Song Analysis: May We All – Florida Georgia Line

May We All is the second single off Florida Georgia Line’s new album Dig Your Roots, and a solid song.

I wasn’t particularly impressed with this album’s first single, H.O.L.Y. The gents at FGL are great vocalists, which if you didn’t know it before this song, is evident right from the first verse – despite and not because of all the auto tuning. But even in the context of professing love with religious metaphor – some of which lines are not bad, though also not original – the vocal effort and range seem out of place and at times ham-handed especially because of the auto-tuning and especially in the chorus (i.e. the “H.O.L.Y” aka “high on loving you”). There is something to be said for FGL’s change of pace in the song itself and in the act of releasing this as the first song off their new album. It is a new direction for FGL, one that feels more like adult contemporary than country, but on the other hand it doesn’t mention Fireball and avoids bro-country cliché. At the end of the day I think the OK lyrics of the verses and FGL’s vocal displays are undermined by the self-importance of the song, particularly of the choruses, and the vocal processing.

Turning back to the song at hand, for important starters this song rings true as sung by FGL, which means something for any song not written by the artists themselves but particularly so for a song like this which is so nostalgic. By contrast Luke Bryan, one of the singers the primary writer Rodney Clawson initially considered for the song (i.e. as a potential purchaser), would not have been as good a fit at this point in his career. Maybe after Bryan co-wrote the small-town great Rain Is a Good Thing, but as Bryan’s career has staked claimed firmly in bro-country, I think this song would have come off as pandering rather than genuinely wistful.

The nostalgia hits home right from the start of the song with the prayerful “May we all” introducing the thesis of the song: getting to grow up in “our red, white and blue little town”. Most of the lyrics in this song are good, to just take a look at the annotated chorus:

May we all know that nothing ain’t cool ‘til you wear the new [off] [A few of the lyrics sites I’ve found online hear the last word of this line as “one”, an oversight that sorely misses any message at all that this song has. But the line itself hits the old is good motif and converse repudiation of all things new being automatically better pairing nicely with the overall nostalgia of the song.]

The sound of a quarter rollin’ down a jukebox [This is probably the best line in the song – we can all remember those diner/ bar jukeboxes (even as we listen to this song on our phones) and what a great auditory image. It’s not the jukebox itself or even the song playing out of it, but the sound of coin clink chunking its way down the coin slot.]

Play the Travis Tritt right above the Tupac [Here I visualized the flipbook pages of that diner jukebox where 8 or so tracks were listed vertically with the corresponding entry numbers next to each selection and making the selection for Tritt, which happened to be located alphabetically above Tupac (with Tupac mentioned for timing/ generational context). In an interview with Tyler Hubbard he suggested this was a throwback to the sort of diverse combination of music CDs he had at that age. Notwithstanding hardcore country fans’ sure objections to this reference, I say I don’t love it but fine. The reference to Tritt is a solid musical inspirational throwback on its own.]

[Before] you get lost down some road [Note: most of the lyrics I see online hear the first word here as hope, but I hear this as “before” which I think is better. In either event ain’t no hurry to get anywhere, it’s just driving for the sake of driving, this guy imagines perhaps with some friends from the jukebox diner in the back seat and then of course the girl riding shotgun mentioned a couple lines later.]

Slow rolling with the top off the back of a Bronco [Still no hurry to get anywhere, in contrast to the fast-paced big city or modern world. And despite use of the term “slow rolling” I don’t think we have a bro-country hook here.]

Buy a cold sixer with a cashed-in lotto [Again I think this steers clear of introducing any bro-country, just the solid enjoyment of a good six pack on a couple fortuitous extra dollars.]

She’s smilin’ with her hair blowing out the window [Some pleasant summertime happiness and carefreeness here, always good.]

Where you ‘bout to go? Yeah, you learn to fly and if you can’t then you just free fall [Here, I get a little lost. I don’t understand what this line adds to the song. It’s hard to think of freefalling without Tom Petty coming to mind but this doesn’t seem to be a reference, and in general I don’t appreciate the link to the rest of the song. But I don’t think this lack of apparent synchronicity does lasting damage to the song, and of course it’s a nice slow rhyme back to May we all.]

