Album Reviews

Album Review: Ben Glover – Atlantic

Ben Glover – Atlantic

Ben Glover – Atlantic

I first became aware of Ben Glover last July, when I saw him support Gretchen Peters at a gig in The High Barn, in Essex. I was a fan from the first song of his set and after chatting to him later in the evening, I had a feeling his 4th album was going to be something very special. Well that was an understatement, to say the least.

When Atlantic popped through my letterbox I was excited, and proceeded to tell my wife that this the one I had been talking about. She gave me that look that quite often follows me saying something, but undeterred I scuttled off to listen. The World Is A Dangerous Place sets the mood for album with delicate and beautifully atmospheric guitar picking. Ben’s soft vocals join a few seconds later, and immediately it’s that voice that oozes passion. That’s the beauty of Ben’s signing, whether it be a song like this, or a more gravelly track like Oh Soul that follows it, you feel every single word, every bit of pain, joy or whatever mood Ben is putting across.

Mary Gauthier said at this year’s Maverick Festival that it’s hard to define Americana, but you know it when you hear it, and I’m pretty sure I hear it in this album. It’s song-writing of the absolute highest standard, and when you consider as well as Ben’s own hugely skilled writing ability, he drafted in the likes of the aforementioned Mary Gauthier, it really should come as no surprise to anyone just how good it is.

The songs on Atlantic have so much depth and substance that I almost feel like I can reach out and touch them, and none more so than Blackbirds. Gretchen Peters is another of Ben’s friends and writing partners, and on this song, singing partner too. This is a song that I don’t want to say to much about, as like a good film or book, I don’t want to spoil the story for you. Let me just say that this one of those rare songs that can have a very profound effect on you, and I was moved on the first listen and every time since. It’s a pretty dark song, but there is such beauty in the vocals and the lyrics, with Ben and Gretchen pulling off one of the most intense and magnificent duets I have ever heard. If I drunk whiskey I think I’d want too drink it listening to this song, but gin and tonic will have to do.

While there is incredible weight to a lot of the songs, Atlantic does offer some great upbeat tunes too, Sing A Song Boys is a great example of this, which in both words and sound harks back to Ben’s Irish roots. I can imagine this being sung with Ben sitting on a stool in a pub just as much as on a bigger stage. True Love’s Breaking My Heart brings in more of a country sound and could quite happily have been written and performed 50 years ago in Nashville – both the vocals and sound have a sumptuously classic old Nashville feel.

Ben has a such a great way with words, personified by How Much Longer Can We Bend, a song about a strained relationship, and questioning it’s future. I really can’t say enough good things about Atlantic, an album that has come along at the same time as some pretty huge releases from mainstream American Nashville, and blows them all away, with ease. Lyrics, vocals, instrumentation, moods, atmosphere, emotion – there really is nothing missing from Atlantic, an album that is pretty much perfect. In an ideal world Atlantic would be played on every radio station the world over, and become a classic album for years to come. For me it will do just that, and if you have as much love for music as you think you do, you’ll grab a copy and join me in waxing lyrical.

Atlantic is out on September 1st and available on CD and download on Amazon

Find out more about Ben Glover:
Facebook: /benglovertunes
Twitter: @benglovermusic

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Album Review: Ward Thomas – From Where We Stand

Ward Thomas - From Where We Stand

Ward Thomas – From Where We Stand

I became aware of Ward Thomas shortly after Country 2 Country earlier this year, but unfortunately missed seeing them play at The O2 on the pop up stages. Soon after they started making waves at the BBC and were featured on Radio 2 with the one and only Terry Wogan. They released their Footnotes EP which I bought and loved, and then off to Nashville they went to record their album. On their return they released Push For The Stride and announced said album, which was to come out on July 21st – sooner than I was expecting.

I had plans to buy the album when I go to see Ward Thomas play live at the Green Note in London, so when I was asked to review it I jumped at the chance, but with a slight feeling of trepidation. Why is that you may ask? Well the songs on Footnotes are brilliant, all 4 of them – as is Push For The Stride, which also comes with an accompanying music video. So why is that a problem? Based on those 5 songs I had very high hopes for this album, and there’s a possibility I had set my expectations unfairly high. What if it turned out From Where We Stand was not as good as I’d hoped?

