Thursday, April 8, 2010

A Keystone Light for Easton Corbin

Unfortunately, I can't find a banner for this week's Beer of the Week, and since we haven't handed out a brew in a while, I figured we better get back to it ASAP. Well today (I know, I know, it's a day earlier) we honor Easton Corbin, one of country music's most highly anticipated young stars. A few months ago Corbin released the first single from his debut album Easton Corbin, "A Little More Country Than That." Right away, one glaring comparison stood out -- this kid sounds almost identical to a young George Strait. I mean, it's scary. Close your eyes and listen to one of his tracks, and I bet you won't be able to tell the difference. Maybe Strait has a little more weight in his voice after years of singing, but Corbin matches the country legend's tonality almost perfectly. And it's not like we see George Strait impersonators popping up all over the place. There's a reason this guy is one of the most successful country artists of all time, and while part of it is due to his true cowboy persona, a lot of it can be attributed to the unique sound Strait has adhered to for years -- a no frills, straight up, Texas-style country song.

To get a sense of Corbin's talent just listen to his two hit singles -- "A Little More Country Than That" and "Roll With It." Corbin saw "A Little more Country" rise all the way to #1 on the charts -- an unexpected, but nonetheless, welcome success for the newcomer. The song seeks to establish Corbin in the George Strait mold -- a true cowboy from the backwoods. The song is produced to reflect the lyrical message -- it's relatively basic, not extraordinarily vocally challenging, and allows Corbin to make the song his own. Strait didn't make it big on the power of his vocal runs, he made it because the music he was making was true country, plain and simple. And that's exactly where Corbin succeeds on this track.

His follow-up single, "Roll With It," is a little more up-beat than his previous hit, and arrives just in time for summer when most artists are releasing more light-hearted cuts. It's a catchy song, lacking any deep message, that invokes the positive images of summertime and young love -- a tell-tale warm-weather country song. "Roll With It" is also not very complex, but with Corbin's delivery and Straitesque persona, it doesn't have to be. His future success will be determined by how closely he can stay true to this format, and how, perhaps, he can make it his own.

Coming soon -- a review of Alan Jackson's highly anticipated new album Freight Train!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Curse of Pop

Adoring fans, thank you for your patience during this long layoff. To be honest, I'm finding it a bit more difficult than I anticipated to write as regularly as I'd like. Alas, this is reality -- so if you'll just bear with me, I promise I'll try to do a bit better on updates. I'd also like to take this opportunity to announce that I've been working on some very exciting music-related projects, which I hope I'll get to share with all of you in the coming weeks.

Today though I'd like to mix it up a bit and offer a review of a recent hit song and my thoughts on a questionable artist management decision. So let's begin shall we?

"Lover, Lover" by Jerrod Niemann -- Jerrod Niermann is a relative newcomer to the country scene and "Lover, Lover" marks his first major top 40 hit. The song has received considerable airplay in recent weeks and it's likely due to the unique chorus -- a multi-part harmony with minimal instrumental accompaniment. This innovative (and refreshing) production decision works like a charm in accomplishing its desired goal -- the song stands out. If you were driving down the highway listening to good old country radio and this tune came on, you'd know it, it just wouldn't blend in with everyone else you've been hearing. Not to say this tune is a rousing success. The verses are almost intolerably drab and generic, and Niemann often has to drag out syllables to make the verses work rhythmically, but overall this song is a breath of fresh air. Great production decision to cut out the music at the end and allow all the parts to go acapella in a great ending harmony. Check it out at the end of this post.

Now I'd like to wax poetic a bit on the decision of the Zac Brown Band to open for Dave Matthews on their upcoming summer tour. Listen, I've had my Dave Matthews phase, as I'm sure many of you have, and their music is great. There's a reason they have been one of the most successful and critically acclaimed bands of the last 15 years, and I know Dave has made a recent foray into country music (see "I'm Alive" from Kenny's Lucky Old Sun album), but I just don't think this is the right move for ZBB. True, they will get unrivaled exposure opening in front of massive crowds at huge venues for a widely diverse crowd (in terms of musical taste), and this could do a lot of good for country music. Exposing the unique country sound of ZBB to a bunch of non-country listeners could go great things for the industry, but I'm skeptical as to how this will be perceived by country purists.

ZBB has been hailed as one of country's most exciting new acts, a Georgia band that brings together awesome instrumentals (kind of a blue grass - Alabama mix) and poignant lyrics to every one of its songs. You've probably heard "Chicken Fried," but "Toes" and "Highway 20 Ride," and even the most recent hit, "Free," are equally as good. ZBB is killing it on country radio right now. Every song they release is an immediate hit. And yet, instead of opening for a major country star -- like Kenny, Brad, etc. -- or even headlining a tour themselves (an option that is not as far off in the future as you might think), they open for Dave Matthews? Is this going to allow them to emphasize their country roots or do they run the risk of crossing over into pop? If there's one thing I've learned in my years of listening to country music is that once a country artist releases a song that can be characterized as "pop," they are as good as dead to country radio. Look at major female stars of the 90's like Faith Hill and Shania -- once they toed the pop line, their careers experienced a serious fall off. To me, it's just not worth it for ZBB. Stick to country, or you run the risk of never being able to find your way back.