Category Archives: Country Music

Lost Highway Status Update

Since I was a young teenager, I have loved (all forms of) country music. I wanted nothing more than a career in the crazy world known as the music business. Along with about 10 years worth of writing for various websites, The Lost Highway blog has helped me realize that goal.  Early this year I was hired to be the content editor of the website www.roughstock.com. I will continue this blog but it will be a part of the new and improved roughstock. Instead of a music website w/o interaction, Roughstock will be all about interaction. Our team has worked tirelessly to make Roughstock, around the web since 1993, a community for country music fans of all types. It’s my hope that any of y’all who have been reading this blog will read the Roughstock site.

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Our Thoughts on Some Early Summer Single Releases

The summertime has officially come for country radio and like all summer music cycles, the charts are loaded with light, airy summertime vignettes.  Some artists, like Steve Holy, have chosen to release counter-programming in the form of ballads. As with the spring, the summer music cycle is filled with new artists, like Adam Gregory and 2007 Nashville Star alum Joshua Stevens. Here’s a rundown of some of the new singles out at radio and our thoughts about their hit potential.

Chris Cagle – No Love Songs:

I have always liked Chris Cagle and most of his songs and I originally hated this Craig Wiseman tune but it’s kinda grown on me since I added it to my ‘radio singles’ playlist on iTunes.  I don’t really care for the spoken verses but the chorus is catchy and the song will serve its purpose at radio, to keep passive listeners on the station between between the commercials, which is radio’s goal.  It’s an inoffensive song that will probably hit Top 20 or even the Top 10.  Grade: C-

Rock N Roll and PensacolaJoshua Stevens – Rock ‘N’ Roll and Pensacola:

When Joshua was singing on Nashville Star last season I had the feeling that he was another pleasant, radio-ready artist but was otherwise interchangeable with a multitude of other artists.  I still feel that way.  Stevens has a smooth voice that recalls Keith Urban among other artists and has written a song about being in a bar band in Pensacola, Florida.  It’s a decent enough song but I doubt that it’s a hit, especially coming from an upstart label in Nashville that couldn’t get a great single from Rockie Lynne to do much of anything on the charts. Grade: C-

Rissi Palmer – No Air:

With a countrified remix remake of the Jordin Sparks pop hit, Rissi Palmer could have her first big chart hit with “No Air.”  Produced by Taylor Swift‘s producer Nathan Chapman, “No Air” places Rissi firmly in the Underwood/Swift camp of female country singers.  She’s singing a decent song that showcases her powerful vocals and since it’s a remake of a pop hit that has a similar audience, it’s likely to do well at radio, even if it’s nothing more than a recording with banjos, mandolins and fiddles added to the mix.

Adam Gregory – Crazy Days:

Only 22 years old and already an eight year veteran of the music business, Edmonton, Alberta native Adam Gregory has followed fellow Canadian band Emerson Drive stateside with a record deal on Midas Records.  With an expressive vocal that reminds me of a younger Gary Allan, Gregory has himself a monster of a hit with “Crazy Days.”   It’s a song that details a couple still in love and in search of their wilder youth.  Since Gregory is still very much a ‘kid’ himself, the lyrics aren’t as believable as they’d be if someone like the Previously mentioned Allan would’ve sang the song but since Gregory’s voice has matured into a fine instrument, he sells this song.  Grade B+.

Ashton Shepherd – Sounds So Good:

With her debut single “Takin’ Off This Pain'” barely finding a home within the Top 20 at country radio, Ashton and her label MCA have smartly decided to release the summer anthem “Sounds So Good.”  With a banjo driving the melody, Ashton sings about the kind of things that work with the country audience.  Good music, good beverages, dirt roads and country life.  This is a hit in waiting that should bring more fans to the wonderfully charming Shepherd.  Grade B.

Steve Holy – Might Have Been:

Steve Holy first came on the country scene around 1999 but didn’t have a major hit until the year 2001 with “Good Morning Beautiful.”  Five years later Steve had another hit with “Brand New Girlfriend” and now he returns with “Might Have Been.”  While I loved “Good Morning Beautiful” for it’s simple message, I thought “Brand New Girlfriend” was a bit to much in the ‘ditty’ mold and was gonna be hard to follow-up.  It was.  Until now.  “Might Have Been” has a strong lyric, an engaging melody and vocal from Holy that’s the best of his career thus far. Grade A-

One Flew South – My Kind Of Beautiful:

With three-part harmonies that recall Crosby, Stills & Nash,  One Flew South arrives on the country music scene with “My Kind of Beautiful,” a song that was originally recorded by one of its writers, Andy Griggs on his “This I Gotta See” record.  Another of the song’s writers is One Flew South’s producer Marcus Hummon.  The melody is perfect for the summertime and those three-part harmonies are really good.  They make Rascal Flatts sound like amateurs as well.  Will radio spin the hell out of it? I don’t know. Still, I like the song.  Grade: A.

