Category Archives: Music


New Music Worth Listening To: Colleen Rennison – ‘See the Sky About to Rain’

Colleen_CDColleen Rennison – See the Sky About to Rain
***½ (out of 4 stars)
Label: Black Hen Music

Ahhh. The voice. It stirs up heartfelt emotions at the same time that it soothes the soul. It is obviously a commanding instrument, yet with these songs, there is even more power in the restraint that is shown. Sometimes only a force that is nearly unstoppable can display the true potency of control. This voice can and does.

I am talking about the comfy and clear tones of Colleen Rennison, whose latest album, See the Sky About to Rain, is a nearly perfect showcase for her powerful instrument. What is most remarkable is that the 25-year-old Rennison never sings in a manner that calls attention to her vocal technique. For her, it’s clearly all about conveying the story and emotion of the song… and that’s why I have shared that she is 25 years old. It is hard to listen to these songs and believe that she is still so young; her approach to the material is wise and worn with experience in the best way.

The album is produced by Steve Dawson, who also contributes some dynamic guitar-playing. Throughout, Rennison is backed by a lively horn section featuring Jim Hoke (sax), Steve Herrman (trumpet) and Bill Huber trombone), as well as some fine banjo, fiddle and mandolin work by Tim O’brien.

The album offers a collection of sublime material that fits together in a seamless musical journey, from some of the strongest composers around: “Stage Fright” (Robbie Robertson), “White Freightliner” (Townes Van Zandt), “Why Don’t You Try” (Leonard Cohen), “Coyote” (Joni Mitchell), and “See the Sky About to Rain” (Neil Young). These are songs for the ambitious and, along with Dawson’s deft guidance, Rennison achieves remarkable effect with each and every track.

Anyone who attempts her own cover version of Bobbie Gentry’s “Fancy” is a friend of mine; it’s a story-song that I never tire hearing… especially when it’s sung in a full-throated blaze of glory, like this version by Ms. Rennison. The percussive arrangement of the song gives it an edge that keeps it from getting self-indulgent. It compares favorably with every other solid version out there.

Essential Downloads: “All La Glory,” “Oleander,” “Why Don’t You Try,” “My Crew.”

To preview or purchase this album on iTunes, click here.


Greg Victor

Greg Victor (Parcbench Culture Editor) covers the worlds of tennis and country music for Parcbench. Based in New York City and frequently on the road.

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A Must-Have Summer Album: Davina and the Vagabonds’ ‘Sunshine’

Davina_CDDavina and the Vagabonds – Sunshine
**** (out of 4 stars)
Label: Roustabout Records

Here is one of the most exciting albums to come along so far this year. Davina and the Vagabonds’ latest release, Sunshine, is indeed a ray of sunshine. Each song is a musical roadmap that will transport you to a time and place, real and imaginary, from which you will never want to return.

Davina and the Vagabonds are a clever acoustic quintet led by honey-voiced Davina Sowers (Vocals/Piano/Ukulele), also featuring Dan Eikmeier (Trumpet/Vocals), Ben Link (Trombone/Vocals), Connor McRae (Drums/Vocals) and Andrew Burns (Sousaphone/Upright Bass). Recorded in superb analog, Sunshine is as refreshing as a lawn sprinkler on a hot August day.

The album is mostly original music (including three superb covers — “I’d Rather Drink Muddy Water,” “You Must Be Losing Your Mind” and “Heavenly Day”) that will make every part of you happy. It is an album of almost uncontainable optimism and occasional heartache. The songs are deceptively simple. They find their power in the notes, as they tumble — as if leaves falling from a brightly-colored tree in autumn, arranging themselves into piles begging to be kicked as you walk by, just so you can watch them sail through the air again and again. This is music so listenable that it, quite frankly, should never end.

What Davina and the Vagabonds deserve is a brave and brilliant major film director to ask her to provide the soundtrack for a big old hit movie (a charming romantic comedy, perhaps?). Once audiences get the opportunity to “discover” her, they will have armfuls of Grammys and legions of lifelong loyal fans. Harry Connick, Jr. got the sort of break that Davina and the Vagabonds (and today’s music-starved audiences) deserve as well.

