Thursday, April 12, 2007

"Waking Up Laughing" - Martina Mcbride

The title of this record gives a good description of the vibe. The sound is refreshing, Martina with crisp acoustic guitars, mandolins, fiddles. All under the solo production of Mcbride.

Mcbride sounds refreshed, her songs are hot with a great balance of acoustic and electric instruments in one song. Her emotion is back. Timeless was a break for her, now she is vibrant, relevant, encouraging with the theme "Anyway" ,the hot single co-written by her and Brad Warren. She is blessed to have the best musicians Nashville has to offer, plus her own studio, so she admits, not having to rush this one. Her last original self titled disc "Martina" was great, a bit more on the traditional side. This is contemporary country that is probably the best new Nashville country CD this year.

The syncopated rhytmns and cohesiveness of each note is so sweet on the ears. Mcbride is a great producer. She really obsesses over each note, reverb type, emotion of an individual line. What a great voice, wow, the neatest song just came on, "Beautiful Again" ,lots of bluegrass influence, incredible background vocals. Another song by Mcbride and Warren.

"House Of A Thousand Dreams" - This is a really moving acoustic ballad that is loaded with great hooks and lyrics. Some accordion is in the background with great acoustic guitar and pedal steel going on.

"Loveland" is another intense slow ballad about getting married in a Vegas chapel, because the gal was pregnant. Brilliant song over all.

How cute, she has her daughter say goodbye after the last song. This is the strongest CD in any genre that I have heard in a long time. Not a bad or filler song here.

"Tryin' To Find A Reason" is a killer heartbreak ballad. The guitars are great, plus some very good mandolin and fiddle. The airy quality she gets out of the acoustic guitars would make another producer envious.

Martina has always tackled songs to address issues, encourage and here she is, back at it again. Thanks Martina, music needed to go up a couple of notches this year and you have more than done it.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

"Where I Am" - Tammy Cochran - a Review

This is Tammy Cochran's third CD and I'll say that it is her best. Produced by Mark Thompson and Anita Cochran, it is sonically what hi-resolution music is all about, great tones, no distortion, but most of all, twelve great tracks.

Each song has her print on it. She always wanted to have a part in the writing. I loved Cochran's "Life Happened" , what a song, very good CD too. Cochran is still a blond bombshell and has a country voice that is still more country than most. She really puts herself into these songs. Too bad that major labels were not interested, her songs are too real and I guess too different from their format. I had been waiting for a followup for a long time and this is well worth the wait. In her recent interview with DJ and CSO webmaster Jim Weaver, she is real excited about this project. The interview is still on the site.

Mike Johnson gives you that old pedal steel that weeps subtlety with Pete Finney helping out. Drummer Steve Turner is great. Lots of nice acoustic guitar, mandolin, banjo, violin(fiddle). What really impresses me is the electric guitar playing of Anita Cochran and Mark Thompson who also plays some great lap steel. These guys have unique playing that is different than your average Nashville sessions player. They get interesting tones and fire off some great melodic lines, not the same old rock stuff you are hearing on commercial country music today.

This CD has soul, Cochran's soul. She's the first artist on Straybranch records, where the disc is for sale, also from her website and CD baby, you won't find it in a store unfortunately, but it is very worth the buy.

This is stuff you can relate to, cerebral stuff, not beer drinking and cowboy songs. When I listen to this, Rosanne Cash, Joan Osborne comes to mind. Cochran has gone out in her own style with great lyrics, great hooks and great melodies.

Cochran really has a confident feel about her and the band rocks out, tight bass and just some beautiful cohesive music that is missing from most of today's country music. Patty Loveless's last album "Dreamin' My Dreams" does come to mind, a disc mostly ignored by the country community.

"As Soon As I'm Over You" is a bouncy, jazzy, bluesy piece that really takes off well with some great guitar work.

"Long Way Down" is a country rocker that rocks, incredible electric guitar playing, reminiscent of The Marshall Tucker Band.

"Nobody's Home" is a slow ballad about a big house that is nobody's home, a really moving song. "This beautiful house I own is nobody's home".

"Where I Am" - The title track of the disc is a beauty of a country gospel song about her battles. "I've had to go through the worst to get to the best I've ever been."

Well, think you get my drift. This is good real country music that has an eclectic appeal.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Mindy Smith Updates

It took eight years for Mindy Smith to become an overnight sensation.

The world discovered her suddenly around ‘04; that’s when she started winning awards, appearing on national TV, inspiring critics and artists to sing her praises (and her songs), and riding the momentum of One Moment More, her Vanguard debut.

