Showing posts with label John Denver. Show all posts
Showing posts with label John Denver. Show all posts

Mar 14, 2024

E.T. Country Reaction Gifs

West Virginia fans when "Country Roads" is played at the game

When you check upcoming local concerts and it's all crap like Jordan Davis and Sam Hunt

Listens to Tyler Childers once

When somebody plays you a 2024 country song and it sounds like a 2019 rap song

Thought police coming to tell you who really invented country music

Kenny Chesney's date when he takes his hat off

I'm pretty good at drinkin' beer 

If you're old enough to remember Kenny Rogers getting played on the radio, I bet this terror is etched into your memory

The Monday after a 3-day festival when you're over 35

Lil' Jason Aldean's Halloween costume circa 1987

Aug 11, 2022

Richard Pryor Country Reaction Gifs

Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney walking into the jail cell for drunkenly riding a police horse

Me waiting on somebody to say "anything but country"

Country roads, take me home to the place I belooooo

If they drive a squatted truck blaring Morgan Wallen, how big is "it?"

A redneck's reply any time they see Dan + Shay mentioned online

Luke Bryan at 60 when somebody asks him how long he'll keep singing about college girls

When you're in prison and see Johnny Paycheck walk in

When the on hold music is Walker Hayes

When you're talking Ryan Bingham music with some ladies and they start saying some horni stuff about him

Jun 23, 2021

The Worst Country Songs of the 1980s

By Bobby "Ten Pound Hammer" Peacock

(in alphabetical order)

"American Me" by S-K-O (Schuyler, Knoblock, and Overstreet)
Yeah, by now, you've probably gathered that I hate jingoism and list songs. What other song could name-drop the New York Yankees, Leave It to Beaver, Fred Astaire, foot-long hot dogs, pizza, ribs (seriously, so many food references in this song!), soldiers dying "in the foreign mud", and "Da Doo Ron Ron" of all songs? And have a lyric so awkward as "a nose full of freedom" on top of it? I'm actually surprised that the usually more reliable Thom Schuyler (who sings lead here in an overly nasal vibrato) and J. Fred "How the Hell Do You Spell My Last Name, Anyway" Knobloch wrote this one, because it's the kind of corniness I'd expect from Paul Overstreet -- and I'm not sure he's even on this song. At least the production has aged pretty well, other than the lame doo-wop ending.

"Americana" by Moe Bandy

Speaking of jingoism... I just don't get the Norman Rockwell-esque romanticism so often directed at small towns in songs like these (with a few exceptions). In all my travels, I've never seen a town that even came remotely close to the images seen here. They weren't full of kids playing hopscotch and drinking malts at the Rexall. If anything, these towns -- even in the early 90s when I was a child -- usually consisted of boarded-up businesses (one of the many reasons Alan Jackson's "Little Man" succeeded at this trope where almost all others have failed), rundown farmhouses, elderly people shopping at Dollar General, and rusty old pickups flying the stars and bars. But Moe doesn't care; he's gonna keep hyping them up with that syrupy delivery and sell hyper-sanitized memories of a lifestyle that never existed in the first place.

"Attitude Adjustment" by Hank Williams Jr.

It's hard to play violence for laughs. For example, "Goodbye Earl" succeeds because its revenge-murder is a.) done to an absolute asshole of a person, and b.) sung in an obviously comedic manner by self-aware artists who clearly do not condone the actions. "Attitude Adjustment", on the other hand, does neither. The first verse is actually okay in its portrayal of an average bar brawl. But in the second verse, the (not-drunk) narrator clocks his brother-in-law with a tire tool just for being drunk. Then the girlfriend beats the narrator up for literally no stated reason (wait, he has both a wife and a girlfriend?), driving him to beat her into submission. While this does lead to the narrator getting sent to jail, and claiming his sentence as the fourth and final "attitude adjustment", he already completely lost me with the blatant sexism of the verse before it. What's more, the smug, cocky delivery of the ending lines does not convince me that he's actually learned anything at all.

"Betty's Bein' Bad" by Sawyer Brown

The only thing not bad about this song is the surprisingly strong production, with considerably more drums and electric guitar than usual for the era. But just like almost every other Sawyer Brown song from the '80s, this one is laden with juvenile lyrics ("she's gonna be bad 'til the whole town stinks" and "a .45's quicker than 409 / Betty cleaned house for the very last time" being particular offenders -- speaking of playing violence for laughs), along with a bad bad bad chorus that doesn't even scan or end properly. All of this adds up to an absolutely confusing hodgepodge so tonally dissonant that you don't even realize it's a murder ballad. How these guys survived long enough to make some truly phenomenal music in the 90s, I'll never know.

