Thursday, July 17, 2014

Rascal Flatts (A Little Too Fabulous!)

Come hither. Moody. Smoldering. Cock your pinkie. Forget the camera’s there. Or not. 

Rascal Flatts are known for making crisp, impeccably arranged country pop songs of a squeaky clean nature. The trio can play and can sing. They are consummate musicians. Every now and then a song of theirs will hit every single target on a made-for-radio cheat sheet: melody, lyric, composition, emotion, catchiness, punching the money notes, and their secret weapon: Gary Le Vox’s ability to skewer the sweet note right in the gonads at just the right moment so that it rings in your ears and brain like a temple bell. These are not notes a normal mortal person can hit; nor are they merely notes on a scale. They are the note plus the right timbre. What Rascal Flatts doesn’t need is studio tweaking (even though their recordings sound as polished as glass).

And yet someone thinks that what the group lacks in musical polish they need to make up for in visual buffing. Case in point: the liner notes for Rewind.

We’re just casually sitting here, legs akimbo, pondering this shotoshoot.

The album is liberally decorated with artfully arranged shots of all three men assuming poses that would not be out of place in a 1970s swimwear catalogue. If there’s a chummy male smoldering look they haven’t gone for, it doesn’t exist.

Three beefcheeses on a leather sofa on a riser just hanging out the way men do. 

Dudes don’t usually adopt these stances, and when they do — on a dare, say — and the results captured on camera and then shown to other people, they die of embarrassment. Gary, Joe Don and Jay all vie for the cringeworthy crown — with Joe Don leading the field due to his hair game, meticulously and impossibly coiffed and highlighted in such a way that his chin bristle struggles to remind us he’s a man. Don’t even mention the teefs.

The wonders of Photoshoppe made this “group” shot possible! 

Look: The Inky Jukebox loves the Flatts — they are essential when it comes to singing along loudly in your car — but Good Lord, Big Machine: lay off the Photoshoppe (misspelling intended), and hire a less flamboyant Art Director will ya? (Even if that means firing your wife.)

Monday, June 23, 2014

Luke Bryan’s Great Show Overshadowed by Trashtalk

Trashgate 2014: Oh, the Humanity! 


This is what the stadium looked like BEFORE the tailgaters filled the stadium

On June 21, Luke Bryan, Dierks Bentley, Lee Brice and Cole Swindell rolled into town looking to party —and party they did, delivering a rippingly entertaining evening of music to a record-breaking crowd of happy fans. This was Bryan’s first stadium show as a headliner, and as such promised to be something memorable: what would he do, given the enormity of the venue and occasion?

Luke Bryan with rally cap on

Rise up out of the ground astride a stuck? Punctuate hit songs with fire works? Invite each one of his opening acts onstage for a special duet? Yes to all of the above. As far as The Inky Jukebox is concerned, pretty much every one of the 53,000 fans had an awesome time. Did a few get drunk? Why yes they did. Had many been holding their own parking lot parties all day? Why yes they had.

Luke Bryan doing a little drinking of his own

The only thing you’ll hear or read about the concert is the furor generated by the trash left in the pre-paid lots in a city still reeling, apparently, with high dudgeon over last year’s Kenny Chesney show. The trash, however, is not what should be causing outrage here: it’s the complete loss of journalistic integrity and ignorant bandwagon-jumping by people who ought to know better and who weren’t there.

Lee Brice, Mr. "Parking Lot Party"

The Inky Jukebox is appalled to find that some of her fellow Pittsburghers and online friends of friends have gone so far (into their own sense of moral outrage) to call for a ban on drinking and concerts in the city, a special tax on anyone entering the city, and for country music fans to leave town. Can you HEAR yourselves, y’all? Seriously? The only shit that needs to stop RIGHT NOW is this nonsense.

Dierks Bentley, Mr. "Drunk on a Plane"

Here is a list of considerations the Trash-Talkers have failed to educate themselves about concerning this concert.

The notion that plenty of concerts are held at Heinz Field (home of the Steelers), and only country music fans desecrate the parking lots.

Actually, Heinz Field has only seen five concerts in the past three years: Kenny Chesney (twice); Taylor Swift (twice); and Luke Bryan. As far as The Inky Jukebox can tell, all of these acts are Country. I don't recall people complaining about Taylor Swift tailgaters. 

Only people not from Pittsburgh attend these shows. Only people from Pittsburgh attend these shows. No Steelers fans attend these shows.

