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CD Review: Zac Brown Band – The Foundation

Posted on 17 February 2009 by Bill West

Apple iTunes

There’s been a lot of talk about change lately. There’s a big change going on in the White House. The economy is changing by the second… and Zac Brown is on a path to change country radio… and that’s a good thing.

The Zac Brown Band’s CD “The Foundation” is out this week and it’s a refreshing, modern, and very upbeat take on country music. In fact, many will consider Brown more of a rock act because of his stage persona, his attire, and past venues at which he’s played. One listen to this brilliantly crafted cd will remove all doubt that he is indeed country.
Brown was recently signed to the much ballyhooed – now defunct – Live Nation record label. Live Nation made a splash by signing artist to far reaching “360 Deals” that encompass profits from touring as well as merchandise and recording. The label blew up just as “Chicken Fried” was beating all odds on the radio charts with the smash hit “Chicken Fried.” Now Brown stands to profit greatly by hanging out his own shingle.
The Foundation is a joy to listen to. It’s not mainstream… but it combines the best flavors of James Taylor, Jimmy Buffett, Jack Johnson, and rootsy jam band country to create a Zac Brown sound.
The album opens with fan favorite “Toes” the first glimpse of a tropical vacation flavor that would make Kenny Chesney jealous. Next is a song that forced me to drag out the the track listing to figure out. The title is difficult to decipher… The phrase is “she’s got Whatever It Is.” However once you figure it out you can’t get it out of your head.
Brown displays that same unique turn of phrase throughout “The Foundation.” It’s just one of the attributes that makes the cd so special. It’s like nothing else out there… yet it can fit nicely between Alan Jackson and Taylor Swift songs on the radio.
There are several songs that could work as radio songs here and a few that should remain happily as album tracks that define the bands roots.
“Where the Boat Leaves From”, “Free”, and “Different Kind of Fine” are all songs that leave you wanting more.
The big question is will the independent nature of his record label tie him down and make him a one hit wonder or will the Zac Brown Band be able to parlay the success of “Chicken Fried” into getting a few more of these incredible songs heard?
OVERALL GRADE: A+
DON’T MISS: The incredibly real and honest feeling “Highway 20 Ride” and although I can’t really relate to living in a van… the building repetitive building and climax at the end of “Free” is worth the price of the entire album.
SKIP: Maybe “Jolene” for drug references.

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CD Review: Dierks Feels The Fire

Posted on 08 February 2009 by Bill West

Dierks Bentley broke out of the chute fast a few years back when he released his debut song “What Was I Thinkin’” and it shot to number one. Bentley’s back with his latest release Feel That Fire
and he’s still working hard to make his mark.

Bentley finds his sound on a few songs here.. but overall he misses on many of the tracks. Most of them seem sonically flat despite his unique, gritty vocals and honest attempt to twang. This is his 6th CD (including a live and a greatest hits) and the material seems unexcitingly familiar.
As much reverence as Bentley carries for country music there is still something that makes a few of the tunes here more pop garage band appeal than country appeal. From the chorus of “Sideways” to the forced fun “Little Heartwrecker” (new term even spell check couldn’t find) there’s just something that strays from the county core. Big picture it’s not all about the honky tonk and tank tops for a lot of country fans.
That said, there are enough gems to keep him on the forefront of country music for a while. The lead single “Feel That Fire” continues to develop fans and the previously mentioned “Sideways” is fun and could have radio potential.
The cowboy-tex-mex “I Can’t Forget Her” strikes a new vibe for Dierks that really sounds fantastic. My hope is that he can steer more towards Strait and away from a Rascal Flatts feel. “Beautiful World” is also a fine showcase of his special vocal styling. The simplicity of the lyrics (and a cameo fom Patty Griffin) makes this a great choice for radio.Gold star to Bentley for co writing on all except two tunes on the disk but it would be nice to get a bit more outside influence.
Overall Grade: C+
Don’t Miss: “Beautiful World” (perfect fit for his voice and these times)
Hit Next: “Little Heartwrecker” is a bit forced.

