Showing posts with label Megan Bledsoe. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Megan Bledsoe. Show all posts

Nov 19, 2019

Album Review / Luke Combs / What You See is What You Get


By Megan Bledsoe

What You See is What You Get. It’s the perfect album title for this unassuming collection of songs and especially for Luke Combs, a guy who someone once told me looks like he could change your oil at Jiffy Lube and whom you actually believe when he sings about drinking beer and fishing. It’s this difference which sets Combs apart from so many mainstream artists; it’s neither completely disingenuous, like Luke Bryan in skinny jeans singing about dirt roads and moonlight, nor a calculated marketing strategy to establish country cred, the obstacle barring so many people from getting onboard with Midland despite the quality of their music. However you view authenticity, Luke Combs has shown that it matters, and shows, and isn’t always about fiddle or steel or even deep lyrics, but more about being true to yourself.


The great thing is that Combs staying true to himself results in a very country record, not some 70’s throwback affair, but a great example of how traditionalism can move forward and still exist in modern country. This is exactly what you want in the mainstream, and the numbers have shown that the general public still wants this as well. Sonically, this is what the evolution of country music should mean. There are a couple of moments of overproduction, but most of this is decisively country, and injected with the energy that you don’t always find on independent records.

Lyrically, there’s nearly always enough substance to further separate Combs from the crowd and hold the attention of the listener. The hooks are smart, and the songwriting is strong, offering simplicity without losing the substance. Songs like “Even Though I’m Leaving” and “Refrigerator Door” even go deeper, providing something meaningful and yet still relatable to a wide audience. “Dear Today” is the hidden gem here, with its thoughtful perspective and gentle warning not to take tomorrow for granted. On a 17-song record, there will always be filler, and this is no exception, but the filler is just that as opposed to what we often see on mainstream albums, where an otherwise good record is hindered by one or two terrible missteps. This could have been trimmed, but it is solid throughout.


Regardless of your personal stance on Luke Combs, the most important factor concerning him and What You See is What You Get is the influence on the genre as a whole. There will be staunch traditionalists and independent fans who never give Combs even a passing glance simply because he comes from Music Row. But Music Row is where the future of country music either lives or dies, where the artists and albums that define country music for generations originate, and where the torch for country music is passed down to its listeners. And with Luke Combs carrying that torch, the sound of our beloved country music is country, the lyrics are substantive, and the artistry is real. If Combs is the future of country music, then the future is indeed beginning to look brighter.

Sep 27, 2019

Album Review / Michaela Anne / Desert Dove

By Megan Bledsoe

It can be alarming sometimes to hear an artist talk of expanding their sound. In mainstream country, it's usually a not-so-subtle hint that the artist wants to abandon his or her roots in favor of some ill-advised EDM singles in a misguided effort to stay relevant. It can make independent fans cautious too, as their favorite artists move further and further away from what captured these fans in the first place (Sturgill, anyone?).

But then there are those times when such expansion really works, bringing artists to their full potential and capturing their music better than ever before. Such is the case with Michaela Anne and Desert Dove, as she left Nashville behind for California and a more alt-rock vibe. But though it leans more toward rock than country, the arrangements are more polished, with sweeping strings to make the whole thing mellow and lonesome like the deserts of the West. Sam Outlaw's fingerprints can be felt all over this record, as everything sounds so elegant and polished. But this is not nearly as sparse or as quiet as an Outlaw album, and this atmospheric production is the record's greatest strength, bringing the desert to life in mood more so than in lyrical content.

In the lyrical sense, this is somewhat reminiscent of Kacey Musgraves' Golden Hour. This may seem like a strange comparison at first, and the similarity is not stylistic; rather, it's in the way that this album, like Golden Hour, operates under the assumption that less is more, going for simple lyrics and instrumental breaks rather than elaborate stories and deeper songwriting.

There's a wistfulness running through this record that is captured by both the production and the lyrics. The whole thing comes across as Michaela Anne journeying through the desert searching for something tangible. She calls herself "everybody's temporary friend" in "Child of the Wind" as she drifts from town to town. In "Tattered, Torn, and Blue and Crazy," she's convinced that her current lover will one day leave her, as if it's impossible to imagine anyone ever staying, anything ever being permanent. "One Heart" conveys a similar feeling, as she seems to believe that love has ended before it's begun but chooses to go down this road anyway. "Run Away With Me" sees her on the move yet again, albeit this time not alone. She always seems to be searching, and unfortunately, nothing is ever resolved; she never really finds what she's looking for by the end of the album.


Despite the sweeping arrangements, Michaela Anne's voice is still the focal point. She's never drowned out, and this is fortunate because her vocals are certainly a strength of this record. Her melodies also work really well with the open, atmospheric vibes and enhance the wandering feeling.

This shift in sound has worked excellently well for Michaela Anne. These songs fit her voice nicely, and this style suits her lyrics. The decision to record this in California with the inspiration of the desert and the coast really paid off. If you enjoy records with a western feel, you'll definitely love Desert Dove.

Desert Dove is available today everywhere you buy or stream music.

Aug 2, 2019

Album Review / Elaina Kay / Issues

By Megan Bledsoe

The best way to describe Elaina Kay’s Issues in one word would be "interesting." It's intriguing from the moment she starts singing on the opener, unashamedly telling us all about her "daddy issues," or perhaps the daddy issues of this character. It's certainly an interesting way to open an album and perhaps even more of a statement on the opener of a debut. It unfolds into an engaging little eight-track album that's a solid foundation for Elaina Kay.

