Category Archives: Music

Nashville-Songwriter

Country Music Must-Read: ‘Nashville Songwriter’ (by Jake Brown)

Nashville-SongwriterNashville Songwriter: The Inside Stories Behind Country Music’s Greatest Hits
Author: Jake Brown
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: BenBella Books
To order this book on Amazon, click here.

“A good title and a good melody and some honesty — there’s your formula for a hit right there.” (Dallas Davidson, 2013 & 2012 ACM Songwriter of the Year)

One sign of a great country song is that when you hear it, you’d swear it was about you or your life. Another sign is that you can’t get the words or the tune out of your head. The moment you hear a great song, it becomes “your” song and begins to accumulate its own meaning. But before it made it to the soundtrack of your life, what made the song come into being? You’d be surprised just how some of your favorite country songs were written.

In Nashville Songwriter: The Inside Stories Behind Country Music’s Greatest Hits, Jake Brown interviews some of the top writers in Nashville and gets the back-story on many of that town’s biggest hits, including “Always On My Mind,” “Live Like You Were Dying,” “Take Me There,” “Crash My Party,” “Jesus Take the Wheel,” “Ocean Front Property,” “Big Green Tractor” and “Fly Over States.” Just some of the songwriters interviewed are Bill Anderson, Bob DiPiero, Tom Shapiro, Dean Dillon, Wane Carson, Jeff Silbar, Chris DuBois, Brett James, Kelley Lovelace, Lee Thomas Miller and Neil Thrasher.

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There are many audiences for Jake Brown’s enlightening book. This first is the country music fan wanting to know more about where their favorite songs came from. Next, is anyone who likes a good story, full of humor and ingenuity. Then, there is the cultural archeologist: anyone who wants a deeper understanding of why country music continues to soar in popularity. Mr. Brown has logged, through oral interview and commentary, just what the connection is between popular culture and the expressive arts in modern times. By giving voice to the writers themselves, Mr. Brown has proven the power of the American blend of preparedness, inventiveness and pure luck.

The book is also a master class in songwriting, giving the book appeal for anyone interested in the music industry. Example after example is given, showing the almost infinite number of ways that a song can be written and brought to life. Whether it is the rigorous development of an idea from start to finish, or a songwriter’s ability to go with the flow and respond to what just feels right, when it comes to writing a country song, there is no “right” or “wrong” way. That idea may be commonly accepted, but to read the various situations that resulted in some of the top country songs around is inspiring, especially to anyone hoping to write songs themselves. It is overflowing with music industry wisdom. For that reason alone, Jake Brown’s Nashville Songwriter is a “must-buy” for any songwriter starting out in what can be a seemingly impenetrable business.

For those who don’t write songs and are amazed that what seems like a daunting task can result in powerful artistic expression, Mr. Brown’s book is an invaluable peek into the process. If there’s one thing that is obvious to the reader, by the time they finish this entertaining and informative book, it’s… well… I think country songwriters Kelley Lovelace and Lee Thomas Miller put it best, in a song:

“Unsinkable ships sink.
Unbreakable walls break.
Sometimes the things you think would never happen,
Happen just like that.
Unbendable steel bends.
If the fury of the wind is unstoppable,
I’ve learned to never underestimate,
The impossible.”

(Lyric from “The Impossible,” released by Joe Nichols in 2002)

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: Rob Stone (Gotta Keep Rollin’)

rob-stone_gotta-keep-rollinCDRob Stone – Gotta Keep Rollin’
*** (out of 4 stars)
Label: VizzTone Label Group

Gotta Keep Rollin’, the new album from Chicago blues singer/harmonica artist Rob Stone, should help bring him the attention he deserves. While he keeps alive the tradition of Chicago blues, Stone also offers his energetic take on where blues music is at in the 21st century.

Stone is joined by a band that features Chris James (guitar), Patrick Rynn (bass) and Willie “The Touch” Hayes (drums), along with guests, including Eddie Shaw (sax), guitarist John Primer, David Maxwell and Henry Gray.

The album, a collection of 12 tracks (with six originals), gives Stone and his mammoth harmonica-playing the chance to wail on a variety of songs. It’s a little bit of everything that always leaves you wanting more. Stone’s vocals are particularly strong on Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Wonderful Time” and on Jazz Gillum’s “She Belongs To Me,” and the instrumental “Strollin with Sasquatch” (featuring Ariyo on piano) is about the most impressive track on the album. As for the originals, they are just as satisfying, with “Anything Can Happen” (featuring Eddie Shaw on tenor sax) my personal favorite.