In the meantime, enjoy the soulful music they are making now… and the satisfaction that you get to share this mix of Tin Pan Alley ditties, Vaudeville jazz riffs, and late night dressing room improv blues with all of your friends who aren’t as in the know about modern takes on classic forms of brilliant music.

Essential Downloads: “Sunshine,” “Away From Me,” “You Better Start Praying,” “Heavenly Day.”

To preview or purchase this album on iTunes, click here.


Greg Victor

Greg Victor (Parcbench Culture Editor) covers the worlds of tennis and country music for Parcbench. Based in New York City and frequently on the road.

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Dwight Yoakam’s New Version Of “Who’ll Stop The Rain”

dwight_CDDwight Yoakam – “Who’ll Stop The Rain?” (single)
*** ½ (out of 4 stars)
Label: Reprise Records

Everything Dwight Yoakam sings is cool and effortless, and his latest single, a remake of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Who’ll Stop the Rain?” is no exception.

The Grammy-winning singer’s version of the CCR hit begins with a few guitar strums, followed by Yoakam’s instantly identifiable vocals. Eventually things kick off and the song expresses itself with a Rolling Stones groove. It’s a cover version that pays homage to the original by keeping things respectfully country-rock. At the same, Yoakam allows just enough of a yodel to finish off a note or two to make it all his own. Even better news: the song will appear on an album scheduled for release later this year on Reprise Records.

The single’s release is something of a return to the record label where Dwight Yoakam’s recording success began. Yoakam has recorded 28 albums under the Warner Bros. label umbrella, with his last being 2012′s critically-acclaimed 3 Pears, which spent eight weeks at the top of the Americana albums chart.

Yoakam (who had his first hit in 1986 with a remake of Johnny Horton’s “Honky Tonk Man”) has built a solid career out of making quality music on a consistent basis. He’ll join Eric Church’s ‘The Outsiders’ World Tour as a special guest this fall. That tour kicks off Sept. 11 in Bossier City, La. That tour will crisscross the U.S. and Canada through December, with 32 arena dates in the fall.

To preview or purchase this song on iTunes, click here.


Greg Victor

Greg Victor (Parcbench Culture Editor) covers the worlds of tennis and country music for Parcbench. Based in New York City and frequently on the road.

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Garth Brooks performs at "We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration At The Lincoln Memorial" January 18, 2009 in Washington, DC.

Suppose Garth Brooks Attempted A Comeback… And No One Came?

Garth Brooks performs at "We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration At The Lincoln Memorial" January 18, 2009 in Washington, DC.

Garth Brooks performs at “We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration At The Lincoln Memorial” January 18, 2009 in Washington, DC.

Five comeback concerts by Garth “I Love President Obama To Death” Brooks, were canceled recently in Dublin after authorities denied permits because local residents objected to the disruption so many successive concerts would bring. City policy says only three “special events” per year can be played at the stadium, and One Direction had already played three concerts at the venue this year. Brooks responded by saying he would play five of the concerts or none, presumably banking on the notion that he still somehow mattered in the 21st century. Nice try.

Now, possibly stinging from the sudden realization of his irrelevance, he is moving forward to try to renew his time capsule fame. Garth “I Love President Obama To Death” Brooks announced details of yet another return at a press conference recently. Expect a new album on RCA Nashville, due out in time for Black Friday, and a three-year world tour to follow. And why not? Nowadays, country music is the most popular genre around and Garth needs the attention. For country music fans who still think the 52-year-old, “aww shucks,” slightly insincere hat act has anything new to say, it is kind of a big deal. Heck, after all these years, they might even get an AARP discount on the concert tickets.

Brooks also announced a first: he’ll be making his music available digitally for the first time, but only via his own website. He still won’t be on iTunes. Or Spotify. Or Pandora. Or Beats. Or iHeartRadio. Talk about self-sabotaging a “comeback.” Hey Garth — whether your ‘80s mentality likes it or not — streaming isn’t just the future of music, it’s actually the present. If you want an audience to discover your music, you have to make it available to them in the places where they seek it.

