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McGraw Is Back Two Lanes of Freedom Review

Posted on 05 February 2013 by Bill West

Two Lanes Album CoverTime to break out those iTunes Gift cards you got for Christmas.  Tim McGraw is back in stores.  Two Lanes of Freedom is not a comeback album for Tim McGraw. He hasn’t really been gone. It is a kind of re-birth for the artist who has over 13 albums under his big buckled belt, and three Grammys.

McGraw’s been tussling with his original label home for the last several years so album releases have been slow to come.  Two Lanes of Freedom (out now) gives him a bit of a career reboot.  He has a new deal with Big Machine Records and now his biggest challenge is to keep up with his track record of being one of the biggest album sellers of the past fifteen years.

The album takes the opportunity to be very radio friendly and very commercial country.  Songs like Truck Yeah, Mexicoma, and Southern Girl have a whiff of cheese but they work.  It’s just enough.  Nashville without You sounds like it may have been commissioned by the Nashville Chamber of Commerce with inspiration from Paisley’s This Is Country Music; but , again, it works.   There are very familiar country blue-print songs here too.   Book Of John is a photographic journey into the life of a deceased

Tim McGraw

Photos Big Machine Records

loved one. Annie I Owe You a Dance is like Garth Brooks Unanswered Prayers part two but with unique flavor that will touch his many female fans.  Familiar themes in country but McGraw keeps them fresh.

There are only a few slight artistic stretches on this album for McGraw.  There’s some trombone in Mexicoma and Tpain-esque vocal effects on Southern Girl, and a Phillip Phillips “Home” chant on the uplifting title track.  No ventures into rapping thankfully (although some would argue Truck Yeah is leaning that way).

All in all the album is easy to listen to from beginning to end and sounds even better the second and third listen.  The single One of Those Nights is a proven hit on the radio and songs like Dear John and “Annie” will become favorites for many.

One of the most talked about tunes on the album features a collaboration with Taylor Swift and the guitar licks of Keith Urban.    Highway Don’t Care is a fantastic superstar mash-up that uses Swift’s charm and Urban’s punch to really make a special tune.  Let’s hope all parties agree to give it a go as a radio single.

Tim McGraw will have some fun new material from Two Lanes of Freedom to perform live on tour too.    The title track will get the arena chanting.

The Grade: B+ ( Two Lanes is a solid project fans will love more than critics)

Don’t Miss: Book of John and Highway Don’t Care

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Country Songs – 2012’s Best and Worst

Posted on 30 December 2012 by Bill West

Pontoon LBTBest and worst of 2012? In the past year many songs were both.  It was more case of who’s the most polarizing. Little Big Town’s Pontoon, Taylor Swift’s” We Are Never Getting Back Together” and Jason Aldean’s “The Only Way I Know” cover both extremes.

Little Big Town scored the song of the year with an unlikely song about boating’.  After lukewarm success with initial hits like “Boondocks” followed by a dry spell and then “Little White Church” and then more quiet some industry insiders had left LBT for dead.  Still, everyone seemed to like the group.   So when “Pontoon” came along it planted their eight feet back on the path to the A list.

Some immediately hated the song.   Others were smitten, and – like all the songs on our polarizing list – airplay was undeniable.  For a moment Country music was pop culture.

In fact “Pontoon” written by Natalie Hemby, Luke Laird and Barry Dean, went on to win the 2012 CMA Single of the year award at the Country Music Association Awards.   The song hit number one on the radio and is the band’s first Platinum selling single.

LBT is keeping up the momentum by launching The Tornado Tour with David Nail and Kacey Musgraves in the new year.

Taylor Swift RedIn a different twist, Taylor swift came to radio with an obvious pop song that was instantly memorable.  Despite producing a “Country Mix” that was nearly identical to the pop mix (both super bubblegum) hundreds of country and pop stations jumped on the launch of the- then mystery- single’s world premiere.  In an evening YouTube live release Swift played the song to a room full of teenage girls and disclosed “Never Getting Back Together” as the first single and the album art and title (RED).   Clear Channel issued every hour airplay on hundreds of stations.  Many listeners complained about the repetition with dislike. Clearly many others were humming along with a smile as “We Are Never Getting Back Together” became an instant number one on iTunes and helped propel the full release of “Red” to epic sales numbers.   Records include the first artist to sustain 6 weeks at #1 on the Billboard album charts with three consecutive albums.   Also she is one of the first artists since Garth Brooks to hold a number one slot the week before TWO Christmas Holidays (with 2 different albums).

night trainJason Aldean has never played it safe. In 2012 he released a unique “event” song called That’s The Only Way I Know where he teams up with fast rising country stars and tour mates Eric Church and Luke Bryan.
It was another bold step towards infusing rap into mainstream country on the radio. Aldean has been the only one to succeed with the spoken word delivery in the past so it was a daring move but proof that he can pull it off as more than just a novelty. There could be more of e sound to come as a future track on Night Train called 1994 gives us a hilarious Joe Diffie tribute is rumored for a 2013 radio single choice.