All three are dead wrong. The summer shows at Heinz Field attract an enormous fan base for country music that stretches from Philadelphia to Columbus, Cleveland and down to West Virginia. Not all stadium acts perform at other venues. The crowd consists of people who have driven a LONG way to be here; sailed up and down river to be here, and include a large proportion of Steelers fans. Many of these fans appreciated the tribute to the late Chuck Noll that Bryan thoughtfully included in his show.

This was a run-of-the-mill show.

No it wasn’t: it’s the only show at Heinz field this year (Chesney and Swift aren’t touring, and it was the biggest-ever crowd Heinz Field has EVER had for a concert. It was also Luke Bryan’s first EVER stadium show, and therefore of some historic significance that drew an unusually large crowd from far afield.

All the parking lots in downtown Pittsburgh and which service the stadium were completely trashed by reckless, irresponsible rednecks.

Not so. Only the PRE-PAID stadium lots had a trash problem; they were the lots designated for TAILGATING, a great American tradition engaged in not only by country fans, but by concert-goers and sports fans EVERYWHERE, including STEELERS FANS AND PANTHER FANS AT HEINZ FIELD IN THE FOOTBALL SEASON. In order to manage the inflow of traffic from 53,000 people in a city with Pittsburgh’s topography, it makes sense to designate parking lots for those who are coming from afar and who pay for the privilege of parking in advance with their ticket. These lots open at 9AM, and come with rules which fans are made aware of. They include directions about trash collection, and specifically close in time to allow workers to begin trash clean-up during the show. Parkers are not only invited and expected to tailgate, but they are told that the parking lot authorities will be cleaning up.

Concert-goers have no idea what to do with their trash, so, not caring, they leave it everywhere.

Pre-paid Lot parkers are given two garbage bags when they enter the Lot: one for recyclables, and one for garbage. These they leave by their vehicle when they enter the show, so that the crew can take them away. However, the crew have nowhere to put them, because dumpsters – or enough dumpsters - have not been provided. Therefore, they pile up near the exits. When cars leave, they run over bags, splitting them, and scattering trash.

Concert-goers are riotous drunken rednecks who should not be allowed near a civilized city.

Tailgaters are there to party. They grill food; they drink beers; they play games. They listen to music. They have fun. This is what tailgaters of every stripe do. The tailgaters at Luke Bryan’s show (and Kenny Chesney’s shows) have been there since 9AM when the Lots open, partying. By the time they have to leave the Lot at 8PM, they have been at it for 11 straight hours. People generate a lot of trash in confined spaces over 11 hours. They drink a lot of beer.

Country music fans urinate everywhere like pigs.

If you have been drinking beer for 11 hours, wouldn’t you have to pee? Even if you’d only had one beer, or a glass of lemonade, or even water — over the course of 11 hours, wouldn’t you have to pee? No matter how old you were, wouldn’t you have to pee? And where would you go? The Lot authorities didn’t provide enough port-a-johns to service 53,000 people. That’s a fact. Lines were long and the average wait was 45 minutes. Hold it for 45 minutes and tell me you wouldn’t pee wherever you could. Ten arrests were made for public urination. Only ten!!!!

Drunken country music fans got fisty.

True, several fans got into fights. Hey; they’d been drinking. The same can be said of any football game on any given weekend.

Why didn’t these hooligans transport their own trash home with them?

There is no room in the trunk for bags of trash after you’ve put the folding table and chairs in your trunk, and the cooler and the grill. Leaving sticky bags of liquid and food garbage in your locked car for several hours in the midsummer heat won’t make your car smell nice when you drive home.

Surely there is room in an RV for trash.

RVs weren’t allowed in the lots. Only passenger cars.

The Police were there to help.

There was a huge Police presence at the show. The Inky Jukebox spent an hour after it ended watching them stand around doing nothing to assist a horrible traffic situation caused by people trying to exit lots into the highway entrance lanes, causing gridlock. This caused people in trucks to circumvent the exits and drive over trash bags in the dark.



It was Luke Bryan’s fault.

Get real.

Dierks expresses how we all feel

Also bear in mind that, as the Mayor admitted, all of the lots were cleaned “spotless” by 10AM the next morning, by workers paid to do so. The stadium lots are not themselves in residential neighborhoods; who was inconvenienced? I am sure the tax-paying city workers who earned overtime were glad to make a bit of cash. I am sure the City itself was glad of the fee it charged the promoter to host the concert. I am sure Heinz Field vendors made bank. I am certain the bars and restaurants in the area all did smashing business. The Pittsburgh Parking Authority cashed in on all that downtown parking.

