Showing posts with label alan jackson. Show all posts
Showing posts with label alan jackson. Show all posts

Monday, February 19, 2018

the top ten best hit songs of 2004 (VIDEO)

Well, this was long in coming... and overall, a pretty solid list. Not sure it's my wittiest list, but for those of you who remember the era, I think it works.

Next up, Black Panther and Wade Bowen, so stay tuned!

the top ten best hit songs of 2004

So this is the third big top ten outside of the current year that I've put together, and I think it's conducive to describe how this year differed in trends and sounds in comparison with those I discussed before. 2010 was at the height of club boom overexposure, and everything that charted, good or bad, was either informed by it and painfully dated, or ignoring it and sliding rapidly towards novelty. 1967... well, that was a year heralded by many as overstuffed with classic songs, but you could make a credible argument it was an 'off' year for many established greats, more transitional than anything else.

2004, meanwhile, has some elements of both. On the one hand, the charts were very much in the throes of the crunk explosion, but by proxy it was heralding hip-hop's utter dominance of the Hot 100. Yes, in 2004 indie rock was blowing up like you wouldn't see again for nearly a decade - most of which would hit the charts a year later - but 2004 hit the sweet spot where the kinks of southern hip-hop were getting ironed out and allowing for more diversity beyond New York and L.A.. And that was only a good thing, as 2004 was a huge breakthrough year for a number of acts that are now touted today with a ton of critical acclaim, either for landmark debuts or critical highpoints they'd seldom if ever reach again. And when you tack on the fact that pop rock was beginning its own rise, country hadn't started sliding to vapidity, and R&B was holding its own. The only genre that seriously suffered was mainstream pop, but that's more because hip-hop crossovers were doing it so much better, and when you consider that it really didn't have the stark lowpoints of, say, 2007, you can make a very credible argument that 2004 was one of the best years of the 2000s, at least for the Hot 100. And I can't even really say it was colored hugely by my nostalgia - yeah, I know and like a ton of this Hot 100, but it's hard to deny in a year flush with the debuts of Kanye West and Maroon 5, Usher's best album, Alicia Keys' best album, plus high points for Avril Lavigne and OutKast that we got something really special in 2004. And if you think that spoiled a lot of my list... well, maybe a bit, but you haven't seen nothing yet, so let's get this started!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

video review: 'angels and alcohol' by alan jackson

Well, that was easier than expected. And shorter, too - probably one of the shortest reviews I've put together since my early days, but there just wasn't much to say.

Next up, Chemical Brothers, stay tuned!

album review: 'angels & alcohol' by alan jackson

Those of you who have been following me for a while know I'm a fan of Alan Jackson. Hell, when he dropped The Bluegrass Album back in 2013, it even landed on my list of my top albums of that year. And in that review, I struggled to articulate why Alan Jackson worked so damn well for me as one of my all-time favourite country singers. And since I grew up in the 90s listening to country radio, I doubt I'm all that unique there.

But about a year and a half later, I think I've managed to come to more of a conclusion in this particular category: consistency. With rare exceptions - his two gospel albums, the Allison Krauss-produced record he made in the mid-2000s, and of course The Bluegrass Album - Alan Jackson's material is oddly timeless to me, especially when it comes to the impressive line of classics he wrote himself. Since he started cranking out critically acclaimed records in the 90s all the way to now, he's had an impressive stream of quality for nearly twenty-five years - to the point where there'll be critics who find it hard to criticize him beyond, 'Well, he's in his comfort zone, he's done that before'. And to some extent, they're not wrong - produced by Keith Stegall, neotraditional country that doesn't shy away from rough subject matter that's always written with a deft touch and presented with boundless charisma and heart, it's definitely not cool music, but it doesn't need to be. And sure, he drifts away on occasion to the same lightweight beach material you'll see in a Kenny Chesney or Zac Brown Band album, but Jackson tends to infuse it with enough charm or humour that it doesn't just become mellow beach fodder, which is always a plus.

