Same Trailer Different Park (Album Review) – Kacey Musgraves

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Kacey Musgraves arrives in a music scene that’s focusing more on shock factors in order to get somewhere and growingly dumbed down lyrics to appeal to the masses. The louder music gets, the sillier the things it says, the more successful an artist becomes. There’s almost a linear relation there.

Same Trailer Different Park is Kacey Musgraves’ first album though she has offered country music many songs as a songwriter, many of which turned out to be big hits.

The musical style on her first album is understated, smooth, folk-like and breathy, even the stompy songs such as “Stupid.” Musgraves’ style is detached from what you’d normally expect, even among country artists.

Her vocal delivery is simple as well as effortless. She doesn’t belt out notes like fellow country female singers such as Carrie Underwood. Her style aims solely at delivering the music she wrote in the best way possible. She creates a niche for herself with a very distinctive voiceless delivery.

The strongest suit of this 12-songs collection, however, isn’t the music. It’s Musgraves’ lyrics which challenge the basic foundation of her conservative country audience. “Make lots of noise, kiss lots of boys or kiss lots of girls of that’s what you’re into,” she sings on the brilliant Follow Your Arrow. You can already see heads turning if that line ever comes on their radio.

She doesn’t glamorize rural life which country music usually loves to love. On the album’s first single and standout offering “Merry Go Round,” she sings, in non-autobiographical fashion, about all those people who settle down like dust on a broken merry go round, who think their first time is good enough so they stick with their high school love and end up like the parents, happy in their shoes while their “mama’s hooked on Mary Kay, brother’s hooked on Mary Jane and daddy’s hooked on Mary two doors down.”

She sings about one night stands “but I ain’t got no one to sleep in with me, and you ain’t got nowhere that you need to be. Maybe I love you, maybe I’m just kind of bored. It is what it is till it ain’t anymore.”

Even the more optimistic songs on Same Trailer Different Park, such as the opening song Silver Lining that’s about trying to look at the brighter side, are rooted in a sense of realism that makes their overall effect quite haunting.

On songs like “Keep It To Yourself,” Musgraves talks to an old lover who’s still asking about her with the simplest yet eloquently-woven lyrics: “You turn on the light then you turn it back off cause sleeping alone, it ain’t what you thought. It’s the drip of the sink, it’s the click of the clock and you’re wondering if I’m sleeping. You heard from your friends that I’m doing okay and you’re thinking maybe you made a mistake and you want me to know but I don’t wanna know how you’re feeling… when you’re drunk and it’s late and you’re sad and you hate going home alone cause you’re missing me like hell, keep it to yourself.”

The young Musgraves also sings about the small things you think you’d change but it’s all simply “Blowin’ Smoke” or simply telling someone to “Step Off” with all their negativity from your life and off the throne they build for themselves by stepping on other people or about having “My House” on four wheels that you can take wherever the wind blows.

Same Trailer Different Park is an A-class music album that offers a beyond credible alternative to the music we’ve grown accustomed to by an artist who might be the best thing to happen to country music, and music in general, in a long time. Whether she’s singing about a long-gone love or about how life is in the heart of Bible-belt America, Kacey Musgraves takes you on a ride on a perfectly fine merry go round. And you can’t wait to know what comes next.

A
Download: Merry Go Round, Keep It To Yourself, Follow Your Arrow.

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Top 13 Songs of 2012

As the year ends, I’ll be making countdowns of my favorite things of this past year. The first list is for songs. The rules for this list are simple: 13 songs by 13 different artists that I’ve enjoyed the most over this past year. The song doesn’t necessarily have to be a 2012 year but it needs to have gotten to its maximal reach during this past year. The songs also cannot be album tracks that never became singles – yet.

Without further ado, we begin.

13 – Home – Phillip Phillips 

An guitar driving a feel good simple lyric – and yet the overall result is effective enough for Home to be one of 2012’s best songs.

[Listen here]

12 – Little Talks – Of Monsters and Men

A newcomer band with a niche sound that makes them stand out from the first note that gets played. Little Talks is one of the highlights off their album My Head Is an Animal.