Pontoon, Never Getting Back, and The Only Way I Know are songs that may not receive continued strong airplay(or GOLD as it’s called)  on the radio due to their polarizing nature, but – love ‘em or hate ‘em – there is no doubt they’ve left their mark on 2012.

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Jason Aldean – Night Train Review

Posted on 16 October 2012 by Bill West

night train

Hold on to sumthin.  Jason Aldean‘s street cred is about to take off more like a rocket instead of a “Train”.  But his latest album -Night Train ( out everywhere now) is apt to surprise and get the attention of any remaining non believers.

Like other mainstream country stars in the past (Kenny Chesney, even Conway Twitty) Aldean has never really been  embraced as a critic’s artist and – probably because of the hat – Big New York media don’t “get him” — yet.   That should chance this week as Night Train is due for a massive release.     Unintentional buzz from TMZ plus a solid iTunes free listen (another opportunity radio just lost ) and a multiple week radio hit (Take A Little Ride) have set Aldean up for the biggest first week album sales of his career.

And the album is GOOD.    There’s a solid layer of the mainstream power country that has become his trademark (Feel That Again) plus surprising jaunts back into the spoken word (some say rap) songs.    Older country fans will get a kick out of the hilarious “1994” a tribute to Joe Diffie of sorts.   Younger fans may decide to Google Diffie and discover some of the 90’s biggest hits.

Another buzz cut is “That’s The Only Way I Know” where Aldean recruits the red hot Eric Church and Luke Bryan to create something bigger than just a song.   Watch for Vocal event buzz.

Fifteen tracks deep there is a lot to feed the radio and the tour (announcement on 10/18?) machine.   The usual midtempo Aldean tunes sound almost perfected on this album and there are also some riskier tracks like Black Tears (yeah a stripper song).

Aldean is a true original and the stars are aligning to create another country superstar that is cool and bad-ass enough to cross over to pop and rock fans.


Grade:  A

Don’t Miss: 1994 (We’re ready for the “club” mix now thank you.)

Jason Aldean “Night Train” Track List

1. This Nothin’ Town (Busbee/Neil Thrasher/Wendell Mobley)
2. When She Says Baby (Rhett Akins/Ben Hayslip)
3. Feel That Again (Thrasher/Mobley/Vicky McGehee)
4. Wheels Rollin’ (Thrasher/Mobley/Hillary Lindsey)
5. Talk (Thrasher/Mobley)
6. The Only Way I Know (with Luke Bryan and Eric Church) (David Lee Murphy/Hayslip)
7. Take A Little Ride (Dylan Altman/Rodney Clawson/Jim McCormick)
8. I Don’t Do Lonely Well (Thrasher/Tom Shapiro/Chuck Wicks)
9. Night Train (Thrasher/Michael Dulaney)
10. 1994 (Rhett/Luke Laird/Barry Dean)
11. Staring At The Sun (Thrasher/Mobley/Tony Martin)
12. Drink One For Me (Thrasher/Mobley/Martin)
13. Black Tears (Canaan Smith/Tyler Hubbard)
14. Walking Away (David Lee Murphy/Rodney Clawson)
15. Water Tower (Jason Sellers/Paul Jenkins/Dulaney)


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Zac Brown Band – Uncaged Album Review

Posted on 06 July 2012 by editor

zac brown band uncagedZac Brown Band steps out and dares to be different in many ways with the new album “Uncaged.”    Everything from the trippy album cover art to the daring song choices screams different.   But these guys have always been a bit differernt. Jumps right in with Jump right in… “Let the music pull you in” with samba and reggae influences it sounds un-country until about halfway thru when a fiddle mixes in.  It’s another brilliant example of the Band expanding the boundaries of what is a modern country sound.