Find it on – Dierks Bentley - Feel That Fire

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CD Preview: Lucky Old Sun – Kenny Chesney

Posted on 13 October 2008 by Bill West

Nashville should be excited this week. Kenny Chesney releases his new CD Lucky Old Sun and the slumping industry needs a good story somewhere. Kenny is one of the few sure bets to ring registers ad make on-line sales to the tune of some two hundred thousand copies in the first week. Those numbers are getting harder and harder to hit as record stores disappear and the whole world goes digital.

Lucky Old Sun plays like a sequel to Kenny’s previous specialty project “Be As You Are” that featured all island vibe music. That was a CD that was primarily written by Chesney but was not targeted to radio… in fact there was never a single released. Lucky Old Sun is Different in that regard; there’s another smash single “Everybody Want’s To GoTo Heaven” leading the grand processional to album release and it should be another multiple week number one.

Be As You Are was considered sort of an experiment and released as such (but had mainstream sales success). Sun is far from a mainstream or traditional sounding country record even by Chesney’s standards. Tropical country is what he does. The only fear may be that radio willroll thier eyes at another country song with more steel drums than steel guitar.

Still, “Everybody Wants To Go To Heaven” has such a Caribbean sound that many are surprised it was ever a radio single let alone the lead single. Turns out to be a perfect song for Chesney hitting his island theme in a different very mainstream country sing along kinda way. The Wailers make an appearance on the album track.

This album also features three notable guest appearances. Dave Matthews on the very mainstream radio / pop sounding “I’m Alive.” Mac McAnally (fans know him for penning concert favorite “Back Where I Come From”) joins in on his “Down The Road.” And Willie Nelson shows up for the title track.

The liner notes are a good set up for songs like “Way Down Here” where he writes, “Knoxville for Christmas Eve with my family was nice but I was just mentally miserable from the year I had, personally and emotionally.”

Try to pick up the Lucky Old Sun “Deluxe Fan Pack” version of the CD before it sells out. Fans can get it cheaper than the standard version that will be released a week later. Fan pack includes a special contest, exclusive videos and the extras:

AUDIO TRACKS:
1. Boston (Live)
2. Got A Little Crazy (Live)
3. Soul Of A Sailor (Live)
4. Guitars And Tiki Bars (Live)

VIDEO:
• The signature Pirate Opening from Kenny’s 2008 Poets & Pirates Tour
• The “Everybody Wants To Go To Heaven” full length video

Apple iTunes

If you liked “Be As You Are; Songs From an Old Blue Chair” (the chair makes an appearance on the back cover) you’ll like Lucky Old Sun too.

OVERALL GRADE: A
DONT MISS:
“Ten With A Two” – This could be a radio hit with a laugh out loud punchline. Surprisng no one came up with this song before.

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CD Preview: Kellie Pickler

Posted on 29 September 2008 by Bill West

You can’t tell a book by it’s cover but you CAN usually tell the target audience of a cd by it’s packaging. That’s the case with Kellie Pickler’s self-titled cd out this week.  Hot pink with stars.  Yes… that reflects the music on this project.  Cute fun for young girls but Guy’s won’t find much here other than her great lookin’ photos…

Everything on the cd seems targeted to the 18-24 year old woman. From the catchy lead single that’s on the radio now “Don’t You Know You’re Beautiful” to the somber “Somebody to Love Me.”   There’s a lot of syrup here for such a cute, young, funny, girl.


Pickler is very funny on TV and somehow it’s hard to translate that talent to song.  She takes a stab with the wedding crasher tune “Rocks Instead of Rice.”  (Think LeeAnn Womack’s I’ll Think Of A Reason Later part 2).  I for one would like to see that long rumored sitcom she was offered back after American Idol come to life.   She is great on TV (especially her Leno bits) and that could only help her stature in music.  So far this is an opportunity missed. 

