With the launch of a brand new site called Engine 145, some recent travel through Nashville and this crazy schedule called “life,” I’ve fallen way behind in my album reviews. And there have been some key releases over the last month or so that deserve a mention on the site. So I present a feature that you’ll hopefully only see once in a great while… Slacker Album Reviews. The slacker doesn’t refer to the album, it refers to the reviewer… me. Instead of calling the reviews short, we’ll call them "cute" instead. Five smiley faces is an A+. One smiley face is how well I get to the gym. (It’s not pretty.)
Ronnie Dunn- Ronnie Dunn
The Short & Sweet:
If only for our favorite track of 2011, “Cost of Livin’,” this album deserves praise and purchase. The ballads are as emotive and passionate as anything that Dunn has delivered in his career and the horns in the tex-mex beauty “How Far To Waco” are the best use of trumpets since Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.”
Blake Shelton- Red River Blue
The Short & Sweet:
Fresh off of his national recognition tour known as the television show, The Voice, Blake releases an album that he hopes will appeal to the widest range of people. In the process, however, he’s selected songs so widely generic, that he’s completely missing his trademark humor and storytelling that won him over fans in the first place. The stand-out track is the title track, “Red River Blue.” Soft, tender and personally told- and with Miranda Lambert singing harmony- it’s one of the better heartbreak tales told this year. Hopefully, it will be a radio single at some point.
Dolly Parton- Better Day
Nearly five decades as a recording artist have not diminished Parton's sass. And that still remains her charm. Better Day has a general theme of positive thinking and the album’s shining star is the bluesy title track. How much you buy into the indomitable optimism she paints across this album probably depends on how much you think- or don’t think- that Dolly is the queen of pretty-much-anything-she-touches. With this longtime Dolly fan and reviewer, she gets away with it. I drank the Kool-Aid.
Eric Church- Chief
I loved Church’s last album, Carolina. I named it as my favorite album of 2009. And it was clear that on that album, he could have departed in two different directions. He could have expounded on an emotive and well-written ballad-driven songwriter direction like on that album’s title track. Or he could have taken off down the testosterone-laden road like on tracks such as “Lotta Boot Left to Fill.” He chose to follow the latter. And while the machismo is a little thick throughout the album- “Country Music Jesus” comes to mind- his truly interesting production on the album saves the day. The guy that sings about saving country music is ironically pushing the envelope on the interpretation of what country music is.
Chris Young- Neon
This makes up the best (so far) mainstream release of the year. “Tomorrow,” “Flashlight,” and “Neon” are one-word studs in song- terrifically written tracks that are perfect for his voice. He’s co-written seven of the tracks and the album reveals how truly gifted he is as a songwriter. Young's vocals are rich, distinctive and powerful and impart just enough emotion to rope in the listener. His deep voice combines with a production that's traditional enough to command respect from the guys and with enough vulnerability to make the ladies... well let’s just say, my wife has a crush.