Two strangers fall in love on an airplane. Two lovers jump in a car, put their map away and drive “anywhere.” A woman finds that life’s hardships make her stronger. And a mainstream country singer delivers a derivative, formulaic album. Just another day inside the Nashville music making machine.
It takes literally less than one minute for Sara Evans’ sixth studio album to reveal itself as a cliché monster, with the “Born to Fly” and “Suds in the Bucket” singer launching into a soaring chorus that declares, “All I want is to be loved desperately, like the sun loves the moon/Like the moon adores the shore.” A few seconds later, Evans—who co-wrote the song with Nashville songsmith and frequent collaborator Marcus Hummon—swaps her amateur poet hat for that of dimestore philosopher: “Babe, I believe that every day is a crossroad,” she sings. “We can take the right fork, or take the left, just as long as we move ahead.”
The album’s second track, “A Little Bit Stronger,” provides a glimmer of hope that perhaps the record won’t be the train wreck hinted at by its predecessor. Despite its heavy-handed optimism, the Luke Laird, Hillary Lindsey and Hillary Scott composition is a fully formed power ballad with a tight and modestly effective storyline that manages to escape the triteness of its theme and wind up as an earnestly empowering anthem.
But the reprieve is short lived, as “A Little Bit Stronger” is immediately followed by a droning cover of Rod Stewart’s synth-laden 1988 hit “My Heart Can’t Tell You No,” where the synth is replaced with some generic steel guitar fills. That ill-advised cut is followed by a song called “Anywhere,” which is Jo Dee Messina’s “Head’s Carolina, Tails California” without the urgency or impetus.
And it’s just downhill from there. In “Alone” (a ballad that opens to a quiet acoustic guitar and the always-foreboding lyrics “Thank you for the roses you sent me/They’re beautiful”), Evans’ character is leaving her forgiveness-seeking boyfriend a voice mail that says, “Please don’t call every time you think of me” and “Sometimes loving me means leaving me alone.” Ouch.
Following an awful Kara DioGuardi song called “Wildflower,” Stronger comes to a close with a not-very-bluegrass “Bluegrass Version” version of “Born To Fly” (effectively making this a nine-song album with a cheap-sounding bonus track).
Stronger is a collection of astonishingly bad songs, but there’s nothing especially noteworthy about that fact in today’s mainstream country music. In fact, most current mainstream country albums are full of astonishingly bad songs. But every now and then, mixed in with all of the trash, it’s possible to find a real gem.
And what’s ultimately the most devastating thing about this album is that, while it contains such a gem, Evans’ amazingly disconnected performance renders it useless.
Co-written by the very talented Nathan Chapman (producer for Taylor Swift and Laura Bell Bundy), “What That Drink Cost Me” is sung by a character who lost her alcoholic husband in a car accident. “I lost a good man to a bad habit/He didn’t love the whiskey, he just had to have it,” she sings. Lyrics like that are the stuff classics are made of.
But Evans’ performance is passionless, clueless and robotic, perhaps the epitome of a singer disconnected from her subject. She hardly sounds like she’s paying attention when she tells the story of waiting for him to come home, and falling to the floor as the police inform her that her lover is dead.
She should be reeling with pain and she cries, “I lost a good man.” But she just sounds sleepy.
If you wanted to give Evans the benefit of the doubt, you could say that her disinterested interpretation attempts to play up the idea she’d already lost him. There’s a line, after all, in the second verse where she sings, “So many nights I’d scream and shout/Even try to hide his keys/I tried everything to keep him from going down that road/Then my heart just let him go.”
But if that’s the case—and I think that’s a very big “if”—it represents a woefully poor interpretation of this character’s emotional turmoil. If you love someone, losing them like that would crush you—even if some part of you expected that you might someday lose them. But not so much of a trace of that pain is communicated through Evans’ delivery.
“What That Drink Cost Me” should be a song that transcends the rest of Stronger‘s disposable fare—every bit of which will be forgotten in no time flat.
Instead, it’s an epic fail from one of country music’s most underachieving singers.
Album Review: Yelle – Safari Disco Club
When Yelle arrived on the scene in 2006, it was with “Je Veux Te Voir,” an attitude-packed and hilariously vulgar diss track directed toward rapper Cuizinier for his misogynistic views. The 2007 debut album, Pop Up, spawned two more minor hits with “A Cause des Garçons” and “Ce Jeu.” The French trio, led by singer Julie Budet, established themselves as purveyors of summery electropop. Then, they all but disappeared.
