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Album Review: Looking For America by Mark Wills

Mark Wills - Looking For AmericaMark Wills’ newest, Looking For America is… predictable. Not predictable in a “Mark Wills” kind of way – because frankly, I haven’t heard all that much of his stuff before. No, predictable as in a “country music beating a dead horse” kind of way. Every topic of each of Wills’ songs has been done before, over, and over… and over. The album as a whole is by no means bad, just… we get it.

Yes, Mark Wills is talented. Yes, there’s certainly a market for it. But how bout a little originality? Maybe it’s because I have been listening to country music forever, or maybe I just didn’t have my morning cup of coffee; but I found myself getting close to the end of many of the tracks and simply hitting next.

Before I explain myself further, I would like to point out that there is one original song that is an anomaly to my critique: Phantom of the Opry. I like the idea for that song.

But here’s what I mean: The first song on the album is Rockin’ The Country.  It featured such nauseatingly obvious lines as “Hey y’all, yee haw / Little bit of hillbilly, little bit of outlaw” and instrumentation that could be found in any old Jason Aldean, Craig Morgan or Rodney Adkins song.

I wasn’t optimistic going in to the title track, Looking For America. And sure enough, not only was it cliché with respects to America songs, it was cliché with respects to songs about the good ol’ days… the old one-two punch to the horse recently murdered by Rockin’ The Country. But just to make sure the “American” horse was truly dead, the next song is about a soldier! Ok, I actually really like the lyrics to this one; it would be an admiral song on a record with more diversity. However, given the circumstances, it didn’t reach it’s greatest potential. Not to mention, it’s on the album twice, the second time as an acoustic version.

Then we get into a song about forgetting your problems. Another good song lyrically, but it’s about dancing “like there’s no yesterday,” (just a tad corny) and nothing caught my ear about it. Following that were songs about heartbreak, being in love, heartbreak again, The Phantom of the Opry, and then heartbreak again. Actually all of these songs were well written, so for those who enjoy lyrics, this is a good album.

On that note, as you may know, an artist who writes his own music automatically jumps up several notches on my critiquing scale. Well, it’s no doubt this album has great lyrics; it features some of Nashville’s best… but Mark Wills isn’t one of them. He co-wrote one song, and it was the one I lost interest in. However, there are songs penned by Chris Tompkins (Before He Cheats, Voices), the Warren Brothers (Red Solo Cup, Anyway), Brett James (Jesus Take The Wheel, When The Sun Goes Down) and Lee Brice.

I would never turn anyone away from listening to this album, but it will quickly get lost in the shuffle.

Looking For America track listing:

1. Rockin’ The Country

2. Looking For America

3. Crazy Being Home

4. Like There’s No Yesterday

5. Rather Be

6. The Whole World

7. Smokin’ Gun

8. Phantom Of The Opry

9. Where Did I Lose You

10. Crazy Being Home (Acoustic Version)

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Album Review: Love Don’t Run By Steve Holy

Steve Holy - Love Don't RunA review on Steve Holy’s newest, Love Don’t Run is a few months overdue, but it took him about five years to follow up his last album, Brand New Girlfriend with this one, so I guess we have time. A compilation of good ol’ country songs, Love Don’t Run is a solid listen, but I don’t see any track that will launch the country crooner’s career into the stratosphere.

Now, “good country songs” is vague and subjective, so let me tell you what I mean: Love Don’t Run has a versatile mix of tracks with predictable country subject matters: lessons learned, heroes, and love (obviously). The songs are well written, some with similes and descriptives (Like I’m Famous, Wonders), some with funny plays on words (Hauled Off And Kissed Me), and some with romantic emotion (Until The Rain Stops, Help Me Make It Through The Night).

The single Love Don’t Run was a hit, making the top 20, but nothing that will last as a wedding song like Good Morning Beautiful (although an acoustic version of that song is included as a bonus track on this album) or a karaoke song like Brand New Girlfriend. To be clear, it’s a good album! Just don’t expect Holy to be in the hunt for a CMA Award.

Now, since I am a fan of the songwriting, the one criterion that could propel my respect of this album upward is if Holy wrote or co-wrote the songs himself. And (Please wait, while I check the album insert)… he wrote four of them. Ok, not bad. And to his credit, many of those songs were the ones that caught my ear.

