Category Archives: Single review

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.

Jimmy Wayne – “Do You Believe Me Now”

Jimmy Wayne

It seems that The Valory Music Group (Big Machine Records’ new sister label) has decided to go a different route towards release for two of their artists.  Instead of releasing the single to radio, Valory has released Justin Moore‘s “I Could Kick Your Ass” and now Jimmy Wayne‘s “Do You Believe Me Now” on iTunes, where I picked up Jimmy’s song.  Previously an artist on the shuttered DreamWorks Nashville label, Jimmy Wayne is an artist who had a completely horrific life that he turned into some strong songs. He had four Top 20 singles (two of which were Top 10s) but it seems that his distinctive country-pop style hasn’t caught on to well as of late.  Originally signed to Big Machine, Jimmy slid over to Valory when the label opened up.  Big Machine had released one strong single in the Summer of 2007 but radio didn’t do anything with “That’s All I’ll Ever Need” so when Valory offered up a chance to be a bigger priority and a chance to release actual product quicker, Jimmy changed labels. 

When I first listened to “Do You Believe Me Now” I thought I was listening to a hit from the 1980’s.  The production, with distorted guitars and steel guitar buried deeply into the mix, certainly lends itself to that.  But then I remembered how Jimmy was fond of Hall and Oats and that explains the production. Hey, if it works for Rascal Flatts, why not Jimmy Wayne?  The thing that Jimmy’s got going for him is that he sounds a hell of a lot more genuine on the song than Rascal Flatts has recently.  The lyric deals with a guy who is playing the “I told you so” game with an ex-flame.  It’s an interesting song that covers a well-worn theme but Wayne manages to make the song stand out more with an engaging vocal.  “Do You Believe Me Now” should be the song that re-introduces Jimmy Wayne to country radio.  It’s a song worthy of being a hit by an artist who’s worthy of any and all success he achieves.

Grade: B

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

Michael Dean Church – “Why Can’t You Forgive Me?”

Michael Dean Church - “Why Can’t You Forgive Me”

Sometimes a single will come seemingly out of nowhere.  Michael Dean Church’s debut single “Why Can’t You Forgive Me” is one of those songs.  Michael Dean has built a loyal MySpace.com following and with his strong voice, it’s not hard to see why.    “Why Can’t You Forgive Me” is a song with an immediate hook and a humorous lyrics.  The melody is modern and the production is tight and crisp.   If given a chance at radio, Michael Dean Church certainly could have himself a big spring/summer hit.  As it is, the sub-three minute song is impressive.  Check out MySpace and what you will hear are a couple of songs written by popular songwriters like Brett James and Jimmy Wayne.  I have a feeling the young and handsome Church will have himself a big-time record deal sooner rather than later.  Michael Dean Church at least as good as Josh Gracin and Chuck Wicks, if not better. 

Written by Jeb Stuart Anderson and Steve Dukes.

Listen and buy: http://www.myspace.com/michaeldchurch

Grade: B+

James Otto – “Just Got Started Loving You”

James Otto Single Header

From the time I heard James Otto‘s song “The Ball” on KMPS’ “Test Track” radio segment, I was hooked on the Washington (state) native’s voice.  His smoky, whiskey soaked vocal delivered a lyrical song that, in the hand of a lesser talent, might even have come off ast rite.  That impression was over five years ago.  I reviewed the “Days Of Our Lives” album after the hit single of the same name became a hit.  I loved it and I still don’t understand how his record label, at the time, Mercury Records Nashville, messed up making him a star.  Whatever happened, James, a member of the Muzik Mafia, is back with a John Rich produced record set to be released in the spring by Warner Brothers Nashville.

 “Just Got Started Loving Youis one of those songs that has slowly moved its way up the radio charts.  Seductive and sexy like many of Andy Griggs‘ songs, “Lovin’ You” may just be the song that gets “The Otto Show” off and flying.  The Andy Griggs comparison is a strong one for radio is missing that kind of voice, since they won’t play Griggs himself, but Otto actually has a voice that would sound good singing any genre.  Rich’s production on the song is spot on (as usual) and the mix of Hammond organs, fiddles and noticable steel guitars (not just to ‘make sure it’s country’) is certainly a great way to get a song in my good graces. This is probably the most romantic song on radio since Josh Turner’s “Your Man” was a chart topper back two years ago. 

If you want to hear this song, I suggest going over to iTunes and downloading it for free.  It’s their “Discovery Download” this week after last week featured Ashton Shepherd‘s “Takin’ Off This Pain” as their ‘single of the week.’ 

Grade: A-

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+

Listen (via MySpace)

Phil Stacey – “If You Didn’t Love Me”

Phil

 

 

 

 

 

While watching American Idol last year one singer immediately grabbed me.  Phil Stacey was the singer and I immediately felt that he was a candidate to get signed to a recording contract by one of Nashville’s many labels.  Phil managed to make it pretty far into the competition.  On the show he sang songs ‘country’ to the point that he, like fellow bald AI alum Chris Daughtry, was pegged as a guy who knew who he was.  Thus, he probably wasn’t going to need to win to get the record deal.  Those thoughts were right and Lyric Street records, home to former AI contestants Josh Gracin and Bucky Covington, quickly agreed to a deal with Stacey.  He entered the studio with Wayne Kirkpatrick and recorded a song that was co-written by Rascal Flatts’ Gary LeVox.  If You Didn’t Love Me” is the song and it is the kind of song I expected to from Phil.   A ‘tempo’ ballad that is unsurprisingly similar to some of Rascal Flatts’ songs, given the co-write by Levox, I don’t see how this song won’t be ‘loved’ by radio.  People who’ve liked the songs from Rascal Flatts will probably enjoy this song more due to Stacey’s more appealing vocals.  He has a voice that is husky and rich and at times recalls Heath Wright from Ricochet.  As far as debut singles go, this one’s a keeper.  In fact, it might be the best debut country single from a male American Idol participant.

 Listen here: If You Didn’t Love Me (requires real player)