Saturday, April 27, 2013

Unreal Stories: After His Death, Today's Country Superstars Speak About George Jones' Influence, Vow to Continue Making Country Music That Sounds Nothing Like George Jones or Country Music

*This story is completely false. Made up. Not real. In other words, unreal. The quotes are fake. The vernacular is fake. The descriptions are fake. If you needed this disclaimer to figure this out, there is not much I can do for you. Even so, this has been a disclaimer.

Several of today's country music superstars released statements on the legacy and profound five-decades long influence of George Jones on the world of country music, following "The Possum's" death on the morning of April 26th, 2013. They made known the impact Jones had on their own lives and music careers, and the impact his death would have on their music going forward.

"I wouldn't be where I am today without George Jones," said Blake Shelton. "Typically in my songs my go-to references are Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn, but that don't mean I didn't like George. I'm sure a good song will come along soon and I can namedrop the ol' Possum in there." When asked if he would have turned his chair around if Jones had ever performed on his hit show The Voice, Shelton responded, "Well, you know, that's a difficult question to answer. Country music ain't what it once was. It is constantly evolving because it has to be, or the young folks won't listen. I don't think he'd be very successful in today's country music environment, and that show is all about choosing people who fit today's mold. He'd probably come out there with a steel guitar and fiddle, and hell, he might even TALK some of the lyrics. So, you know, I don't know, probably not. Still love ya, George."

When asked what kind of influence Jones had on his music, Luke Bryan became reflective, almost teary-eyed. "Oh man, huge. Just huge. What a life. I learned from him how big an impact alcohol has had on country music throughout the years. I was so shit-faced when I chose to record 'Country Girl (Shake It For Me).' I mean, just filthy shit-my-pants-in-hundred-dollar-bills drunk. I think George would have been proud if he knew that story. Really what it's all about for me is keeping his legacy alive, bringing good ol' fun-timing country music to a younger generation. Shake ya moneymaker loud and proud up in the Big House in the sky, George. As they say, the wheel in the sky keeps on turning. That's Journey. My favorite band. Also a big influence." Wiping away tears from his eyes, and supposedly off the record, Bryan then proceeded to ask, "I wonder how he got Tammy Wynette and so many other pretty women to fall in love with him? You know how many meals I miss and tanning appointments I have to make to keep this party train chugging along? I bet if George used facial moisturizer even three times a week and stayed in good enough shape to wear nut-hugging jeans, he could have added a hell of a lot more notches to his belt. Oh, and teeth bleacher too. Yea, his was not a mouth I'd have wanted to kiss."

Taylor Swift was succinct in her recollection of Jones' influence. "Like oh my god death is so sad but who is that?"

Brantley Gilbert was rather forthright in his remarks. "Y'all know some people's called me a poser and all that stuff, and you know what, it's actually true. I ain't gunner deny it, and if you try to make me deny it, well, hell, I got some brass knuckles with the name a yer face written on 'em. Y'all, you know that song that's my first hit, 'Country Must Be Countrier Than the Widest Part of the World' or whatever, I talk about Cash, Willie, Hank, and Waylon. Man, ol' George's name just wouldn't fit. But, dang, son, his songs is so ironic. I mean, platonic. Wait, where the hell'd that come from, I don't even know what that word means, dern. Aw, hell, what am I trying to say. Supersonic. No, that ain't it. What I'm trying to say is ol' Georgie boy is a nylon. No, he's a roll-on. No, he's a  mastodon. No, he's a Nikon, like one dem fancy cameras. Wait, what, no, damn son, what am I trying to say?" When asked if what he meant was that George Jones is an icon, Gilbert said, "THAT'S IT! Yea, man, he's like a tree in a forest that grows up all big and huge but can't see himself as the forest cuz all them other trees is trees too and they kinda big and stuff just like he is but he's kinda different cuz he's a purple tree and purple trees are so dang cool, man."

