Thursday, April 7, 2011

98 The Hard Way: The Year in Country Music, Quarter Three

Terri Clark “Now That I've Found You” (#2 US & CAN Country, #72 US Pop)
It may be an overly facile comparison, but given their similar roots and the similar timing of their respective rises to popularity, I've never been able to think of Clark as anything besides the better case version of Shania Twain. At the very least she's a much more open and genuine performer than her counterpart there's not that pesky layer of artifice to her performances that Twain gets bogged down by at the very least. As such, while I'm getting increasingly frustrated at the tone of Shania's ballads this one comes across as much, much defter in its execution and delivery. It's still slightly corny, but it's also grounded in identifiably real human emotions, not just facsimiles thereof, and that counts for a lot. [6]

Clint Black “The Shoes You're Wearing” (#1 US & CAN Country, #118 US Pop)
As with his last song that I tackled here, there's the problem of this being faceless to an almost insulting degree. What's worse, it's steeped in cliché and barely even holds my interest on a musical level – almost a given with the level of production detail in this genre – which you'd think would lead to a haeful screed against it. The thing is that I mostly find myself looking for new levels of indifference as it plays, and after it's done it doesn't stick's probably the most easily forgettable of the mediocre entries I'm faced with here which counts for something. [5]

Collin Raye “I Can Still Feel You” (#1 US Country, #2 CAN Country)
I can't shake the feeling that in an earlier incarnation this was a sappy, string-drenched ballad. It's got the lyrical hallmarks of that style at least, the whole missing a long gone lover trope that all but requires a helping of melodrama of the lest effective variety. So it's in great service to the song itself that Raye picks up the pace of that theoretical version and turns it into a much more sprightly borderline-rocker that still gets the point across but turns what could have been a maudlin ode to lost love into a bit of a sick cosmic joke that keeps being played on the protagonist of the song. The change is for the better, and it also allows for some excellent violin/guitar trade offs during the bridge. It's the rare track in this project that I find myself liking more the more I hear it, which should tell you enough. [8]

Shania Twain & Bryan White “From This Moment On” (#6 US Country, #1 CAN Country, #4 US Pop, #13 CAN Pop)
My roommates are getting married in the fall. I've made two requests of them as far the ceremony goes; number one, no fucking wedding dance down the aisle and number two, they are not allowed to play this song. At all. Because seriously, this doesn't sound like a song that was ever meant for any purpose but to be the soundtrack to any wedding that lacks in imagination. Hell I'm sure there have been couples who traded its verses as their fucking wedding vows. Worst of all, the song is really just egregiously awful, syrupy, facile and coma-inducingly boring. There's nothing there besides a transparent plea for wedding DJs to put it into infinite rotation until something more pandering comes along. Fuck this and fuck everyone involved in its creation. [2]

Garth Brooks “To Make You Feel My Love” (#1 US Country, #7 CAN Country)
Now you know how I feel about excessively maudlin ballads.

OK credit where it's due, the minimal accompaniment does work in the track's favor on a musical level, but it also gives me less to draw my focus away from the banality of the lyrics and their delivery. It all evens out in the end though. [3]

Dixie Chicks “There's Your Trouble” (#1 US Country, #3 CAN Country, #36 US Pop)
I'm trying my best to not over-praise this one, but given its surroundings at this point in time it's hard not to heap on the hosannas for the sheer fact that there's tangible energy to be found herein. That's the thing that makes this stand out the most now. Not the spunky delivery from Natalie Maines, not the naturalistic, rootsy production, not the lack of 8 coats of studio finish, the fact that it actually moves. I just need to keep telling myself that while it feels like 5 star material in context it's a bit of a step down from their previous single – lack of harmonies mostly makes it so – and that it's got a bit of the whole 'too clever' thing going on in the lyrics. All that said, god damn was that what the chart needed at this point in time. [7]

The Wilkinsons “26 Cents” (#3 US Country, #1 CAN Country, #55 US Pop)
So of course we descend right back into the maudlin. That's s bit of an overstatement I guess...sure the song is manipulatively sentimental to roughly the same degree as any ballad I've talked about here, but it's also a much more nuanced and down to earth version of that sort of thing (figures that it's Canadian I guess.) That aside though it's definitely not my cup of anything, from the vocals on down it's a laundry list of the kind of thing that leads to excessive amounts of indifference on my part. [4]

Jo Dee Messina “I'm Alright” (#1 US & CAN Country, #43 US Pop)
The second Vassar-Messina collaboration to break through this year lacks a bit of the driving aggression of “Bye Bye” but their creative alchemy still makes for a great song on the whole. There's something in the way the Messina interprets his words and delivers them that gives even the most hoary of the turns they take – the stop-short-of-saying 'ass' in the second verse particularly – a certain charm that I don't think many of her contemporaries could imbue them with. It's a shame that they don't seem to have any further tracks together in some way, because they seem to get each other's quirks in a way that elevates each of their games quite a bit. [8]

George Strait “True” (#2 US Country, #1 CAN Country)
(The author contemplates copy and pasting parts of both previous Strait reviews he's written to give you an idea of how little there is to say about later period Strait singles. He instead decides to cop out in a different, yet equally familiar way.)

Now you know how I feel about George Strait songs. [5]

Faith Hill and Tim McGraw “Just to Hear You Say That You Love Me” (#3 US Country, #4 CAN Country)

Vince Gill “If You Ever Have Forever in Mind” (#5 US Country, #1 CAN Country)
Old school charm and class. How the hell did this become a hit in 1998? Those things seem so antithetical to the modus operandi of country hitmakers from this era. This sounds like it was ripped straight from the 50s musically – not drenched in studio fuckery, anchored by old school piano – and Gill's voice melds so smoothly with those surroundings that it makes his already great pipes seem that much more timeless. Consider it the remedy to the schlock -merchant balladry that's become so omnipresent in this format since around this time. [7]

Brooks and Dunn “How Long Gone” (#1 US & CAN Country)
Unlike a lot of the older guard that were still active at this point in time, Brooks and Dunn seem to have started to change with the times rather than stick to their tried and true sound. This isn't the sort of departure that their more recent stuff was, but it's certainly updated from the more traditionalist leanings of their best material. The weird thing is that it works quite well at this point; they've still got enough of their old style in there to be recognizable but the foot they've pointed towards more modern touches doesn't drag them too far off course. Really though, any excuse to throw out a few tasteful guiitar solos is appreciated by yours truly, and Brooks lets a few of them fly here that make the song that much better. [7]

John Michael Montgomery “Cover You in Kisses” (#3 US Country, #2 CAN Country)
Fitting that the guy who I mostly remember for originating my theory that any song faceless enough can translate across genre lines with little effort on anyone's part (remember All-4-One? Their biggest hits were originally recorded by this guy) has one of his last hits with the same sort of faceless, cheesily romantic schmaltz that's only a dropped steel guitar track away from making waves on your local AC station. [4]

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