So that sets the stage for my first listen of the album, which happened on the way to work this morning – 2-3 hours of commuting every day gives me lots of time to listen to new music. The album starts with Push For The Stride, which I already knew to be the triumphant showcase of their writing, signing and harmonies that can only be achieved by people who share the connection possessed by twins. Way Back When is the second track on the album, and the first that was new to me. Funky guitar intro – okay, so far so good. Vocals kick in and we have a song about comparing the present to the past, of what I’m thinking is their Mum, or another figure from the previous generation. Anyway, the quality is there – the song is, as always with Catherine and Lizzie, superbly written. Credit must also go their co-writers on the album, Ann Bailey and Matt Greaves – great job guys. These girls are poets, and fine ones at that. They also have tremendous voices, which they blend well either together, or with contrasting tones.

Tracks 3 and 4 are on the EP, so I know the quality is continuing with Footnotes (Happy Ending) and The Good and The Right. From Where I Stand is where things change, as this a lot slower than the previous tracks, and we have a piano to start with instead of the usual guitars, much like Caledonia on the EP. When I say things change, this is a song that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up – beautiful vocals, and a heartbreaking story of their parents’ divorce. The guitar break towards the end is perfectly positioned, before those sensational vocals take us to the end. 20 years old, that’s how old the Ward Thomas twins are, which when you hear this sung, written by them, you’ll find hard to believe. Every time I’ve heard From Where I Stand today it’s hit me emotionally, like a freight train of memories as I recall my own parents divorce, and my ignorance at the time.

Later on Try is a similar ballad style, and every bit as stunning. The one thing this album showed me was just how versatile Ward Thomas are, both as songwriters and singers. As I listened to the whole of From Where We Stand I was relieved, surprised and delighted. My lofty expectations had been met head on, shrugged off and exceeded. I will admit, that at first I was a bit disappointed that the EP tracks I already had were included, but when you listen to the whole album you realise that Take That Train has to come after From Where I Stand, and that Caledonia has to sit before the album ending Town Called Ugley. There is also the fact that not everyone buying the album will have the EP, so it makes perfect sense to include them – that and the songs are far too good to leave off.

Ward Thomas Singing A Town Called Ugley at Maverick Festival

Ward Thomas Singing A Town Called Ugley at Maverick Festival

I’m was born in Essex, and you might ask why I’m telling you this, and I’ll tell you why. Ugley is an actual place in Essex – more of a village than a town, but I’ll allow them poetic license. This song showcases their ability to have fun, and is a superb contrast to the more serious songs on the album. I like that they actually refer to each other by name, and talk of throwing the TomTom out the window – something I almost did last Saturday en route to the Maverick Festival, where Ward Thomas were playing. Small world isn’t it?

Caledonia is the only song not written at all by the Ward Thomas twins, and is a 1977 ballad from by Dougie McLean. But you know what – it could have been written for them, it’s such a Ward Thomas song, as you can hear when they sing it. The whole album is brought together with a bunch of very talented musicians, both modern and traditional, who do the girls proud, and the whole package comes together superbly. It’s brilliantly created modern country, country pop in some cases like the almost Taylor Swift-esque Guest List, but with a very distinctive Ward Thomas country style. Right now Try is playing, and I’m reminded of how it builds and Catherine and Lizzie are joined on vocals by a choir, and just as I really want to hear just them again, I do. The arrangement of the songs is just absolutely perfect.

Without a single word of disingenuous sycophantic hyperbole, From Where We Stand is one of the finest albums I have heard in a very long time. Every now and then an album comes along that is so special that you just want to listen to it over and over – this is one of those. To and from work, whilst at work, and as I write this review, From Where We Stand has been on almost all day and I still get pangs of excitement every time I listen. If I rated albums I’d give this the highest rating, be it stars or marks out of 5 or 10 – it gets the lot. It’s the 11th July as I write this – you have 10 days to pre-order From Where We Stand, and I can’t emphasis enough how much you need to do this. It’s available on iTunes here or you can get it directly from their website and get a signed CD here.

After I has listened to the album I thanked my lucky stars that I’d bought tickets to see them play in London. After pre-ordering the album go check out where they are playing and see them live – from the one song I saw them preform at Maverick Festival, you won’t be disappointed. From Where We Stand is truly incredible debut album and Ward Thomas are without a doubt a very big part of the future of both country music, in the UK and beyond, with huge mainstream crossover appeal.

