Category Archives: News

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.

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.

Little Big Town to Capital, The End for Equity?

Recently Craig Morgan left Broken Bow Records for the greener pastures of major label SonyBMG and now platinum recording artists Little Big Town are doing the same thing with their move to Capital.  What’s kind of surprising about their move is that they aren’t giving up on their current record “A Place To Land” but are in fact bringing it with them to Capital.  From Capital’s standpoint this is a win-win for them.  Since Little Big Town owned their master recordings for both “A Place To Land” and “The Road To Here,”  Capital basically is a bigger distributor for their albums at this point.    I do wonder if Little Big Town will retain the rights to both albums or if they recieved a ton of cash from Capital to sell the rights.  Also, did Capital pay some money to Equity (a.k.a. Clint Black and Mike Kraski) to get the label rights. 

Whatever the case, this probably spells the impending end of Equity as a full-service label.  They’ll still probably serve as Clint Black’s label but Kevin Fowler, Laura Bryna, Carolyn Dawn Johnson, Mark Wills, and Carolina Rain might be right to worry a bit.   Equity and Broken Bow both looked like new models for independent labels but both labels have taken big hits when their biggest artsts have left for traditional major label promotional muscle. 

Early 2008 Country Album Round-up

 Since it’s nearly impossible to give every album released an in-depth report, I have decided to present my thoughts on a few of the recently released records with a grade.  At the very least, these mini-reviews aren’t Maxim-like ‘educated-guesses.’  I’ve actually listened to them. 

Allison Moorer

Allison Moorer – Mockingbird

(New Line Records)

2.5

I have been a fan of Allison Moorer’s since her first appearance in “The Horse Whisperer” years ago.  The idea of her doing a cover record was a good one.  However, I don’t think she should’ve left it with just female songwriter/artists.  While a unique take, the whole album leaves me wanting more.  Take her spin on Joni Mitchell‘s classic “Both Sides Now.”  That song was brilliantly re-worked by Mitchell herself so Allison had a lot to live up to and she simply didn’t do it.  “Ring of Fire” is reworked here but it sounds too weird to my ears.   A couple songs are given brilliant arrangements and one of them is “Dancing Barefoot.” 

Dolly

Dolly Parton – Backwoods Barbie

(Dolly Records)

3

Dolly Parton hasn’t released a mainstream country record in almost two decades.  She’s dabbled in bluegrass and gospel and even tossed out a patriotic record for fans to devour.  While critically acclaimed, the bluegrass records didn’t set the charts on fire so Dolly decided to return to what she knows.  Perhaps one of country music’s greatest songwriters, Dolly also sings quite well for someone who’s 62 years old. She could actually teach some of the new female artists a thing or to.  The record starts off with the criminally ignored “Better Get To Livin’.”   I would’t have expected Fine Young Cannibals‘ “Drive Me Crazy” to be a good choice for a country song but Dolly makes the song work with her charming persona.  It’s still not very ‘country’ as some other tracks are on “Barbie” though.  Dolly shows her roots on the stone country title track and current radio single “Jesus & Gravity” is the most mainstream song on the record and if it cannot get Dolly back on the airwaves as a solo artist, nothing can.

Doug Stone

Doug Stone “My Turn”

(Progression Music Group)

two

It might seem like it’s been a cat’s lifetime since Doug Stone has been in the public eye but his “My Turn” record proves that he’s still hard at work.  Released in late 2007 (but given a digital release in ’08), the album shows that Doug still has the goods as a vocalist.  The biggest problem for Doug is his love for anonymous ballads that derailed his career in the late 1990s.  Aside from “Don’t Tell Mama,” a cautionary drinking and driving song, there are no “I’d be Better off (In A Pine Box)” tracks to be found here.  Only more of the “More Love” types of songs.  This is a record only the loyalist of his fans will enjoy. 

 Trent Willmon

Trent Willmon – Broken In

(Compadre Records/Music World Records)

3

He released two albums on the Columbia label before parent Sony merged with BMG.  Since Willmon barely sold anything, the Texan rancher was part of the corporate artist purge (along with Rodney Crowell and Jon Randall).   Compadre Records signed him up and released a fine ballad “There Is A God” that got lost at country radio.  The title track is the new single and its finding more of an audience.  The problem with the record seems to be that Willmon doesn’t know rather to ditch Nashville for Texas or Texas for Nashville.  It’s a quandary that was present on his first two records as well.  Still, Trent does have a strong voice, writes well and has a few tracks worth seeking out.  “Cold Beer and A Fishing Pole” is as country as they come while the Brett James/Ashley Monroe penned “The Truth” has potential to be a big hit at country radio. 

durrance12.jpg 

Eric Durrance – I Lost It All (EP)

(Wind-up Records)

two

There’s no denying the fact that Eric Durrance has vocal and writing talent.  What I don’t understand is why Wind-up, a label new to the Nashville ‘game,’ would release this digital EP now.  It seems to be under-produced. While this is usually good for a demo, it doesn’t work as the first major release for the artist and label in the genre.  The title track follows the same path as Emerson Drive‘s “Moments” does and it packs as strong of an emotional impact to boot. While I actually love the acoustic nature of the song, I expected a full band to back up Durrance after the first verse.  It’s a problem that plagues the whole effort.  “Wait ‘Til I Get There” was a recent free iTunes “Discovery Download” and with the right production touches, it’s a smash hit.    The closing track, “And Then Some,” which I first heard on songwriter Dan Demay’s own record, closes out the EP with a similarly themed song as the title track. My basic problem with the EP is that country music isn’t exclusively ‘acoustic.’

