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Garth BrooksGarth Brooks Beautifully Illustrates Beginning of His Career in Part 1 of ‘The Anthology’

Album Review

Just like Santa Claus can be counted on to come to the home of all good little boys and girls in the month of December, November for country music fans since the 1990’s usually means something new from Garth Brooks. Whether it be a studio album, box set or Yuletide album (last year, it was all three), Brooks makes a release week special – like nobody before him or since. Well, it’s November, and Brooks has done it again with a five CD collection that showcases his career from 1989-1993. The country superstar offers more than a few unheard versions of some songs that fans have come to know, a beautifully-illustrated and detailed account of the how his career was built and the story behind the recording of each song in the first part of the anthology. It’s the first set in a multi-package plan to showcase Brooks and his music as never before. And, as usual, he hits the mark – right between the eyes.

Disc one takes us back to what we know as the beginnings of Brooks’ career ride, his 1989 self-titled debut album. “Not Counting You,” one of his first singles, and the traditional ballad, “I’ve Got A Good Thing Going,” are presented in the same form as you know them from that first album, as are several of the cuts that introduced Brooks to the country music world. But, what makes the disc – and the set – impressive is the “day write” / demo versions of many of the songs that became classics. “If Tomorrow Never Comes” is one of those songs from the first set, which vocally doesn’t sound much different. If anything, Brooks’ voice is perhaps a step rawer than on the hit version, which became his first number one hit in December of 1989. He also gives fans a taste of the makings of “Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old),” which broke him earlier that year. It’s an elementary statement to make, but hearing the demos makes one realize the genius of Allen Reynolds in the production chair – as well as the circle of musicians that made gave Brooks’ recordings a signature sound, especially the fiddle work of Rob Hajacos. Listeners will also get to hear what Brooks heard when he became enamored with Tony Arata’s “The Dance” – the writer’s stark version. It’s a bit of country music history that is well worth the listen.

Disc two takes us inside the making of No Fences, the 1990 album that set Brooks apart from the pack. The day-write of “The Thunder Rolls” sets the tempo for the disc, followed by the brilliantly-executed production of the studio version. The master versions of such Brooks stalwarts as “Victim Of The Game” are included, as well as Arata’s version of “Same Old Story.” Brooks also includes the day-write version of “Unanswered Prayers” as well as a demo of the stone-country “Which One Of Them,” a song that wasn’t heard by the masses until its’ inclusion on a 1998 box set, The Limited Series.

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Shania TwainAlbum Review – Shania Twain: Shania Twain’s “Now”

Album Review

It has been 15 years since Shania Twain released an album and the music world has been patiently waiting for new music from the country legend. Twain’s new project, Now, proves that some things are worth the wait as the album showcases her talent as both a songwriter and a producer.

For the first time in her career, Twain served as sole songwriter on an album. An ambitious task, the singer wrote each of the 16 tracks as well as co-produced alongside Matthew Koma, Ron Aniello (Bruce Springsteen, Gavin DeGraw), Jake Gosling (Ed Sheeran, Shawn Mendes) and Jacquire King (Kings of Leon, Norah Jones). Her fifth studio album, Now, also marks the first time since her 1993 self-titled debut that Twain has released a project without the help of producer and ex-husband Mutt Lange.

Her first release following the divorce, Now touches upon the betrayal Twain felt nearly a decade ago when Lange left her for her best friend. Make no mistake, Now is not a divorce album. Instead, it’s a versatile release that encompasses heartache and the happy beginnings of a new relationship as well as celebrates the struggles and successes of Twain’s life. Some of this joy can be heard on the bombastic album opener “Swingin’ with My Eyes Closed.” An ode to summer, the song’s hand-clapped rhythms, distinct reggae vibe and Twain’s familiar vocals keep the listener intrigued.

“Home Now” follows suit and showcases Twain’s folk-rock side. Another triumphant song, it has Twain looking back on a time when she felt lost from a place of renewed hope. “Spoke my heart when I had the mind to / Lost my way trying to find truth / But I’m home now,” she sings on the opening verse. The atmospheric “Light of My Life” continues this positivity as she hints at her struggles following the divorce but chooses to look at the positives in the situation. “I’ve heard people say that if they could / Do it all over again they never would / It’s better to have loved someone and lost / Then, to have never loved at all,” she croons.