But recent years have shown a bit of a shift for Alan Jackson, a restlessness that led to him to part with his longtime label Arista Nashville and set up his own imprint at EMI. It led to his tightest collection of songs in 2012 with Thirty Miles West, the majority of which Jackson wrote himself. Then came The Bluegrass Album, the album he'd been threatening he'd make for years and proved that his threats should been followed through more often. But now we have a new slice of country from Alan Jackson, and you can bet I'm covering it - how did it turn out?

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

the top 50 best songs of 2013 (PART TWO: 25-1)

Whew, that takes care of that.

Last one is the long-awaited albums of the year - stay tuned!

the top 50 best songs of 2013

Some of you are probably scratching your heads with confusion at the title of this list and wondering, 'Wait, didn't he already make this exact same list a few days ago?' Well, this list is significantly different than the last one, mostly because we're no longer talking about the hits. No, these are the songs, singles or otherwise, that appeared on the albums I listened through this year and stuck with me. They aren't the hits - most of you might not recognize the songs I mention, but all of them bear the highest of my personal recommendations. That's right, from the 135 albums I reviewed this year, these were my favourite songs. I'm not segregating them by genre or success - singles or deep cuts all have a chance to make this list, which was initially reduced from thousands down to 436, which was then narrowed down to fifty. And believe me, even with that I had to make some painful cuts, and what is on this list will surprise you. So, without any more delay, here are my Top 50 Songs of 2013! Let's get started!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

video review: 'the bluegrass album' by alan jackson

Holy crap, this one came together fast. I don't know what it was, but I didn't really have a huge amount to say and this review came out surprisingly quick. Better for me - brevity is good - but still...

Next review is HAIM's 'Days Are Gone', and then maybe I might get a chance to tackle a few indie acts before Miley. And yes, I'm working on the Dream Theater review. Give it time, people.

album review: 'the bluegrass album' by alan jackson

When people ask me why I listen to country music, or how they can get into country music, I point at Alan Jackson.

It's kind of hard for me to fully articulate why Alan Jackson stands out for me in terms of country singers from the 90s in a way that few of his peers do. He's a superb musician with a gift for catchy, memorable melodies and lyrics with a superb flow. He is completely unafraid to write political songs and he's intelligent enough to work to capture many layers of nuance in those songs (signified in 'Where Were You', one of only two songs that managed to properly memorialize September 11 by any artist). He's not a man who actively seems to get angry in his material, but you can tell he is the kind of man you do not screw with, as evidenced by his legendary performance at the 1999 Country Music Awards, where he switched song mid-solo from one of his own to George Jones' 'Choices', in protest of how one of the legends of country music had been pressured to trim his performance for commercials and had bowed out of the ceremony. 

And as a neotraditionalist country singer - one of the most successful at that - Alan Jackson has been fighting for decades to preserve the historical spirit and culture of the medium. Besides releasing a ton of amazing music in this vein, he also recorded with George Strait a song called 'Murder On Music Row', where he directly criticized the slide of country music towards the mainstream courtesy of Garth Brooks and Shania Twain. It was a controversial song on country radio in 2000, and arguably contributed in a big way for country receding from the mainsteam in the early years of that decade (besides just being a goddamn great song that nails commentary on the genre without getting preachy). 

So really, it was only a matter of time before the lead crusader of traditional country music came back, with the slide of country, yet again, towards the mainstream. And while Chris Young has accumulated some fame and critical success, he doesn't quite have the same pull within Nashville that Alan Jackson has. And thus, I wasn't surprised in the slightest when Alan Jackson announced his new album would be titled The Bluegrass Album, one that he has been 'threatening' the country music industry that he would make for years now. 

Now, I must confess, I'm not the most familiar with bluegrass as a genre, but I know enough to get by and if I'm looking for a way into the genre, I can't think of a better introduction than that of a country legend who has been preparing for this album for nearly a decade. And thus, I chose to take a listen to Alan Jackson's The Bluegrass Album - how did it turn out?