[Listen here]

11 – Madness – Muse

Many people didn’t like Muse’s newest offering. I have to disagree. It may not be a typical Muse song but Madness is really, really good. At least to me.

[Listen here]

10 – Drunk On You – Luke Bryan

Some of its lyrics may be cheesy but Drunk On You’s hook line is gold: “I’m a little drunk on you and high on summertime.”

[Listen here]

9 – Pontoon – Little Big Town

This summer anthem has a quirky melody to it that takes some time to get used to. But once it sticks, it’s mmm, motorboatin’.

[Listen here]

8 – The A Team – Ed Sheeran

This well-written song about a crackhead is bound to hit a nerve somewhere.

[Listen here]

7 – Merry Go ‘Round – Kacey Musgraves

An extremely well-written song about life in a small town where God, family and country always have to come first, limiting your prospects and what you can be. “If you ain’t got two kids by 21, you’re probably gonna die alone. At least that’s what tradition told you.”

[Listen here]

6 – I Drive Your Truck – Lee Brice

A country song about a truck? How original. Guess again.

[Listen here]

5 – Charlie Brown – Coldplay

The third single off Mylo Xyloto is a song that makes me happy whenever I listen to it. It’s not necessarily a feel-good song, it just has this feel to it that puts it high up my top songs list.

[Listen here]

4 – Never Let Me Go – Florence + The Machine

2012 has been a good year for Florence + The Machine. They’ve had big hits with Calvin Harris remixes. But this ballad remains one of the highlights off Ceremonials and a definite highlight of 2012.

[Listen here]

3 – I Knew You Were Trouble. – Taylor Swift

This dubstep-influenced song is all over the place. In a good way. It might prove polarizing at first but you will soon find it stuck in your head, refusing to let go. Trouble, trouble, trouble.

[Listen here]

2 – Springsteen – Eric Church

A mellow song of a young love set to a backdrop of The Boss’ most famous tunes. What more can you ask for?

[Listen here]

1 – Blown Away – Carrie Underwood

I’m sure none of you expected otherwise. This song about a daughter’s vengeance is dark and mesmerizing. One of the year’s best written-songs and most multi-layered productions that give the song depth beyond the words and sound, not to mention the spot-on vocal delivery.

[Listen here]

Two Black Cadillacs (Single Review) – Carrie Underwood

 

Carrie Underwood’s new single, off her platinum selling album Blown Away and as a follow up to one of 2012’s biggest country hits Blown Away, is Two Black Cadillacs, a song which sets an ominous tone the moment the first note strikes.

Two black Cadillacs driving in a slow parade. Headlights shining bright in the middle of the day. One’s for his wife, the other for the woman who loved him at night, Underwood sings as a dramatic melody plays in the background. She immediately throws us into the setting of a funeral where a preacher man is saying the man being buried was a good man and his brother says he was a good friend.

But the two women in the black veils have a secret to hide. The story could very well serve to make a movie drama and Underwood delivers it effortlessly in a few minutes.

Two months ago his wife found the number on his phone, turns out he’d been lying to both of them for far too long. They decided then he’d never get away with doing this to them, Underwood lets the plot thicken. The women, taking turns in lying a rose down on the coffin and throwing dirt into the deep ground, also have a secret to hide. So they share a crimson smile and leave their secret with the man they killed, at the grave, to die with them.

Two Black Cadillacs is a hauntingly dark song by Underwood that serves as a one-two punch by the country star as she delivers her album’s most critically acclaimed tracks as back to back singles. The darkness with which her tone delivers this song would make you think she’s lived these events herself but it’s only telling of the caliber that Underwood has turned into as a performer. As she sings “bye bye” to signal the women biding farewell to the man who betrayed them both, you can feel her voice pierce through.

Two Black Cadillacs is a song where the musicians playing couldn’t stop after it was done so they kept playing and playing. Part of them jamming is found on the album track and will probably be cut with the radio edit. The song goes fifty shades deep and is Underwood’s darkest and most thought-provoking single release to date. From the haunting thumping melody that is reminiscent of a funeral march to the rich and multi-layered storytelling lyrics, Carrie Underwood delivers. Releasing a “softer” song may have been a safer bet. But Underwood is here to let her detractors know that Blown Away was just a storm warning. Bye bye, bye bye. 