The title track Uncaged breaks through with a blast of energetic southern rock.  Goodbye in her Eyes delivers the softer more mainstream side of Brown with a dependable dose of band harmony.  It’s a vibe that started with previous albums The Foundation and You Get What You Give.

Brown describes The Wind as a barn burner and it’s going to be a fantastic show live with all the intsrumental talents of the band challenged in the speed department.  Don’t miss the hysterical Mike Judge video.  Maybe too bluegrass for mainstream country fans but it’s likely to bend ears to it’s favor.  Island Song does the same for reggae steeped country while delivering the expected ZBB beach flavor.

Sweet Annie feels like a more radio friendly re-visit of Jolene (from the first album).  And Overnight delves into a surprising retro soul vibe that totally works.  Love the horns.

Fans may wonder  who is Lance from Lance’s song? Lance’s song is a somber tribute to Atlanta drummer Lance Tilton.   Tilton was killed in a crar crash in 2010.

  1. Jump Right In
  2. Uncaged
  3. Goodbye In Her Eyes
  4. The Wind
  5. Island Song
  6. Sweet Annie
  7. Natural Disaster
  8. Overnight (featuring Trombone Shorty)
  9. Lance’s Song
  10. Day That I Die (with Amos Lee)
  11. Last But Not Least
Uncaged is another sellar release from The Zac Brown Band with a wide swath of musical choices from every corner of the band’s talent treasure chest.

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Lee Brice Hard to Love – Album Review

Posted on 18 April 2012 by editor

Lee Brice / Curb Records

South Carolina singer songwriter Lee Brice is about to explode.   Brice’s new single, “A Woman Like You,” was just certified Gold and also snagged the number one spot last week on both Billboard Hot Country Songs and Mediabase charts.  It’s also Top 5 on the iTunes Country songs chart online.  Now, with big-time momentum for the first time he’s bursting to release his second Curb Records album called Hard 2 Love, due out April 24.

The album is rich with material including “A Woman Like You,” written by Johnny Bulford, Phil Barton and Jon Stone.   It’s a song with the quality of being hard for anyone NOT to like it.  Brice says, “The girl in the song asks, ‘What would you do if you never met me?’ And the guy goes, ‘You want to know the truth? I’d probably be doing just what I was doing then, looking for you.’ He’s walking a thin line there for a minute, but then he’s able to hook it to say something every woman wants to hear…I think people dig it because the guy is being pretty darn honest.”

Hard 2 Love, will likely be the second single and is also a solid delivery from Brice with his rich way too turn a phrase.   His voice reminds us of the goods he brought with “Love Like Crazy.

Also on the album and already on iTunes is the – just cheesy fun  enough to go number one – party anthem “Parking Lot Party.    A song that could finally show Brice fans the fun side of this good time guy.

The somber “I Drive Your Truck” is sure to be an album favorite and is another heartbreaking stretch for Brice who digs deeper with the track.

Next up Brice is all over the place with a very visible launch week including Fox & Friends, Tonight Show With Jay Leno, the Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson and more.

Brice says, “Everything on the album reflects who I am right now and where I am in my life.”

‘Hard 2 Love’ Track Listing:

1. ‘Hard to Love’
2. ‘A Woman Like You’
3. ‘That’s When You Know It’s Over’
4. ‘Parking Lot Party’
5. ‘Don’t Believe Everything You Think’
6. ‘I Drive Your Truck’
7. ‘See About a Girl’
8. ‘Friends We Won’t Forget’
9. ‘Life Off My Years’
10. ‘Seven Days a Thousand Times’
11. ‘Beer’
12. ‘That Way Again’
13. ‘One More Day’
Hard 2 Love will be in stores on April 24.

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Emotional Traffic from Tim McGraw Review

Posted on 16 January 2012 by editor

Tim McGraw and his longtime record label have been squabbling for quite a while on the release of his final studio album for the label.   McGraw has said in interviews that he handed off the finished product to Curb back in 2010 but had been sitting on it.  In fact Tim conducted his entire Emotional Traffic Tour waiting for the release.  He’s already moved on to a new Tour with Kenny Chesney.

In November 2011 a court lifted an injunction on McGraw freeing him to record elsewhere… prompting Curb to finally release the album “Emotional Traffic” Produced by Byron Gallimore (and McGraw) January 24th 2012.

Interesting to see early copies of the CD stickered with the Tim quote, “My Best Album Ever.”

