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.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Jonathan Singleton: Probably Just Time

The Inky Jukebox has rediscovered this song lately and thinks it deserves some airplay. Check it out.

Here's the single.