DISClaimer Single Reviews (2/16/11)

Contemporary country music sounds wildly diverse this week.

We have bluegrass flavored The Roys, outlaw sounds from the George Brothers, rollicking pop-country by Kenny Chesney and southern, guitar-slinger rock via Frankie Ballard. How’s that for variety?

The expert instrumental work on the George Brothers single earns the duo a DiscCovery Award.

I have a three-way tie for the Disc of the Day. For songwriting excellence, the winner is Jamey Johnson. For poetry in production, the prize goes to Gretchen Wilson. And for all-out vocal splendor, give one to Chris Young.

GEORGE BROTHERS/Brothers, Friends And Outlaws Forever
Writer: Dandall George/Leslie Wright; Producer: George Brothers & Leslie Wright; Publisher: none listed, BMI/ASCAP; Velma Jean (870-715-2867)
—I like it that the two electric guitars “answer” each other from opposite speakers. The duo’s single is a stomping southern rocker that name-checks Waylon, Willie, Johnny Cash, Jesse James, John Wayne, farmers, the troops, mama, Jack Daniels, Bud Light and the like. They won’t win any prizes as singers, but they get the job done, and the track is smokin.’

TIM McGRAW & GWYNETH PALTROW/Me And Tennessee
Writer: A. Martin; Producer: Byron Gallimore, Tim McGraw & A. Martin; Publisher: none listed, ASCAP; Curb
—Taken from the soundtrack of Country Strong, this echo-soaked ballad of rekindling faded love never actually gets around to singing its title. All atmosphere and little substance.

VINCE HATFIELD/Beth
Writer: Robert Alan Ezrin/Stanley Penridge/Peter Criss; Producer: Vince Hatfield & Eric Paul; Publisher: Rock Steady/Intersong/Cafe Americana/Irving/All By Myself/Peter Criss, ASCAP; Blue Moon (www.vincehatfield.com)
—Vince thinks this 1976 ballad by Kiss would make a good country single. I don’t.

CHRIS YOUNG/Tomorrow
Writer: Chris Young/Frank Myers/Anthony Smith; Producer: James Stroud; Publisher: Runnin’ Behind/EMI April/Sixteen Stars/Frank Myers/Grand Poobah/Dreams To Music, ASCAP/BMI/SESAC; RCA
—He sings with so much heat you can practically warm your hands by the speakers. This ultra-melodic ballad of conflicted romance sounds like a major, major hit. Straight from his beating heart.

THE ROYS/Coal Minin’ Man
Writer: Lee Roy/Matt Rogers; Producer: The Roys & Andy Leftwich; Publisher: none listed; Rural Rhythm (track) (www.theroysonline.com)
—This single from The Roys’ upcoming Rural Rhythm debut (due in March), is a sparkling acoustic gem. The lilting dobro licks, weaving fiddle lines and rippling guitars create an enchanting tapestry of sound around their plaintive voices. In a word, delightful.

FRANKIE BALLARD/A Buncha Girls
Writer: Frankie Ballard/Rhett Akins/Dallas Davidson/Ben Hayslip; Producer: Michael Knox; Publisher: Sony-ATV Tree/EMI Blackwood/Rhettneck/String Stretcher/WB/Melissa’s Money/Get a Load of This, BMI/ASCAP; Warner Bros.
—This exudes potent self confidence and musical muscle. Put some rocking sass in your playlist.

KENNY CHESNEY/Live A Little
Writer: Shane Minor/David Lee Murphy; Producer: Buddy Cannon & Kenny Chesney; Publisher: none listed, BMI/ASCAP; BNA (track)
—It may be February outside, but Kenny is already bopping into the summer season. A single with a built-in smile. Tap your toes and sing along.

GRETCHEN WILSON/I’d Love To Be Your Last
Writer: Rivers Rutherford/Sam & Annie Tate; Producer: Gretchen Wilson & Blake Chancey; Publisher: none listed, ASCAP/SESAC; Redneck (track) (www.gretchenwilson.com)
—I guess there are just some things we weren’t meant to understand in our lifetimes. Like how a track on an independent-label CD that was never even released as a single winds up with two Grammy nominations. Now it is finally a single, and a spectacularly lovely one. Gretchen sings the ballad with breathy, aching emotion, and the super-tasteful, guitars-and-cello arrangement is simply gorgeous. Awesome.

JAMEY JOHNSON/Heartache
Writer: Jamey Johnson/Rivers Rutherford; Producer: the Kent Herdly Playboys; Publisher: EMI Blackwood/Big Gassed Hitties/Universal/Macirhcyco, BMI/ASCAP; Mercury (CDX)
—This darkly ominous composition takes the unusual perspective of treating Heartache as though it were a sentient, threatening predator. Jamey growls his way through a tale that takes you through the historical past and into a smoldering, sexual present. Brilliantly creative and fabulously listenable.

MARK WILLS/Looking For America
Writer: Bernie Nelson/Philip Douglas/Jeremy Bussey; Producer: Phil O’Donnell; Publisher: Lisa Marie/SongsStarters/Buzz Cut, SESAC; Big Red M (CDX) (615-772-8868)
—He misses the good old days, surrounded by a stellar audio production.

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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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