so if you were wondering about the word 'riff', the thing below's all hook + turnaround = essence of the blues.
making music with whales, making music to fight climate change, chattering with the squirrels, etc: these are very bad ideas. and the amazing thing is that even as you are frolicking grimly among the whales as they bellow like bono, you are doing less than nothing to save the planet. at least the music is irrelevant, though. but the new york times cannot run even a piece about singing with the whales without going brainbrainbrain. possibly, the idea is to compensate for not having a brain by saying 'brainbrainbrain' all the time. it's like getting hungry and feeding yourself the word 'sticky bun.'
Music expresses emotions, and that’s why we love it so. Whales and humans may share a capacity to express complex emotions. You see, both our brains contain a mysterious kind of cell called the spindle neuron, that until recently was known only in the brains of primates. We don’t know exactly what it is for, but scientists believe it has something to do with the ability to experience complex, layered emotions. And whales have three times the number of these cells in their brains than we do.
as per usual the spindle neurons are doing nothing for anyone, just stuck in there for the sound or something. the pseudo-science is completely out of keeping with the tone or point of the piece, but you can't write anything for the nytimes without putting that paragraph in it. scientists speculate that it is possible that mystical mystery neurons may be involved. astounding? yes. but that is what science shows.
and not to rag on y'all too bad, but i do want to point out that the times just published this sentence: 'Music expresses emotions, and that’s why we love it so.' scientists speculate that the 'blank' neuron is responsible for the production of such sentences, and though whales have blank neurons too, they are so amazing because they never yap the boilerplate like that. climate change, though, may induce a human-like neurological erasure even in humpback whales. it is the tragedy of the commons.
sometimes i seem awfully negative as a blogger. anyway, i think the thing below is one of the best pop songs of the last few years, by one of the best artists.
the lightness of touch should be a lesson to all bludgeoners, from bono to bruce. it refers to all sorts of moments in the history of soul, funk, hip hop, pop, but ed at his best is also inimitable and extremely contemporary. and he can extremely rap and play guitar and write.
oh and of course there this one - showing all them skills and then some - which conquered the world awhile ago.
as i may have mentioned, i'm teaching a course on american popular music. it occurs to me that the twentieth century in american music was comparable to, say, the sixteenth century in italy in visual arts. i am quite serious about that. so, you know, botticelli, leonardo, michelangelo, girgione, titian, up to correggio and caravaggio. or: louis armstrong, charlie parker, bessie smith, blind willie mctell, robert johnson, jimmie rodgers, hank williams, tammy wynette, waylon jennings, billie holiday, duke ellington, sam cooke, otis redding, thomas dorsey, aretha, janis and jimi, run dmc, public enemy, biggie, eminem, bill monroe, early scruggs, muddy waters, little walter, b.b. king, duane allman, professor longhair, oh there is no need ever to stop.
stephanie convery in the the guardian on iggy azalea: "actually, she is the inevitable product of neoliberal capitalism, and in some ways she is much a victim of it as a culprit." really, you have just got to, got to, got to stop this bullshit (rap that line). 'neoliberal capitalism', i assert, is a non-referring phrase, and the fact that people are still picking non-stop at the rotting scraps of marxism is just pathetic. you've got an intellectual structure, but no contact with reality whatsoever. and also that intellectual structure is stupid and useless and extremely over and extremely disastrous. just grapple with this assertion: iggy azalea is the inevitable outcome of economic forces. seriously, the dialectically material process of history was always going to culminate in 'new bitch'. you are talking about iggy azalea. shut up and enjoy the damn album, will you?
the idea that iggy is a victim of whatever economic structures are around her encapsulates much of what is wrong with this whole obsolete line of thought. she may appear to be a powerful and creative person who is expressing herself boldly in public space and who gives pretty damn good flow, but really it's all false consciousness, and if she knew her real interests, she'd agree with me, stephanie convery, and go work at a non-profit. actually, i think neoliberal capitalism is being victimized by iggy azalea. one might focus instead on the ways she is playing with race and gender, using the signifiers in her own project. the deafness and joylessness with which this post-critical-theory leftism approaches music is a good sign of the world that it wants to induce.
