Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year

Brought You You From 1980

The Inky Jukebox knows that ABBA isn’t country, but it’s New Year’s Eve and their song, aptly titled “Happy New Year,” is one of our favorites.

Entire generations of people have grown up since ABBA were last making music, and thus are completely unaware of how intensely popular they were. The Inky Jukebox was fortunate to have actually attended an ABBA concert, their Super Trouper tour. People may dismiss ABBA as Swedish pop — which it is — but it is good, rich, exquisitely written pop with a unique sound that has stood the test of time.

The Inky Jukebox likes any musician willing to stand up as an ABBA fan — especially the metal guys. If you think about it, the metal dudes and ABBA were wearing pretty much the same outfits back in the 70s.

Happy New Year! 

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Inky Jukebox’s Redneckest Top Ten of 2011

Of Course "Redneckest" Is A Real Word, Jeez

Instead of trawling through the iTunes mega-vault to find the year’s best song, which is boring as all-get-out, and pointless besides (what does “best” mean?), The Inky Jukebox decided to go with a differently themed end of year wrap-up.

We therefore present The Inky Jukebox Redneckest List of 2011. To qualify, a song had to be released in 2011 or on an album whose major sales came in 2011. It also had to feature as its main theme those ideals / images that best represent the redneck way of life. It was hard to narrow this list down to just ten, which is such a random number, but we did and here it is. All of these clips also showcase what tremendously gifted musicians all of these people are. Enjoy, ya'll.

Justin Moore: Guns

You know y’all bought this album to get this song and you play it in your truck as loud as it will go. You know y’all get crazy with your demonstrative hand gestures when Moore hits his money-note about needing his Colt 44 to waste home invaders towards the end. It’s a love song to the Second Amendment, and has mass appeal, whether you’re more into Remingtons or Glocks. (Do we let terrorists watch cable TV, by the way?)

Pistol Annies: Trailer For Rent

The entire Pistol Annies album could qualify as an entry here because it doesn’t just speak from the redneck girl experience, it rolls around in it like a bride in mud. This song is about a trailer whose walls have punch holes in them being sold by a woman who’s just tired of her man’s shit. It’s sung in such a beautiful way, it could be mistaken for a song not about any of these things.

Brantley Gilbert: Take It Outside

Brantley Gilbert hit it huge in 2011, not only with the songs he wrote for Jason Aldean, but with the reissue of his superb album, Halfway To Heaven. It was hard to choose between this song and his hit “Kick It In The Sticks,” which has a whole heapload of hillbilly all up in it, including advice on how not to “get your ass torn up round here.” It involves not hitting on other men’s women. Other advice includes not letting anyone take you snipe hunting, but that’s preaching to the choir. Therefore we have chosen this song, which will never be a single. It’s about bar brawls. The only moment of pause among the testosterone jet-fuelled violence is the reminder to take it outside because “we got girls in here.” Always chivalrous, them boys. Here is a film of him recording it. 

Brad Paisley: Camouflage

This is Brad Paisley’s most redneckest song since “Alcohol,” and is a welcome return to his humorous side. Not that he ever left it behind. But a song with the line “You’re my favorite color, Camouflage,” and lines about — well, all of the lines — especially those rhyming “camouflage” with “corsage” gives it an automatic in on our list.

Eric Church: Jack Daniels

Eric Church is badass, and to prove it he challenges Jack Daniels to a fight. He loses, predictably, singing in his understated way, as if actually feeling the hangover, that “Jack Daniels kicked my ass again last night.” It’s a gentle ditty, as opposed to some of the hollering on his excellent album, Chief, any of the songs of which could also be included on this list. But it presumes jack Daniels is an actual person, and that’s country, y’all.

Miranda Lambert: Dear Diamond

Dear Miranda wrote this one, and it’s a gem (!) of a tune about regret and betrayal when the female protagonist muses on how destroyed her husband will be if he finds out she’s cheated on him with another dude. So she’s not going to tell him. How d’you think that one will play out? Miranda never sounded so forlorn, or so lovely.

Montgomery Gentry: Where I Come From

For a start, Montgomery Gentry’s album is called Rebels on the Run, which plays up the whole Southern outlaw thing, and then they kick the record off with a song about shooting someone dead when they come through your door without knocking first. They’re proud of their right to do this under the curtilage laws which dictate that if you have to shoot a ho on your property, you’d best kill them dead instead of just scare them off a little. You probably already know this is how the guys from Montgomery Gentry feel, but they know their audience, and their audience are redder than that. Which is why we're going with their single, "Where I Come From," which paints a portrait of an America that only exists . . . in the minds of songwriters harping on nostalgia. Also, it's all about offing the enemy.

Josh Thompson: Way Out Here

Speaking of bustin’ caps, Josh Thompson lays it out real simple for those city slickers who might not be familiar with how things are done where the blacktop ends. These folks smoke and chew and fry everything. They sing the words so loud you can't hear the singer. Their “houses are protected by the good Lord and a gun / And you might meet ‘em both if you show up here not welcome son.” You have been warned.

Trace Adkins: Brown Chicken Brown Cow

So this controversial song wasn’t one of Adkins’s best, but it’s on our list because its title refers to the corny music synonymous with 70’s porn. It’s a song about getting it on in the barn. There’s nothing more we can say.

Zac Brown Band: Whiskey’s Gone

But they’re not leaving! A rollicking tune about loving the liquor so much you cannot quit that bitch even if it’s quit you.

Honorable Mentions (Thought we could stop at ten?)

Whiskey Myers: Ballad Of A Southern Man

Because it opens with the lineage of a rifle and keeps saying that’s something you don’t understand. Yes we do. He grew up on a prison farm and knows all the words to "Simple Man." There's also blood on the table. Don't ask.

