Are you a George Jones guy in a Garth Brooks world? A Loretta Lynn gal trying to understand why people still call Shania Twain a "country" artist?
Well, then this website is for you! Here's your chance to read all about Nashville pop, from the late-'50s "Nashville Sound" and the "countrypolitan" scene of the '70s to today's chart-toppers and pretty-boy hat acts, seen through the lens of DJ Joe Sixpack, a hick music know-it-all with a heart of gold...
Your comments and suggestions are welcome, particularly suggestions for artists or albums I might have missed. Other types of twang are reviewed elsewhere in my Hick Music Guide.
This is the first page covering the letter "E"
Although some of his roots-rockin' tunes are a little too slick and (would-be) commercial for me, this still-under-the radar John Haitt-like songwriter has some good tunes, stuff that'll draw you in, no matter how indier-than-thou you are. Some of these songs (including some of the fun ones) are clearly alt-y bait, like "Sh*thole Bar" and "F**king Forty," and while they're fun the first time around, they outstay their welcome on repeat listens. Other songs, like "Lowlife" and "Play Some Skynyrd" are pretty durable. It's not all novelty material, either: there are some serious songs on here as well, though they tend to be really downcast and a little overproduced. Worth checking out, though!
(Produced by Richard Marx, Robin Wiley & Keith Stegall)
Bland, generic, Britney Spears-ish pop half-heartedly masquerading as Nashville 'mersh... The teenaged Edwards was apparently a protege of Lance Bass, of the pop band 'NSync, and this record shows how the apple doesn't fall far from the tree... Other than a little bit of tacked-on pedal steel, there isn't much that's "country" about this album... Nor is there much that's interesting. Edwards is a pretty weak singer -- she could do alright on one of those TV talent shows, but her clunky phrasing sinks her every time. Apparently the Nashville establishment agreed: despite the studio work of producers Keith Stegall, et al, this disc went nowhere on the charts. Good thing, too.
(Produced by Tony Brown & Jimmie Lee Sloas)
At the tender age of sixteen, Oklahoman Katrina Elam got her entry into Nashville as a published songwriter, and here on her full-length debut, the 22-year old wrote or co-wrote all but two of the songs; pretty impressive for a newcomer. I can't say I care much for her vocals -- too much soul-ish swooping and sexy cooing -- but she sure does have the current Nashville rock-pop formula down pat, complete with the bombastic, swelling orchestrations and wave after wave of electric guitars... I'm not into it, but it has the feel of something over-the-top enough that it might just go over really, really big. I'm sure Elam will go places, soon enough.
An inoffensive, but insubstantial mix of modern teen-pop and glossy contemporary country. Elliott doesn't have a great voice, and her penchant for untwangy, mid-tempo power ballads only serves to underline her shortcomings. The songs mostly seem like wordy, B-list material, with a few exceptions, such as Matraca Berg's "Some People Fall, Some People Fly," which has a strong thematic hook, and the bluesy title track, which allows Elliott to explore her superficial similarities to the young Tanya Tucker. Her mild snarl is undercut, though, by her nice-girl image, particularly on abstinence anthems such as her self-penned "You Wanna What?," which has the album's most vigorous guitar work, but is lyrically a little over-obvious and speaks to a limited audience. Overall, she strikes me as an artist who has potential, but still is pretty callow and too young to really bring much emotional resonance to her songs. Similarly, her phrasing needs time to grow, she seems pretty limited, and in particular she seems unable to transcend the confines of the stock country-pop arrangements that surround her. Here on her debut, Elliott doesn't even qualify as a second-stringer, but I'd still be interested to hear what she does a few years down the line...
