Right Side of the Tracks: Reba, Jerrod Niemann, Zac Brown Band
Fri, 23 Jul 2010 14:47:42
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.
#1: Reba, “I Keep on Loving You”: The pipes are still there, but the lyrics to this song, while no doubt relatable to a lot of folks, are kind of a backhanded compliment. It’s almost a lengthy paraphrase of the saying “this too shall pass,” and while it’s no doubt true that marriage, like any important undertaking, requires faith, there also should maybe be something in it other than the hope it’ll get better. That aside, few people can do this kind of down-to-earth but simultaneously big-time ballad the way Reba does; you can almost visualize the soft fur on the sounds as they leave her throat. The guitars are a mistake in some lights, much more Bonnie Tyler than even more traditional pop-country, but they also tie in with the straightforward Americana that is Ms. McEntire’s stock in trade.
#2: Jerrod Niemann, “Lover, Lover”: I can see why this has caught on, as its rerereiteration of the main phrase/sentiment will no doubt worm its way into your head as you go about mindless tasks, but it sure does take repetition to crazy extremes. On the other hand, the old-time gospel tones of the way that phrase is uttered sound like close-harmony singing, and the simple instrumentation that emphasizes handclaps and acoustic guitar chugs along like a train taking the singer far away from his bad relationship. Still, it’s surprising there’s not more force to the feelings expressed. Niemann sounds almost cheerful about the death of love.
#3 Keith Urban, “I’m In”: This cover of Radney Foster’s song certainly feels no shorter than its 4 minute, 33 second running time, and at many times it feels longer, although there are moments of respite. Urban’s delivery of the “baby, come here next to me” bit, in particular, is pretty and subtle, an effective seduction as his voice slightly catches, but most of the song, while it’s never bad, just kind of drags. It’s hard to do this kind of extended narrative, and the all-over-the-place nature of the thesis (“I don’t really know what I’m doing, but if I did I’d be good at it, and also I like you, and can we be both friends and lovers because I’d be into that”), which combines creative ambitions and wanting to go out, is a gamble that doesn’t pan out. Foster’s version is even longer and a bit slower, but it’s a duet with Abra Moore, and the way their voices play off one another makes it considerably more interesting.
#4 Zac Brown Band, “Free”: This is a good example of its genre, a laidback paean to the joys of poverty that has excellent crossover power, not being too countrified in sound. Yes, there’s a fiddle, and the content is vaguely Southern, but it’s a lot closer to The Band or Drive-By Truckers than even to Willie Nelson. “Free” overstays its welcome a bit as a recorded piece, but the video, which features live performance, gives an idea of how well it could work in a concert setting. I’m not a big fan of phrases like “do all the things that lovers do,” which give the song a hint of John Mayer when they crop up, but on the whole, while it’s not the kind of thing that sweeps you off your feet, it works pretty well.
#5 Lee Brice, “Love Like Crazy”: There’s one word in this otherwise extremely well calculated song that hits the ear like a slap, and that word is “Microsoft.” Apart from the excessively happy ending that bit provides, the track is fairly timeless, and perhaps technology was the only way songwriters Tim James and Doug Johnson could think of for the narrative’s couple to support seven kids, but it’s too easy as a way out of their tough situation, and it makes you start thinking about the timeline. If the husband was 17 when they got married, and it’s now 58 years later, then he was kind of old to be getting into computers, no matter when it happened. Most people aren’t going to do the math and will focus on the lessons imparted, which Brice delivers in a growl old beyond his years (and surprisingly sincere), but a little more care spent on the storyline would have been appreciated.
#6 Martina McBride, “Wrong Baby Wrong”: It’s been seven years since “This One’s for the Girls,” but it feels like Martina McBride is still mining the same territory: sassy songs for ladies who wear Lee jeans and drive pickup trucks. There’s an undeniable market for such, the guitar here has some nice slides, and McBride’s vocals continue to be fairly strong (if a little under-rounded), but it would also be good to see more growth in her choices. That’s not to say the adult contemporary genre shouldn’t exist, but it rarely supplies the most interesting songs.
What are your current country favorites?