Craig Campbell: Fish

The only thing we need to say here is that you're meant to substitute the word "fish" for "fuck." he also says "pretty pink bobbers." Haw haw haw. 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Miranda Lambert Is On Fire

Four The Record, For The Record

 The cover of Miranda Lambert’s newest album, Four The Record, has our girl standing in a Western-themed dress next to a burning convertible. Has she set the car on fire? Has it spontaneously combusted from the proximity to country’s newest star? Or is the vehicle just a metaphor for the competition?

One of the indications that this Lambert is a rocket going from strength to strength can be seen here: every single track is a winner. This is not unusual on a Lambert record, but look who she now has the clout to hitch to her white-hot tail — the liner notes catalogue a who’s-who of the finest songwriters, instrumentalists and singers the industry has to offer. Apart from her hubby Blake Shelton, she gets assists from Patty Loveless, the Little Big Town gals Karen Fairchild and Kimberly Schlapman, Allison Moorer, Brandi Carlile and Sarah Buxton on vocals, Steve Winwood and Randy Scruggs, and the songwriting magic of Chris Stapleton, Charles Kelley, Shane McAnally, and her Pistol Annies cohorts, Angaleena Presly and Ashley Monroe, to name a few. The brilliant part is that you’d never know any of it unless you read the liner notes; it’s Lambert’s voice you hear first and foremost, and even though each song has a different musical style, each one sounds distinctly like a Lambert song.

The one exception to the general feel of the album is the second track, “Fine Tune,” a saucy, sexy conceit that pretends Lambert is a car that needs tuning up by the man who shows up with a “master key.” It’s been treated to a load of distortion and slowed to molasses, all the better to make that metaphor play out and to throw shade on lines like “You started tweaking on a little knob / That I didn’t even know was there.” Oh really, you coy minx, you. The Inky Jukebox can imagine that because of the electronic noise, some folks might object to this track, but let it be said: it’s the best of the bunch (and the bunch sits on a higher branch than most) precisely because it dares to be different, and is unforgettable.

When it comes to Lambert’s musical direction, the album keeps close to her usual themes while reaching out to pick up traditional formats along the way. Some of these tunes are full-on honky tonks; some rock; some bluegrass; some sound like 1950s throwbacks. The guts Lambert showed when signing for her first record deal, where she told the company boss the deal was off unless she could record what she wanted is on full display here, and  it’s not only all the awards and honors she’s gained since then that have confirmed her conviction; it’s that she can produce a record like this. She’s hauled away a ton of trophies in the last few years, and she deserves them.

This year also marks her well-publicized marriage to Blake Shelton, who has also had a big year professionally. Their duet, “Better In The Long Run,” is a powerhouse that sounds like it’s being sung by two people in love, which is a nice touch. Here they are singing a duet off Shelton's album, "Draggin' The River.

A note about Miranda’s wardrobe. A stylist is clearly dressing her in bandage-type gowns which serve to hold everything in with a smooth profile while disguising the mechanics involved (elastic). The sad truth about such garments is that they only really work to make slim women look slimmer; when worn by a more full-figured gal, they tend to emphasize, rather than hide the truth. The best outfit Miranda sports in the album pictures is the tank-top / belt / giant skirt / cowboy boots combo, which not only suits her figure but is sexier than all the designer duds she’s ever been poured into. It also describes who she is (at least, who her songs purport her to be): a down-home country girl at heart, who likes to dress up on occasion like a glamorpuss. I believe her in boots and a tank far more than the sparkly plunge-top things that have become her red carpet wear.

It’s a pity that Miranda Lambert is a country music star. Because she’s a star, period. Twang be damned: this is America y’all. This album is one of the best of the year, in any genre.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Gramma’s Grammy’s

Adele Faces Zero Competition

This is the best video of the year. It's how to do black and white. It's not even the official video. 

It’s that time again — when The Inky Jukebox has a vitriolic rant about the Grammies, nominations for which were announced today. The dates spanning this year’s eligible releases are October 1, 2010 – September 30, 2011.

The Grammies are supposed to represent outstanding achievement in the recording industry, yet they famously do not do this. Here’s why.

First of all, record companies have to submit eligible recordings to the National Academy of the Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS). They are entered into whatever category the reviewing committee (comprised of “150 experts from the recording industry” whatever that means) feels best suits the recording.

Already this is a problem because what if they feel your recording is pop instead of country, for example? How does this committee determine what category of the 30 available is the right one?

After this, lists of the recordings are sent to NARAS members, whoever they may be, and however many of them there are. These members can all vote for the general fields (Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best New Artist), and nine of the remaining category fields. (There are 78 actual categories spanning many fields of music and technical achievement.) Though there is the general expectation that these experts will vote on recordings from their area of expertise (whatever that may be), there is no requirement that they do so. They make their choices without necessarily ever hearing the recording, as they are not sent the actual tracks, only the list of track names.

Again, this is highly problematic; surely members will only vote for those tracks they have actually heard, which is determined by personal preference (theirs, or their spouse’s, or their kids’….) or professional familiarity (anyone see a conflict of interest?). They are not supposed to vote this way, but there is no mechanism for preventing it.

Once the top five vote getters in each category are tabulated, nomination ballots are again sent out. This time, the voting is the same, except members can only vote in 8 additional categories.

That’s it. The voting is secret. Add to the tricky voting structure are the mystifying titles for categories, which makes it hard to determine whether a recording is by a soloist, duo, group or ensemble, and whether it is a performance of not. Some categories reward songwriting while others reward singing.

The Inky Jukebox believes it is for these reasons that the Grammies have biome so unhinged with reality. If one takes even a brief look at the nominees in the categories most of us have actually heard, there is a depressing repetition of artists nominated over and over again, seemingly because this particular singer, band or record is the only one many voters have heard or heard of.

Take for example, The Band Perry’s nomination as Best New Artist, which The Inky Jukebox shudders to think they will actually win. Surely most NARAS members will only have heard of them because they have won other awards and because their tween granddaughter kept singing their one song all summer? There is no reason on Earth that this trio of mediocre musicians should be so lauded. The only reason anyone has ever heard of them is in fact because a little girl told her famous Daddy about them and he gave them a leg up. Kimberly Perry’s lyrics are saccharine and awkward, and her voice horribly screechy. They are nowhere near the best new artists Nashville has produced this year.