"Bobbie Sue" by The Oak Ridge Boys

Hat tip to Jim Malec for waking me up on this song... I admit, I like the Oak Ridge Boys a bit more than I should. (I'm a sucker for harmonies and basso profondo voices. Sue me.) But peel those harmonies back on this song, and yeah, it's kinda squicky. A young girl is groomed to be the narrator's lover against the parents' wishes; even though she's only just turned 18, he's chomping at the bit to get her. There's barely even any indication that Bobbie Sue is consenting to all of this. Maybe a younger act might have softened the edges a bit and made it seem less like the work of a creepy old man... but yeah, once I noticed it, I couldn't not notice it. Not even Richard Sterban oom-papa-mow-mow'ing the title can save this one.

"Dancin' Cowboys" by the Bellamy Brothers

The first thing that made this song propel itself onto the worst list is one of the worst choruses I've ever heard in my life: "Dancin' cowboys, singin' horses / Gypsy music, ringin' voices / Dancin' cowboys, singin' horses / Gypsy music, songs about love." (No offense meant to any Romani people who might read this.) The rest is no better, consisting entirely of a laundry list of vaguely cowboy-related imagery, claiming such things to be "the things we live and what we are". It can't even stick to the premise, as dancehalls and cafés aren't really "cowboy" related at all. Unlike "If I Said You Had a Beautiful Body Would You Hold It Against Me", there's no clever wordplay or self-aware tone either. This song embodies all the worst elements of the post-Urban Cowboy boom of rich white people pretending to be country despite having no idea what it even consists of. You know, kinda like bro-country was.

"Dixie Man" by Randy Barlow

There's a lot to like about Randy Barlow. He's one of the few country singers from my home state of Michigan, and he's got a decent country-soul voice that reminds me a bit of Razzy Bailey. So it figures that the first song of his that I actually catch in the wild is this obnoxiously repetitive mess (seriously, taking a shot every time he says "Dixie" is a great way to make your liver explode in two-and-a-half minutes). It's otherwise got a boring formula of listing a girl in each city to whom no other attributes are given, with his randy (pun intended) tone suggesting that he's probably boned all of them. Horny and obnoxious, this wastes the talents not only of Barlow, but also of its three writers (Ken Bell, Terry Skinner, and J. L. Wallace of the band Bama, who would later write much better stuff for Alabama, the Forester Sisters, and... Air Supply?!). I just can't help it; I'm not a Dixie man.

"Doo-Wah Days" by Mickey Gilley

I had at least four or five people ask me why I didn't put "Bop" by Dan Seals on this list.  You'd think I'd hate Boomer nostalgia on principle, right? Well, "Bop" is off the hook for two reasons: number one, it's lighthearted enough to work for me, and number two, I found two songs that did the same tropes a million times worse. First is this one: it burns out its under the boardwalk, sha-na-na, Peggy Sue clichés halfway through in favor of just generic "remember when" phraseology with no connection to the theme at all. Mickey Gilley's voice is as strident as ever, and the production couldn't be further from country (even by mid-80s standards) if it tried. It sounds more like something you'd find on one of those K-Tel "re-recorded by the original artist" albums I used to find at Dollar General, right down to the inability to find real drums. And just like those albums, it's an extremely shallow and plastic re-creation of the past.

"Dreamland Express" by John Denver

John Denver's perpetually schmaltzy style has always had me wondering how he was one of the few saccharine seventies singers to succeed in the '80s too. Especially because his style didn't change one iota in the ensuing years. Here, his cavity-inducing delivery dips into talk-singing that's every bit as cloying as his full-singing; the cheery female backing vocals and keyboards are so present as to almost drown him out; and the lyrics are what you'd expect from a title like that. Portraying a reunion wtih a lost love as a boat ride is actually kind of inspired and romantic, but not when it's given a dopey name like "Dreamland Express". Or lyrics that are as dopey as "Let me be the end of your rainbow, let me be the stars up above"... or as cringeworthy as "hey there sweet daddy, everything is all right". Altogether, this sounds like something that would play in an episode of The Care Bears, not on country radio.