For those wondering, he did not write either of his aforementioned charting singles from previous albums. However, on this album, names such as Rodney Adkins, Kris Kristofferson and (wait for it…) Kelly Roland from Destiny’s Child show up in the songwriting credits.

Wrapping this rambling up: I liked the album. It won’t find a permanent home in my CD player, but it’s already loaded on my iPod for when the Steve Holy mood hits me.

Love Don’t Run Track Listing:

1. If It Gets You Where You Wanna Go

2. Love Don’t Run

3. Hauled Off And Kissed Me

4. Until The Rain Stops

5. Heart Of A Hero

6. Everyday Should En Like This

7. Wonders

8. Let The Sun Shine In

9. Like I’m Famous

10. Help Me Make It Through The Night

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Album Review: Mark Wayne Glasmire Self-Titled Release

This new 7-track self-titled EP from artist, Mark Wayne Glasmire, is set for release on January 10th.

Mark Wayne GlasmireIf you’ve never heard of Mark Wayne Glasmire,  I would describe Mark’s music as a cross between Pat Green, Jimmy Buffett, and maybe even a little bit of Billy Joel thrown in there, too.

Track By Track Review:

“Last Of A Dying Breed”:  An uptempo, optimistic song that’s an anthem to the working class man and values that don’t seem to hold true for most anymore.

“I Like You”:  This fun, mid-tempo song put me in mind of a Jimmy Buffett song.  I could picture myself down in the Florida Keys listening to this song with a bit of a tropical feel to it.

“Going Home”:  This reflective, mid-tempo song reminded me a little of Billy Joel’s “Piano Man”.  Especially right at the beginning, but really throughout the tune.  My favorite of the album about a man rethinking his decisions and a hint of an Irish feel.  Especially enjoyed his voice on this one and the lyrics.

“The Last Goodbye”:  This ballad was my least favorite on this album.  Just a little too sleepy for me.

“She’s Got It All”:  Another fun, uptempo song that I could picture played live in a bar in Texas with the beer flowing and crowds of people on the dance floor.

“Now I Believe”:  Mid-tempo, optimistic song about love .  Almost an Irish feel about the song, too.

“The Moment”:  Reflective, melancholy ballad about rethinking decisions of the past.

I would recommend this album to anyone who enjoys a compelling voice with meaningful lyrics and strong melodies.  I wouldn’t say that Mark Wayne Glasmire’s voice is the strongest or that he is the absolute best singer that I’ve heard, but there was something quite compelling and honest about this whole album.  I would say he’s more of a songwriter than a singer.  Very enjoyable to listen to.  Sung from the heart by someone that I actually believe has lived these experiences that most can relate to and who have reached a point in their lives, also, that they are rethinking decisions of the past.  Perhaps these are all decisions made by the young, rash man who has now grown a little older and wiser through his life experiences.  Seems to be the theme of the album.

It is a slightly eclectic mix of songs, but heavily-rooted in country, folk, and, yes, even a little Irish influence in the album.  Maybe that was just me hearing that, but that’s what I was put in mind of and since country was heavily-influenced by the Scotch/Irish settlers in the south, that makes perfect since.  I could envision myself possibly in an Irish pub listening to some of these songs on the album enjoying a nice, frothy beverage when I wasn’t hanging out in the Florida Keys.  Definitely worth a listen!

Rated 3 1/2 out of 5 stars.

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Album Review: The Best Of Rascal Flatts LIVE

The Best of Rascal Flatts LIVEYou know the songs… now you get to hear them live whenever you want! Rascal Flatts has compiled a “best of” album of live hits; and although I would have preferred an entire set list to a random 10-song (with two medleys, so 12 and a half songs?) compilation, the album doesn’t disappoint.

I’ve never seen the superstar group live – mainly because I am not big enough a fan to dish out their asking price for tickets – but I’m such a fan of live music, I was excited to hear what they did with the songs.

The crowd sounds aren’t enhanced enough on the album to really tell what kind of show you’re listening to, but it’s pretty obvious many are taken from smaller shows, not arenas. A good idea, and a lovely setting for live recordings, but this is one of the biggest touring bands in the nation… give me arena energy. Having said that, the live versions really are enjoyable and the crowds are obviously in to it. Not to mention, the band sounds great and the guy’s harmonies are better featured here than in a studio.