I know that no-one to whom this post is aimed will likely read it, but someone has to offer a counterpoint to the crazy-ass blown-out-of-proportion incendiary and utterly biased reporting (and posting, and re-posting) that’s going on out there. Get it together, Pittsburgh.

The End.


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Eric Church: The Outsider Who Came in From The Cold




At exactly the one-minute mark of the song “Broke Record,” perceptive listeners will notice Eric Church’s inside joke — the record skips. Deliberately. Of course, it isn’t a record and cannot skip; the glitch has been built in digitally. But look at the song’s title — perfect.

It’s just this sort of smart musicianship that makes The Outsiders, his wildly adventurous latest album, a mind-blower that rewards both those fans who have followed his particular brand of musical expression since the beginning, as well as those persuaded to check him out because he’s become Rolling Stone’s country darling.

If there’s anything that even a first listen of this album will tell you is that it’s not business as usual. It transcends genre, for one thing. Sure, Church is unabashedly a country artist — but the independence he’s insisted on during his career has paid off in having the cajones to release a record who pays dues to no-one. Notice is given immediately in the opening title track, which rattles with metal guitar riffs and overlays, soaring after a particularly sexy guitar rip that practically says “we ain’t done yet, no sir.”


“Wrecking Ball” delivers heat through a vocal track high on reverb, complete with a Hammond C-3 accompaniment which strongly recalls Procol Harem’s “White Shade of Pale.”

"Roller Coaster Ride" includes pure synth touches and ugly low-key piano before lifting us up on a rise that pops your stomach the way a real roller coaster does. 

There’s a spoken word intro to “Devil Devil,” a cautionary tale, which was recorded in a parking lot on a phone.

Any song titled “That’s Damn Rock & Roll” requires a kick-ass female voice wailing in the background, and this one has it in Joanna Cotton’s gutsy vocal. The Rock & Roll featured here is reminiscent of glam rock in the best possible way.

“A Man Who Was Gonna Die Young,” “Dark Side,” and Talladega” are all classic acoustic Eric Church songs whose storytelling and exquisite guitar playing are beautiful.

“Give Me Back My Hometown” is an obvious single which seems to pay homage to U2’s big anthemic sound.

The last track, “The Joint” is about as close as you can get to David Essex’s iconic 1973 hit “Rock On” as it’s possible to get without paying royalties. This album goes beyond Chief’s “Smoke A Little Smoke” / “Jack Daniels” ethos by actually taking us into that woozy cloud. The way-slow reggae trombone is a touch of genius. Listen on headphones.

One of the best compliments The Inky Jukebox can pay this album is that it sounds like no other. It forges completely new ground. It is transcendent. 

Monday, January 27, 2014

Grammys 21014 Recap

Grammys 2014

The Grammys can be a mixed bag when it comes to live performances: with such a large stage, some acts really go all-out and create unforgettable and even career-building moments, while others aim a little too high and crash and burn. Complicating the mix is the production, which might cut your performance short or juxtapose you with an entirely unrelated genre.

Last night's Grammys were no different. The great performances were great; the awful performances were awful; and in-between there were real duds performed by surviving Beatles who really ought to demur and gracefully turn down the self-indulgent airtime. McCartney is no longer writing good music. Let it be, eh, Paul?

First, the duds: Lorde looked ghoulish and her herky-jerky dance style made it look like she was always on the verge of tossing her cookies. Ringo sang the extremely tired "Photograph" while doing what looked like a circulation-stimulation shuffle at the Old People's Home. It's Ringo, people. And Madonna looked like a hobbling cautionary tale all gaudied up in her suits and hats and pimp cane. What happened to British Madge? Wigger Madge ate her. Shiver.

Now the stars: Because this is the Inky Jukebox, we'll focus on the way Country represented, and boy, did they. Keith Urban showed all the haters why it's good to have real musicians who know about music as American Idol judges. Now, all he has to do is work on his sad hair situation, pronto.


Hunter Hayes showed the young'uns what a genuine talent is — including stage presence — and he didn't even pick up a guitar! Rolling Stone dissed him for the trite quotations that loomed large in the background, but that might not have been his idea, y'know?


And we don't care how much people make fun of Taylor Swift — girlfriend can deliver a performance like this in a ballgown and heels, y'all. Apart from winning the Red Carpet in her sparkly gown, she also reminded us that this is a concert, and got up and danced. Ain't no lip-synching here (Beyonce).


Kacey Musgraves was cute as a button in her throwback rockahillbilly outfit and neon cacti, but we wonder who was still watching as her spot fell hard upon Imagine Dragons's supersonic set. Congrats, by the way, on that whole Album of the Year thing. A very Grammy idea of country music.