Gilbert wrote the modern-day country music smash made popular by Jason Aldean that famously references George Jones. "I chose that song, one, cuz me and Brantley's best buds forever, and two, because it mentions George Jones. It sounds nothing remotely similar to a George Jones song, and yea, it kind of makes light of The Possum's days of heavy drinking and of drunk driving in general, incidents which George of course says he would take back if he could. But it sure makes for a dang cool country-rap song, bro," Aldean said. Wearing one of those straw cowboy hats pulled halfway down his face so you can't see his eyes, going for a look that emanates mystery but which pulls off only douchebaggery, Aldean continued, "Yea, I think if George had been my age today and as popular as I am in country music, he'd probably record a rap song too. A lot of people don't know this, but after the D. R. A. I wanted to do a rap party song about George and his hit songs as well. I found "1994" but Joe Diffie fit better cuz his last name got two sybils. What's that? Oh. Really? Okay. I meant to say "syllables." I kinda hated it for George. It might have made him super cool and popular again. I don't know, it's making me filthy rich, but that song is pretty fucking awful, so he probably would have been embarrassed to be associated with it. Hope you're swervin' 'round up in Heaven-town, George."

Two artists who were brief but poignant in their remarks were Jamey Johnson and Alan Jackson. "There will never be another George Jones," said Johnson. "He's one of my biggest influences, and I'm not just saying that. My songs aren't neutered rock and roll, bad rap, or cheesy adult contemporary, so you know I'm not just putting you on when I say that."

Said Mr. Jackson, "George Jones is the greatest country singer of all time. He was a dear friend, and I will miss him. What the CMAs did to him in 1999 was shameful. If people really want to know who's gonna fill the shoes of legends like George nowadays, there are a lot of talented people out there trying to carry that torch. But you aren't going to hear those people singing on the radio."

Monday, April 22, 2013

Very First Impressions: The Band Perry - "Pioneer"

I guess you could call "Very First Impressions" live-blogging my first listen of an album. I'm sure it's been thought of before, and it may be pointless, but hey, I kind of like the idea. For the time being I'm going to stick to albums that I probably wouldn't purchase or listen to otherwise simply based on singles released or past recorded output. Some thought-blurbs may be heavy on the snark, some may be unexpectedly bursting with praise, but rest assured they will all be initial and based on just one listen (I will probably have to do a little editing after the fact for the sake of clarity). Hopefully it's entertaining, and -- who knows? -- we may just find a few hidden gems buried deep in some of today's most popular mainstream releases. Enjoy.

1) Better Dig Two - Bombastic production ruins what is otherwise a really good song. Hearing the single several times already and it being the first track on the album, I'm not expecting to be a huge fan of what's to come.

2) DONE. - All caps AND a period. Guess they really mean it. More heavy electric guitars. Weird solo at the two-minute mark; I'm not even sure what instrument that is. This also reminds me a whole lot of another popular song, I just can't think of what it is right now. Oh, and Kimberly Perry growls at the end of this one. I can't decide if it's stupid or kinda sexy.

3) Don't Let Me Be Lonely - Finally, the pace slows down a bit. The chorus picks up, gets loud. Again with the production: trying too hard to be an anthem. If I was in the least bit confused at all, this song makes it clear that they decided to move away from the acoustic, bluegrassy instrumentation of songs from their first album. They're not really attempting to build on that, just changed it up completely.

4) Pioneer - Starts with mandolin, fiddle, acoustic guitar. Will it stay that way? Except for a tasteful marching band-like snare drum, the answer is yes. Oh man, I don't know about the build-up and that ending. They can't help going for the "grand moment." Great up until that point. I see what they were trying to do but wasn't feeling it. Maybe it's a grower.

5) Forever Mine Nevermind - If Queen, Taylor Swift, and Avril Lavigne (mostly the latter two) had a baby, it'd sound like this. Not my thing.

6) Night Gone Wasted - Jesus. Well, okay this one's already growing on me. Dumb background vocals though. After hearing how this one begins you wouldn't think it's the most country-sounding song on the album so far, but it is. You could bust right into a two-step when that chorus kicks in. Interesting song.

7) I Saw A Light - This actually isn't so bad, even with the typical loud guitars that kick in during the chorus. There's mandolin, fiddle, and bagpipes (?) all in the mix. Kimberly Perry truly sounds best on songs like this.