Facebook: Ward.Thomas4
Twitter: wardthomasmusic
YouTube: CatherineLizzy
Instagram: wardthomasmusic

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Album Review: Dennis Ellsworth – Hazy Sunshine

Dennis Ellsworth - Hazy Sunshine

Dennis Ellsworth – Hazy Sunshine

I’ve had this album for a couple of weeks now, and while I like it, in fact more with each listen, I still couldn’t quite put a finger on what genre of music I’d call it. There are definite Elvis Costello similarities, but I also feel Bruce Springsteen and Johnny Cash in certain songs. I decided to read the PR notes, and they say a seamless blend of modern East Coast folk, rock and roll with shades of classic Americana, roots and country haunting the edges – well no wonder I had problems narrowing it down.

The opening track, Things I Want, is the one that most sounds like Elvis Costello, and with it’s strings intro is a song that whenever I play the CD, feels like welcoming an old friend back. It’s a love song, but penned and sung in such a chilled way that you just want too sit in a field in summer and have this playing next to you. That’s actually a common theme of this album, as it gives me the impression that Dennis is a pretty cool and unflappable guy. His music has the ability to make you forget about the mundane and enter his world of, well you read the description above, so let’s call it Ellsworth to make it easier.

I’m not going to analyse each song, so it’s just a coincidence that I’m talking about Coke Machine Glow next and it’s also the second track on the album. I Googled Coke Machine Glow as I couldn’t work out one word, which I found to be pink, as in pink coke machine glow. Google didn’t help but I did remember the lyrics were on the inside of the foldout CD case – though is case the right word? What do we call these cardboard presentation packs that are very common these days? Just to carry on his ridiculous tangent, but I used to hate cardboard cases and much prefer the plastic ones – today it’s the complete opposite. Anyway, whatever the name of the packaging, the photo on the front of the album captures the mood of the music to perfection. Google did tell me however that Coke Machine Glow actually started off life as a poem by Gordon Downie

It’s not just Dennis singing though, as songs like If I Find The Truth sees harmony vocals from, I think, Kinley Dowling. With the gentle vocals and viola, this is quite the haunting number that can be quite chilling and almost dark at times. It’s an album that seems to cover all emotions but with a laid back optimism that can’t keep a smile from your face and reflection on where you are and what you’re doing.

Happiness feels the most country is a charming little song that almost feels like it stops to soon at just under 2 minutes, until you realise that’s it just perfect as it is, and any longer would spoil it. Though not so much in sound, the last song, Can’t Turn To You covers the classic subject of unrequited love and is the perfect optimistically melancholy way to end the album, if you’ll excuse the juxtaposition.

Hazy Sunshine is a showcase of Denise as a singer, songwriter and musician and is so far in 2014 the best album I have found that I’d want to listen to on a Friday or Saturday evening, maybe with a glass of wine or a bottle of beer. It’s good on first listen, but it’s a grower too – so the more you listen the more you are going to get out of Hazy Sunshine and the more you’ll appreciate it. The only negative is that he’s just been over here in the UK on tour, and I missed him. Here’s hoping he comes back again soon.

Hazy Sunshine: iTunes | Amazon

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Album Review: The Grahams – Riverman’s Daughter Deluxe

I actually went through three different phases with this album, and two of those were just today.

  1. Saturday – listened to the first 20-30 seconds of some of the songs whilst my mind was on other things and decided this isn’t really my kind of thing
  2. Wednesday (today) morning – listened in the car on the way to work and changed my opinion to this is really rather good
  3. Wednesday evening – listened in the car on the way home and thought this is more than rather good, this is something I will listen to again, and want to share with as many people as possible
The Grahams – Riverman’s Daughter Deluxe Version

The Grahams – Riverman’s Daughter Deluxe Version

You see, on first listening to some of the songs on Riverman’s Daughter I had a feeling of it being a bit too traditional for my tastes, but I was wrong. Not only did I judge the whole album on the first few seconds of the very first song, which is very different to the modern country music I have been listening to in recent months, but when I listened properly I actually liked that opening track, and there was even better to come.