It’s easy to take a great blues artist for granted. That natural quality that allows a song to rumble within and tumble out? Rob Stone is one of those who makes it all seem easy. That’s art.

Essential Downloads: ”Wonderful Time,” “Anything Can Happen,” “She Belongs to Me,” “Strollin’ With Sasquatch.”

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

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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: Thorbjørn Risager & The Black Tornado’s ‘Too Many Roads’

cdThorbjørn Risager & The Black Tornado — Too Many Roads
*** (out of 4 stars)
Label: Ruf Records

Of all the Danish blues artists I’ve encountered, Thorbjørn Risager & The Black Tornado are my favorite. They prove once and for all, with their new album, Too Many Roads, that the blues are a universal state of mind. Thorbjørn Risager sings with an authenticity that might surprise anyone who thought that the blues could only be found in the Memphis, Kansas City, Chicago, Tulsa area or thereabouts. He is backed by The Black Tornados, a seven piece band of superb musicians, along with two solid background vocalists.

There is a gravitas to Risager’s sound, a slightly sinister quality that evokes an after-hours club atmosphere, and it is captured perfectly by the album’s producers, Søren Bøjgaard (along with Risager).

They may have toured extensively in 15 countries, and released eight albums to date… but if this is the first time you’ve heard of Thorbjørn Risager & The Black Tornado, I guarantee it won’t be the last.

Essential Downloads: “If You Wanna Leave,” “Paradise,” “Red Hot & Blue.”

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

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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 Bluegrass: The Roys — ‘The View’

The-Roys-CDThe Roys — The View
*** (out of 4 stars)
Label: Rural Rhythm Records

Brother and sister duo The Roys have been making consistently good bluegrass music for years, continually gaining new fans and industry respect along the way (as well as winning consecutive Inspirational Country Music Bluegrass Artist of the Year and Duo of the Year awards). But that doesn’t mean that they are resting on their laurels. Not Elaine and Lee Roy. They continue to make solid music and tour it so that bluegrass lovers can hear their sweet harmonies in person. Some things never change, though. Things like Elaine’s heartfelt phrasing (designed to make sure the listener actually hears the lyric), and Lee’s sweet mandolin playing. On their new album The View, they have put together 11 of the most touching songs heard by any artist in country or bluegrass music this year.

What is new with this album is the contributions of some of Nashville’s top songwriters, including Steve Dean, Jenee Fleenor, Josh Thompson, Keesy Timmer, Clint White, Daniel Patrick, Larry Alderman and the great Bill Anderson. It is hard to listen to these songs without getting caught up in the emotional world of each. But then again, why should you? Isn’t that the point — communicating emotions and ideas through music and words?

Essential Downloads: “No More Lonely,” “Live The Life You Love,” “No More Tears Left to Cry.”

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

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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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Dustin Lynch’s New Album is ‘Where It’s At’

DustinLynchDustin Lynch — Where It’s At
*** ½ (out of 4 stars)
Label: Broken Bow Records

Where It’s At, Dustin Lynch’s follow-up to his debut album, is more of the same; in other words, it’s one spectacular song after another. With the title track (featuring that catchy and recurring “yep-yep”) already certified gold and top 5, the second LP from one of country music’s most authentic singer-songwriters will continue to propel him on the rise toward stardom. (Of course, having a producer with impeccable instincts, like Mickey Jack Cones, certainly helps).

Sophomore releases are tricky; they either prove the staying power of an artist, or they offer the first glimpse at an artist’s journey toward oblivion. Where It’s At is proof positive that Dustin Lynch is here to stay.

The 15-track album shows that whatever direction country music might pull Lynch in the future, he is more than up to the task; the album includes a little of almost everything, from pop to soul to neo-traditional country. Lynch co-wrote 5 of the songs on the album, and it’s clear that he has plenty to say these days. Since his debut album, he’s more experienced as a performer, and as a songwriter, it shows. With this release, Lynch offers more uptempo songs than before. Having already established himself as a romantic heart-throb, he is obviously setting out to conquer radio and live concert audiences next. No doubt this comes as the result of Lynch’s having toured with Keith Urban (on the ‘Light the Fuse Tour’). I’m guessing that’s when Lynch found the free time to write most of this material. If so, being surrounded by that energy was a very good thing — there are several tracks here (such as ‘To the Sky’) that will get an audience’s hands in the air.

