Right Side of the Tracks: Miranda Lambert, Jason Aldean, Brad Paisley
Fri, 02 Jul 2010 13:35:54
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 new ARTISTdirect.com re-cap column.
#1: Miranda Lambert, "The House That Built Me": Even though it's the summer, which you'd think would be the peak time for party hits and novelty country, Miranda Lambert's delicate reminiscence stays atop the charts, and in some ways it's unsurprising. The narrative she spins out isn't as complex as a lot of Taylor Swift's, but it's comparably well pitched emotionally and smartly underplayed in the production and delivery. Plus, Lambert's vocals have more depth than Swift's occasionally reedy pipes. Tom Douglas and Allen Shamblin, both veteran songwriters (Douglas recently supplied Lady Antebellum with "I Run to You"; Shamblin wrote Bonnie Raitt's "I Can't Make You Love Me"), know how to pack a song with the kind of details (handprints, live oak, cut-out pictures of houses) that make it feel genuine, and whether or not it is, it certainly gives that impression successfully.
#2: Jason Aldean, "Crazy Town": Aldean's Ed Hardy-mixed-with-the-Village People aesthetic certainly explains a large part of his appeal, and this single, his tenth in a row to chart, conveys rebellion in a similar manner; it's a little bit ugly in the service of trying to be badass, and that speaks not only to Aldean's leather cuffs but even more so to the wailing guitar work on the song, which stomps all over the fiddle. I’m sure that, in many ways, Nashville is a crazy town, but you could easily modify the lyrics a little and address anywhere in the country. Someone like Trace Adkins might have sold the tune a bit better, with some growl, but Aldean's voice isn't dangerous enough and, as a result, he sounds like he's frontin'.
#3: Brad Paisley, "Water": Between this and "Ticks," from a few years ago, Paisley just needs one more bouncy summer hit to build himself a reputation as the guy who does that, similar to the way Snoop's presence on a track is almost enough to guarantee its being heard from cars passing by June through August. It's a smart mix of nostalgia (kiddie pool) and dirt (wet t-shirt contests, skinny dipping) in a way that subtly tells a story of growing up without compromising on the light touch necessary to keep things casual and fun. The idea of an ode to H2O is pretty goofy, but Paisley makes it as believable and cute as he did the concept of avoiding Lyme disease. It’s not exactly Algonquin Table wit, but if you live somewhere hot, your brain is fried anyway after the last few weeks and even the weirdly extended guitar solo toward the end of the tune isn't enough to distract you from how awesome water is.
#4: Luke Bryan, "Rain Is a Good Thing": Bryan isn't as polished as Paisley, which, depending on what you like, either elevates his own celebration of the wonders of liquid above the fancy boy's or means you kind of wish someone else were singing this song. The verbal hook on which it relies is smart enough, but Bryan's voice hangs up constantly, giving the impression that he doesn’t quite have the chops. Randy Travis has a similar tone to his vocals but knows better how to use the vulnerability it implies and has the low range to compensate for it. Besides, after a major drought that only ended last year in the state Bryan calls home, who needs convincing of the song's thesis?
#5: Clay Walker, "She Won't Be Lonely Long": Walker's grown-up entry in the "Straight Tequila Night" genre is undermined by the clunky piano that jumps to the forefront occasionally, reminding one less of honky-tonk and more of Billy Joel (not in a good way). There's certainly nothing new here. The message "you should appreciate your woman" is a common one and presumably popular (32 weeks on the charts) because ladies aren't going to complain that they’re being thanked too much for what they do and because they rarely are, so it's a smart choice for a story. Walker's mature sound means he can come off like he feels it, but the whole thing, while plenty passable, is kind of meh.
#6: Carrie Underwood, "Undo It": Yes, sure, it's all sassy and empowering, but it's also flat and repetitive and doesn't do anything to establish Underwood as having an actual personality beyond her long legs and flowing blond hair. There's no real anger, there's no sense of her having been done wrong beyond the words she sings, there’s no cleverness, and, more than anything, there’s no there there. What this reminds me of more than anything, in the way she sings the words "undo it," is Dana Carvey's impression of George H.W. Bush, which frequently figured the words "not gonna do it" run together in a comparable way. That's not exactly what you want to evoke.
What are your current country favorites?