"God Bless the USA" by Lee Greenwood

Perhaps the easiest target on this list. Entirely on its own merits, this is a barely structured list song that wastes half of its run time just listing off landmarks. It's got dated production even for its time, made only worse by the cheesy keyboards, huge backing vocals, and unnecessary crash cymbals. And I've barely ever even seen anyone review it -- if anything, it's more of a punchline for codifying nearly every flag-waving anthem after it and/or for its perennial rerelease schedule. But worst of all, I just hate that it keeps reinforcing those 'MURICA stereotypes so long after the fact -- not just for country music as a whole, but also for Greenwood, who has some markedly better material in his catalog. If "Ring on Her Finger, Time on Her Hands" were the one Greenwood song that everyone and their mom knew, then I'd have a lot less to complain about.

"Gonna Go Huntin' Tonight" by Hank Williams Jr.

Maybe it's just the extreme sexism lingering from that third verse of "Attitude Adjustment", but there's just something that really doesn't sit right about comparing a one-night stand to hunting wild game. No attributes are given to the women other than "long claws, long legs, and a skin already tanned in the sun" and an aggressive, animalistic attitude. Not like the narrator is any less so; his swaggering tone and lack of restraint ("ain't no limit" you say? You mean other than the ones that aren't interested in you? Or interested in men in general?) make him sound like a completely reckless man whose sole goal is to prove himself to be the alpha male. To quote an old Garfield strip: "What do you suggest for an animal who's madly in love?" "I usually prescribe neutering."

"Grandpa (Tell Me 'bout the Good Ol' Days)" by the Judds

The "Automatic" of the '80s. Yet another song painting an overly rose-colored image of a time before Wynonna was even alive. Even if it's phrased questioningly ("Did X really happen?") I think it's clear that the writers want this to be true. They want "respect your elders", "shove religion into literally everything", and "don't divorce, ever" to be truisms still. And in doing so, it comes off as incredibly sanctimonious to the point of anachronism (seriously, did this song set the precedent of artists waxing nostalgic for bygone eras they're too young to know about, such as the above-mentioned "Americana?"). At least Jamie O'Hara went on to do old-fashioned folk-country the right way in The O'Kanes, and the next song he wrote for Wynonna to sing ("When Love Starts Talkin'") was good, too.

"The Greatest Love Affair" by Chuck Woolery

Yes, that Chuck Woolery. Back when people knew him only for Wheel of Fortune and not for Love Connection, Lingo, or being a COVID-19 denier. The song starts out as an overly melodramatic spoken-word narrative full of lost-love nothingness ("I wondered if I'd ever get over you / And for the first time in a long time, I cried") that has no time for rhyme or meter and drags on for way too long. The twist? That lost love he's pining for is none other than... the United States of America! Cue the big cheery chorus and Chuck's schmaltzy crooning of "I love you, America." Thankfully, his musical career wasn't back in two and two, and he found a more fitting career as a game show host.

"Hey! Baby" by Anne Murray

How do you ruin a classic like Bruce Channel's "Hey! Baby"? How about removing that iconic harmonica riff in favor of cheesy organ that sounds like the easy-listening Muzak you stereotypically hear in grocery stores? And then giving it to the most soporific female country vocalist of the '80s, best known for her schmaltzy love ballad from Urban Cowboy? Yeah, that sounds like a pretty foolproof method to me. (Even Alabama got the "harmonica" and "soulful vocal" parts right with their cover, one of the only highlights of the otherwise mostly embarrassing Dancin' on the Boulevard.) Could I have this dance? Yes, but only if it's to a better cover song than this.

"I Love My Truck" by Glen Campbell

The opening line of this song says "Everybody's saying something, none of it's true." Like, say, all the people who say that country songs are all about dogs and trucks. (Well yeah, there are country songs about trucks, but they usually have eighteen wheels [and a dozen roses], not four.) And it's Glen Campbell of all people -- a man known for a big lush pop sound that still has at least some grounding in country -- who grinds out an overly twangy, overly simplistic ode to pickups. Lyrics like "It don't matter who lived, it don't matter who lied" are just too banal to attach any emotion to, and the bare-bones production utterly wastes the talents of the Wichita Lineman.

"I'm into Lovin' You" by Billy Swan

Billy Swan was one of the last dregs of 1970s bubblegum feelgood cheese who somehow resurfaced in the 1980s long after his style had gone out of vogue. While his momentary comeback started off with the actually not that bad "Do I Have to Draw a Picture" (probably improved by merit of being a Guy Clark co-write), he went right back into full-blown cheese territory with this number. His trademark syrupy delivery is a horrible mismatch for beyond banal observations on the vague things other guys do like "some like to hunt with guns", "I know two who just like to run", or "playing some kind of ball". Add on the big chorus of backing vocals and chintzy keyboards, and the song dissolves into so much syrup that I can feel my teeth rotting just writing this. Somehow in the journey from "I Can Help" to here, Swan seems to have learned almost nothing. (The album he did as Black Tie was good, though.)

