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Carrie UnderwoodAlbum Review - Carrie Underwood: Cry Pretty

For more than a decade now, Carrie Underwood has been a dependable country-music presence: the years bleed into the next and, with some patience, chances are it won’t be long before the massive-voiced country-pop-rock dynamo delivers yet another big-ticket, high-gloss album. You know the type, those chart-topping sensations stockpiled with sharply written kiss-offs, honky-tonk boot stompers and exquisite ballads. But it all started to make you wonder: Was Underwood so reliable, so utterly consistent, that she in turn risked losing the human connection that first made her a star way back on American Idol?

You needn’t have worried. Following a facial injury that led to months of seclusion as she healed, the singer returned earlier this year and wisely billed her new album, Cry Pretty, as her most personal effort yet. With her latest effort, Underwood reveals a sincerity and mature, time-tested point of view that even some of her career’s most successful singles can’t match.

Given its hot-button subject matter, expect the “The Bullet” — where Underwood takes stock of a tragic shooting, and over lilting acoustic guitar sings, “You can blame it on hate or you can blame it on guns/But mamas ain’t supposed to bury their sons” — to make all the headlines. But the slow-building, arena-ready anthem “Love Wins,” Kumbaya vibes notwithstanding, is where the singer is at her her most poignant: “Politics and prejudice, how the hell did it ever come to this?,” Underwood sings over slow-building piano. “When everybody’s gotta pick a side/it don’t matter if you’re wrong or right.”

Even more thrilling, the 12-track LP (the majority of whose songs are Underwood co-writes) also features the singer taking bold stylistic risks. She’s previously been more strategic in this respect, and rarely veered off sonic course. (Then again, when your debut album sells upwards of seven million copies and you maintain multi-year platinum success … probably a good move). Thankfully though, Underwood guides her ship to new and exciting avenues here. “The Song That We Used To Make Love To” is a peppy pop missile aimed straight for the charts; the tender “Low” lobs a curveball with its fiery blues-guitar breakdown at the bridge; and, as a toast to her more traditional country roots, “Ghosts on the Stereo” is a rafter-rattler arena-rock ode to the classic-country loving ladies who are never alone so long as they’ve got “Hank, Haggard and Jones” pumping through the speakers.

Cry Pretty is Underwood’s most stirring album in years. Her voice alone will always move units, but it’s her heart that will keep things interesting.

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Cole SwindellAlbum Review - Cole Swindell: All of It

Since releasing his debut album in 2014, Cole Swindell has established himself as an adept songwriter and engaging performer. The Georgia native has amassed seven No. 1 singles as a solo artist and 10 chart toppers as a songwriter. His third album, All of It, showcases his rising star power and current single, “Break Up in the End,” is just a glimpse inside the project.

The 12-track album, out Aug. 17, includes five penned by the singer. A versatile mix of heartfelt songs, party starters and arena anthems, on All of It Swindell continues his upward climb within the genre.

The infectious “Love You Too Late” kicks off the project and sounds like something Luke Bryan could have recorded. Having toured with the singer and written songs for Bryan, Swindell was wise to keep this one for himself as the bombastic track will shine on his upcoming tour. An arena-ready anthem with soaring guitar parts, heart-pounding beats and polished production, “Love You Too Late” has Swindell singing of a relationship that ended before he realized what his girl meant to him. “I should have held her close / I should have let her know / How I felt about her about a couple county lines ago,” he laments.

Swindell does heartbreak well, and this can be heard on the yearning “Somebody’s Been Drinkin'” where he sings of two exes missing each other and trying to forget about their breakup over alcohol. A play-by-play of a night spent downing drinks only to text the other and meet up once again, “Somebody’s Been Drinkin'” is a relatable track that places the listener in the song.

While “Somebody’s Been Drinkin'” brings the feels, standout album closer “Dad’s Old Number” leaves the greatest mark. A poignant song penned by Jessi Alexander and Chase McGill, it’s the sequel to “You Should Be Here” and has Swindell confessing that he still calls his dad’s phone number in hopes that he’ll be on the other end to provide some fatherly advice.

“Sometimes I forget these 10 digits ain’t my lifeline anymore / Every now and then I dial them up when life gets tough or when the Braves score / Sorry about the one-ring hang-ups, early morning, late night wake-ups / It was just me in case you wondered / You’ve got dad’s old number,” he sings on the chorus.

Swindell has established himself on the heart wrenching ballads, but he’s also well versed in the party anthems. Tracks like the feel-good “Sounded Good Last Night” pick up the pace as does the ear-grabbing “20 in a Chevy.” The latter features forward-thinking production and a mesmerizing beat as Swindell reminisces of a past relationship. “How the hell did we have such a good thing and let it slip away?” he questions.