Saturday, September 28, 2013

special comment: the state of country music

In the year 2000, two of the greatest country acts of the decade teamed up to perform a song formerly written by bluegrass artists Larry Cordle and Larry Shell. The song was never released as a single, but received significant airplay anyway due to its controversial nature in the country music industry. It was a song about how traditional and neotraditional country music - and the performers who made it - were being shoved to the sidelines in favour of mainstream pop crossover success. The song spoke of how artists like Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, and George Jones would never have had success in this industry climate - they, and the culture and history that they represented, would have been ignored. The legends, the icons of the genre, would have been likely been forgotten.

The song was titled 'Murder On Music Row' and it was made a hit by Alan Jackson and George Strait - and the situation of which they were singing...

Well, it's happening again.

On September 12, The Nashville Scene published a breakdown of the lyrics on the top 20 songs of the country music charts, indicating the common lyrical threads and the genre's shift towards party songs centered on beer, trucks, and girls. The case the article made was not to highlight the individual successes or failures of the songs on said list, but to point out the astounding similarities between the songs in terms of subject matter, theme, and even lyrical content. Furthermore, given that the extreme majority of acts on the list were performed by solo male country acts, the argument could be made that the average listener would not be able to tell these men apart. There is only one songs fronted by a woman on this list - Carrie Underwood, and I would have a hard time calling the American Idol winner a country singer over being a pop star. On the list of songs, the noticeable outliers come from Tim McGraw - a stalwart of the genre who has been around for decades - and a song penned by Bob Dylan sung by Darius Rucker, the former frontman of Hootie & The Blowfish! Neither song was in the top ten.

On September 19, Billboard magazine released an article showing how a growing number of country acts are showing concern regarding the sameness of their peers' content. Zac Brown of the Zac Brown Band said, 'there is not a lot of the country format I enjoy listening to. If I hear one more tailgate in the moonlight, Daisy Dukes song, I wanna throw up. There's songs out right now on the radio that make me... ashamed to even be in the same format as some of those artists.' Think about this for a moment: the frontman of a critically acclaimed country act from rural Georgia, from a town of just over 5000 people, made the statement that he is ashamed to be in the same format as these artists. He goes on to call Luke Bryan's 'That's My Kinda Night' 'the worst song he's ever heard.' He goes on to target the country music industry, saying it puts 'songs and people on a pedestal that have no integrity to them whatsoever', and to the writers of these songs, 'you can look on song credits and see some of the same songwriters on every one. There has been, like, ten number one songs in the last two to three years that were written by the same people, and the exact same words, just arranged different ways.'

Zac Brown is right. So is Gary Allan, who, in an interview with Larry King, said 'I feel like we have lost our genre.' So is Kacey Musgraves, who said in an interview with British GQ when asked about what trends in music need to die, she replied, 'Anyone singing about trucks, in any form, in any song, anywhere. Literally, just stop - nobody cares! It's not fun to listen to.' Unfortunately, Miss Musgraves is likely wrong on this front, at least in comparison with the programming that Nashville has been pushing for country radio over the past few years, because it has become abundantly clear that a growing audience wants it. Incidentally, Kacey Musgraves released an album this year titled Same Trailer, Different Park, a controversial yet critical acclaimed debut album where she spoke openly about topics such as deteriorating rural culture, religion, and even same-sex marriage. It is one of the best albums of this year and will beat out Daft Punk, Kanye West, Vampire Weekend, Deerhunter, and a slew of other critically acclaimed acts on my Top 10 list.