"If the South Woulda Won" by Hank Williams Jr.

I swear, for every decent Hank Jr. song, there's one that's worse by a factor of like, ten trillion. Violently aggressive (promoting lynchings); bigoted (forcing Hispanics out of Miami, cutting off automotive trade from China); egotistical (putting his dad's picture on money); creepy (forcing smiles and Southern drawls on young girls to drive men wild); and not even making sense at times (I couldn't find any proof that Virginia has a known history of making fiddles) -- you name it, it's in this jumbled mess of Southern-fried WTF. It's all presented in a blustering tone that sounds like the deranged ramblings of a madman who is desperately grasping at straws to defend a cause he's already lost. Which, sadly enough, is way too fitting for Bocephus. And possibly much of his fanbase, too.

"Love Ain't Never Hurt Nobody" by Bobby Goldsboro

Yeah, what a surprise. The guy that sang "Honey" made a terrible song in the 80s too. And it looks like nothing changed in his style since. With his voice and lyrics as saccharine as ever, his thesis is that love doesn't hurt people, people do. Because people never change their minds or misjudge or anything. Nothing bad has ever happened in a good-faith attempt at love. The second verse sees him casually dismissing a woman who's mourning her lost love in an undermining of the central theme; on top of that, banal rhymes like shelf/yourself and the jaw-droppingly awful bridge "a little love can bring us all togther / If we will only open up our hearts" just make the song get worse and worse with each line. The sterile, cheery production -- replete with bouncy keyboards, a sea of backing vocalists, and even a key change -- is just the final layers of sugar coating on top of an already way-too-sweet offering.

"Nag, Nag, Nag" by Bobby Braddock

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the legendary songwriter of such classics as "He Stopped Loving Her Today", "Golden Ring", and "People Are Crazy" also had a recording career. But for some reason, he chose to do a novelty album in 1980. It's impossible to buy his promises that he still loves her anyway because of how hard the nagging theme is beaten into the ground (complete with a high-pitched "nag nag nag" droning all throughout literally more than half of the song!), combined with his over-the-top attempts at sounding playfully disgusted. Lines like "sometimes I'd like to shove you" give the impression that he's okay with abuse, and the fact that the last chorus ends on a gunshot-- implying that his nagging drove her to suicide -- is just one more shockingly tasteless "punch line" to a joke that wasn't even remotely funny in the first place. At least his comedic songwriting (and treatment of women) got better by the time he wrote ‘I Wanna Talk About Me’.

"Out Goin' Cattin'" by Sawyer Brown with Cat Joe Bonsall

Yes, that really was how he was credited. Remember when I said earlier that I found two other songs that do the "Boomer nostalgia" thing way, way wrong? This is the other. Shoehorning in the Oak Ridge Boys' tenor vocalist for literally no reason, and adding the most blatantly synthesized horns in history (which become really jarring when a very real saxophone blares on top of them), this one plows through all the soda shop tropes in the most sterile and cheesy way imaginable. Mark Miller's attempts at doo-wop singing are laughable at best, and he is horribly mismatched to Bonsall, himself the only flash of energy in this otherwise listeless tale of (I guess) fucking every girl at the juke joint? As if the dirty old man vibes of "Bobbie Sue" weren't bad enough. Don't go tellin', don't go rattin'; this song is an utter embarrassment for all six people on it.

"Rainbows and Butterflies" by Billy Swan

As if he hadn't already burned out the last of his lovey-dovey shtick on the last song on this list... how much more syrupy can you get than a lyric like "I love rainbows and butterflies, wildflowers and starry skies / And dreams that aren't afraid to come true / Sunsets and autumn leaves, snowfall and make-believe / But mostly, just being with you"? (What does "make-believe" have to do with the rest of the items on that list?) Like most of his other stuff, the utterly saccharine delivery and childish melody are buried under so many keyboards and strings that make it sound like someone hired Raffi to sing one of those stock "sentimental moment" cues on Full House. Really, do you expect anything else from a title like that?

"Ride That Bull (Big Bertha)" by Marlow Tackett

I knew that one of these obscure indie artists who churned out like a billion songs that never cracked Top 75 would give me something to work with... How about some good ol' fat shaming? The titular "Big Bertha" is challenged to ride a bull despite being morbidly obese, in order to win the heart of a honky-tonk man. While the man in the song should be commended for not letting outward appearances hold him back, the song itself plays her weight way too much. She's subjected to derision ("because she was fat, her chances with Jim were slim" and "you gotta admit, it's a pretty heavy story" being two big offenders) -- not to mention the fact that Big Bertha breaks the mechanical bull at the end! Ha ha, get it, because she's fat! Which is really an apt description of the song as a whole. If this was the best he had to offer, then it's probably for the better that he never hit the big time.