Additional highlights include the heartfelt “The Ones That Got Me Here” and the sweet sentiment of “I’ll Be Your Small Town,” both of which the singer penned. On All of It, Swindell furthers his reach within the genre. Whether he wrote the song or not, his emotive singing shines through, leaving a lasting impression on the listener. And, with a proven track record at radio in selecting songs that leave an impact, All of It adds to Swindell’s growing catalog of hits.

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Chris LaneAlbum Review - Chris Lane: Laps Around The Sun

There’s a sunny disposition that Chris Lane captures on Laps Around the Sun. Built on a foundation of warm melodies and playful material, drawn together by a feel-good vibe that permeates throughout the album, Laps Around the Sun is the type of project that’s tailor made for summertime.

Lane hand-selects 14 tracks that tell a variety of upbeat stories, ranging from the tongue-in-cheek “New Phone, Who’s This” to the lighthearted wordplay on “Fishin’” and smooth “I Don’t Know About You.” One could draw comparisons to Old Dominion, as Lane calls upon suave pop-country production and radio-friendly lyrics that are complimented by his crisp vocals. Lead single “Take Back Home Girl,” featuring a stellar vocal appearance by Tori Kelly, immediately welcomes you into the project with an infectious beat that sets the tone for what’s to follow.

While the album showcases Lane’s knack for carefree songs, it also brings out a different side of his artistry, highlighting the soul in his voice that comes through in both melody and delivery. It’s evident on “New Phone” and the title track, co-penned by the singer, along with “Life Goes On,” which finds Lane crooning “I ain’t drunk and I ain’t stoned, I’ve just been wandering all night long, they say the sun’s still gonna dawn, but baby you’re good and gone, right now I don’t see how life goes on,” over a waning guitar.

Lane feels more grounded on his third project, which follows 2016’s Girl Problems, an album that made a strong impression with hits like “Fix” and “For Her.” On Laps Around the Sun, he exudes a confidence that makes its presence known on each track. He demonstrates the kind of depth he’s capable of on “Hero,” the album’s lone ballad, which follows the journey of three diverse characters longing for a heroic figure in their lives, with Lane telling the story in a way that naturally draws one into the lyrics. It’s the type of song you wish there was more of on the album, with its simplicity and soft choral voices making it his best cut thus far.

In the time leading up to album’s release, Lane said that his goal is to create music that transports people to their happy place, and he certainly takes the first step to achieving this on Laps Around the Sun. If he continues to utilize inviting melodies and couple them with meaningful lyrics, the burgeoning star could see an artistic transformation that will only further the growth he’s already exhibited on Laps Around the Sun.

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SugarlandThe Five Coolest Things We Saw on Sugarland’s ‘Still the Same Tour’

It’s been nearly six years since Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush have toured together, and they’ve already proven it was more than worth the wait. Sounds Like Nashville has been itching to catch a show since the 2018 “Still the Same Tour” hit the road earlier this spring. We were there for all the hits, and plenty of new songs off their newest release, Bigger, as the duo rolled in to Chaifetz Arena in St. Louis, MO, June 30. These are the 5 coolest things we saw on our big night out with Sugarland, and not-to-be-missed openers Brandy Clark and Clare Bowen. (In other words, go get your tickets now!)

The Production: From the steampunk inspired “Incredible Machine Tour” of 2010 and 2011, to the vintage circus theme driving the “Still the Same Tour” in modern-day 2018; it’s a unique, transportive experience each and every time you step foot into a Sugarland concert. This go-around, Nettles and Bush’s set features a red and white striped big top tent, complete with all the smoke, lights and theatrics we’ve come to expect at a Sugarland show. Nettles looked no further than to fashion design icon Christian Siriano to create a totally chic, one-of-a-kind wardrobe fit for any ringmaster.

The Set List: If you’re wondering if you’ll get to hear all of your classic Sugarland favorites on the “Still the Same Tour,” the answer is YES! With a dramatic curtain drop projecting silhouettes of the duo, the opening performance of their latest title track, “Bigger,” sets the tone for an upbeat night of past and present Sugarland jams. “All I Want To Do,” “Stuck Like Glue,” and “Settlin’” are sure to get you moving, while the new and sultry Latin-infused “Let Me Remind You” will have you feeling like that dancing lady emoji – you know, the one in the red sassy dress! Nettles and Bush also bring the tempo back down at times, and there wasn’t a louder moment than the crowd wide sing-a-long during “Stay.”

Together, Solo and Together Again: If you thought Sugarland was taking time off during their hiatus, then you’ve clearly been living under a rock. Nettles and Bush, among other projects, both released solo albums during their time apart. We love that they each had a moment in the spotlight to perform one of their solo hits – Bush brought the snaps back to country music with his catchy single, “Trailer Hitch,” while Nettles’ vocals soared on her ballad, “Unlove You.” We couldn’t help but notice Bush and his acoustic guitar backing Nettles with the rest of the Sugarland band while she delivered her song. Friendship goals to the extreme, folks. Side note: If you’ve never heard Bush sing before, you’re in for a treat on this tour and on this record.