 
One track that works is the bouncy final track called Going Out In-Style where Kellie describes how she wants to spend eternity…. ashes spead in the shoe department at Sacks Fifth Avenue. Again not much for a guy… This Ones for the girls.

OVERALL GRADE: C+

DON’T MISS:  The Track “Best Days Of Your Life” (co-written and also featuring Taylor Swift.)

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Montgomery Gentry CD Review: Back When I Knew It All

Posted on 09 June 2008 by Bill West

With "Back When I Knew It All" climbing the radio charts it’s clear to me Eddie Montgomery and Troy Gentry are really a few thing about what their fans want. 

It’s easy to lose track of guys like Montgomery Gentry.   They’re kind of in the shadows of the noisy headliners keeping to themselves… until suddenly you realize… whoa… they’ve go about twenty songs you can sing along with and have sold a ton of CDs.   With their new project "Back When I Knew It All" hitting stores this week they get a bit noisier while taking the next step to A list.

From my calculations this will be Montgomery Gentry’s 7th cd since 1999′s debut Tattoos and Scars.  Eighth if you count a "Super Hits" compilation.  They’re doing great but still not household names.  However it looks like longevity will be Eddie and Troys friend with a solid new batch of songs and a smart concert booking and party partnership with Toby Keith’s summer tour. (In Charleston 6/29.)

In fact, Toby has a rockin’ duet (or is that now a trio) with MG on the record that’s sure to please the roughneck crowd.  "I Pick My Parties" has some radio potential although I’d REALY like to hear a recorded live version.

"We’ve always been consistent about choosing songs that deal with the working class, songs people can identify with," says Troy Gentry and you have to agree when you hear the new material.   There’s a lot of southern rock and a lot of soulful soul searching.  More heart than is expected from two Kentucky tough guys.

The old fire and brimstone preacher cranks up to the first track then it’s immediately to The Big Revival and setting the table with a full glass f moonshine.   Next… "Long Line Of Losers" one of many that opens with a classic southern rock slide guitar and cranks up from there.  There’s plenty of tempo to please the party crowd.  In fact "One In Every Crowd" (co written by Eddie) is perfect writing for the duo and is worth a good laugh.

The song choices are right on for their fan base.  The ballads sound so good I’d like t hear a few more.  "You Only Get One Trip" has a classic feel (great line: "order up the good wine… soak up the sunshine."

More than anything else the CD shows off the duo’s heart in their signature hillbilly way.   Who else is making hard work look cool these days.  Check out "It Ain’t About Easy" and you’ll be ready to plow the field.

Expect to hear three or four on country radio over the next year… I’d expect "One In Every Crowd" and the Toby duet (If they have singles rights).  No doubt Eddie and -
TRoy are still in the radio game for two more years with this collection of smart song choices and with the summer tour they’ll have a big stage to show off some new Montgomery Gentry stuff. 

Hear "Back When I Knew It All"  HERE for Free.

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CD Review: George Strait Troubadour

Posted on 31 March 2008 by Bill West

Troubadour is the new George Strait CD (out Tuesday 4/1).  It’s also the name of one of my new favorite songs.  

"Troubadour…travelling ballad singer from the Provence region…Composers of epic poems, such as the Chansons de Geste, and love songs, often sung by wandering minstrels…Or: Troubadour is the fourth album by J.J. Cale. It was first released in 1976…"

Troubadour – the CD and the song – both live up to most all the heritage that those definitions convey.  There’s a real timeless, almost old fashioned, feel to most of the songs. I’ve never been a typical Strait fan.  I liked individual songs.   After tracking through what will become his 38th album
I’m hooked.  Come to think of it – I doubt Strait ever really loses a fan… just keeps gaining them.   Just as he keeps gaining accolades and awards too; the album’s stellar first single, “I Saw God Today,” already set a personal mark when it debuted at No. 19 on the country radio charts—higher than any other song he’s released in his career.
Strait returned to Jimmy Buffet’s Florida Key’s recording studio after recording the last CD (and it won Album of The Year).  You can hear a bit of the island vibe on one track "River of Dreams." Otherwise the tracks have an old fashioned kinda feeling (in a very good way).  There’s a Texas swing reminiscent of Haggard’s "Great Afternoon" plus plenty of classic steel on the waltz "It Was Me." "Make Her Fall in Love with Me" is a honky tonker best described as "The Big One" part two.