A.

Better Dig Two – The Band Perry

One of my favorite country bands, The Band Perry, have just released their first single off their yet untitled second album. The song titled “Better Dig Two” is the story of a newlywed so deeply in love that she’d rather tell the grave digger he “better dig two” than go on a day without living without her significant other.

It is a dark, bluesy, twangy country song – starting with a banjo riff that sets the tone for a mid-tempo sung by Kimberly Perry. The song boasts a refreshing sound with shifts from the twangy verses to the feisty choruses. The build-up in the story to showcase the deep attachment of the protagonist is also interesting and it follows the change of sound clearly as the tempo increases.

Better Dig Two” is a good enough song to continue The Band Perry’s good performance on country radio, though it fails to grasp the height of their signature song “If I Die Young” and even though they both address the issue of death, they do so differently and are very different from each other  sonically as well as thematically.

Better Dig Two” will be released to iTunes tomorrow. Meanwhile, you can listen to it here:

The Band Perry – Better Dig Two

And here are the lyrics:

I told you on the day we wed

I was gonna love you till I was dead

Made you wait till our wedding night

That’s the first and last time I wear white

 

So if the ties that bind ever do come loose

Tie ’em in a knot like a hangman’s noose 

Cause I’ll go to heaven or I’ll go to hell

Before I see you with someone else

 

Put me in the ground 

Put me six foot down

And let the stone say

 

Here lies a girl whose only crutch

was loving one man just a little too much

If you go before I do

I’m gonna tell the gravedigger he better dig two

 

It won’t be whiskey, it won’t be meth

It’ll be your name on my last breath

If divorce and death ever do us part

the coroner will call it a broken heart

 

So put me in the ground

Put me six foot down

And let the stone say

 

Here lies a girl whose only crutch

was loving one man just a little too much

If you go before I do

I’m gonna tell the gravedigger he better dig two

Dig two

 

I took your names when I took those vows

Took those vows 

I made them back then and I need them right now

 

If the ties that bind ever do come loose

If forever ever ends for you

If that ring gets a little too tight,

It might as well read me my last rites

 

And let the stone say

Here lies a girl whose only crutch

was loving one man just a little too much

If you go before I do

I’m gonna tell the gravedigger he better dig two

 

Have your stone right next to mine

We’ll be together till the end of time

Don’t you go before I do,

I’m gonna tell the grave digger he better dig two

 

I told you on the day we wed

I was gonna love you till I was dead

Red (Album Review) – Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift’s fourth studio album, is her most eclectic offering so far. As she puts it, it is made up of 16 songs that contain emotions in shades of fiery red. Nothing is beige about them. And that’s why she named her album Red. I wish I could say the same about the contents.

The two opening tracks “State of Grace” and “Red” are at odds musically and serve as a template for the album. The former is a U2 and Coldplay-inspired alternative track while the latter is a mix between country and pop, with reverb on the chorus: “r-r-r-red.”

She is her most sultry on “Treacherous,” where she whispers “And I’d do anything you say if you say it with your hands.”

I Knew You Were Trouble.” is a bonafide pop track, down to the dubstep beat dropping, before introducing the best song on the album.

All Too Well,” co-written with Liz Rose, is Taylor Swift in her element: writing a great country strong with brilliant lyrics. It is where she excels without it sounding unlike her to deliver such a thing. She reminisces about a love she lost, about the magic that’s not there anymore and about being there, remembering every moment of it all too well.

22” is definitely one of the most disappointing songs on the album. Instead of being an introspective song, à la Fearless’ Fifteen, it is a track for a girls’ night out to dance like you’re 22. It is definitely a missed opportunity about a coming of age reflection that would have sounded very in place after “All Too Well.” Sure, she is 22 – I am 22 too – but the song could have easily been called “12” and it wouldn’t have made any difference. Similarly, “Stay Stay Stay” is another song that shouldn’t have been on the album. It is an odd attempt at incorporating way too many country elements in a song with very poor lyrics. If Taylor Swift had written forty songs for the album and chose sixteen, I have to wonder: couldn’t she have found something much better than this to include it on the album?

