Chris Cagle – “My Life’s Been A Country Song”
Capital Records (2008)
Chris Cagle has stated that his career goal is to have teenage fans crank up his music much in the same way he did with AC/DC. When I heard the “Anywhere But Here” CD in 2005, I immediately felt that he could fill a similar void in country music: just plain ole party music. He even started out that way with the song “My Love Goes On and On and On…” and later “Chicks Dig It.” The song on “Anywhere But Here” that grabbed me was “Hey Y’all.” It was a groovy little song yet somehow the label didn’t release it and instead chose to release ballad after ballad to radio. So with his own statement and my own feelings about where Cagle could turn out to be a huge star in country music, instead of a ‘b’ or ‘c’ level artist, does he manage to do it with his new release, “My Life’s Been A Country Song?”
In a word, no.
However you slice it, “My Life Is A Country Song” isn’t gonna showcase Cagle as the country version of AC/DC. There are a couple of songs that do come close. One of them is “It’s Good To Be Back.” I first heard this song on the little watched “American Band” music contest. Former Warner Brothers recording artist Sixwire sang the song, which members Andy Childs andSteve Mandilewrote, and the judges on the show said it was radio ready. And I didn’t doubt that then and I don’t doubt it now. The song is a radio smash. No matter who sings it. Cagle sings the fast-paced lyrics quite well and it is a song that reminds me of his old songs.
As good as the song is, the rest of the album slides into mid-tempo ‘love and loss’ songs or lite heartland rock. Cagle is an engaging vocalist and, for the first time in his career, has recorded a record where he didn’t write one of the songs. The lead-off single, “What Kind of Gone,” is a good example of Cagle’s career so far. It’s also a perfect example of what is wrong with country music these days. The song’s lyrics find Cagle wondering aloud about all the ways that “gone” can be interpreted. He then wonders if it’s a ‘whiskey’ or ‘a couple of beers’ night at the bar. The song itself is catchy, performed well and produced just as we expect country music to be produced (it’s the best Cagle’s sounded, no doubt because he changed producers) but how many of these kinds of songs does country radio need to play. It just rides the fence and doesn’t pick any kind of side. That’s what’s wrong. I generally like Craig Wiseman‘s songs but his “No Love Songs” I just don’t get (even if the hook is pretty good). The spoken verses are just too much for me.
With a title like “I Don’t Wanna Live” you’d expect Cagle to be singing a stone-country song but what instead comes out of the speakers is a Keith Urban-like track. The lyrics of the song, written by Brett James and Blair Daly, are fine but they really could’ve benefited with a few fiddles and steel guitars in addition to the tuned up Telecasters and drum loops. It’s a middle of the road “I want you back” kind of song that doesn’t help lead any credence to Cagle’s hopes of getting those teens to listen to the record. “Keep Me From Loving You” DOES manage to prominently feature fiddles and the steel guitar is mixed in the background somewhere and that, along with well placed b-3 and harmony vocals manages to recall the 90s era of country music. It’s a nice diversion from the other tracks.
Rhett Akins co-wrote “Little Sundress” and the song is a fun little summer song. If “Good To Be Back” isn’t released as a single for the summer, then Capital Nashville better release this track. The southern rock melody isn’t bad and the fiddle backed vocal helps set a fun mood. Also, since it is an Akins song, the song doesn’t head towards Rascal Flatts territory. Again with the title of “My Life’s Been A Country Song,” I expected at least noticeable fiddles and maybe a touch of steel guitars and, fortunately, Cagle and Scott Hendricks deliver. As far as the lyrics go, Cagle should’ve done what Garth often does and added or changed a verse of the song (without taking credit) to fit his own crazy life, because he did go through some “country song” moments. Still, as it is, the song is a strong, radio-ready song that bridges the gap of older country songs and modern country songs.
In the end Chris Cagle has made a decent enough mainstream country record that has four or five single-worthy songs. The “filler” tracks, however, are not any better than his own self-written tracks. But I guess if his and the label’s goal was to get him back on radio then this album truly is truth in advertising, even if it often is exactly what is wrong with country radio.