8) Mother Like Mine - Okay, this is unabashedly sentimental and it totally works. A really beautiful tribute to mothers everywhere, and how lost those of us lucky enough to have good ones would be without them. Certainly not traditional country, but perfect subject matter for a country song. It should be the next single. Quoted for truth: "All the wars would all be over, 'cause she'd raise us all as friends."

9) Chainsaw - Okay BP, kind of getting on a roll here. A little bit clever, a little bit cheesy, it's about sawing down that tree you and ex-lover carved your names in back when you were together. This seems to be the most natural progression from some of the singles of the last album. Overall generic production but a few nice touches.

10) I'm A Keeper - Some weird instrumental effect going on here to start off. This, along with "Chainsaw," will be the songs that girls sing the loudest at their live shows. Not terrible, but I'm really not feeling it.

11) Back To Me Without You - Perry's voice shines again on this one, but there are some unnecessary and cheesy I-Hope-You-Dance type of background vocals on the chorus (and that song did them better), which add a whole new level of schmaltz to the song. Again, it's not terrible, but these production choices are questionable.

12) End Of Time - What? Banjo AND steel guitar? Not really sure exactly what it's about yet other than having something to do with the South (sorry, some songs take a few listens, even if it's obvious to some); references to sweet tea, Alabama, and cotton all make an appearance, but it's by no means a "laundry list" song. It's well crafted enough that it's certainly worth listening to some more.

Verdict: Based on the two singles, Pioneer has more country elements than I was expecting. Still, about half the songs I have no interest in listening to again. There is, however, no doubt that this group is much more talented and creative than your typical artist who's gotten millions of spins on country radio. There are a few really good moments on this album, kept from being great even on the best songs by production that's simply too generic (to be sure, Rascal Flatts' producer was at the helm of the album, so it could have been much worse), and that only makes me wish they would have let Rick Rubin stay in the producer's chair. I still find it quite ballsy that they simply said "no thanks" to one of the most prolific producers in all of music, after initially beginning the process with him. Then again, he was probably steering them in a direction they knew country radio would not tolerate, and if you're gonna hang with the cool kids, you better figure out a way to make them keep being your friend.

Best songs: "Night Gone Wasted"; "I Saw A Light"; "Chainsaw"; "End of Time." And I will reiterate again: "Mother of Mine" should be the next single. There shouldn't even be a discussion.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Venerable Video: Eric Church - "Over When It's Over"

If this video doesn't prove that Church is on another level entirely than his mainstream contemporaries Luke Bryan and especially Jason Aldean, nothing does. Sure, he may be more polarizing than either of them, and he did himself zero favors by agreeing to sing on Aldean's bland and soulless "The Only Way I Know" (along with Bryan), but -- in addition to his greater talent being, to my ears, plainly obvious -- he simply doesn't reek of the corporate stench emanating from the majority of mainstream artists, Bryan and Aldean being foremost on the list of olfactory offenders. Church isn't cozy with the the machine. Truth be told, he seems least comfortable when he allows himself to get cozy (see: live performances of "The Only Way I Know," which, if I had to guess, he simply agreed to do because he was asked, and he's probably friends with Aldean and Bryan). If you can't already tell that Church sticks out lyrically (often clever, rarely cheesy, sometimes poetic), production-wise both on record and live (no jumbled wall-of-sound bullshit), and in his songwriting (disregarding the fact that he's one of the few mainstream artists singing their own songs, he's a legitimately talented writer), I humbly submit this video in hopes to sway your opinion. If you can't tell a difference in quality between this performance of "Over When It's Over" and, say, "She's Country" or "Crazy Town" or "Country Girl Shake It For Me," well, you're just being stubborn.

