Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Album Review: Angaleena Presley - Wrangled

The name Presley is a sure fire way to get the attention of any music fan. For Angaleena Presley however, her name is pure coincidence, despite common misconception.
I don't know about you but I've seen her latest album, "Wrangled" plastered all over social media and even on display in HMV right here in the UK. With this much buzz surrounding it, I simply had to check it out.
Before I get into this review, I must confess that prior to Wrangled, I hadn't listened to anything from Angaleena Presley since her Pistol Annies days so I was going into this album with an open mind.

For the first song on this album, Presley takes us back to her Pistol Annies roots. "Dreams Don't Come True" features both Miranda Lambert and Ashley Monroe- a high bar to set for a first impression. This song does what it says on the tin through cynical yet honest songwriting about falling short of your aspirations. "Dreams Don't Come True" combines Brandy Clark/ Kacey Musgraves style storytelling with the simplistic production and arrangement that I loved from Miranda Lambert's "The Weight Of These Wings".
A strong starting point.

Second song, "High School", is a nostalgia-ridden ballad about the roller coaster ride that is high school. The lyrics are certain to remind you of those days and of how glad you are to be older and wiser than you were back then- whoever said they're the best days of your life definitely needs to listen to this song!
"High School" was co-written by Presley alongside Sophie Walker, the leader of the Women's Equality Party and Ivy Walker, an Olympic athlete for team GB, it features themes of teen pregnancy and feminism (a recurrent ideology throughout the album).
I commend Angaleena Presley on the decision to turn two successful women with non-musical careers into songwriters with writing credits alongside Miranda Lambert and Chris Stapleton. A bold move which made this song all the more authentic. 

"Only Blood", a track co-written with none other than Chris Stapleton, tells the classic Country tale of a woman seeking revenge on an abusive husband. Chris Stapleton's traditional writing style alongside Presley's retro voice and production make this song feel like it came from a 1950s time capsule. The nonchalant, dreary tone of Presley's voice really captures the emotion of the protagonist.
It is a very well written song and the term "backsliders seat" is particularly powerful, though recycled from a past release. I'd argue that this is lazy songwriting but if I coined a term as strong as "backsliders seat" I'd probably try to revive it too.

One of the stand-out tracks on this album is "Country" its alternative and experimental arrangement creates a much-needed contrast from the strong yet repetitive production through the majority of this album. Presley rattles off all of the common cliche's in mainstream contemporary Country music - blue-jeans, bonfires, trucks etc. The song also features a rap verse from Yelawolf, which truly completes the "F*ck this mainstream Country-Pop trend" message that Presley is going for with this song. 

The title track of this album, "Wrangled" sparked my attention off the bat with its blue-eyed soul ("Girl Crush"/ "Blue Ain't Your Colour") tempo. The lyrics in this song follow the recurrent themes of feminism that are at the forefront of this album. It tells the story of a housewife who is feeling the strain of her day-to-day lifestyle - "Tired of waking up feeling like I've been wrangled". At this point I'm starting to wish she would sing something a little more uplifting.

My favourite from the album, "Bless My Heart" brings out Presley's accent more so than any other song so far on the album, giving it more personality and conviction than any of the songs so far.
As with every song on this album, the lyrics paint an honest picture of girls being... well, girls. If you're a fan of Miranda Lambert's "Only Prettier" then you'll enjoy this one too!

"Outlaw" is the prime example of my biggest criticism of this album. The lyrics are almost faultless and I am convinced by the storytelling that Presley has at some point felt like an outsider/ "Outlaw". However, as is the case in many songs throughout the album, the delivery of this song just isn't convincing enough. There isn't enough angst or power in the tone of her voice to convince me that she is a misunderstood "Outlaw".

"Mama I Tried" is riddled with themes of promiscuity, drinking and generally doing everything that goes against the stereotypes and expecations of working class women - "house full of babies and designer blue jeans". As I've said with previous songs, I like the message and the feistiness of the lyrics but I really wish she had something else to sing about.

"Groundswell"comes as a slight change in the theme of this album and I believe the story more than in any other song on the album. Presley tells of the trials and tribulations of being a musician, spending long hours travelling just trying to make ends meet - "One more song, one more show, one more Penny in the well" and "hoping that the t-shirts and the records will sell" discuss the uncertainty of earning a living as a musician. Whilst it's still sad and melancholy ballad, in line with the rest of the album, "Groundswell" possibly the bravest and most honest song featured on this album.