When people say that Nashville has "lost its roots," and that country ain't country anymore, they are talking about bands like Emerson Drive, a would-be N'Sync-style hick music boy band, whose look is almost as preposterous as their sound. ED's thematic range runs from chubby-cheeked, boyish enthusiasm to cheesy, overblown romantic sappiness -- nothing rugged or off-color, or overly macho, and the music is equally neutered and unexciting. Productionwise, they thrown in everything they can think of, and see what sticks -- musically, they opt for a group harmony sound, but they do it rather poorly... Their high notes are excruciatingly irritating, a liability that is underscored by the weakness and unoriginality of their lyrics. Basically, one big blehh. I can sort of see, given the hopeless bad taste of a certain section of the modern-day country-buying public, how these guys could be legitimately popular, but mostly I think it has more to do with big-budget marketing than anything else. These guys are a blight upon the face of country (and popular) music.
There's an old joke in rock music that on their third record, every band winds up doing a concept album... I'm not sure if that's what Emerson Drive are attempting on this disc (which is actually only their second), but they might as well be, with all the puffed-up, pretentiousness that's on display. Huge, bombastically popped-up tunes with oceanic orchestrations cloak remarkably vacuous lyrics, songs that are made all the more ridiculous by the occasional attempts to sound macho (as on "Running Back To You") while evoking the memory of old Bryan Adams power ballads. Is this really "country"? Oh, wait, I do hear a few fiddles here and there -- and there is one tune, "Fishin' In The Dark," that starts with the stompy rhythm from that old Queen song, where they get kinda Southern rock-y and actually got me to nod my head in time with the beat... But otherwise... jeez... this ain't my kinda country. I guess I can see the appeal, but I'll pass on this one.
Emilio "Life Is Good" (Capitol, 1995)
(Produced by Barry Beckett)
Slick commercial country recordings by Tex-Mex star Emilio Navaira, who did okay as a Nashville-style country singer, but is best known for his Spanish-language recordings. This kicks off with some reasonably vigorous honkytonk-pop, but soon slips into too-slick material... Overall, this is kind of an overripe album, with overproduced ballads and thick, synthetic arrangements that weigh Navaira down... But there are a few songs that hard country fans could like as well; could be worth your while, but you cold also probably skip it and it'd be fine.
OK, sure, given her eventual huge success as a Nashville Top 40 artist, it might be a little bit of a stretch to call this album "alt.country..." Still, Sara Evans' traditionalist throwback sound was certainly unique for Nashville back when this album first came out .. Sure, there, have been neo-traditionalists up the wazoo in recent decades, but on this record, Evans struck a peculiarly rural note, particularly in her gruff vocals, which bear a remarkable resemblance to Melba Montgomery... What's cooler still is that a couple of the songs on here were actually co-written by Montgomery, so the likeness was no mere coincidence! From and alt-y point of view, later albums were a bit of a letdown, drifting into sappier, poppier terrain, but this disc was pretty swell, and Evans is certainly an artist to keep an eye on...
On the opening tracks, Evans is still keeping it real, but the success of the overblown title track hit single, with its lavish, bombastic arrangments, spelled out the future for Evans. This disc is a nice midway ground between her rootsier days and the soul-drenched leanings of Y2K's "Born To Fly." Some great songwriting is in evidence, and plenty of comparatively restrained musicianship backing her up.
This is where Evans really loses it, at least as far as the trad crowd goes. This disc is packed with super-bombastic, overproduced neo-Nashville hokum... Evans (along with half of Nashville) went pop-soul koo-koo as the millennium turned. I guess this stuff sells, 'cause almost every song on here got peeled off as a single over the next couple of years, but it's really not Evans at her best. She's just so good when she sings real country ballads that it's disheartening to hear her lose all expressiveness and emotion as she strains to become one of those wailing, torturous, all-but-twangless, Celine Dion-wannabee, rock'n'popsters. It may make money, but it's not good music. Oh, well.
