Yesterday, you got my favorites. These are, for my money, the worst of the year, a blend of established acts and newcomers. In most cases, the producers are to blame, since they carry the clout in Nashville. In other cases, the artists themselves are partly responsible. Country record sales were up in 2012, and no doubt real talents like Taylor Swift, Eric Church, Kenny Chesney, Kellie Pickler and so on were responsible for that rise. But some of it was also attributable to acts like those you see here. Remember, I'm talking about the merits (or lack thereof) of the music. How much (or little) it sells is irrelevant in my book.
LIONEL RICHIE : Tuskegee (Mercury Nashville)
The year's biggest and most overblown marketing stunt tries to revive Richie's career by moving him into Nashville mode, pairing him with contemporary and veteran country stars ranging from Willie Nelson and Kenny Rogers to Darius Rucker and Shania Twain to rehash his hits. Contrived from the word go, nowhere does Richie try anything different with these classic numbers. He's an icon and always will be. Given that, he really did not need this forced victory lap. But hey, it went Platinum, that’s all it was ever really designed to do.
LITTLE BIG TOWN: Tornado (Capitol Nashville)
A mediocre 80's quartet group whose vocal harmonies propelled them into Nashville, they found a warm reception in an industry clearly running out of fresh ideas. Most tunes were written by no less than three collaborators, two, "Leavin' In Your Eyes" and "On Your Side of the Bed" have six co-writers. It reaffirms the adage about too many cooks spoiling the broth when it comes to songwriting. In all, it's yet another example of Nashville regurgitating hoary pop cliches and aiming them at aging, disenfranchised, rock fans.
AARON LEWIS: The Road (Blaster)
The lead singer of the rock band Staind has had success recording country on his debut EP. His approach, fully realized on his first full-length album, is all smoke and mirrors. Yes, he has a great voice. No doubt of that. But the songs, all but one of them Lewis originals, sound like he grabbed a ton of current contemporary country, listened to it carefully, took notes and wrote songs that fit the patterns. Nowhere in this one-size-fits-all material is there a glimmer of Lewis's own compositional voice. While a rocker like Darius Rucker made a transition to country that's authentic and organic. Lewis's doesn't feel that way for even a second. Here's my podcast review.
CASEY JAMES (19/BNA)
A blues-rocking American idol winner shoved into the Nashville meat grinder (the same one Music Row uses on most other new acts), resulting in an album that masks James' real potential in a fog of generic production and manufactured songs co-written with some of Music Row's biggest hacks. The rare moments where he breaks through underscore the travesty of this record. He needs a producer who makes the most of his talents and doesn't force him into a mold.
LOVE & THEFT (RCA Nashville)
Photogenic? Yes, but this pair of lightweights are so shallow and fluffy they make Rascal Flatts seem daring by comparison. The subject matter adheres to current Music Row fashion: trucks, hot girls, hot girls in trucks. With vapid harmonies and nonexistent passion, everything about them rings false. They opened concerts for Taylor Swift, who regardless of what some think, is a genuinely gifted singer and writer. Clearly they didn't learn much, and probably never will.
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