I Almost Do” is another of the album’s highlights – a very Colbie Caillat sounding song where Taylor wants to tell him “that it takes everything in me not to call you. And I wishes I could run to you. And every time I don’t, I almost do.”

We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” the catchy lead single is already a huge hit on pop radio and despite the step back thematically compared to the song before it, it serves its purpose well: provide a song that would be a success on the airwaves in order to stay forever in the face of the man who berated Swift with his “indie records that’s so much cooler than [hers]”.

The Last Time,” a duet with Snow Patrol frontman Gary Lightbody features a dark and haunting melody. “Holy Ground,” produced by Jeff Bhasker who has done songs for Fun. and Alicia Keys, is another new sound for Swift with a very fast driving drumbeat and guitar.

On “Sad Beautiful Tragic,” Swift exposes her songwriting chops yet again as she paints a setting where the protagonist is waiting for a train that’s taking her away from the sad beautiful tragic relationship she was in. “The Lucky One” is about dealing with fame, while “Everything Has Changed,” a duet with British artist Ed Sheeran, is a guitar, acoustic-driven ballad where both artists throw notes off of each other as they sing about the changes due to a growing love.

Starlight” pays homage to the Kennedy’s by telling a love story set in 1945 but with a very current musical backdrop. “Begin Again” is the song’s second single on country radio after We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together failed to gain traction and became Swift’s first single on the format to miss the top 10 entirely. It serves as a great conclusion to the album where Swift, despite all the hardships that love has thrown at her, is always eager to begin again. “But on a Wednesday, in a cafe, I watched it begin again.”

As you listen to Red, you can’t help but feel that, with the exception of a few songs, it is a definite missed opportunity for Swift at evolving in the right direction musically. The music she does best is not the pop “22” or “I Knew You Were Trouble.” but the ballads and the country stories which she writes so eloquently. Her songwriting on her country songs is what you might call “the impossible easy.” She makes her songs sound very approachable and simple but no one can write them the way she does. And that is her forte – not a song on a bridge where she fakes a phonecall with a girlfriend.

You also cannot but wonder while listening to Red if Swift seeks out the men she writes about solely for the purpose of coming up with album material. On the horrid track “22,” she sings: “You look like trouble. I gotta have you.” And it’s precisely what has fueled most of the songs on this album – her seeking out danger in men that she knows will break her. But does she do that on purpose or has she not learned yet from the previous three albums she offered that she has to have her guard up more often?

I guess when the formula works, why change it? Swift is the storyteller of so many teenagers who can relate to what she does and her record-selling singles off of Red so far prove so. But as she grows up, shouldn’t her music also grow with her? That is the main question posed with Red, an album that shows a regression thematically compared to Speak Now on many of its tracks, albeit it going more into more mature realms with others (Treacherous, All Too Well, I Almost Do). While Red boasts a handful of strong tracks, it is not the coherent album that her previous offerings were. It’s not a collection of all standout tracks that are the creme of the creme of what Swift came up with during the album cycle.

However, what can be said about Swift is that she is in her own element – a genre where she alone thrives. Taylor Swift fans who happen to like country music won’t have a problem with this album. Country fans who happen to listen to Swift may have a problem taking in the dubstep, the reverb, the alternative. Is she risking alienating some fans with this? Perhaps so. But she is trying something new. And I hope her experimentation is limited to this album only because what she needs to know is that her best is when she goes back to basics, sits down with a pen and a paper and writes down her thoughts into beautiful prose that put down her memories forever out there, as is evident by this album’s best songs: the gut-wrenching country ballads that could tug at the heartstrings of the most insensitive people out there. But she seems too busy chasing success nowadays with shaming guys who may have done very little wrong. She may be compromising her artistic integrity with some songs. But one thing is sure: we will never ever – like ever – hear their side of the story.

On the track “22,” Swift mumbles in the background: “Who’s that Taylor Swift anyway?.” That’s precisely the question many will be asking after Red.

B. Out October 22nd.

Download: All Too Well, I Always Do, Red, Begin Again.   

