It’s been over two years since we were last able to get our hands on a new album from Carrie Underwood. During that time she focused on her marriage to hockey player Mike Fisher and took a little break from touring and recording. Now she’s ready to make a comeback with her latest album, Blown Away. How does the new 14 song set compare to the singer’s previous three albums?
Category Archives: Album Reviews
Chris Young has worked his way up from a Nashville Star winner to one of country music’s brightest stars by releasing songs that stick true to his traditional roots yet are just mainstream enough to be played on today’s country radio. With “Tomorrow” becoming his fastest rising and career defining single, Young released his third album with RCA Records titled Neon.
An old school jukebox
It’s the buzz I love to be on
Put a double on your troubles
In this portion of ATC’s Indie Spotlight, we’ll be reviewing the Stephanie Eason Band’s first full-length studio album, The Red Letter Days. Find out what we think about the album in our Indie Spotlight!
The album starts off with the upbeat “Charlotte to Phoenix” which finds Stephanie telling the story of a couple who wants to take a plunge and hit the open road from Charlotte to Phoenix to get away from their town. Stephanie provides a fantastic vocal performance that is never overshadowed by the production, which is filled with steel, mandolin, and guitars that keep its sound strictly country. In fact, the production throughout the record stays strictly country and that could be difficult to do in this generation of country music because some of it really isn’t country.
The album continues with the pop-country tune “It Ain’t Love” which talks about how love is all about being physical and not all about the romantic gestures like writing poems or giving someone flowers. The production features a prominent banjo line backed by the ever-present steel guitar. The band keeps with the country-pop production on songs like “How to Start a Fire” as well as one of the album’s highlights, “Holdin’ On.” The latter of which is a song about a woman who is engaged to a man that she doesn’t feel is the “one,” but instead finds her soul mate in a different guy which she’s holding on to.
One of the most interesting productions comes from the song “Endlessly” which possesses a very dark, mellow, bluesy production that’s filled with the usual Stephanie Eason Band instruments – mandolin, steel, and bass – mixed with a very subdued drum beat that sounds amazing on the ears. “He Don’t Know” also features an interesting production that incorporates traditional country sounds with a hint of bluegrass that results in a fantastic sounding record that could’ve been heard during the traditional country movement of the 1990’s.
The album’s strongest song is the ballad “My Heart Won’t Leave Me Alone.” Everything from the dark production to the outstanding emotion-filled vocal performance from Stephanie, the best on the album, results in one heck of a song. The song, of course, would be nothing without the incredible songwriting skills of Stan Hitson, who also wrote or co-wrote five other songs, who brings the story of how a person feels after a sudden break up to life with such brilliance.
Lead singer Stephanie Eason also shows off her songwriting skills on songs like “Holdin’ On” as well as the charming “Happy Ever After,” which talks about how the stories in fairytales we all grew up with never happen in real life, but we do all get our “happy ever after” in different ways. I’ve already raved about the production on “He Don’t Know,” but the songwriting by Eason is also something that should be mentioned because she does an excellent job at telling the story of a girl who’s in love with her best friend but is afraid to tell him, fearing that he won’t return her love.
The only time the group strays away from their country sounds is on the rocker “Be Careful What You Ask For” which Stephanie shares vocals with songwriter Stan Hitson in the telling of the story about a husband who gets caught cheating in a local bar. This song provides Stephanie the opportunity to show off her sassy side as she gets to play the wife who confronts the girl that is knowingly getting “lovey-dovey” with a married man. This song also provides the band the opportunity to show a different side to them and proves to listeners that they aren’t one-dimensional when it comes to their tastes in music.
From the excellent vocal performances from Eason to the outstanding production, this album is an outstanding representation of who the Stephanie Eason Band is. After listening to this record, there’s no doubt that the band is intent on sticking to their country roots and isn’t afraid to include influences from bluegrass, rock, and pop into that country sound. This album is a fantastic start from the group and I’m personally hoping they get the chance to record more music in their career.
The highlight of this portion is the fantastic “Curse the Bed.” This song allows Bundy to not only show off her sultry voice, but also to show off what could be her acting skills as she wails the song with so much pain and emotion. Accompanied by light strings and acoustic guitar, she sings about destroying the bed where the love of an old relationship was made in an effort to rid herself of the memories.
The <i>Achin'</i> portion of the album closes with “When It All Goes South” which sticks to the production of the previous songs; thus, resulting in a fantastic first of a two part album. Nathan Chapman, who has also produced for Taylor Swift and Jewel, sets the bar really high for Shakin’ producers Mike Shimshack and Kyle Kelso. Unfortunately, Shimshack and Kelso fail to reach that bar with the second portion of the album.