Many will really love the expected cowboy songs here.  Others, like me,  will appreciate  the writing on songs like "House with No Doors" (George didn’t write any… give thanks in part to "Give It Away co writer Jamey Johnson and other word smiths).

Strait still owns the all-time record for the most No. 1 singles in any genre. He has more career nominations than any other artist in both the Nashville-based Country Music Association awards and Academy of Country Music honors. He has more gold and platinum albums than any other country artist.

Look for "I Saw God Today" to be another #1… there will be more here too… and I can only hope the title track will be sanctioned for radio play.

The “King of Country Music” joined the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2006, making him the only performer who’s earned a plaque in the hallowed halls while still consistently racking up hits.  This CD will guarantee a few more.
Overall Grade: B+

Don’t Miss: The tile track may become a signature song.“Troubadour…you know it does tell a pretty good story that fits my whole career from start to finish.” He says on his website “cause that’s really what I’ll be when I grow to an age I can’t do this anymore. I’ve always wanted to be around as long as I could for sure. I’m still after longevity."

Fast Forward: "House Of Cash" a well deserved tribute to the man in black with help from Patty Loveless wasn’t as strong as it was potentially set up to be.

>>More George Strait<<

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CD Review: Full Nelson

Posted on 06 March 2008 by Bill West

Willie Nelson has been so prolific over the last few decades it’s easy to forget that he’s one of modern American masters of music.  Now at the age of 74, wit over 100 albums under his belt, you have to wonder how much longer Willie can keep up his touring and recording pace.

Now, at a time when he could be slowing down, he has released one of his best albums to date;  an album produced by country superstar Kenny Chesney (and longtime Chesney Producer BuddyCannon). The CD "Moment of Forever" is in stores now and is a solid  offering.

Nelson fans will love the fact that, no matter how influential the producer, if you have Willie singing it will always sound like a good old Willie Nelson CD.  Chesney and Cannon do nothing to tarnish Willie’s catalog.  In fact they add some really special tracks to the library.  

When gaging Chesney’s contribution it’s obvious to first look at his duet with Willie "Worry Be Gone."     With Kenny’s latest single (another duet with another legend George Strait) skyrocketing up the charts it’s unlikely "Worry" will be a radio single but I think it couold’ve worked. 

The reality is mainstream radio has always been fickle with Willie.   The airplay love affair ended about 1989 after 21 or so number one country hits.   Nown it looks like he has to packaged in a duet to get airplay (like Mendocino Country line and Beer For My Horses).  Plus I’m not sure the label machine ever gets it quite right with him.

Nelson – the songwriter – contributed three songs: "Over You Again," which he wrote with sons Micah and Lukas, and two that he wrote solo, including the hilarious "You Don’t Think I’m Funny Anymore" ("Did you hear the one about the dirty &%$!/Oh, I forgot . . . you don’t think I’m funny anymore"). Chesney and Cannon also delivered songs for the project.

Willie’s Grave Digger Video
Jessica Simpson in Willie’s "You Don’t Think I’m Funny Anymore Video

My Grade: B+
Don’t Miss: "The Bob Song" (A pirate treasure. Yes that’s Big Kenny who wrote the cut).
Fast Forward: "Louisiana" (written by Randy Newman is about 2 years late and misses the mark unless you’re from the state.)

Track List:
1. Over You Again
2. Moment of Forever
3. The Bob Song
4. Louisiana
5. Gravedigger
6. Keep Me From Blowing Away
7. Takin’ On Water
8. Always Now
9. I’m Alive
10. When I Was Young and Grandma Wasn’t Old
11. Worry B Gone (duet with Kenny Chesney)
12. You Don’t Think I’m Funny Anymore
13. Gotta Serve Somebody

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CD Rreview: Good Time

Posted on 29 February 2008 by Bill West

Alan Jackson really pegged the name of his new cd. It’s called Good Time and it just could be Alan Jackson’s defining work which is a bold statement considering Jacksons career spans decades over years.