Lady Antebellum is Primed for Stardom

Lady Antebellum – “Lady Antebellum” (2008 Capital Nashville)

It’d be very easy to dismiss Lady Antebellum as Capitol Nashville’s attempt at capturing the same audience that Sugarland has managed to capture for Mercury.  In a sense they are similar.  Both groups are songwriting collectives, both groups got their start in Georgia, and both groups scored big debut singles.  But that’s where the similarities end.  Aside from Lady A (as they call themselves) being two dudes and one girl instead of the other way around, the trio alternates vocals between Charles Kelley and Hillary Scott.  The group also has a deep pedigree in the music business.  Kelley is the brother of successful pop singer Charles Kelley while Hillary is the daughter of Grammy winning vocalist Linda Davis.  The third member of the group is lead guitarist Dave Haywood, Charles Kelley’s long-time friend.

After forming in 2006, the trio quickly attracted a following and signed with Capital Nashville in 2007.  By the end of 2007, they had released their debut single “Love Don’t Live Here.” Currently just outside of the Top 10 at country radio, the single has succeeded at planting the seed of anticipation for the trio’s self-titled debut album.  The production has a ‘just-enough’ glossy sound backing up Kelley’s soulful lead vocal while the remaining members of Lady Antebellum showcase that this trio has been listening to the singer-songwriting super group records of the 1970s.  “Lookin’ For A Good Time”  finds Kelley singing lead vocals for the verses while Hillary Scott takes the leads on the chorus.  It’s a catchy, feel-good, story about ‘not promising anything more than one night.’

All We’d Ever Need” finds Scott and Kelley trading verses of a lyrically strong contemporary country song tailor-made for a show-stopping moment in concert.  This is a song Tim and Faith or Garth and Trisha would’ve loved to have cut.  It was the very first song that Scott/Kelley and guitarist Dave Haywood wrote together and after hearing it, I can see why they had reason to form a group.   Scott takes the lead on “Long Gone” and it makes sense since it’s a song she wrote prior to creating Lady Antebellum with Haywood and Kelley.  While Kelley has a rich baritone ‘soulful’ voice, Scott’s own voice reminds me at times of Natalie Maines and of course her own mother. 

Teaming up with superstar songwriter Tom Douglas, Lady Antebellum wrote “I Run To You” and despite the recycled song title, the song may just be the best track on the record.  Hitting some nice falsetto notes Kelley and Scott take turns about singing all the ways one can run away from something and then by the chorus, they run away from pressures of life back to the security of love.  A little optimistic? Maybe.  But the driving pop/rock melody backing up the words is what really sells the song.  It’s a hit.  “Love’s Lookin’ Good On You” and “Slow Down Sister” both have fun, drive with the windows down melodies that fit summer radio playlists like a glove.  They’re not deep but they’re entertaining.  In what seems to be a time-tested country music tradition, Lady A ends their record with a philosophical, uplifting story song in “One Day You Will.”  It’s another ‘event’ song for the trio and one that could do very well on radio if chosen as a single. 

With big hooks, glossy pop-ish production from veteran Paul Worley and songwriter Victoria Shaw (“The River” by Garth Brooks), and strong songwriting, Lady Antebellum’s self-titled debut gives a label a lot to work with. Add in their comely looks and what we’ve got here is a package that is fully developed and ripe for country stardom. So while the trio is similar to Sugarland, they have more than enough artistic merit, and vocal power, to stand on their own as a real threat to knock Rascal Flatts off of its perch as the best contemporary country group.

Lady Antebellum 

Johnny Reid – “Kicking Stones”

Kicking Stones (Open Road/Universal Canada) 

Johnny Reid (Open Road Recordings/Universal Canada) 

5

Canada has released some of the most interesting country music in the last few years.  However, unless you live there or near the border, you’ve most likely not heard much of it.  One of the most dynamic and versatile artists to appear recently is Johnny Reid.  Originally from Scotland, Reid began stoking the fires of a country music career a decade ago.  After being in Nashville a few years, Reid signed to Canada’s Open Road Recordings.  His first album, “Born To Roll” brought him big star success and even found one hit “You Still Owe Me” get recorded by Canadian band Emerson Drive (it is a recent hit in the States for them as well) and Ty Herndon.   Reid’s sophomore release, “Kicking Stones” has been in rotation in my ipod and stereo for many weeks now and is as good as any album from the states. 