Everyone will find a song they can relate to on this album, from seductive to celebratory. When they do, there can be no doubt that they will want to see Dustin Lynch perform live in concert. And if any music deserves to be played at full volume, it’s Where It’s At. So crank it up — it’s a party, and it’s where it’s at in country music right now.

Essential Downloads: “To the Sky,” “Where It’s At,” “She Wants A Cowboy,” “World To Me,” “What You Wanna Hear.”

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

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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 2014 CMA Award Nominations

b imageThe 2014 CMA Award nominations are…

Entertainer of the Year
Luke Bryan

Miranda Lambert

Blake Shelton

George Strait

Keith Urban

Album of the Year

Crash My Party — Luke Bryan (Produced by Jeff Stevens)

Fuse — Keith Urban (Produced by Benny Blanco, Nathan Chapman, Ross Copperman, Zach Crowell, Mike Elizondo, Dann Huff, Jay Joyce, Stargate, Keith Urban, and Butch Walker)

Platinum — Miranda Lambert (Produced by Frank Liddell, Chuck Ainlay, and Glenn Worf)

Riser — Dierks Bentley (Produced by Ross Copperman, Jaren Johnston, and Arturo Buenahora, Jr.)

The Outsiders — Eric Church (Produced by Jay Joyce and Arturo Buenahora, Jr.)

Female Vocalist of the Year

Miranda Lambert

Martina McBride

Kacey Musgraves

Taylor Swift

Carrie Underwood

Male Vocalist of the Year

Dierks Bentley

Luke Bryan

Eric Church

Blake Shelton

Keith Urban

Vocal Group of the Year

Eli Young Band

Lady Antebellum

Little Big Town

The Band Perry

Zac Brown Band

Musician of the Year

Sam Bush

Jerry Douglas

Paul Franklin

Dann Huff

Mac McAnally

Single of the Year

“Automatic” — Miranda Lambert (Produced by Frank Liddell, Chuck Ainlay, and Glenn Woft)

“Drunk on a Plane” — Dierks Bentley (Produced by Ross Copperman, Jaren Johnston, Arturo Buenahora, Jr.)

“Give Me Back My Hometown” — Eric Church (Produced by Jay Joyce and Arturo Buenahora, Jr.)

“Meanwhile, Back at Mama’s” — Tim McGraw featuring Faith Hill (Produced by Byron Gallimore and Tim McGraw)

“Mine Would Be You” — Blake Shelton (Produced by Scott Hendricks)

Song of the Year

“Automatic” — Miranda Lambert (Written by Nicolle Galyon, Natalie Hemby, and Miranda Lambert)

“Follow Your Arrow” — Kacey Musgraves (Written by Kacey Musgraves, Brandy Clark, and Shane McAnally)

“Give Me Back My Hometown” — Eric Church (Written by Eric Church and Luke Laird)

“I Don’t Dance” — Lee Brice (Written by Lee Brice, Rob Hatch, and Dallas Davidson)

“I Hold On” — Dierks Bentley (Written by Brett James and Dierks Bentley)

Musical Event of the Year

“Bakersfield” — Vince Gill & Paul Franklin (Mercury Nashville)

“Meanwhile, Back at Mama’s” — Tim McGraw featuring Faith Hill (Big Machine)

“You Can’t Make Old Friends” — Kenny Rogers with Dolly Parton (Warner Music Nashville)

“We Were Us” — Keith Urban featuring Miranda Lambert (Capitol Records Nashville)

“Somethin’ Bad” — Miranda Lambert with Carrie Underwood (RCA Nashville)

Vocal Duo of the Year

Dan + Shay

Florida Georgia Line

Love and Theft

The Swon Brothers

Thompson Square

Music Video of the Year

“Automatic” — Miranda Lambert (Directed by Trey Fanjoy)

“Bartender” — Lady Antebellum (Directed by Shane Drake)

“Drunk on a Plane — Dierks Bentley (Directed by Wes Edwards)

“Follow Your Arrow” — Kacey Musgraves (Directed by Kacey Musgraves and Honey)

