Saturday, December 7, 2013

On The Beaten Path?

Get Your Ass Back Here, Justin Moore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scale it back and simplify. Please. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

My Kind of Night: Luke Bryan Rocks Pittsburgh

If You're Not Here To Party — You're Stuck In Traffic

Sing it, Luke
If Luke Bryan’s “Dirt Road Diary” read “want to grow up to be the new Tim McGraw,” then his dreams have come true. Earlier this year, The Inky Jukebox saw Mr. McGraw’s show and came away with that sad feeling that she’d just seen a once-bright star lose some of its twinkle. That’s OK; McGraw’s had his run.

 But that left the stage open for some new handsome buck to take his place and that man has arrived. His name is Luke “Shake It For Me” Bryan. As if to prove The Inky Jukebox’s point, it has just been announced that Bryan’s latest album Crash My Party has made the biggest sales splash for a male artist since McGraw’s Live Like You Were Dying in 2004.

Who's #1? You are! 
Bryan slides very easily into that spotlight on his first headlining tour, with a big ole stack of hits to make a fat set list from and the moves and singing chops to back it up. In Pittsburgh on September 28th, he proved why he’s the current ACM Entertainer of the Year and delivered some whoop-ass to close out the concert season. 

Impressive on the big screen. Just sayin'.
He noted that it wasn’t long ago that this was the very venue of his first amphitheater-sized show (as opening opener for Sugarland and Brooks & Dunn), and that he vowed that night to sell this joint out one day. The Inky Jukebox can attest that he certainly did that.

Close enough to touch, ladies!
There were some tell-tale signs: first, The Inky Jukebox drove past five (5) miles of cars waiting to get off at the venue exit and only just made it into the parking area before it closed. Based on past experience, all of those cars were directed to the overflow parking in a field a mile away. Yet when The Inky Jukebox entered the amphitheater and found her place on the lawn just before Florida Georgia Line came on, the place looked packed to capacity already. Now that it’s getting dark early, Thompson Square’s set opened in the dark, yet folks were still coming in.

Acoustic set with Luke Bryan at piano
Luke Bryan’s got that mix between country topics and a pop look and sound; his latest single, “That’s My Kind of Night” features a club-thump and rap-style lyric, and clearly ruffled a few feathers in traditional circles. Zac Brown talked trash about it, but I don’t think Zac Brown shares the same audience as Luke Bryan, Georgia boys though they both be. What Bryan can do is play his instruments (guitar and piano), sing, — and dance. His booty-shaking is a crowd-pleaser and he knows it.  He genuinely looks like he’s having a blast on stage.

The hardest working ass in country music
The crowd was mostly very young (high school / college) and familiar with the urban hooks and rap that comprise the identity of Florida Georgia Line, which really do cause The Inky Jukebox to wonder about the state of country music. For good measure, Clay Cook has rubbished them by name too.

Shawna Thompson is better than her band

Thompson Square try hard, but like themselves more than the crowd does. Keifer is not that good a singer, but Shawna is. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Keith Urban Lights A Fuse in Pittsburgh

Urban Goes Rural! 

Keith Urban - five times better than you think!

While The Inky Jukebox hung out in the parking lot before the Keith Urban show in Burgettstown, a roving reporter from the local country radio station ambled by and interviewed the older carload of fans nearby. He got them to cheer “Keith Urban Rocked!” into his mic for after the show, and when they declared they were Urban virgins, he said they were in for a treat.

He was right. It’s been three years since Urban was in this neck of the woods, and the locals were anxious to show him some love.

The Inky Jukebox has to take a step back for a moment and say that it was a long time before she could take Keith Urban seriously because he is so darn purdy-looking. But this show made her throw her hat in the ring, because that reporter was right: he rocked our asses off. For sheer professionalism, musicianship and fan appreciation, his show was the best of the year.


For a start, he opened his set by simply strolling out to center stage with the lights full on and backdrop still up, picked up a banjo and played an instrumental song. The crowd was caught unaware: usually the lights go down and background music hits the amps nice and loud. Once that song was done, the lights went down and when they came back on, the backdrop fell away to reveal a pretty great set: very simple, with a big bank of vertical screens.

He was in great form, delivering all the hits, and had plenty of interaction with the crowd, who were cold and wet. After spotting a sign he couldn’t read in the audience, he had the woman holding it come up on stage; it was a bride-to-be, and she wanted to sing a song with him — so she did. Pretty neat.