If I was reviewing this album based solely on the songwriting, It would score very highly in my books. I am can empathise with every story that Presley is conveying. However, as I've mentioned, Presley's voice simply doesn't do the songs justice in many cases. Her tone frequently meanders around the lyrics, to the point where she sounds fed up and ready to go home. On a second listen, I'm somewhat inclined to think that this was intentional to convey the topical theme of feminism and inequality within society - she's fed up of the way things are. If that's the case, I can understand the effectiveness of this decision.
With that said, this album is approx. fifty minutes long, and after listening to Presley complain about the way things are for the best part of an hour, I feel as drained as her vocals sound. I would argue that there should either have been fewer songs on this album, or some songs should have been traded in for songs that at least sounded a little more optimistic. 

The album is a bold statement against gender inequality so I nothing but respect for Presley's decision to use music to challenge a social issue that is clearly close to her heart.
My conclusion on this album is that I enjoyed all of the songs that are on there; I just wouldn't want to listen to the album in its entirety.

Best Songs: Groundswell, Mama I Tried

Worst Songs: Cheer Up Little Darling, Motel Bible

Rating: 6/10

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Review: Little Big Town - The Breaker

The name "Little Big Town" first caught my attention back in 2014 when I watched them win their second CMA Award for vocal group of the year. My initial response, as a long time Lady Antebellum fan, was to ignorantly hurl expletives at my television. However, years have passed since then, I am older, wiser and, after seeing Little Big Town rise to Country music success following "Tornado" and then the phenomenon that is "Girl Crush", I was forced to eat my words and eagerly anticipate what would come next from this group.
In February, they gave us their eighth studio album, The Breaker. And with writing credits from Lori Mckenna, Hilary Lindsey, Liz Rose and even Taylor Swift, it's fair to say expectations were high. Their previous two Country albums (we'll just sweep "Wanderlust" under the rug for now) meant that LBT had already set the bar pretty high for themselves. So, did they pull it off?

Let's start with the first track from the album, "Happy People". Don't let the title fool you, at a first glance you may expect an upbeat party track similar to "Good People" or "Day Drinking" but "Happy People" is a deep, thought-provoking track. Songwriting from Lori Mckenna brings us melancholy, somewhat cynical lyrics such as "Happy people don't cheat, happy people don't lie, happy people don't hate".
The simple arrangement around Karen Fairchild's lead vocals on this track makes it an excellent, attention-grabbing prologue to the rest of the album. 

Up next is "Night On Our Side". Immediately we're hit with those famous LBT harmonies that we've come to expect. "Night On Our Side" is an anthemic, Country-Rock track with lead vocals from Jimi Westbrook. This is a great party track and I wouldn't be surprised if they release it as a single at some point.

The third track on the album, "Lost In California" initially hits you with the Country sound that ran less clear on the previous two tracks. It's a sweet love song with a dreamlike production which initially suits the lyrics. However, as the song progresses, I can't help but feel this song meanders at five minutes long. It especially didn't need that minute long, experimental outro section - What on earth are those bizarre vocal shenanigans at the very end!? This song could have been much better without the need to try to be arty - if it ain't broke don't try and fix it!

Similar to "Night On Our Side", "Driving Around" is about having a good time with friends. 
It also brings us more of those loud, unmistakable LBT harmonies. Impressive as they may be, I can't help but think less would have been more on this track - particularly the way they all sing the word "around". It has obviously been done intentionally to emphasise the word and possibly make the song more memorable but, repeated throughout the song, it becomes irritating.

"We Went To The Beach" comes as a breath of fresh air at this point. A nostalgia-filled Country song with lead vocals from Philip Sweet. It may be simple but the convincing storytelling in this song alongside simple music makes it one of the strongest on the album. The easy-listening vocals are a welcome change from the usual harmonies which often overpower the lyrics and the music. Perhaps my favourite from this album.