and let me instruct bono & co. as to the nature of the miracle of joey ramone: it had to do with economy, directness, hilarity. joey ramone never took himself too seriously; bono never for a moment has not. joey warbled of lobotomies; bono delivers one, every time out. he is the very voice of my headache, a voice thatmight be described as migrainous, which, thankfully, turns out to be a word. great sunglasses, though.
i'm teaching a first-year seminar on american popular musics. we're going blues, jazz, country, rock, punk, hip hop. (there are several whole genres i would have liked to add, believe me.) i am pretty deep in the standard histories. the first day, one of the students asked a pretty basic question: which came first, blues or jazz? i have been contemplating, but actually it would take a pretty long spelling out.
the short answer is that the history of these forms before publishing and, in particular, recording, is swathed in myth and will never be fully recovered. and in particular, i say the origin of the blues is up for grabs. early sources seem to hear something like it here, something else like it there: in the mississippi delta, around new orleans, in east texas, in georgia, in missouri, in arkansas. so the first thing you should do is divest yourself of the idea that any of these coud be in any way insular cultures; musicians and styles are traveling throughout the black south.
the idea that the blues originates in the mississippi delta makes it a 'folk' or peasant form, migrating to cities. this origin is far less agreed-on in the scholarship than it once was. and here is my theory, ok? it radiates from new orleans, the hub of the semi-circular blues region. in the 1890s or 1900s in nola, there may have been a sprawling group of musics known indifferently or at different moments or in different neighborhoods as 'blues' and 'jazz': i do not think these are distinct forms early on. one things the books say is that ma rainey, for example, 'hired top jazz musicians' like armstrong or oliver, but i wonder whether she or they heard themselves as playing two different genres. not, i should think.
if you were listening to the legendary originator of jazz buddy bolden, i bet it'd rest on the twelve-bar. most every jelly roll morton or king oliver recording is either a straight blues or rests on blues elements. most of them are called blues. they would be, in the early 20s, because the blues was something of a commercial fad (later superseded by 'jazz'/'swing').
no one knows what blues sounded like in the delta before performers from new orleans could have passed through, or even before people could have heard recordings of the new orleans 'jazz' bands playing the blues. obviously, we are flowing up and down america's first super-highway, and instantly it's in memphis and helena and st. louis and chicago.
really where i, like a lot of people, hear jazz exploding in my head is in the louis solos on "chimes blues" and "west end blues". one thing that makes them jazz is the virtuosity of the soloist, which is shown specifically by his ability to improvise on, play with, and potentially rip apart, the blues form. it is obvious he has known this form from the womb. this is true of that jelly roll thing too: it takes a 32-bar ragtime break in the middle of a series of blues verses. and yet the improvisation or break-out is precisely an improvisation on or from the blues: i am telling you they are not primordially distinct. but jelly roll always adds the syncretic element: the latin thing or the rag, and that eclecticism is characteristic of the unfolding history of jazz as it is not in the later history of the blues.
there is no less reason the blues should be a commercial form that went folk than that it should be a folk form that went commercial. and by 'commercial' i mean everything from storyville and parade crews to medicine and tent and riverboat shows to publishing and recording to people picking up gigs at parties or jukes, or even busking from town to town.
i cannot tell you how past beyonce and jay-z i am. it's inexpressible how too much of them there has been. also, i await eagerly the as it were end of the era of the butt, in which butts such as be's, nicki's, and iggy's were celebrated in art and song and in which specific butts were feared and worshipped the world over. one of my life goals - my telos - is not to die of auto-erotic asphyxiation; another is not to leave behind me any encomia to my own ass.