This category is determined by the eligibility of the recording by which the artist gained widespread popularity. This, itself, is obviously open to interpretation.

It is to be expected that country music will be poorly represented this year, because hardly anything was released within the eligible period. Notable omissions which were eligible and also truly superb are Sugarland’s Incredible Machine and Justin Moore’s Outlaws Like Me.

Prediction: Adele will win. (And so she should.) 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Chris Young: Is That You?

Lady in Red (and Yellow and Green and....)

Chris Young had a good year. He established himself as a legitimate Nashville leading man with a rich voice and enough boy-next-door looks to carry off the sexy video for “Tomorrow,” the highlight, musically speaking, of his career to date. His hit “Voices” remains one of those songs that is so singable and upbeat that it was released twice. He toured with Jason Aldean, pumping up a rowdy crowd admirably.

However, at this critical juncture — following up on the sexy guy from “Tomorrow,” the people in charge of his new video, “You,” have practically dug him a hole and asked him to jump in. There are plenty of bad videos. This is one of them.

Not only is the storyline profoundly corny — Chris Young is a grease monkey working a rural gas station, playing his geetar in between pumping gas and cleaning windshields for passers-by, all of which happen to be cute women who turn out to be friends ­— but the styling is so out of date it’s painful to watch. The premise is that this sort of gas station attendant can only be found circa early 1960s, therefore it has to be shot in a grainy black and white. Only, to make each individual lady stand out, parts of their outfit have been color-isolated to match the color of their car. So we have red lady, yellow lady, turquoise lady, and so forth. The color isolation mode on your camera is one of those extras that you should never, ever use. The first time someone shot a woman in black and white lying on a bed of red! rose petals might have been cool, but anything after that is a cliché at best, and visually boring and predictable at worst.

The gimmick in Chris Young’s video gets old after a few seconds, yet you are forced to endure several of these color swaps through the length of the video. It’s so annoying that it drowns out the music and makes you want to change the channel. Who at Sony thought up this bunch of shite?

Chris Young is a rising star. Please, please, please, put someone with a clue in charge of how he looks. His fans will thank you. 

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Just Like A Rolling Stone

Top 100 Guitarists OF ALL TIME

Hooray! Just when you’re in the mood for a Top 100 List from Rolling Stone, they give you one! Here is their Top Eleven this year:

1: Jimi Hendrix

Why? Because the ghost of Jimi Hendrix walks the halls of Rolling Stone’s HQ threatening anyone who does not subscribe to the Gospel of Jimi Hendrix. Everyone knows that the End Days will be triggered if Jimi Hendrix is not worshipped as Numero Uno, and no-one wants that.

2: Eric Clapton

Why? Because once upon a time someone wrote “Clapton is God” somewhere and Jann Wenner took it seriously. See above re. The Unleashing of Revelation.

3: Keith Richards

Why? Because he’s still here. Also because he’s in the Rolling Stones, which gets him a free pass forever on every Top 100 list we can think of.

4: Gary Moore

Why? Because of his lifetime achievement in the art of the guitar. Oh, wait: he’s not on the list. Oops. Hope he doesn’t get mad. What? he’s dead? OK then, he’ll never notice.

4: Jimmy Page

Why? Two words: Double-neck guitar. Make that three words. Also, his name is Jimmy, so he picks up a lot of votes from the folks who don’t know that Jimi is spelled that way.

5: Joe Bonamassa

Why? It’s about time the guy made it onto a Rolling Stone Top 100 list, especially the one for the Greatest Guitarists of All Time. Didn’t I get the memo? What memo? Huh. OK, scratch that. We’ve never heard of this guy so we won’t be mentioning him, ever.

5: Ritchie Blackmore

Why? Because he exudes awesomeness in regard to the guitar. Darn it, I read that wrong. He’s at 50. There are 49 better guitarists than him we have to get to first.

6: Someone from Wilco

Why? Or was it The Flaming Lips? Or Radiohead? Or Phish? Can’t remember. Maybe it was The Dave Matthews Band. I mean The Grateful Dead. Surely it was someone from Jefferson Airplane. One of them. Does it really matter who?

7: Kurt Cobain

Why? This solo artist could do it all: when he played it was as if he was handling the bass and drums as well as lead, all at the same time. It was amazing. You should have heard it. Plus his wife is a lunatic (always good for column inches, if you know what we mean).

8: Muddy Waters

Why? Keith told us he heard a Muddy Waters record once. ‘Nuff said.

9: Cozy Powell

Why? Good question; the dude played drums, not guitar We think. Let’s just YouTube it to make sure.

9: Andrés Segovia

Why? Cozy Powell is disqualified from being on this list because of the whole drums thing, but we found this guy when we were checking, and he seems like he can handle a guitar. It’s an acoustic guitar, but still.

10: Les Paul

Why: This list is sponsored in part by Gibson, so we’re just paying it back here. Publishing this magazine ain’t cheap, people.

11: James Jamerson

Why: Because the list does say "Best Guitarists of All Time," and even though we seem not to count the bass as a guitar, we have to include the Funk Brother who brought us Motown. I mean, come on. We would lose all credibility if our celebrity voters forgot to put ole James on the list. We simply could not let that kind of error happen. Ever. 

Monday, November 14, 2011

Ballad of a Southern Band: Whiskey Myers

 Glorious Shredding

Whiskey Myers is the best newish old band you have never heard. Their sophomore album, Firewater was released in April 2011, but unless you frequent bars in Texas you won’t know this. The Inky Jukebox thinks this is a problem that needs to be fixed, and pronto. Firewater is a blistering collection of classic Southern rock that physically leaps out of your speakers and takes up a new home inside your body cavity — one wonders how they manage to get away with putting out a vinyl version, because the sheer force of the licks on it will surely warp it as soon as you take it for a spin.

