Alan Jackson – Where Have You Gone
Alan Jackson needs no introduction. With 60 million albums sold worldwide, 50 top ten hits, and 16 CMA Awards to his name, Jackson is one of the 10 best-selling male vocalists of all time and he’s not slowing down. On the 14th May he will release a mammoth 21 track album, ‘Where Have You Gone’, and it has all the neotraditional country music ingredients that we would expect from the star.
It has been six years since Jackson released his last album, and life has provided a rich tapestry of thoughts and emotions to plough back into his music, with Jackson himself solo writing 15 of the tracks. This is a mountain of an album, taking you up to the heights of love, weddings and wholesome honky-tonk fun, and down to the depths of heartbreak and loss.
But above all this album reclaims traditional country, pinned together by steel guitars and fiddles galore, with lashings of whiskey and cottonwood. The opening track, ‘Where Have You Gone’, is an ode to traditional country and the mourning of its loss to the pop, hip-hop brand of country that more commonly cuts through today. Alan Jackson is no stranger to being vocal about the death of his type of country – his ‘Murder on Music Row’ duet with George Strait being one example – and this album makes the clear point that it is still something he laments.
Jackson is clearly emotional about this album: “It’s a little harder country than even I’ve done in the past. And it’s funny, I was driving and listening to the final mixes Keith sent me, and I started to tear up. I was surprised to get so overly emotional, but I just love this kind of music.”
It isn’t all doom and gloom, and by track 11 we’ve come full circle and are celebrating traditional country music’s return with the upbeat, barnburner, ‘Back’. “I got my boots, I got my hat/ I’m bringin’ country back,” sings Jackson. And it certainly is back, but this track’s so fast you won’t be keeping up with it at the line-dancing.
The standout tracks on the album are a trio of deeply personal songs, for two weddings and a funeral. ‘Where Her Heart Has Always Been’ was written for his mother’s funeral and is so deeply personal you almost feel like you are prying just listening to this song. It is a beautiful tribute and there is a feeling of contentment in her passing: “And now she’s dancing in the wind/ with her true love again/ where her heart has always been.” Particularly poignant is that the track opens with an old recording of his mother reading from the bible.
The two tracks written for his daughters’ weddings are equally personal and poignant, but glowing with fatherly pride. ‘You’ll Always Be My Baby’ is filled with sweet memories of his daughters growing up, from their first car to their first broken heart. And the second track written for their weddings is, ‘I Do’, with a beautifully emotive melody. It’s a love story, the kind that you would wish for a daughter.
There is also a quadruple measure of drinking songs on the album: ‘Wishful Drinkin’’ has a sultry country swing, and ‘Way Down in my Whiskey’ has a melancholy fiddle. In ‘I was Tequila’ Jackson pities himself for being the opposite of his former lover, but raises a humorous smile with the metaphor, “I was tequila, she was champagne”. But if those three tracks are so sad they leave you reaching for the whiskey yourself, ‘Beer:10’ will have you up and dancing again, with some particularly great instrumental solos from piano, guitar and fiddle, and a party-starting brass section too.
There are other surprising and lovely moments on this album. One is, ‘That’s the Way Love Goes’, a tribute to Merle Haggard, in which Jackson’s honeyed vocal tones are particularly warm and soothing. ‘I Can Be that Something’ is a moving track as he offers to help heal a woman’s heart: “I can be that place you just want to run to/ I can be that something to get you through.”
The reflection and wisdom of Jackson’s years pour over this album, with lessons for us all. Whether it is the advice of, “We only get so many trips/ around the sun/ some things matter some things don’t/ it’s up to you to choose which one,” in ‘Things that Matter’, or the opening lines of ‘The Older I Get’ in which he tells us: “The older I get/ the more I think/ you only get a minute, better live while you’re in it/ ’cause it’s gone in a blink.” He also sings that it isn’t the money that makes you rich. Judging by the heart in some tracks on this album, it’s clearly family that does that for Jackson.
Jackson says of this album: “When I write, I visualize back home and growing up. Real country songs are life and love and heartache, drinking and Mama and having a good time… but it’s the sounds of the instruments, too. The steel and acoustic guitar, the fiddle – those things have a sound and a tone… and getting that right, the way those things make you feel, that’s country, too.” So Jackson might ask ‘Where Have You Gone’, but thankfully the answer is right here.
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Morgan Wallen Makes Surprise Appearance at Luke Bryan Concert
Embattled country star Morgan Wallen stole the show at Luke Bryan’s sold out Nashville concert Friday night, July 30th, surprising fans with his first major onstage appearance since controversy effectively “canceled” his career back in February.
