Album Reviews

Reba takes fans to church with ‘Sing It Now’

Reba McEntire - Sing It Now - Songs of Faith & Hope

Reba McEntire has accomplished a lot during her 40+ year career. One thing she’s never done is a gospel album, until now. It’s something she’s always wanted to do, but never has despite recording songs before, like “Sky Full Of Angels” and releasing three Christmas albums. On Sing It Now: Songs Of Hope & Faith, McEntire comprises ten hymnals and ten contemporary songs to release a double disc that will take you to church.

While there isn’t a bad song on the set, dissecting 20 songs (22 on the Amazon Deluxe Edition) will take quite a while, so I’ll highlight some of my favorites. As one may expect with a gospel album, there’s a big choir presence throughout and it’s very warming! The choir has a voice of its own and those songs remind me of Sister Act when Whoopi Goldberg’s character modernized hymnals and brought the crowd to its feet.

McEntire co-produced the set with band member Doug Sizemore and Rascal Flatts’ Jay DeMarcus. McEntire requested DeMarcus’ presence on the record after hearing he produced Ronnie Dunn’s Tattooed Heart. DeMarcus’ style usually features loops, but not very many of Sing It Now’s songs have them which is exciting.

The album opens with the first song she ever performed in front of an audience, “Jesus Loves Me.” It was around four years old when her family was at Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo when she sang the song in a hotel lobby. The song is very traditional sounding with light percussion and instrumentation.

“Oh, How I Love Jesus” is a great six-eight bluesy number with contemporary production that brings new life to the song. Backed by a gospel choir, fiddle, organ and big drums, the song has a modern sound that will get your hands raising.

“Oh Happy Day” is a song that not many, including Reba herself, knows is an old hymn. Recommended by McEntire’s friend and fellow actress, Melissa Peterman, the song has a Sister Act­-like sound with a big choir and even a saxophone that’s every welcoming! This would make a great video with Reba front and center of a church.

McEntire asked Kelly Clarkson and Trisha Yearwood to join her for “Softly And Tenderly,” another six-eight track that features light drums and instrumentation including a flute. The ladies harmonize perfectly. This would make for a great country single, although Reba’s gotten minimal airplay recently, so not sure how well it would do.

A song that McEntire was rumored to have recorded long before the project was announced, “God And My Girlfriends” is yet another six-eight mid-tempo track. In it she sings who she couldn’t live without either. A good fit as McEntire admits that both have been there for her during her divorce, moving, becoming her own manager and developing her own RBI (Reba’s Business, Inc.). A good song that could be a single and hopefully get more airplay than her last few.

“Hallelujah Amen” is a fun uptempo tune that isn’t necessarily a gospel song, but it fits the album. Another song with loops, but the song is nice addition to the album. A choir is featured again and McEntire’s vocals are strong. It could be a single as well and fit the country or Christian format.

“I Got The Lord On My Side” is very bluesy and quick. McEntire co-wrote the song with her mother Jackie who, along with her sisters Susie and Alice, sang backup for the song. It’s just a fun, uplifting tune that will get you feeling the spirit and clapping along with the track. Reba borrows some of Garth Brooks’ bandmates for it. Jimmy Mattingly is featured on fiddle and backup singers Robert Bailey and Vicki Hampton are part of the choir.

The lead single is “Back To God,” written by fellow country singer Randy Houser. It appears on Houser’s debut album, Anything Goes, but was never released as a single. It’s slower and fits radio’s current sound with loops. The lyrics teach the listener that God can turn each bad situation into a good one. Needless to say, everything happens for a reason.

Another standout track is “Angel On My Shoulder” which features hand claps and a brass choir. Very nice arrangement with instruments that aren’t used as much in commercial music. The lyrics speak of how an angel is always watching over you, no matter what.

Overall, Sing It Now is a great collection of hymns and contemporary songs that will get anyone in the spirit. Reba’s voice is stronger than ever and she feels very comfortable singing the gospel format. Not once did it feel like Reba was pushing anything. It all felt very natural. Beautiful arrangements for an eclectic bunch of songs.