The chaps in the band look like the musicians whose legacy they follow. You can hear a little bit of a whole lot of pedigree in their songs — in the arrangements, playing, singing, lyrics, and pace. Cody Cannon's voice has a smooth velvety tone. Unless you saw how young they are and just heard the record, you might think it was pulled from the vaults of circa 1972. You can definitely hear the influence of Leroy Powell and his sojourn with Shooter's Jennings' band in the production. Here’s what The Inky Jukebox hears:

Ram Jam, Foghat, Steppenwolf, Golden Earring, Skynyrd, Humble Pie, Buffalo Springfield, Bad Company, Free, the Allman Brothers, Led Zeppelin, the Steeldrivers, Black Label Society, and Clutch.

CMT Pure is playing their current single, “Ballad of a Southern Man” with its nice video, but if you go to Whiskey Myers’s YouTube channel, you will find a series of acoustic performances from Firewater that are well worth listening to so that you can hear how well the stripped down versions of their songs hold up. Of particular note is the beautifully tender slide guitar. For a band whose songs can rock so hard, it’s nice to hear harmonica being employed so well. When they do take on a ballad — “Virginia” — its harmonies are sweet with a stunning set of overlapping guitar riffs you will be rewarded for listening to on headphones.

The Inky Jukebox recommends the following tracks: “Different Mold,” “Ballad of a Southern Man,” “Virginia,” “Turn It Up,” and “Strange Dreams,” though all of the album’s tracks are stellar. “Song For You,” a quiet slow burner, has been treated differently in that it features a crackly backing to replicate the sound of a dusty LP. This might seem annoying to anyone young enough never to have heard actual dusty LPs being played. The Inky Jukebox wonders how it sounds on the vinyl version. “Anna Marie” is a bit clappy and shouty and feels out of place with the rest of these tracks.

Whiskey Myers is a band on a small label and their online presence could use some (more) professional guidance, as what exists seems uncoordinated without a unified design. Their website could use some regular maintenance. (Guys — check out Will Hoge’s site for inspiration.) Here is their facebook page.

It’s almost impossible to listen to this record and not want to be in your old jeans, boots and hat rocking out to this band in one of those bars, bottle of beer swinging between your thumb and forefinger. If you close your eyes, you can be. If you have the chance, go see them play. 

Buy this album now. Right now.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Kenny Chesney V The Band Perry

Entertainer of the Year

Now THAT's funny. 

First off, let's acknowledge that Brad and Carrie are the real Entertainers of the Year. 

Now that awards season is doling out gongs for the year’s achievements, The Inky Jukebox would like to take a moment to reflect on two phenomena.

The first concerns last night’s CMA Awards at which The Band Perry walked away with three major awards. Fair enough: when it comes to an individual song it comes down to personal preference and all the nominations were good. But should they have won Best New Artist among such a stellar company? Absolutely not. Are they better than Eric Church, who has three incredible albums to back up his claim? No. 

But, I hear you say, does that also mean that Taylor Swift should not have won Entertainer of the Year? Nope. Taylor Swift, by any measure, put on one of the best spectacles of the year, touring her little ass off with a truly entertaining concert. She deserved to win for the second year in a row. Chances are good, however, that any act that pulls the kind of numbers she did by touring stadiums, will generate enough fans to drive votes in this category. Here's a taste of why she won:

Hey — it’s how Kenny Chesney won so often. Which brings us to issue two: Kenny Chesney’s show. He wasn’t nominated for much, yet put out one of the year’s best albums, and had (and continues to have) hits off it, supported by a grand tour which took four acts out on the road all summer. He entertained me all year long. So how come he wasn’t nominated?

Well, it’s because he’s already won it and folks want to cheer for someone else for a change. This does not mean that they love him any less, however. The Inky Jukebox went to a lot of shows this year — though not Brad Paisley’s one-two punch with Vocalist of the Year Blake Shelton, because they cancelled their Heinz Field show (still no explanation boys?) — and the Kenny Chesney Experience rocked the dust off all of them (Taylor coming a close second).

Why is this? Kenny Chesney is a little peanut-looking fella. It feels distinctly naff to like him. Yet his stadium show provided a whole day of stellar entertainment with four acts you’d want to see, and made use of the venue to great effect. The Zac Brown band, his “support” act, are worth the price of admission alone. But the crowd who comes to see Kenny are there because they’ve been to one of his shows before and have resolved to always buy a ticket whenever he comes to town. This is real fan loyalty. What it produces (apart from guaranteed ticket sales) is the sound of 60,000 people singing along to every single word at the top of their lungs — an exhilaratingly uplifting experience. In short, the show is truly entertaining; it’s a rockin’ good time.

This is reflected in his release of live albums and especially in his latest video for “Reality,” which is a montage of clips from his tour. It is well done and gives you a taste of why it matters not if he wins yet another trophy: he’s already won.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


The Cost of Living's High (And Going Up)

The working man has always found a champion in country music. If you take the artist’s political allegiances out of it, these songs could all be anthems for anyone who just wants to earn a buck and make a living in the land of their birth.

Ronnie Dunn: Cost of Livin’

The man with the worst hair and one of the best voices tells it simply and plaintively in his latest single. The Inky Jukebox has included both the official video and a live performance (though not the stunning one he gave at the Opry recently) so you can appreciate how un-autotuned he is.

Craig Campbell: Family Man

A tender love song to what keeps families secure behind the scenes.

Josh Thompson: Way Out Here

The Inky Jukebox loves Josh Thompson’s brash anthem, and found this stripped down acoustic version filmed in Cairo absolutely mesmerizing in the portrait it paints. Thompson’s lyric takes on a whole new layer of meaning when singing about a ghost town.

Jamey Johnson: Poor Man Blues

No-one does bitter like Jamey Johnson, and being dissed by the Man provides a rich vein from which he can draw low-throttle yet powerful venom.

Toby Keith: Made in America

The Inky Jukebox likes to think Toby Keith has rigged giant fireworks to explode whenever he thumps his denim-clad thigh regardless of whether he’s on stage or not. Does you tag say Made in the USA on it?