Tift Merritt (Fantasy Records) 

Tift Merritt – Another Country

(Fantasy Records)

4.5

I fell in love with Tift Merritt the first time I heard her major label debut “Bramble Rose.”  After the acoustic soul “Tambourine,” Tift was unceremoniously dropped by Lost Highway Records and in between that time Tift moved to France and, despite not knowing the language, began to thrive again artistically.  The results are present on “Another Country.”  The title track absolutely sparkles while “My Heart Is Free” rocks and recalls her last record.  There’s something about that crystal clear voice that just hits me hard.  There really isn’t a bad track on “Another Country,” including the album closing French track “Mille Tendressess.”

Jim Lauderdale (Yep Roc)

Jim Lauderdale – Honey Songs

(Yep Roc Records)

4.5

Jim Lauderdale is probably known to most country music fans as the writer of many country songs (for example, George Strait‘s “We Really Shouldn’t Be Doing This“)  but there are more fans out there who know of Jim’s Grammy winning stint as a bluegrass performer (with and without Ralph Stanley).  On “Honey Songs” the prolific artist returns to his roots-rock/country hybrid that he’s been playing since his mid-1990’s days as a Warner Brothers artist.  Featuring a short 10 tracks, “Honey Songs” is the work of a man who’s making music for the sake of making music.  “Honey Suckle Honey Pie” kicks off the record with a rollicking’ melody that recalls Dwight Yoakam while “It’s Finally Sinking In” sits right next to the stone country tracks “Hittin’ It Hard” and “Borrow Some Summertime.” The latter of which wouldn’t be outta place on a Strait or Alan Jackson record. 

Those of you keeping record at home may notice that I haven’t covered the two most recent releases.  That’s because both Alan Jackson‘s “Good Time Ashton Shepherd‘s “Sounds So Good” will both be features here in seperate, longer reviews.  

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. 

Garth Fills a Void With The Ultimate Hits

Ultimate Hits

 Garth Brooks  – “The Ulitmate Hits” (Pearl Records)

5

For about 10 years Garth Brooks was an undeniable force. He went to places few, if any, country music artists went before. He topped the Billboard album charts, he had songs cross-over without remixes; he sold out concert after concerts. Even if ‘traditionalists’ didn’t much like his brand of post-(Merle)Haggard country mixed with a heavy dose of 70’s pop/rock, Brooks brought country music into the mainstream in a way it has yet to leave. Sure, it’s not pop but the genre certainly still has a firm grip on Garth’s style. Garth ‘pioneered’ it and artists like Rascal Flatts and Kenny Chesney continue to do remarkably well with it. So, with that said, the ‘retired’ Garth Brooks has returned with his first career-spanning greatest hits package. The phrase “career-spanning” is an apt description because, ever the marketing juggernaut, Garth has re-released all of his previous releases in various incarnations about a dozen times. However, his lone retrospective, “The Hits” was a limited-release of 10 million albums that were sold between 1994 and 1997 or so. Garth even buried the ‘masters’ of that record underneath his Hollywood walk-of-fame star to ensure that his label at the time, Capital Records, wouldn’t continue to repackage his stuff. Continue reading

Everything Truly is Fine in Josh Turner’s World

Josh Turner

Josh Turner

Everything is Fine (MCA/UMG Nashville)

5 Star Rating

I have a feeling that some of the newer fans to country music will take one or two listens to this new album and wonder where the hell they’re over-processed country-rock songs are.  They’ll probably even call “Everything is Fine” a boring record.   And that’s where they’ll be wrong. Sure, it’s light years away from Rascal Flattsbut that’s exactly the point.  Can you imagine what would happen if Josh Turner was actually singing over country-pop arrangements?  Well, a couple tracks on his first and second CDs came close but I don’t know what would actually happen if he did. 

 Turner’s self-written title track opens up the record and immediately Josh displays that crystal clear baritone voice that is instantly identifiable as his and his alone.  It’s a slow-building track with crackling fiddles, steel guitar and Stratocaster guitars backing up a remarkable vocalist who sings so effortlessly.  It’s a likable song that’s likely gonna be a single somewhere down the road.  First single (and newly Top 10 hit) “Firecracker,” written by Turner with Shawn Camp and  Pat McLaughlin, is the kind of song that  John Anderson or Garth Brooks might have recorded at the height of their heydays.  Sure it’s not the greatest of songs but it still better than other ditties to become big hits as of late (remember that “Badonkadonk” song?).  Continue reading