Although Shakin’ shows off more of Bundy’s bubbly personality, it also loses the tight and controlled production that Achin’ acheived. Lead by the her debut single, “Giddy On Up,” this second set of songs has Bundy loosely singing her way through an incohesive set of sassy uptempo numbers. Unlike the first half of the album, the production of this set includes many, if not all, instruments which have been mashed together in attempt to walk the fine line between country-pop and pop-country.
The over-production further makes a mess out of songs like “Rebound” and the out of control “If You Want My Love.” If I had to choose a highlight of the Shakin’ portion of this album, it would have to be “I’m No Good (For Ya Baby)” mainly based on the fact that it’s the least over produced of the six songs. Other than that, this portion of the album, though a tad more enjoyable from a tempo standpoint, is a complete mess. However, I have to give big props to Bundy for allowing her big personality to show through on this set.
Overall, this is a solid album. It’ll be interesting to see what songs Bundy and her label choose to release as singles after “Giddy On Up” because it’s hard to imagine most of these songs on the radio. It’s clear that Bundy has the goods to become a star in country music but may need to ditch producers Shimshack and Kelso in the future to avoid another carwreck that is Shakin’.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Click on the link below to purchase Achin’ and Shakin’
Over the course of a career no one has evolved musically and artistically as much as Gary Allan. From the traditional sound he showed on his debut album, Used Heart For Sale, to the new mainstream country-rock sound he’s shown on his previous two albums (2005’s Tough All Over and 2007’s Living Hard), Allan has evolved to an artist who is comfortable with his outlaw style of music. Does his new album, Get Off on the Pain, continue his evolution as an artist or does Allan stick with the formula he’s most comfortable with?
The album kicks off with the title song which is a country rocker that finds Allan singing about his outlaw style of living using lyrics about how he likes to hang out with the dark horses and how he rides the wrong road as fast as he can. The song lives up to his country rock reputation which suits his vocals perfectly. The album continues with “I Think I’ve Had Enough” which is a more mainstream rock song that could also be sung by a pop-rock group such as Daughtry. Allan sings about how he’s had enough of living alone and runs back to the woman he loves because his life is too rough without her. His vocals are packed with plenty of raw soul and suits the song and its production.
As usual, Allan proves he can not only sing the soaring rock songs, but also the tender ballads. The album’s lead single, “Today,” is a perfect example. The Brice Long and Tommy Lee James written song is about a man who realizes any chance he had with a woman disappears the day she gets married to someone else. Allan’s soulful tone turns into a more emotional one as he sings the heartbreaking ballad. He also shows off his tender side on the quiet “We Fly By Night” which talks about how he and his love interest may have stressful, hard days but once night falls, they find themselves making loving in a world that feels right. On this tune, Allan’s able to show off a bit of his bluesy side which mixes well with the steel guitar and drum melody.
The overall theme of this album is about love. The albums includes songs about losing love (“Today” and “Kiss Me When I’m Down) and songs about having love (“We Fly By Night” and “She Gets Me”). One of the most powerful songs about love is “When You Give Yourself Away” which talks about how you need to open your heart and allow yourself to open up to someone no matter how it’ll end. The song gives the message that in order to love you must give yourself away to someone else. The bluesy, soulful production brilliantly showcases his powerful vocal performance.
The most powerful song on the album is its closer, “No Regrets.” No doubt inspired by the loss of his wife in 2004, the song finds Allan singing about how he’s always loved her with no regrets. He says that even though their life together was short, he was still able to live so much…all of it with no regrets. The production on the song is filled with plenty of steel and acoustic guitar. Gary’s vocal performance is the best on the album by a long shot. This song proves that music, in any form, has the power to help heal any wound.
This is another solid album from Gary Allan that will no doubt bring him more success. The overall production sticks to his artistic stylings and his vocals are packed with his usual soul and incredibly range. Allan is one of country music’s finest veterans who will hopefully be able to continue to release great music for many more years to come.
(The Deluxe version of the album includes 4 bonus tracks: an all-new song and 3 live tracks)
Album Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
On the 2009 season of American Idol, Danny Gokey wowed the judges and viewers with his strong vocal talent and soulful performances. After a third place finish on the show, Danny Gokey signed with RCA Records Nashville and now has released his debut album My Best Days. Will his debut album help catapult him to become one of country’s biggest stars?
