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Brett YoungAlbum Review - Brett Young: Ticket to L.A.

Brett Young has established himself as one of country music’s fastest rising newcomers with his ability to explore heartbreak in the form of a compelling ballad. But his latest project, Ticket to L.A., finds him with a more optimistic mindset while still delivering that same powerful emotion.

Typically pulling from real life heartache to tell a story, Young takes on a different artistic approach, opening the album with a title track that imagines a sweet love story between two strangers who strike up a brief romance before they go their separate ways. From there, Young delivers on his promise that the album would incorporate the soul influence that was crucial to his musical upbringing, particularly on “Where You Want Me.” The song serves as a strong representation of how even when Young is singing about heartbreak, he cuts through the bitterness by adding a positive element. “You look at love like a race, and once you’ve won, you’re done…you got me where you want me, but baby you don’t want me no more,” he croons, following a heartbroken man to his lover’s doorstep to confess his unfiltered emotions, yet is still faced with rejection. But the soothing melody composed of soulful electric guitar and piano makes the sentiment feel less painful. This same notion applies to “Used to Missin’ You” where he uses an endearing melody to balance the luckless feeling of not being able to let go of a past love.

While Brett Young establishes a rejuvenated sound at the top of the album, the true signs of his growth are in the defining moments embedded in the latter half of the project. “Chapters” is one of these moments. Young calls on his friend and confidant Gavin DeGraw to help tell the story of his life, reflecting on the important events that define his journey. He tenderly sings of the impact his father had on him growing up, “every boy wants to be like his father, in Little League, when he was coaching me, I was hanging on every word,” before admitting that his body knew more than he did when an injury ended his path to playing professional baseball. The song’s message culminates in sage words of advice from DeGraw, who recognizes that it takes time to find one’s purpose. The song puts Young in a position of maturity, allowing him to reflect on his personal milestones and missteps, exhibiting a distinct vulnerability.

He displays similar qualities on “The Ship and the Bottle,” where he swallows his pride to let someone go for the sheer purpose of allowing them to grow. “You just might have to break me to do what you’re meant to do,” Young shares in a message of unselfishness rarely conveyed in a breakup song, making for one of the album’s most empathetic moments.

Brett Young brings the album back to where he started with “Don’t Wanna Write This Song,” a somber ballad that yet again puts Young in the position of having to pick up the broken remnants of a relationship. While the reasons for the separation weren’t as dire as the breakup itself, he can’t help but longingly express “how can I just move on, I’ve loved you for way too long,” bringing the album to a moving, cinematic close.

Ticket to L.A. still feels like an authentic Brett Young album, while signifying his progression in sound and maturity. Though the first half of the album is mainly comprised of love songs tailor made for country radio, Young finds a way to inject emotion and reflection, combing the two characteristics that make him one of country music’s most honest artists.

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Carrie UnderwoodThe 2018 CMA Awards: The Moments That Will Have Everyone Talking

From jaw-dropping performances to moving speeches and killer collaborations, the 2018 CMA Awards did not disappoint. Here’s our list of memorable moments from the evening.

TR Brings His Song to ‘Life’

Thomas Rhett’s latest single “Life Changes” came visibly to life during a spirited performance. Kicking off the song onstage in a makeshift dorm room, the singer brought the audience back to his college days where he had a “notebook full of bad songs I was writing.” Moments later, he left the set to find himself alongside a horn section and by the time the song’s chorus hit, Brentwood’s Ravenwood High School Marching Band joined in. As he walked past his wife seated in the crowd and gave her a hug, he got visibly choked up while singing of the day he “told my Daddy and Mama you’re gonna have a grandkid from Uganda.” TR’s “Life Changes” performance brought all the feels and standout musicianship to boot. –AR

Lauren Alaina Schools Us All

Lauren Alaina may have only sang a snippet of Dottie West’s “A Lesson In Leavin'” in honor of the late singer’s induction to the Country Music Hall of Fame, but it ranks among one of the night’s best performances. Before cameras even panned to Alaina, who was wearing a stunning purple gown on stage, viewers were captivated by her mesmerizing vocals. With a belt that would make West proud, Alaina once again proved her staying power. We just wish they would have kept her on air longer. –AR

