DISClaimer: CMA Awards Week Brings Out Top-Notch Releases

Florida Georgia Line

Florida Georgia Line

It seems the stars are out in more ways than one during this Country Music Week.

They twinkle at awards shows left and right. They sparkle at free concerts. And they also blaze brightly when they time record releases to happen during this media-saturated week.

The great Eric Church dropped a “surprise” album into the mailboxes of fans and friends on Tuesday, titled Mr. Misunderstood. Tim McGraw (Damn Country Music), Old Dominion (Meat and Candy) and Hunter Hayes (The 21 Project) introduce their new collections on Friday. Chris Young’s I’m Comin’ Over is out next week. Carrie Underwood (Storyteller) made a sales splash with hers last week.

And so it is that we find new discs by Frankie Ballard, Florida Georgia Line and Ashley Monroe in today’s review column. Not to mention well-timed releases by Opry stars Charlie Daniels and John Conlee. Even former pop princess Leigh Nash is getting in on the action.

Florida Georgia Line wins the Disc of the Day. Young Californian Callie Twisselman gets a DisCovery Award.

DEBBIE COCHRAN/Before We Met The World
Writer: Debbie Cochran; Producer: Kent Wells; Publisher: DMC Anniston, BMI; Go Time
-This former DisCovery Award winner has a lustrous country alto and a nicely warm, conversational, plain-spoken delivery. This rolling two-step charmed me at every turn. Get up and slowly shuffle around that Texas dance floor.

FRANKIE BALLARD/It All Started With A Beer
Writers: Jaren Johnston/Neil Mason/Jeremy Stover; Producer: Marshall Altman; Publishers: Sony-ATV Harmony/Texa Rae/Netwerk One B/Revelry/Nevada House/ole Red Cape Songs/Real Big Red Tunes; ASCAP/BMI; Warner Bros.
-I think this guy is a star. His relaxed, intimate delivery of this nostalgic and romantic tune certainly sounds like one. The production sways and soothes. The song is a well-written gem.

Callie Twisselman

Callie Twisselman

Writers: Ford Thurston/Brynn Marie; Producer: none listed; Publishers: none listed, BMI; Sugar Cube
-Her bright soprano delivery is a wee bit sharp. The male harmony singers help, but the clippety-clop rhythm track doesn’t. Still, there is personality here, plus some nice electric-guitar work.

Writers: Rodney Clawson/Ross Copperman/Matt Jenkins; Producer: Joey Moi: Publishers: Big Red Toe/Farm Town Songs/Big Loud Bucks/EMI Blackwood Music/Songs By Red Room/Sony/ATV Music Publishing/WB Music Corp./Who Wants To Buy My Publishing/External Combustion Music, BMI/ASCAP; Republic (track)
-Troubled and adrift, a guy stares out at highway scenery and searches for solace. His thoughts swirl and become a confession to a cold beer. The track shudders, thuds and crashes around the vocals brilliantly. The drawling lead vocal brings out the terrifically arty lyric. I’m totally into this, and definitely hear pop-crossover potential.

Writers: Hailey Whitters/Adam Wright; Producer: Derek Wells; Publishers: Scrambler/Tiltawhirl/Casa de Casa, BMI; Carnival (track)
-The title tune to this gal’s CD is a brooding, thumping, moody, minor-key gem. She sings with sizzle. The track swirls around her. The lyric is packed with clever nursery-rhyme references, such as, “Go tell that Little Bo Peep, don’t come in with this black sheep.” “Who wants to be white as snow?” she asks. “There’s always a little black wool/Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full.” This is the second time this writer-artist has pinned my ears back. Listen and believe.

Writers: Ashley Monroe/Gordie Sampson/Steve McEwan; Producers: Vince Gill/Justin Niebank; Publishers:Monroe Suede/Songs of Kobalt/BMG Firefly/Dash8/EMI Blackwood/Birds With Ears/Sony ATV, BMI/ASCAP; Warner Bros.
-Ashley’s The Blade is one of the year’s finest country albums. On this haunting ballad she conjures a spell like a singing sorceress. The echoey production underscores every line of this doomed-relationship lyric. This Pistol Annie shoots straight and hits an emotional bulls eye here.

Writers: Charlie Daniels/Travis Tritt; Producer: Bob Wright; Publishers: CDB/Wooley Swamp/Post Oak, BMI; Smith (track)
-The CDB kicks off a new live album with this blazing, mile-a-minute country rocker. You can definitely hear the influence of co-writer Travis Tritt in the song.

LEIGH NASH/Doing It Wrong
Writers: Leigh Nash/Brendan Benson; Producer: Brendan Benson; Publishers: BMG Silver/Woman Hollering/BMG/Chrysalis/Gladsad, SESAC/ASCAP; One Son/Thirty
-Leigh has enjoyed a highly successful pop career in Sixpence None the Richer, noted for “Kiss Me” (1998) and “There She Goes” (1999). She’s originally from Texas, so she endeavored to make a country record with The State I’m In. As pert and clever as this is, she isn’t really a country vocalist.

JOHN CONLEE/Walkin’ Behind The Star
Writers: Ronny Scaife/Phil Thomas; Producer: Bud Logan; Publishers: Universal Songs of PolyGram/Virgin Timber/Feel’s Hunny Hole, BMI; RCR (CDX)
-It’s a pro-police song.

ERIC CHURCH/Mr. Misunderstood
Writers: Eric Church/Casey Beathard; Producer: Jay Joyce; Publishers: Sony/ATV Tree/Longer and Louder Music/Sony/ATV Acuff Rose Music/Six Ring Circus Songs; (BMI); EMI (track)
-Yes, I am one of the lucky few who got one. I am the envy of the office, since we are all tremendous fans. The title track of Eric’s “surprise” album is a spare outing with a terrific lyric about a boy who lives inside his favorite music and makes all kinds of left turns in life. It has a raucous, rocking charm with a speed-up, slow-down arrangement. All of the instrumentation on the collection is provided by his road band. Assorted tracks feature Joanna Cotten, Rhiannon Giddens and/or Susan Tedeschi.


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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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