Is it his best ever? Probably not.  But he once again completed a solid piece of work. Country fans will be happy to finally get their hands on the number one “Felt Good On My Lips” and a new radio single “Better Than I Used to Be.” “Better Than I Used to Be” is probably the strongest real country song in a while from McGraw who has a knack for working in a pop vibe in most of this album.  In fact Ne-Yo makes an appearance on one track.

Still can’t accuse him of trying to cross over.    Similar to earlier McGraw Album “Let It Go” there’s plenty of steel and country perspective in songs like “Die By My Own Hand” and the just silly enough “Touchdown Jesus.”  In fact, after a few listens “Touchdown” is quicly becoming a favorite.

“Right Back Atcha Babe” ventures into a different and jazzy vibe and “One Part Two Part” brings background vocals from Faith for a warm beachy sound.

Tim has a writing credit only on the track “I Will Not Fall Down” along with the Warren Brothers and Martina McBride.   It’s one of the most powerful songs in the collection.

Overall, “Emotional Traffic” will be an album McGraw fans will want to have although it’s not likely to get the kind of new release publicity without Tim playing along.

Grade: B

Download: “Hey Now” another jazzy fun hit with crossover potential

Delete:  “Right Back Atcha Babe”  for a bit too much cheese.

Emotional Traffic Track Lising:

Emotional Traffic

Emotional Traffic - Curb Records

1. “Halo”   4:57
2. “Right Back Atcha Babe”  4:51
3. “One Part Two Part”   3:32
4. “I Will Not Fall Down”  4:35
5. “The One”   3:52
6. “Better Than I Used to Be” 3:22
7. “Touchdown Jesus”  4:04
8. “The One That Got Away” 4:44
9. “Felt Good on My Lips”  4:08
10. “Hey Now”   4:15
11. “Only Human (feat. Ne-Yo)”  3:52
12. “Die By My Own Hand”   5:07

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Four Times The Charm For Miranda

Posted on 06 November 2011 by editor

Lambert Enjoying The Spotlight

Miranda Lambert seems to be the youngest “veteran” in any genre of music.   Lambert cut her teeth with one of the first reality TV talent contests – “Nashville Star.”    She came in third behind a forgettable singer named Buddy Jewell, but there were a lot of fans and others that couldn’t forget Miranda.  That was 2003.  Flash forward to now and in the last year she has become one of the most celebrated women in country music.

Billboard Magazing recently called her “the coolest girl in country music,” and her press is better than ever.

Her new Album “Four The Record” is a blend of mainstram country meets Miranda alt-pop.  In fact a few tunes in the disc could work on pop radio despite her proud twang.  Her record label will have to get things pulled together (she’s bounced from Sony-owned to now defunct Epic and then Columbia Records).  She has just landed on the legendary RCA Nashville.

There’s a lot for country radio and fans to like here too.    Lambert has found her groove and her confidence is heard in songs like the lead single “Baggage Claim.”   (Did you realize those Hammond organ rund are performed by Steve Windwood?!- I didn’t either.)   New sounds for country music – but she pulls it off swiftly.  Er…  maybe Lambert-ly.

Fans who have been following Miranda will get into her new level of sass and some very modern production values.  The ensuing media blitz and round of awards will surely bring in some new followers too.

Despite 2009’s stellar performance of “Revolution” Taylor Swift may have had the most face time of the last few years but there’s a new 20-something blonde that’s ready to take the spotlight among the other hot country acts like Zac Brown and Lady A.  Four The Record is a Hit.

Overall Grade:  A

Don’t miss: The retro-yet-modern “Easy Living” and the edgy “Fine Tune” (time to try a pop crossover?)


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Take A Back Road – Rodney Adkins CD Review

Posted on 19 September 2011 by editor

Rodney Atkins is building a house.  Brick by brick, big hit by by hit he’s becoming a country mainstay.  It’s tricky work in the fickle world of country music where they want something different yet shun anything too different.  Atkins (nod ADkins) has generated a powerful set list.   It started back in 2003 with the top five charting Honesty (write me a list).  A few more years and a few more BIG songs like If You’re Going Through Hell, Watching You, These Are My People, It’s America, Farmer’s Daughter and now a modern sounding feel good title track “Take A Back Road.”