I wouldn’t call The Grahams country, though there are plenty of elements of country. In fact I was struggling to know how to describe Alyssa and Doug, The Grahams, until I visited their website and found they have done that job for me; soulful bluegrass with hints of earthy Americana, adding colors from traditional folk and country blues, into an infectious blend of storytelling that results in songs of love, loss, yearning, and the view from rural American roads less traveled. I wouldn’t have come anywhere close to such an all encompassing and accurate description of their music.

It’s a fairly eclectic album, as you’d probably expect from a duo describing themselves as they have, but there is one part of that I must focus on – storytelling. There are so many stories told on this album, it’s like witnessing heartfelt entries from a journal, put to some music that fit the words like a glove. Add in the deliciously haunting singing of Alyssa on songs such as Riverman’s Daughter and Cathedral Pines and you have something really very special.

A Good Man is probably the most contemporary of the tracks on this album and showcases some of Alyssa’s more gentle singing, which builds like the song as it progresses. It’s a good job this is one of my favourite tracks as we hear it three times, with the Acoustic and Radio Mix versions added to this deluxe version.

There was a certain point in the album at which I wondered what it would be like to hear Alyssa belt out a really big song. We get a little tease of this in A Good Man and even more in Goodbye Babe and Down By The River, but I’d still like to hear a really big powerful vocal, just to satisfy my curiosity. While we’re pandering to my curiosity, I’d like to hear a little bit more from Doug, who we do hear harmonising with Alyssa throughout the album, but never on his own. But that’s understandable, given what a fantastic voice Alyssa has, and with so much range, and I assume the many instruments he plays on the album.

Listening to Riverman’s Daughter for the second time today, I was overcome with desire to see The Grahams perform live, as I can only begin to imagine what it must be like to experience these incredible songs in person. How gutted was I when I discovered that they actually came over to the UK last year. Alyssa and Doug, please come back – the drinks are on me! I’d like to see them play in an old establishment with wooden beams, and where the light is provided predominantly by candles.

I didn’t know of The Grahams before being introduced to Riverman’s Daughter, and now I’m a fan, and currently listening to the album for the 3rd time today as I write this. It’s become the in thing to re-release albums as deluxe versions, but their cover of Neil Young’s Down By The River is worthy of this alone, not to mention the extra songs and acoustic versions which will always get my vote. This really is a great album, and they even have a vinyl version, which the vinyl collector in me applauds.

This deluxe version of Riverman’s Daughter comes out on February 4th and I recommend you check it out. You can read more about The Grahams on their website, Twitter and Facebook.

I was sent a copy of Riverman’s Daughter but was under no obligation to review it.

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Album Review: Tim McGraw – Two Lanes of Freedom

Tim McGraw - Two Lanes of Freedom

Tim McGraw – Two Lanes of Freedom

Yes, I know I’m late to the game writing an article on this album, but I only got it at the weekend. Buy hey, better late than never, and this is an album, that after listening to a few times, I just absolutely had to write about. I got the Accelerated Deluxe version, though Amazon in the UK didn’t actually list another, normal version.

At last year’s Country 2 Country music festival I attended Day 2, and missed Tim McGraw playing on Day 1. At the time I wasn’t that fussed, not knowing who Tim McGraw was outside of his starring role in Country Strong. Bear that in mind as you read this review…

I was drawn to Two Lanes of Freedom after recently seeing a few people mention that it was rockier than his normal material. Not having listened to any Tim McGraw previously I had nothing as a reference to what his usual sound is, but as someone who grew up loving 80s hair rock, anything labelled rockier is going to appeal to me. I have to admit, after the first few songs I had to wonder what the pace of his previous songs was, as this didn’t seem that rocky, well, apart from some pretty slick guitar solos. In fact, coming to think of it, those guitar solos, especially in Friend of a Friend and Southern Girl were reminiscent of the those I’d heard played by long haired spandex wearing bands 3 decades ago. That’s a good thing in case you were wondering. Though my own guitar playing has started but stumbled at the first hurdle many times, my appreciation for good axe handling is very high.

