judge Steven Tyler. After her audition, Tyler famously predicted that they had found “the one.” Now she has the chance to make that prediction come true.

Lauren’s key to success this season has been her ability to belt it out with the best contestants on the show. From showing her country roots on songs like “Any Man of Mine” or Reba’s “Turn on the Radio,” to singing non-country classics like “Unchained Melody” and Elvis’ “Trouble.” Unlike Scotty, Lauren has always made an effort to show off her versatility. She’s delivered power ballads like Martina McBride’s “Anyway” as well as the rock classic from Melissa Etheridge, “Am I the Only One” and also rocking country songs like Carrie Underwood’s “Flat on the Floor.” She’s taken the advice of the judges and has always tried to push herself. Her shining moment came during this past week’s performance when she effortlessly delivered Lee Ann Womack’s smash, “I Hope You Dance.” It’s those moments that Lauren will need to recreate in order to take down the boy wonder that is Scotty McCreery.

Another advantage Lauren has going for her is the fact that her style of country caters to a larger audience than Scotty’s. Lauren has proven herself to be a perfect fit for the current mainstream/pop style of country. She’s performed songs by some of today’s biggest superstars in Carrie Underwood and Reba as well as some of country’s newest “it” artists like The Band Perry. She’ll need to stick to that style of country if she wants to have a chance against the traditional leaning Scotty. My suggestion would be to continue performing newer songs by artists like Underwood or even Miranda Lambert (she nailed “Gunpowder and Lead” during the top four results show).

Lauren’s biggest disadvantage could come in how she handles the big stage and big audience. In the past she’s seemed to buckle under the pressure of the moment and has often second guessed herself during her performances. During her “Unchained Melody” performance, mentor Jimmy Iovine tore her a part for not going for the song’s money note during the live performance. Even this past week, she got caught up in the moment during her performance of “If I Die Young” that she simply missed her modulation, but she recovered nicely. If Lauren can overcome her nerves and trust that she has the vocal ability to out sing her opponent, then she will have the ability to pull off the upset.

In the end, I have to say that country music will prove to be the true winner of American Idol. No matter who wins, both Scotty and Lauren have the potential to become future superstars of the genre. However, if I had to pick a winner, my money is on Scotty McCreery to take home the title. He’s been one of the best contestants this season and has one of the largest fan bases I’ve seen from a finalist. But, look for both of them to hit country radio soon, and who knows, maybe they’ll be competing once again in 2012, except it’ll be for a Best New Artist award from either the CMAs or ACMs.

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Kenny Chesney featuring Grace Potter, "You and Tequila"

Kenny Chesney has been very streaky with his radio single choices. One minute he’s showing brilliance and the next he releases a novelty dud. He was leaning more towards the brilliant side of the equation with “Somewhere With You.” Now he’s sending “You and Tequila” to radio so the question begs to be asked: will it be another novelty hit or will he once again show his artistic brilliance?

“You and Tequila” is probably the best song to hit country radio this year. Everything about this song is simply spectacular. Before hearing the song it’s easy to expect the song to be brilliant considering it was written by one of Nashville’s most critically acclaimed songwriters, Matraca Berg. Berg is known for many hits but she’s most known for writing her co-writer Deana Carter’s career defining smash, “Strawberry Wine.” When you combine two powerhouses like that you know the result will be nothing short of magical.

Berg and Carter conjure up a song about how a man is tempted to see the girl that’s been driving him crazy for one more night. The lyrics are so simple and direct in telling the story by comparing the girl to tequila simply stating: “you and tequila make me crazy.” The rest of the chorus displays how confusing the temptation is: “run like poison in my blood, one more night could kill me baby, one is one too many, one more is never enough.” The verses are crafted beautifully, but the song’s highlight is definitely the chorus.

The song’s lyrics are just a part of what makes a song brilliant. The rest is its production which Chesney nails to perfection on this song. He utilizes an acoustic production so brilliant that it could be compared to the fantastic acoustic productions found on songs like “The House That Built Me” and “What Do You Want.” When a song dares to use such a simple and quiet production it’s critical for the artist to turn in a vocal performance to match the brilliance, and Kenny delivers one of his finest performances of his career.

Chesney delivers the song with such conviction and emotion that you almost feel like he’s actually going through the confusion and struggle of wanting to see that crazy girl one more time. Grace Potter takes the harmony and backing vocal role and nails it with pure excellence. The two artists’ voices blend so well together that it almost seems like they were born to sing with one another.