"The Rose" by Conway Twitty

As if the original Bette Midler version weren't sappy enough in its overblown cheesy love metaphors... Love is like a razor? A river that drowns a "tender reed"? And then it gives up on metaphors entirely, coasting along on vague platitudes until the very last line. Take those over-the-top lines, slather them in electric piano and strings, and have one of the weirdest vocal performances out of Conway ever, and the result is a bloated mess. He talk-sings his way through half of the lines, and delivers the other half in a blown-out melodramatic vocal so over-the-top it almost sounds like parody. Conway's at his best when he's in that passionate comfort zone -- whether it be having amazing sex, praising fathers, deconstructing moon-based metaphors, or taking down greedy pawn shop owners. But for the most part he had extremely questionable taste in cover songs, and this is handily the worst of the lot.

"Simple Man" by Charlie Daniels

Just barely squeaking into the 1980s list (and therefore keeping me from have to amend the 1990s list) is this apparent predecessor of "A Good Way to Get on My Bad Side". Much like that song, the protagonist is an old-school paranoiac who espouses dangerously old-school beliefs. Among these are his beliefs that lynchings are the solution to such ills as drug abuse (obviously pre-dating the stricter drug enforcement laws of the 1990s); that the only solution to burglary is to shoot the victim; that rapists and child abusers should be tortured by alligators (okay, maybe that one's not too bad); and that the best takeaway from The Bible is "an eye for an eye". (Apparently he owns a Bible that's missing John 13:34: "A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.") His use of now somewhat offensive language like "pantywaist" certainly doesn't help his over-defensive, violent, and xenophobic case any.

"Sowin' Love" by Paul Overstreet

I can always find room to deride Paul Overstreet's brand of sanctimoniousness, can't I? One of 847 odes to his mama and daddy, this one beats its "you reap what you sow" metaphor so far into the ground that it gives up halfway through and switches to sewing love like a quilt. But it can't even deliver on that homophone, since the chorus doesn't change and keeps the lines about harvesting. Not that any of the other phrases are better -- who calls harvests "sweet"? Who says that "patches" help you feel new every day? (Unless you're quitting smoking or on HRT?) And who even says "sowin' love" anyway? At least with most songs written and/or sung by Overstreet, I can usually find at least one element that makes all the preachiness bearable (after all, he wrote "When You Say Nothing at All", a song so exceptionally strong that two different versions of it are absolute classics), but this one just feels like a long rambling sermon from a substitute pastor who forgot his notes.

"Tokyo, Oklahoma" by John Anderson

Racial stereotypes are almost never funny. Here, a dude from Tulsa has the hots for a Miss Soo Ling Foo (yeah, that's not how Japanese names work), and he flies out to Japan just to find her. He looks all over, finds her in a bathroom, and then hears her say "be honorable number one wife to you" in a stereotypical "mix up L's and R's" accent. The whole thing, even for 1985, is predicated on geisha girl stereotypes that were ridiculously outdated even then, and downright cringeworthy to modern ears. It really says something when Buck Owens' "Made in Japan", released thirteen years prior, manages to pull off nearly the same idea with a far more sympathetic tone that has aged far better.

"War Is Hell (On the Homefront Too)" by T. G. Sheppard

Most of the country songs involving a teenager and an older lover don't bother me that much because, while in a moral gray area, songs like "That Summer" or "Atlanta Burned Again Last Night" at least have a tone of "this was kind of sketchy, but at least consensual". I don't think it's a double standard, either; if "Bobbie Sue" were sung by four forty-year-old women courting an 18-year-old man, it would still be about grooming a target who doesn't seem to have any say in the matter. So this song's story about a teenage boy sleeping with a woman whose husband is off in World War II chafes me not because of the storyline proper. Instead, it's the cloying, condescending tone with which Sheppard (who, by the way, wasn't even born yet in '42) sings such lines as "when a woman's fighting loneliness, it's a battle she can't win" and most jarringly, "The women had nothing to do". You mean other than taking the construction and manufacturing jobs that normally went to men? Is there a reason this lady isn't out there being Rosie the Riveter?