As I said, there are two medleys on the album. The first is I’m Moving On, Skin (Sarabeth), and Feels Like Today… I don’t know what to think about that sample of songs. They are apparently just saving set list time by combining them. The second medley is their encore of classic rock songs: Boston’s Foreplay/Long Time, and Free Ride by The Edgar Winter Group. The thought of Gary Levox singing Boston had me questioning, but it’s fine… and Joe Don flat out shreds it on guitar.

They hit their big ones: Bless The Broken Road, What Hurts The Most, Stand, and their cover of Life Is A Highway. Missing from the album are Mayberry and Love You Out Loud, and I would have liked to hear Me And My Gang because I think that would be an awesome song live. That’s just me, but overall I think the song choices were solid.

One thing that can really turn me off from live albums is if the songs sound essentially the same as the studio recordings. Thankfully, this one gives so much diversity that it’s actually worth purchasing, even if you own every Flatts song already. Definitely worth listening to. Students earning online college degrees in music should add this to their collections.

5. Medley: I’m Movin’ On, Skin (Sarabeth) and Feels Like Today

6. Stand

7. These Days

8. What Hurts The Most

9. Life Is A Highway

10. Encore: Foreplay/Long Time, Free Ride

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Album Review: Tim McGraw’s ‘Emotional Traffic’

Tim McGrawImmediately, I was struck by the musical depth of this highly-anticipated album by Tim McGraw This new release entitled ‘Emotional Traffic’ has been described by Tim McGraw as his best ever and I have to say I would have to agree.  Slated for a release of January 24th, this 12-track album will surely appeal to country fans, as well as, the masses and be a huge crossover hit.

It’s not an album that will probably appeal to a real country traditionalist-type, but Tim McGraw fans, contemporary country, and simply fans of great music will appreciate this.   I believe Tim was spreading his musical wings and exploring creatively without constraints.  He’s reached that point in his career that he can do that.

Track by track review:

“Halo”:  The first track “Halo” gave me chills from the beginning to end.  It’s a dark, mid-tempo song about love going wrong.  This was a hauntingly-beautiful song and I would say this is my favorite song ever by Tim McGraw.  This is a crossover hit in the making that would appeal to the pop world.  Very contemporary feel to this song.

“Right Back Atcha Babe”:  I wasn’t quite as crazy about this one when I first listened to it.  It is my least favorite of the album.  It’s ok, just not my favorite.  It grew on me more the 2nd and 3rd time I listened to it.  I guess there are just some songs that you have to listen to a couple of times before you fully appreciate it.  Now, it puts me in mind of a song that might have been by the Little River Band, and I love them! So, I think I’ve now been converted to liking this song.Tim McGraw

“One Part, Two Part”:  I really enjoyed this mid-tempo song.  Kind of a soulful feel to it and just an all-around feelgood song about love.  This one makes you want to grab a loved one, dance, and sing along.  I like it especially when they break it down near the end.

“I Will Not Fall Down”:  This ballad brought me to tears and gave me chills.  Beautifully written with emotional depth…another crossover hit that many will enjoy.  Another favorite.

“The One”:  Enjoyed this one, too.  Simply a light, bluesy, feelgood, mid-tempo song about “the one” you love and how they make you feel.

“Better Than I Used To Be”:  This song would appeal those fans of traditional country.  Mid-tempo, reflective, and honest.

“Touchdown Jesus”:  Not my favorite on the album, but still a good one.  More in the traditional country vain.  A lot of religious references in this mid-tempo tune.  Many will appreciate the uplifting message in this tune.

“The One That Got Away”:  Powerful, radio-friendly ballad that country fans will love.  It’s slightly dark and melancholy, but filled with hope at the same time.  This song tells a story like many great country songs do.

“Felt Good On My Lips”:  Uptempo, playful, fun, and another favorite on the album.  A great summer song for those long roadtrips and very country radio-friendly.

“Hey Now”:  More of a pop, bluesy-feel.  Enjoyable.  Not the strongest on the album, but still enjoyable.

“Only Human”:  Powerful and thought-provoking ballad featuring pop/R&B star, Ne-Yo.  Sure to be a cross-over hit that will reach into the hearts of many.

