Monday, November 28, 2011

Thoughts on the Top 30 songs on the Billboard Country Radio Charts - Numbers 30-21

30. "Didn't I" - James Wesley - This is the typical song country radio programmers seem to love in these modern times. Overblown production, a fairly generic melody, standard electric guitar solo at the end, trite lyrics ("Didn't I give you everything you ever wanted, love you like crazy, let's be honest"). Wesley has got a decent voice (think Josh Turner but not as deep), but he needs better material to do it justice. I don't necessarily hate the song, there just isn't one thing special or unique about it. Country radio will be none the better if this keeps climbing the charts.

29. "My Heart Can't Tell You No" - Sara Evans - "Stronger" was one of the most overplayed songs at country radio in recent memory. I went from hating it, to thinking it was okay, to hating it again. All the way around, this seems to me a better song and better single. And I actually just discovered that it is a song that Rod Stewart did in the 80s. I'm not even going to bother to listen to it because I will probably hate it, but Evans really owns her version. The best part is the steel guitar ride that comes in on the chorus. That damn instrument just sounds good on any song -- it's so emotive, and thusly, adds some emotional depth to the song here. There are, however, some pretty needless and pointless background vocals at the end of it. I'm not sure what they were going for with them, and they just end up sounding cheesy.

28. "Red Solo Cup" - Toby Keith - The video for this song became an instant viral sensation. I really didn't expect radio to pick it up because it is so blatantly about getting wasted simply for the fun debauchery of it. Plus, it says the word "testicles," not to mention the production is sparse and not overblown pizazz. Keith himself admitted it's the dumbest song he's ever heard, but since when did that make a song bad? It's an absolutely perfect and fun-as-hell drinking song that is impossible not to sing along with after you hear it even just one time. The lyrics are pretty funny and clever, and the video is a must see. I'm sure this will be played loud at some ugly sweater parties this Christmas when things get a little out of control, as they tend to do.

27. "Where I Come From" - Montgomery Gentry - I will admit to being a little biased toward these guys as they hail from my home state of Kentucky. I think they've released a majority of good singles since the beginning of their career, "Roll With Me" being one of my recent favorites. Though they don't write much of their own music, the duo has a knack for choosing songs that make you proud to be who you are and where you're from, especially if you're from a small town. Sample lyric: "See that door right there, man I swear that it ain't never been locked, and I guarantee it never will"; I can't tell you how many times I've heard my parents and their siblings say things like this when they talk about growing up in Eastern Kentucky, back when "things was different." Unfortunately, this song may succeed more on it's heavy dose of nostalgia than a summation of how of life really is today in small-town America, or at least in small-town Appalachia, where drugs, poverty, and corporate exploitation are rampant. Still, it's a meaningful song. The music video depicts a military battle, and in so doing brings attention to the fact that much (and maybe most) of those making sacrifices for our country come from and have roots in these small towns. It is a fitting tribute. It seems to have a taken this one a while to crack the top 30 but I'm glad it did, and maybe it can put a little spark back into these Kentucky boys' careers.

26. "Bait A Hook" - Justin Moore - I didn't like "Small Town U.S.A" at first but it grew on me, "Backwoods" I hated, and "If Heaven Wasn't So Far Away" was good but overplayed. In general, I'm not a huge fan of Moore's, but that may be because he has proclaimed himself one of the few outlaws in country music today, his latest album release even being titled the oh-so-unsubtle "Outlaws Like Me." He's had some good singles, but by an "outlaw's" standards -- hell, by country radio standards -- they have been nothing out of the ordinary: by the book ballads and a Jason Aldean rip-off. "Bait A Hook," however, is my favorite single Moore has released, and one of my favorite singles currently on the airwaves. Sure, he's making fun of a guy who can't even do the basics of fishing (perhaps that guy should be made fun of; also, a guy who drinks "umbrella drinks"), but I also take it as being a little tongue-in-cheek. For example, I care about environmental issues (which, if you consider yourself a "country" person, shouldn't that be a given? Alas, that is for another post), but I found the line about the Prius amusing: "I heard he drives a Prius 'cause he's into being green". The best part of the song is the production, the beat chugging alongside a wonderful steel guitar riff throughout the whole song. The worst part is the unfortunate line, "Sounds like it sucks," but that is something I can overlook since I enjoy the rest of the song so much.

25. "Amen" - Eden's Edge - I've heard and read very little about this group, so I'll have no preconceived notions listening to this. Judging by their promo pictures, is this the new Band Perry, only with two gals instead of two dudes with bad haircuts? Upon hearing the first notes of the song, my question doesn't quite seem that unfair and off-base: there's some bluegrass instrumentation (dobro) and clever lyrics ("I heard from a friend of a friend of a friend that you finally got rid of that girlfriend"). I suppose the song is pleasant enough, and the lead singer has a really great voice (vaguely reminiscent of Dolly Parton). It seems the only glaring difference between them and The Band Perry is that Eden's Edge has two members that are easy on the eyes rather than just one. Country radio has done much, much worse. I'll be watching for what this group releases next.