But that’s not saying a lot. The music industry is still rolling along on flat tires, getting nowhere, slowly. The only album to even sell a million copies so far this year is the Frozen soundtrack, which sold 2.7 million units. Back when Brooks was making the video for “We Shall Be Free,” featuring cameo appearances by Whoopi Goldberg, Jay Leno, Eddie Murphy, Martina Navratilova, General Colin Powell and Elizabeth Taylor, many top artists’s albums went platinum in their opening week.

Let’s hope we can expect some sort of artistic growth from Brooks as a result of his being away for the past decade. If anything, he should consider returning to the sound of his early albums. His last album, Scarecrow, released in 2001, was one of his worst.

Perhaps he’ll try broadening his fan base in other ways. Hey Garth — I hear George Strait might be free in the future. I bet he could sell some concert tickets.


Greg Victor

Greg Victor (Parcbench Culture Editor) covers the worlds of tennis and country music for Parcbench. Based in New York City and frequently on the road.

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New Blues/Roots: The Nighthawks – ’444′

cdThe Nighthawks - 444
*** (out of 4 stars)
Label: EllerSoul Records

Good news for fans of blues and roots rock who are looking for some new tunes for the coming summer nights. Rockabilly legends, The Nighthawks, will release a new album on Tuesday, June 17. 444 features thirteen songs simmering with the band’s trademark blend of blues, soul, and good old rock ‘n’ roll. The collection includes five originals, as well as classics by Muddy Waters, the Du Droppers and others. The album also includes two songs that first appeared in Elvis Presley movies; “Got A Lot of Livin’” (from the 1957 film ‘Lovin’ You’) and “Crawfish” (the fun opening number from the 1958 film ‘King Creole’).

For over 40 years they’ve been playing their brand of music… long before people started labeling it. If it spoke to the soul and made you want to move, they’ve played it. Over the years, they opened shows for such artists as Muddy Waters, James Cotton, John Lee Hooker and Carl Perkins. The Blues Foundation gave The Nighthawks the “Acoustic Album of the Year” award for their 2011 album Last Train To Bluesville. And now, with 444, they have put out yet another fantastic album that recreates the feeling of live gig. The energy and style these guys have is evident in every track.

The Nighthawks–Documentary Film from Michael Streissguth on Vimeo.

The Nighthawks are Mark Wenner (vocals & harmonica), Johnny Castle (bass), Paul Bell (guitar) and Mark Stutso (drums). They are one of the most consistent and reliable bands around; they are still making music that people relate to when they walk in the door and they are still playing those songs with an astonishing passion and commitment.

Essential Downloads: “Walk That Walk,” “You’re Gone,” “No Secrets.”

Upcoming Nighthawks’ Tour Dates:

6/20 @ The Birchmere, Alexandria VA

6/22 @ Capital Ale House Music Hall, Richmond VA

6/26 @ Thunder in the Valley, Johnstown PA

6/27 @ Blues, Brews & BBQ Festival, Charleston WV

6/28 @ The State Theatre, Culpepper VA

7/04 @ Evenings on Main, Luray VA

7/05 @ High Tides on Potomac, Colonial Beach VA

7/06 @ Bethesda Blues & Jazz, Bethesda MD

7/20 @ Gilligan’s Pier, Newberg MD

7/25 @ Sellersville Theater, Sellersville PA
7/27 @ Hiawatha Paddlewheel Riverboat Cruise, Williamsport, PA
8/3 @ High Tides on the Potomac, Colonial Beach, VA
8/8 @ Apple’s 11th Annual East Coast Motorcycle Rally, Little Orleans, MD
8/9 @ Patriot Harley-Davidson, Fairfax VA
8/15 @ Edmonton Blues Festival, Edmonton Alberta
8/27 @ Lee District Nights, Franconia, VA
8/31 Antique & Custom Bike Show, Vienna VA
9/1 @ Greenbelt Labor Day Festival, Greenbelt, MD
*(with more dates to be announced, so keep checking the Nighthawks’ website)

To preorder this album on Amazon, click here.