To focus in on a few more lyrics:

Coming in after the opening line of RW&B little town, “Kinda place you can’t wait to leave but nobody does/ ‘cause you miss it too much” is a nice lyric encapsulating the tension explored in so many country songs between hometown love, growing up and nostalgia versus the desire to leave and explore for bigger better things.

May we all do a little bit better than the first time / Learn a little something from the worst times / Get a little stronger from the hurt times
May we all get to have a chance to ride the fast one / Walk away wiser when we crashed one / Keep hoping that the best one is the last one

These lyrics are OK. The tone with which they are delivered suggests there is something meaningful behind the lyrics. Interpreted in the context of the music video as about a car race and attendant literal crash they certainly don’t mean anything and I think trivialize what in the generality of the lyrics could be interpreted as significant. The generality of the lyrics by themselves at least admit of the opportunity for the listener, having just been made nostalgic for their hometown or other small town America, to graft their own experiences onto doing better than the first time, learning from the worst times, etc. The lyrics themselves (i.e. out of context) are nice. The trajectory of the song could have culminated in the nostalgic narrator returning to the small town he was once ambivalent about with wife and 2.1 &c. Or we could have just had another catchy verse about small town America and left it at that, without trying to overreach and make the song about more than face value. But as is, I don’t see a link here to the rest of the song and so am a bit frustrated at the apparent intention to impart a message without giving it substance.

This song is most successful where, and because generally, it doesn’t try to do too much. When the song embraces nostalgic references, it does so in just the right way. Most of the song is content being about nostalgia for nice small town America, and it does so simply and without pretension, by listing nice small town Americana. Listing things can make for a good song (see, e.g. I Love this Life). The pace of the song is really nice. The verses are a bit slower then the chorus picks up the tempo so that the rhymes rhyme perfectly and segue one into another. The bass line of the choruses avoids being oppressive and combined with the catchy rhyme scheme reaches just the right head bob along level. May We All doesn’t have the sustained catchiness of Cruise or achieve the significance of message of Dirt, but it finds a satisfactory home somewhere between the two.

The 9 Categories of Country Music: The South

At least at first glance “The South” seems like the easiest of the 9 Categories to identify in songs and draw boundaries around for purposes of categorization and this identification. It probably is, but this is more a feature of the complexity of the other categories rather than this category just being a simple one. At the core of this category are songs about the south generally, or about specific southern states and cities. Songs like Alabama’s Song of the South and Dixieland Delight, Brad Paisley’s Southern Comfort Zone, Hootie’s Southern State of Mind and Southern Style, Hank Jr.’s If Heaven Ain’t a Lot Like Dixie, Tim’s Southern Voice and The Band’s The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down don’t focus on southern locations or a specific southern custom, they’re just about the American South.

Songs about particular southern states (and cities) are too numerous to name exhaustively so I’ll just mention a few nice examples. Alabama’s weight is probably more than carried by Sweet Home Alabama alone (Georgia too with Devil Went Down to Georgia), but also boasts song’s like Paisley’s Old Alabama and Tracey Lawrence’s Paint Me a Birmingham. Mississippi, my adopted southern home state, gets some love in Faith Hill’s Mississippi Girl, Johnny and June’s Jackson and to segue west Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man sung by the lovable Conway Twitty & Loretta Lynn. To its name Louisiana and its cities have songs like Louisiana Saturday Night, PFG’s Louisiana Song, REK’s Hello New Orleans and Garth’s Calling Baton Rouge.

At least among my favorite artists, Texas is far and away the leader in inspiring country songs, like Strait’s All My Exes Live in Texas and Amarillo By Morning, Terry Allen’s Amarillo Highway, Waylon’s Luckenbach, Texas – sorry, there are just too many songs about Texas that I really like and want to mention – Aldean’s Amarillo Sky and Texas Was You, Jason Boland’s Somewhere Down in Texas, Kevin Fowler’s 100% Texan, Josh Abbott Band’s My Texas and She’s Like Texas, Alabama’s If You’re Gonna Play In Texas, Little Texas’ God Blessed Texas and so many Pat Green songs like I Like Texas, Texas On My Mind, Somewhere Between Texas and Mexico, West Texas Holiday and Way Back Texas. Oklahoma has some nice songs as well including MH’s iconic Okie from Muskogee, EYB’s Oklahoma Girl and Carrie’s Blown Away. And to cover at least some of the remaining field let’s also mention Take Me Home Country Roads (one of my all time favorites), Aldean’s Country Boy’s World, Wagon Wheel (always), PFG’s Virginia Belle, Steve Earle’s Copperhead Road, Shooter’s Gone to Carolina and Carolina (Eric Church or Parmalee, take your pick).