But that wasn’t the only way in which Urban went the extra mile to get among his fans. A smaller stage was set up over a section of seats at the far end of the pavilion near the lawn; it served as a fully miked and lit stage for several songs.

An intimate second stage
And if anyone left before the encore, they would have missed Urban’s second venture out into the crowd – this time slightly to the other side of the back of the pavilion, where he stood alone at a mic stand right amongst people to sing “You Look Good In My Shirt.” Afterwards, he signed and handed his electric guitar to a lucky fan.

Up close and personal!
Urban is a generous performer, too. He not only shared a song with each of his opening acts — Dustin Lynch and Little Big Town — but he gave each of his band members a turn in the spotlight to let them sing a bit of a cover song and play their instruments. This is what you can expect from a singer who is also the lead guitarist in his band.

Who thinks we're sexy? 

Little Big Town joined in
Speaking of which — wow. They say Urban is the best guitar player in country music and they have a point. A Go Pro camera fixed to the head of his guitar allowed the audience to see just what his hands were doing on the neck, which was a really nice touch for those of us who are curious to see.

Urban doesn’t only play guitars though — he did "Tonight I Wanna Cry" all alone on the piano too.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Biker Chic(k)

ZZ Top in Pittsburgh, September 7, 2013

If you have ever wondered where you can go to see a bald, mustachioed dude in a leather waistcoat and leather chaps, or a couple consisting of a middle-aged guy in a leather fedora and a petite teenager in thigh-high heels stumbling about clutching a cab of beer bigger than one of her thighs, or, as The Inky Jukebox's sweetheart noted, a whole lot of "slatterns," then you should check out a ZZ Top concert.

ZZ Top play slower than they used to, but just as powerfully, and they are legends.

"Tush" live. 'Nuff said. The Inky Jukebox danced and sang so hard her tush nearly fell off.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Justin Moore: Finger-Lickin’ Good

Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, September 1st 2013

Justin Moore

“I want you to get your money’s worth,” Justin Moore joked to the crowd packed around the tiny stage outside Heinz Stadium’s scoreboard on Sunday night. Given that the concert was free, he added “You get what you pay for though, so I could have sucked!” The hoards laughed — it was funny because The Inky Jukebox can attest that his performance as part of the annual Rib Festival did not suck. Far from it: it was finger-lickin’, lip-smackin’ good.

Billed by the festival as a one-hour set, Moore in fact played for two. That’s value for money right there. And if you arrived on the scene during the set changeover (Drew Baldridge opened), you could snag a spot right up to the stage. By the time he came on (earlier than scheduled), it was filled with die-hard fans, only a few of which appeared to be from the actual country. 

If this had been a Burgettstown show, that would have been a very different demographic. Still, they were all boozed up and happy, crowd surfing and generally singing and hollering along to every single word. Hey — it was a free show on the banks of the Ohio on a hot summer night; parking was cheap, Heinz Field’s Steeler pavilion was open to the public, there was a vast array of world-class ribs available a few hundred feet away, and they came double-fisting big cans of beer.

From the stage the band’s view was the interior of a lit-up Heinz Field to one side and the downtown Pittsburgh skyline reflecting in the water to the other. Moore and the band delivered a set packed full of his hits, along with the crowd pleasers (“I Can Kick Your Ass”). 

He threw in some Randy Houser and Josh Thompson to advertize his upcoming tour, where they will be opening for him. He saved “Small Town USA” until the end, a sentimental favorite, after which the crowd gave a deafening chant — Justin…Justin…Justin, which morphed into USA…USA…USA. It was a moving moment; he hung his hat on his mic stand and crouched on the stage fighting back tears.

This intimate connection was furthered by Moore’s ad-libbing repartee with the crowd throughout his show. To the absolute delight of everyone, he threw in an acoustic version of “Grandpa,” which hadn’t been on the set list, but was requested at a meet-and-greet. 

This kind of interaction with his core base is what builds the kind of serious loyalty that fuels a long career.

In a twist from a regular encore (The Inky Jukebox had hoped and prayed for “Outlaw Like Me”), Moore came back out clad in a Steelers cap instead of his signature cowboy hat, alone, with an acoustic guitar, and proceeded to give a two-song preview of as-yet unheard songs from his upcoming album. They were great, especially “One Dirt Road,” which he indicated would be his next single. He peppered this with an impromptu medley of covers.