Greg Victor

Greg Victor (Parcbench Culture Editor) covers the worlds of tennis and country music for Parcbench. Based in New York City and frequently on the road.

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Travis Tritt’s New Song: “That’s What Dreamers Do”

Travis_CDAward-winning authentic country artist Travis Tritt has released a new song, titled “That’s What Dreamers Do.”

The heart-touching ballad resonates with dreamers of all kinds and embraces the struggles and joys of being a dreamer. Tritt wrote the song for the independent biopic film, As Dreamers Do, which he narrates. The film is based on the life of Walt Disney. To view the trailer for the film, click here.

The single, “That’s What Dreamers Do,” is available through iTunes (click here).

“That’s What Dreamers Do” is Tritt’s second single release since forming Post Oak Recordings. Tritt formed the label in 2012 and shortly after released his full length album The Calm After… Included on the album is a duet with Tritt’s daughter, Tyler Reese. The song, “Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough,” is a cover of the 1980s pop hit.

Together, they released a video for the track…

Four of the songs on the album, co-produced by Randy Jackson, were either written or co-written by Tritt. The Calm After… is available on iTunes and other major digital retailers.
2014 has proven to be a busy year for the Marietta, Georgia native. Tritt has been touring extensively, including show dates stretching as far north as Canada. To view a list of upcoming tour dates, click here.

Earlier this year, Tritt filmed a live DVD from the Franklin Theatre in Franklin, Tennessee. It will be released later this year. 2014 marks the 25th anniversary of Tritt’s music career. His chart-topping success includes millions in album sales, two Grammy award wins and multiple No. 1 singles on the Country radio charts, including “Help Me Hold On,” “Anymore” and “Best of Intentions.” He was dubbed one of “The Class of ‘89,” which included Country music superstars Garth Brooks, Clint Black and Alan Jackson; all whom dominated the charts in the early ‘90s.

Greg Victor

Greg Victor (Parcbench Culture Editor) covers the worlds of tennis and country music for Parcbench. Based in New York City and frequently on the road.

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Brave New Country Music: Joshua Scott Jones – ‘The Healing’

Joshua_Scott_Jones_CDJoshua Scott Jones – The Healing
**** (out of 4 stars)
Label: JSJ Music

Joshua Scott Jones has released his 11-track self-produced debut solo project entitled The Healing.

It’s about the bravest album I’ve heard since Glen Campbell’s Ghost On The Canvas. With this album full of songs of loss and recovery, Joshua Scott Jones reveals as much as might be humanly possible of the human experience on a record. It’s just that good.

I won’t even pretend to know what an artist such as Joshua Scott Jones went through in order to arrive at a place where the turmoil finds such coherence — the close calls and negotiations and the drama of it all — but I’m sure glad he did. More importantly, I’m glad he seems to have made it through with his musicianship intact (and stronger than ever).

During his time as half of the duo Steel Magnolia, Jones seemed perfectly fine sharing the spotlight. He seemed an ideal duo partner in that sense, but the Steel Magnolia material didn’t even begin to hint at the emotional depths that The Healing reveals. With this album, Jones asks the tough questions and establishes himself as a solo artist worth watching. Vocally, he is incredibly versatile; going from a whisper to an internal misgiving to a soaring note within a single phrase, all the while maintaining the edgy sense of humor that he has always delivered.

If the TV show Nashville runs dry of creative ideas for future episodes, they’d be smart to feature any number of songs from this album. These are songs full of narrative, drama, resolution and poetry. The songs are brilliantly arranged and organized in such a way that they add, layer upon layer, to a complete and satisfying whole. This is honest songwriting at its best. Who knew there would be something so promising coming out of Nashville in the summer of 2014?

Essential Downloads: “DUI,” “City of Angels,” “Tennessee House,” “The Healing.”

To preview or purchase this album on iTunes, click here.