Expectations were high when LBT announced that their first single from this album, "Better Man", was penned by Taylor Swift - that's a lot of pressure! However, Little Big Town perfectly executed this song. Lead vocals from Karen Fairchild are filled with the emotion needed to pull this one off. In terms of the arrangement, this song is the ideal blend of LBT harmonies and powerful instrumentation - if only they used this ratio more often...

As with many albums, The Breaker has it's fair share of "filler" tracks. "Rollin'", "Free" and "Don't Die Young, Don't Get Old" stood out for not standing out. "Don't Die Young..." particularly had the potential to be a stronger contender but the lack of emotion and conviction in the delivery of the lyrics let down some great songwriting.

The final three tracks on the album leave fans on a high. "Beat Up Bible" is an emotional ballad and whilst it wasn't self-written, Kimberly Schlapmann effortlessly delivers the lyrics with such conviction and sentiment. I think this album may have been much stronger if she had taken the lead on more than just this one song. 

"When Someone Stops Loving You" is an open, relatable song with a flare of Blue-Eyed Soul (think Girl Crush). The lyrics come as a collaborative effort from Hilary Lindsey, Lori McKenna and Chase McGill and if you're a fan of the bittersweet honesty of Mckenna and Lindsey then you won't be disappointed.
The final song, and title track of this album, The Breaker, is an apologetic ballad about breaking someone's heart. The song leaves a lasting impression with some very powerful lyrics - the perfect finale to a solid LBT album.

Overall, this album, though stronger than "Tornado" and "Painkiller", is somewhat hit or miss. Great songs such as "Beat Up Bible", "We Went To The Beach" and "The Breaker" are let down by weaker songs, "Rollin'", ""Lost In California" and "Driving Around".
In a genre that values "four chords and the truth", I would prefer to hear Little Big Town let the music do the talking more often as opposed to "clever" four-part harmonies and experimental production techniques which too often drown out the emotion of the song.

Little Big Town aimed to be the band without a frontman. However, in recent years, Karen Fairchild has slipped into the role of lead singer. Whilst her delivery of "Girl Crush" was incredible, I would prefer for her to take a step back and let the others take the lead on more of the songs, if not on singles (marketing is a powerful thing) then at least on more of the other album tracks. The sentiment of "We Went To The Beach" (Philip Sweet) and "Beat Up Bible" (Kimberly Schlapman) is far more convincing and powerful than in songs such as "Free", "Lost In California and "Don't Die Young, Don't Get Old" which are led by Karen Fairchild.
To put it simply, at its strong points, this album is incredible; at it's weaker points, it's awful.
As a whole project, however, The Breaker is a solid album from Little Big Town and I am sure I will be listening to it again for a while.

Best songs: "Beat Up Bible"; "Better Man"; "We Went To The Beach".

Worst songs: "Driving Around"; "Free"; "Lost In California"

Rating: 6.5/10

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

The Hidden Gems Of C2C 2017

In just a few days, London will become Nashville. Thousands of Country fans from far and wide are making the trip to London for the annual phenomenon that is Country 2 Country and, with the likes Brad Paisley, Zac Brown Band and even Reba, it's sure to be an unforgettable weekend. As someone who has been to C2C twice, I've seen first-hand how easy it is to get caught up in the crowds and big names and overlook some of the great opportunities C2C has to offer. Be sure to download the C2C Festival App to stay up to date with what's happening when - this year it's bigger and better than ever.

So without further adieu, here's just a short list of the "hidden gems" to be found at this years weekend.

Keep your eye out for the opportunity to meet some of Country music's finest. In recent years the town square signing booth has hosted  Ashley Monroe, Charles Esten, Brandy Clark and Kix Brooks to name just a few. Details of this year's signings will be posted on the app but be ready to get there early- there will be a queue.

Holloway Road

At a first glance, this Essex duo may not look the part, trading boots for trainers and cowboy hats for snapbacks but they are certain to be a crowd-pleaser. Their Country/Pop/Rock sound is perfect for fans of Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line. They've played for crowds at the 2015 CMA fest in Nashville and toured the UK with John & Jacob. This year they're making their third appearance at C2C. Check them out on the big entrance stage at 15:10 on Saturday. 