The album kicks off with the debut single, “My Best Days Are Ahead of Me,” which is a fairly average pop country song that talks about how no matter how old you are you will always have better days ahead. The single sets the tone for the album as far as production goes. Overall the album is more Rascal Flatts country and than say, Easton Corbin country with its pop production which sometimes is unflattering to Gokey’s vocals. That’s the case with “Get Away” which is a bit of a rocker that finds Gokey dealing with a fast melody, much like Rascal Flatt’s “Me and My Gang,” which doesn’t allow Gokey to show off his vocals. In fact, his vocals are a bit all over the place from the nasally lower tone to the borderline screaming of the higher notes.
While on Idol, Danny was quick to make known how much of a religious person he is and it’s clearly shown on the album. Song themes range from having belief in the unseen (as in “I Still Believe”) to making the best of the life you’re given (as on “Tiny Life”). The strongest of these ‘religious’ songs is the ballad “It’s Only.” Written by Charles Kelley, Dave Haywood (both of Lady Antebellum), and Tom Douglas, the song is about giving, mainly love, to those who are less fortunate than you. It sends the message that love can raise your spirits when you are down and that you can never give enough. Gokey’s vocals are fairly strong while he shows off the gospel style he’s comfortable singing. In fact, it’s the first song where he sounds comfortable singing the song (the five previous songs felt forced).
In fact, that’s the main problem I have with the album is the lack of connection on the majority of the songs. The biggest example is the cover of Gary Allan’s “Like It’s a Bad Thing” which talks about a person who does things out of the norm and isn’t like everybody else. It’s a perfect song for Allan because he does stuff that isn’t normal with his music and he’s not afraid to take risks. Gokey, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to fit that description which makes his version of the song less believable.
However, when Gokey gets the emotional connection to the song it can be great, which is like the album’s ending song “I Will Not Say Goodbye.” The song is by far the best on an album filled with mediocre songs. Gokey finds himself narrating about how hard it is to let someone go that you’ve lost. He sings about how his lost loved one will always haunt him but he’s willing to live with it if it means he doesn’t have to say goodbye. Danny’s emotional connection with the song is no doubt a result of losing his wife in 2008, something that was chronicled on Idol. That connection is what allows his vocal performance to soar thus making it more believable. Though the production is a bit overdone at the end of the song, it doesn’t take anything away from Danny’s performance. If the album was filled with more songs like this, I think it’d be one heck of a debut album.
For a debut, this album isn’t half bad, but that’s not saying much. Most of the songs contain overdone messages and the vocal performances aren’t too strong and lack the soul that Danny showed on American Idol. The Mark Bright production is, as usual, over-the-top on most of the songs and barely sits on the country side of the genre spectrum. If Danny wants a long lasting career in country music, he’ll need better material that shows off his natural vocal talent and maybe think about changing producers.
Album Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars
Country newcomer Easton Corbin recently found himself inside the top ten of Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart with “A Little More Country Than That” and is now gearing up to release his self-titled debut album, Easton Corbin. With his old school traditional style of country music, Corbin has been widely regarded as being the new torchbearer of traditional country. Does he live up to those expectations on his album?
Corbin has made it known that his influences include country legends Keith Whitley, Merle Haggard, and George Jones. On his debut album, those influences shine through on just about every song. With vocals that infuse the old style of Whitley with a more mainstream tradition style like Joe Nichols, Corbin proves he can sing just about anything from honky tonk tunes to classic heartbreakers.
The album opens with the infectitious “Roll With Me” that contains a production style that would’ve fit in perfectly during the traditional movement of the 1990’s. The album continues with the debut single, “A Little More Country Than That,” and the heartbreaking “Far From Memphis.” The latter song finds him singing about trying to leave the pain from a failed relationship behind by driving to Miami but finds out the pain travels with you no matter where or how far you go.
The album’s strongest honky-tonk song is “The Way Love Looks” which contains all the necessities of a great honky-tonk tune. The upbeat melody makes it almost impossible to resist the urge to get up and dance. The steel guitar and fiddle riffs are fantastic and only make the song better. Corbin’s vocals are spot on and add plenty of personality to the song about telling a woman how good love looks on her. This song could almost be a happier version of George Strait’s “You Look So Good In Love.”
The album’s strongest song is “Don’t Ask Me ‘Bout a Woman” which finds the narrator talking to his Grandpa on a front porch swing. The conversation leads to the grandpa telling him about how women aren’t “made to figure out they’re just made to love.” To me, this could be the cousin of Brad Paisley’s hit “Waitin’ On a Woman.” The song is filled with an infectitious melody that could be two-stepped to in a bar. Something that can be said about most of the song on the album.