IEBA Conference Day 1

Greg Victor

Greg Victor (Parcbench Culture Editor) covers the worlds of tennis and country music for Parcbench. Based in New York City and frequently on the road.

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Screen Shot 2014-06-11 at 5.31.09 AM

Country Star Joe Nichols Has A New Hit Single That’ll Make You Say ‘YEAH!’

Screen Shot 2014-06-11 at 5.31.09 AMJoe Nichols, a four-time Grammy nominee known for songs such as “Brokenheartsville,” “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off” and “Gimme That Girl,” is currently making country music fans happy as he hits the road on Lady Antebellum’s “Take Me Downtown Tour.” These days (and nights) he’s also singing his hit “Sunny And 75,” as well as his brand new single, “Yeah.”

Recently, I had the chance to chat with Joe and find out what he’s up to this summer. So what’s the best thing about doing an interview with Joe Nichols? Well, getting to talk with Joe Nichols, of course. He has such an easy-going, sunny vibe about him that there should be some sort of ‘Vitamin Joe’ bottled and sold so that the world would be a more livable and enjoyable place.

The other best thing about doing an interview with Joe Nichols is getting immersed in his music, in preparation. There’s something so right about Joe Nichols’ delivery of a country song; a fusion of emotion and experience and the utter simplicity of the truth being told. His latest album, Crickets, is full of 16 songs that allow him to connect with audiences in the way that only he can. Crickets was produced by Mickey Jack Cones and Derek George except for songs “Yeah” and “Billy Graham’s Bible,” which were produced by Tony Brown and Mickey Jack Cones. (To preview or purchase the album on iTunes, click here.)

Joe Nichols recently debuted the music video for his latest single off the album — the Top 15 hit, “Yeah”…

“Yeah,” the follow-up to Joe Nichols’ recent No. 1 hit off the Crickets album, “Sunny and 75,” is the perfect summertime country video; it’s catchy, fun to sing along to, and sexy. Directed by Wes Edwards (who also directed Dierks Bentley’s “Drunk On A Plane” video), the “Yeah” video keeps things fun and moving along at a summer’s breeze pace by letting the song unfold as a series of comic book panels. Nichols said that the song “is about being young and experiencing life, maybe even for the first time, with each other.” He also said that audiences are loving it.


(An Interview With Joe Nichols)…

GV (Greg Victor): I bet you’re in a very good place in your life these days. Am I right?

JN (Joe Nichols): I’m in a great place in my life right now. I have a great wife and now I have three beautiful daughters.

GV: Congratulations on the birth of your daughter, Georgia Blue!

JN: Thank you! She’s about a week and a half old now. She’s great.


GV: And now you’re on the road with Lady Antebellum… it must be hard to leave.

JN: I miss my baby terribly. But at the same time, I can get a little sleep when I’m out on the road! But I couldn’t ask for a better tour. This is my first time touring with Lady Antebellum. The vibe, the music and the audience reaction have been great. It’s a great place to have a couple of big songs like “Sunny & 75” and “Yeah.” Getting on a big Lady Antebellum tour and having the summer of our lives — it’s all good, man. The fans are treating me well and I don’t think I could ask for anything more.

Screen Shot 2014-06-11 at 5.54.39 AM

GV: Any idea what the next single might be off the Crickets album?

JN: I think it might be “Hard To Be Cool.” I think it’s made for radio and it feels like it rocks when I do it in the show.


GV: Crickets is a good mix of potential single hits and traditional country songs. And there are plenty of songs that take you in new directions. How’d you pick the songs for the album?

JN: It was a collective process. There was a group of us that were looking for material for the record. Benny Brown, who owns the label (Broken Bow Records) had a big hand in finding a lot of the material. I actually cut “Yeah” and “Billy Graham’s Bible” before I had a record deal… with my own money. I brought those to the label and then, at that point, we kinda had a direction of where we wanted the album to go. We wanted to make sure we were current, while at the same time, we wanted to make sure people who bought the album knew that I was still my traditional self. I think we pleased a lot of different monsters with this record.

GV: If you can keep the old fans happy, while making new fans, that’s success…

JN: Exactly right.