Katy Hurt

With influences ranging between Carrie Underwood and Dolly Parton, this British Country songwriter is another artist you don't want to miss out on. She recently spent a month in Nashville working with songwriters and artists and has topped the UK iTunes Country chart with her singles, "Part-Time Girlfriend" and "Love You More". She'll be performing on the big entrance stage at 11:50 on Saturday and then on the Town Square stage at 11:10 on Sunday.

BBC Radio 2 Country Stage

If you're a fan of the CMA Songwriters Series then you'll love the BBC Radio 2 stage at Indigo. See some of the biggest names in Country songwriting, including Cassadee Pope, Charlie Worsham and Ward Thomas alongside many others. 

Atlanta Designs UK

Besides great music, C2C also hosts a fantastic range of stalls, selling all things Country. Make the most out of all of these because they are few and far between in the UK (We're still building our own Nashville). One of my personal favourites of these stalls is Atlanta Designs. They will be in the Town Square, selling all kinds of handmade memorabilia including wall art, mugs, plaques and bunting. Be sure to pay them a visit but be warned - you will want all of it!

For the first time ever at C2C, you can treat yourself to a Country themed manicure. Originails will print your designs, maybe the C2C Logo, your favourite band or the classic stars and stripes.Whichever design you choose, you can wear them with pride all weekend.

Speed Dating

Still looking for the Tim to your Faith? What better place to find love than at C2C? For the first time ever, there will be a C2C speed dating event for any single cowboys and cowgirls out there. 

Five Guys

OK so this one isn't strictly a part of C2C but I always make it a tradition to make it my first stop of the weekend. American fast food at it's finest, it is sure to be the best burger or hotdog you've ever had (I'm not even being paid to say that!).

Yamaha Music Stage

It may be tempting to rush off between arena sets to have another look around the stalls or stand in line for another overpriced drink from the bar but don't miss the sets on the Yamaha Stage. This year it's hosting some great artists, including Cam, Cassadee Pope, Lucie Silvas and many others.

However you choose to spend your weekend, be sure to enjoy every moment. Sing and dance along to all your favourite songs, make some great memories and try not to cry too much when you're leaving on Sunday night - you can start the countdown to C2C 2018!

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

The 2016 Reviews: 'Cosmic Hallelujah' - Kenny Chesney

Next in the firing line on our 2016 round-up is Kenny Chesney's Cosmic Hallelujah. As a long time Kenny Chesney fan, I couldn't wait to hear a new album from him. However, Cosmic Hallelujah would fall slightly short of my high expectations.
The album was supposed to be released in July with the title 'Some Town Somewhere'. As July drew closer, some game-changing announcements were made; The album would now feature a duet with P!nk, the title of the album would be Cosmic Hallelujah and the release date was pushed to Autumn. From there, it only went downhill.

Noise, the first single from this pretentiously named project hinted all the more that for this album would go against the grain of what we would usually expect from Kenny- as if news of a collaboration with a Punk rocker wasn't enough.
The production of Noise was taking a different direction, crossing over into pop music. Lyrically the song discuses the digital age and the negative impact technology has had on society. The lyrics came across a little generic and didn't quite have the power intended but I respected Kenny's decision to try to highlight a social issue in a genre that usually "plays it safe". For me what let the song down was the over produced arrangement, particularly the un-natural effects on his voice.

Next came the collaboration with P!nk, the gamechanger of the album. I tried to be open minded about this song. After all, I had been pleasantly surprised by Blake Shelton's duet with Gwen Stefani earlier in the year. For the first verse and chorus of Setting The World On Fire, the two voices work very well together. However, as it progresses, P!nk's voice comes through more and more and whilst I don't dislike her voice, her Punk-Rock ways become jarring against the Country lyrics and arrangement of the song.

The rest of the album is very similar to what we have come to expect from Kenny Chesney. Songs like Trip Around The Sun and Winnebago play on the usual Kenny Chesney theme of drinking and living in the moment. Meanwhile, other songs on the album strike me as recycled versions of songs from previous albums. The final song on the album, Coach, bears a striking resemblance to The Boy's Of Fall from his Hemingway's Whiskey album (my all time favourite album from him).