Hank Williams Jr.: Pink Slip Blues

Hank Jr.’s mouth gets him into trouble, sure, but no-one delivers a Fuck You song like he does. Besides, shoes is expensive, y’all!

John Rich: Shuttin’ Detroit Down

This one’s a few years old, but still holds up. Don’t he look like a fresh-faced boy? (We don’t mean Mickey Rourke.)

Alabama: 40 Hour Week

We’d like to throw this one in as a reminder of how things used to be, when a band could thank all those blue collar folks for working hard at jobs that have since disappeared. Also, Rest In Peace leaping and dancing hard-hatted men. Never come back again.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Footloose and Fanciful

Six Degrees of Separation From "Good"

Footloose was a rubbish movie, all things considered. The premise was ridiculous, the acting completely overblown. The dance scenes defied the limits of gravity and physical possibility. But even so, it has survived as a glimpse of cinematic life in the 1980s — if not real life in the 1980s. This is a historical text. It said everything it needed to about its story, however hokey. It did not need an update.

Sadly, a “modern” version has been made and even more sadly, Blake Shelton has been tapped to sing its iconic theme song. Tragically, the video trailer is now on TV.

According to the trailer, the new Footloose now features hoochies in Daisy Dukes pulling big-city nightclub moves  you normally only see in Hip-Hop videos and farm boys in overalls moonwalkng. Hang on — isn’t this supposed to take place in the sticks? There is no way that these actors look like they spent a single minute of their Hollywood-polished lives outside suburbia at the most. Sure, Lori Singer didn’t look like the kind of girl you find in a small town either, but she looked like she broke a sweat and had absolutely no tits. The whole point of the film is that Ren had to teach her how to dance. Julianne Hough, who plays Ariel in the new film, is famous for being a dancer. Chris Penn was believable as a dude who could not dance worth a shit. Sarah Jessica Parker wore glasses. Ren drove a beat-up VW Bug because in 1984, that was a shit vehicle. A new Beetle is a hipster car. The story was possible only in a pre-internet age where small town communities could really be isolated from pop culture.

The original film poster features Ren lost in music. It tells us that he is a loner, a free spirit. The new poster, by contrast, features some pre-copulation crotchhumping that showcases the film's emphasis on the sexual relationship between the two "stars." This difference says it all. 

Why, in the name of all that deserves quoting Bible verses from, does this new film exist? Why?

(And Blake: Dude, that shark you’re riding is about to jump that wave coming at you faster than you can see. Pull back, Man.)

Set for release straight into the toilet on Oct 14th 2011.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Adele: Someone Like You

Would You Like A Little Cartier-Bresson With Your Heartache? 

A little while ago, The Inky Jukebox took Little Big Town to task for their clichéd black and white "arty" video for "Shut Up Train." Helpfully, something has come along that demonstrates how to do it right.

Adele's "Someone Like You" is a giant song whom her fans have seen her sing this live in a gazillion YouTube clips and on her own website. From these, anyone can tell the girl can deliver a heart-stoppingly adept performance. So short of simply shoving one of them out there as the official video, her peeps have gone with the storyline approach. The entire video is shot in three clips in a grainy, under-exposed black and white and features Adele, appropriately pensive, walking alone through the streets of Paris, ending at a caf é where we catch a glimpse of the chap who dissed her walking away.

This video succeeds because it remains true to the words of the song: it is a plaintive lament, put simply, which is given to us after the event -- just as it is in the video. All the drama we need is told in Adele's face. Every now and then she acknowledges the camera at her side by looking directly into its lens — and at us — just to make it clear she's aware of her surroundings and of being watched. This places us in the position of silent companions, there to share her sorrow, yet not intrude on it. Her loneliness is made palpably apparent in that the streets are devoid of people (one of the video's best tricks), save for us, which is exactly how it is when we listen to her sing it in our headsets. It's a technique that grabs your attention and your eyes: you can't turn away from her. For the heartbroken person, no-one else need exist but for her departed lover; it's all she cares about — and here, that's the only other person we see. We need not know anything about him so we're not shown anything; he's just a blur.

It's a video that relies on what we already know — namely, that Paris is the city of romance. Hence it is the perfect place to show the other side of that coin, and how cold a place can turn once the love is gone, and there is no color, one needs a coat to ward off the chill.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

When Will Hoge Gets His Wings…

Will Hoge: The Best Voice You’ve Never Heard

There’s a fella named Will Hoge who sounds so much like the kind of singer you’d hear coming off an old scratchy vinyl record that’s been sitting in its sleeve for 50 years on a shelf that you forget he’s around making music NOW. Sorta sounds like a better version of The Band. 

The Inky Jukebox first sat up and paid attention when he gave a dramatic show-stopping closing performance of “Washed By The Water” at the Nashville Rising flood benefit concert, for which he drove 14 hours to deliver. The Inky Jukebox wishes it could be found on YouTube, but strangely it can’t. Thankfully, there are many other versions of this tremendous song, so here’s one:

It is with extreme delight that The Inky Jukebox can report that Hoge’s seventh album, titled, helpfully, Seven, is coming out Sept 27th. The video for its lead single, “When I Get My Wings” has just been released.

If you go to his website, you’ll note that it is technologically astute and beautifully interactive; his PR folks know their shit. You’ll also note that the venues he’s touring are still small and intimate, so if you live anywhere near them, you should go. Sadly for The Inky Jukebox, they are all in the south, or far, far away. 

Another thing we noticed was that the video of his Opry debut was recorded just the other week, which was shocking — that a talent like this could have gone so long before being invited up onstage blows The Inky Jukebox’s mind. But boy did good, so he’ll be back.

The quality of his web presence, his videos, and this record suggest to The Inky Jukebox that Will Hoge will hit it big real soon; we just hope that country music radio and the GAC / CMT honchos get their asses behind him.

Will Hoge, y’all: remember that name. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

What Drives Minnie?