Arriving unannounced in the middle of Bryan’s set, Wallen was welcomed with open arms by 15,000 or so fans at Bridgestone Arena — and seemed to have the full support of not just Bryan, but the other superstars on stage.
Wallen’s big moment was without a doubt the loudest portion of the concert, as fans screamed with deafening power for close to a full minute. The scene unfolded during a star-studded section that had already brought Florida Georgia Line’s Tyler Hubbard and Jason Aldean to the stage, and as Wallen soaked in the thundering cheers, Bryan and his other guests sat on coolers behind him — as if literally showing the world they had Wallen’s back. In late January, he had been captured on film drunkenly using a racial slur to tease a friend, and the condemnation that followed has kept him mostly out of the public eye ever since. But his Friday night return to the spotlight was something Nashville has rarely seen.
Standing on the catwalk in a black T-shirt, jeans and a backwards ball cap, Wallen looked overwhelmed by the response at first … and for a moment, he was unsure of what to play.
“Here’s a song about being true to yourself,” he eventually said, before launching in to an acoustic version of “More Than My Hometown.” “That’s been hard for me to do lately, but, here I am.”
The crowd roared as Wallen sang in his signature raspy drawl, matching Wallen note for note and reaching hard-to-believe volume levels as the tune ended. The Tennessee native put his hand over his heart and was about to leave the stage, but instead, Bryan popped up to hum the hook to Wallen’s multi-Platinum breakout, “Whiskey Glasses,” and Wallen transitioned into that song with the same crowd reaction. After that, Bryan and his pals all stuck around to rock out on Aldean’s “She’s Country,” before the unforgettable moment passed into memory. But it will be talked about for quite some time.
Bryan and his sold out crowd both took a huge breath as the shock of what had just unfolded subsided, and he continued on with a show that was full of triumphant euphoria — even without Wallen’s return. But it was clearly the show’s biggest moment, and most likely, a preview of what’s to come as Morgan Wallen moves forward.
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Born Here Live Here Die Here
If there's one thing Luke Bryan knows how to do, it's to stay in his lane. And why not? It often leads to great chart position. The Deluxe edition of his seventh album "Born Here, Live Here, Die Here" was born out of the pandemic tour stoppage. It includes six new songs and increases the run time to 54 minutes. The original 10 tracks are mostly in the vein of the pop laced chart toppers "One Margarita" and "Knockin' Boots."
With writing credits from the likes of Ross Copperman, Shane McAnally, Ryan Hurd and Rhett Atkins on the latter portion of the deluxe edition, one may think those songs would be a little grittier and the writing deeper. But they stay the course.
"Country Does" is a tribute to core values. It bops along with a danceable melodic structure. The breakup song, "Drink A Little Whiskey Down" is hardly a revenge anthem. It's a polite picture of the protagonist hitting the bottle when he is depressed. Bryan's usual affable delivery actually makes this song feel light-hearted.
"Floatin' This Creek" starts off with promise with banjo and harmonica, but devolves into an obligatory lazy day on the river. Ditto with "Bill Dance." By contrast, "For a Boat" is deeper and likely to resonate with listeners. It is a powerful metaphor of a kid who dreams of having a boat, while his father reminds him that there are more important things than trying to get to all of the places that you're not." Up" is a tedious ode to everything from the sun to a coffee cup. With all due respect to Hurd, the syrupy summer love anthem "Waves" would have been better served if his wife (Maren Morris) had cut it.
The album will likely satisfy Bryan's fan base because it's familiar and sounds good, but with the firepower of the co-writers he chose, it feels like this one came up short.
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Cole Swindell Dreams of Better Days in ‘Single Saturday Night’ Video
Cole Swindell lets his mind wander in the new video for “Single Saturday Night,” daydreaming about an end to the COVID-19 pandemic and all the fun that awaits.
Directed by Michael Monaco and Eder Acevedo, the slapstick video for his newest single was filmed while Swindell and his band remained in isolation. With each member stuck on the couch, the team didn’t have much to work with, but somehow found a way to make it one of Swindell’s favorite video experiences. It opens with Swindell drifting off to sleep to the evening news, and winding up in a goofy daydream full of outfit changes and green-screen antics.
“I have loved this song since the first listen and wanted to create a video that was just as special,” Swindell says in a statement. “We had to get really creative shooting because we were still in quarantine, and it ended being one of the most fun videos I’ve ever done. Because of having that extra time I was able to be really involved in the creative and editing process and this video is a snapshot of my quarantine of trying to tune out all of the bad news and dreaming of being back out on the road at live shows with my band and fans.”