Outside of major professional publications, Robert Christgau, and AllMusic, it was ignored. In most top ten lists by mainstream critics, I suspect it will be forgotten. And while it has sold better that you might expect, reaching #2 on the Billboard 200 it was far from a smash hit, with the lead single only reaching #14. Oh, and the album it was up against that week, the major competition the label was setting Miss Musgraves against? Justin Timberlake's comeback album The 20/20 Experience, which proceeded to sell approximately 968,000 copies that week alone. That week, Kacey Musgraves sold about 42,000. For a more fitting comparison, the previous week Luke Bryan sold 150,000 copies with a compilation album, a glorified spring break mixtape. 

Now I'm not here to make a value judgement on whether I think the trend towards the mainstream is a bad thing - as much as mainstream modern country in all of its varieties isn't really my thing, I can acknowledge good music when I hear it and there is some there. But what is a much more worrying trend is the sidelining of promising new acts like Kacey Musgraves, a female singer-songwriter with incredible chops, fresh ideas, and an excellent sense of solid country music, in favour of meat-headed, practically interchangeable male country stars who have pop crossover success by catering to the lowest common denominator. From a business point of view, Nashville is making a killing on these country acts, but it does not reflect a sustainable business model when you put your most promising and intelligent new singer-songwriter in a decade up against Justin TImberlake. But at the same time, the country music industry is a business, and if they want to milk and oversaturate the market with mainstream male country acts to roll in the dough until the world gets sick of them, that's their choice. But there's a much bigger issue at stake here, and that is reflected in the comments made by Kacey Musgraves, Gary Allan, and Zac Brown: the loss of culture in country music. A loss of flavour and texture and the feeling that the songs are informed by authentic real emotions and songwriters who know their history and the place country music has played within the United States for nearly a century. At this point, Nashville seems to have forsaken this, presumably under the belief that nobody in their audience wants it.

But more and more evidence is coming to light to me that that is not the case. Recently I reviewed the newest album released by country singer Justin Moore, titled Off The Beaten Path. Now that album was terrible and I stand by everything I said about it, but it was something in the comments to that video that both concerned me and got me thinking, because people jumped to the defense of Justin Moore and not just because they thought his music was good, but they thought his music was relatable. They could connect with it, they saw in the offensive pandering nonsense that was that album moments with which they could connect - it was something. And they gravitated to those songs about small town USA and God and rural culture and all of that not solely because they were something they could relate to, but because mainstream country music has nearly completely abandoned that demographic. Or worse still, they attempt to appease that demographic with shallow, vapid pandering that sounds and looks utterly soulless, and yet the audience will take anything they can get. And frankly, I can empathize with their concerns - their defense of Justin Moore, who at least appears to believe the crap he's selling, is pretty much identical to my defense of Kacey Musgraves, at least on basic principles - we're both looking for culture in country music.

So what happened? How did we get here? What led Nashville to throw their history and culture under the ties of a Chevy truck lining up for a tailgate? Well, there's a lot of factors in that. One I can definitely pinpoint is within the country music industry itself - they've always gunned for the mainstream audience, with country pop rising in the late-70s and 80s and the explosion of Garth Brooks and Shania Twain in the 90s. But in those climates, there were still traditional and neotraditional country stalwarts like Alan Jackson and George Strait who fought to preserve that history, and there was an audience that bought it. But when Nashville found out they could appease that demographic by pandering to southern pride and small town nationalist spirit and patriotism, those that fought for culture and history were forced to the sidelines. 

And how can Nashville get away with that? Well, that's a twofold problem, and here's where things get ugly, because one of the groups that deserves blame are modern music critics, particularly those who are my age or a little older. The majority of critics outside of major publications like AllMusic and Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly, who must cover country by obligation, have ignored and marginalized country music for a long time now, preferring to cover the newest underground hip-hop mixtape or independent album that nobody outside of a very, very small community of music nerds will ever care about. I could go on about how this attitude betrays the spirit of populism which the best critics have always embraced, but that misses the meat of the message: by ignoring country music, the critical press shut down the artistic conversation with country music. They made the implicit statement that there is no artistry or craft or intelligence or meaningful commentary in country music. And I would be remiss not to mention the political angle, where certain people, ignorant of country music as a genre, dismissed it as music for small town, right-leaning white trash rednecks who were incapable of appreciating 'better' music. This sort of thinking and dismissal is cowardly, shameful, and utterly despicable, and it shows most critics as narrow-minded as the demographic they dismissed.