After a few forays straying from tradional country (the bluesy Alison Krause “Red On a Rose” and the sucessful “Precisous Memories” collection of Hymmns) The new CD hits stores Tuesday and is produced by longtime collaborator Keith Stegal and is pure Alan.

So what’s unique about this album. First off, it’s the first entire CD on which Alan has written every word. There are seventeen tracks. Pretty impressive.
Secondly, all the songs are new, unique, and sound like big Alan Jackson hit songs. It’s real deal country music.

I’ve never been a core Jackson fan. I’ve always simply just liked his ditties like “Little Bitty” and even duds like the more recent “Talking’ Repair Song Blues.”
But tracking through “Good Time” on a long drive yesterday I found myself singing along to almost every single song on the disk. These are songs I’ve never heard before. Alan’s writing some powerful hooks.

The vocoder craze continues in the lead track with the sing along “G with an O an O with a D a T with an I an M with an E that spells good time.” It’s a fin way to start and a likely radio hit if released.

Alan blazes through “Small Town Southern Man” – already a big hit on radio. Slows it down for the clever and well written “I Wish I Could Back Up.”

After that expect solid drinkin’ songs (“If You Want To Make Me Happy”); island songs (the solid “Laid Back in Low Key – Cay); and even his true country version of Nineteen Something (“1976″).

Another highlight is the somber “You’ve Got Me Right Where I Want You” I can’t believe that lyric has not been written before.

This is a great way to fight single song downloads. Just make every track on the CD a keeper. No filler here just pure country that guarantees Jackson’s prominence on country radio for another two years. Listening beginning to end lives up to the album’s name.

Alan Jackson has sold more than 49 million albums, has penned 21 of his 31 #1 records, and is the most nominated artist in CMA history. The three-time CMA Entertainer of the Year topped the album charts not once, but twice, in 2006, with the success of Precious Memories and Like Red on a Rose. GOOD TIME is his first album of all country material since 2004’s WHAT I DO.

My Grade: Solid A
Don’t Skip: “I Still Like Bologna” – Better than a cliché “WWW Dot Memory” the song takes a real country look at tech and appreciation for life’s simpler pleasures.
Fast Forward: Past “Country Boy” – a slightly forced and cartoonish Jackson song.

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CD Review: The Johnny Cash Show

Posted on 10 January 2008 by Bill West

I was too young to remember the Johnny Cash TV show.  But I can’t help but feel a bit nostalgic tracking through a new CD released this week called "The Best Of The Johnny Cash TV Show."

This new disk features 16 rare, live performances from Cash’s TV variety show that aired between 1969-1971, including 6 exclusive tracks not also included on the 2-DVD set that came out last fall.  The full CD track list is below, with an impressive cross-section of artists from many genres that Johnny handpicked for his show.

Listening to tracks like Tammy Wynette’s "Stand By Your Man" takes you back to the early days of ’70s television even if you’re too young to REALLY remember it. 


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At fist glance you’d expect the collection to be ALL Cash songs from his TV show but thankfully that’s not the case.   There are already plenty of Cash compilations floating in the marketplace.  Instead the VARIETY and quality in the 16 tracks is what makes this disk worth the Cash.

It’s cool to hear Derek and The Domino’s back to back with Kris Krisofferson and Roy Orbison.   I forgot how much I liked Orbison and  his medley is one of my favorites on the project. 

The other surprise is the QUALITY of the recordings.  In this HD world the sound of these live recordings is exceptional.  The producers of the TV show really had it going’ on.  James Taylor’s "Fire and Rain" stands up to the studio recording but has enough difference to make it really get your attention.

Finally, track the final cut to the end.  I enjoyed hearing the closing monologue over the once jazzy now considered "campy" credit music version of "Walk The Line."  It took me back to 1970.  Even if I wasn’t really a part of it all.