About the video: it's actually really well shot and produced, being that it's a cut from Church's upcoming Live CD/DVD. The crowd sings along, everyone's having a great time, and, amazingly, it all sounds very organic. Plus, there's a lady who helps Church with some vocals about midway through who is just phenomenal. I have no idea who she is, but she's probably going places. "Over When It's Over" is the final track on Church's excellent 2011 album Chief.

written by Eric Church and Luke Laird

It's over when it's over
Ain't it, baby, ain't it?
Rips ya like a dagger,
Can't it baby, Can't it
Wish we could do it over
Damn it, baby, Damn it
We had it in the air, we just couldn't land it

It's the first snap of the last straw,
Where regrets outlast the alcohol
It's a cold sweat, in an empty bed,
And dreams are like a knife,
When you're hanging by a thread
Ain't no "Maybe we can make it if we just play the right cards"

Now it's over when it's over
Ain't it, baby, ain't it?
Rips ya like a dagger,
Can't it baby, Can't it
Wish we could do it over
Damn it, baby, Damn it
We had it in the air, but just couldn't land it

It's a white flag,
It's a stop sign,
It's the last long drag, on a Marlboro light
It's a long night, beating up the past
Know when the first lie, is gonna hit you back
This ain't no gone for good drill,
Or no goodbye false alarm, it's over

Yeah it's over,
Yeah it's over.

There ain't no better way,
We could make it work
It's a blank page,
When you're outta words
Yeah it's a flat line,
It's a heart attack
Yeah it's too far gone, to be shocked back
It's a one way, with nowhere to turn
It's a no brakes, baby, crash and burn
Ain't no map gonna ever bring us back
From where we are

It's just over when it's over
Ain't it baby, Ain't it
Rip ya like a dagger,
Can't it baby, Can't it
Wish we could do it over
Damn it, baby, Damn it
We had it in the air, and just couldn't land it

Monday, April 1, 2013

Album Review: Kacey Musgraves - "Same Trailer Different Park"

I first heard Kacey Musgraves on the 2010 Josh Abbott Band album She's Like Texas. When my uncle gave me a copy of it, he specifically highlighted a song called "Oh, Tonight," -- on which Musgraves duets with Abbott -- as a standout track. It was.

Then somehow or another I ran across this video of her on YouTube singing about her frustrations with Bible Belt religion, ultimately concluding that her "idea of heaven is to burn one with John Prine." A true girl after my own heart.

Her debut album Same Trailer Different Park, released on March 15th, is a collection of the simple and the understated, flying in the face of popular current mainstream trends and all the phony chest-thumping braggadocio. Musgraves' songs contain more authenticity than all of those current chart-topping male country singers supposedly singing about it, put together. This ain't pandering. It can't be when the album boasts more banjos and steels and acoustic instruments than hard rock guitars and faux hip-hop verses and auto-tuned choruses. For a mainstream release, Musgraves seems conspicuously beholden to no one but herself. She's literally doing her thing. And we'll see if that's enough perhaps to change the game a little bit in a genre obsessed with mediocrity (and far worse) and terrified of change.

I'm certainly not saying this is a perfect album. It's a major label debut by a young twenty-four year old; if she released a perfect album on her first try they should go ahead and burn the mold to ashes before they throw it in the dump. I will admit that on the first listen I wasn't quite sure what to think; it wasn't quite what I expected; I'm not sure what I expected. But subsequent spins have proven this album is, of all things, a grower. The songwriting is strong, the album flows like a river and contains no clunkers, and it displays the undeniable potential Musgraves has to have a meaningful, long-lasting career, creating poignant art that doesn't sacrifice her heart and her integrity. This debut release has certainly captured my attention. The hype is deserved. I am itching to see what kind of impact she has on the mainstream airwaves, and I am already itching to see what she does next.

Track by track:

1) Silver Lining (Musgraves/Josh Osborne/Shane McAnally) -This is my favorite track. The production sounds wonderful, the melodies effective, and the emotion hopeful yet tinged with an almost nostalgic sadness. I can't think of a better way to kick off an album. (If you're ever gonna find a silver lining, it's gotta be a cloudy day)

2) My House (Musgraves/Osborne/McAnally) - Sweet, fun, and not overdone, this ode to mobile homes and mobile love you'll not be able to get out of your head. We even get a taste of Musgraves' harmonica chops. And can you believe there are no drums? (If I can't bring you to my house I'll bring my house to you)

3) Merry Go 'Round (Musgraves/Osborne/McAnally) - The little single that could still stands out over the course of the album. Musgraves shatters small-town romanticism by speaking the truth in love -- country music, folks. The album also gets its title from this song, which Musgraves says is another way of saying "same shit, different day." (It don't matter if you don't believe, come Sunday morning you best be there on the front row like you're supposed to) (More on "Merry Go 'Round" can be found here.)