But the country music industry heard it and realized they didn't need critical acclaim to sell records, unlike other genres like metal and indie rock and occasionally hip-hop. They didn't need us. So instead they started catering to the lowest common denominator more aggressively than they ever have before, putting money and professional songwriters behind anyone with a hint of talent, and they reaped the rewards, particularly considering the culture of anti-intellectualism and victimization that was being adopted by the stagnating and unfairly ignored rural population of the United States. And while I will not claim that country music was directly responsible for shoving large tracts of the United States towards the right politically, you can't deny that with the success of acts like Jason Aldean and Justin Moore and libelous songs like 'Have You Forgotten' by Darryl Worley that it didn't happen. And with the role country music played in the aftermath of 9/11, things got even worse - as much as I never liked The Dixie Chicks, they didn't deserve to have their careers ruined because they were right about the War on Terror before everyone else realized it. Like it or not, country music did contribute to the increased polarization of America, and the critics not doing their jobs by ignoring covering country music only made things worse, because the cultural conversation stopped

So thus I wasn't surprised that I get comments on my country music reviews saying that I shouldn't even be covering country music, because I'm a Canadian city boy and thus must be some sort of privileged white-collar Commie homosexual - even though I've been listening to country music for about twenty years. Even though I know more about country music than I do about most hip-hop and metal and electronica. Even though I'm the only critic on Youtube who has even bothers to cover country music and review it fairly, to give it a goddamn chance. And sure, YouTube is an echo chamber and any critical opinion gets pounced upon, but there was something different about this, because it reflects the fact that there is something seriously wrong with the shape country music is taking, that acts like Justin Moore are making money simply because they can pander to rural pride and the starving audiences will take anything they can get. And as Zac Brown said in his interview, 'country fans and country listeners deserve to have something better than that, a song that really has something to say. Good music makes you feel something.'

So what's the solution to this? Honestly, I have no idea - if I could solve the increased polarity of America, I probably wouldn't be reviewing albums on the internet. What I will say is this: the increased popularity of country acts in the mainstream won't last. At this point, the market is nearly saturated, and when trends shift and the mainstream public gets sick of country, it's going to ruin a lot of careers. Right now, however, I'm significantly more concerned about two groups: the artists whose careers are suffering now because the industry is sidelining them and whom might never get another chance for the spotlight; and those concerned about American culture and history, particularly those who love country music and who don't want to see the genre implode in the same way other oversaturated musical genres collapsed, like disco and prog rock and punk and hair metal and grunge. But country is unique because so much of it is linked directly and is informed by American culture and American history. If you forget where your culture comes from, and the people who represent it instead of those who are looking to profit off of it in order to make a quick buck, you lose something you can never get back.

Alan Jackson and George Strait understood this when they recorded 'Murder On Music Row' back in 2000 - and really, the only reasons pop country imploded at the end of the 90s are the near-simultaneous failures of Garth Brooks and Shania Twain, and 9/11, where Nashville correctly realized that the USA needed a connection with its culture and its roots more than ever, or else the blow to the nation's spirit would never heal. But this time, things are different, and I don't see a good ending for traditional country music. Or, to put it another way, Alan Jackson released a new album this week: how many of you have heard it?

That's what I thought. I don't want to see another murder on music row. And why do I care? Well, the same reason Alan Jackson and George Strait and Zac Brown and Gary Allan and Kacey Musgraves care: I love country music, and there's room on the charts for both culture and partying. To quote Zac Brown again, 'I'm opinionated because I care so much about the music and the songs'. 

He's not alone.