To a certain extent, Yelle have kept busy since their first album, remixing Katy Perry’s “Hot ‘n’ Cold” and appearing on the Kennedy track “John and Yoko,” as well as covering “Who’s That Girl?” by Robyn. However, in such a fast-paced music environment, no one can afford to take four years between albums unless the result is something that could universally be considered a masterpiece. Yelle’s sophomore release, Safari Disco Club, is a good effort that falls short of legendary status.
They’ve grown out of the youthful spirit of Pop Up, though “C’est Pas Une Vie” packs a bright punch, while “Que Veux-Tu” and “Unillusion” make good use of ’80s pop references. Songs like “Chimie Physique” and “La Musique” are much more mature in tone than anything Yelle have released before. There’s also more actual singing from Budet, rather than the sing-rapping previously employed. Safari Disco Club showcases a more developed act, but it doesn’t sound like four years’ worth of growth. The more subdued approach makes sense, but the songs aren’t as engaging as established fans might expect.
The dance scene has changed drastically since Yelle’s debut. This isn’t to say that producers GrandMarnier and Tepr should have gone for a dubstep approach—it wouldn’t suit Budet’s voice, though “S’Eteint le Soleil” has hints of grimey bass—but in an environment where the fresh-faced Londoner Katy B is poised for a takeover, it’s difficult to see where Yelle’s role is now.
The album sounds solid, with plenty of agile synths to spare, but it’s difficult to see what role it plays; it’s not exactly more of the same, but it may as well be. Safari Disco Club is worth a listen, but it fails to assert itself as something that demands listeners’ attention.
Album Review: Broken Social Scene – Forgiveness Rock Record
In the five years since Canadian chamber-rock band Broken Social Scene released its last album, lead Scenester Kevin Drew has ably stepped into indie-stardom, nurturing mass-anticipation for the collective’s upcoming opus.
Enter Forgiveness Rock Record. With the Toronto outfit choosing to explore every bit of the space that their physical largesse affords, the wait has been worth it—even if the album requires a bit of stamina in order to fully grasp the triumph.
Perhaps the group—composed of a fluid membership that often numbers well into double digits—is finally becoming exactly what it is they were likely always going to be: a dramatic, sweeping and engrossing baroque-rock troupe. Besides, it’s not often that a group that has featured a melodica in the past acts as though it’s a power-pop trio, which many of their earlier songs have suggested.
While a lack of sonic cohesion does make itself evident, as the result of a mixed bag of styles that can often distract rather than attract, the significant and unifying thread of Kevin Drew’s Jeff Tweedy-esque, achy vocals equip the entire proceedings with immense heart. Some sort of binding agent is necessary, however, due to the divergent styles showcased. By showing off their skills in Post-rock (“Meet Me in the Basement”), bombastic, arena-anthems (“World Sick”), playful prog (“Chase Scene”) and effective melody making (“Texico Bitches”), it’s quite clear that this is a group that is more comfortable stretching their musical legs than the average listener will likely be sinking their teeth into this album.
Given the amount of time between records, not only is Forgiveness Rock Record an example of good things coming to those who wait, but also, to those who also don’t mind putting forth a little effort to gain great reward.
EP Review: Dan Fisk — Bruises from the Backseat
When an album’s liner notes list multiple banjo players on the same song, you know it’s going to be an enjoyable listen. Dan Fisk has two banjo pickers on“Life and Limb,” from his new solo EP, but that’s not the only thing he’s got going for him on Bruises from the Backseat (out 6/28).
Fisk (an upstate New Yorker who’s spent the past decade in Virginia), has a radio-ready, slightly raspy voice and solid songwriting skills. Album opener “A Thousand Love Songs” is the highlight of the disc, and had it been released fifteen years ago when Vertical Horizon and Matchbox 20 were flying up the charts, Fisk would probably be blowing his nose with $20 bills right now.
The EP’s sole cover is a version of Paul Simon’s “Stranded in a Limousine,” which features fellow area singer-songwriter Ted Garber on harmonica. It feels a little out of place among the more mellow tracks on the record, but it’s definitely a fun listen.
Bruises from the Backseat is a promising solo release from Fisk. Let’s hope a full-length record is next.
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