Moving outward from the core of this category, it makes sense to at least consider what else could be included in the category of “The South”. Not within the name of category, but consistent with its spirit are songs like Reckless Kelly’s Arizona Skies and Idaho Cowboy, Strait’s I Can Still Make Cheyenne and Ocean Front Property and even Kid Rock’s All Summer Long that find their inspiration a little further west (or north). So too for songs like Flyover States, REK’s Out Here In the Middle and Strait’s Heartland that are non-specfically more about the great middle west states of this great country, rather than specifically southern states. It might be stretch to go so far as to include songs like PFG’s and CDB’s respective Californias, but in this correspondent listener’s opinion I’d include at least references to western and heartland states here.

I feel still more comfortable including in this category songs about topics identifiable with the South, without specifically naming southern locations. When we hear Hank’s Jambalaya (on the Bayou), Billy Currington’s Good Directions (sweet tea, turnips greens, etc) or even Kacey Musgraves’ Biscuits, this transports the listen to the south just as much as hearing a specific location, even more so with songs mentioning non-city southern landmarks like Alan Jackson’s Chattahoochee, REK’s Corpus Christi Bay, A Country Boy Can Survive or PFG’s Southbound 35, ZBB’s Toes (GA clay) or CDB’s Stockyards. (So too for songs like Chris Ledoux’s Western Skies, Brooks & Dunn’s Red Dirt Road and Toby Keith’s Should’ve Been a Cowboy, taking us west). Because I plan to write a separate post about this, I won’t analyze here the small town, rural and farm motifs as satisfying this category other than to say that under the right circumstances I think there’s a solid argument that they can (e.g. Where the Green Grass Grows, JAB’s I’ll Sing About Mine, ZBB’s Homegrown and Hal Ketchum’s Small Town Saturday Night), given proper context.

At the end of the day, for this listener, it doesn’t take a ton of The South to get credit for hitting the category. Simple references like Blake Shelton’s “If you’ll be my Louisiana / I’ll be your Mississippi and Canaan Smith’s metaphorical kissing “slow as the Mississippi” get us there. I don’t think it can just be songs like Take Me Home Country Roads that are explicit celebrations of particular locations that get credit for hitting this category, though arguments about the breath and inclusion of this category should not distract from the recognition that depth and meaningful engagement with this, or any other category, can make a song great on its own and it’s not just about checking the category boxes. Songwriters have the opportunity to write about anywhere under the sun and set their stories wherever they please, and I really enjoy hearing songs set all across America.

Songs About Specific Things: Being Thankful That What You Wanted to Happen Didn’t Happen

One of my very favorite specific topics that some country music songs are about is being thankful in retrospect for things that didn’t happen. In particular, things that at one point the singer/ narrator very much wanted to happen. A couple fantastic songs are great examples:

Garth Brooks’ “Unanswered Prayers” – Garth recounts how he wanted, and would pray every night, to spend his life with a particular woman, but then upon running into the woman years later realizing that despite those feelings at the time he was very much meant to be with his wife and not that other woman concluding “I guess the Lord knows what he’s doin’ after all” and reflecting: “sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers” and “some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers”.

Darius Rucker’s “This” – Hootie goes through a number of these unanswered prayers: the girl that turned him down in high school, the college he wanted to attend until he got a rejection letter, his mother passing away and many other “misses”:

For every stoplight I didn’t make / every chance I did or I didn’t take
all the nights I went too far / all the girls that broke my heart
all the doors that I had to close / all the things I knew but I didn’t know
Thank God for all I missed / cause it led me here to This

It’s not a celebration of these things specifically but a recognition in retrospect that “nothing’s a mistake” and “it all makes perfect sense” because everything led to up to the great life (in this case, baby sleeping, wife laughing in his arms, rain on the rooftop and the football game about to start) he has now.