one of the most conspicuous features of country music now is the influence of bruce springsteen. in fact 'springsteen' was a hit for eric church last year, though perhaps that song is more an imitation of taylor swift's 'tim mcgraw' than of the bruce. and indeed, bruce has been an influence - or has been thought to be an influence - for decades, and the first steve earle album was greeted as springsteeny (at the time the greatest compliment available to the sort of critic who is always feeling for the consensus), with the small-town south replacing the urban north. but now it's everywhere. and it may not surprise you - since as you may know there are few things in the world i hate more than springsteen's music - that i think the influence is entirely pernicious. here's an example on the current charts.
why do i think springsteen lies behind this? well, the pounding, basically tuneless 4/4; the hysterical bellowing, unmotivated by the material (he's really feeling these feelings incredibly deeply - they are seizing his whole person and making him bray and bawl in pain or ecstasy, but why or about what is mysterious); the anthemic/bludgeoning lyric that on inspection dissolves into emptiness. (admittedly, currington isn't being as extreme as bruce in these dimensions.) to experience all of these features at their maximum, spin 'bored in the u.s.a'. then work out the trauma in music therapy. never has something that sucks so bad been greeted with such incomprehensible ecstasy. ok, ok, there is david bowie.
i don't hear that song as very bossy, though it is extremely excellent.
when he first came out, i heard bruce as playing in the mode of van morrison. "the girls walk by dressed up for each other, and the boys do the boogie-woogie on the corner of the street": bruce pretty much derived his lyrics from those lines, if i mistake not. but i say that anything he's done compares very unfavorably to, say, the song below. they really used basically the same band set-up, the same soul influences, the same performance style. but van played with real soul, real subtlety, real variety, real melody. plus van was doing this long before bruce.
who were the most important artists of the 20th century, and what were the most important art forms? oh you can advocate for, maybe, james joyce, or picasso, or pollock, or henry moore, or mies van der rohe, or something. here are my candidates: louis armstrong, muddy waters, hank williams, grandmaster flash, bill monroe, bob marley, fela kuti, thomas dorsey, eminem, aretha. popular music was the dominant art form of the century: the one with the biggest audiences and the actual effects. also, it was the source of century's greatest beauties and most pointed challenges to various conceptions of beauty. you can pretend that novels re-articulate lives, but i bet you and your friends could almost tell the story of your lives in songs. maybe it's hard to compare hank williams to schoenberg, much less picasso, but hank's music was so very much better, so very much more important to so many more people, so comparatively human, so democratic, so vastly more beautiful, moving, and challenging. so more true.
if you want to get the origin of hip hop, lee perry and the upsetters' 'jungle lion' of 1969 is a good window.
kind of an unimaginably radical pomo production. alright here's why it's proto-hip hop: samples galore (this is early for that); it's a sonic collage, achieved by hook or by crook. vocals are chanted or interjected rather than sung. there's even that early kind of beatboxing, invented by prince buster in the ska era. and the artist is the dj/producer, ok? on turntables and mixing board.
the biggest difference in what herc and flash brought to new york almost a decade later is the beat: perry works with layers of rock steady recordings, and they work with disco and funk: a much more foursquare beat as opposed to the rock steady-reggae lilt. but even here, perry starts the song on the square soul sample, then drops in the rock steady beat. i have to say that the jamaicans at their best created a richer sonic landscape than early hip hop.
then of course, the traditions just waver into each other again as hip hop comes to infuse jamaican music in turn by the 80s. it's a good example of how real popular music genres occur. later black nationalist themes emerge in hip hop, but that's there in perry too, of course.
i'm re-obsessed with chrissie hynde. sasha frere-jones's piece in the new yorker about her and the new album is excellent, and i feel that chrissie is finally being appreciated at the rate she deserves. the one thing i'd quibble with frere-jones about for a second is portraying her as some kind of pure classic rocker. that is there, no doubt. but it is always bent. she definitely sounds nothing like the kinks, who aren't twisted enough.
i've been listening back through to try to generate a more definitive best of. in my own 2008 entry (linked second above) i was realy wrong about viva el amor! i think, a mistake rectified in the list below. like i say, one of great catalogues in pop music since 1980. in some ways one might compare her to her contemporary lucinda williams .