The lone cover on the album is “Let Alone You,” a song that first appeared on Blaine Larsen’s album Rockin’ You Tonight. Though it’s not quite as traditional as Larsen’s version, Corbin brings a more mainstream factor to it which allows it a chance to be released as a single. I prefer Larsen’s vocals on the song but Easton brings his own vocal styling to the song which makes for a hard comparison.
The only slight blemish is the island vibed “A Lot to Learn About Livin'” which finds Corbin experimenting with a more mainstream/less traditional song. With its production, the song sticks out like a sore thumb on a more traditional sounding album. Along with that, the lyrics are fairly average and conveying its message about learning to not sweat the small things and just enjoy life.
Overall, its a fantastic debut from one of country music’s brightest rising stars. The production sticks to Easton Corbin’s more traditional leaning artistic beliefs and his vocal performance shows how comfortable he is singing that style. If I was a drinker, I could see myself sitting at home or in my garage listening to this album with a few cold ones…it’s that good.
Now depending on if country radio can take a break to give Corbin a chance, he has a real shot at becoming one of country’s biggest stars. If you love traditional country music, this album should definitely be in your collection.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
(Easton Corbin’s debut album, Easton Corbin, hits stores on Tuesday, March 2, 2010)
Country traditionalist Josh Turner released his latest album, Haywire, this past Tuesday and it’s another solid album from the country crooner. On this album, Turner goes a little more mainstream but also keeps his usual traditional sound as well.
The album kicks off with its lead off single, the recent #1 hit, “Why Don’t We Just Dance” which finds Turner bringing his usual charm to a song about forgetting the world’s troubles and simply just dancing. The song keeps with its theme by using an infectious melody that finds it impossible to not toe tap along. The album is full of Turner’s charm and infectious melody combination which also comes across on songs like the title track, “Haywire,” and “Your Smile” which allows the album to have a high energy start.
Josh does a fantastic job at showing how great of a balladeer he’s become, such as on the track “Lovin You On My Mind” which finds Josh channeling his inner Barry White on this sexy, soulful song. The song finds the narrator unable to keep his woman off of his mind and can hardly wait to get home and start loving her…if you know what I mean. Josh does a fantastic job at making sure the sexiness of the song shines through with his voice and emotion. No doubt, many of Josh’s female fans will find themselves swooning to this song. Along with that, the other standout ballads on the album include “I wouldn’t Be a Man” and “I’ll Be There” which finds Josh singing about all the ways he’ll be there when he’s needed as a father (which is no doubt directed towards his two sons).
As I said earlier, Turner brings his usual country sound but also experiments with other sounds. This is more prominent on the song “All Over Me” which finds Josh letting his love interest know that she can pour her love all over him. This song has the most bass and electric guitar than anything I’ve heard from Turner as well as a prominent piano melody. This song exemplifies how fantastic Turner is at pushing the line of country-pop but still keeping it traditional sounding, something that’s rare among today’s most successful artists.
Though most of the album is filled with songs of significance, there are some fillers that could’ve been replaced. A perfect example is the track “Eye Candy” which I think is the weakest song on the album as far as lyrics go, though it does show Josh’s charm and personality. Another song that falls in that category is the working man song “Friday Paycheck” which finds Josh singing about using his paycheck to go buy a ‘chili cheese dog’ at the bowling alley where he’s trying to beat his score. Again, this isn’t the best written song on the album, but it proves Josh knows who he is as an artist and what he can do well which is the uptempo semi-novelty songs (which I have to admit are some of my favorites by him).
The strongest song, lyrically, on the album is the album’s closer, “The Answer.” Turner combines the sounds of country and gospel on this song about how if you want to find the answer to some of life’s problems you should count on Jesus to have them. Backed by a choir, Josh does a fantastic job at conveying the message in this song. The only problem I have is with the production which finds Josh competing with the choir who sometimes overshadows him. Had that aspect of the song been toned down a few notches, the song could probably be the highlight of the album.
Overall, the album flows exceptionally well and has a nice balance of uptempo songs and ballads. The production as a whole is solid with little flaws and Turner’s vocals are spot on, as usual. It’s obvious Josh Turner and his producer Frank Rogers wanted to make an album that sounded different than Turner’s other releases while still keeping their artistic beliefs. I think they did a fantastic job on this record and I hope they keep experimenting with different sounds because I’m liking what I’m hearing so far.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars