Thursday, March 31, 2011

American Idol Week Four

Captain Fantastic!

The difference between an amateur and a professional is that one is aware they are on a stage, performing for an audience—and the other isn’t. The pro is the latter one. Why? Because they lose the self consciousness that roots them to the spot and makes them consider all of their arm movements. A pro inhabits the song to the extent that it seems to the audience they aren’t there; that you are watching someone getting lost in a song with the sneaky sensation you are a mere fly on the wall sneaking a secret peek. Case in point: I don’t have to even give you one because in your heart of hearts, you know what I say is true. Part of your brain right now at this minute is replaying such a performance while your eyes read this.

It is this specific thing that the American Idol judges are referring to every damn week when they provide constructive criticism to Stefano and Pia, who can sing, sure, but they cannot yet perform. And no, Stefano’s demonstrative angsty waggling is not what I’m talking about here. Those are moves designed for the the-at-er. Stefano needs to take a look at Tony Bennett and learn something about killing it softly from the master.

I’m wondering how long the judges can keep telling Pia the same thing every week and having her ignore it. When Jennifer said she’s looking for her to stamp her foot, THAT’S what I’ma mean, y’all. Pia looks and feels like she’s been screwed to the spot by magic pageant sparkles driven through her feet and in the real cutthroat world of music that don’t cut it. She needs to lose it like Mary J. Blige. Someone tell this girl about YouTube, yeah?

James on the other hand needs to check out this dude named Sinatra and dare himself to deliver a song like that: no screaming, even when we think he will shred his cords at any moment. Lighting a red piano on fire for Elton John week—I get it—but y’know, BIG YAWN.

The judges hated Naima’s reggae but I liked it: it didn’t sound bad; it was new; and it helped that I was in the kitchen while she sang it. The fake Jamaican accent she put on for the shout-out though: yeah, that’d get you beaten up in Brixton, girlfriend.

Thia needs to let a little imperfection and risk in: she’s so impossibly perfect each week that all the humanity is bleached out. And she needs to wear pants instead of short skirts. And she needs to ignore the camera.

I think that at this point Paul is just laughing his bony bespangled ass off that he’s still there. He hasn’t a hope in hell of winning, but he’s not bad. It would help if he enunciated the words. The Inky Jukebox loves his Nudie suit and is happy for him to stay as long as he busts it (or one like it) out every week (it cost $4,500).

Lauren, bless her, sang earnestly but for some reason looked terrified. The black sparkly dress has to go, as does the downhome look. Dress her in a suit and pull her hair back.

Scotty could be a black horse here: boy can sing, and his last low note was resonant and delivered like a pro.

The Inky Jukebox is delighted and gratified to see that Casey took our advice and toned it way down this time. (OK, I know, I know: EVERYONE ELSE said the same thing.) One thing I (we?) love about this guy is that he’s very natural on camera; his behind-the-scenes stuff feels very at ease. This is a good sign.

Jacob has pipes. I wonder that he doesn’t use them to chew the stage up with them though. Power is nice, but gently, gently.

Haley’s delivery of Bennie and the Jets was 95% growling and 4% falsetto and 1% hisssssssss. This does not an Elton John song make.

Randy claimed that Elton John is one of the best songwriters ever, but he isn’t: Bernie Taupin is. Thank goodness someone told him he had to rectify that before the end of the show.

Bottom Three: Lauren, Stefano, Thia. Going home? Stefano and Thia.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Joe Bonamassa

Dust Bowl (Pure Gold)

One of the things The Inky Jukebox loves about Joe Bonamassa, the blues rock guitar virtuoso, is that he makes albums that are actual albums that have a theme and tell a story, as opposed to merely being a collection of songs lumped together. Albums that exist as a whole, the sort you could only get on vinyl that had two sides you put a needle on and no singles.

His latest, Dust Bowl, does just that: the songs reach back to hardscrabble 1930s America for their tropes, rhythms, sound, and feel. In many ways it picks up from where The Ballad of John Henry left off, delivering an old-school masculine perspective rooted in rock and roll. There is plenty of twang on this record, drawing in a wider range of musical styles than we have previously seen from him. “Tennessee Plates” for example is a rollicking bit of honky-tonk with vocals from John Hiatt (whose next record is being produced by Bonamassa’s longtime producer, Kevin Shirley — on which Joe returns the favor). “Black Lung Heartache” features jangly guitars that could have come straight from the rural South, yet when it gets heavy it retains riffs that are distinctively recognizable as Bonamassa’s. Vince Gill lends him “Sweet Rowena,” which happily still feels very much like a Vince Gill song. “You Better Watch Yourself” is straight-up mid-tempo blues done right.

His Black Country Communion bandmate, Glen Hughes, takes a turn on the rocking “Heartbreaker,” though it is Bonamassa’s lead that dominates, as it should. The notes towards the end quotes Free at their best (which is apt, since Joe himself models his singing on Paul Rodgers (and why not?).

Peter Van Weelden’s spoken word vocal that creeps behind the music on “Dust Bowl” reminds me very much of Robbie Robertson’s great 1987 self-titled record (how ‘bout it, Joe?) (Come to think of it, please allow The Inky Jukebox to suggest a cover of the late Jerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street” which will tickle your legions of British fans to pieces.)

The guitar playing is of course exemplary (he isn’t lauded by his peers for nothing), and for many folks to be a master in that area would be enough. But Bonamassa’s great gift is that he can also sing; his voice has a classic breathy tone and power that he uses with brash confidence. (“The Whale That Swallowed Jonah”). He can sing loud and he can sing soft with equal feeling and control, and he shows that ability off on Dust Bowl to great effect. “The Last Matador of Bayonne” allows it to shine.

It’s also where we hear in Tony Cedras’s fluttery lonesome trumpet echoes of Clarence Clemons on “Meeting Across The River” (give it a listen folks). It is completely appropriate: the trumpet embodies the melancholy in the protagonist’s heroic last stand the same way Clemons’s haunting addition lends Springsteen’s tragic speaker a depth of spirit. This is the sort of song which one hears the opening bars to and immediately knows this is going to be a Bonamassa classic, and it does not disappoint—taking us soon enough to soaring heights before bringing us back down to earth.

Which brings me to another thing that makes Bonamassa the complete package: he can write and compose the bejesus out of a song.

While every song on this album is a winner (no chaff here), we have to wait till the end for the best track of the lot: “Prisoner,” whose luscious chord progressions and rock power ballad edge make you want to get up and bust a move at whatever air-instrument you are prone to.

Bonamassa’s unlike your average musician in that he runs his own ship; not constrained by the demands and fickle economics of a major label, he records and tours under his own J&R Adventures. Sure, this might mean he gets less mainstream exposure (Rolling Stone famously ignores him for some ungodly reason), but he has a vigorously dedicated and passionate fan base who, supported in their efforts by the company, do a great deal to expand their hero’s reach.

And in case you are an audiophile throwback of the best kind, yes, you can buy this record on vinyl. You can check it out here.

A nice glimpse of Joe's technical side and his brand new 1959 Les Paul Sunburst. Sweet!
Joe's website

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Shock and Awe: Idol Results

Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On!

So the results come in, and the producers say Oh Shit: the crazy-ass talented dude is going home! What are we going to do? Frantic phone calls are made. The show’s ending is blocked out like a dance, and because nothing this big can really be left to chance, meetings are had around conference tables littered with crushed Coca-Cola cups, the stubs of a thousand cigarettes, polystyrene clamshells with the crusty remains of Indian take-out from the Curry Truck, and finely chopped Airborne spilled off the back of someone’s iPhone. What are the judges likely to do? How will this play out?

It is decided that there’s no way the judges will let poor Casey go, so they devise a fiendish plan….they will let Casey sing “for your life!!!” but only to a point. At the signal, hands will wave, the band will screech to a halt, and Ryan will rush onstage to tell Casey to stop. But before panic can ensue, Tyler will drop the bomb: there’s no need to sing, dude, because there is no need to: WE'RE PULLING OUT THE SEASON'S ONLY SAVE CARD! RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW! Merriment will then be expected to wash over the assembled crowd, etc. etc.

But this is not exactly how it panned out. (Huh? you’re saying.) No-one could have predicted Casey’s genuine blood-drained-from-face reaction, complete with much bleeped out wordage and shaking the likes of which we haven’t seen since that haystick Clay Aiken fan fell to pieces when his idol came out form behind the curtain one finale day. It was the most moving bit of honest human behavior I've seen for a long time. Dude rushed the judges, rushed his parents in the audience, almost said "shit" on live TV. I was concerned for a while that the look on his face signaled a medical emergency was underway — crippling stomach pain, imminent vomiting, or a fatal asthma attack. But no: it was pure white hot shock. And the best part? (this is bound to be overlooked by the commentators): when asked about what was going through his mind, dude was humble enough to give a nod to the rest of his compadres whose chances of being saved were so cruelly ripped out from underneath them so early in the season. That's class, right there.

And it topped a results night in which the shock factor was clearly ramped up: from Stevie Wonder rolling out at the piano during the group number to sing Happy Birthday to the other Steven (he too looked genuinely surprised, didn’t he?), to James Durbin having his own personal Moment Of A Lifetime when Hulk Hogan came out to deliver the news he was safe (another awesome example of honest-to-goodness delight, by the way).

These things alone would have made it a brilliant show, but there was more! Both of the best female singers around performed: Jennifer Nettles from Sugarland (though regrettably, singing the Gawd-awful “Stuck Like Glue” and looking like a Kewpie Doll with a shitload of makeup and heels) and the most talented Idol contestant there has ever been, Jennifer Hudson, who did a fine job of giving the contestants a master class in How It’s Done Bitches (but needs to show off her new fabulous figure in something other than a split-front skirt – never, ever flattering on anyone).

It was a good night, y’all. Watch the highlight reel. 

American Idol Week Three

What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted?
Who Had Game That Has Now Departed?

So the songs of Motown are going to people plenty of huge songs to get their chops around, but after a while (ten seasons) you end up hearing the same old same old and it becomes a compare and contrast object lesson with those who have gone before. I would prefer to see the competition open up some unusual themes to test the guys and gals a little by taking them more out of their comfort zones. How about Punk Week? Give us some Songs from the 1940s. Do the Rat Pack. Folk-a-delic. Metal. Hank Williams. Surely there is room for more rock and less schlock?

Casey rocked a suit and a very red beard. And made growly huffing sounds a lot. And walked around. Dude can perform anything, but I think he ought to throw us a curveball by doing an acapella version where he really controls his voice without going all Screaming Jay Hawkins on us. "I Heard It Through The Grapevine"? Really? 

Thia was perfectly pretty and perfectly forgettable. Like sheet cake. Its whole purpose is to present the fancy icing but once wedges have been cut and folks have stabbed at it with a plastic fork and winced at the chemical sweetness, it just looks sort of like the way it tastes: of absolutely nothing at all. She sang OK though. 

What up with all the white jackets tonight? Do I detect a black and white theme? Am I the only one to think that Jacob is losing ground each week by revealing weaknesses in his singing? I think not. Stomp the gloriosity back, yo: wail softly and don’t worry: all the boys will still think you carry a big stick.

The reason Hayley keeps ending up in the bottom three is because she is unlikable, not because she can’t sing (though the singing part isn’t remotely as great as the judges make it out to be; I don’t want no growling in my peppy pop, thank you). Let’s be perfectly clear: she does not have any Janis in her because every time Randy claims she does, Janis rolls over so violently in her grave tsunamis happen.

Stefano is not an actual boy: he’s a bobble-head doll who nods yes I can yes I will every time someone gives him advice, then he totally carries on making all the same mistakes he always did. So who is voting for the Italian Stallion? Girls who like bobble-head dolls (13 year-olds). J-Lo’s commentary was right on the money tonight: he sings as if he’s trying to do well, not because he’s feeling the song.

Lauren needs to listen up: when the first thing the judge says is “you’re looking beautiful tonight!” it means which is good because the singing sucked.

Scotty: if you don’t want to come across as a lounge singer, STOP holding the mic to one side! I actually thought he took a big risk and pulled it off: everyone wanted to see what honky did with Motown and he hit a three-pointer (literally). By the way, did y’all think the whole basketball vibe was a little….y’know?

Pia delivered a power ballad. Big freakin’ whoop.

Jimmy Iovine is right: Paul does have a distinctive voice. I liked what he did with the song; a lesser singer would have tried to take on Smokey and no-one can do that. I typed this and then Randy said exactly the same thing. WTF. Why can’t they pay me his big bucks?

Naima: the judges need to mention the bum notes. Because there were many. Not So You Think You Can Dance however. It’s not even X-Factor, so not exactly sure what she’s doing on Idol, which is a singing competition.

So far James has the whole charisma thing down, don’t he? Crowd don’t lie, y’all. His was the only performance that made me want to get up and dance, which counts for a lot when it comes to Motown, you know?

Stefano's Mom came and cooked for the whole crew at the (now) haunted mansion they no longer live in, which was real nice of her. The producers should not have allowed Ryan to humiliate the woman by handing Gordon Ramsey a Tupperware of the leftovers and asking for a review. That was mean. 

Bottom Three: Hayley, Naima, Thia. Again. Going home? Hayley, please God

The Inky Jukebox likes Hotel Angel

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Eric Church: A Testimonial

A Long Line of Sinners Like Him (You Make It Look So Easy)

Every now and then I come across someone who still thinks country music is sung with a deep twang by chubby dudes in giant ten-gallon hats and two-tone shirts, or by suspiciously butch gals with long hair, high-waisted jeans and button-down shirts who express their innermost feelings by hooking their thumbs into their belt hoops and line dancing. Yee-haw!

They are incredulous, therefore, to keep reading about country music taking the lead when it comes to sales, tour grosses and a loyal, young fan base when the rest of the music industry is falling to pieces. I got news for these folks: Garth Brooks semi-retired a long time ago, and their favorite rockers are all recording in Nashville now.

Check out what modern country sounds like. Sure, they wear Wranglers, hats and boots; they sing about country topics; they have Southern accents. But they are also lean and mean and rock out as hard as anyone.

A good example of the New Country Man is Eric Church. He’s quietly built himself a serious reputation by putting out records where every single song is a winner, and touring his ass off. The pyro in his stage show comes entirely from 100-proof attitude and raw talent, and the crowd burns up with it. He inspires a passionate, rowdy following who sing along word-for-word with gusto, whether he’s delivering a balls-to-the-floor up-tempo bit of rock and roll or a tender ballad.

His 2006 debut, Sinners Like Me, practically whops you upside the head and serves notice: this dude means business. The title track is a rollicking love story to being a man’s man that draws on the rhythms of traditional sea shanties but with jangly guitar, fiddles,  and rousing chorus. It doesn’t matter if your story isn’t the same as his; I don’t know any man who couldn’t relate to it.

Church shows his real songwriting talent with his ballads; “What I Almost Was” is a heartfelt tale of near-disaster that sounds fresh every time you hear it, while “Lightning” is the most haunting paean to execution since Springsteen’s Nebraska. The Lightning in question refers to the electric chair; this song, which builds in energy (like the juice), is delivered by the condemned man, and is perhaps the most oddly joyous speech given by a death-row inmate as any you’ll hear. It’s also exquisitely beautiful.

It is this gorgeous juxtaposition that makes Eric Church something special and also representative of modern country; these folks are highly skilled craftspeople when it comes to songwriting and careful delivery.

This can also be heard on the title track of his second album, Carolina, in which Church lets his voice howl out a coda of grace and pleading beauty to his home state. But the album has its share of gritty old-school material too: “Smoke A Little Smoke,” a recent hit, lays down the rules for what it takes to be a good ole boy. This is where you can also find his first hit, “Love Your Love The Most.”

The opening licks are enough to draw you in, and the list of things he loves keeps you hooked. This album is so good that you could hit any song with a dart thrown blind and come up with a winner. Listen to "Those I've Loved" to get a good idea what this guy is up to. 

Church’s latest EP is a four-track gem titled Caldwell County. It’s a taste to keep things fresh for the crowds who will try their damndest to drown him out with whistles and cheers when he takes the stage this summer. In his trademark baseball cap and aviator shades he exudes an ebullient sexiness that is completely tamed during interviews where he appears humble and quite shy. He's also very naughty: check out the video playing on his YouTube channel promoting his win at this year's ACMs: "Looking For A Happy Ending." (Yep)

It will be interesting to see him opening for Toby Keith this summer; I fancy the audiences will be there just as much for one as the other.

More Modern Country Boys (Check ‘em out):

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Week Two

The horror! The horror!

OK, Listen up, American Idol contestants: The themes you are given every week are not designed to be “fun” or “entertaining” to the audience (or, God forbid, you): they are designed to ruthlessly cull the herd.

Picking a Billboard hit from the year of your birth is not an accidental trip to sheer hell (OK; it is) just for the tanning potential. We all know how old you are: we know that this means we will be listening to the morass of crap from circa 1990, shite that you were too young to have stepped in. If this was about the music, the theme would be a Billboard hit from the year your parents were born. If it was actually a vocal competition, it would be Billboard hits from the year your grandparents were born.

That being said, whoever sings anything by Taylor Dayne or Whitney Houston ought to be subject to immediate dismissal via trapdoor: step on that bitch and down you go. Sadly, the show’s female contingent is once again running as fast as their 5-inch heels can take them to the giant EXIT sign by mistaking this ho-down (oops!) for a talent show. It’s not: it’s an audition, every week.

Which brings us to the judges. This is a misnomer: they are not judging you. They are providing on-the-spot vocal bites to play back come Slasher Thursday.  Randy is offering more lucid comments than he has in YEARS; he has to; the bar has been raised. J-Lo actually provides useful feedback from the experience of a seasoned performer. Steven Tyler spits words of wisdom like pumpkin seeds.

I like the way the judges give advice for what they would like to see in the future as opposed to commenting on what the hapless kids just sang. It softens the blow. Still, it would be good if any of them had the cajones to tell it like it is when one of them bombs: at least Simon did that. 

Last night's performances? Every single one of them made me want to stab phillips head screwdrivers into my ears. Jacob put so much grease on his Heart vocal he slipped off the rails. Casey dared to dream he could touch the hem of Kurt’s mangy cardigan and couldn’t. quite. grasp. it. But at least they tried. I have a horrible sinking feeling that Pia will end up a default winner simply because she looks the part. 

It will come down to who folks hate the most and the answer is the girl with the dreadlocks who went first. Over and Out. 

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Pick An Idol, Any Idol

Week One

The producers at Idol have really shaken it up this year: sure, we have new judges (who, it turns out, can all actually speak when asked) and a new finale-type stage (rather than the intimate studio that used to ease the early-rounders through). But we also have a lot of behind-the-scenes changes too: someone, somewhere is very scared that our precious time is going to be wasted watching some poor fool totally wipe out on live television, so to that end they have taken steps to prevent that from ever happening. First, selecting contestants who all seem to have had plenty of performing experience and who can all, at the very least, sing. Second, taping the “live” show on Tuesday but not playing it till Wednesday. Um…not live. Third, bringing in recording industry professionals (the entire producing team from Interscope records!) to “guide” the contestants through their song choices, arrangements, and vocals, one-on-one. Fourth, actually recording the song in a studio before ever delivering it on stage. Fifth, being supported on stage by a slew of back-up singers, gospel choirs and the like. I’m sure there’s more, but this is all I could keep up with on the first night.

The result is a very smooth show, devoid of any real excitement. The kids did exactly what you would expect of them, further cementing their niche before anyone has to get kicked to the curb (or at least, out of that sick mansion they are all holed up in).

The Inky Jukebox feels that in the spirit of fakery they, too, ought to play the new game: don’t take the theme too literally, y’all. You have to pick a song by your musical idol? Fuck that. Pick the best song to stay on the show and pretend it’s by your idol! No-one but your friends back home will know, and they are already voting for you! There was something about the song choices for this one that made me a little queasy: were they really given the chance to pick something wildly inappropriate, or were they offered a short list of songs the producers feel defines their niche market (while also providing the sales kickback bump to artists they have already demonstrated an affinity for by having had them as guest judges or coaches on the show)? 

I don’t know about you, but I watch, partly, to see hopelessness swimming bravely against the tide; I want to be surprised by a crazy-ass song choice or delivery (right or wrong); I want not to know who is going home so certainly on Thursday night.

With that, here’s last night's breakdown:

Casey Abrams singing: Joe Cocker
In it to win it with his quirky awesomeness. Dude is both horrible to look at yet exciting to watch. Gave the most original and best vocal of the night.

James Durbin singing: Paul McCartney
Maybe I’m amazed! This song is hard to sing, but the lad did good. I was hoping (as was the nation) for him to break out the signature falsetto woo-woo at the end — and he delivered. Is he better than Adam Lambert? No. But thank God he’s there.