i go to sleep
message of love
i hurt you
i'm a mother
how do i miss you?
stop your sobbing
middle of the road
birds of paradise
back on the chain gang
never do that
night in my veins
sense of purpose
brass in pocket
you're the one
boots of chinese plastic
can't help falling in love
the last ride
nails in the road
one more time
speaking of brassy, i am definitely feeling miranda lambert's album platinum. she is a very distinctive and more or less wholly admirable artist. she is not one of the great voices in country history, but she can really sing in her very own way. not to be too negative, but replacing faith hill with miranda as the queen of country music is an extreme upgrade. oh man she radiates attitude like a girlish sun. and i feel the material is very worthwhile. actually, she's about as bluesy as it is possible to be in pop music today: basically the accompaniment is blues rock as only them nashville cats can kill it. also i think she's building up a whole account of what it is to be a youngish american woman now, with both good humor and genuine emotion. on the title cut she re-works nietzsche: "what doesn't kill you only makes you blonder", which is far more plausible than the original ("what doesn't kill you puts you an asylum, signing your letters 'god'").
one of my favorite handful of pop artists, chrissie hynde, is very back. (i tried to say in the linked entry why i love the music, insofar as one can say such a thing, so i won't repeat it all.) this is her "first solo album" (well, the last was attributed to "chrissie and the fairground boys"), but though i'm sure that collaboration has been important to her, chrissie hynde has always been a solo act.
the fairground boys album (fidelity) was interesting in various ways, more rootsrock than her usual mode. actually, that's true of break up the concrete (the last album attributed to the pretenders) as well. but i guess after living with it for awhile i kind of let it go with a bit of diappointment; i wasn't necessarily completely feeling her man of that moment, 'jp', with whom she dueted on fidelity, the only real non-solo moment in the recording career). the new one, stockholm, is extremely good. "you're the one", e.g., started running chronically through my head after i previewed it for 30 seconds on itunes. the album has all the strengths of her best work, i think, and several songs that stand up well within her repertoire, which is one of the great collections of songs and recordings in the pop music of the last several decades.
oooh that one is good. nice tribute to austin, too, including mw's old gym.
janie is always puzzled by the way i use 'pop', which she uses to mean hyper-commercial teen-oriented dancy stuff, "pure pop", like katy perry, say. in other words 'pop' is a particular genre, as opposed to hip hop or country, for example (though there can be 'pop country' or 'pop hip hop' in this sense of 'pop'.) i basically mean 'popular' or all non-high-art music, so more or less everything but "classical" and maybe post-bop jazz. art music should be repressed, with mortar shells or napalm if that's what it takes.
there have been some conspicuous absences in the history of hip hop, such as out gay artists and also white women. now white men have been extremely present in hip hop since the beasties/rick rubin in the early '80s, and black women have mc'ed from close to the get-go (get ahold of mc lyte, e.g.: i'm not going to do the whole history, starting with the real roxanne etc). and there have been occasional rapping white girls (oh, princess superstar, for example). but iggy azalea is the breakthrough. she's everywhere. she's good. she makes her own whitegirlness a theme, even as she sounds blacker than chuck d. it's like we elected a black president, only without the severe let-down.
ok i say the one below will be an extremely #1 pop hit.
(it helps to have a 13-year-old daughter!) ok a couple of slices of the early history of the female mc.
the main difference between black women and white women is that black women are sassy, whereas white women are brassy.
continuing lp excavations: one of my favorite acts of the 80s was the bellamy brothers. if you are me, you hesitate on that a bit: you want to say you were listening to george jones or whatever it may be. the bellamy brothers are no hardass country act, but represent one of the basic pop modes of the era. there are many gimmicks, jokes, etc. ("if i said you had a beautiful body", "lovers live longer".) it's a sort of guilty pleasure.
and yet i'm not guilty at all. they had a bunch of great songs. the arrangements and vocals are extremely straightforward and have aged well. some of these songs have been running through my head intermittently since 1985; these are some of the songs i find myself humming, whistling, etc. most often. one move they made was to try to integrate reggae into country, sometimes rather primitively ("get into reggae, cowboy"). still they actually play it well for good ole boys.