  1. Take a Back Road
  2. He’s Mine
  3. Family
  4. The Corner
  5. She’s a Girl Ain’t She
  6. She’s Rather Fight
  7. Feet
  8. Cabin In The Woods
  9. Just Wanna Rock N’ Roll
  10. Growing Up Like That
  11. Tips
  12. Lifelines
  13. (Bonus) Farmer’s Daughter
Overall this, his fourth album (not counting a Cracker Barrel compilation) really delivers what his fans want.  Atkins pulled in mainly other writers to deliver songs that talk directly to the core country fan’s life.   Fatherly country good guy is his brand and he wears it well.
Overall Grade: B
Don’t Miss: The clever married couple fight song “Feet”

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Lady A – Own The Night Review

Posted on 12 September 2011 by editor

“Tell me have you ever wanted Someone so much it hurts? Your lips keep trying to speak But you just can’t find the words…” – We Owned The Night

So album three begins for Lady Antebellum… the name long since shortened by most to just Lady A… a trio that has accomplished an unusual feat in country music:  they crossed over and have a comfortable foot planted in modern Adult Contemporary music and another foot still proudly planted in the Country arena.  The new album is once again produced by Paul Worley (Dixie Chicks).

Charles Kelly, Dave Haywood (both from Augusta, GA) and Hillary Scott (daughter or country queen Linda Davis a Nashville native) have come up with a solid third offering that will please fans of the incomparable “Need You Now.”

The group – in one combination or another – had a hand in writing every song except two on “Own The Night”… including the sounds like a beer commercial tagline title track.

The first single, “Just A Kiss,” has already popped to number one on Country Radio and is getting solid AC radio play too.

The big question for the trio is can this album come close to satisfying a world of show business that always wants bigger hits and more sales.    The last album was a phenominon – primarily thanks to the mega hit title track  Need You Now.

That album went on to debut with first week sales of over 480,000.   Something only matched by Taylor Swift these days.

Although we wish there was a few more fun tempo tracks there is plenty for NYN fans to enjoy on Own the Night. The Charles and Hillary harmonies soar as usual and the jangly intrumentation is still distinctly country enough to remain the pride of Nashville.  Although the trio dips into some very modern sounds – like on the rich “Somewhere Love Remains” – they still sound mainstream country.  They are one of the few contemporary country acts that could sell in a Starbucks.

Own The Night / Lady Antebellum

Own The Night Track Listing:

1. ‘We Owned the Night
2. ‘Just a Kiss’
3. ‘Dancin’ Away With My Heart’
4. ‘Friday Night’
5. ‘When You Were Mine’
6. ‘Cold As Stone’
7. ‘Singing Me Home’
8. ‘Wanted You More’
9. ‘As You Turn Away’
10. ‘Love I’ve Found in You’
11. ‘Somewhere Love Remains’
12. ‘Heart of the World’


Don’t Miss: Somewhere Love Remains


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Jake Owen – Barefoot Blue Jean Night Review

Posted on 07 September 2011 by editor

Jake Owen Photo:Wikipedia

Jake Owen is out really working hard to promote his new country songs.    We just spotted him branding himself nicely on Good Morning America wearing Bluejeans… in bare feet.    His new single -Barefoot Blue Jean Night –  is the title track from Jake Owen’s third full album with legendary RCA Records.

Things seem to be going in the right direction.  Owen pulled in a new producer the follow up to 2009’s “Easy Does It” and there is a fresh breeze of new sounds to go along with Owen’s rich voice.
The first track, Anywhere With You, starts country cliche (double wides!) but rolls into a fun romp.
The song “Keepin it Country” is a bit vanilla and again a bit cliche but the rest of the tracks really begin to get a great vibe.

Barefoot Blue Jean Night jumps out of the speakers at the very first listen.
Apple Pie Moon Shine is a dead on fun medium tempo singalong.  If released as a single it could be Owen’s “Big Green Tractor” (multi-week number one for Jason Aldean).  Perfect for radio.
Journey of Your Life is due to end up as someone’s favorite just for the somber sentimentality and deliberate solid songwriting.Jake Owen
Setting the World on Fire has a nice Bob Seger vibe… and another party starter is sure to be Nobody Feelin’ No Pain as Jake relays a hotel romp that many fans can relate to.

In all, Barefoot Blue Jean Night is a sturdy representation of the new sounds in country music.    Steeped with a bit of Jake’s twangy baritone it FEELS country and the production values on the mix is really fresh sounding.

Oveall Grade:  B+   Core fans will have plenty to sing – and party – along with.

Download: The singalong title track plus Apple Pie Moonshine

Delete: Referencing country double wides in the opening track Anywhere with You.


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