GV: That’s saying a lot these days. And the idea is that the new fans will explore the rest of your catalogue and find even more music of yours that they like.

JN: I would think that what we’re doing now would invite fans that I’m just reaching for the first time to dig deeper into what I’ve done previously. If they did “Billy Graham’s Bible,” they’re definitely gonna dig albums past.

GV: What was it like working with producer Mickey Jack Cones on Crickets?

JN: Man, I don’t think the guy ever sleeps! He’s so busy, and so focused, and so energetic in the studio. He plays, he sings, and he has so many creative ideas. Man, this is as much his records as it is anybody’s. He was all over this album. His vision really, really livened up the record. He really took control and dug deep into the details and put his fingerprints everywhere. It was my first time working with him and I was just blown away!

GV: Is there a certain song, or a type of song, that you’ve always been looking for… that if you heard it, you’d say “I’m recording that”?

JN: If I ever found another “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” I would cut it. I know it probably wouldn’t go over on radio today, but I think that a song that’s that impactful and soulful and that just kinda grips you, I think I am always looking for that. And it there’s that one ideal song for me, I think it’s the emotionally inspirational kind of song. “The Impossible” was like that for me. At the same time, I would also want another “Friends In Low Places,” one of the all-time party songs.

GV: We know how you have a history of singing songs about girls taking their clothes off… “Take It Off” and “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off,” for example… You want it all, don’t you, Joe Nichols?

JN: (laughing) I want it all!

GV: Well, why not? You seem to be everywhere these days. I’m talking, of course, about the two tracks you have on Working Man’s Poet: A Tribute To Merle Haggard. What a fantastic album that is.

JN: I woulda cut the whole record if they’d let me.

GV: When it comes to Joe Nichols recording Merle Haggard songs, how do you possibly choose which ones to do?

JN: You know, I’ve had a personal favorite of his for a long time, which is “Footlights.” I’ve always wanted to cut that song and put it on one of my records. So that was a natural choice for me, and then for the second song, we just called Merle from Benny’s office and I asked, “Hey, what do you want me to do? I was thinking maybe ‘Caroline,’” and Merle said “Well, I didn’t write that one. Tommy Collins did.” And I said, “Well, I’ll sing something you wrote. You just tell me what you want me to sing.” And he said “How about doin’ ‘My Favorite Memory’?”

GV: We all know you grew up obsessed with singing and playing Merle Haggard songs. You probably had no idea at the time that you were someday going to be carrying on that legacy of country music…

JN: I never thought I’d have the first hit, let alone sit here twelve years after my first song was released, still relevant on radio and still making music. I never thought I’d ever get to do this. I’m thrilled to death.

GV: The longer you’re out there making music, does each hit mean more and more?

JN: For me, it’s probably different than a lot of people. I think some of your headliners out there that are having hit after hit, and have been for a few years — it probably gets a little repetitive for them. But for me, it’s not been so much “hit after hit.” It’s been kinda “hit and miss,” really.

GV: Well, the Crickets album has definitely brought you back-to-back hits. With “Sunny And 75,” followed by “Yeah,” and plenty more to come, I’m sure.

JN: It’s exciting. Thankful for it!

GV: And I wanna thank you for taking time to share your thoughts with me. I look forward to seeing you on the road. (For upcoming tour dates, click here).

JN: All right, man. Take care, brother.


Greg Victor

Greg Victor (Parcbench Culture Editor) covers the worlds of tennis and country music for Parcbench. Based in New York City and frequently on the road.

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The Summer of 2014′s First ‘Must-Have’ Album: Morgan James’ “Hunter’

cdMorgan James – Hunter
***½ (out of 4 stars)
Label: Epic Records

Every once in awhile an artist releases an album that is worthy of more attention than it will likely receive, and Morgan James’ new release, Hunter, is such an album. I write such a statement because no matter how much attention it gets, it cannot be enough. Produced by jazz and bluegrass guitarist Doug Wamble, the album is one solid and finely crafted track after another.