Old Country Girl

Did you know the lovely and talented Minnie Driver is also a pretty nifty singer? The Inky Jukebox did.

Here's a link to a playlist she made for our friends Absolutely Nothing To Wear. Check it out, y'all.

Minnie's website.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Brantley Gilbert: A Slice of Pure Heaven

Halfway To Heaven

I grew up south of the Mason Dixon
Workin’, spittin’, huntin’ and fishin’
Stone cold country by the grace of God

It’s about time Brantley Gilbert joined his peers in the spotlight because he’s as talented as any of them and this album, Halfway To Heaven, re-released with the slick production he deserves, proves it. By peers The Inky Jukebox means Eric Church, Justin Moore, and Jason Aldean — young bucks delivering today’s muscular, Southern Rock-based country music notable not only for its classic songwriting, but for it’s ability to melt between power ballads and crashing rock anthems.

Long a writer of some of those songs others have made famous, Gilbert has now got a chance to showcase his own impeccable voice and energetic performance style. The introductory video that comes along with the digital package presents a young guy you’d take for the singer in a metal band rather something you’d recognize as country, and in this you wouldn’t be far off, as his band has mostly been culled from other metal bands. But while the album has its share of hard and fast cuts (“Hell on Wheels,” Kick It In The Sticks, “Country Must Be Country Wide,” and “Take It Outside”), it also makes strings feel at home on such ballads as “Saving Amy,” “My Kind of Crazy, and “Fall Into Me."

Like his peers, Gilbert’s topics lean heavily on what makes men manly: fighting, drinking, loving, and generally getting up to no good. Lyrics like “the closest thing to hell she ever raised” gives you some idea of what to expect. “Take It Outside” is the best song about laying down the gauntlet that’s come along since Justin Moore’s “I Could Kick Your Ass,” and The Inky Jukebox thinks it’d make a great single if only they’d play it on the radio, which is a long shot.

Far more likely is “Saving Amy,” a tender song with a catchy hook that even the most hardened rocker will find themselves singing along to in their trucks.

He brings his old partner Colt Ford along on his own re-worked original version of “Dirt Road Anthem” which surprisingly gives us a third take on the one song — the first two being his slow rappy cut, Jason Aldean’s bluesy hit, and now this honeyed one. Watch this fantastic video of the song being made. You'll see what a beautiful guitar player Gilbert is in it.

The deluxe download comes with a bonus track, “Lie, Baby, Lie” which is excellent and well worth getting if you can. Why "G.R.I.T.S." isn't on it is a mystery. The truth is there’s no chaff on this album; every single song is killer, and as such it must surely rank up there with the very best releases of the year if not the last five.

Buy it now.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Shut Up, Video Director

Little Big Town: Go Big or Go Home Monochrome

Sometimes, video directors think that just because a song is gentle, the video for it also needs to be quiet and soft. This is not so. This is especially not so when a song achieves its gentility because the singer is merely controlling great force — of emotion and vocal chords.

Case in point: the newest video from Little Big Town, “Shut Up Train.” This is one of the stellar songs from their recent album The Reason Why, and The Inky Jukebox is thrilled they have decided to showcase it on its own. It’s one of those songs that rolls along like that train, chug-chug-chugging at an even pace until it can’t hold back and explodes. The premise is that the singer can’t sleep and blames the train, when in fact it’s her memories that keep her awake. Ultimately, she concedes defeat, claiming “I give up: you win” at the end of the last verse, which is the lynchpin that releases all that emotion. The line is repeated while the rest of the band, acting as backing singers, flood in with the chorus one more rousing time.

Here’s what’s wrong with the video.

It has been shot in a hotel room. The singer is presumably at home, complaining about a regular train, not in a rather luxury suite which would have thick windows and not wake its guests with train noise.

It’s in black and white. There’s nothing wrong with this, per se, except that whenever they shoot Kimberley they overexpose her, making her seem like a dour raccoon with her blonde mane and black eyeliner. Also, black and white for a soft song is laying it on a bit thick.

It’s mostly in close-up. The boxed-in faces made The Inky Jukebox feel claustrophobic, and force you to focus on the individuals when this is inherently a group song. Also, they look really really miserable. They are not miserable: look.

The lighting for the group shots is shit. The spotlight that shines through the group members from behind blinds me and makes me want to change the channel. The hotel room is clearly shot with pro lights and does not evoke actual home or hotel room lighting.

It’s all been done before. Madonna. Alanis Morisette. Sugarland. All of them did the whole singing the lyrics and then stopping while the song continued lark. All it does is remind you of videos where this technique has been employed far better. It’s got cliché all over it.

It does not stay true to the song: there is no build up so that we can appreciate the emotional breakthrough at the end. The editing is choppy and repetitive, going back and forth from Karen writhing about fully dressed and not sleeping in her expensive hotel room singing to the camera, and the group, who look like outtakes from the “Bohemian Rhapsody” video quad shot.

Queen: Also miserable
The Inky Jukebox has seen them perform this song live; it was great. How about you bring that all on home to me instead?

Sunday, September 11, 2011


September 11, 2011

Showing a little NY love, y'all. This was what half a million people enjoyed in Central Park almost exactly 20 years before that awful day.

Don't they look so very young.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Top Dogs: Toby Keith and Eric Church

Locked and Loaded Tour
Pittsburgh, Sept 3 2011

The last country show of the season was blessed by a perfect starry night that topped off a sizzling summer day in Pittsburgh. Chances are, if you were a fan of country music anywhere in the tri-state area you were at the Eric Church / Toby Keith show at Burgettstown: it certainly looked like everyone came out judging by how packed the hill was. Unlike most shows where tailgaters hold out until the headliner before entering the amphitheater, this one brought a capacity-plus crowd in from the tarmac well in time for Eric Church’s set, which could have been a headliner in itself.