"Where's the Dress" by Moe Bandy and Joe Stampley

I wasn't there for the heyday of Culture Club, but I'm certainly familiar with their weirdly catchy music and Boy George's distinctively androgynous look. Just like anything else emerging from the new-wave era, they were a target ripe for parody at the time. So what do Moe and Joe do? They just lazily churn out nothing but tasteless misogynstic jokes about men cross-dressing and shaving their legs, because somehow that was their only takeaway from the band. No jokes about the oddities of their lyrics or music videos; no acknowledgment that they've even heard a single second of Culture Club's music (other than swiping the intro to "Karma Chameleon", which led to a lawsuit and was later edited out). I've heard better, more on-point, and less offensive parodies from morning zoo radio DJs.

"The Wind Beneath My Wings" by Gary Morris

Yet another one where the faults are purely on the song, and not the singer. Gary Morris has an amazing voice that can go for high notes and dynamics without feeling like an overblown bellow, and he turned out some damn fine songs that made use of his range. But the lyrics here are a mountain of pure syrup: "it must have been cold there in my shadow to never have sunlight on your face" alone gives me flashbacks to when I had to listen to "Love Can Build a Bridge" just to justify its placement on the last list. After that it's just a pile of motivational clichés ("all here in my heart", "nothing without you", blah blah blah) so huge you'd need wings just to get over it -- and it can't even be bothered to find a single rhyme in any of them. It's just a style I hate almost entirely on principle, and of all the versions of this song out there, I have yet to find one that cancels out even a single ounce of treacle.

"You're My Bestest Friend" by Mac Davis

Speaking of '70s cheese that somehow lingered well into the '80s... okay, some of Mac Davis' songs are all right. I like "Baby, Don't Get Hooked on Me", "It's Hard to Be Humble", and "Texas in My Rearview Mirror". But this cutesy string of unrelated scenarios -- including gravy on a shirt, making love in the dirt, family quarrels, and even having your fly open -- is sung in a sickening croon. Add to it an overly simplistic melody and the cringeworthy grammar faux pas that is "bestest" (I'll forgive most double-negatives and "ain't"s, but it's hard not to notice when the grammar actually makes the scansion worse), and it just becomes even worse. Much like Todd in the Shadows theorized with Bruno Mars putting masturbation references in "The Lazy Song", I think the lines about getting drunk and bailed out of jail were put in purely so people wouldn't think this was actually a Sesame Street song or something.

Feb 23, 2021

Country Muppet Show Disclaimers

As you may or may not have heard, Disney+ is leading some episodes of The Muppet Show with disclaimers if the subject matter is deemed offensive to cultural sensitivities. These disclaimers before episodes with country singer guests seem a bit odd though.

Aug 10, 2020

A Conversation With Skylar Gregg

Photo by Alaina Broyles
By Kevin Broughton

Skylar Gregg engages in a gripping cocktail of hard work, humor, and self-discovery, expressing vivid lyrical imagery and raw grit that soaks into every note of her songwriting. Her third album, Roses, is the culmination of a decade of refinement and refocus wherein she realized “Complicated isn’t always better. Sometimes a simple message can really resonate.”

Blessed with a powerful, soulful voice and a musical pedigree – her folks moved to Nashville so dad could pursue songwriting while mom studied piano at Belmont University – Gregg turned toward a musical career of her own in midstream at Middle Tennessee State. “I changed my major from music education to songwriting in the while I was in college,” she says. “That was when I figured out what I wanted to do.”

The ten songs on Roses – one for each year of the process that got them to completion – tackle heady issues from mortality to addiction to abuse, yet with an undercurrent of contentment; the album closes with the self-evidently peaceful “Everything’s Gonna Be Fine.”

Gregg is thoughtful and sincere – often pondering questions with an emphatic Oh, Man! – and has an infectious laugh as intense as her booming, brassy vocals. In Roses, she establishes herself as a top-tier songwriter on an upward trajectory. We enjoyed chatting with her about the songwriting process, Landfills – literal and metaphorical – Man-splaining, and legalization of the Devil’s lettuce.

Roses is an album of ten songs you wrote over roughly a decade. During that time you put a couple of records out. Over the ten years of writing these, was there something in the back of your mind telling you to hold them back for a while? Were you putting them into a sort of “box” for later use?

Yeah, I think that was what kind of happened. A lot of them I finished later – I’d started them a long time ago. One of them I used to play with a different band, then brought it into my own catalog. So, yeah, I did hold back; I’d think, “Yeah, I’ll tighten this one up a little down the road, when I know what it’s about and know where to put it.”