Jacob Lusk singing: R. Kelly
Sing it loud and proud! He gives it his all, but the arrangement sucks: it’s too slow. Jacob ends up shouting because he has to stick to 140 seconds. His stance could use some loosening up.

Lauren Alaina singing: Shania Twain
Girlfriend picked an easy target and wore a TV-unfriendly garment. The choice was uninspired and I don’t really believe Shania is her biggest idol for a minute: she was, like, three when Shania last had a song on the radio. Her idols, I am betting, are Jennifer Nettles, Carrie Underwood, Kellie Pickler, and Kelly Clarkson. Maybe some Reba. But all ladies she has heard most of her life. I hope she takes some chances with her delivery, because she could so easily end up being an empty replicant of herself, despite her talent. She needs younger hair and a better stylist, too.

Pia Toscano singing: Celine Dion
All By Myself!!! Shocker! (Also, not by Celine Dion!!!) Big song though, and entirely predictable for Ms. Pageant Queen. Good sparkly dress, but what’s with the tail? Her delivery was strangely passionless: she sang the words, but never felt them. Oh, and  Purlese – girl likely had never heard of those Interscope execs before the show. It would be nice to hear someone do that song quietly for a change. That would be something to see.

Stefano Langone singing: Stevie Wonder
What is he wearing? Tip: don’t wear sneakers. What!!! Disco! This does NOT bode well for Mr. Italiano.

Scotty McCreery singing: Garth Brooks
Hey — Scotty can clean up good! This was a terrible, awful, bad song choice for Scotty, whom I truly believe really does idolize Garth. But this song is too dull to let his vocal skills show, and it is not in his range. If you’re going to pick a Garth song, pick something more fiery, Dude. Better yet, don’t pick a Garth song: do Tim McGraw or Trace Adkins. I’m hoping Scotty stays, but he has to get wise about the game.

Haley Reinhart singing: LeAnn Rimes
Nooooo. What a hot mess. The ballgown dress, the pinched-together eyes, the mass of curly hair; this girl ain’t got a snowball’s chance of being the next American Idol. I can tell she’s been singing this song since she was three, but all she’s been doing is trying to copy LeAnn, which she tried to do last night — badly. This sounded like a high school talent show performance, and she wouldn’t have won that.

Ashton Jones singing: Diana Ross
Given the chance to stay on the show, she blows it big time by picking a god-awful song she can’t begin to do justice to, and treating the stage as if she’s up for Miss Thing in the regional Miss Thing contest. The judges knew it too, but are pussies in the presence of Berry Gordy.

Paul McDonald singing: Ryan Adams
Nice jacket. Dude doesn’t stand a chance in holy hell. Looks like he’s been hitting the Charlie Sheen. His legs look like they will break, don’t they? And what’s with his teeth? I love that there is a more original performer on the show, but this is too way out there for America’s votes, and I think even he knows it.

Naima Adedapo singing: Rhianna
She ain’t no Rhianna. And she won’t be on the show long enough to spend any more time on.

Karen Rodriguez singing: Selena
Oh the joy. Picked a song so beyond her ability to deliver it hurt to watch. But hey, she wore a Selena-type pantsuit. Dull as shit and will be going home.

Thia Megia singing: Michael Jackson
Also, not Michael Jackson. “Smile” is an old song. She managed to kill it. Those tears we saw say it all.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Bad Hair Day

Ronnie Dunn Bleeds Red, Y'all

Has this ever happened to you: you find someone’s hair so damnably annoying that it blinds you to being able to listen to them, or even try to? It’s as if allowing yourself to like their music is somehow an affirmation of the offensive follicular display. This, I suppose, is a downside to ever being able to see the folks who sing as opposed to just hearing them on the radio.

I have, I must confess, been a victim of this obviously wrongheaded and stupid affliction, and it has for years prevented me from enjoying much worthy music.

Take for example, Keith Urban. All I saw when I looked at that guy was a great swatch of floppy bangs that screamed out for a cut or a headband – something, anything to keep it all from falling in his face. His face was too pretty, too. The fact that he was supposed to be some huge heartthrob did not help his cause: it only indicated that he was for teenagers and, well, Nicole Kidman. How terribly silly this was. Keith Urban’s hair is still irritating, but it’s been tamed somewhat in recent years, and his records have benefitted. Is there a connection?

