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 second page covering the letter "A"
Alabama -- see artist profile
Lauren Alaina "Wildflower" (Mercury Nashville, 2011)
(Produced by Byron Gallimore)
Absolutely dreadful, and completely phony. The debut album by (yet another) American Idol contestant... She's one of those dreadfully unsubtle Idol singers, wailing away inside some impenetrable fortress of studio-generated wall-of-sound production, a soulless mound of pop-hook cliches, with no margin of error or room for genuine feeling. Bleah. It's an approximation of better music -- Sheryl Crow, etc. -- but so perfectly crafted and unoriginal it's really rather disheartening. How many of these records can they make? And why?
Buddy Alan -- see artist profile
Jason Aldean "Jason Aldean" (Broken Bow, 2005)
(Produced by Michael Knox)
Jason Aldean "Relentless" (Broken Bow, 2007)
(Produced by Michael Knox)
A new kid in Nashville, Georgia-born Jason Aldean has a tall order following up his first album, which scored a #1 chart hit with the rollicking "Hicktown." I'm not sure the lead single on this new disc, "Johnny Cash" has quite the same mojo, but the neo-Southern rock crowd will probably dig it, and I'm pretty sure I ain't the target audience anyway. One thing that stands out about Aldean, and I think this is a real strength, is that he has a modest voice and doesn't try to overreach and get all Tim McGraw-ed out about it. Even though the songs have the same pop trappings as many other post-millennial Top Country acts, Aldean doesn't go over the top all that often, and this low-key approach allows his native drawl to come out: I'm more convinced that he's a genuine good ol' boy than I am of over half the current Top 40 hat acts. He also sings with conviction -- even with all the wailing guitars, Aldean cuts through and brings it home, especially on the slow songs. For my money, ballads like "Do You Wish It Was Me" and "Grown Woman" are the best things on here. It's not my cup of tea, but I think he's worth keeping an eye on...
Jason Aldean "Wide Open" (Broken Bow, 2009)
Jason Aldean "My Kinda Party" (Broken Bow, 2010)
(Produced by Michael Knox)
Is it even possible for a mainstream Nashville country dude to start an album anymore without stuffing in one of those super-fake nostalgia songs about their good old, small-town childhood home? Apparently not. Aldean has about fifty of them on this album, starting off with "Tattoos On This Town," a poppy tune filled with ringing guitars and prefab sentiment; far worse is his geefy attempt at rapping on "Dirt Road Anthem." Oh, well. We all make mistakes, right? It's how we learn and grow. Later on, though, things pick up: on "Church Pew Or Bar Stool," he feels stifled by the small-town vibe (although he immediately defends the folks back home from snobby city folk on "Fly Over States..." By the way dude: could you make up your mind? Small towns, love 'em... or leave 'em?) Top 40 fans might also enjoy his bombastic power ballad duet with Kelly Clarkson, "Don't You Wanna Stay." Overall, I'd say this ain't my cup of tea, but I guess Aldean is doing okay on the charts... I guess it's just one of those times I can honestly say I just don't get it.
Jason Aldean "Night Train" (Broken Bow, 2012)
Daniele Alexander "First Move" (Mercury, 1989)
Daniele Alexander "I Dream In Color" (Mercury, 1991)
(Produced by Harold Shedd)
Gary Allan "Used Heart For Sale" (MCA Nashville, 1996)
Gary Allan "It Would Be You" (MCA/Decca, 1998)
(Produced by Mark Wright & Byron Hill)
Neotrad country that dips a bit too deeply in the brainy, "high-concept" songwriting that has become all the rage in Nashville over the years. The first coupla tunes here are good examples: Allan's voice is great and he's able to project real emotion into the lyrics, but the songs are just too darn sluggish and take forever for the setup to fall into place. Then, he whips out a fine, bouncy honkytonker like "Don't Leave Her Lonely Too Long," or a drinkin' tune like "I've Got A Quarter In My Pocket" that show us that this kid can loosen up and play something lighter and less sluggish than the tinkly-piano ballads the Nashville labels like to push onto radio. There's an Eagles-ish air to Allan's work, which is okay at times, a bit drippy at others. As a debut disc from the heart of Music City, though, it really shows promise... Stay tuned!