it's not always the case that greatest hits packages are the best representations of their artists, of course, but i do think that's the case here. if i'm recalling correctly, "greatest hits, volume 2" was one of the last lp's i bought before switching to cd's. or maybe it was among the last lp's that record labels sent me in my capacity as a critic, before they all switched to cd's.
that is a very beautiful song, i think.
you can't kill country music, i believe, and let's take the stunning new album by sturgill simpson, metamodern themes in country music, as yet another wave of evidence. first off, the name and story are, er, almost too good to be true. as i get it, that's kentucky coal-mining people (his grandfather "from way back up in the holler" introduces the album), navy, drifting and drinking, saved by the love of a good woman.
as in jamey johnson, waylon has to be the basic influence, and perhaps johnson writes somewhat better songs. but sturgill is an even better singer: maybe as good a country singer as there is alive. he is still emerging, if you ask me, and metamodern sounds is transcendently better than his good debut, high top mountain. but to the jamey/waylon thing he adds here touches of keith whitley, vern gosdin, george, randy travis, alan jackson; he's got the whole history of male country vocals right there. it is derivative, but at its most riveting moments more than that: he blows like a howling storm, baby. "it ain't all flowers" - which doesn't seem to be up on youtube, will show you what i mean. (i'd also like to give you "the promise")
he could still emerge more in the whitley hyper-supple emotive sector, but it's remarkable what he can do with that voice all the way round .
he can play some guitar. as to the "metamodern" thing; there are samply and phase-shifty touches, but i wouldn't make too much of that. "a picture's worth a thousand words, but a word ain't worth a dime": the writing's maturing too. he does steer away from country outlaw cliches, which come so easy for people who work in this style.
so here's a somewhat better, or at least more seamless, version of the current mating of hip hop and country, currently top five on the country chart. one would think that this would be pretty controversial among country fans, but if so i haven't hear about it. it really is a version of the origin of all american popular music styles, which is not to endorse this particular song. it could be worse, though.
one possible goal from here would be to use this vocabulary to mean something.
somehow i sort of missed pistol annies (angeleena presley, miranda lambert, and ashley monroe), like when i did my 2013 top five country albums. i had them vaguely in mind as a bit of fun commercial exploitation, a kind of country spice girls. nothing could be wronger, or - looking at it the other way round - less right. instead, for lambert, it is a shelter from the demands of being the queen of country music. the music is extremely traditionalist, the arrangements sparse and direct. the harmonies are very lovely.
[left to right: monroe, presley handling the low end, lambert]
one reason i missed them is that it took me awhile to catch up with monroe and realize that she is the great whitegirl hope, one of the very best singers and writers working in any genre today. pistol annies is to a large degree a vehicle for monroe; she's all over the writing, and perhaps also the dominant vocal presence. miranda lambert is actually quite a wonderful singer, which shows here even more clearly than on her solo records, and she writes up a storm too.
the material is part of the current revival of a great country tradition: the realistic, detailed representation of the lives and emotions of working-class women, as in the work of brandy clark and kacey musgraves. the whole country chart right now is filled with "get drunk and fuck" party songs; pistol annies gives you the various dark sides, which again is a return to the tradition, with various new flavors. the whole thing would sound great on the radio, but it is definitely not in the mode of the moment. lambert has to compromise with that if she wants to win a fifth acm best female vocalist award, but she also wants to do other things. that is admirable.
the closest analogy might be the 'trio' albums from the 80s: emmylou harris, linda ronstadt, and dolly parton.
god that is an incredible performance, and if i had to choose, i would choose dolly, emmylou, and linda as singers. no one needs to be embarassed about losing that competition, though i am beginning to hear ashley monroe as a singer getting to that level. but if i had to choose between the repertoires, i'd take the annies': they write their own songs (unlike DEL), and i actually didn't much listen to the DEL albums because of the songs. you know 'sandman' was just a gimmick, etc.