Spoke to soon didn’t I, as the fifth song on the album, Truck yeah, certainly upped the rock stakes, with an intro that kind of reminded me of Insane Clown Posse’s Take It. To answer your question, I was a wrestling fan back in the day and that song was part of World Championship Wrestling, okay? Anyway, Truck Yeah – awesome! Every album, well most, need a song that you want to roll the windows down and crank up whilst driving along, and this is Two Lanes of Freedom’s. There are plenty of examples of reflection, melancholy and sentiment elsewhere on this album, this is an ar$e kicking anthem that could well be my new getting ready to go out song. We even get it again later on in the album in the form of a live version, complete with a testosterone pumping, engine revving intro – Truck Yeah!

After that we go straight into a song called Nashville Without You which celebrates Nashville and all the talent that has made it so special. With a blog called 4000 Miles to Nashville I could hardly go without talking about such a song. Nobody is mentioned by name, but if you know your country music history, you know who is being referenced. The people alluded too are pretty mainstream, so you don’t need to be a Music City anorak to get them, after all, I did!

So it was the rock reputation that got me interested, it was the rock solos and song that first caught my attention, but after a few listens it was the amazing storytelling that really made me sit up and take notice. Take for example Annie I Owe You A Dance – an absolutely beautiful song about a guy regretting not taking his girlfriend to the prom, but finally getting the dance he’d promised, in the supermarket. I really haven’t done it justice with that short description, but suffice to say, this is a song that almost brought me to tears whilst listening to it in my car on the way to work. This is listed as a bonus track and if that means the vanilla version never included this song, well, that’s an absolute travesty.

Throw in the aforementioned Friend of a Friend and Number 37405 and you have three songs that tell as good a story as is possible in 3 – 4 minutes. How can a guy being locked up for killing someone whilst drink driving be good material for a song? You’d be forgiven for wondering that, but listening to Number 37405 and it all becomes clear, and is a song which is one of the highlights of an incredible album.

This is a collection of songs that are so varied that there really is one for very occasion and mood. However they don’t feel out of place with each other, and I love the juxtaposition of going from Annie I Owe You A Dance to Mexicoma, which opens with the line I’m sittin’ here stoned, at Tortilla Jo’s and has a chorus I’ve been singing to myself all day.

I haven’t even mentioned the best known song on Two Lanes of Freedom, which is a collaboration between Tim McGraw, Taylor Swift and Keith Urban. You may have heard of it, Highway Don’t Care? This is a song that sits a top a lot of people’s songs of 2013 and is the perfect melding of three very talented musicians. Tim and Taylor’s voices work in perfect contrast and you can say what you want about Taylor Swift, and much has been said, but the girl has a stupendous voice. Keith on guitar is a virtuoso and has me thinking an album of his should be my next country music purchase.

The more I listen to this album the more I like it, to the point where I’m not sure where it will sit in my list of top albums of 2013 that I am currently working on. Could it really take away that top spot from an artist many would never think I would see usurped from number one? It’s Your World having an almost Steve Vai-esque solo in it could help, given that Mr Vai is somewhat of a guitar her of mine.

Two Lanes of Freedom is a superb album which demonstrates Tim’s skill as a singer, songwriter, musician and as someone who can give us a bunch of songs that showcase both his fun and sensitive sides in fabulous harmony. I’m sure I’m not the only one who after listening to Book of John will at least try to start keeping a physical record of experiences and memories. I honestly can’t recommend this album enough, and if you are one of the few, like myself, who didn’t buy it last year, then please get it now, as a matter of importance. I’m now off to listen again, for probably the eighth time in three days.

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Album Review: Lady Antebellum – Golden

Golden - Lady Antebellum

Golden – Lady Antebellum

If you’d read my review of Lady Antebellum’s Own The Night World Tour Blu-ray you’d know how much I liked it and was therefore really excited about the new album from the band; Golden, of which I was lucky enough to receive a review copy of.

On the first couple of listens I liked what I heard – a summery sound with more of the vocal solos seemingly going to Hillary rather than Charles, at least on the first half of the album anyway. This was certainly to my liking, especially after the Charles dominated performances on the aforementioned Blu-ray. However, when I listened out more for the lyrics, that’s when it began to unravel and the album started to lose some appeal.