Last year it was Miranda Lambert who took a risk in sending “The House That Built Me” to country radio during the summer season, which is usually a time when radio programmers are looking for loud, uptempo songs to fill their playlists. This year we find Kenny Chesney taking the same sort of rish and I’ll bet that the result will be the same. Look for this song to hit the top of the chart sometime in the near future. Widgets

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Lady Antebellum, "Just A Kiss"

2010 was the year of Lady Antebellum. The trio managed to sell over 3 million units of their Need You Now album, making it the best-selling country album of the year. They also scored a massive crossover smash hit with the title track which went on to win the group five Grammys including Record and Song of the Year honors. Now the group is trying to capitalize on the momentum of Need You Now with the first single from their upcoming album, “Just A Kiss.” Will lightening strike the band a second time?

I have to say that I am so darn proud of Lady Antebellum because unlike most of today’s country artists, I think they’ve continued to show growth with each song they release. From their debut single, “Love Don’t Live Here” to their recent top 10 smash, “Hello World,” the group has continued to show us different sides of who they are as artists and songwriters. With their newest single, “Just a Kiss,” the group once again delivers a fantastic song that is bound to become another smash hit.

The song, written by members Charles Kelley, Hillary Scott, and Dave Haywood along with Dallas Davidson, puts a unique spin on the typical love song by building the song around a kiss. “Lying here with you so close to me, it’s hard to fight these feelings when it feels so hard to breathe,” sings Hillary, “caught up in this moment, caught up in your smile.” The verse’s lyrics make the reader assume that this is going to be a song about a couple’s passionate embrace, but then the chorus hits.

“We don’t need to rush this, let’s just take it slow, with just a kiss on your lips in the moonlight, just a touch of the fire burning so bright, I don’t want to mess this thing up, I don’t want to push too far…so baby I’m alright with just a kiss goodnight” From there the song turns into the couple realizing their respective partner could be “the one” and the couple chooses to take the relationship slow. The lyrics and the song’s message are universal which allows anyone to relate to them, which to me is the sign of a great song.

The production is all pop and no country, but I think it suits the song. I love how the vocals are accompanied by a beautiful piano medley as well as a fantastic string section. I think the song does a great job at keeping the production loud yet simple and doesn’t overshadow the vocal performances by Charles and Hillary, which are fantastic. I love the vulnerability each vocalist shows during their solo parts and when they sing together their vocals are even stronger.

Based on the response the song is already getting, I have a feeling it will no doubt be another number one hit for the trio, and it could also take them back down the same path that “Need You Now” did. Widgets

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Luke Bryan, "Country Girl (Shake It For Me)"

After scoring back-to-back number one hits with his previous singles, Luke Bryan is starting to become one of country radio’s most popular artists. After sending three songs off his recent album, Doin’ My Thing, to radio, Bryan is now releasing a new song from an upcoming project. Does “Country Girl (Shake it for Me)” have what it takes to nab Luke a third consecutive number one hit?

I might lose all credibility for admitting this but I actually like this song. Even though it has all the makings of a song I should hate (semi-rapping, pointless lyrics, a loud-ish production), I can’t help but sing and dance along to this song. I think it takes a great artist to be able to pull that off and I think Luke is one of those artists. He can turn any song, good or bad, into a hit and he’s proven that with songs like “All My Friends Say,” “Do I,” “Rain is a Good Thing,” and “Someone Else Calling You Baby.”

I think it takes all of Luke’s personality and style to turn this mediocre ditty into something that fans can enjoy. Once again rap (or in this case, semi-rap) has found its way into country music, but this time I think it actually fits the song. When other artists (ahem, Jason Aldean) infuse the rapping thing into their songs, it always feels like it doesn’t fit and isn’t the correct route. On “Country Girl,” I think it suits the production, the lyrics, and that artist’s personality. Luke does an excellent job in delivering the song and infusing plenty of personality and charm into the song.

The lyrics are about a country girl shaking it, which may sound simple but that’s because it is an extremely simple concept. To help fill nearly four minutes of time, the writers throw in lines about a girl “getting up on [his] daddy’s tractor” and shaking it up on his tailgate. The chorus is an interesting one because it repeats the same line several times: “country girl shake it for me girl shake it for me girl shake it for me.” Like I’ve already said, it’s an almost pointless lyric but somehow Luke manages to make it work for himself.

I’ve always pointed out that Luke is one of those rare artists who possesses the ability to pull off a country-pop production that is unmistakeably country and he shows that again on this song. However, I think, at times, the production goes a little overboard with everything that it has going on from the annoying drum beat to the fiddle and numerous guitar riffs…it’s all just a bit much. But again, somehow Luke makes it work and is able to make a sure-fire hit out of it.

This song doesn’t have much going for it, which is why it shouldn’t work…for any artist. But, again, Luke manages to make it “work” and will turn it into a hit. Considering that this is the fastest rising single of Luke’s career, I think this will be one of the summer season’s biggest hits and will no doubt be the singer’s next number one single.

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