 

Red (Lyrics) – Taylor Swift

These are the lyrics for the second song in Taylor Swift’s iTunes countdown to her album, Red, the title track: Red. I find these very creative.

Loving him is like driving in a new Maserati down a dead-end street,

Faster than the wind, passionate as sin, ending so suddenly,

Loving him is like trying to change your mind once you’ve already flying through the free-fall,

Like the colors in Autumn, so bright just before they lose it all,

 

Losing him was blue like I’d known,

Missing him was dark grey, all alone,

Forgetting him was like trying to know somebody you’d never met,

But loving him was red.

 

Touching him was like realizing all you ever wanted was right there in front of you,

Memorizing him was as easy as knowing all the words to your old favorite song,

Fighting with him was like trying to solve a crossword and realizing there’s no right answer,

Regretting him was like wishing you never found out that love could be that strong,

 

Losing him was blue like I’d known,

Missing him was dark grey, all alone,

Forgetting him was like trying to know somebody you’d never met,

But loving him was red,

Oh, red… burning red.

 

Remembering him comes in flashbacks and echoes

Tell myself this time I gotta let go

But moving on from him is impossible 

And I should see it all in my head

Burning red 

 

Loving him was red

Losing him was blue like I’d known

Missing him was dark grey, all alone

Forgetting him was like trying to know somebody you’d never met

Cause loving him was red, yeah red

Burning red

 

And that’s why he’s spinning round my head

Comes back to me burning red

This love is like driving in a new Maserati down a dead-end street

Begin Again – Taylor Swift [Single Review]

As a follow up to her pop release, We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together (my review), a song that underperformed on country radio, Taylor Swift is back to cater to her core audience with a bonafide country release in the form of Begin Again, a single about that first date you go on after a bad breakup as you watch love “begin again.”

The song boasts an acoustic, mellow but engaging melody. It is a country song that is story driven and lyrically great. Taylor Swift is back with Begin Again to do what she does best: conjure up great lyrics and a catchy melody. Begin Again is the song that her country audience wished she had released to introduce her new project: Red.

The song starts with the character standing in front of her mirror, getting ready for that date, and comparing what she’s doing with what her ex would have thought. Wearing heels, listening to a song were all things he frowned upon even though she liked doing them.

“Took a deep breath in the mirror. He didn’t like it when I wore high heels, but I do. Turned the lock and put my headphones on. He always said he didn’t get this song but I do, I do.”

As she goes to the cafe, she’s surprised that her date is already waiting for there. And as he does those little gestures of pulling the chair for her or waving at her, she slowly sinks into him during the chorus as he laughs at her jokes, her ex never thinking she’s funny and how she’s finally seeing something begin again.

“And you throw your head back laughing like a little kid. I think it’s strange that you think I’m funny ‘cause he never did. I’ve been spending the last 8 months thinking all love ever does is break and burn and end. But on a Wednesday in a cafe I watched it begin again.”

The second verse holds no reference to her ex again, interestingly, to show that whatever’s starting across that table in the cafe is helping her get over him. The talk is about the music that her ex may not approve of and her guard starts coming down.

“You said you never met one girl who has as many James Taylor records as you. But I do. We tell stories and you don’t know why I’m coming off a little shy. But I do”

And they continue knowing each other with Christmas tradition discussions at the song’s bridge, which sounds rather chunky compared to the previously smooth lyrics.

“And we walk down the block to my car and I almost brought him up. But you start to talk about the movies that your family watches every single Christmas. And I wanna talk about that. For the first time, what’s past is past.”

The song overall is Taylor Swift in her element. She sounds much more comfortable singing this than she does on “Never Ever.” Her vocal delivery of the song is quite interesting as well and suits her vocal range. Begin Again may not be ground breaking like some of her other offerings but it a song that is excellent in itself and good enough to bring her back to country radio.

Begin Again shows maturity in the way Taylor Swift can craft her sentences. It’s no longer the teenage love she inundated airwaves with but a rather more grown up approach that would resonate with anyone of any age who is getting over an abusive relationship. It also forebodes what will be an eclectic album. But more of this and less of Never Ever, please.

8/10