Of the 12 songs on this 4th album from Lady Antebellum, 11 of them are about relationships. It’s the same criticism I had of the latest Brad Paisley album Wheelhouse, but at least he did it in a variety of ways and with some humour too. There are the positive songs such as Can’t Stand The Rain and Golden, the latter being the kind of ballad that Charles has become famous for. However, there are others like Better Off Now (That You’re Gone), Goodbye Town and It Ain’t Pretty which dwell on relationships of days gone by. It Ain’t Pretty shows off a great stripped down and vulnerable vocal from Hillary, but I find it hard to relate to someone talking about kissing boys in clubs, and there in lies the problem.

Listening to this album I really felt like I was the wrong demographic and not the target audience for Golden. As a married man with a son, mortgage, job and all the usual trappings of being a responsible grown up, I found the subjects addressed by the songs on Golden to be, well, trivial. Maybe I’m just lucky to have never found myself thinking about an old flame or memories of the times we had together. Maybe if I’d spent more time reflecting on such times the songs would resonate more, but I didn’t, and they don’t.

The one song that doesn’t address relationship issues is Generation Away, and not just because of the subject matter it’s by far my favourite track on the album. This last track on Golden is the only one that doesn’t feel like it’s sitting in a Lady Antebellum Safe Zone, and I wish they’d not waited until the end of the album to mix things up a bit. Okay, maybe that’s a bit harsh as Downtown is a more funky sound than we’ve heard before, and the relationship chat isn’t as blatant as in other songs.

Golden is another step away from Nashville and a few more towards mainstream pop for Lady Antebellum. While vocals are never a problem, their choice of subject matter is, as they seem determined to share the market currently dominated by Taylor Swift. This album lacks any kind of edge and none of the songs have a wow factor like their 2010 hit Hello World. Maybe they’ve always been a teen targeted pop band, but Golden certainly solidifies that intent. It’s an album that needs more variety and spirit, no mater who they want as their audience.

I was sent a copy of Golden but was under no obligation to review it.

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Album Review: Brad Paisley – Wheelhouse

Brad Paisley - Wheelhouse

Brad Paisley – Wheelhouse

It was less than 3 months ago that I wrote about my discovering Brad Paisley and liking his music, a lot. It was Hits Alive that got me into him and since then I’ve listened to and really enjoyed This Is Country Music and American Saturday Night, particularly the latter. So what was that mini Brad Paisley retrospective for? To highlight the fact that his new album, Wheelhouse, is the first one that I have anticipated and bought on the day of release. Well, I actually pre-ordered it last week and received it today, the day after release.

I had this review in mind even before listening to Wheelhouse and wasn’t sure whether to generally about the album, with particular attention to certain songs, or to look at each song individually. After listening to the album, I’ve decided to go for the latter, so let’s get on with that right now. It’s worth noting that I bought the deluxe version which has a massive 21 songs on it, 4 of them limited to this version.

Bon Voyage and Southern Comfort Zone
My first listen to Wheelhouse was in the car on the way home this evening, so with my eyes on the road and not on the stereo I didn’t notice what tracks were playing. Why is that of importance I hear you ask? Because a minute or so into what I though was Bon Voyage I thought it sounded remarkably like Southern Comfort Zone and there was a reason for that. Bon Voyage is only a 19 second instrumental introduction to Southern Comfort Zone and the album. The first song, and first single from the album is what initially put Wheelhouse on my radar, and encourages exploring the world, but at the same time extolling the virtues of home. The video that accompanies this song is essential viewing, and as such I present it you right now.

Southern Comfort Zone builds to a pretty epic sounding chorus which I can only imagine would be great to see performed live.

Beat This Summer
A good song about a summer relationship aside, Beat The Summer brings something to me that I sorely miss in music today, and particular from my favourite band of 25 years Bon Jovi – that being a cracking guitar solo. Brad’s guitar playing prowess was one of the things that first attracted me to his music and just 8 minutes and 20 seconds into Wheelhouse I’m rewarded with a nifty solo which returns again, after the chorus, towards the end of the song.

Outstanding In Our Field
Brad is joined by Dirks Bentley & Roger Miller, with Hunter Hayes on guitar. Two of those I’m aware of, but the only Roger Milla, spelt slightly differently, I know is the Cameroon football player famous for dancing after scoring in the 1990 football world cup. This is a fun song which sounds very much like a live jam, and for that it gets extra marks. More 6-string skills on display in a song that would have made a great summer anthem for an 18 year old me.

