Another light week of singles finds us dippin’ our toes into tracks from Texas country and one from the Bluegrass music vocalist Carrie Hassler. The Texas music tunes are all strong, particularly Green River Ordinance’s “Dancing Shoes.” As great as those songs all are, it is Lee Brice and Randy Houser fighting it out for our favorite songs of the week. In the end, both songs are worthy of praise, one for the clear look of an artist on his way to superstardom (Brice) and the other a slightly new sound from one of country music’s best vocalists. We also firmly believe that both songs are stone cold locks to become country radio hits.
Kyle Park – “Leaving Stephenville”
With a delightful fiddle and steel guitar intro and solid telecaster-like lead guitars, “Leaving Stephenville” finds Kyle Park singing a song that just feels good to my ears. It’s happy-sounding little song and the band feels alive on the song with the fiddle and guitars getting strong solos in the middle of the song. The song is the kind travelin’ man song that’s been done to death before but it feels different here with Park’s strong vocal delivery and the whole cheeriness of the song. This is a song that could have a fighting chance on mainstream radio if ever given the chance.
Casey Donahew Band – “Lets Not Say Goodbye Again”
Listening to this Texas-based bands’ Texas radio chart hit feels like I’m listening to some roots rock from the 1990s from bands like Cracker and The Gin Blossoms. This isn’t to say the song is bad. Quite the contrary. It’s a strong song and it works in the Texas music world but I don’t know if the production would work in a mainstream country radio environment as well as Kyle Park’s song would.
Lee Brice – “Hard To Love”
This song is the title track to Lee’s soon-to-be-released sophomore album for Curb Records and after one listen to it, the song feels like the perfect follow-up to #1 hit “A Woman Like You.” While it wasn’t written by Lee, it certainly feels relevent to his life. Whereas “Love Like Crazy” put him on the map and “A Woman Like You” announced that he was ‘in it to win it,’ “Hard To Love” feels like the confirmation that Lee Brice is about to join contemporaries like Jake Owen, Eric Church, Jerrod Niemann and others as the latest wave of young, exciting country artists ready to dominate the charts for the next five to ten years.
Green River Ordinance – “Dancing Shoes”
This Texas-based roots rock act recently penetrated the country charts with “Dancing Shoes,” a song which showcased their country roots without ever abandoning the heartland rock-n-roll sound present on rock chart hits like “Come On.” It’s a sound that is closer to country music and the lyrics do namecheck “Emmylou” (Harris) so it’s certainly a song that doesn’t feel out of place on a country music playlist. The lead singer, Josh Jenkins, is the brother of country artist/songwriter Matt Jenkins (writer of “Heaven” on Jake Owen’s Barefoot Blue Jean Night). I can see a case where G.R.O. makes the ‘transition’ to country the way that Josh Kelley made it after his brother Charles (of Lady A) became a success. This isn’t a comparison between sets of brothers but rather an indication of a natural progression.
Craig Morrison – “Fences”
Australian-native Craig Morrison arrives on the American country music scene with his upcoming self-titled album released through GMV Records. “Fences” is quite honestly, a lyrical gem. The kind of song that any artst, let alone a new one, wants to record. the metaphor of fences being obstacles in one’s life is something that is vivid and certainly true. It’s also a new way to say ‘climb that mounted’ or ‘get over that hurdle.’ Morrison has a strong singing voice that recalls Rodney Crowell and Mark Moffat’s production frames the song perfectly to showcase the required emotion needed to bring a song like this to the masses.
Listen to Craig Morrison – “Fences” here!
Randy Houser – “How Country Feels”
Clearly one of country music’s most talented vocalists (male or female) Randy Houser’s seemily had a problem finding material that connected with audiences the way that first two singles “Anything Goes” and “Boots On” did while he was with Universal South/Show Dog-Universal. Now signed with indie label Stoney Creek Records, Randy Houser comes back to us with a slightly cleaner look (look at the photo on the left) and a sound that really suits his powerful voice. Written by Vicky McGeehee, Wendell Mobley and Neil Thrasher, “How Country Feels” finds Randy singing about the lifestyle of living in the country without ever feeling ‘cliched or hackneyed. Instead what we have is a strong, melodic single that is immediate and hook-filled and sung perfectly. The production from Derek George frames Randy’s voice in a place where he’s able to sing the lyrics with passionate emotion without ever feeling like he’s ‘yelling’ the words to us, a problem his past singles sometimes have had.
Susan Cattaneo – “Little Big Sky”
Gifted with a songwriting style that exudes literal ripped-from-life lyrics married to mainstream-ready melody, Susan Cattaneo debuts with “Little Blue Sky” on her own Jersey Girl Music label. Vocally recalling 10,000 Maniac’s Natalie Merchant at times, Cattaneo is also gifted as a vocalist and on Little Blue Sky she works with producer Jan Stople to create a strong, hook-filled debut single. The lyrics are never hackneyed nor cliched, even if she’s singing about getting where ‘the blacktop disappears’ where she can see nothing but miles and milles of ‘little big sky.’ Mary Chapin Carpenter once made a career out of songs like this and if given the chance Susan Cattaneo should have the same chance.
Carrie Hassler – “Catch My Breath”
The song doesn’t have a chance in hell of getting played on mainstream country radio but this stone country ballad showsoff a vocalist who is best-known for her work in the Bluegrass world. On “Catch My Breath,” written by Bobby K. Boyd, Hassler shows that she has the ability to sing a fiddle and steel guitar drenched ballad that recalls classics from Connie Smith, Tammy Wynette and Jeannie Sealy, in other words, something that would sound great on the stages of the Grand Ole Opry and played on 650 WSM radio. The lyric is sweet with the refrain of “I just need to catch my breath, before you take it away’ telling us all we need to know about the song. The track is one of 8 tracks found on Hassler’s fantastic The Distance album, her latest recording for longtime label Rural Rhythm Records.
Revisiting two recently reviewed singles:
Kristen Kelly – “Ex-Old Man”
This is one cool sounding single. The melody recalls classic hits of the distant past but it also has a sunny disposition to it as well. It finds a woman discussing why she’s at a bar drinking away the drama in her life, that was started by her husband when he cheated with the narrator’s best friend. It’s a real life relationship and rather than getting all “Gunpowder and Lead” about it, Kristen keeps upbeat about the whole affair. The song is different enough to get traction at radio and given her Texas roots, the song is likely to garner lots of support there. Hopefully, this is the first of a long string of hits from a talented and unique singer/songwriter.
Listen to Kristen Kelly’s “Ex-Old Man” here!
Kenny Chesney & Tim McGraw – “Feel Like A Rock Star”
The single may feel like the typical kind of thing Kenny Chesney would do but in many ways it isn’t. Sure, the vocal delivery feels ‘old hat’ and the melody kinda does at times too, but that lyrics are inspirational and serve as a reminder that you can be ‘a rock star’ in whatever part of your life that you want to be. There are rock star teachers, there are rock star cashiers, there are rock stars literally everywhere. “Feel Like A Rock Star” is that kind of song, a song that’s not meant to change the world other than to help people remember that there’s always a positive side to life and how we choose it.
Listen to Kenny Chesney & Tim McGraw’s “Feel Like A Rock Star” here!
Other Weekly Single Recaps:
Weeky Single Recap: March 29, 2012
Weekly Single Recap April 5, 2012