4) Dandelion (Musgraves/Brandy Clark/McAnally) - A delicate song about love lost, comparing a former lover to a dandelion, a weed that always makes her cry. Good lyrics on this one. (I sense you dancing on the breeze, and like a stupid little girl, I spent my wishes on a weed, thinking it could change my world)

5) Blowin' Smoke (Musgraves/Luke Laird/McAnally) - The second single to be released from the album is much different than Merry Go 'Round -- a little more fun, a little more rockin'. This tale of diner waitresses who always talk about leaving and getting the hell out of dodge to really live their lives is super catchy, thanks to a sweet bluesy electric guitar riff. The Prine influence is heavy on this one as humor abounds. Hopefully radio catches on. (We all say that we'll quit some day, when our nerves ain't shot and our hands don't shake)

6) I Miss You (Musgraves/Osborne/Laird) - Another example of the understated production of the album. I am still amazed this is a mainstream release. In a way, thematically this song somewhat reminds me of George Jones' classic "She Thinks I Still Care" in that there is the quintessential unreliable narrator trying to convince the listener he's over a former flame. I'm not saying this song is on the same level, but that's pretty good company to keep. (Been kissed by lady luck, the stars are all lined up, every arrow that I aim is true, but I miss you)

7) Step Off (Musgraves/Laird/McAnally) - A heavy dose of banjo flavors this fairly standard up-tempo kiss-off song. To me this would be the only somewhat forgettable song on the album if the chorus wasn't so damn catchy. To be honest, and I hate to say this, it's just got a little too much of a Swiftian vibe. There, I said it. (Just keep climbin' that mountain of dirty tricks, and when you get to the top, step off)

8) Back On The Map (Musgraves/Laird) - This was an early favorite of mine along with "Silver Lining." It's atmospheric and moody and probably the "least country" song on the album, but it totally works. Really good stuff. (Gotten too far off the map, not so sure I can get back)

9) Keep It To Yourself (Musgraves/Laird/McAnally) - Musgraves has a really nice flow to her vocals on the verses here, while the chorus is simple and gets the point across. One aspect of said point is essentially "Stop drunk dialing me." It all sounds relatively unoffensive and pleasant enough to the naked ear, but the lyrics really give this song its bite. (You're thinking that maybe you made a mistake, and you want me to know, but I don't wanna know how you're feeling)

10) Stupid (Musgraves/Osborne/McAnally) - This song might be the most fun on the record (also the shortest). It's about the frustrating-as-hell nature of love when it fails and how we feel about it when that happens: stupid. There are some "oh-oh-ohs" placed perfectly in the pre-chorus that add a lot to this one. I guarantee it's a blast to see played live. (Plays you like a fiddle, shakes you like a rattle, takes away your gun and sends you into battle)

11) Follow Your Arrow (Musgraves/Clark/McAnally) - Here Musgraves again channels John Prine's humor and disregard for the powers that be trying to set limits on art. Already in danger of being labelled the "gay pot" song, in reality this is just a simple, poetic song about not being afraid to be yourself. In no way is the song preachy; the opposite, in fact. It's so giddy and good-natured that you might miss the "controversial" elements the first few times around. If this song is ever released as a single and actually does well, I don't know exactly what that would mean, but it'd shock the hell out of me. It'd be a good thing. (You're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't, so might as well just do whatever you want)

12) It Is What It Is (Musgraves/Laird/Clark) - In style and structure, this is the most traditional sounding cut on Same Trailer Different Park. Vocally Musgraves truly shines on this one, especially during the chorus. It's a song about "friends with benefits" (I've read elsewhere that this is a song for the "hook-up generation"), so lyrically it's probably the least traditional cut on the album, and that makes for an interesting dichotomy. But merely calling this a song for the hook-up generation is simplistic and does a huge disservice to it. Musgraves sounds vulnerable and desperate, sad and yearning, giving the song complexity, tinging it with a bit of guilt and regret. It's a real zinger of a closing track. Well done. (Maybe I love you, maybe I'm just bored. It is what it is, 'til it ain't anymore)