Walt Wilkins’ “Trains I Missed” – Wilkins similarly goes through loves lost, bridges burned, rivers never crossed, roads not taken, maps not read, attempts to get away from God and other hard times. And at the end of song Wilkins reflects that “the hell and the hurt” led him to finding his way and celebrates the good things in life “and the moments I find myself right where I’m supposed to be”, toasting the trains he missed.

I really like this topic. These songs have the character of the “everything happens for a reason” reflection and thanking God figures prominently into each song. (What beautiful lyrics: “just because he doesn’t answer doesn’t mean he don’t care / some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers”). They serve as a nice “take it easy” reminder that the stoplight turning to red right in front of you isn’t what’s important – or a big deal. Everyone’s had life experiences that didn’t turn out the way you hoped at the time, which is why hard times is one of the essential 9 Categories of Country Music. Maybe, like Garth, it was someone you would have done anything for, who you loved and prayed that God would let you spend the rest of your life with but that you didn’t end up with for one reason or another. Or any other unanswered prayer or metaphorical missed train. We can all consider our own life experiences in the context of Garth’s prayers, Hootie’s winding road and Wilkins’ litany of missteps and empathize with those singers, or even graft our own life experiences on to their words and melodies and hear the song as if it were written about us. Songs like this turn the hard time on its head by celebrating all those even better things that never would have happened but for that hard time, turning the initial sadness into wonderful optimism.

Some Thoughts on the 2016 50th Annual Country Music Awards

The Country Music Awards are awesome. If there is any group of celebrities I actually want to celebrate it’s country music stars, particularly because these are pop culture folks, yes wearing tuxedos and fancy dresses on the red carpet but at the same time hokey and one imagines comparatively humble and kind.

As in recent years, Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood were the perfect MCs, witty but not trying too hard and topical but not political. Their routines are always creative, and funny in just the right way – we’re not laughing at anyone and if we even feel like we’re laughing at jokes we feel like we’re just laughing together because the routines are purposefully silly.

From a production perspective the CMAs bring everyone into the fold. The show opened with a wonderful (if far too short) tribute to the late, great Merle Haggard, and nice medley that featured Charlie Daniels’ fiddle positively smoking, and a reminder that any song Carrie Underwood sings (in this case Stand By Your Man) becomes hers for that moment. Of the performances delivered, my favorites were Brooks & Dunn with Brand New Man, Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood’s snippet of Jackson and I don’t care what anyone else says: Beyoncé fit right in on that stage. Daddy Lessons is a country song and a nice one at that, and Beyoncé’s performance was great – upbeat and enthusiastic, and of course with her impressive vocals – strong horns and harmonica giving the song a nice New Orleans feel. I also enjoyed Chris Stapleton and Dwight Yoakam’s rendition of Seven Spanish Angels (more so than Stapleton’s Tennessee Whiskey performance of 2015). I’m also a big Reba fan and her 9 to 5 Dolly Parton tribute cover was spot on. Also appreciated were fun appearances by Peyton Manning, Olivia Newton John and Matthew McConaughey.

Focusing in on the awards themselves, the first live category of Best Single was disappointing. There were actually two songs in this category I felt were arguably deserving of the award: Chris Stapleton’s Nobody to Blame and Maren Morris’s My Church, but the award went to what is in my opinion the worst nominated song Thomas Rhett’s Die a Happy Man.

The CMAs had a chance at redemption but My Church didn’t make Song of the Year either, arguably an even more appropriate award for this song. Note to Reader: this award is a favorite of mine since I don’t think songwriters get nearly enough recognition. Lori McKenna, this year’s winner is a fine and deserving songwriter, though I don’t think Humble and Kind is her best effort. My Church features fine lyrics (co-written by Morris) beautifully delivered, with religious redemption serving as a nice metaphor for country music and importantly and more specifically listening to country music on the freedom of the open road on the radio, and attendent features of religion serving as a nice delivery vehicle for references to country music legends. I was pleased that they at least gave Maren a bit of stage time for the song, and what a wonderful accompaniment of Preservation Hall Jazz Band (!), and Morris was definitely the right choice for New Artist of the Year. Looking back to some of the legends who have won this award in past years, I think Morris was the only credible choice among the nominees. I have some nice things to say about Cole Swindell, which I hope to get to one of these days perhaps in a post about Pop Country, but with Chillin’ It, Hope You Get Lonely Tonight and Ain’t Worth the Whiskey from Swindell’s 2013/2014 album I don’t really think of him as a new artist any longer.

On Album of the Year, I didn’t have strong feelings among the nominees but I think Mr. Misunderstood was a good choice (Storyteller would also have been a good choice) and appreciate that Church has at least co-writing credits on every song on this album (though Morris was in her own right a co-producer of Hero). For me the most conspicuous note here was the absence of ZBB’s Jekyll + Hyde from the nominees (also probably a contender for this award in 2015) – what’s going on here?

Miscellaneous Notes on a Few Other Awards:

The gents in Brothers Osborne do have solid vocals (re: Vocal Duo of the Year), though it’s hard to put them in the same tier as Brooks & Dunn or Sugarland. These guys combined do not have the pipes of Jennifer Nettles. The Vocal Group of the Year award was a travesty. Little Big Town has a couple things going for it, including the significant vocal contributions of all members of the band, but this award clearly should have gone to Zac Brown Band. Clearly. It’s hard to argue with Carrie Underwood as Female Vocalist of the Year – particularly in a year when Jennifer Nettles, Reba or Martina McBride didn’t make the finalists. Ditto for Chris Stapleton as Male Vocalist of the Year, though again I’m not sure how Zac Brown doesn’t at least make the nomination list for his individual vocals notwithstanding that he performs as part of ZBB.

Just a faint rumor of Garth Brooks releasing a new album would probably have been enough to garner him the award for Entertainer of the Year, and while I haven’t had the good fortune to see Garth live, the performances I’ve seen of his are obviously spectacular and combined with a strong first single from his new album, this fairly gets GB the win here.

The 9 Categories of Country Music

A few years ago my friend Dan and I discovered the 9 categories of country music. These subject areas and themes are the ones most frequently appearing in the best country music songs, crafted and defined to be broad enough to apply across the spectrum of country music and specific enough to capture the important topics covered in a particular song. Our theory was that, at least as a rule of thumb, the more categories a song hits the better the song. This certainly isn’t a hard and fast rule – Wagon Wheel, one of the unquestioned contenders for qualitatively best country song doesn’t stack up particularly impressively on our quantitative metric. It’s certainly true that by focusing lyrically on even just a couple of these categories a country song can be great. Nevertheless, our theory is that there’s at least a very strong correlation between the number of categories a song hits and how good that song is.

In no particular order the 9 categories are:

  1. Love
  2. Hard Times
  3. Raisin’ Hell
  4. Nostalgia
  5. Musical Aspirations and Inspirations
  6. God/ religion
  7. The South
  8. America
  9. Modes of Transportation

I can’t recall hearing a country song that did not hit at least a couple of these categories, and probably the average is around 3.5 categories. Of course, one of the key issues in analyzing country songs for the number of categories represented is how strict or loose a construction to put on each of the categories. I hope to explore each of these categories in depth in future posts and what I mean by the level of construction will become more clear. But just to give a bit of color on each of the categories by way of example, consider the following lyrics from the lone song that our analysis has uncovered as hitting 8 of the categories, Kenny Chesney’s I Go Back:

  1. I go back to a two-toned short bed Chevy/ drivin’ my first love out to the levy (Love)
  2. And I go back to the loss of a real good friend/ and the sixteen summers I shared with him (Hard Times)
  3. And I go back to the feel of a fifty yard line/ A blanket, a girl, some raspberry wine (Raisin’ Hell)
  4. After graduation and drinkin’ goodbye to friends (Nostalgia)
  5. “Jack and Diane” painted a picture of my life and my dreams (Musical Aspirations and Inspirations)
  6. So I go back to a pew, preacher and a choir/ singin’ ‘bout God, brimstone and fire (God/ religion)
  7. I go back to the smell of an old gym floor/ and the taste of salt on the Carolina shore (The South)
  8. Not represented (America)
  9. I go back to a two-toned short bed Chevy/ drivin’ my first love out to the levy (Modes of Transportation)

 