“Somethin’ Bad” — Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood (Directed by Trey Fanjoy)

New Artist of the Year

Brandy Clark

Brett Eldredge

Kip Moore

Thomas Rhett

Cole Swindell

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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Another Dismal New Brad Paisley Album – ‘Moonshine in the Trunk’

1Brad Paisley — Moonshine in the Trunk
*½ (out of 4 stars)
Label: Sony Nashville

When he’s not cowtowing to political correctness (which seems to be a full time job for him this decade), Brad Paisley still cranks out the CDs. Unfortunately, even with all of their desperate attempts at meaningfulness, they are just becoming more and more about less and less. It’s what comes from trying to be all things to all audiences.

Yes, I’m tired of the same old, same old from Brad Paisley. Album after album, he frames his increasingly weak vocal instrument with harmony vocals big enough to fill the Mormon Tabernacle, along with a down-home banjo or fiddle to ensure that you know he’s country, of course. The old act is stale and Paisley doesn’t seem to be brave enough to return to his roots. I am dying for a simple acoustic album that highlights his guitar-work and his early career impulse for writing a song that pleases himself more than the faceless, tasteless masses.

Stuck in this dismal artistic pattern is Moonshine in the Trunk, Brad Paisley’s 10th studio release. If you like Brad Paisley (or the persona known as “Brad Paisley,” since it seems impossible to feel like we ever get the real guy), you will like this album. There’s every aspect of him, amped up and hitting the back row with his “I’m just a college kid who likes to party to country music on Friday nights” act. It gets old. The sense of humor that he was known for in his younger years now seems to come with its own laugh track. And, just to give tedious Luke Bryan a run for his piles and piles of money, there are plenty of drinking songs (tequila and margaritas, ‘natch) here as well.

Essential Downloads: none

The lamest track, by far, is “American Flag on the Moon.” With lyrics like:
“Tonight, I dare you to dream / Go on, believe impossible things / Whenever anybody says there’s anything we can’t do / I mean, after all, there’s an American flag on the moon,” you just have to ask, “Huh? Isn’t this the same guy who devoted a song ["Welcome to the Future"] to how wonderful life in America would be under Obama?” Or, as he patronizingly sang in “Accidental Racist”: “I’m just a white man / coming to you from the Southland / I’m proud of where I’m from / But not everything we’ve done…”

Still, the eye-roll-inducing brand of Southern pride that the Paisley corporation so calculatedly invokes is still on a tear with the new album. His style is straight from the Phil Donahue school of thought (yes, if you don’t get the reference, I’m saying that his ideas are that old).

It takes a lot for a non-country major release not to hit the charts as a number one seller these days. As teen pop singer Ariana Grande (whose own album debuted at #1 this week) would ask, “How’s this more-of-the-same-thing working out, for you, Mr. Paisley?”

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

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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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Sublime New Americana: Derek Thomas & Skyline Drive’s ‘Beyond the Trestles’

cdDerek Thomas & Skyline Drive — Beyond the Trestles
***½ (out of 4 stars)
Label: Soul Water Records

I really like this music. OK, I love this music. It works in a magical way. Sorry if my response seems simplistic, but when you know you like something, what more is there to say? Do yourself and preview Derek Thomas & Skyline Drive’s Beyond the Trestles and see if you don’t like these introspective and insightful songs as well.

Especially if you like original material that appeals to the part of your soul and your life experience that also admires the music of such artists as Gram Parsons, Leonard Cohen, Nick Drake, Jackson Browne, Emmylou Harris or Kris Kristofferson. Derek Thomas may bring these artists (and even more) to mind, but his voice and style are all his own. No doubt it is the sound of musical honesty. Thomas’ music is a genre-defying sound that skips labels and speaks directly to an inner place. His is a voice that I could listen to all night and still want more. It’s a very appealing sound, raw as a gem still embedded in the earth, but presented here with the polish of the most sophisticated production values.

For me, it’s a sound that echoes from the trip of growing up in California. It is sound that makes sense of the crash of waves and emotional potholes along the jagged highway of infinite possibility… and given at least some structure from the constant in-and-out of the parallel tide. There is a blessed quality within the restraint of Derek Thomas & the Skyline Drive’s performances that derives from such a connection with the natural world. It is a rare and beautiful thing to hear a performer and want to lean into the music coming your way.