The Willie / Merle / Kris / Blake quartet was quite lovely too — even if it rolled out the same old tired notion that a genre named "Country & Western" still exists and is populated by old men in cowboy hats and bolero ties called "Highwaymen."Eric Church — wherefore wert thou? 

Finally - can we persuade John Legend to try Nashville?



Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Dustin Lynch - The Hurricane Cometh


Well hello there
When the video for “Cowboys and Angels” first came on the radio, The Inky Jukebox’s ears pricked up; here was a very nice tune sung well. The general theme was a bit clich├ęd, but oh well. Then, when the video appeared, The Inky Jukebox sighed: here was just another pretty boy giving it the good old Nashville go. Seemingly too good-looking to be genuine, Dustin Lynch might be the only singer in history actually hampered by handsomeness.


This became apparent when The Inky Jukebox relented and got Lynch’s self-titled debut album — late to the game, as it was released in 2012, but six months later, it still hasn’t left the car, having been on pretty constant rotation ever since. Damn, but it’s a good record.

While “Cowboys and Angels” is clearly a made for radio record, Lynch has been underserved by Broken Bow, who put out the lead track “She Cranks My Tractor” as a follow-up. It’s a raucous double-entendre up-tempo romp, nothing like “Cowboys” but obviously an attempt to showcase another side of this versatile singer-songwriter. Then they went with “Wild In Your Smile,” which is just too retro for today’s charts.

Instead, they should have gone with two other tracks which really stand out. “Hurricane” is an anthem they clearly ignored because it’s another ballad — stupid move. It’s great. It’s even better live, where the band gives it a real long, thundery intro before the hook spills over.


Then they should have released “Last Lap,” a lazy hip-hop number that is so laid-back it grooves in your ears long afterwards. (Listen to album track here.)


The Inky Jukebox is a fan. We’ll even forgive him his cuteness. 

Friday, January 10, 2014

Acoustic Swift

Red


Say what you like about Taylor Swift, this kind of live performance is pretty damn sweet. Add Alison Krauss and Vince Gill for pure class.

From this year's CMAs.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

On The Beaten Path?


Get Your Ass Back Here, Justin Moore



The title of Justin Moore’s third album, Off The Beaten Path, suggests that he is taking his music away from the well-traveled road that artists take by the time they make their third album. Rather, on this album, Moore turns away from that backwoods path and veers strongly onto the interstate.

The overall impression is that this album was given a massive infusion of money in the form of studio time and additional musicians, making for a slicker, more highly produced sound. Headphones will confirm that backing vocals lend weight to choruses, and that high-end guitar soloing tips each song into a complex audio experience.

The other thing any Moore fan will notice is that this album leans heavily on ballads and girl-friendly songs. Sure, there is a smattering of good ole boy in there, but it feels very tame compared to the kind of material Moore was using to identify himself on his first album.


The obvious singles — “Point At You,” “Lettin’ The Night Roll,” and “One Dirt Road” — are buoyed by a great duet with Miranda Lambert (“Old Habits”) which sounds like an old country classic. The Inky Jukebox would like to see “This Kind of Town” highlighted.

The Inky Jukebox went for the Deluxe version (and who wouldn’t?), which features two songs which ought to be on any non-deluxe version: “Big Ass Headache,” and the Charlie Daniels duet, “For Some Ol’ Redneck Reason,” but “Field Fulla Hillbillies” is the weakest Moore song we’ve heard, certainly in terms of its lyricism.


The low point on this album comes in the form of a song which really should have been an extra — preferably a non-numbered final track. “I’d Want It To Be Yours” is an ode to luscious buttocks, which is cute, but only the first couple of times you hear it. Thereafter, it sounds like a gimmick — something which is not helped by the big production it gets on the record. When The Inky Jukebox first heard it, it was delivered by Moore, standing alone with his guitar on a small stage — and in that setting, it worked. But it’s a throwaway song that sounds like it takes itself too seriously once all the instruments are added. It’s the one song that immediately gets the FF treatment when it comes on.

The Inky Jukebox has a special place for Justin Moore, and has spent a lot of time with this album, prior to writing this late review. There’s plenty to like about this record. We’re glad that he is getting the recognition that he deserves — he certainly works his ass off for it. But there remains a niggling fear that he’ll get swept up in the mainstream and drown. Justin Moore can sing. He can really, really sing. This is drowned out with a huge production that feels like every note has been tweaked in a machine.

The Inky Jukebox would like to thank the person who took and posted this photo. 


Scale it back and simplify. Please.