And it arrives just in time for you to make it your “summer of 2014” discovery album — the one that you play over and over and never tire of, and that, in years to come, will bring you right back to the summer of 2014 as soon as you hear it. Hunter, by Morgan James is that album.

The album is a smart collection of original songs that evoke the slightly confrontational cool of ’60s R&B and the emotional fever of ’70s soul. But it’s really all about the voice. Or, in this case, The Voice (Morgan James’ voice deserves capitals.) And what a voice it is — heartbreaking, soulful and original. She has an inner knowledge of classic soul that is so deep, that even if she sang the entire history of soul music, you’d still believe that she is keeping a few secrets. Her vocal instrument has a flexibility and a range that meets the challenge of even the most ambitious of songwriters. Let’s just hope that those songwriters exist… and that Ms. James gets to share her talent on album after album of inspired material that does her blazing voice justice.

Essential Downloads: “Heart Shake,” “I Want You,” “Say The Words.”

To preview or purchase this album on iTunes, click here.

a pic

Greg Victor

Greg Victor (Parcbench Culture Editor) covers the worlds of tennis and country music for Parcbench. Based in New York City and frequently on the road.

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New Country: Miranda Lambert’s ‘Platinum’

1Miranda Lambert – Platinum
**½ (out of 4 stars)
Label: RCA Nashville (also known as Sony)

Miranda Lambert is becoming who I suspect Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles always wanted to be: a country megastar who can, when she chooses, cross successfully over into what’s left of the pop world. Although, considering how country has now ascended to the top of the musical hill (Rolling Stone Country, anyone?), one must ask “Why bother?” Poor Jennifer Nettles… destined to host the CMA Christmas Special for eternity just to prove that she is country. Or worse — sing some John Legend song on the hip-hop/CMT Awards show last night. Now that’s country… not.

No one has to question Miranda Lambert’s country cred, what with her double-six-shooter-with-wings tattoo, and all. She just might actually be interesting if she had a little direction. For better or for worse, her wild-yet-tame, saucy-but-too-slurred-to-want-to take-home manner perfectly represents the modern, typical American female country music fan. But too often her middlebrow taste adversely affects her musical choices. The new album, Platinum, is getting raves from all kinds of music critics that regularly look down upon authentic country artists (that should tell you something). There’s risqué word play and backwoods humor here, but it relies far too heavily on tired country clichés (take a listen to the treacly “Automatic” — with words that seem more at home coming out of Barbara Mandrell’s mouth in 1984).

These are songs that make people feel comfortable when they say they don’t mind some country. The material on Platinum is for the suburban ‘tween set; songs about hair dye, cars, lacey underwear, smoking and drinking and other nonsense, mostly set to the sounds of some annoying TV commercial. Which means they are perfect for Miranda Lambert, who is something of an artistic lightweight to begin with. It’s a perfect fit. It will sell tons and it will win awards. (Don’t forget about the many, many country music awards that are given out on a constant basis, since it seems to be the only way left to market music in a world without any record stores or non-corporate country radio. I predict that Lambert will win the award for most awards won by a generic-sounding album in 2014.)

On the other hand, Lambert’s voice sounds better than ever…if only she had something insightful to say. Of course, the studio tricks are all over the place. The tracks fairly echo with the sound of production knobs being maneuvered. But, hey — it is a recording, after all. No one goes to a live concert these days to actually listen to music, so Lambert’s paltry talent is the perfect fit. Lambert doesn’t really sing as much as string together nasal honks. The worst song on the album is “Something Bad,” a tuneless head bobber about “wicked” women that totally wastes what might have been a memorable duet with Carrie Underwood.

Each generation deserves the culture is receives… which says a lot about the current state of American country. When Lambert compares herself to Priscilla Presley on the track, “Priscilla,” you just have to laugh. Yeah… Blake Shelton equals The King.

As if. Besides, I’ve always thought of Blake and Miranda more as country music’s Bill and Hillary.


Greg Victor

Greg Victor (Parcbench Culture Editor) covers the worlds of tennis and country music for Parcbench. Based in New York City and frequently on the road.

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