Pressing On A Briuse
It gets a bit more serious now as Brad sings about an old flame and how his wanting to see what she’s up to and reflecting on the past is like pressing on a bruise. An analogy I quite like, though wiggling a loose tooth would be my go to alternative. Only problem being that most people over the age of ten don’t get those, so well done Brad, your’s is better. Good song up until the rapping bit which didn’t do much for me, and was thankfully not too long.

I Can’t Change The World
This is a really nice stripped back acoustic sounding, at the start at least, love song. I mentioned Bon Jovi before and I can imagine Jon singing this in the band’s new direction of the last few years. This is a song that Brad will play when the sun goes down at outdoors gigs, and will be played by more than a few men to their chosen gal. Another guitar solo? Go on then, you know how much I like them.

幽 女
This is an instrumental song whose title translates to Quiet Female. It sounds like a blend of the orient and an old western, with the emphasis on the latter. Nice little tune, not much more to be said really, apart from mentioning some pretty fine string skills on display.

This song had me thinking probably more than I should have. It’s basically about a woman who it seems gets knocked about by her husband and goes on to learn karate until she reaches black belt and can then fight back and kick his butt. Now the problem I have with this is that it takes years to get to that stage, so surely she’d be better leaving him than staying in an abusive relationship until this point of trained revenge? Musically it would appear that Quiet Female is a prelude to Karate and it’s a fun song, if not a little bewildering for the points I have already talked about.

Death Of A Married Man
Great little song, and emphasis on the little, that has Eric Idle singing. Yes, the Eric Idle of Monty Python fame. I’d love to know the story that lad to him working with Brad, but I’m thankful it happened.

Harvey Bodine
The fun continue continue with a song that sees Brad singing about a guy who was officially dead for 5 minutes, but then came back to life, only to hanker back to that dead period thanks to having to go back to his wife whom he appears to dislike immensely. There are times when the melodic vocal reminds me of Paul McCartney in his days as a Beatle, which can only ever be a good thing. It’s at this point in the album where I’m thinking Brad may have had a relationship that has ended badly as this is the 3rd song in 9, if we discount Bon Voyage, that has been about unhappy partnerships.

Tin Can On A String
It all slows down now for Tin Can On A String as we a sing about a couple getting married, and Brad as the guy who wanted to be with her. Another song about a missed chance of love – I’m definitely sensing a theme here. Brad hits some pretty high notes and treats me to another guitar solo, albeit shorter than the previous efforts. A decent enough song, but beaten out by I Can’t Change The World as the top ballad on Wheelhouse.

Death Of A Single Man
You got me Brad, I was fooled. This song starts off as if we are talking about a guy who has not long to live and then dies, until we get swerved and it’s actually his life as a single man that has ended. What seems like it is going to be quite a depressing tune actually turns into a jaunty song about this guy’s new life as a married man. That said, even though it’s lighthearted, it is another song knocking marriage. A very 70s sounding guitar solo takes into the last minute of Death Of A Single Man, which in itself sounds quite dated, intentionally so.

The Mona Lisa
I’m sure there’s a Coldplay song that starts a little like this, but I can’t for the life of me remember which one. This is a turn up for the books, it’s a song about a guy loving a woman and being with her being enough in his life. I guess Brad isn’t as against relationships as some earlier songs may have implied.

Accidental Racist
What starts out being a good song about a guy wearing a Lynyrd Skynyrd Confederate Flag and stupidly realising that to some it means something different than being proud of his heritage, is soon spoiled when LL Cool J raps his way into the song. I wasn’t keen on Brad’s own country rapping earlier in the album, I’m far less satisfied with the hood invading this country tune. I get that he wanted the other side of being judgmental to be represented, but the two styles don’t blend well together at all.

Runaway Train
I like the sound of this song a lot with it’s blend of stringed instruments and fast pace, but it’s definitely one of those songs that needs a few more listens before it resonates with me. It’s a song about a guy who is with a woman, or maybe he isn’t, who has some kind of hold on him. Don’t get me wrong, I like it, it just didn’t stand out for its story as much as the others, but then 21 songs is a lot to take and write about on first play.