In case anyone has looked up which songs appear on the new album, The Inky Jukebox can reveal that “I'd Want It To Be Yours” is a humorous song about women’s bottoms. He literally played his way off the stage, spent.

“You get what you pay for,” he’d quipped earlier. We did: it was priceless.

Off The Beaten Path comes out September 17.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Country Boy, Shake It For Me

Luke Bryan Wants You To Crash His Party

Luke Bryan’s kind of night (according to the lead song on his new album, Crash My Party) involves laying you down and loving you right. And in case you don’t get the message loud and clear, he will gladly demonstrate what lies in store, as evidenced at his live shows. Here’s a taste, artfully compiled by someone set to Thun Thun music. This is NSFW.

If you’re reading the rest of this review after having had to have a lie down, you’re not alone. Luke Bryan has made a steadfast leap onto the booty stage of country hunks in recent years, something that hasn’t hurt — anyone or anything. It certainly hasn’t hurt his record sales or votes for Entertainer of the Year.

The other thing that hasn’t hurt is that his records are really really good. They are well written, well crafted songs that feel unforced and melodic. His general themes — country life, drinking, girls — work well for a guy who comes across as someone you’d want to hang out with. This album is anchored by his first single from it, “Crash My Party,” but it’s anyone’s guess as to which other songs will be singled out for radio play, as they are all contenders.

Bryan’s voice is like motor oil running through cogs, making them glisten. It’s not full of power, but lovely in a ballad, and you get a rare glimpse of him letting go in “Run This Town” when he whoops and hollers towards the end.

The Inky Jukebox did the math and decided that the Target Deluxe edition, which contains four bonus tracks, was the best value. Indeed, the extra songs don’t feel like add-ons, but part of the album as a whole. The day it was released, The Inky Jukebox went to go buy it only to find nothing but empty shelves where it had been. A copy was procured at a Target with a demographic less likely to be hit up by country music fans, but it was still the very last one on the shelf.

If you don’t mind, The Inky Jukebox is going to watch that video again.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Jason Aldean’s Night Train Thunders Through Pittsburgh

Aldean and Owen Will Rock Your Face Off: 
First Niagara Pavilion, August 16th, 2013

Jason Aldean

When the night train rolls through Homestead PA, it makes a long, mournful sound as it snakes around the river, which can be heard from The Inky Jukebox’s bedroom. It is a distinctly American sound, and one which has inspired musicians for generations with its preponderance for metaphor.

Jason Aldean’s Night Train Tour, named after his latest album and single, also rolled through the Pittsburgh area last night, but it made quite a different sound. It rocked your face off.

Actually, it made The Inky Jukebox’s ears feel like they were going to explode because the engineers had turned the amps up so loud it was painful to be anywhere near the front of the lawn at the First Niagara Pavilion. The Inky Jukebox has been to a great many concerts, but this was by far the loudest — perhaps to reach the largest number of people possible, as the sell-out crowd was packed past capacity, with areas normally off-limits opened to concertgoers. So The Inky Jukebox did something she’s never, ever done before: moved further back.

View from mid-hill

That being said, Jason Aldean’s show was the best live music experience so far this year, which is saying something, given the stellar line-up. It wasn’t the most flashy; it didn’t involve the most stage banter; it wasn’t the biggest spectacle — but he delivered pitch-perfect hit after hit non-stop all night, in an unabashed rockfest designed to rattle your teeth and leave you chanting “USA! USA!” along with the punch-drunk crowd. (You know a show has been a winner when 23,000 people break into spontaneous patriotic chanting.)

The Inky Jukebox was actually just pleased to get into the venue, something that wasn’t possible last year, when she missed the show due to a traffic jam approaching the amphitheater exit which must also have prevented thousands from seeing Aldean and his tour mate, Luke Bryan. The year before that, there were so many cars that The Inky Jukebox was forced into overflow parking in somebody’s field a mile from the venue and missed the opening act (Chris Young). One can safely say that Aldean has been very popular in these parts for a long time.

Of course, Aldean has many more hit songs from which to draw this time around, and the crowd around The Inky Jukebox wanted in particular to hear “Night Train,” which was duly delivered at the end of the evening. Further up on the hill, every word was sung with gusto by happily drunken fans, clinging on to one another in sloppy groups or couples, dancing.