Usually, when I listen to an artist’s music I try to maneuver my way into the music and judge it from what I perceive that it hopes to achieve (and whether or not it succeeds in doing so). But this music has such an emotional mirror-like quality to it that it demands being judged from a first-person perspective. Its ability to do so is quite extraordinary. It must all come easy for Derek Thomas, this music-making. Or else how can one explain the impeccable phrasing of each stanza? The delivery of each song, a braided accomplishment of song, singer and meaning, is an art unto itself. There is not a false note, nor a forced emotion on this album. I predict you’ll enjoy this trip called life a little more for having listened to it.

Essential Downloads: “Honey Whiskey,” “Roll On,” “Postcards,” “Ring Them Bells,” “No Passing Phase.”

To preview or this album on Derek Thomas & Skyline Drive’s website, click here.

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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 Music Worth Knowing About: Matt Harlan’s ‘Raven Hotel’

MattHarlan_CDMatt Harlan — Raven Hotel
***½ (out of 4 stars)
Label: Berkalin Records

The Texas singer/songwriter. It is one of our nation’s greatest occupations. There must be, in the Lone Star State, just the right set of influences and experiences-to-be-had to make the most profound chords and words that explain them. Matt Harlan is the latest Texas singer/songwriter worthy of your attention and your discerning taste. The music isn’t easily pigeonholed into a specific genre, but for the record, they are songs that come across as folk, jazz, country, Americana and light rock. You know, kinda like what you’d expect out of a Texas songwriting session.

The songs he offers on his new album, Raven Hotel, are sensitive, shrewd, selective and sophisticated. He sends them out with the simplest of vocal treatments, which only adds to their sharpness. The album captures atmospheres that are instantly recognizable, yet seldom sung about. Matt Harlan is brave enough to present a fairly optimistic view of a world that seems to be a series of questions that other, more cautious songwriters, don’t even bother to ask. Matt Harlan asks the questions, accepts the possible answers and turns philosophy into melody with a soothing voice that always pleases. In other words, please let me add “poet” to the exalted “Texas singer/songwriter” badge that he so proudly proves to be true.

As could be expected from a Texas artist, the words and music are interwoven to such a fine degree that they seem inevitably linked. These aren’t just songs — they’re narratives told in a voice so true that you’d swear it was the one inside as you listen agreeably.

I look forward to hearing this true artist when he performs in New York City in November. Click here for his upcoming appearances.

Essential Downloads: “Old Spanish Moss,” “We Never Met (Time Machine), “Slow Moving Train.”

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

Matt Harlan Portraits November 5, 2009

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 Folk Music: Dulcie Taylor — ‘Only Worn One Time’

dulcieCDDulcie Taylor – Only Worn One Time
*** (out of 4 stars)
Label: Mesa/Bluemoon Records

Singer-songwriter Dulcie Taylor creates unforgettable atmospheres with her music. She brings life to characters and let’s us in on their points of view. It is storytelling at its most enthralling. Her new album, Only Worn One Time, is full of hypnotic songs that pull you in with every perfectly chosen lyric. This is an album that you’ll return to time and again, falling in love with the way it just plain makes you feel. It’s an abundance of heartfelt realizations, set to just the right grooves.

Only Worn One Time is a collection of 11 tracks produced by George Nauful and Tyson Leonard, and mixed by Keith Olsen. Taylor is supported by a stellar group of talented musicians, including Timo Beckwith, Scott Breadman, Dom Camardella, Bill Flores, Tom Lackner, Tyson Leonard, George Nauful, Tim Pierce, Tony Recupido, Randy Tico, Cam West. They are an impressive group, to be sure, and their contributions are heard, not so much by standing out, but by making a fluid cohesive experience.

She has a voice that is deceptively easy-going; there’s clearly more power in the instrument than she finds necessary to use. But when she needs to make a forceful impression, she lets loose with a strength that matches her emotion.

There’s also a timeless quality to her delivery — an approach to the material that speaks of trust in the material that is rare. But then again, why wouldn’t she? She knows how good the songs are. If you are looking for alluring songs that draw you in with their magnetic musical truisms, Only Worn One Time is an album you just might wear out.

Essential Downloads: “Take a Chance,” “Can’t Even Pray,” “Dug a Hole.”

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

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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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