I wouldn’t call this a purely country album, though there are some straight-up country tunes on it. The PR materials mention hints of the Muscle Shoals sound; I hear a decidedly Memphis vibe at various points. Was there a particular feel or sonic theme you were going for?

You know, originally I set out to make a country album. The producer I used, I think, felt a Muscle Shoals vibe in a lot of the songs and in my voice. And then my husband – who plays bass on the record – is from Memphis. [Laughs] So you hit the nail on the head there. That’s probably the combination that you’re hearing – the influences of those two guys. And I think that gave us some edge, some life, too. Made it a little bit different, you know?

There are times when your voice reminds me of Bonnie Bramblett of Delaney and Bonnie; that big, full, blue-eyed soul sound. Who are some of the female vocalists who’ve been influential to you?

A lot of the sixties and seventies country ladies, like Tanya Tucker and Dolly Parton. I listened to a lot of that with my dad growing up. Bobbie Gentry is somebody I really love, with her soulful, country voice. I was also really influenced by soul artists – I think we all were. Aretha Franklin and Etta James, ladies with those really big voices. And I think that’s the combination you end up with. Also a little bit of gospel; I grew up singing in church.

Something told me you weren’t a stranger to church choir.

Yeah, for sure.

Collecting songs over ten years for an album implies – to me, anyway – that re-working and editing are a big part of the way you write. Can you discuss the way you approach songwriting? For instance, do you set aside a regular block of time for writing, or just grab a pen when an idea or image or phrase strikes you?

I have a block of time every morning when I get up that I dedicate to writing. I try to spend at least a few minutes with my guitar, to try to put together a chorus, for example. I don’t want to force anything, but I try to at least work those muscles in my brain. And sometimes in those moments I’ll hit on something and write it down, and work on it the next day. And sometimes those songs will come out great. But honestly, it’s those times when I’m out in the world and am moved by something, or think something’s funny or interesting…when I get home at midnight or one in the morning and sit on the couch and write those songs? Those are the ones that always end up sticking around, for me. 

Let’s talk about a few specific songs on Roses. I have the advantage of your liner notes, so I’m cheating a little bit. “I Already Know…” Would you like to woman-splain that one? The floor is yours.

[Laughs] Yeah, sure. I was, I guess, just bitchin’ with some of my female musician friends about being man-splained to about cables and guitar stuff. This was at a co-write, and these are both very talented players; to hear them also be frustrated about it…they had learned to say in a nice way, “Save your breath, I already know.” They’ve toured all over the country and played hundreds and hundreds of gigs, but they still have sound men come up and say these things.

I’ve had those experiences as well, in co-writes. You get treated like, “You’re the singer. We’re gonna write this song for you and you can sing it in a minute.”


I’d like to add that I get to work with a lot of men -- and have been raised by a lot of men – who have only empowered me and only been loving to me. The song is just talking about men who may sometimes have a moment of…proving themselves, I guess, in those situations.

“Now, where do I plug this cord in?”

[Laughs] Yeah! “Does the round shape go in the round hole?” [Laughs]

“Southern Strain” is about the stigma attached to Mary Jane in our native South. Was there anything in particular that inspired this, like maybe a string of shows in Colorado? And which Southern state do you think will be the first to legalize?

[Laughs] Man! I hope it’s Tennessee! You know, I guess I just I grew up thinking that it’s no worse than alcohol. Everything in moderation, right? I’m not saying do this all the time, but it is interesting how many people – later on in life – you find out don’t have as big a problem with that stuff as you thought they did. There’s such a stigma about it, especially when I was a little kid and thought it was the Devil’s lettuce. Later I realized it’s just not that big a deal, and if somebody want to have a joint after work, we shouldn’t worry about it. Especially these days; there’s way bigger stuff to worry about. [Laughs]

For sure.

“Landfill” is both metaphorical and autobiographical, it seems to me. (And what a sweet horn arrangement!) Did that song morph into something else during the writing process?

Totally. That one was really challenging to write. It’s my favorite song on the record. I love how it turned out; it’s so quirky and I love all the thoughts behind it.

I went to Middle Tennessee State University for college, and 231 is the road that goes from Murphreesboro to where my parents live in Lebanon, Tenn. And there’s this landfill on 231 that I used to drive by, and it was amazing to think about how much trash is in the ground there. It’s insane to me how we’ve figured out how to get rid of our garbage, and so much of it, you know? And I thought it would be a cool song to write, about the landfill and all those visualizations. So I pretty much wrote all the verses while I was in college, driving past it back and forth.