The greatest strength here is the sound. It's a nice mix of country and rock elements, with The Texas Gentlemen as the backing band. There's quite a lot of energy packed into this, with fun, up-tempo numbers like "Rodeo" and "Pull Your Own Weight," and this is balanced well with quieter moments like "Cheating me Out of Love" and "Lose a Little."

The songwriting is solid and fresh throughout, always holding the listener's attention, but there's not really a particular moment of lyrical epiphany. Instead, this album leans more heavily on the melodies and the hooks to make its points, and Elaina Kay is a fine melodic composer. As for the strongest song lyrically, it's probably "Cheating Me Out of Love," with the simple honesty in lines like, "I can't get over this, at least not as quickly as you want me to. I wanted to, I wanted you." It paints a nice picture of the feeling of wanting to forgive someone, knowing you should, wanting things to be right again, but not being able to forgive in spite of yourself.


The vocals are stronger on these quieter, more introspective moments, where the production is scaled back a little to showcase the writing. The production can drown out Kay in places on some of the more upbeat tracks which can in turn occasionally make her harder to understand. This is something that can be ironed out on subsequent records, as Elaina Kay begins to fine-tune her sound.

For fans of that awesome blend of country and rock sensibilities, this is certainly worth checking out. Issues is a fun little record and a solid start for Elaina Kay.


Jun 25, 2019

Album Review / Taylor Alexander / Good Old Fashioned Pain

By Megan Bledsoe

Good Old Fashioned Pain. What a fitting name for a traditional country record, indicative of the reality of heartbreak and struggle that has always been a part of our beloved genre. It suggests an album of hurt and heartache accentuated by fiddle and crying steel, and Taylor Alexander delivers here both musically and lyrically.

We can spend weeks discussing what qualifies as country, but we all know it when we hear it, and this is solidly, unashamedly country. As traditional as this record is, though, it still sounds fresh and energetic. The instrumentation is simple but not sparse, and the production works well with each song. It's country thematically and sonically, but without becoming simply an interpretation of the traditional style, country for country's own sake. The songs feel true to Alexander, a genuine reflection of his story rather than a purposeful attempt to perfect a particular sound. The album also avoids the pitfall common to so many Americana projects of becoming too dark or sleepy with upbeat moments like "Passing Lane" and "Break my Heart Tonight."


The pain itself arrives in different forms. There's the heartache and self-reflection expressed in "Real Good at Saying Goodbye," the financial struggle highlighted in such excellent detail by "Hole in the Wall," and the reality that we're responsible for our own happiness, as told in "I Never Ask For Nothin'." But Alexander cautions himself and his listeners in "Wishing my Life Away," reminding us that although hardship is ever-present, we can miss the blessings of this life by constantly looking forward to something "better." This track provides hope and perspective to a dark record, a gentle reminder that joy is as real as pain and often exists alongside it if we're paying attention.

Good Old Fashioned Pain is an excellent album, great for traditionalists but also accessible, a record to play for your friend who hates the genre or who hasn't explored country beyond the radio dial. Strong songwriting, nice vocals, and that undeniably traditional sound. A fine record, and a promising debut by Taylor Alexander.

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Megan Bledsoe is a proud Oklahoman who has been immersed in music most of her life, from writing it to performing it to just appreciating the power of a good song. She is the founder and editor of countryexclusive.com, where she has been writing about great music since 2015.

May 24, 2019

Album Review / Frankie Lee / Stillwater

By Megan Bledsoe

Unsatisfied with the glamor of all the larger studios he had investigated, singer-songwriter Frankie Lee went home to Stillwater, Minnesota, and made a record of the same name. And just like its name might suggest, Stillwater is a mellow, easy listen, simple and laidback like Lee's hometown and so many other small towns across America and the world.

This album is simple, yes, but far from sparse or minimalistic. This is largely due to the richness and detail in instrumentation which serves to give variety to a mostly mid-tempo record. Upright piano features heavily on Stillwater, adding color to tracks like "Only She Knows" and providing the backdrop for the closer, "Ventura." There's lively harmonica on "Broken Arrow" and "Blinds," and a healthy amount of steel guitar sprinkled all over the album to add a more country flavor to what is an otherwise folk/Americana affair. And the flute comes out of nowhere in the opening track, "Speakeasy," to make this one of the most interesting moments on the whole thing. It might seem like a strange component in a country or Americana song, but it fits perfectly here and makes me want to hear more artists try to incorporate it into their songs. A little more variety in tempo could have helped this record go from nice and pleasant to really great, but these arrangements make up for that pretty well.


If you only pick one track to listen to from this album, make it "Downtown Lights" or "Blinds." The former was the first song released from the album and is said to be inspired by the commercialization of Stillwater and other small towns like it, as little towns lose their identities in favor of tourism and commerce. The latter is just one of those songs where the melody, the instrumentation, and the lyrics come together to form a really special musical moment.

This record isn't going to be for everyone because of its mellow, gentle nature. Some will find it sleepy, and it's indeed a mood record, for a lazy Sunday afternoon. It's a project which will inherently sound better in October than in May. This is an album for those who appreciate quieter, introspective moments, and for the right audience, it's a comfortable listen with a lot to enjoy.
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Megan Bledsoe is a proud Oklahoman who has been immersed in music most of her life, from writing it to performing it to just appreciating the power of a good song. She is the founder and editor of countryexclusive.com, where she has been writing about great music since 2015.

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Stillwater is available today here and all the other usual locations.

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