Gary Allan "Smoke Rings In The Dark" (MCA Nashville, 2000)
(Produced by Tony Brown & Mark Wright)
Still slick, but with his sound smoothing down into a Raul Malo/Mavericks-y croon (on tunes like the title track and his big, booming cover of Del Shannon's "Runaway")... He still pulls out some hard country soul, particularly on old-fashioned weepers like "Don't Tell Mama," but about half of these tunes are really terrible. Another sad example of how the gap has become between the "good" songs on a typical Nashville album, and the cheesy ones. Still, I'd way rather listen to a Gary Allan album than anything by most of his contemporaries.
Gary Allan "Alright Guy" (MCA Nashville, 2001)
(Produced by Tony Brown & Mark Wright)
Mostly pretty overproduced; his honkytonk spirit gets buried under a mountain of big Nashville wall'o'sound geetars, keyboards'n'organs, and booming, super-slick drums... Still, he covers Pat Green on the title song and Jim Lauderdale's "What's On My Mind," so despite the goopy pop arrangements, Allan's still got his hick thang goin' on. From a hard country perspective, though, this is a skippable album.
Gary Allan "See If I Care" (MCA Nashville, 2003)
A great, no-nonsense neotraditional honkytonk album, with strong, convincing vocals and straightforward arrangements -- plenty of fiddle and steel, and a nice, heavy masculinity on even the sappier, slower numbers. Allan is a hard country singer who apparently has not lost his way amid the increasingly high-tech, drearily high-concept Nashville of today. Even taken as background-music radio pop, this disc holds up pretty well -- there isn't a single song on here that would make me wanna change the channel, and that's almost unheard of with any contemporary country offerings. The disc opens with a rompin', stompin' drinking song ("Drinkin' Dark Whiskey") and closes with a nice duet with Willie Nelson, crooning away on a cover of Jesse Winchester's "A Showman's Life." I hope Allan can keep this up -- 'cause right now he's right up there with Alan Jackson and George Strait as a true-country hero. And this is a mighty fine record, all things considered.
Gary Allan "Tough All Over" (MCA Nashville, 2005)
Gary Allan "Living Hard" (MCA Nashville, 2007)
Gary Allan "Greatest Hits" (MCA Nashville, 2007)
Of the current crop of Top 40 hat acts, Gary Allan stands out as a superior singer, able to coast atop the lavish modern production and sound natural and sincere -- the guy really knows how to sing a song. This best-of collection is a perfect introduction to his work, gathering all the biggest hits (and adding a couple of new singles so fans will have to pick it up...) For the most part, his twanger side is left off this set, but even so it's worth checking out, particularly if you like Alan Jackson or other neotradders who can still tap into county's old-school vibe. If you want to hear Allan sing honkytonk, you should track down his old albums (particularly 2003's See If I Care) but if you just want the radio hits, rolled up together in one neat package, then this is a mighty useful disc. The new songs, "A Feeling Like That" and the uptempo "As The Crow Flies," fit right in -- maybe slicker than some of us might want, but still pretty darn good. Allan's the real deal: a country craftsman who should be around for a long time to come!
Gary Allan "Get Off On The Pain" (MCA Nashville, 2010)
Gary Allan "Set You Free" (MCA Nashville, 2013)
(Produced by Gary Allan, Greg Droman, Jay Joyce & Mark Wright)
He was so much cooler fifteen years ago. The subtle allegiance to hard-country twang that drew me towards Allan's work in the 1990s seems to be pretty much gone: this is a glossy, overly-controlled, soulless pure-pop set. Technically "country," in the modern Nashville sense, but about as far away from true twang as you can get, full of shimmering, multi-textured electronics and lyrics that are a little too lofty and formulaic for me. Oh, well. Of course, the album hit #1 right away: I am not the target audience for this one.