Written by Ashley Gorley, Michael Hardy and Mark Holman, Swindell released “Single Saturday Night” in May after postponing his Down to Earth Tour. After a groundswell of support from fans, it is now his next official radio single, and the follow-up to his last Number One, “Love You Too Late.” Swindell expect to restart his Down to Earth Tour on October 1 in Macon, Georgia.
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'The boat has been rocked': Mickey Guyton, the Grammys' first Black solo female country nominee
When Mickey Guyton was a little girl growing up in east Texas, she would line her white canopy bed with a cadre of stuffed animals posing as adoring fans and dream about the day she might attend the Grammy awards as a nominee. “I thought I was going to be in the audience wearing this big, glamorous, Whitney Houston-type dress,” Guyton says, calling from her home in LA a month or so away from giving birth to her son, and trying to keep her calico cat, Halle Barry, quiet. The Grammys, like most things in the Covid era, will be different this year. “I didn’t think I’d be in a pandemic, pregnant, among social unrest. It definitely played out a lot different in my mind, you know?”
Guyton is the first Black solo female artist to be nominated in a Grammy country category, for her single Black Like Me; the only previous Black women to be nominated for country music were the Pointer Sisters in 1976. She says she never pictured making history with a song that details the Black experience in an exclusionary genre, or that she would pivot from trying to keep quiet and compliant to being at the forefront of a movement to crack country open to new voices. But now, she says, “the boat has been rocked”. As Guyton sings on her 2015 release Better Than You Left Me, a track that should have been a hit if American country radio were not so committed to moderately talented white men as its bread and butter, “it’s funny what a little time does, baby”.
Hailing from Arlington, the same Texan town as the country superstar Maren Morris, and growing up inspired by LeAnn Rimes, Dolly Parton and the (formerly Dixie) Chicks, Guyton has a voice that can match Carrie Underwood in range and power but which simmers in its own unique and warm twang. She writes intimate ballads as well as the saccharine stuff that genre fans love to hear blasting out while sprawled out with a beer at a festival. But while country music has been fighting to correct the dismal female representation on the radio, Guyton has been left out of a battle that only seemed to include white women. “I felt like I was the forgotten one,” she says.
She moved to country music’s capital, Nashville, but her career stalled even as she kept writing songs such as Black Like Me and What Are You Gonna Tell Her?, a stunning mediation on the disappointments and broken promises of womanhood. Both appear on her Bridges EP, alongside the poppy and delightful Rosé.
Guyton crafted Black Like Me a few years ago, with the murder of Botham Jean, an innocent Black man shot in his home, heavy on her heart and mind. “I circled it around to certain people I trusted in the industry that I knew who had the power to help,” she says. “And the response was like: ‘Wow, this is really powerful. But I need to sit with it for a minute.’”
Its moment eventually came amid the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020. As all great county lyrics do, its central chorus line – “If you think we live in the land of the free / You should try to be black like me” – spoke on both a universal and a granular level: to a country in the midst of a racial reckoning, and to a musical genre born from Black traditions that has long denied its origin story. Suddenly Guyton found herself in a new, sometimes reluctant position as an activist.
“[Black Like Me] is so much bigger than my own personal experiences,” Guyton says. “And realising I have to open this little window and bust it open for not only women of colour, but the gay community as well. In order for there to be change in country music, there needs to be such a surge of other types of artists who aren’t just white and male.”
That will finally include herself, too: later this year she will release her debut album, 10 years in the making, that will feature the whole breadth of her talent, and possibly even a “friggin’ dope” trap-country tune. Guyton has also made it a priority to promote other Black women in the genre, but she has wondered whether, in the process, she has been “leading them into the lion’s den”. Even with a Grammy nomination, she still wasn’t getting played on country radio. And after the insurrection at the US Capitol, and country megastar Morgan Wallen being caught on tape saying a racial slur, she found herself crying to her husband, wondering if she was doing the right thing.
“I’ve been putting my neck on the line, saying you can sing country music and be accepted,” she says. “There was a part of me that was also like: but can you? I’ve encouraged so many amazing, talented, beautiful people. But I want to protect the people I am leading into this, too.”
That means speaking out as much as she can, even when it gets uncomfortable. Messages to her on Twitter can be filled with hate and racism, showing how country music can be both a beautiful and deeply broken place. “It’s making some people very angry,” she says. “But we’re waking up.”
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