One of the highlights of the show was when Kelly Clarkson appeared as if in the flesh (and a red dress) via hologram to sing the duet “Don’t You Wanna Stay.” When a guest star comes out to sing a duet, you want it to knock your socks off, to be even better than the record, and this was. There is nothing remotely like hearing Clarkson’s real-life vocal power, hitting notes mere mortals could never reach. That she wasn't actually physically present was something you couldn't detect from the hill, which was astonishing. 

Aldean’s stage presence has matured too. Whereas two years ago he shuffled nervously on stage from one side to another with nary a word to recognize the crowd, this time around he prowled confidently, delivering an extended ad-lib introduction to “1994,” and pausing to raise a toast to the Pittsburgh Pirates, who as of this writing are at #1. Calling out a town’s sports teams is a good way to connect with them, and this was location-specific in a way that didn’t feel Hello Cleveland! (In a related note, When Aldean mentioned Justin Bieber as part of an anecdote, you never heard such a thunderous boo. “Y’all hatin’ on the Beebs!” he remarked.)

Jake Owen

Pairing Aldean with perennial opening act Jake Owen was a great match, as both have the same audience and general delivery. Owen too has matured as a performer in recent years, getting accustomed to playing larger gigs with an ever-increasing set-list of his own hits. He always provides an energetic set, bouncing around the stage barefoot, with a solid band. He kicked it off with “I’ll Go Anywhere,” the up-tempo leading track form his last album, and ended, surprisingly, with a brand new song — something The Inky Jukebox has never seen an artist do before. It’s always something of a risk to play unheard songs, and Owen dropped this one on the crowd at the peak of his set. The Inky Jukebox and the rest of the packed crowd were not let down: “Days of Gold” proved to be a pumped-up anthem that is sure to be a huge hit.

Jake Owen levitates!

During set change-overs, the crowd was entertained by DJ Silver, who spun popular tracks, which is a nice touch at a show. However, the way he fiddled with the tempo of the songs and broke in with his own comments during key lyrics left the crowd unable to sing along the way they wanted.

And finally, The Inky Jukebox has been itching all season long to write a post about badly dressed concert-goers, but has shied away. This guy, however, is a hero and his cause needs to be aired. Sir: the ladies hear you loud and clear. 

Awesome Aviators!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Worst of the Best

Rolling Stone Produces Another Completely Irrelevant List

It’s been a while since The Inky Jukebox had a Rolling Stone rant, so it made perfect sense for the latest issue to really yank our chain. It’s a theme issue, purportedly to showcase “The Best Live Acts Now (The Greats And What Makes Them Great).”

There’s no point, really, in getting upset about their list of “The 50 Greatest Live Acts Right Now” because it’s so predictably and outrageously silly. Sure — there are some undeniably good live acts on the list (#1 is Springsteen, duh, and Jann Wenner would have bust an artery is the Stones had been placed any lower than #3), and we understand that this list is going to be a mix of mega-money makers and smaller acts, but when whole genres of music are shut out the list is meaningless. Who is Tame Impala? Who is Janelle Monรกe? Who is The National? Who are the Sleigh Bells?

Where is Kenny Chesney? Where are Jason Aldean, Brad Paisley, Carrie Underwood, Luke Bryan? Where is Eric Church, for Gawdsake? (He’s #40!) Taylor Swift comes in at #49, just ahead of that “Stadium Slayer” Fiona Apple. I’m calling her that because a few pages later, that’s what Rolling Stone calls Swift. Seriously? Fiona Apple?

What on earth could be the reason behind this grotesque absence of country acts? (And don’t tell me that Rolling Stone is all about rock music which is why they can ignore country — have you seen how much hip-hip it covers?) The answer can be found when you see the line-up of “experts” they polled. Out of 24 people, the breakdown is as follows: Music Industry Execs = 8; Rolling Stone and other journalists = 4; musicians = 12. But let’s take a closer look at the alleged musicians, shall we? There’s extremely relevant Perry Farrell, Pete Wentz, Trey Ansatasio, someone from Fall Out Boy, someone from a long-named band I don’t have the patience to type out, BOTH Tegan and Sara, and always fair-minded Lars Ulrich. It’s a hipster convention. Shockingly, the lead singer of Alabama Shakes was a voter and her band made it to #16.

On page 48, there is a mini-article called “Because Country Is Where Arena Rock Lives” and it has the underhanded slap of an insult. Every single positive thing mentioned is credited to an old rock act, as if country acts have nothing of their own to offer but mimicry. Rolling Stone assures readers that these acts play plenty of rock covers (by the Rolling Stones!), employ stage designers from rock acts, and imply that even Eric Church, whom they evidently admire, borrows heavily from Metallica (thanks Lars!). As long as mainstream media fail to account for the inherent strength of country acts and treat them like pale imitations of the dinosaurs of old, they will never get a fair break.