A Comprehensive List of Things Appearing in “I Love This Life” that LoCash Loves

  • my boots broke in
  • my camo hat
  • driving my truck across the railroad tracks
  • a fresh cut field with a first frost on
  • how it [a fresh cut field with a first frost on] shines like gold when the sun turned on
  • the sound of them wheels [presumably the wheels of LoCash’s truck when driving across the railroad tracks] with my baby singing along when “The Boys Of Summer” comes on – it’s not entirely clear in context whether LoCash has an independent love for when “The Boys of Summer” comes on or whether the aforementioned song coming on modifies LoCash’s love for the sound of them wheels with my baby singing along, perhaps to an unspecified song; I think it is the former
  • my small-town world
  • a country girl
  • a Friday night
  • this life
  • that county line bar where they all know my drink
  • the way she throws her hands up when that cover band plays – really the same editorial comment here, and in the next item, as to “when ‘The Boys of Summer’ comes on”; again, in context, I think the better understanding is that LoCash specifically loves the way and the taste as modified by these specific circumstances rather than as loving, in each case respectively, two separate things
  • the taste of her lips when she’s been sippin’ that wine
  • that ragged old barn that my grandpa made
  • that little white church out on 109

Additional things LoCash may love, but for which their love is not clearly expressed: 

My understanding from the song is that LoCash also loves “the sound of an ol’ dirt road rollin’ through my mind” however they do not explicitly profess a love for this. In addition, LoCash notes that “I still get drunk on her every time” which, while not specifically professing love for her, I think is best interpreted through the metaphor and in the context of the song listing things that they love as loving her.

Addendum: Songs listing things can be great (see, e.g., Kip Moore’s “Something ‘bout a Truck”) as, of course, are songs with unbridled optimism and enthusiasm for the great things in life (see, e.g., Kenny Chesney’s “Life is Good”). Preston Brust (together with Chris Lucas, LoCash f/k/a LoCash Cowboys) talks about writing this song here, saying “We got to talking about how there was so much negativity on the news. We were kind of fed up with it that morning. [We said] Let’s get back to the stuff that we love, the little things. Let’s make a laundry list of all the things we love, and let’s call this song, ‘I Love This Life.’” What a perfect mentality for writing country songs!

NB: As this song was co-written by Brust, Lucas and two other writers, and sung by both Brust and Lucas – in the first person – I have sort of just assumed that both members of LoCash each love all of the items in the song, I think it’s better that way.

Album Highlights: Home – Pat Green

Down here in Texas, Houston en route to Austin, I think it’s only proper to offer up some thoughts on Pat F. Green. It’s going on a decade since I drove down from New Hampshire to Washington, D.C. to see PFG for the first time, and was surely the sole wearer of a NY Mets hat in a town that just a few years before had gotten their own baseball team back and in a crowd filled with Texas ex pats. At the time that was about the farthest north Green ventured, but clearly had sights set on bigger things. It was also about that time that I (apparently) introduced my good friend, who I’ll be travelling to Austin with shortly, to Pat Green and so, Pat, my apologies for his incessant screams at your concerts for Down to the River. At that DC show Green played Let Me, introducing it as a song he’d not yet released and which would eventually be the first single off his What I’m For album. He’s come a long way Home.

image1

Life Good as It Can Be is one of my favorite tracks on the new album. It feels exactly like the kind of song Pat Green should be singing at this stage of his career, like the song says a “take it easy baby, if it’s easy take it twice” kind of song. The lyrics feature a nice blend of sober reflection and just a hint of PFG’s old rowdiness, the tempo is upbeat and energizing but not trying to be pop country and the vocals seem true to a relaxed and contemplative Green, not artificially smoothed out. Letting his guitar put the cash in his car and drinking all the beers in Milwaukee gesture to the Pat Green material of old – Here We Go, George’s Bar, etc – but the song ultimately goes in a different route, reflection over rebellion:

Well I never forgot what my daddy told me
said I waited too long son I’ll never break free
there’s gotta be more boy to being alive
then minimum wage every day til you die

I can’t say I’m a huge fan of Girls From Texas, but because this song’s been pretty well received – particularly in concert – and was released as Home’s first single, it deserves mention. The song doesn’t do it for me since the lyrics are a bit cliché and seem too concerned with trying to find words that rhyme rather than telling a story or fleshing out any meat to the song. But on the other hand, the shout outs to so many states is great – how many times do states like New York and Minnesota get mentioned in country songs after all?! And the lullaby tempo and instrumentals are nice and, together with the inclusion of Lyle Lovett, are a clear signal in this first single of what to expect from the remainder of album (i.e. Texas country music).

