Country = The 80s & 90s Retread

As we moved into the 80s, we got some really smooth sounds on the radio. Grooves from Michael and the influence. Disco but not exactly. I’ve been listening to the new Jake Owen radio single “If He Ain’t Gonna Love You” and I’m thinking of Hall & Oates. And comes Thomas Rhett with “Star of the Show” as pure a Pop record as boy bands of the 90s ever made. A young Justin Timberlake would’ve killed on this song. As does Thomas Rhett. I love little love ditties like; always have. If you can hum it and it makes you feel good, well that’s probably a hit song.

Add these to the cool new Miranda single and Brandy’s writing crowd and Jon Pardi’s new work and “Blue Ain’t Your Color” and I’m beginning to get interested again. Bro-country (with a small c) is finished. Every one of the ilk I hear now sounds like crap; like bar band song-writing. Praise be it’s run its course. Was beginning to get embarrassing.

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Blue Ain’t Your Color – Keith Urban (Capitol)

Good gawd, this is a brilliant record. A classic it will be. Everything about this one is perfect. Fabulous on so many levels. Essentially, it’s a pick-up song. A guy talking up a gal in a bar. But it transcends the genre. The arrangement pays homage with it’s hints of influence. When was the last time we had one with a blues groove in the Country mix? That guitar riff at the bridge, is it soft Clapton or other guy who’s name we can’t remember? BB King-ish? Mature ears will get a wiff of warm familiarity as it vibrates. And the writing! My lord this is fine. Sensual, hopeful, respectful. The song is about more than a physical charge, he seems to be after more than a late night quickie. He doesn’t even hint at it. What he’s talking about is Salvation, he wants an an opportunity to give new hope to one broken heart. But his lines are sophisticated and are delivered with such smoothness, what woman wouldn’t be beguiled? I haven’t gotten the ol’ goosebumps from a record in so song I don’t remember when.

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Sierra – Maddie & Tae (Dot)

I live for records that hit me like this one does. You hit the play button and it gives you some joy. It’s the kind of record that screams: Put me on the radio right now, share me with people. Now I love hooks, you know. Real hooks, not the kind of pseudo-hooks I hear at the gym. What I mean is: hooks that MAKE you begin singing along before they’re through that first time you hear them. You can do that with this one. Another reason it gets me is I so loved the girl groups. The Shirelles, Angels, Caravelles, I remember them all. What makes this one a potential monster is that inside the hook is a mind-story you can fill in with your own experiences. These young women are telling another young woman something that the girls of the ’60s told their rivals: “You’re gonna get yours, dearie.” This is such a well-written lyric. The whole story is there, told in less than three minutes! And as did the girls of old, Maddie and Tae mind their manners; the ladies don’t say that say that word even though they really, really want to. You just fill in the word yourself in your noggin’ every time needed.

Hear here.

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Came Here To Forget – Blake Shelton (Warner Music Nashville)

Did she cheat on him or did he get across the line first? I’m making a concerted effort to try to stay out of the loop on such things. But if she did, and/or for the fans who THINK of him as the wronged party, this record will become a huge favorite. First off, it is a brilliant production. There are some sonic widgets being twisted here and there, but its very artistically done. That little whistley-flutey sound is enchanting. Second off, he’s on the covers of the check-out stand mag racks with his new blonde love now, looking like a classic screen star and the lyric of this song hums in harmony with all that.

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My Church – Maren Morris (Columbia/Nashville)

Alright, alright, here’s something new, unique and sweet. This is the only thing I’ve heard so far; it’s the just-released radio single. It sounds like it was recorded in a garage, but a really cool garage. The gal’s voice is like a cross between an acoustic Miranda and a punk band singer; a bit raspy. The sound of it is raw and real, the musicians are playing AS she’s singing the song. And here’s a cherry on top: This hooky thing is an anthem about listening to the radio! That and the open road, that’s her church. This is a very exciting record.

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Unlove You – Jennifer Nettles (Big Machine)

Eric Church’s album has been the only excitement I’ve had in many moons….until this piece of utter wonderfulness dropped into my inbox. My, my what a song. Co-written with the mah-valous genius of Brandy Clark; may the muse be with her always. This is a Country song. This is a song that transcends the format in the way songs by Patsy and “..Brown Eyes Blue” did, because it is a simple and raw expression of heartbreak. That makes it a universal song. This could be a world-wide hit, with a bit of luck and an aligned star or three. Pay attention to the word strings. “…I would have already kissed ’til I was drunk on your lips.” And, “They call it fire but it feels like drowning”. And this and this: “I wasn’t lost until you found me.” “I can’t unfeel how I felt.” And, AND these two broken hearts are about to have a final night of goodbye sex. Brilliant, utterly brilliant. People won’t hear all of that at first. It’s got a strong hook line in the title alone, “I can’t unlove you” is easily hummed. The ear will notice a couple of those great lines the first, second, third time they hear it. Then, when they hear it more, they’ll begin to understand exactly how masterfully these complex emotions are expressed in these words. Songs that give you more surprises even after you have become familiar with them are one of life’s great pleasures.