Those Crazy Christians
For a short while I though Mr Paisley was going to attack the Christian religion, but as the song progresses you realise that he’s actually complimenting and praising them, sometimes in a backhanded way. I particularly like the “They curse the Devil’s whiskey, while they drink the savior’s wine” line, which elicited a bizarre partially flame engulfed bar image in my mind! I’m left wondering if Brad himself has been baptised in this song, or whether it was just a guy like him.

Officially Alive
For the first 3 seconds this could be a Killers song, but then it very clearly isn’t, as the banjos kicking in a while later confirm for sure. More comparisons as the guitars in the chorus sound like a U2 song, with a another song that builds to an epic pinnacle about feeling alive. As a father, any song that talks about becoming a parent is going to score sentimental points with me, as this one does. A great way to end what is the last song on the standard album.

Yankee Doodle Dixie (Bonus Song)
This is an amalgamation of Yankee Doodle Dandy and Dixie, at least in tune and the few lines of lyrics we actually get. A fun little interlude.

Facebook Friends (Bonus Song)
When I first saw this was the title of one of the songs on the album I cringed, but was that just me being incredibly antiquated and is it no different to people writing songs about talking on the phone? It’s a decent tune, but even after listening to it I can’t get my head around a song about Facebook – it just seems to crass and something I’d expect from Justin Bieber. The song is a dichotomy of traditional sound and, well, Facebook!

Get Even (Bonus Song)
OK, so we’re back on the relationship gone bad vibe as this song advises the scorned female to get back at her cheating husband by cheating on him. What kind of advice is that? OK, it’s not a totally serious song, but really, after Karate I’m thinking Bard Paisley should definitely not seek future employment as a relationship counselor. It’s a good tune though with a nice duelling guitar and violin section which really appealed to me.

Southern Comfort Zone (Acoustic Version) (Bonus Song)
I love acoustic music and giving the title song of this album that treatment to end this deluxe version of Wheelhouse is perfect, and sounds absolutely fantastic.

Though I have a few objections to content and musical direction, all in all Wheelhouse is a fantastic album, with a great variety of songs and moods, though sometimes relying a little heavily on bad relationships for material. Great vocals, interesting lyrics and some masterful musicianship, Brad Paisley’s latest album brilliantly combines his superb ability to put stories to music. I used the word fun a number of times in this review and it seems like Brad had a lot of fun making this album, which in some way reminds me of Jerrod Niemann’s Judge Jerrod & The Hung Jury with its mix of humour, song styles and personality. If I were to give this album a rating it would be 4.5 out of 5. With a lot of great albums coming out in 2013, Wheelhouse is going to be hard to beat.

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Album Review: Kellie Pickler – 100 Proof

Kellie Pickler - 100 Proof

Kellie Pickler – 100 Proof

I’m not really sure what made me get this album, I think it could have something to do with Taste of Country mentioning Kellie’s name on Twitter regularly as she is up for a few categories in their awards. That and I’m sure I remember seeing this album recommended in the latest issue of Country Music People, so I thought I’d take a chance, not really knowing what to expect.

The album kicks off with Where’s Tammy Wynette and immediately I’m confronted with a more traditional country music sound, but that’s ok, her voice is good and along with the second song Unlock That Honky Tonk, they have a good beat and are both foot tapping songs. However, Stop Cheatin’ on Me is the start of a sound I don’t like, and that’s the overuse of guitar bends and slides, if that’s what they are called in the biz. It gives the songs a very dated and almost hokey feel, and the album doesn’t pick up again until Tough, which is by far the standout song of the album. The fact that Tough has a more contemporary feel than the rest of the album is an indication of where my tastes lie.

Straight after Tough comes Turn On The Radio, which has a very dated sounding intro and the guitars through the songs do not seem to fit her vocals, and spoil an otherwise good song. It’s all downhill after this I’m afraid, as a combination of those awful guitars and dragging pace can’t lift this album back up to anywhere near the levels of Tough.

I really don’t think Kellie’s voice suits the direction this album went in for the most part. I hear a contemporary voice, and a really good one at times, but it’s been muted down and confined within this album sound of yesteryear. It’s not an album I can imagine myself listening to again and if I am going to listen to any more Kellie Pickler in the future I’ll be checking it out first to see if it’s vibrant modern Kellie or dated Kellie, and avoid the latter.

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