Well known for her engaging live show, songs like the energetic “Roll Me On the River” will likely excel on tour with bold percussion and Twain’s sultry vocals while the standout “You Can’t Buy Love” embraces a throwback and soulful feel that brings to mind Amy Winehouse. Meanwhile, the horn-fused “We Got Something They Don’t” ups the ante with infectious beats, a steamy storyline and Twain’s recognizable country-rock sound.

While Twain saw success early on in both the country and pop genres, it’s her vulnerable songwriting that best displays her staying power within the country genre. “Poor Me” is one song that demonstrates this brutal honesty.

“Found it in his closet, right behind the lies / I wish I never saw it, the secret in his eyes / Poor me / He never told me how long, I’d been living in the dark / No one turned the light on, I fell and broke my heart . . . Still can’t believe he’d leave me to love her,” she sings. Later, on “I’m Alright,” Twain tries to convince herself that she’s fine. “I’m alive, I think I’m gonna be okay,” she sings on the ballad with soaring pedal steel and string accompaniment. With newfound confidence, her first album in over a decade, and a tour approaching, Twain is more than okay.

After a decade away from the spotlight, Shania Twain proves herself relevant on Now. A woman who suffered with a great loss, she came back stronger than ever with an album she wrote entirely by herself and with cutting-edge production that reminds the listener exactly why she is the best-selling female artist of all time.

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Eli Young BandAlbum Review – Eli Young Band: Fingerprints

Album Review

For nearly two decades, Eli Young Band have been sharing their music with the masses. The Texas-based band return to their roots on their fourth major label release Fingerprints, released June 16. Together for 17 years now, Eli Young Band are well aware of who they are as a band and this confidence is showcased throughout their album. Additionally, the band had a hand in writing eight of the album’s 11 tracks which gives the record a more personal feel. Co-produced by Eli Young Band with Ross Copperman and Jeremy Stover, Fingerprints will surely satisfy longtime fans hoping for a return to the sound that made them first fall in love with the country band.

The first single, “Saltwater Gospel,” was just a hint of what’s to come on the release from the Texas act. The feel-good beach spiritual highlights front-man Mike Eli’s warm vocals alongside memorable percussion and striking harmonies as he sings of how he often finds his church at the water’s edge. The title track, “Fingerprints,” follows suit and proves to be a surefire hit in the live setting with gritty guitar parts, Eli’s soaring vocals and a sing along chorus that begs the listener to hit the repeat button.

Well known for their poignant ballads, there is no shortage of songs that hit the heart on Fingerprints. Standout “Skin and Bones” has already made a wave on SiriusXM and it’s easy to see why. Written by Eli, Phil Barton and Lori McKenna about the singer’s wife, Kacey, the song details of how his partner is intertwined throughout every step of his life.

“She’s in my skin and bones / She’s grace and glory / She’s the back roads home / She’s a long story / The one goodbye that I can’t even imagine / She’s a well thought out plan and I don’t know how it happened,” he sings on the track.

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Rascal FlattsAlbum Review – Rascal Flatts: Back to Us

Album Review

Rascal Flatts return to their roots with their tenth studio album, Back to Us. The country trio are well known for their spot-on harmonies, impressive guitar skills and energetic live show and their latest effort showcases the best of each of these qualities.

Their 10-track album kicks off with lead single, “Yours If You Want It,” which recalls early Rascal Flatts with their sing-along chorus and upbeat music. Other tracks, like the heartbreaking piano-driven “I Know You Won’t,” highlight Gary LeVox’s emotive vocals and brings to mind previous No. 1 hit “What Hurts the Most” with his ability to reel the listener into the lives of the characters within the song.

“I Know You Won’t,” written by Steve McEwan, Wendell Lee Mobley and Neil Thrasher, details a man trying his best to move on from a relationship that appears to be at the end of its lifespan. “I know you don’t mean to be mean to me / ‘Cause when you want to, you can make me feel like we belong,” LeVox sings softly.

Meanwhile, the catchy “Hopin’ You Were Lookin'” portrays the opposite situation as a man finds himself tripping over his feet as he falls for a new girl. Stuck in traffic, the girl has him pulling over to the side of the rode hoping for a chance to talk to her. Written by Dan + Shay with Cary Barlowe and Jesse Frasure, the infectious hand-clapped rhythms and LeVox’s rapid singing style make this a surefire radio hit. “Put your number in my phone / We can be so classic / June and Johnny Cash it,” LeVox sings on the catchy track.