Sugarl&: In Sugarland, everyone is welcome to come as they are. Their cover of the Indigo Girls’ “Galileo” was a special tribute, celebrating the LGBTQ community and Pride month, with “Sugarl&” displayed on the big screen behind them – “& = everyone belongs here – including you & you & you & you.” Nettles and Bush’s music has always had a beautiful way of bringing people together, reminding us we’re all more alike than not, as heard in “Little Miss,” off their 2010 album, The Incredible Machine. New songs that create powerful moments in the show include “Bird In a Cage,” which addresses the very things in life that leave us feeling stuck, or quite literally, caged, from our greatest potential and truth. The last track on Bigger, “Not the Only,” leads into a moving encore performance, resulting in an entire crowd on its feet. Nettles, Bush and their entire band shine lights from their hands out into the darkness as thousands of fans turned on their cell phone flashlights and illuminated the entire arena. We still have chills (and maybe a few tears) just thinking about it.

Nostalgia: If you’ve been following Nettles and Bush as long as we have, and you find yourself counting down the days until your next Sugarland concert, then this live show will hit you right in the feels–just like it did for us. Their nearly two-hour set took us back to the beginning with “Baby Girl” and “Something More,” but also looked to the future with seven songs off “Bigger,” including their current single, “Babe,” co-written by Taylor Swift and Train’s Pat Monahan. This band is so important to our musical landscape, and they continue to stretch and bend the rules of genre; constantly keeping us on our toes in the best way possible. Thank goodness for that.

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Carrie UnderwoodCarrie Underwood Steals the Show at 2018 CMA Fest Night 2 – Annie Reuter

Carrie Underwood made her triumphant return to CMA Fest on June 8 for a powerful set that will be talked about in years to come. The singer’s performance captivated all in attendance at Nashville’s Nissan Stadium thanks to her jaw-dropping vocals and engaging live show.

A seasoned entertainer, Underwood took the audience of country music fans on a journey throughout her seven-song set. Donning an emerald green romper and silver booties, she shimmered from the cheap seats and her vocal power was undeniable on every song she sang. Underwood kicked off her memorable set with “Church Bells,” where it was immediately obvious fans were in for a very special night of music.

“We are so glad to be here this evening, and even more glad that you guys are here this evening,” Underwood said before launching into fan favorite “Last Name.” “So let’s keep this party going, shall we?”

Underwood’s set spanned her massive catalog of No. 1 hits and had fans on their feet and singing along word for word. On “Wasted” she’d head to the lower stage where she’d shake festivalgoers’ hands in the photo coral while on “Dirty Laundry” she showed her humor.

“We’re gonna have to change the words of this next song I think. It’s called ‘Dirty Laundry’ but we might need to sing ‘Sweaty Laundry.’ Mom joke,” she quipped.
While Underwood stole the evening, she wasn’t the only powerhouse vocalist on the lineup. Luke Combs impressed with his hit-heavy set and booming vocals. His performance alternated from the clever breakup songs with “Beer Never Broke My Heart” and “When It Rains It Pours” to the more sentimental ballads including “She Got the Best of Me” and “One Number Away.” While “Honky Tonk Highway” showcased his love for ’90s country, it was on his first No. 1 hit “Hurricane” that left a lasting mark.

“When I started writing songs seven years ago, I never imagined I would be up here. I feel like the luckiest guy in the world getting to stand on this stage at Nissan Stadium,” he said before closing his set.

Despite technical difficulties at the start of his set, Blake Shelton powered through his performance with songs that showcased his versatile catalog and appreciation for classic country music. He also shared with the audience that he was celebrating that evening after receiving two 2018 CMT Music Awards earlier in the week. His set included his previous No. 1 hits “I’ll Name the Dogs,” “Boys ‘Round Here” and “Austin,” as well as current single “I Lived It.”

“I want to play y’all a song that, man, I don’t know at the end of the day if this song is going to make it or not, but I wanted to put this thing out because it reminded me of what it was like growing up as a kid back in the ’80s,” he said of “I Lived It.”

While Shelton’s set was heavy on the sentimental songs, Old Dominion kicked the energy back up a notch with their feel-good tracks. Making the most of their timeslot on the main stage, Old Dominion powered through back-to-back hits with “Written In the Sand,” “No Such Thing As a Broken Heart,” “Break Up with Him” and “Snapback.”

Prefacing “No Such Thing As a Broken Heart,” frontman Matthew Ramsey said stadium shows were the reason they penned the song. “We could not be prouder to be standing here tonight with you,” frontman Matthew Ramsey said mid-set. “Let’s have a big sing-along. That’s why we wrote this song.”

The crowd more than obliged as the Ramsey held his microphone out to the audience of 60,000 fans who belted the song’s lyrics.

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