Fans of T. Graham Brown and Joe Cocker should really enjoy the soul/country/rock style employed by Reid.  Even with mandolins and fiddles propelling “Out Of The Blue,”  There’s a distinctly worldly flare to a song that chronicles unexpected happiness.  From the na-na-na-na’s to the pan flutes, there’s a distinct ‘international’ flare to a song that has lyrics that discuss unexpected happiness.  “Love Sweet Love” features a horn section that at times recalls Memphis and other times Motown.  It’s not ‘traditional country’ in any sense but Reid sings the hell out of the song. 

There is often a misconception about a man with deep, whiskey-scarred vocals not being able to sing with range.  Like Joe Cocker, Johnny shows on the beautiful and simple ballad “Thank You.”  Primed to be a wedding anthem, the song has a vibe that’s not unlike “You Raised Me Up.”  It soars and only a real singer with good range can sing a track like this.  Only two songs on the record weren’t co-written by Reid and one of them is his cover of the early 80’s Tom Jones hit “Darlin’.”  Johnny Reid simply knocks the song out of the park.  In fact, it’s a re-defining remake. 

Collin Raye previously recored “What I Did For Love” and where his version came off as ‘busy,’ Reid’s version is rough-around-the edges but with smooth flourishes courtesy of producer/co-writer Brent Maher.  The instrumental breakdown, missing from the Raye version, is simply beautiful with soaring fiddles and accordion and mandolin.   It’s a nicely, done ballad sung with conviction.  Speaking of singing with conviction, Johnny Reid simply knocks the album ending title track out of the park.  “Kicking Stones” is an autobiographical song that chronicles Reid’s life.  The melody features acoustic guitars, b-3, an orchestra and the topper being beautiful bag pipes.  Johnny Reid is a distinctive vocalist who, unlike Cocker and T. Graham Brown, writes most of his material.  “Kicking Stones” is a record from a distinctive artist that deserves to be a star in the USA. 

What Country Music Is All About

Bluefield Butterfly.  Image (C)Bluefield

Bluefield – “Butterfly”

(Country Thunder Records)

There are times when I’ve wondered if I have somehow grown too jaded to enjoy country music, then a song comes along and reminds me why I love country music.   Butterfly is one of those songs.  Written by vocalists Rick Ferrell and Jennifer Hicks, the song beautifully discusses, over the course of five minutes, a story of how a young couple unexpectedly finds themselves with the dilemma of unexpected pregnancy.  Where Eric Church‘s “Two Pink Lines”covered similar territory, “Butterfly” goes a different route. 

While the song starts off with the couple planning on aborting the child, it goes on to, in a way that is not preachy at all, find the couple having second thoughts.  The lyrics themselves are so good, so well thought out and the use of the butterfly as a metaphor for an incubating child is a good one.  It’s a powerful song that people on both sides of the abortion debate should be able to appreciate.  Vocally, Rick Ferrell is as strong and unique as he was when he recorded his DreamWorks solo album in the early part of the decade. Former Nashville Star contestent Jennifer Hicks supports him quite well and the duo seamlessly blend their voices well (a la Little Big Town). 

Despite my personal appreciation of this musical masterpiece, I don’t know if radio will ‘get it;’ especially being a five-minute ballad and being pimped by the newish Country Thunder Records.  Still, I hope it at least manages to crack the Country Top 50.  It’s too good of a song to not get a chance.  Perhaps, even a shot at AAA or CCM radio is in order for the song.  It’s too good of a song to not get a chance. 

Grade: A

Truth in Advertising?

Chris Cagle - My Life’s Been A Country Song (C) 2008 Capital Records.  Used With Permission.

Chris Cagle – “My Life’s Been A Country Song”

Capital Records (2008)

3

 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. 

Rockie Lynne – “I Can’t Believe It’s Me”

rockie-bannar2v2.jpg

Rockie Lynne first appeared in 2005 with his wonderful single “Lipstick.”  While radio barely let it slip by the Top 30, Lynne’s major label Universal South released his album anyway.  Two more singles, “Do We Still” and “More” both failed to make the Top 4o and Lynne was dropped by the label.  New indie label Robbins Nashville, with big label distribution a la “Indie” label “Big Machine Records, snatched up Rockie and “I Can’t Believe It’s Me” is the first fruit of their partnership.  It is as mainstream as country records get, the production is crisp, the lyric is relatable (if not overdone), and the Ronnie Dunn-like vocals are as top-notch as anything Lynne’s previously recorded.  It’s a strong debut for the label and it should be Rockie’s big breakthrough at country radio. 

 Grade: B+

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