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Three Year Old – Eric Church

This track from his brilliant new album just slays me. As a man and a father of now-grown sons, it’s had me thinking back, thinking about the things my boys taught me. And they taught me from the very start of their lives, as Eric’s boy is doing at age three here in this song. This is some brilliate songwriting. It’s about fatherhood and about maturing as a man. I’ve already listened to it a bunch and just this time noticed that there is also an apology to his wife here in these words. One string of words he sings the most is: “when you’re wrong, you just say so.”

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ADD: Heart’s Desire – Kip Moore (MCA)

I was tracking the new album and thinking, crap, this sucks. The guy is so good, has so much promise and here he is opening with another ode to Southern boy braggadocio; the first cut is “Wild Ones” and you’ve already heard it. Luke did it, Rhett did it, Fla/GA did it, Aldean did it. They all just had different tunes, but it’s the same damned song. The second track is interesting, but doesn’t have a hook to hum. Track 3, same deal. The next four were mildly interesting on the first exposure; there might be a hit among them. Then comes Track 8: “Heart’s Desire”, a beautiful piece of work. Mid-tempo with a beat that’s easy to move to. The lyrics are cool. The production is super and the arrangement is innovative and distinctive. I backed up and played it for myself four more times. This’ll have to be a radio single sometime in the future. If I was programming your radio station, I’d add it now and crow about being the only station in town or anywhere else playing this song right now. This here’s a hit record, I do believe.

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ADD: Mind Reader – Dustin Lynch (Broken Bow Records)

The boys are beginning to say romantic things nicely once again in Country songs once again, or is it just me thinking they’ve been in a bit of remission for the past too-long? Another thing is the elegant smoothness that is weaving it’s way into the arrangements and productions of hit songs like this now. When a song like this is a hit, one with this type of lyric, it can go on for a long time in Gold and Oldies rotations because when someone hears it for the first time, maybe ten years after it was on the Current playlists in radio, it still may speak to them on a personal level. Like, when you’re getting deeper into a relationship, when you’re beginning to click, one or the other of you is gonna say these very words: Baby, you’re a mind reader.

I like the arrangement and production, even as it gets right up to the line of too-much in a couple of places. The record could’ve benefited without quite so much clutter. Still, I believe we got a hit here.

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ADD: Beautiful Drug – Zac Brown Band (Southern Ground)

Disco never dies. I was up at the Flamigo Cantina on Sixth Street in Austin last Wednesday night for the monthly groove fest and got into a conversation with a guy in his mid-30s about music and he mentioned how much he disliked Disco. Huh? I thought that meme had faded into obscurity. Of course, I don’t get out much to know. So I mentioned a monster Disco hit from the past. Oh, he loves that one. Another one. His wife loves that one. And so it went. Thing is, remove the label and everybody loves a good dab of Disco because it’s just dance music and that never, ever goes out of style.

Now, I’d never have supposed that drum machines and thumpin’ beats like this would’ve invaded Country music. This format has always been built on a foundation of 35+ aged listeners. Lots of younger listeners from time to time, yes, but our bread’n’butter and meat’n’taters has been grownups with debts and kids and paunches and muscle aches and knees that are giving them trouble and who just can’t dance to a beat this damned fast.

Back in 1991, just as the Hot Country movement was sweeping across the scene, there was a station in Houston, KKBQ that switched from CHR to “Easy Country”. A monumental bust, it was. With the explosion of Garth Brooks, Clint Black, Brooks & Dunn, Shania Twain and all, who the heck would think that a “light n’ easy” presentation would fly? That’d be like going Light Rock in ’70. There was no demand, need or desire for it. Now, that was all fortunate for me because the next year, ’92, I got hired to join the save-our-ass team, we re-tooled the station with maximum boogie and a CHR presentation and what was then the most aggressively high rotations for our Currents in Country radio. An immediate turn-around, KKBQ became a ratings winner, an award winner and one of the top-billing Country stations in the nation. I say all that to say this: Maybe now’s the time for an Easy Country format. One that leaves out about 70% of the Bro-Country, drink til you puke and hard-rock guitar riffs.

Ok, back to Zac. I like this record a lot. The only thing that makes it Country is: Zac has had plenty Country hits before this and he’s a fan favorite. Add the fact that is SOUNDS like a pop culture hit single and I think we got a winner here.

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