“Die By My Own Hand”:  Another powerful ballad with thought-provoking, beautiful lyrics that will surely be a hit on country radio.

This whole album is my favorite release of Tim McGraw’s to date and I strongly recommend it when it hits stores January 24th.  Not just country fans will enjoy this album, but simply fans of great music.  Well-done, Tim! Well worth the wait.

Rated 5 out of 5 stars.


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Album Review: TOY’s Self-Titled Debut Release

Hands down across all genres, my absolute favorite album of the year is this debut release from newly-formed pop/rock band,  TOY.  It has literally NOT left my car cd player since I got it Monday night until now when I have to look at it to make sure that I’ve got everything right from it for this review.

Rarely does an album come along that grabs you and takes hold of you like this one! How do I begin to describe it and do it the justice that it deserves? If you take the best parts of Evanescence, Lady Gaga, and Florence & The Machine, then created something new and original from those musical influences, you would then have TOY.  At least, what I think best describes them! They are high energy, dance, rock, pop, electronic with a dark, edgy sound.

TOY is comprised of 4 members: Alana Grace (lead vocals, guitar, keys), Spencer Bastian (guitar, bass, vocals), Christian Meadows (lead guitar), and Ryan Folden (drums).   For more in-depth information on TOY, please see this article: http://focusonthe615.com/2011/12/10/a-closer-look-toy-episode-1-and-welcome-matt-williams-to-the-site/

All songs on the album are original and written by TOY.

Full Track List:

1) “Uh Oh”:  This one put me most in mind of Lady Gaga, but they aren’t trying to imitate.  Uptempo, dancy, edgy.

2) “Ghost”:  Dark, uptempo, and my favorite lyrically.  One of my favorites overall.  I can listen to this one over and over without tiring.

3) “Give It To Me”: Again, uptempo, high energy…another that I don’t tire of hearing.  Best listened to in the car where you can crank if WAY up and not disturb the neighbors!

4) “Music Box”:  Dark, melodic, and hard rock edginess at it’s best.

5) “Traffic Signs”:  This one starts with a lot of electronic adds and build-up to the actual song. Very dark and edgy.  Almost a tribal sound.  Enthralling–lyrically and musically.

6) “Flying High”:  My absolute favorite off this album! Uptempo, electronic, dance, rock…builds up to a frenzy.  Even better live! Watch the video of this below and listen to the crowd being built into a frenzy midway through as they scream with excitement.

7) “Night Hunters”:  This one makes me want to get up and dance.  Seriously, there’s not a weak one on the album.  Not one!

The only downside for me was I wanted MORE than 7 songs on this album.  It’s just that good! It left me wanting much more and I want to see them live again soon.  They are riveting, charismatic, high energy, and a breath of fresh air.  If you like pure and powerful vocals mixed with excellent musicianship, deep & thought-provoking writing, then TOY is for you! THIS is a band that is better experienced live.  The album is GREAT, the live show will blow you away! It is like a tidal wave of energy flowing over the room when they take the stage.  Your attention will be captured and held until they leave the stage, which you don’t want to happen.  This band is going places!

Anyway, my point is GET THE ALBUM! Request it from their site and if they come to a town near you, GO! You won’t be disappointed! Enough said.

For more information and to connect with TOY, please go to their website at: www.toymusicbox.comYou can also find them on Facebook at: www.facebook.com/officialtoymusic

Rated 5 out of 5 stars.  An absolute must-have!

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Album Review: Hunter Hayes Releasing Debut Self-Titled Album October 11th

HunterI had the pleasure of meeting 20-year-old Hunter Hayes and discussing his music back in June of this year.  What struck me the most about Hunter is how humble and grounded he is.  I foresee and hope for nothing but great things ahead for him.  Hunter is a true musical prodigy on the verge of stardom! He was already a skilled musician at the age of only 4 when he made his appearance on stage with Hank Williams Jr. in front of a large audience playing an accordion and singing “Jambalaya“.   So, I guess it’s no real surprise that Hunter produced and played every instrument on his debut album.  Just extremely impressive! How many people can say all of that? Makes everybody else look like they need to go find a href=’http://www.weldingtraining.org’>day job in welding training.

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