Spring has sprung, but not all the blossoms are beautiful.
Today’s survey of current country sounds can serve as a textbook for what is wrong with some of the directions that contemporary country acts are taking. We have pop-rock, teen pop and hip-hop influenced tracks here, flaunting any classic definitions of the genre.
I have always been a traditionalist at heart. That’s why Alan Jackson easily wins the Disc of the Day award.
Mind you, I’m not averse to modern country stylings. Hence, my hearty endorsement of the tunes by Gary Allan, Mitchell Tenpenny, Brittney Spencer and our DisCovery Award winner, Savannah Keyes.
ROSS COPPERMAN / “Holdin’ You”
Writers: Ross Copperman/Ashley Gorley/Shane McAnally; Producer: Ross Copperman/Alex Mendoza; Label: Photo Finish Records
— Copperman has produced and/or written a blue-zillion country hits (Darius, Dierks, Kelsea, Phil, Jake, Brad, Eldredge, Gabby, etc. etc.), but his own music is quite pop. Processed vocals, electronic track, the works. A pleasant surprise.
GARY ALLAN / “Temptation”
Writers: Nicolle Galyon/Chase McGill/Jon Nite; Producer: Mark Wright/Tony Brown; Label: EMI Nashville
— Rocking and dramatic with a percussive undertow, bell-clear guitar chiming, a driving melody and a terrific vocal performance. Allan exchanges his rasp for tenor clarity and the shift is ear opening. Highly recommended.
SOUTHERLAND / “Boot Up”
Writers: Greg Bates/Matt Chase/Chris Rogers/Austin Taylor Smith; Producer: Greg Bates; Label: River House/Sony Nashville
— This has a slight “outlaw” vibe and more than a little macho attitude. Blue-collar listening.
ALAN JACKSON / “Where Have You Gone”
Writers: Alan Jackson; Producer: Robert Keith Stegall; Label: EMI Nashville
— Tender, wistful, yearning, profound and bluer than blue. A ballad of loss, wrapped in fiddle and steel and performed by a country-music master. “Sweet country music, where have you gone?” Amen, bro.
BRITTNEY SPENCER & COMMON HYMNAL / “Whiskey Lows”
Writers: Brittney Spencer/Shelley Scarr/Stephan Hovsepian; Producer: Will Reagan; Label: BS
— A plea from the depths of addiction that echoes with emotional truth and honesty. The gospel-infused performance of this ballad is riveting. Former Underwood backup singer Spencer steps into a solo spotlight with her debut on the Grand Ole Opry Friday night.
MITCHELL TENPENNY / “To Us It Did”
Writers: Mitchell Tenpenny/Michael Hardy/Jordan Schmidt; Producer: none listed; Label: Columbia Nashville/Riser House
— Marvelously energetic and charmingly written. It’s a anthem for small-town kids everywhere that Tenpenny sings with immense verve. Loved it.
WALKER HAYES & JAKE OWEN / “Country Stuff”
Writers: Walker Hayes/Joe Thibodeau/Adam Stark; Producer: Walker Hayes/Joe Thibodeau/Shane McAnally; Label: Monument Records
— Is this title meant to be ironic? Neither of these artists has shown much affinity for real country music. This utterly tuneless, monotonous outing doesn’t change that.
SAVANNAH KEYES / “I’m Not California”
Writers: Savannah Keyes/Blair Daly; Producer: Jason Afable; Label: SK
— Youthful, yet strong. Her singing has a striking clarity of tone and unmistakable confidence. The song is cool and hooky, too.
SAMMY KERSHAW / “Evangeline”
Writers: Bob McDill/Carson Chamberlain; Producer: none listed; Label: Kershaw
— Cajun-flavored party-tempo music. Tap your toes and smile while guitars stutter, fiddles saw and Sammy drawls his best honky-tonkin’ heartache phrasing.
ALANA SPRINGSTEEN / “California”
Writers: Alana Springsteen/Jerry Flowers/Jared Keim; Producer: Alana Springsteen/Jerry Flowers/Jared Keim; Label: none listed
— Contemporary pop-country with a sunny teen twist. Electronics mixed with acoustics. It gets old fast.
DREW GREEN / “The Rest of Our Lives”
Writers: Andrew Rollins/Drew Green/Mitch Allan/Russell Sutton; Producer: none listed; Label: Villa 40/Sony
— His singing voice is rather ordinary, but conveys sincerity. The song is a mundane romance outing.
CASSADEE POPE, KAREN FAIRCHILD & LINDSEY ELL / “What the Stars See”
Writers: Cassadee Pope/Jake Rose/Lindsay Rimes; Producer: Karen Fairchild/Nick Wheeler; Label: Awake
— The obnoxiously loud track is all rocked up, frothing, cluttered and junky. The vocals are pitched high above and piercing. I breathed a sigh of relief when it ended.