There are however, some very strong assets to the album. One of my favourites being Bucket, a retro-Country sounding anthem. Again this plays on the "carpe-diem" atmosphere of the album. This is done far more effectively than with other songs on the album, perhaps due to writing credits from Brett James and  Craig Wiseman alongside the more traditional Kenny Chesney sound - this song sounds like it could easily have featured on his Everywhere We Go album.
Another highlight for me from the album is All The Pretty Girls, a fun, upbeat song about small town boys longing after small town girls. Simple yet believable and nostalgic.

Perhaps the biggest drawback for this album was the direction (or lack of). Noise and Setting The World On Fire implied that Cosmic Hallelujah would be something new and interesting for the Country genre. However, this simply wasn't the case.
The album is very safe and plays on what has worked well on previous Kenny Chesney albums. Whilst I am a big fan of Kenny Chesney and the music he's released over his long career, these songs simply aren't up to the usual standards. I can't help but wonder if I'd have preferred the album if it had gone without the P!nk duet and remained 'Some Town Somewhere".

Best songs: Bucket; All The Pretty Girls

Worst Songs: Setting The World On Fire; Noise

Rating: 2/5

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

The 2016 Reviews: 'Hero' - Maren Morris

2016 has been a fantastic year for Country music fans. We've heard some great new music from our long-time favourites, including Kenny Chesney, Garth Brooks and Ronnie Dunn. We've also welcomed some talented new faces to the Country scene, Maren Morris, Brother's Osborne and Old Dominion, to name a few.
To celebrate what a year it has been, I will be writing a series of reviews of my favourite (and least favourite) albums from this year. Enjoy!

Kicking things off with Nashville's favourite rising star, Maren Morris burst onto the scene this year with her debut Country album, Hero.
The album has already sold just short of 140,000 copies in the USA alone. This album has earned Maren not only a CMA award for new artist of the year but also an incredible Grammy nomination for best Country album. She has received praise from some of the biggest names in the business with critical acclaim from Rolling Stone and Billboard who both named it one of the best albums of the year. 


Hero is an ambitious yet successful blend of old R&B, Soul, Gospel and of course, Country. 
First impressions are important they say. With that in mind, The first track on the album, Sugar, opens on a twangy acoustic guitar with Maren sing-rapping in the verses alongside an epic chorus with much more complex production value. Lyrically the song is very simple and accessible. Maren sings about having a crush on someone. It's sweet yet sassy, complete with the profanity rarely heard in Country Music-pretty bold for a debut! I would argue that although it's not a bad song by a long shot, it's certainly weaker in both the lyrics and somewhat forgettable melodies than some of the other songs on the album. As the first impression of the album, it certainly doesn't do it justice.
From here it's onwards and upwards. The second track on the album, Rich, is much catchier than the first. I wouldn't be surprised if Maren releases it as a single at some point in 2017. This song is sassy with a Kacey Musgrave's flavour of humour, "All the little lies, rolling on your lips is money falling from the sky, sh*t I'd be rich!" 

My Church, the first single from this album. With a flare of Gospel, Maren sings about how she is far from perfect, "I've cussed on a Sunday, I've cheated and I've lied". Again, we could expect similar themes of defiance from Kacey Musgraves, Miranda Lambert or Brandy Clark. The song has sold over 800,000 copies in the USA and has been nominated for two Grammys. References to Johnny Cash and Hank Williams make this song even more timeless and accessible and with an addictive hook, it's certain to have you singing along.

The soulful tone and production of the music are ringing loud and clear in the songs Once, I Could Use a Love Song and I Wish I Was. The songs are filled with raw emotion and desperation sure to leave you with Goosebumps. Lyrically, these ballads are arguably the strongest on the album.

Drunk Girls Don't Cry and 80s Mercedes both have a certain pop quality to them. Drunk Girls Don't Cry brings us more of the sassy comedy we've heard in Rich. Whilst this matter-of-fact comedy is used across the album, it remains innovative and original and definitely doesn't get old the way it does in Kacey Musgraves' Pageant Material album (sorry, Kacey). 80s Mercedes is an upbeat millennial anthem with a strong pop atmosphere that you might expect from Kelsea Ballerini. Whilst the lyrics don't particularly have any hard-hitting substance, this track is sure to have you singing and dancing.

Overall, Hero is an innovative and daring album, particularly for a debut. It ambitiously blends a range of classic genres with a flare of up-to-date references and humour. However, I have no doubt that Maren pulled this off more than successfully.

