Thursday, 27 February 2014

Album Review: RISER

I have to admit I didn't have high expectations when I started listening to the new Dierks Bentley album. Same-old, same-old, I thought. Wrong.

A couple songs into Riser, I realized there was something truly special about this album. In fact, it's becoming one of my favourites.

I Hold On was the first radio single, and a good one at that – peaking at number ten on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart (so far). Bentley sings about holding on to the good things in life – rusted trucks, old guitars, and most importantly, relationships. "I hold on to the things I believe in/My faith, your love, our freedom."

As a whole, the album doesn't feel like it was recorded to generate maximum airplay. Frankly, many of the songs are too long or slow. But you can't deny the quality of the work. Bentley takes his time to communicate the precise emotion he wants the listener to feel.

Bourbon In Kentucky is a heartbreaker opening track but has an uncharacteristic uplifting vibe. "There ain't enough bourbon in Kentucky for me to forget you." It sets the course for the rest of the songs on the album, which share the intricate yet overpoweringly-twangy instrumentation.

Pretty Girls is lyrically-shallow but catchy because of the unique minor chord pattern. "Chasing a buzz drinking cold Bud Light/Watching pretty girls drinking tall boys."

Here On Earth reminds me of what Luke Bryan tried to do with Drink a Beer. The singer has clearly been impacted by a personal loss and is looking for answers. "There's not a stone in my heart I've left unturned/Not a piece of my soul that I ain't searched." After wrestling with some tough questions, Bentley concludes he will simply never know the answers on this side of heaven.

Drunk On a Plane is one of the most original country songs I've heard in a while. The premise is wedding plans gone south and the man stuck with a honeymoon trip-for-two to Cancun. So, he tries to forget. "Buying drinks for everybody but the pilot/It's a party." It's brilliant songwriting too, but perhaps not the best messaging.

I usually get irritated with songs about the singer's career, but I had never heard one so good as Damn These Dreams. Even in the way Bentley sings, you can tell this is all-reality and no-show. He discusses being torn between music and his family and how touring keeps him constantly away from home. "Damn these dreams/Playing my heart just like a guitar string/Pull me away from you and everything I really need." Profound.

The only way I can really describe Riser is full and well-rounded. Bentley doesn't pull off anything crazy, but impressively, there are no weak tunes. Most artists cannot claim that about their albums; then again, Dierks Bentley is not most artists.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Country Music on Valentine's Day

In country music, it's often all about the trucks, beer, and....did I mention trucks? Seriously, thought, it's got a softer side. This Valentine's Day, consider trading in the boot-stompin' party anthems for something a bit more romantic. I've researched top lists of Valentine's Day songs and added some of my personal favourites to bring you the top 10 to play for your significant other today. And if you're really bold, you could even sing them :)

10. Always On My Mind (Willie Nelson)

Brenda Lee recorded this song first in 1972, and it's a romantic classic as bittersweet as some of those Valentine's Day chocolates. The song is an apology and an ask for a second chance, and Nelson's nasally drawl makes it sound even more heartfelt.

9. Stay Stay Stay (Taylor Swift)

T-Swift is best known for her breakup songs, but this one is a pleasant exception. The mandolin-dominated track is a go-lucky ode to the apparently-rare time a relationship ends happily. The line about throwing a phone across the room in a fight is especially funny and realistic.
8. I'd Fall In Love Tonight (Russ Taff)

I learned this song for an anniversary last year, and was impressed with the payoff line in the chorus: "If I didn't already love you, I'd fall in love tonight." Although the ballad is riddled with a few cliches, the melody line has the power to send shivers. And it's cheesy in a sweet sort of way.

7. A Woman Like You (Lee Brice)

This 2012 song was a breakthrough moment for Brice, and is possibly one of the most descriptive and relatable love stories in modern country. He recalls the freedom of being single, but concludes, "I'd take a gold band on my hand/Over being a single man." Even with the uncommon minor chords, it sounds natural on radio.

6. Then (Brad Paisley)

Paisley starts before the beginning of a relationship and walks listeners through marriage and old age. While many mediocre songs do the same thing, the narrator looks back after each stage in a smiling fashion and says, "And I thought I loved you then." Very heartwarming.

5. I Do (Paul Brandt)

Online sources say Brandt wrote I Do for a friend's wedding. His tone and the rise-and-fall of chord progressions create a new atmosphere for listeners, and I love the emphasis on commitment. "No way that this is sinking sand/On the solid rock we'll stand/Forever." It's so fitting I'll overlook the passive writing :)

4. Wildflower (Dean Brody)

I've always thought this song was an underrated winner, but after hearing it live, I was sure. Brody compares his experience before falling in love to "living in a world without colour like an old photograph." This is an extremely personal song, but Brody captures some truths so clearly, such as "what you think are imperfections are what I couldn't live without."

3. Rose Of My Heart (Johnny Cash)

Johnny Cash released this cover after this death, and besides being a Johnny Cash song, it communicates such a timeless message of sticking together through good and bad times. The simple lyrics make it memorable, as does Cash's weary voice.

2. Forever and Ever, Amen (Randy Travis)

I think this is one of those classics even a young audience can enjoy. Travis takes a serious theme and makes it playful with a few funny lines. He says greying hair doesn't matter, because "I ain't in love with your hair." He also makes the statement that true love isn't about looks.

1. When You Say Nothing At All (Alison Krauss)

Some people find this song a little sappy, but I don't see how you can't be moved by Krauss's flawless version. It's a picture of the ideal romance and connection in a relationship. "You say it best when you say nothing at all" (and not in the "shut up" kind of way). The simple imagery makes this song my top pick for Valentine's Day 2014.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Coming Up In Winnipeg...

Over the past few years, it seems like there are more and better country music concerts than ever in Manitoba. In 2013, we watched Eric Church, Carrie Underwood, and Little Big Town, to name a few. Of course, there was also Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line at Dauphin's Countryfest. Here's a look at what's coming up for country shows in Winnipeg.

First, I'll give a little plug for my own concert, which happens tomorrow (Saturday) at The Park Theatre. My debut EP Miles On This Truck peaked at the number 62 spot on the Canadian iTunes Store's Country Albums chart, and I will be performing along with opening artists Bryce Pallister, Rhia Rae, and Shannon Patterson. Jonathan Best from QX104 will be hosting, too – come check it out!

Next Wednesday, we've got Dean Brody in town coming off of a fresh album release. Bounty was a number one hit on Canadian country radio, and the rock-and-roll title track Crop Circles is rising fast! The new album has a bit of an East Coast feel mixed in with his traditional country sound. Having seen Brody in concert three times before, I know it will be another standout show. Cassadee Pope joins him, and the The Voice Season 3 winner's debut single Wasting All These Tears recently cracked the top 5 on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart. She's a great vocalist and a great country artist.

Then on March 5, Lady Antebellum is taking over the MTS Centre. To tell you the truth, I'm just as excited to see openers Kacey Musgraves and Kip Moore. With two Grammy Awards and an unconventional style of country music, Musgraves is creating a lot of buzz right now. And Moore's Somethin' Bout a Truck and Beer Money are great singalong songs.

Later that month, new Canadian artists Brett Kissell and Tim Hicks will be coming through town, and then it's summer fair season! Also check out the QX104 Concert Centre for news on upcoming Winnipeg shows.