Another overly-lavish, rock/pop tinged outing, featuring lofty lyrics, synthy, orchestral arrangements and wild, swooping, soul-ish vocals -- perhaps not as Celine Dion wannabee as Shania Twain or Faith Hill's latest, but still pretty disappointing. The title track is stuffed with psycho-babbly Oprahspeak, about "no boundaries" and the like. It's all a bit much for me, but not overly dissimilar to her last album, which was also pretty florid and popped-out. Still, it seems like Evans is straining past her stylistic strengths, and would be better off just keeping things simple. Can't these country artists just play country anymore?
Sara Evans "Real Fine Place" (RCA, 2005)
(Produced by Jimmy Bowen & Skip Ewing)
Northern California's Skip Ewing, a middle-rung hitmaker in the late '80s, sure looked like a skinny, dorky little goober, but he had a big, rich voice that fit in well with the slower, slick sounding arrangements he favored. I guess his music sits right on the edge for me; it's almost the kind of sentimental heartsongs that I like, and falls just short of utterly dismal country-pop -- not Don Williams, but not quite Kenny Rogers, either. Mostly, it's his voice that makes this stuff worth it; the musical end is rather bland and poppy, sounding almost Doobie Brothers-ish at times. Fading from the spotlight in the early '90s, Ewing continues to be a prolific songwriter, providing some of the sappier Top-40 material for the likes of Collin Raye and Kenny Chesney. In recent years, Ewing has tended to record gospel material when he gets into the studio himself.
(Produced by Jerry Crutchfield)
There's a little more twang in his tunes than on his earlier work for MCA, and in general this is a pretty good, if innocuous, soft-country album. Odd that this album never even entered the charts... guess maybe it was too mellow for the rockin' "young country" and line-dancing scene of the early 'Nineties, or maybe after his previous Capitol album tanked, they just decided to bury this one and count it as a tax writeoff... (Just theorizing; I don't actually know what the real story is...) Anyway, this ain't a bad album -- there are a few tracks that fall flat, and a few that stretch a nice, simple melody further than need be, but there are also several songs that are quite simply quite nice. "You Only Come Up When I'm Down" and "Losing You Is New To Me" are both fine, straightforward country tunes, while "Grandma's Garden" is good for folks who are suckers for sentimental family-related songs. Most of the material on here was written by Ewing, and indeed one of the album's weaker moments is his cover of Elton John's "Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word," a version that starts out with promise, but kind of fizzles out. Still, if you like rootsy country that's kind of on the soft side, this is a good record to check out.
(Produced by Billy Joe Walker, Jr.)
A mainly-gospel album, with secular-sounding "love" songs that have barely-masked religious overtones, like the uptempo "All That Matters To Me," which kicks off the album. It's on the more upbeat and more country-sounding songs that Ewing excels; the middle section of the record has a few slower, sappier songs that drags things down. But Ewing is one of those welcome rare artists who can take the most formulaic production and still bring the songs to life -- for the most part this is an album that'll draw you in and get your toes tapping. Standout secular tracks include "Some Fools," which sings the virtues of sad country songs... All in all, a nice record (though folks who don't like gospel material will want ot steer clear of this one...)
(Produced by Buddy Killen)
Well, yes, they actually are the same band who had a huge pop hit in 1978 with "Kiss You All Over," a synth-heavy, whispered ditty that had kind of a mysterious, creepy air about it... Well, then they went country and landed a slew of #1 hits in the early '80s, none of which are particularly interesting, looking back at it now. Ostensibly, they were a vocal harmony band, along the lines of Alabama or the Bellamy Brothers, except that the harmonies don't really provide much contrast to lead singer J.P. Pennington's throaty vocals. It's radio friendly, but insubstantial. The farther they went along, the more willing they were to indulge in tacky pop modernizations, and on songs like "Hang On To Your Heart" or the reggae-tinged "I Could Get Used To You," discerning country fans will find themselves suffering immensely. This is a handy 10-song look back at their biggest hits, but it's not a record that I, personally, ever need to revisit.
Commercial Country Albums - Letter "F"
Hick Music Index