DELUXE 2 CD | 2 CD | 2 LP

LeAnn Rimes builds musical kingdom with ‘Remnants’

LeAnn Rimes - Remnants

LeAnn Rimes has built her kingdom with Remnants. Country with soul, soul with rock, and beautiful ballads are all contained within this album.

The consistency of love is the theme here, and can be perhaps overdone at times. But, the nod to Garth Brooks’ “Thicker Than Blood” on “Love Line” is catchy and addicting.

Rimes’ career has been one of the most fascinating to watch in country music. Beginning in her teens, it is amazing that she has sustained all of these years. At just 34 years old, she is a two-decade veteran of the industry. That longevity is due to her maintaining an authenticity in everything she performs. You feel her pain and strength on Remnants, as you feel her joy on “Long Live Love.”

The music is an interesting cross-section of country music and punk rock. Pink meets Carrie Underwood. Rimes’ manages to create a musical feeling that lets her roots shine through, while the groove makes many of these songs sound like they could have appeared on a Lady Gaga album.

This album has a parental advisory warning because of the honesty with which Rimes handles these mature topics. It is not so much the swearing that earned it this advisory, but its bluntness. This album is pure and simple emotion. Her most loyal fans have watched LeAnn Rimes grow up through her music. This album is her opus. Rimes’ has built her musical kingdom, and we are all her servants.

CD

Brad Paisley pleases WVU live in concert

Brad Paisley - Life Amplified World Tour: Live From WVU

Brad Paisley is quite the showman. In his first live concert DVD, Life Amplified World Tour: Live From WVU, Paisley pleases the West Virginia University crowd. Shot with 20 cameras in front of over 20,000 people on the WVU campus, the two hour show brings Paisley’s persona to audiences everywhere.

Paisley is known for his witty humor as much as his guitar playing. He opens with the drinking song, “Crushin’ It” and blows through a mostly uptempo set. The 20 track collection includes “Water,” “Perfect Storm,” “She’s Everything,” “This Is Country Music,” “Old Alabama,” “River Bank,” “I’m Gonna Miss Her” and more.

Midway through, Paisley brings out Chris Young for a playful duet of “I’m Still A Guy.” Young walked on stage unannounced during the song and began singing the second verse. While singing, the pair walked towards the crowd and even grabbed fans’ cell phones to take their own selfies out front. This was a highlight as it shows how fan-oriented both artists are.

Several times throughout the show, Paisley signed autographs and grabbed cell phones. He even scrolled through one fan’s phone poking fun at the pictures. He also joked that he hoped he returned the phone to the right person. That was a fun laugh. He also signed a guitar and handed it to a young fan and encouraged him to learn how to play it.

Towards the end, Paisley led a sing-a-long version of John Denver’s “Country Roads Take Me Home.” The song has become an anthem for WVU. It seemed like it made the fans’ night hearing this one.

The musicianship of Paisley’s band is top notch. They each had their moments and played flawlessly. I watched the show in Dolby 5.1 Surround Sound, but had trouble hearing the fiddle mostly, which was disappointing. It would’ve been nice to have that mixed a bit better, but otherwise, the audio was crystal clear and sounded great!

The package is available on standalone DVD and as a CD/DVD combo. The CD only features 13 of the 20 tracks, but is a nice companion to those who want to listen to some of these live tracks in their car. This would make for Paisley’s second live CD, behind his double Hits Alive, released a few years ago.

Brad Paisley fans are going to be sure to add the combo pack to their collection. It’s a great concert from a great entertainer. The combo pack is presented in a single jewel case with a flip disc holder. The CD is on the top with the DVD on the bottom. There is no booklet as the back traycard details the release. The single album sleeve includes a pic from the show on the flip side. Either way, the draw to me is the DVD and it’s beautiful presentation.

DVD | CD/DVD

Jim James transcends specific audience with ‘Eternally Even’

There’s something completely forgettable about Jim James. Perhaps it’s that name. His anti-pop star take on being a pop star, however, doesn’t stop Eternally Even from becoming music that you want to return to again and again. A second solo album from a multi-talented musician and sound engineer, it’s the perfect music to listen to while driving along an empty parkway on a Sunday morning as if the whole world belongs to you. It transcends a specific audience. These latest songs from the lead singer of My Morning Jacket are expert at setting the mood for non-productive stuff like daydreaming. “Same Old Lie” is that spacey soundtrack you’re in search of when you put your head underwater in the bathtub.

