DISClaimer Single Reviews (9/8/10)

The competition is at a really high level this week.

I can’t remember when there were so many really fine songs going head to head during one listening session. “I Make a Difference,” “Bad Angel,” “Raymond” and “Who Are You When I’m Not Around” all tugged at my emotions in different ways.

It’s also a really good sign when there are so many worthy newcomers making noise. Rob Baird, T.J. Broscoff, Brad Wolf and Brett Eldredge all tickled my ears. But only the last-named had the one-two punch of both a performance and a song that knocked me off my socks. Give Brett Eldredge that DisCovery Award.

Brett was so strong, in fact, that he also competed for Disc of the Day. So did Blake Shelton, Sage Keffer and Randy Houser. But in the end, I went with the undeniable star power of Dierks Bentley, Miranda Lambert and Jamey Johnson.

ROB BAIRD/Could Have Been My Baby
Writer: Rob Baird; Producer: Scott Davis; Publisher: none listed; Carnival (track) (www.robbairdmusic.com)
—This is evidently kicking up some dust on the Texas charts. I can hear why. He has a soulful, urgent delivery, a blue-collar attitude and a plain-spoken songwriting style. The production is rootsy/cool with underlying high, keening steel and organ sounds. Count me in.

SARA EVANS/A Little Bit Stronger
Writer: Luke Laird/Hillary Lindsey/Hillary Scott; Producer: Tony Brown; Publisher: Universal-Careers/High Powered Machine/Raylene/BPJ/EMI Foray/Hillary Dawn, BMI/ASCAP/SESAC; RCA
—Her delivery is emotionally resonant, but the overly long and meandering song isn’t very hook-y.

BRYAN COLE/I’m Comin’ Home
Writer: Bryan Cole/Michael Stover; Producer: Bryan Cole & Michael Stover; Publisher: none listed; Perfect Vision (www.bryancole.net)
—This fellow is a regional favorite in the Pittsburgh area. His plaintive tenor hits all the right notes here. But it’s usually not a good idea to launch a national career with a ballad. Go find yourself a hit song.

BLAKE SHELTON/Who Are You When I’m Not Looking
Writer: Earl Bud Lee/John Wiggins; Producer: Scott Hendricks; Publisher: We’re Working/Kobalt Songs/Notewrite/Fiddlestock, ASCAPP/BMI; Reprise
—He is one of the most underrated vocalists in this format. This stunning, perfect performance throws the spotlight on his ballad abilities. As if his subtly shaded phrasing isn’t stellar enough, the song is wonderfully well written.

T.J. BROSCOFF/Jamie’s Heart
Writer: T.J. Broscoff; Producer: Bill Green; Publisher: Bill Green, BMI; BGM (www.tjbroscoff.com)
—I dig the rasp in his throat, the melodic song and the twinkling, breezy production. Very promising. Send more.

DIERKS BENTLEY, MIRANDA LAMBERT & JAMEY JOHNSON/Bad Angel
Writer: Verlon Thompson/Suzi Ragsdale; Producer: Jon Randall Stewart; Publisher: Verlonsongs/EMI April/Ray Stevens, ASCAP/BMI; Capitol Nashville (track)
—The video of the trio’s performance of this during the CMA Music Festival is now airing on CMT. I went insane over this the first time I heard it on Dierks’s superb Up on the Ridge CD. I’m still crazy about it. Bluesy, soulful, searing and sensational. To my ears, the greatest country Vocal Collaboration of the Year.

BRAD WOLF/I Make A Difference
Writer: Don Goodman/Brad Wolf; Producer: Morris, Goodman & Resnik; Publisher: Big Hitmakers/Little Tornadoes, BMI; Evergreen (615-327-3213)
—His delivery is kinda bawling and in-your-face. But there’s no denying the righteousness of his message. When the teacher is asked how much she makes, she replies, “I make a whole lot more than I get paid/Because I make a difference.” Amen to that.

BRETT ELDREDGE/Raymond
Writer: Brett Eldredge/Brad Crisler; Producer: Byron Gallimore; Publisher: Brett Eldredge/English Ivy/Chrysalis One/Have a Bad Day/FSMGI, BMI/ASCAP; Atlantic
—What a terrific story song. He’s the janitor in an old-folks home. A lady there calls him “Raymond” and thinks he’s her son. He lets her. You see, the real Raymond was buried in Arlington Cemetery in 1971. You’d have to be made of stone not to be moved by this.

SAGE KEFFER/Bet Yo Mama
Writer: Chuck Cannnon; Producer: Matt Rovey & Sage Keffer; Publisher: Chuck Cannon, BMI; SK  (www.sagekeffer.com)
—Swampy and funky every whichaway. This former Nashville Star competitor has a CMT reality TV show with Ted Nugent in the can, is playing the criminal in Jake Owen’s hit “Tell Me” video and has twice headlined shows in Europe. Will somebody do the right thing and give this guy the major-label contract he deserves?

RANDY HOUSER/A Man Like Me
Writer: Randy Houser/Danny Green/Jameson Clark; Producer: Mark Wright & Cliff Audretch III; Publisher: Bug/Songs of Windswept Pacific/Black in the Saddle/Ole/Sony-ATV Cross Keys/Mighty Underdog, BMI/ASCAP; Show Dog Universal (CDX)
—Solid. This is my kinda country music, with a heartbeat bass, a note-bending honky-tonk vocal, a deep-South drawl and a chorus with hooks a-plenty. Listeners are going to love this.

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Robert K. Oermann is a longtime contributor to MusicRow. He is a respected music critic, author and historian.

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