24. "Long Way To Go" - Alan Jackson - I thought his last two singles, "It's Just That Way" (bad) and "Hard Hat And A Hammer" (a little better), were not the greatest choices to release from his Freight Train album (it is a crime that "Taillights Blue" was not released as a single off of it). "Long Way To Go" is a stellar choice, but I have no idea why it was not released at the end of Spring/beginning of summer instead of the end of June (I guess technically, the release date wasn't too bad, it just didn't climb the charts fast enough). It has an obvious fun-loving summer vibe that can (I guess) provide some escape during the colder weather or just make you mad that it's cold and you're not at the beach. Regardless, maybe it will work as an escape from what has now become winter, and I hope it makes it to the top ten as neither one of the last two singles even cracked the top 15. George Strait and Alan Jackson are the two elder statesmen of country music, and if radio stops playing their songs to make room for a 35 years old or less generation to take over, only bad things can come of it. I believer Jackson is in more danger of falling off than Strait, but both their presences are necessary at country radio.

23. "You Gonna Fly" - Keith Urban - Is there a mainstream country star who loves to stick a banjo line into pretty much every standard pop/rock tune he releases more than Keith Urban? The banjo being my favorite instrument, I actually kind of dig it, but it makes this song no more country than his last song. As has been covered extensively, Urban is a virtuoso guitar player and has a gift for a catchy melody, which "You Gonna Fly" definitely has. And there's nothing better than a stone cold down on your luck country song, but I appreciate the positivity Urban seems to be striving for with his recent singles. He may be the ringleader of the pop/rock/country crossover movement, but there aren't many, if any, who do it better, and he's earned his spot at country radio as all of his songs seem to chart well. Plus, he's a fan of Radney Foster.

22. "Camouflage" - Brad Paisley - I would love to have seen "A Man Don't Have To Die" released as a single, but "Camouflage," though obviously completely different, is a decent choice. It's a fun and fast-paced song with plenty of steel guitar and fiddle to whip your ass into a frenzy. I know some people think Brad Paisley's "non-serious" songs are stupid, but I've always thought the majority of them contained some pretty clever wordplay (see: "Ticks", "Alcohol", "Mud On The Tires", and of course "I'm Gonna Miss Her"). I can easily see "Camouflage" fitting in nicely with these songs and becoming a country/redneck anthem of sorts. You've got a guy who paints his car camouflage and it disappears when he pulls it out of his garage (pretty funny), and you've got a couple who go to prom dressed in the familiar duds and you can only see their faces and their hands, and "you should have seen the way it popped with her corsage." There is also an interesting line about the rebel flag offending some people (and Paisley is empathetic as far as that goes), but camo can be used as a great substitute to still show your southern pride. It's a nice sentiment that's not shoved down your throat. The song is harmless fun and will probably be another hit for the guitar-shredding songwriter.

21. "Home" - Dierks Bentley - It doesn't seem right; a patriotic song on country radio that is not afraid to come right out with the fact that America is far from perfect: "We got a ways to go, but this is still the place that we all call home." But if you ask me, a song like this makes me feel even prouder to be an American. We have the freedom to disagree vehemently with one another on keys issues, yet that freedom is the thing we all have in common, that binds us all together. When our disagreements turn to hatred for one another, which, at least if you ask the media, they too often do, then there's a problem. A nice melody and jangly guitars compliment the lyrics well, and Bentley's voice as always is a force to be reckoned with. There is a haunting verse at the end of the song that captures superbly what it means to be not only a free American but a free human being: "Red, how the blood ran red, and we laid our dead in sacred ground. Just think, wonder what they'd think if they could see us now." Sacrifices have been made, militarily and otherwise, by those we have been close to and those who were strangers to us; regardless, we must continually ask ourselves if we are living up to the sacrifice of those who have gone on, as individuals, families, and collectively as a nation. If this is Bentley's indictment of the extreme polarization our country has grown accustomed to, then I think it's a timely message, and one that the often way-far-right rhetoric of country radio would do well to open it's mind to. Based on it's chart position the past few weeks, it seems radio is giving "Home" that chance. It's a worthy follow-up to the why-won't-anybody-drink-with-me fun of "Am I The Only One?" (An aside: normally I HATE politics with my music, but when the message is subtle and doesn't have to beat you over the head and comes down, ultimately, on the side of getting along with one another and being grateful for the freedoms we all have in common, I become an appreciative fan. There's nothing more American than that.)

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