Maren has writing credits on every track on the album which is impressive, particularly through the delivery of heartfelt songs such as Once. However, there are occasions where the songwriting falls flat e.g. "if I had a dime every time that your crossed my mind, well I'd be sitting on a big ass pile of dimes" (Rich).
In addition, one of the biggest let-downs with this album is that four of the songs, including two singles, were released just a few months earlier on her self-titled EP. My guess is that Maren's label saw the success of My Church and tried to hit the ground running by releasing an album as soon as possible.

Hero has become a Country fan favourite and received an extraordinary amount of critical acclaim and nominations- including nominations at the upcoming Grammy awards. These are all incredible feats to achieve, especially so early in Maren's career and I am excited to see what comes next from her.

Best Songs: Rich, My Church, I Could Use A Love Song

Worst Songs: Sugar, Second Wind

Rating: 4/5

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

10 Country Songs for Your Christmas Playlist

It's less than two weeks until the big day! The shops are getting busier, Christmas parties are in full swing and we aren't sure how we're going to cope when Starbucks stop serving their gingerbread latte - or maybe that's just me.  In any case, I am marking the holiday season with a playlist of Country songs- be sure to mix them in with your usual Slade and Mariah this year.

1) Kacey Musgraves - Christmas Makes Me Cry

This year, our favourite Texan songwriter released her first Christmas Album. It's a great album with some original Christmas songs alongside covers of festive favourites. Christmas Makes Me Cry features writing credits from Shane McAnally and Brandy Clark - when those names are on a song, it's sure to be one to remember. The song talks about the sad parts of the holiday- watching family members getting older every year; missing loved ones who aren't there, it's an emotional, melancholy song. Worry not, though, A Very Kacey Christmas has many uplifting tracks on it too.

2) Kenny Chesney - All I Want For Christmas Is A Real Good Tan

It's no secret that Knoxville native, Kenny Chesney, loves the tropics. Therefore, it's no surprise that the title track from his 2003 Christmas album is about wanting to escape the freezing temperatures that the holiday season brings with it. The song is a unique balance of festive yet warm. Talk of Pina Coladas, alongside maracas and ukulele, are guaranteed to make you forget all about the sub-zero temperatures, at least for a few minutes.

3) Taylor Swift - Last Christmas

Almost ten years ago, Country bumpkin Taylor Swift released an EP of Christmas music- original songs and covers. As Christmas projects go, this one felt slightly underrated and therefore I'm adding her Country cover of Last Christmas to this year's Christmas playlist. 

4) Luke Bryan - Run Run Rudolph 

This upbeat cover of the classic Rock n Roll, Christmas hit. is a must have for your playlist. Luke Bryan's Georgia boy accent is a great twist on a song you already know the words to. Turn up the volume and add it to your Christmas party playlist.

5) Sam Palladio - River

Next up on the list is this mellow cover of Joni Mitchell's song. In case you missed it, the cast of Nashville released a Christmas album, produced by Jay DeMarcus of Rascal Flatts. The album features some brilliant covers by all your favourite Nashville voices, including Connie Britton and Hayden Panetierre. This cover from Sam Palladio (Gunnar) is perfect while you're relaxing after a busy day of Christmas Shopping.

6) Carrie Underwood - The First Noel

Carrie Underwood's rendition of this traditional hymn is a must for your iPod this Christmas. It is a very simple take on the song but her voice is perfect for it.

7) Lady Antebellum - Baby, It's Cold Outside

Back in 2012, Lady Antebellum released their platinum Christmas album, On This Winter's Night. However, before the Country superstars had even earned their first #1 hit, they released their rendition of Baby, It's Cold Outside. The undeniable chemistry between Charles Kelley and Hilary Scott's voices is perfect for this classic song.

8) Little Big Town - Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas

From one Country supergroup to another, next on our list we have Little Big Town's rendition of Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas. It's filled with the flawless harmonies that fans have come to love from the band. 

9) Faith Hill - Where Are You Christmas?

Written by the queen of Christmas and recorded by the queen of Country. Faith Hill performs Mariah Carey's beautiful Christmas tune, Where Are You Christmas? You might remember this one from the soundtrack of the timeless Christmas movie, How The Grinch Stole Christmas. 