Keith #1: How can anyone take this seriously? 

Keith #2: Now, that's better

The other obvious example that comes to mind is poor, beleaguered Ronnie Dunn. Holy Crap, but that man has been having a bad hair day for freakin’ years. How is it even possible that a man with facial hair that ridiculous looking could be successful? The thing is, imagining him without it is, if anything, worse. But it’s the enthusiastic whomph of chestnut locks that appears fuelled by Miracle-Gro, paired with the luxurious full-goatee or whatever it’s called, that really seals the deal. Ick! Urgh!

Ronnie in full shaggy mode

On the basis of Ronnie Dunn’s beard alone I resisted even listening to Brooks and Dunn records, despite their legendary fame until only a few years ago, by which time I was way late to the show, as they’d decided to split up.

Still, better late than never, and naturally, The Inky Jukebox is today a huge fan.

It is with this in mind that I want to talk about Ronnie Dunn’s new record, “Bleed Red.”  First off, it sounds exactly, unmistakably like Ronnie Dunn, which is not a bad thing. Because I once heard him say in an interview that he often sings off-key, I have always had a suspicion that I’m hearing Auto-Tune Ronnie Dunn, but I have also heard him sing live enough to know that he can indeed deliver. His voice is rich and sprightly, like a particularly toothsome hunk of chuck steak that has almost melted after hours and hours of slow cooking. He has an enormous range, all of which is pushed on this record.

It is the sort of anthemic song that feels as if it were composed from an anthem-making kit: fit chord A into slot B, add tinkle of piano and rising crescendo, etc…. The lyrics are also a grab bag of schmaltz about people all being alike and whatnot. I can imagine Shylock giving this speech, Ronnie Dunn dressed in tights on the Globe’s stage, but perhaps that’s unfair. It’s a song that could be delivered with equal aplomb by Miley Cyrus, if I’m being honest (take note, Disney): in fact, give it to ANYONE and they could make it sound brilliant.

You think I’m giving it a bad review, but I’m not. I love the song. It satisfies the need I have for the occasional bit of music candy. And that's what it is: a big old lump of sugar. But I am very glad to have Ronnie Dunn’s voice coming through my speakers with something new, after he and Kix Brooks parted ways. Kix can be found regularly on my dial anyway, giving us the Top 40 American Country Countdown

(I loves me some Kix Brooks - a man who never has a bad hair day...)

Friday, March 4, 2011

Aaron Lewis: A Real Country Boy

Aaron Lewis: Gone Country

An honest-to-God indication of whether something is good or not is what happens to you the first time you hear it. The first time I heard Aaron Lewis singing “Country Boy” I had to stop what I was doing and listen, all the way through. What I heard was a voice like syrup singing slow and deep so that it seeped into every pore. It is a voice made to deliver that kind of hard-as-nails country usually reserved for sexy patriotic songs—you know the kind, the ones that want to seduce you to go party in the woods with a truck, a fifth and a gun. 

Aaron Lewis reminds me of Justin Moore and Josh Thompson in that way. It’s the delivery of a point of view made softer with a guitar that flirts with you rather than knocks you out. It also reminds me of the best of Kid Rock, who can be inconsistent when it comes to marrying melody with lyrics. I might cause all kinds of trouble by saying his voice reminds me of Darius Rucker too, but hey, Hootie still sounds great. Tell me I’m wrong, I dare you. Come to think of it, I hear echoes of Bon Jovi too, "Wanted Dead of Alive." 

I’m also used to hearing Hank Jr. being called out in support of the South, but this is a love song to Massachusetts. Town Line is one of those six-pack albums, fewer songs, costs less. It you buy it on iTunes it comes with the video for Country Boy, and several different versions. George Jones provides a nice cameo as a growly ghost at the microphone, and it’s nice to hear Chris Young’s voice on there too.

At the end of the day, what matters is that Aaron Lewis can sing, no matter what he’s singing. And The Inky Jukebox likes tattooed gunslingers.

Here's some more:

The best Pearl Jam song they ever did, by the way. 

Dude can be measured by the depth and breadth of his covers. 

Check out "Piano Man"

Check out "Patience"

Check out "Hurt"