Monday, August 5, 2013

No BS: Blake Shelton at Pittsburgh, Aug 2, 2013


Blake Shelton has a pensive moment

The Inky Jukebox does not know whether Blake Shelton, experienced entertainer that he is, should be taken at his word when he appeared taken aback at how populous and exuberant the Pittsburgh crowd was on August 2. It had been years since he’d played in the area, and his star has risen in recent years by dint of his role as a coach on The Voice. From what The Inky Jukebox heard, a number of concert-goers were there to see what he was all about for the first time. We’d like to believe he really meant it, that he wasn’t just delivering schlock when he expressed his appreciation. Why? Because Blake Shelton appeared to give his all and delivered a rollicking good show.
He may have said he was nervous, but he sure didn't seem it. 
What makes a good show, you ask? Well, playing hit after hit after hit helps. Playing them well doesn’t hurt. 
An acoustic set out in the audience
The banter with the crowd in between songs was not only detail-oriented (referring to actual people in the actual crowd), but funny as hell. It doesn’t matter if the old hidden-mullet-in-the-hat trick was a tad predictable; the way he pulled it off made us all laugh out loud. We did not LOL; we laughed our asses off. 

Some beach, somewhere. 
Mr. Shelton can also really play and really sing, and he makes being on stage look effortless.

Here’s Shelton singing his hit “Home” after getting the crowd to twinkle their cell phones. It was purdy.

Footage courtesy of The Inky Jukebox

The crowd at the First Niagara Pavilion was thick and in the mood to party, and sang along to every word. 

The hill already packed for the opening acts
They were even out in force for the opening act, country music nice boy Easton Corbin, who gave a solid set of the old-school country style, liberally sprinkled with fiddle leads and lap steel. He delighted all by pulling out two bang-on covers: Brooks and Dunn’s “Boot Scootin’ Boogie,” and Alabama’s “If You’re Gonna Play In Texas.”

Easton Corbin
Corbin was preceded by actress-turned-country cutie-pie Jana Kramer, who flitted about the stage in an outfit designed to please (the boys): tank top, leather hot pants and Louboutin heels. 

Well hello, Jana Kramer. 
With her long dark hair and legs for miles, Kramer is one of those ladies who is clearly always the hottest girl in the room (or amphitheater). It’s no wonder Brantley Gilbert said “I’ll have her, thanks.” She can sing just like she does on her records, needing no celebrity partner to carry her weight. The line to meet her after the show was LONG.

The more he drinks, the more he drinks, the more he drinks. 
Go see Blake Shelton. The man is a born entertainer and gives you your money's worth and then some. He's no BS; he's the real deal.  

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Lee Brice: Hard Not To Love

Old-School Sexy

The other day, The Inky Jukebox was asked who the sexiest man in country music is. As you can imagine, such a serious question required a great deal of thought. Justin Moore? Absolutely. But how about someone … taller? More beardy? Somewhat burlier? The Inky Jukebox’s mental rolodex was flipping pretty hard before the obvious answer came on the radio.

Lee Brice.

Huh? Oh yes, my friends. He’s your standard slab of 6’ 3” beefcake who wears jeans, an open shirt and Aviators. He’s also that guy whose second album, Hard 2 Love, has been on a regular rotation in The Inky Jukebox’s car. It’s a record with no bad track. 

In fact, several of them are solid keepers, including the excellent “I Drive Your Truck,” “Hard To Love,” and “See About A Girl.”

Brice knows how to write a song though, and has a proven track record of hits for others.

Mr. Brice getting sweaty in Pittsburgh recently
He puts on a good live show, full of energy with a party atmosphere. The Inky Jukebox enjoyed seeing him opening for Brad Paisley recently.

But we have a bone to pick with Mr. Brice, truth be told. Dude: you’re a serious songwriter whose career has taken off. Why, in God’s name, are you using the numeral “2” in the title of your album? The word is “to.” Using numerals instead of words is not only twenty years out of cool, but makes you look like you’re writing for tween girls. Tween girls are not your fanbase: 30 and 40-something grown-ass women are. Tween girls find nothing sexy about beardy, burly guys like yourself.

And that’s how it should be.