And then about two years ago I started going to therapy. (I don’t know if you’ve been to therapy, but I highly recommend it for everyone.) Anyway, before you go in, they vet you over the phone. And I was telling her, “There’s not really anything wrong with me. I don’t have any trauma; no big issues, I just kind of wanted to check up on my brain and make sure I’m doing okay.” And she was like, “Mm-hmm, okay.” And I got in there and there was a whole lot of stuff to dig up! And she said, “Yeah, everybody says that when I call them.” [Laughs] And through that experience I wrote the choruses, because man, what a metaphor that was for all the garbage in my own brain. And so seven or eight years later, that song got finished.

Go Blue Raiders, by the way. What did you study?

I studied songwriting.

Look at you, putting your degree to work!

Yeah! I really enjoyed my experience in the Recording Industry program there.

If you could change one thing about the music industry right now, what would it be?

Oh, man….

You could outlaw autotune…You could deport Florida-Georgia Line…

[Laughs] Yes, yes! There’s so many things. I’m really enjoying watching the music industry, which got turned on its head when streaming came into play, then it got turned on its head again with COVID-19. Not that I’m celebrating anyone’s gigs getting canceled, obviously. I do think it’s cool the way streaming services and Spotify have given indie artists a voice. And you can really build a small, blue-collar career almost by yourself. I didn’t experience the music industry pre-streaming, but I assume that wasn’t the case then. And being able to record stuff yourself or with a very small team is awesome.

As far as what I’d change now – and I think we’re doing a really good job of lifting this up – maybe just some more female representation? More female players maybe. And we’re seeing a real push for it, and I’m excited to see who else is gonna come up.

Now, you got a heads-up on this one: If you were told you could only listen to three albums for the rest of your life, what would they be?

Ah, man, this was really challenging. [Laughs] Of course there’s all those classics like Abbey Road and Dark Side of the Moon and Rumors that are so hard to get rid of. But for me, my first album was a John Denver record my dad got for me called Poems, Prayers & Promises which has “Take Me Home, Country Roads” on it. And because it was my first CD and first CD player, I just listened to it so many times. And I hadn’t even thought about it until you texted me that question, but you can probably hear it in my writing.

And the second one I came up with was Bobbie Gentry’s Ode To Billy Joe. And I didn’t really discover it until I right out of high school when I did this country music revue show called “Honkytonk Angels” at an arts center in Cannon County, Tenn. I got to sing songs like “Fancy” and “I Will Always Love You,” and I sang “Ode To Billy Joe,” and thought this song is so cool! So I listened to the whole album, and it’s got all this weird percussion on it. It’s just really cool.

And the third one and more recently, I’m a huge Sturgill Simpson fan. I had tickets to his last show and was super-bummed that I couldn’t go, even though I realize this is the time we’re living in. Meta Modern Sounds In Country Music is just so great. I listen to it all the time. That album is so fun and so great.

Photo by Zach Ward
Lots of artists’ album release dates have been pushed back – some indefinitely – by this dang virus. How has it affected you in particular? Also what’s your best-case, yet realistic, scenario for getting this record out and doing a tour?

I’ve really focused my attention on getting the record out first. And hopefully after that we can re-asses when touring will start. It’s just so hard to tell. It’s interesting, though, watching how COVID has affected a lot of the bigger players in the game, releasing music for indie artists has been it’s been kind of a great time because it’s made a space for me and a lot of my friends. Live streaming shows has been really cool.

We were fortunate enough to have the exclusive premiere of your video in July. I’ve been on some movie sets before, so I know a little bit about all the different takes that all the set-ups require. But I’m just curious…do you lip-sync everything?

I was actually singing, because they told me before, “It looks better if you actually sing it.” So yeah, I’m sure they were tired of hearing me sing that song by the end of the day. [Laughs] I sang it like 50 times.


Maybe not 50; it was at least 25 times though. [Laughs] They’re used to it though; they do music videos all the time.

Was that your first video?

I’ve actually done a few. We actually did this one around Halloween a few years ago. It was for this song I wrote that was about a black widow – a lady who kept killing all of her husbands.


…for different reasons. So we did this video. My cousin is a special-effects makeup artist, and she came to do all the makeup for it. And it got so out of control! It was so gory! Facebook wouldn’t even let us run an ad in it. [Laughs]

Well, I have to see this thing now.

I think it’s really fun. I love the Evil Dead-type of ridiculous horror. I think it’s a lot of fun, but a lot of people don’t share that opinion! [Laughs]

[NOTE: It’s right here, and it’s glorious.]  

Roses is available Friday everywhere.


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