My Grade: A+
Don’t Miss:
A Soulful Ray Charles Performance of "Walk The Line"
Miss:  The Joni Mitchell cut. It’s all good but I was never big on her.

BEST OF THE JOHNNY CASH TV SHOW

CD Track List (** = CD exclusive tracks)
1. The Johnny Cash Show – open/Johnny Cash – I Walk The Line (2:55)
2. Johnny Cash – Flesh And Blood (3:02) **
3. Tammy Wynette – Stand By Your Man (2:48)
4. George Jones – medley: She Thinks I Still Care, Love Bug, The Race Is On (3:48)
5. Johnny Cash and Lynn Anderson – I’ve Been Everywhere (2:16)  **
6. Bobby Bare – Detroit City (3:24)
7. Ray Charles – Ring Of Fire (3:52)
8. Derek & The Dominos – It’s Too Late (4:14)
9. Kris Kristofferson – Loving Her Was Easier (Than Anything I’ll Ever Do Again) 
10. Roy Orbison – medley: Only The Lonely, Oh, Pretty Woman (4:00) **
11. Johnny Cash with The Carter Family and The Statler Brothers – Belshazzar 
12. Waylon Jennings – Brown Eyed Handsome Man (2:47)
13. Joni Mitchell and Johnny Cash – Girl From The North Country (3:45)  **
14. James Taylor – Fire And Rain (3:48) **
15. Johnny Cash, The Carter Family, The Statler Brothers, Carl Perkins and The Tennessee Three – Daddy Sang Bass (2:24)
16. Johnny Cash – closing monologue/I Walk The Line (reprise) (2:13)

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CD Review: Charlie Daniels – Dueces

Posted on 07 November 2007 by Bill West

>Daniels, who just turned a hearty 71 years young last week, says he’s always proud to perform for the vets and our troops. “They’re the best we’ve got.” He Says, “There are no finer Americans than the ones wearing that uniform they’re just the best.”

Daniel’s has been busy these days as he promotes his newest release called “Deuces” on his very own Blue Hat Records.
“Deuces” (as in duets) pairs the unmistakeable voice of the CDB with some usual suspects (Gretchen Wilson on “Jackson” and Montgomery Gentry with “Drinkin’ My Baby Goodbye”) some surprising choices (Darius Rucker and an acoustic Brad Paisley).

Charleston’s very own Rucker has one of the more surprising duets with a Dylan tune. “I knew Darius had to be a Bob Dylan fan… so I said how ’bout doin’ “Like a Rollin’ Stone” and it was compatible with him so I cut the track and we just went in and did it. It was that simple.”

Brad Paisley wraps up the CD with a special intrumental track (it’s rumored Paisley has an upcoming instrumental album of his own in the works).

“Jammin’ For Stevie,” the Paisley track, came together as a jam session says Charlie, “We had Stevie Ray’s old Band Double Trouble in town for another project and they were in the studio and we had Brad come out and bring his guitar and them and myself and one of my guitar players stood in the studio and wrote this one. It’s just a jammin’ thing.”

My Grade: B-
Don’t Miss: Jammin’ For Stevie w/ Brad Paisley
Skip: Brooks and Dunn on Long Haired CB

Deuces Tracks include:

The Del McCoury Band (Evangeline) Gretchen Wilson (Jackson)
Earl, Gary and Randy Scruggs (Maggie’s Farm)
Bonnie Bramlett (Signed, Sealed, Delivered)
Travis Tritt (What’d I Say)
Dolly Parton (Daddy’s Old Fiddle)
Brooks & Dunn (Long Haired Country Boy)
Marty Stuart (God Save Us All From Religion)
Darius Rucker (Like A Rolling Stone)
Brenda Lee (Let It Be Me)
Vince Gill (The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down)
Montgomery Gentry (Drinkin’ My Baby Goodbye)

Brad Paisley (Jammin’ For Stevie)

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