 Eric Church is one of those fellows who talks softly in interviews but acts like a crazed pumped-up bottle rocket on stage. His set started with a loud crack at Clutch’s “Electric Worry” which made The Inky Jukebox’s metalhead Sweetie stand up and pay attention. Sure enough, Church delivered a set that would have set light to the lawn had the lawn been, well, drier — like it usually is by this time of year. He picked from among the hits off his first two albums and provided a generous dose of strong songs from his latest release, Chief

Even though Church kicks it old school in his insistence that new records be anticipated like they used to be before the internet allowed you to hear everything in advance, and doesn’t play ANYTHING live before the actual album release date, these songs (which are only a few weeks old, performance-wise) sounded as kick-ass and polished as any of his other material.

Shooter Jennings has perhaps unwisely decided to open a can of whoop-ass in his return to his country roots by releasing as the first single off his new album “Outlaw You,” a song which calls out fellow singers for name-dropping the outlaw aesthetic that Shooter clearly feels is an insult to his Pappy Waylon et al. Trouble is, all it does it make him come across like a kid on the playground hiding in his Dad’s big shadow while being too chicken to name names. The Inky Jukebox has a theory (even though Shooter himself is coy about it) that the dude in the “baseball cap / Who couldn’t hit country with a baseball bat” is Eric Church. Why? Very few of today’s young bucks wear baseball caps as their signature headwear (Luke Bryan and Rodney Atkins are the only other ones The Inky Jukebox can think of, and neither of them pass themselves off as outlaws), so it’s got to be Church he’s after. This seemed to be confirmed by the inclusion of a version of “Gotta Lot of Boot Left To Fill” that seemed particularly crackly; you hear Church spitting out “I don’t think Waylon would have done it that way” and you think Aha. So Shooter’s responding to Church for saying for all his pedigree, he’s inexperienced. This theory was enhanced when Church launched into a solo version of “A Country Boy Can Survive,” which Shooter has appropriated as his own theme song.

He delighted The Inky Jukebox’s metalhead Sweetie by sprinkling a number of Black Sabbath intros into his set that were especially prescient; “Sweet Leaf” for instance with “Smoke A Little Smoke.” By the time he’d slayed his encore and smashed two cans of beer on his chest and drained them, the sun had gone down and the crowd was fired up good and proper.

 Toby Keith’s tour is sponsored by Ford. This is a point he wants to make perfectly clear by displaying Ford advertising everywhere he possibly can, including on the stage monitors and in the videos playing behind him. Clearly, Toby’s fans are the sort of rabid rednecks who like their music patriotic, and he comes through with bells on. And fireworks. And smoke machines. The color theme for his show is red white and blue, son, and don’t you forget it. While Keith isn’t the world’s best singer per se, he is a wholehearted entertainer; his set didn’t let anyone down who came expecting to hear a greatest hits retrospective. A particularly touching moment came when he sang “Should Have Been A Cowboy,” inviting a very young boy in a huge cowboy hat up on stage to play his wee guitar. It must have been an incomprehensible occasion for the boy, who remained tight-lipped while he strummed away, but his parents will never let him forget it. 

During the encore which predictably saved the “Courtesy of the Red White and Blue” for the finale, he pulled a serviceman up from the crowd to sing alongside him for the duration — something the chap took to with delighted aplomb. Keith left the crowd with the admonition that we should never apologize for being patriotic (check) which is the very definition of preaching to the choir.

It was a Church choir that night, so I suppose we came for a sermon and got it. The Inky Jukebox’s metalhead Sweetie even sang along to “Beer for my Horses” and demanded some Eric Church to take home with him. That’s what The Inky Jukebox calls Mission Accomplished.

The metalhead Sweetie can be found at The Metal Blog of Metal

Monday, September 5, 2011

Bang Bang Bang Bang

Ace of Spades

Now lookee here, Y’all: Lemmy is a legend in his own boots and The Inky Jukebox won’t have a word said against him. In fact, The Inky Jukebox was a Lemmy fan back when it wasn’t groovy to like Motörhead if you were a chick, which was a long time ago. Now, of course, you have to be able to recognize Motörhead songs as if you’ve been singing them since childhood because if you don’t, you will feel alienated and ill at ease when you walk into your local tattoo parlor, which is no way to feel when you are about to get tattooed.

Which brings us to this little gem for those of you who, like The Inky Jukebox, like a little acoustic twang in your Kilmister classics every once in a while. And in case you haven’t been to a live country show lately, you’re going to hear a lot of metal riffs, so you better bone up on your classic Sabbath (Eric Church) and Metallica (Luke Bryan). Eric Church opened his set in Pittsburgh this weekend with a little Clutch, though most of the sell-out crowd didn't know that.

Awesome, boys. 

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Pistol Annies: “Thank God”

Heaven On Heels

The Inky Jukebox has been giving The Pistol Annies’ record Hell on Heels a little while to settle in to her brainium before attempting a review because it’s hard, dammit, to come up with words other than “brilliant” and “stupendous” to describe it.

The Annies — Ashley Monroe, Angaleena Presley and Miranda Lambert — harken back to an earlier time when your country music came in harmonized voices you’d hear over the radio. As such they are geniuses because old school country is picking up speed of late. Try on “Bad Example” for size: while the instrumentation sounds jolly, the lyrics deliver a cutthroat message delightfully at odds with Taylor Swift’s politically correct sweetness.

“Now we ain’t ashamed of who we are
We like fast men and cheap guitars
Ain’t trying to get rich, just trying to get by
Playing for tips on a Saturday night.”

Any one of them can hold their own as lead singers, but it is when they come together that magic happens. At the end of “Lemon Drop” the music falls away while they offer a collective sigh “Thank God” that is so incredibly melodious it embodies that very Lemon Drop.

Miranda Lambert doesn’t need any side projects to aid the fame rocket she’s been riding for a few years, but this can only help her by revealing a collaborative side rich in historic reference.

The Inky Jukebox loves the bad girl attitude on this album: “Takin’ Pills” gives us a twangy electric guitar reminiscent of old Duane Eddy songs, (as does "The Hunter's Wife") while the title track “Hell on Heels” sounds more polished. These gals ain’t afraid of wearing their hearts and more on their sleeve, proclaiming very believably their love for “Boys From The South.”