Day One was Home’s second released single and a fantastic song that recalls the greatness of hits like Don’t Break My Heart Again. In songs like this we hear PFG vocals that convey so much emotion, raw and real, not manufactured. Combined with the strong lyrics that aren’t exactly novel but are combined in a clever way and are overwhelmingly thoughtful and sincere, the vocals take the listener reeling along with the grieving Green through the classic combination of love and hard times, with a bit of nostalgia thrown in.

In addition to the highlights above, there are a number of other strong tracks on the album, in particular Home and I’ll Take This House. And in the end Home is a more mature, grown up Pat Green, which is altogether fitting and welcome: Home was released nearly two decades after Green’s first live album and so the album, called after and representing a return to roots, is fittingly less rowdy and freewheeling and more analytical and reflective. Green has matured as singer and songwriter, and many of his fans have grown up a bit too. But even more important than the particulars of the album is the fact that the extremely talented Pat Green is once again releasing new, original music – With PFG back on the scene, Texas country music fans have a lot to look forward to!

Country Worldwide

I wasn’t greeted with the typical sound of the driver screaming into his bluetooth headset on my last NYC yellow cab ride. Instead, after giving the driver my destination and orienting myself in the cab, it occurred to me that I was being serenaded by the dulcet tones of Eric Church’s Springsteen and a quick glance confirmed that 94.7 NASH FM was playing on the radio. (More to come in a future post analyzing the strengths of “Springsteen”, including but not limited to an analysis of the title lyrics’ ability to conjure up of powerful nostalgia as well as both musical aspirational and inspirational themes all in one word.)

My ears perk up whenever I hear country music in New York City but the context of a taxi cab, being driven by a man who I initially thought – and subsequently confirmed – was not originally from these United States and did not speak English as a first language, I was particularly surprised at the choice of music. I tentatively engaged Mr. Ait-Ouamer in conversation, asking whether he liked the music that was currently playing, assuring him – lest he interpret my query as some sort of complaint – that I, in fact, liked the music. And so it turns out that he did like the genre, expressing a preference for country over various other genres and in sum delivering his verdict that it was nice music to drive around to. We chatted for the rest of the ride about music and culture, the driver I think manifesting significantly more surprise at the fact that I knew where Algeria, his native country, is located than I, at least outwardly, displayed with respect to his preference for country music.

And at the end of the day, while I can’t confirm that Mr. Ait-Ouamer will be attending the time Reckless Kelly comes to town for a concert, this was a nice reminder of some of the things that make country music so great. Country music features songs that are easy to listen to, based around universal themes like family, love and hard times that defy boundaries of state or country. A song about the nostalgia of young love can be just as appealing to a middle-aged immigrant from Algeria driving a taxi cab up and down the potholed streets of a big city as it can be to a young kid driving a harvester up and down rows of corn that seem to go on forever in a farm town out in the sticks. Brantley Gilbert sang that country must be country wide, and I agree with that sentiment as far as it goes, but – as my recent encounter reminded me – the appeal of country is indeed even wider than that.

Album Review: All Night Party – Casey Donahew Band

Casey Donahew Band’s newest album – All Night Party – is strong.

As personal background I’ve been fortunate enough to see Casey Donahew Band at NYC’s Texas Independence Day concert the past couple of years and they’ve been awesome. They – and Randy Rogers Band, who is also strong in concert – have stolen the show with the energy and enthusiasm of their performances.

This album seems to mark a bit of shift in CDB’s approach to more of a mainstream sound, but not a shift that is wholly unwelcome, or maybe if unwelcome is the wrong word, not begrudged and definitely not disappointing. Taken together the album features a diverse blend of party songs and cowboy tunes that showcase themes of love, raisin’ hell and nostalgia, featuring the lyrical originality that for me makes CDB a true standout. This is a Texas country album – and a very good one.

Kiss Me is a song that I could see receiving significant radio play and hitting the Billboard charts. Aside from the Keith Urbanesque intro, this song strikes a great balance of vintage CDB emotion and realness. The lyrics are not overwhelmingly original but the sincerity of the delivery and the intensity of the build up, starting with the bridge into the first chorus and particularly through the second chorus, make this a great song.