But when she wasn’t accepting Best New Artist honors from the Americana Music Association, sharing stages with the likes of Mavis Staples, Patty Griffin, Dolly Parton, and Emmylou Harris, or winging across the ocean to recruit new fans in the U.K., she was often doing the same thing she’d done when she was new to Nashville.

She was, in other words, in a room with a guitar, closing a door and coaxing music up from somewhere down inside.

The songs of Long Island Shores, her new Vanguard release, come from that process, untainted by success and its distractions. What they reveal is an artist who is moving forward, which means digging inward as well as bridging out toward her colleagues in the mutual obeisance of co-writing.

The energies of Long Island Shores are as contradictory as the tides that wash the coast near Smithtown, where she was raised, on the northern side of the island. Beautiful to the ear, these songs are turbulent beneath the surface. The first single, “Out Loud,” breathes cautious hope over a breezy beat. “Please stay,” a playful love song, masks a deeper meditation on possessiveness and freedom. “You Know I Love You Baby” sets a hint of rage to a jazzy, toe-tap groove. Layers of meaning open to other layers, exposing these songs as complex in their simplicity. But then Mindy takes another turn on songs that bring one theme – the nestling comfort of “Tennessee,” the lazy pace of untroubled love on “What If the World Stops Turning?” – to a single blossom. “You Just Forgot,” transforms into something emotionally elusive, an intricate interweave of anger, pain, and ethereal detachment. Maybe Mindy didn’t conceive this one, but it’s hard to imagine anyone else singing it.

You can feel the presence of co-writers on some of these tracks: Beth Nielsen Chapman, Maia Sharp, John Scott Sherrill and the others, all of whom Mindy meets on some common ground of emotion and idea. And you can sense the privacy of those songs she wrote on her own, in which her convictions and doubts, her passions and humor, speak universally, through the poetry of her lyric and the beckoning in her voice.

All of this colors her words too, as she remembers how she felt after One Moment More changed her life. “It tripped me up,” she admits. “I felt like I needed to make a drastic musical change. I guess I wanted to be cooler, so I wound up wasting a lot of time until I realized I’m not cool after all.”

A laugh punctuates her speech; like her gestures, quick changes of expression, and sudden bursts of New York argot. Then we’re back to the story: “But I also came to allow myself more room to grow than I did on the first record. This one sounds more like me; nobody who hears it will be confused when they hear me playing these songs live, because I know they want to hear me tell the truth and be honest.”

Expectations were high for Long Island Shores, but none were higher than Mindy’s. “I’ve always had this need to keep improving,” she says. “I’m always under the gun to top my last song. I guess that comes from being a ‘professional songwriter’” – and here she wiggles her fingers, signaling quotation marks that also betray a self-deprecation that traces back to her first experiences with music.

She still remembers, for example, being confused and embarrassed, as the young adopted daughter of a minister and his musically gifted wife, over the looks she would get for singing out loud wherever she was, whenever the spirit seized her. “I had to learn how to not be excited about singing as I was walking through a mall,” she says. “My teachers hurt me a lot too, when I’d do it in class. That led to learning how to not love having music stuck in my head. I became very guarded. I wrestled with what to do with my life. I tried so many other avenues, but I kept having this desire to make music.”

Her mother’s death, her relocation to Knoxville with her father, and her move to Nashville in 1998, after giving college a whirl in Cincinnati, all hastened Mindy’s decision to pursue music without reservation. Recognition came locally first, beginning with first prize in the Tin Pan South writer’s contest of 2000, which prompted an invitation to join the writing staff at Yellow Dog Music the following year. 2003 led toward her appearance with Lee Ann Womack at South by Southwest and her electrifying rendition of “Jolene” on the Dolly Parton tribute CD, Just Because I’m a Woman. Though she was the only unsigned performer on that collection, Parton herself as an artist of special promise singled out Smith.

Even now, though, you get this sense from Mindy that she’s running everything she’s written through her head again – not just the new songs, but things she wrote years ago. Could she have done better on this one? Will she ever do better than she did on that one? She does know the answers, and she accepts that they point toward her continuing development in every aspect of music, from the writing and the singing to production as well.

That, of course, makes Long Island Shores a masterwork of intuitive artistry. The fact is, for all of her insistence that she’s still just tapping into her creative resources, the scary thing is that she may be right. And for all acclaim that’s come her way, and all of her drive to keep pushing ahead, Long Island Shores captures an artist who is at peace with where she is and where she has yet to go.
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