all forms of american popular music are syncretic, and often consititute aesthetic miscegenation, the best response to taboos on interracial marriage. that pretentious sentence is an intro to this: country music is full of hip hop these days. this is not that surprising because (a) hip hop is in every form of popular music in the world now, and (b) country music is an interracial form. jimmie rodgers and hank williams were blues artists, and you really can't get to country without black gospel either. but however, jimmie and hank were very great blues artists, and i would say that even though many country songs now feature rapped verses, vocal effects, etc., country needs much better mc's. it was rational for florida-georgia line to use nelly, because even though they often rap themselves, they really don't rap very well. the only country-specialist rapper i know is cowboy troy, who hasn't necessarily solved the problem. i really think you need rick rubin or someone sitting down and figuring out how the synthesis should be realized.
frigging tim mcgraw is mutating into a drawlin will.i.am. also the extreme spray tan almost edges into blackface. through a variety of cosmetic processes, tim and beyonce have achieved the same skin-tone. they ought to mate and create a new master-race: the golden people.
You know, Carol King wrote this. What the hell, ehh...
The oddest things make you get all philosophic...which I suppose is why philosophers and those of us who are kinda, sorta like that, the modern Philosophe's or Philosopotasters (if you're not sure what that means, ask Crispin) lead such odd lives. Anyway, I saw a piece in American Songwriter this morning and it got me thinking about, of all things, rock and roll as Apollo's chariot, so to speak. The fact that a truly great rock and roll band has to be able to cover other people's stuff exceptionally well while finding their own way. And, some people you might not expect to have any patience with anyone can handle spoiled prima donnas better than most. But, mainly the fact that lots of us had our lives and sanity saved by rock and roll...
Full piece at the Defeatists. Lots of music. Maybe even some good thinking. Maybe not. Figure it out. Since Typepad has a problem with comments at the Defeatists for some reason, feel free to post here or just email me at FenianSOB@gmail.com.
back to my rummaging among lp's, in revival on a new turntable. i was a completist on the stones through the 90s; i bought everything. i really love the early albums. actually i really...like the early beatles albums too; it's only later that they slipped into mind-numbing hooha. in the comparison, the beatles circa, say '64, are a much more competent band, but the stones had an incomparable energy.
jagger isn't a great soul singer, like don covay or whomever it may be, but there's something amazingly present and compelling about his voice and approach: it cuts through the recording quality: quite the little knife. the recordings have an immediacy that sounds great from here, especialy on vinyl, enhanced by their particular kind of quasi-competent roughness. the boys were punks in the then-contemporary acceptation of the term, and it would also not be wrong to think of their first few records as proto-punk in the later meaning of 'punk'.
despite the gigantic hugeness of the stones, these recordings are a bit lost; they've been re-processed and selected on greatest hits packages (starting with hot rocks) so many times that the overall effect and many great songs have been kind of misplaced.
england's newest hitmakers: the rolling stones is quite barely-competent, which has its charms, but also does not quite make it. so let's start with 12x5 (1964). it's covers of r&b, r 'n r, and soul songs, with three originals ("good times, bad times", "grown up wrong", and "congradulations", which really is mis-spelled on the album cover). those aren't the best moments, though they hold up relatively well. jagger's limitations show as he struggles through "under the boardwalk", for example. it leads off with chuck berry's "around and around", which the stones used as an early signature. the guitars show exactly how you get from the 50s to "satisfaction", and the remarkable liveness of jagger is matched by the super-presence of richard's rhythm guitar. jagger plays a fair amount of harp on the album, and plays it fairly well, again with ineffable compelling presence.
up and down, but also a coherent suite and sound, lost when one listens to selected cuts on mp3's. the two cuts that get picked out for play most often are "time is on my side" (by jerry ragavoy; the stones heard it in the irma thomas version) and the bobby womack thing "it's all over now". the former is one of my favorite moments in the history of recorded music.
