Right Side of the Tracks: Blake Shelton, Kenny Chesney, Billy Currington
Thu, 26 Aug 2010 09:20:30
Right Side of the Tracks covers country singles charting according to Billboard, as well as occasionally other tunes. Hillary Brown is a writer in Athens, Georgia, who grew up listening to commercial country and took a while to find her way back to it, but has found it now, as evinced by this ongoing ARTISTdirect.com re-cap column.
Blake Shelton, “All About Tonight”: I suppose it’s appropriate that Blake Shelton’s “gather ye rosebuds” country song is so forgettable, considering its overweening concern with the present and desire to put off consequences until later, but that doesn’t make it right. There are some cute details here, like the presence of “feel-good pills and a red Gatorade” by his bed, ready to combat the inevitable hangover, and there’s nothing wrong with the sentiment expressed (country could occasionally use a little more wildness), but if you’re going to sing about a one-night stand or a crazy party, you might want to grunge it up a bit. Shelton’s voice is rarely exciting--it’s more like a big market-research firm’s idea of sexy than anything actually approaching that--and while the song is fun enough, it’s too ephemeral for its own good.
Billy Currington, “Pretty Good at Drinkin’ Beer”: The name of the game in country music songwriting is making your audience identify with what’s being expressed, whether that’s from experience or just ambition, and this low-key amusement from songwriter Troy Jones hits that aspect accurately and hard. Even if we’re not good at a lot of thing, many of us consider ourselves not half-bad at drinking beer. Currington conveys it well, too, with a lazy lilt to his voice that mimics the bending notes of the guitar, especially on the chorus, and suggests a bit of an Alan Jackson influence (although Jackson’s never come off as less than hardworking). The drums, in particular, are maybe too rudimentary, and the piano tinkles are similarly by-the-numbers, but the vocal performance is accurate enough to overcome most of the song’s weaknesses.
Lady Antebellum, “Our Kind of Love”: The fact that this doesn’t even sound like a country song until the chorus kicks in is made far less surprising when you look up co-writer Michael Busbee’s résumé, which includes work on songs for artists as diverse as Toni Braxton, Backstreet Boys, the Jonas Brothers, Timbaland, and Rascal Flatts. Lady Antebellum has a taste for this kind of bigger market, though, which is part of why they’ve been such a success, and the interesting percussive piano rhythms of the song seem far more Vanessa Carlton than Charlie Rich. There’s fiddle, yes, and the chorus, which includes the phrase “open highway” (if you were playing country music lyrics bingo, you’d be able to put a dot on that one), is far more recognizable as contemporary pop country, but it’s a bit of a shame that the group didn’t push further into the intriguing difference of the song’s beginning.
Uncle Kracker, “Smile”: This song isn’t exactly new, having been released in 2009, but it’s still sticking around on the country charts, and it’s easy to see its appeal. It’s sort of like Green Day’s “Time of Your Life” in that it’s instantly applicable to a number of different situations, smartly generic in its lyrics while specific enough that thousands of people can think it’s talking about their own romantic situations. Matthew Shafer’s vocals don’t really belong in country, and the song itself really is far more adult contemporary than anything else (which makes it obvious that those charts are where it would have peaked, at #2), meaning that it’ll get into your head whether you want it to or not and appear in the background of many a scene in movies and TV shows.
Josh Turner, “All Over Me”: Man, Dallas Davidson sure is having a time of it right now on the charts, being partially responsible for this good-times summer tune fueled by Josh Turner’s lovely baritone as well as the Blake Shelton tune mentioned above and Luke Bryan’s “Rain Is a Good Thing.” He co-wrote it with Ben Hayslip and Rhett Akins, with whom he’s also worked on Brooks and Dunn’s “Put a Girl in It” and Joe Nichols’s “Gimmie That Girl,” and the trio does appear to have a somewhat recognizable style, being committed to simple pleasures and none-too-complex melodies. What makes the song memorable at all, however, isn’t the writing so much as the vocals, which are classic, with a richness at the low end that rewards relistening with happiness, like a rat repeatedly pushing a lever for a food reward.
Kenny Chesney, “The Boys of Fall”: If Kenny Chesney didn’t pick this song with an eye to its being used in the background of many an ESPN story, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle. Apart from the automatic positive feelings it evokes as the football season gets close (and those aren’t to be discounted, football being second to little in the country-music market), it’s not much of a song, heavily reliant on boring guitar work and slogging on for six and a half (!) minutes. I love “Friday Night Lights” too, but in some ways this is a musical version of all the show’s flaws.