Country Song has a catchy chorus with wonderful lyrics that the listener can empathize with, in general and with reference to CDB in particular, along with a nice blend of nostalgia and rowdiness. Each metaphor that CDB employs seems better than the next, “beat up truck on an old dirt road”, “that first kiss when you’re holding on tight/ when two boys love one girl and you know they’re gonna fight”, “high school rebel pretending that he’s strong” in each stanza piling one on top of the other lending credence to the increasingly impassioned chorus where we see CDB performing on stage. Just like a good country song, the metaphors throughout this song, including where we see CDB performing on a stage too small, are imbued with emotional complexity and originality.

College Years is a bit of an empty song in my book – the generic, cliche lyrics fail to summon the nostalgia I think the song intends to evoke to hearken back to college and the inclusion of Love and Theft doesn’t add anything. Kip Moore is fine singer and songwriter, but his name popped into my head in an unflattering capacity when listening to this song, and I was surprised at the coincidence but not the fact of seeing his name on the songwriting credits.

What Cowboys Do is the album’s first cowboy song, a low-tempo ballad that, while not a feature of the album is certainly a solid song, the lyrics and emotion offset well by what sounds like an electric violin, in particular with lyrics like “I’m strong as a freight train and just as steady” allowing Donahew to showcase the kind of smooth, strong vocals that make him a great singer of not only upbeat Texas country rock songs but also emotional ballads.

The album features a number of party songs, including Feels This Right and Going Down Tonight, both upbeat, fun, “I’m not trying to live a love song tonight” kinds of songs. These songs incorporate themes that are prevalent in today’s bro-country movement, but in stark contrast to most bro-country songs when Donahew sings lines like “I like trucks and I love beer”, “I’m looking for a bonfire and some pasture land”, “I’m pouring moonshine shots into Dixie cups”, “I lost my keys and can’t find my phone/ everybody’s passed out so I party alone” we can hop on board because these lines are delivered in an original context that pairs nicely with the simplicity of these lyrics and a sincerity that makes the lyrics believable. Although I don’t think these songs are the best on the album, the blend of popular bro-country themes, Hank Jr. rowdiness and CDB originality make me confident that CDB will find larger commercial success.

That’s Why We Ride, the first song I’d heard off the new album, is a catchy cowboy tune that takes me right back to CDB gold like Stockyards. The lyrics and subject matter of this song perfectly match the tempo, highlighted by some restrained electric guitar that I can see being broken out into its fully glory in concert, creating a powerful, fun and passionate song that just makes me want to get out onto the highway and throw the hammer down. For me this song comes in at #2 on this album between #1 Country Song and #3 White Trash Bay.

Like College Years, I was similarly not surprised to see That Got The Girl was not a Casey Donahew song, the island-inspired sound, easy chorus and simplistic lyrics sound more similar to Kenny Chesney’s more recent albums than a CDB original, but in contrast to College Years this made for fine listening.

Josie Escalido – a nice old timey feel, Texican-inspired song, with thoughtful lyrics

White Trash Bay is wonderfully CDB, very much in the mold of White Trash Story, White Trash Story – II, Double-Wide Dream, etc. This song is infused with the CDB sense of fun and humor that shines through so strongly in Donahew’s original lyrics. It’s exactly songs like this that serve as a reminder – there are only a handful of artists on the same level as CDB in terms of creativity. This feel-good song will enter the CDB pantheon of great white trash-themed songs.

 

Reasons to Love Country

There are so many reasons to love country music, why I love country music. In New York City, there might not be quite as many of us as in other parts of these United States, and at least in my experience folks who haven’t yet hopped on the country train are always asking why.

Many posts to follow on the many reasons to love country, but let’s start with the basics. Country music is about life – love, hard times, raisin’ hell. And unlike so many TV shows, movies, music genres and people, it’s the absence of irony, of sarcasm, of condescension, of pretension that makes country music wonderful. It’s alright to sing about having a beer – just because it’s cold or because it’s a Friday night. It’s OK to sing about a date with a girl – just because you’ve had a crush on her for years. Songs aren’t about being cool – they are about being happy, or about not being happy if that’s how it works out. Without any cover of sarcasm, they’re about experiencing life.