Carrie Brings the Love

Carrie Underwood’s performance of her impactful new single “Love Wins” was an ethereal dream. As if her mesmerizing vocals weren’t inspiring enough, the backdrop engulfed the stage in a tapestry of colors that helped bring her lyrics to life. “In these trying times, we need to hear that love wins,” Brad Paisley said when he introduced his friend’s performance. Underwood’s hopeful message inspired, and backed by singers that embodied that of a gospel choir, “Love Wins” was a standout moment. At the close of the song, Underwood and her choir lifted their hands up in the air in unison to form hearts — once again bringing the song’s poignant point home.-AR

Midland Pays Tribute to The Bandit

There was perhaps no better trio to pay homage to one of the South’s most beloved anti-heroes than Midland. The “Drinking Problem” performers took to the stage in tribute to the late Burt Reynolds by way of an arena-rocking rendition of “East Bound and Down,” the theme from Reynolds’ beloved 1977 classic “Smokey and the Bandit.” Lead Singer Mark Wystrach’s mustache and sunglasses could have been tribute enough, but the rollicking performance–complete with footage from the film and split screen guitar battles–had the crowd on their feet for a standing ovation. A reaction that would have made the show-off-loving Bandit proud. –AA

Kacey is the Golden Girl

As Little Big Town tore open the envelope with the name of the Album of the Year winner inside, Karen Fairchild uttered a hint as to its contents. Noting the win was for “all the little girls writing songs out there,” she announced Kacey Musgraves’s Golden Hour for the win. Musgraves took the stage in her custom Versace suit–a modern take on the Texas style that has influenced her entire career–and thanked her family, colleagues and husband (Ruston Kelly) and her adopted hometown. “Ten years ago today I moved to Nashville,” she said before adding of the album: “We poured everything that we have into this and I’m so proud of it. I’m inspired by this beautiful universe and most of all love.” Later in the show Musgraves channeled Crystal Gayle meets American Bandstand realness with a soft and sultry performance of “Slow Burn” from the album, complete with lens flaring spotlights, a red curtain (and red velvet slip dress) and acoustic guitar.-AA

The Softer Side of FGL

Florida Georgia Line teamed up with Bebe Rexha to perform their 50-week No. 1 hit “Meant to Be” and it was one of the most surprising moments of the night. Instead of bringing the original version continually heard on pop and country stations throughout 2018 to the stage, the duo dramatically switched gears. Dressed in white from head to toe, FGL’s Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard kicked off the pared down track. When it was time for Rexha’s verse, she appeared like an apparition beside a white upright piano and the dance track immediately transformed into a powerful ballad, complete with a string section. Whether intentional or not, it felt a fitting way to put a period on the exclamatory year the song has had. –AR

Garth’s Love Song

Garth Brooks debuted a brand new song during the show and it was one of the most heartfelt moments of the night. Titled “Stronger Than Me,” he dedicated the touching ballad to his wife, Trisha Yearwood, and it had all the workings of a wedding song. Alone with his acoustic guitar in hand, Brooks praised his bride for being “stronger than me.” “I know I always thought I had to have the answers / Be her strength and take the leap / When it comes to anything that really matters / You’re stronger than me,” he sang as his wife looked on with tears in her eyes. “If I had a choice I’d pray to God he takes me first /’Cause you’re stronger than me,” he conceded. In an arena full of people, it was as if they were the only two in the room.- AR

Soul Patrol

Chris Stapleton, Maren Morris, Mavis Staples, Marty Stuart and Morgane Stapleton took Bridgestone Arena to church during an inspired performance. They kicked the set off with “Friends,” a track featured on Stapleton’s From A Room: Volume 1, originally recorded by Pops Staples. The all-star collaboration highlighted each singer’s powerful and soulful vocals. While Staples’ guttural belt had the audience screaming along, Morris held her own on the song with her sultry take. Following “Friends,” the group continued with a spirited performance of “I’ll Take You There.” Backed by a gospel choir and horn section, the performance transcended the awards show to a higher power and brought the house down. – AR

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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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