the rolling stones, now! (1964) is the first album of any sort i really really loved (though i was introduced to it later, being 7 when it was released, by my bro jim). i think they hit a perfect point here: they'd cleaned up a bit and gotten more competent as performers and writers, but they had not lost the slighly shambolic quality that signified reality and distinguished them from the cutesiness of the beatles. i still have jim's copy: disintegrating cover and a massively scumbled up surface. i think it's one of the best ten albums of the rock era (and i'm going to make sticky fingers #1). oh man the covers kill: "down home girl", e.g., or "mona" (the bo diddley tune). but now, just a few months later, it's the originals that really lay waste to the terrain, and they stack up extremely well to the jerry butler and the solomon burke. "heart of stone" and "surprise, surprise", for example, could be soul classics if we counted white folks as soul artists then.
and then out of our heads, and again the cover/original mix. and we can leave it there, because now they crystallize into what they became: the very definition of rock: "satisfaction". still they're working directly and with complete comprehension in the black american tradition, as on blow-away construals of "that's how strong my love is" (the great o.v. wright) or "play with fire".
there seems to be a gender oscillation in country music: 2013 was women, now the whole chart is dudes. i liked the female phase better. country music by boys is pitifully formulaic and predictable right now, for one thing in the lyric themes: if it's not her amazing ass in those tight jeans, the glory that is beer, and country boys and girls getting down down by the river, it's not saleable. unlike conway, though, these guys wear tighter jeans than "she" does. it's beginning to seem like they have computers in nashville generating lyrics in a mix-and-match process. the reductio ad absurdum is the oeuvre of the repellant luke bryan, and specifically the recent #1 hit "drink a beer", which, unbelievably, is supposed to be a highly evocatve tear-jerker. no matter how much one loves country music, the thought intrudes that maybe the whole thing was a terrible mistake, if this is where it led.
oy the emotion! the beeyar!
so all the guys below often work within the pop country cliches, some to better effect than others.
first eric church. i have liked him on and off; among other things i have been a bit obsessed by the perverse gospel love song "like jesus does". however, the outsiders rings false to me; i do not believe the countrier-than-thou redneckesque persona, and even though i can see some of the moves, like working into a zztopy hard blues rock on the title cut, i don't find the whole thing very interesting or convincing. sometimes a dude is out there trying too hard to be a badass to really work on the melodies. his dark side has a dark side, see. something like "that's damn rock 'n roll" is just silly. well, i do ultimately like the voice, especially when it quiets down a bit. like i'll take "a man who was gonna die young".
alright now we go to a pair, working in something like the same style (as one another): dierks bentley and david nail. these are rather odd names, i admit. they are traditional in themes and song structure, but the emphasis is definitely not fiddle and pedal steel; they create a smooth, mid-tempo overall effect in which it is somewhat difficult to recall one song rather than another. but the songwriting at its best in both cases is good. i do think bentley's "i hold on" is a thing they'll be constantly refinding on country stations for the next twenty years. but it's also the best song on riser. the album's consistently pretty good, though.
nail's #1 "whatever she's got" hits all the themes mentioned above like they are, um, roofing tacks. now, on the other hand, i heard it a couple of times on the radio and then found myself whistling it around the house, bellowing it in the shower, etc. so you can do even this if you do it in an extremely hooked-up way. i do like i'm a fire (er) best of these three. there are number of good songs, notably "broke my heart", and nail often deploys very simple three or five-note figures that are memorable, a contribution to the country arsenal. as the album goes on, he favors a constant harmony with a female voice, including lee ann womack on a fine cover of "galveston".
let me say this about the mood-ring girl who's never the same, makes her mind up just to change it, keeps you waiting around while she paints her toenails bright red, and do's whatever she wants etc: (a) she better be really really pretty, and (b) even if she is, it's going to wear off pretty quick.
Heidigger wrote someplace "Let being be..." I think most of us agree that after the first few chapters of Being and Time, Heidigger is basically useless, impossible to translate meaningfully into German from Heidiggerdido let alone to English...anyway, moments of clarity come from odd places. And, what serves me as clarity may obscure for another...so, when you find it, enjoy...