10) Brad Paisley - Penguin, James Penguin

Last but certainly not least on the list is Brad Paisley's, Penguin, James Penguin. His 2006 Christmas album is a selection of covers and original songs, filled with the witty songwriting we have come to expect from him. Penguin, James Penguin tells the story of Santa's secret agent penguin who keeps tabs on who has been naughty and who has been nice. It's certain to put a smile on your face.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, 14 November 2016

Concert Review: Thomas Rhett at the O2 Ritz, Manchester

There are those who argue that the UK doesn't have a significant Country music scene. However, after watching Thomas Rhett perform to a sold out crowd on a rainy Manchester evening, I am confident that the cynics are wrong. 1,500 Country fans from across the UK flocked to the O2 Ritz in Manchester on Sunday evening and I am certain that none of them left feeling disappointed.

The night began with a bang as Thomas Rhett's father, Rhett Akins took to the stage as his son's opening act. Rhett Akins has had a long and successful career in Country music. He has spent the past three decades earning songwriting credits on many hit  Country songs, including Blake Shelton's Boy's 'round Here and Luke Bryan's I Don't Want This Night To End. He has also recorded six studio albums of his own, with singles peaking in the top 10 of the US Country charts. 
He performed a selection of his favourite Country songs - both his own material and covers of songs he "wishes he'd written". 

His set was very intimate and humbling. Despite him performing as an opening act, it became clear that he was a star in his own right with many of his own fans in the audience. One fan had even prepared a large sign especially for him which read "Rhett, I'll be your lil Loretta if you'll be my Conway Twitty" - a sweet reference to his song, Honey Bee (famously recorded by Blake Shelton). He gratefully accepted the sign, joking that it would be difficult to take it on the plane back home.

The intimate atmosphere he created through his humble attitude, lyrics and storytelling was similar to that of the CMA Songwriter's Series events. It was the perfect start to the night.

Next up, the star of the evening, Thomas Rhett took to the stage. He opened his set with Anthem, an upbeat song from his sophomore album, Tangled Up. The pop-rock melodies of the song were perfect for setting the atmosphere, particularly after a mellow set from Rhett Akins. The energy the venue skyrocketed as fans danced, sang and cheered along.

He went on to perform Tangled, which he mashed up with DNCE's Cake By The Ocean. This combination worked surprisingly better than expected as fans enthusiastically sang along.
Rhett performed a number of fan favourites and hit singles, including his latest single, Star Of The Show. The audience sang along with every word, despite the song being released only a few weeks ago, proving that there definitely is a significant Country following in the UK. 

He brought his infectious energy and charisma off-stage and into the crowd as he performed I Feel Good. Fans screamed in excitement whilst he starred in their selfies and sang with them. 

There were also a few covers on the setlist, including Round Here - a song he co-wrote with Country Duo, Florida Georgia Line.
He played the classic Garth Brook's hit, Friends In Low Places, bringing one lucky fan onstage to sing it with him. 

Much of his set was filled with fun, upbeat, high energy songs which perfectly matched his confident stage presence. However, he also stripped down his set for an intimate performance of his CMA winning Country love song, Die A Happy Man, which he dedicated to his wife. Fans listened intently, shining the lights from their phones in the air. He also performed his 2012 single, Beer With Jesus, an honest and simple song which he wrote whilst studying at college.

He then brought the energy back up with his Country-Pop singles Crash And Burn and Get Me Some Of That. Thomas Rhett, like many crossover Country artists, has received criticism for falling into the "Bro-Country" category, particularly for lyrics such as "You're shaking that money maker like a heartbreaker like your college major was twistin' and tearin' up friday night...". However, the enthusiastic reception at the Ritz has proven that fans love and enjoy his music regardless.

Thomas Rhett ended the night with Vacation, perhaps a brave choice for an encore song as it isn't a single but everyone sang and cheered anyway. He brought his dad onstage for the final song - a heartwarming ending to a fantastic performance.

Fans poured out of the venue into the rainy, Manchester evening, many still humming their favourite songs from the night.
Thomas Rhett brought an energetic, natural yet charismatic stage presence accompanied by flawless vocals and great guitar playing.
I have no doubt that there will be demand from fans for him to come back to the UK again very soon.