Susie Allanson "Don't Say You're Mine" (ABC, 1976) (LP)
Yikes. I mean, I guess the music's okay, but she has kind of a scary, not-that-great and somewhat irritating voice... it's amazing she had as much success on the Country charts as she did in the late '70s. Halfway through this album, I realized she had a sort of Vegas-y showtunes vibe going on, and sure enough: Allanson's previous triumphs came as a cast member of "Hair" and "Jesus Christ Superstar." It's worth noting that none of the songs on this particular album (which is kind of a trainwreck) had any chart success; maybe when she switched labels (and presumably producers), the folks over at Curb had more success getting her to shed some of the brassy Broadway affectations and learn a style more appropriate to actual country music. I dunno: when I find out, though, I'll let you know.
Susie Allanson "A Little Love" (MCA, 1977) (LP)
Susie Allanson "We Belong Together" (Warner/Curb, 1978) (LP)
Susie Allanson "Heart To Heart" (Elektra/Curb, 1979)
Susie Allanson "Susie" (United Artists, 1980) (LP)
Deborah Allen "Anthology" (Renaissance, 1998)
Her initial chart entries were "duets" with countrypolitan crooner Jim Reeves, whose death in 1964 didn't prevent the RCA label from releasing singles for decades to come. A trio of these tunes kicks off this disc, with Allen's Parton-esque vocals engulfed by a barrage of slightly piercing (and entirely egregious) string arrangements. She swiftly emerged as a solo singer, at her best fronting perky synthabilly hits like "I've Been Wrong Before" and a whole host of drippier Flashdance-y followups. This is a pretty comprehensive retrospective of her work on RCA, Capitol, and the Giant imprint... Maybe not the greatest hick music ever, but her fans will be thrilled to track this disc down...
Deborah Allen "Trouble In Paradise" (Capitol, 1980) (LP)
Deborah Allen "Cheat The Night" (RCA, 1983) (LP)
Deborah Allen "Let Me Be the First" (1984)
Deborah Allen "Telepathy" (1987) (LP)
Deborah Allen "Delta Dreamland" (Giant, 1993)
Deborah Allen "All That I Am" (1994)
Deborah Allen "The Best Of Deborah Allen" (Curb, 2000)
Deborah Allen "Hands On" (Southbound Sound, 2003)
Deborah Allen "Memphis Princess" (Renaissance, 2006)
Harley Allen "Across The Blueridge Mountains" (Folkways, 1983)
Harley Allen & Mike Lilly "Suzanne" (Folkways, 1985)
A sweet bluegrass set, featuring Red Allen's son, Harley, who would later go on to be a successful Nashville songwriter. This is a nice album, not dazzling, but heartfelt and relaxed, and obviously drenched in the tradition. There are some more folkie, "progressive" touches that hint at his future directions, but mostly this is pretty stripped-down and traditional sounding. Worth checking out.
Harley Allen "Another River" (Mercury, 1996)
(Produced by Carson Chamberlain & Dirk Johnson)
Not bad! Songwriter Harley Allen -- who wrote or co-wrote every song on this album -- has a smoothed-out honkytonk pop approach that sounds very much like Rodney Crowell or even Marty Stuart: impassioned but still rootsy, with a tremulous, emotive edge that pulls you in, but can get a little whiny at times. His lyrics are fairly dense (I'd be hard-pressed to recall a single chorus off the entire album) but it's balanced out by a no-nonsense twangitude that keeps the music on an honest, even keel. Consistently listenable and fairly solid... If you like Rodney Crowell, you'll love this.
Harley Allen "Live At The Bluebird Cafe" (American Originals, 2001)
Judy Allen "Especially For You" (Stop, 1972) (LP)
One of those lost, orphan albums of the early '70s... Ms. Allen actually had her chart hits a little later on, in 1978, with a brief mid-1970s stint on Polydor, but apparently those Back Forty singles weren't enough to persuade the label to put out a full album of her work... Perhaps someday she'll get a full retrospective set, combining these songs with the later stuff? Maybe... who knows?
Rex Allen -- see artist discography
Rex Allen, Jr. -- see artist discography
The Almost Brothers "The Almost Brothers" (MTM, 1986) (LP)
Commercial Country Albums - More Letter "A"
Hick Music Index