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Rae LynnAlbum Review – RaeLynn: Wild Horse

Album Review

Fans have been waiting for RaeLynn’s debut album ever since she first appeared on the country music scene as a contestant on The Voice in 2012. The “God Made Girls” singer’s life has changed dramatically since her reality-television days, including a marriage and a record label change, all of which and more she documents on her coming-of-age album, WildHorse.

“This album contains songs I’ve written over the last four years, from when I was 18 to 22” RaeLynn shares. “So I like to think of it as my college record. The person you are as a freshman is very different from who you are as a senior and in these four years, I’ve gone from a teenager who moved to Nashville, to writing and recording an album and getting married.”

Producers and co-writer contributors, Nicolle Galyon and Jimmy Robbins, blend RaeLynn’s undeniably country voice with pop-themed production to create a fresh sound all her own. She is a featured writer on 11 out of 12 tracks on the project, showing off her ability to create catchy melodies while telling her own story.

The autobiographical title track sets the tone of the record as RaeLynn is unapologetically herself in this cut and throughout the entire track list. “WildHorse” is destined to be the theme song for the Texas native’s female fans as they relate to the poppy tune with the confidence-boosting message.

“Diamonds” is a love song for her husband, Josh Davis. “A diamond is just a diamond until you put it on the right left hand,” the chorus sings. The intimate track is light and airy, making it fun to sing along with. Label mates Dan + Shay make a guest appearance on fellow love song, “Say.” Both parties take turns providing harmonies and taking choruses for this ballad and the result is magical.

On the contrary, RaeLynn also uncovers the complications of relationships on the album in tracks “The Apple,” “Lonely Call,” “Trigger” and “Graveyard.” The latter stands out for its interesting sound and unforgettable imagery. The premise of the track is she’s burying her heart because of someone that broke it, a gripping concept on such a common situation.

“Young” is sure to be a fan-favorite and potential follow-up single. The live-while-we’re-young mentality shines through and is relatable to her audience that is deciphering the in-between of figuring it all out and having it all together.

The lead single from WildHorse, “Love Triangle,” is the focal point of the record and stands out among the rest for its clever play on words and brutal honesty about a tough reality. “Love Triangle” is country music storytelling at its finest and country radio is better because of it.

Overall, RaeLynn’s WildHorse serves as a standout debut and was well worth the wait.

WildHorse is available at digital retailers now.

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Josh TurnerAlbum Review: Josh Turner: Deep South

Album Review

The weather is getting warmer – well, wait a minute. Check that. The winter season in Tennessee has been quite warmer than usual. But still, as February becomes March, one’s attention turns to sunshine and the water. Whether it be the river, the creek bank, or the beach, there’s something about the bright ray of sunshine looking down on the water that makes for good times.

With his sixth studio album, Josh Turner delivers a project that should serve as the perfect soundtrack for those perfect spring days. In a sense, you could almost call this a concept album, as many of the songs pay tribute to life beyond the borders of the Mason-Dixon line, the pursuits of romance, and the allure of the water.

The title cut takes listeners on a ride through all things southern, setting the stage quite nicely for other tracks such as “Beach Bums,” “Southern Drawl,” and the radio-ready “Where The Girls Are.” I really think that the latter might very well be one of the biggest hits on this disc from an airplay standpoint, joining the current top-20 hit “Hometown Girl” as the best bets for success.

As is the case with any Josh Turner record, one will find an ample serving of love songs, and the South Carolina native delivers here. “All About You” and “Never Had A Reason To” both sparkle with the down-home simplicity that Turner has always specialized in. Perhaps the pick of this certain litter is the laid-back feel of the heartfelt “One Like Mine.”

The biggest departures on this album turn out to be the tracks that seem the most memorable. “Hawaiian Girl” sounds like it could very well be a Jimmy Buffett album cut, but Turner’s voice makes the song work, with his low vocal tones giving this one a heavy dose of personality. “Wonder” is a new angle for the singer, as his ballads in the past have all been straight-ahead love songs. On this track, the singer laments the break-up of a previous relationship, and asks the question “What if?’ while taking full responsibility for how things turned out. It’s a new role for the singer, and one that he handles very well.

Deep South is a celebration of all the things that Josh Turner has come to be depended on musically, and the singer doesn’t disappoint. The chances that he takes on this record show that he isn’t afraid of new challenges, sounds, or themes. Fifteen years into his career, that’s a very good place to be!

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