There is not a single song on this record that is less accomplished than another. "Trailer For Rent" however could be The Inky Jukebox's favorite. 

Perhaps what The Inky Jukebox likes most about the whole band is that they could and would have been successful had they appeared at any time in popular music. That’s what talent is.

Thank goodness that time is now. Go buy this album y’all.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Jason Aldean and his Asphalt Cowboys

His Kinda Party

 A measure of how badly Pittsburgh area folks wanted to see Jason Aldean (it’s been a long time since he played anywhere near here) could be seen August 26th in the sheer insanity of the traffic heading out to the venue. This is not the first time The Inky Jukebox has started a review by talking about the drive to Burgettstown, but there’s a good reason for this. The First Niagara Pavilion (which folks here usually refer to by any one of its former names — Post-Gazette Pavilion, Star Lake Amphitheater, etc.) is situated way out in the sticks, much closer to the borders of West Virginia and Ohio than to Pittsburgh itself. In fact, it always feels odd when performers talk about being in Pennsylvania because it they took a few steps to the side they wouldn’t be in Pennsylvania at all. Because of the topography (hilly), there are few options in terms of routes one can take to get there from Pittsburgh (one).

So when you start out for a 7:30 show at 4:30 in the afternoon for what should be a 40 minute drive and the highway signs say “Heavy traffic ahead: take an alternate route” the heart sinks. There is no alternate route. The Inky Jukebox is glad she filled her tank because it took four hours. One of those hours was spent at the entrance to the venue just idling on the road going absolutely nowhere because the parking lot had reached capacity and the police were deciding what to do with everyone backed up for miles. Eventually they redirected us further on to a roadhouse field. By this time it was dark, so concertgoers had to scramble through hedges and walk not only the mile back to the venue entrance but also all the way to the actual amphitheater once we got there.

Thus it is that The Inky Jukebox cannot review performances by opening acts Thompson Square and Chris Young, because she missed them. The Inky Jukebox has never seen so many human beings packed so tightly into so small a space; officially the venue’s capacity is listed at 23,000 but the DJ who spun tracks before Aldean came on said we were 25,000. Of course he said this before the thousands of folks behind The Inky Jukebox had arrived.

Was it worth it?

Sure. OK, Kinda. Aldean plays a no-nonsense set with little to none chatter in between songs; he merely moves from one mic to another singing and playing the kind of country rock he’s known for, with his axemen shredding it up on solos that sent the crowd wild. Aldean has a large catalogue of songs to pick a set list from, and though he played his big hits, there was surprisingly little from his latest album, My Kinda Party and overall it seemed like a far shorter set than most other headliners The Inky Jukebox has seen in recent years. For example, the encore consisted of a cover of Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive” followed by “She’s Country.” That’s it. 

The Inky Jukebox was expecting a segue into “Asphalt Cowboy” but no deal. One of the big hits of the night was a pseudo-duet with Kelly Clarkson on “Don’t You Wanna Stay” with Kelly appearing on the screen behind the stage for her part. It was gratifying to hear her voice kick in when expected, and the crowd sent up a huge noise when she appeared (much like when she appeared in person at Reba’s show).

"Don't You Wanna Stay"

 To end the show, Aldean popped a can of beer, and in a super-macho release of energy, shook and smashed it to create an explosion of beer over himself and anyone in the front row close enough to be baptized in a little of his Holy Rock and Roll juice. The Inky Jukebox suggests that if Aldean wants to play with the big boys (and he certainly can if he wants to), then he needs to deliver a longer set and spend more time on the walkway out in the crowd (he performed only one song there). Also, opening a show by yelling out the tour stop's name (Pittsburgh!) makes it sounds like it's all become routine and only assures the crowd of one thing: that you looked it up on the back of a tour shirt before stepping onstage. 

On the very long trudge back to the car, The Inky Jukebox overheard a very drunken half naked chap slur to his friends “You know, it took me four hours to get here; I spent a fucken $150 on a ticket — and you know, I STILL had a fucken good time.” Despite everything, that about sums it up.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Sugarland: The Show Must Go On

The Inky Jukebox does not know how Ms. Nettles managed to get her voice out, but is glad she did.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Brantley Gilbert Cranks It Up

My Kind of Crazy

In every state, there’s a station
Playin’ Cash, Hank, Willie and Waylon…

…and soon they’ll be playing Brantley Gilbert too. They already are (he’s written some Jason Aldean’s big hits), but this time around it’s his name you’ll hear. He’s a young lad with an ear for no-nonsense lyrics and likes them delivered with a side of kick-ass rock thank you very much. His first real hit as a solo artist, “Country Must Be Country Wide” was like a calling card to let folks know what he was about: in short, down-home Southern boy who knows his roots. It’s a catchy tune that sounds like it came from a far more seasoned performer.

But it’s the song “Kick It In The Sticks” that really pulls the lid off and lets you see under his engine. It’s the kind of record city haters will cite as the reason they can’t stand rednecks because it celebrates a kind of masculinity they abhor but good ole boys hold dear. Brantley and Co don’t give a damn; they’ll blast your ears off with their crunching guitars and nearly metal drums. In this, Gilbert fits right in with the unapologetic hard-assery of Eric Church, the backwoods swagger of Justin Moore, and the axe-centricity of Jason Aldean (and his band) — that is to say, all the young dudes who are taking country music out of pop and into rock.

He’s kind of a cutie too, if you think about giving him a shave (and looks better without the Copenhagen grin). His album Halfway To Heaven
was sort of available then not and now a deluxe version reissue is coming out in September. You can hear songs from it on his facebook page and YouTube. The Inky Jukebox can’t wait.

Here's another of his songs. It's as good as anything else out there. Love Love Love it.

UPDATE: This just in from his record label: the completely remastered album with bonus tracks will be re-released Sept 13.