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‘Joanne’ takes another musical turn for Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga - Joanne

Although her last album, the concept project ARTPOP, didn’t exactly wow diehards, one of the exceptions being The Music Universe, Joanne takes another turn musically for Lady Gaga. Always known for her hi-tech pop sounding tunes that always had a revealing, personal side if you listened carefully, Joanne is much more bare-boned, far more than any previous release. In Joanne, Lady Gaga exposes herself and the musical results still come out monstrous.

Experimental can also be used to describe this Gaga/Mark Ronson collaboration. There’s still the dance-y, electronic tunes we’re used to hearing from Gaga but she makes sharp turns musically. Country, big band, acoustic, this is Gaga the well-rounded musician really taking chances, not going back to familiar territory. Another plus Joanne has going for it.

Gaga has Nashville in her heart for the track “Diamond Heart” which has a taste of pop and the results here mesh well. “Joanne” has Gaga pouring her out in this terrific, very powerful ballad dedicated to her beloved aunt. “Perfect Illusion” is a powerful, energetic, raw track that helped defined pop music in 2016. Yes, Gaga is that kind of artist, an artist that can change the game and define the sound of contemporary music. “Million Reasons” is simple but it’s melodies simply grab you in this track that describes an ongoing inner conflict, a ballad that when you hear it you know it’s a Gaga signature tune.

Joanne is an another soon to be classic monster album, more so for the versatility Gaga shows than what you normally expect to hear. When artists attempt to change or experiment it usually doesn’t go over well with fans and sometimes critics. Gaga doesn’t have that problem to worry about with Joanne.

DELUXE CD | CD | LP

Metallica takes back metal with ‘Hardwired’

The “metal” in Metallica’s name is back! After an eight year gap in between studio albums, the band has proven it can still write and perform heavy metal like it once did. Fans got a taste of new music in 2014 with “Lords of Summer” (which can be found on the deluxe edition) and won’t be disappointed in the rest of Hardwired…To Self Destruct.

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Savage Henry and the Infamous One Pounders ‘Get Off Easy’

To call Get Off Easy by Savage Henry and The Infamous One Pounders punk porn as some have described it, is an injustice. Rebellious, energetic, fast, loud, those are all the things that make Get Off Easy rock and roll, not rock and porn.

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Garth Brooks is ‘Pure Adrenaline’ with ‘Gunslinger’

After two years, Garth Brooks returns with his brand new album Gunslinger. The album is “stupid fun,” as Brooks states. It’s full of new anthems, ballads and concert staples, and will sure to please your ears. “Here it is, the only album in my entire career that is pretty much ‘all Garth.’ I really hope you like it,” Brooks states in the booklet.

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Bon Jovi formulaic with ‘This House Is Not For Sale’

It’s taken me awhile, but I have finally accepted that Bon Jovi are never going back to their hard rock days. Their last great album — These Days — was delivered more than 20 years ago and they have a few hits but more misses for my tastes since. The band reinvented itself in 2000 with the release of “It’s My Life” — a good career move to stay relevant and popular. They have delivered an abundance of pop rockers since, and their latest album, This House Is Not For Sale (THINFS), continues the trend with formulaic songs and some recycled ideas from previous efforts.

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Kentucky Headhunters take fans ‘On Safari’ for new album

When the Kentucky Headhunters released their debut album, Pickin’ On Nashville, in 1989, they pioneered a new southern rock and modern country sound that took over the airwaves for the next decade. With hits like “Dumas Walker,” “Walk Softly On This Heart Of Mine” and “Oh Lonesome Me,” the album would go on to sell two million copies and win them their only Grammy Award. Twenty-five years later, the band is still going strong and spanning multi-genres as it reinvents itself with On Safari, available November 4th on Plowboy Records/Practice House Records.

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